28 August, 2011

Musings on old-school gaming

It’s been a stormy, rainy last several days, and so I’ve been holed up inside, pondering my fantasy roleplaying games again.

I’ve been working on some new things for my campaign. I started reading several old-school gaming blogs and got positively inspired. Since Friday I’ve begun a high-level wizard and his tower (and its dungeons); a humanoid lair in the same region, complete with connections to the wizard; and a nearby mini-empire (they’re big for their britches) with some cultural notes and also with a connection to the wizard. I’ve placed the two locations in the wizard’s backstory on my fledgling map, which I’m tentatively placing in my existing gameworld far from the place where my first group was adventuring.

The more I think about it, the crankier I get with the spoon-fed gaming setup. The originators of Dungeons and Dragons thought it all up themselves, each campaign a new and unique entity, and that’s how they played. Moreover, that’s how they thought everyone wanted to play. They were, as I understand it, genuinely surprised when people showed interest in pre-made modules and campaign settings.

Some folks want to run a game but don’t have the time, energy, or creativity to build their own. I don’t begrudge them that. Real life takes precedence. But the current generation of gamers, and some from earlier generations, seem to think the only good way to play is to use the ‘official’, ‘real’ sources and never deviate from them. Some seem to be unhappy with any game in which they can’t ‘win’ all the time, but that’s a separate issue. When a new DM tries to start a game in an older system without all the bells and whistles of the more modern editions, and worse, builds her own gameworld with no reference to Forgotten Realms, Greyhawk, Krynn, or other established worlds, it’s disconcerting that certain players decry the game as ‘not real Dungeons and Dragons’.

I look forward to finding a few players who are willing to go old school with me. I want to build a world that’s different. I want to invite players into it and watch them experience the wonder of a new setting. I want to set them challenges and watch them overcome them. I want to watch their characters grow and change the world in which they live. I want to run a game where every player doesn’t have the basic monster stats memorised. I want to surprise them. I want to wow them. I want them to walk away from the table thinking, “That was exciting!” or “I didn’t expect that!”.

Can this be done within published settings? Of course. But I’d rather run a game where, for a wild example, anthropomorphic toasters roam in herds over the countryside, or where periodically the moon is stolen by a terrifying beast of legend, leading to chaos in the realms until some brave heroes rescue the forlorn celestial object. Explore the wonders of space! What do you mean there’s no air there? I say there is! Go, take your lizard-skin gliders and explore those countless points of light! The only limit is imagination!