Friday, November 6, 2009

Nostalgia Gaming

I'm proud to be a part, in my own small way, of the Old School Renaissance. I've long thought that games were getting too complex, that we didn't really need the endless rules, the endless supplements and splatbooks, the endless endlessness.

On the other hand, if a game isn't supported, it dies. How many people do you know who still play Star Frontiers? Or Top Secret, a clunky but awesome game I used to love.

Okay I have to admit, when people accuse us of "nostalgia gaming", I get a little irate. But in my calmer moments, I do have to admit that there's more than a little truth to it. At least, for me there is. (I don't want people to think I'm speaking for anyone else.)

What brought this on, you may ask?

Well, I've rediscovered an old love. Not a girlfriend; my wife is my one and only in that area. No, it's the first role-playing game I ever bought any of.

It isn't D&D. While that was among the first, it wasn't the very first. In fact, I resisted playing D&D for quite a while, simply because it has rules quirks that take some getting used to.

No, this was Steve Jackson's very first rpg, called The Fantasy Trip.

Where D&D was quirky, this was streamlined. Where D&D was vague, this was concrete. (As a reviewer in Isaac Asimov's Science Ficion Magazine said "Four hexes are four hexes and that gargoyle is either in your way or he isn't.")

But I couldn't get anyone interested in it.

Sure, there was this one time. I got the "second string" if you will, of my gaming group, to give it a try. (The "first string" were the really cool older guys, who had been around since the little brown books. They would occasionally try something else, but were steadfast D&D men to the last.) We tried it out, and while it was okay, it wasn't sufficiently different to warrant a change.

I still like it, though, because it was so different from D&D. Things made sense. I'm kind of a big fan of making sense, but then I've always been a science fiction guy more than a fantasy guy. In fantasy, you can just say "it's magic" and get away with it. SF was always more rigorous, in that if you postulate certain changes in what we currently understand about the universe, the technology in question would actually work, whether it be warp drive, teleportation, or ray guns.

(I'm not trying to say that SF was in any way better; just different, just something I preferred. Put the rocks down.)

So, The Fantasy Trip (or TFT, for short), was kind of like the science fiction version of fantasy, if you take my meaning. There were spells, and you could put these specific spells into magic items. No more "What spell do I need to make a flaming sword?" or suchlike, that you got in D&D.

And combat was codified. You had your movement allowance, and if you moved too far, you couldn't attack. If you were engaged, you could shift one hex, but that was it.

Does any of this sound familiar? Add in Feats and you have a version of 3rd edition D&D, right here. No wonder I was so enamored of it when it came out. (That's right; I said it. The bloom didn't come off the rose until well into 3.5, with the endless stream of supplements.)

So now I see some of what others didn't like about TFT, especially as compared to D&D. It didn't have that same sense of wonder. It didn't feel like "anything could happen."

There was, in short, no serious weirdness.

Because I've since learned that that's the hallmark of pulp fantasy (or swords & sorcery, or whatever...) You need to get your serious weirdness on, of you just haven't got it.

And that, I think, is where I fall down as a DM. I'm not in touch with the serious weirdness. I may lack the gene for it, or something. I'm still more of a science fiction guy, even though the world has moved into more of a fantasy phase. (I'm not worried, though; I expect the pendulum will swing back again.)

So I may try to run TFT. Just don't expect it to be D&D, though. It is what it is. (I may just run the wargames, Melee and Wizard -- possibly at a convention. That would be cool. I think these old games need more love than they're getting.)

Because I do feel a large rush of nostalgia from some of my old games.

Make no mistake, I still do like them better because they're simpler, more "elegant" (if I can get away with using that word), more downright accessible to the busy gamer who doesn't have a fortnight to read and digest a three hundred page player's handbook before starting a game. I don't think the modern trend toward "bigger is better" is a good thing.

And I still really really hate "collectible" games of any stripe.

So, in the final analysis, am I a Nostalgia Gamer? Sure, to some extent.

But I've never seen much reason to distinguish between types of gamers. Aren't we all pretty much alike, when you get right down to it?


Fenway5 said...

I too am a big of TFT. You can find new modules that are compatible at Dark City Games. I even authored one! Anyway, I am in the midst of writing my own rules lite RPG: ROGUISH that is a kind of mash-up of the simple play of TFT with a D&D style paint job (levels and classes). It allows you to play a fast paced simple game with all the weirdness you desire.

Ragnorakk said...

Playing some Melee/Wizard at a convention would be a blast!

kesher said...

I'm in!

Have you printed up personalized booklets yet? :)

Norman J. Harman Jr. said...

It wasn't until reading OSR blogs and actually looking up definition that I knew nostalgia was viewed in a negative light. I had thought nostalgia meant a positive, fond reminisces of pleasant times/events in ones past.

I still don't really understand people accusing others of nostalgia, nor people feeling bad about being accused. Proly something to do with (US) societies attitude that old == bad.

I like mac & cheese in part cause my mother made it for me when I was a kid. Am I wallowing in a longing for past? No! I'm just enjoying my mac & cheese more than most, piss off!

Aaron E. Steele said...

TFT gets two thumbs up, I concur with Fenway5, check out DCG. I did not know you authored one of those F5, which one?

If you're gonna go really old-school, you need to go one further step back and play Deathmaze. Now that's rules-light.

Will Douglas said...

Fenway5 - Yes I have seen the Dark City website. In fact, it was somebody posting a link to the free, rules-very-light version that made me want to dig out mine in the first place.

I'm just not in the market for a commercial adventure right now. But if I ever am, I know where to look!

Ragnorakk - wouldn't it just? If I really knew what I was doing, I could even set up a tournament.

kesher - not yet, but give me time...

Norman - One thing I've learned is that anything can be used in a derogatory fashion. I think this is mostly kids who are upset that we don't jump aboard the 4e bandwagon -- it's theirs, so it must be the best...

Paladin - never owned Deathmaze. But now you mention it, I might keep an eye out for it.

Is it older than Dungeon? I have a first edition (but not first printing) copy of Dungeon, and it's something else.

Thanks for all the comments, guys!

Aaron E. Steele said...

Deathmaze is a microgame published by SPI in 1980. Part of their "capsule" series.

I'm not sure when Dungeon! was first published.

I have a couple of recent posts about Deathmaze, if you are interested in finding out more about it.

Will Douglas said...

Yeah, Dungeon came out in 1975. There are articles in the Dragon that later added hobbits, clerics, and other such classes. Copies of the old game still crop up on eBay, but be warned: the second (and later) editions are different.

Deathmaze looks pretty cool, though. I always wanted to get those space capsule games from SPI, but didn't get around to it.

Dang, now I have to look for a copy of that...

John said...

I have a really hard time injecting weirdness as a DM also. I always see other people's campaigns and think "Why didn't I think of anything cool like that?"

As for TFT, it's a cool simulation game but a crappy RPG. Good for wargamers