The Ever Widening Gulf: Part 2 of 3 : Eras of gaming

Life of the Party: Realities of an RPG’er by Tim Hanson

It never fails to amaze when I luck upon a conversation about editions or different styles of gaming. I love to listen in and rarely do I join in simply because this is something best observed. You see the passion, the commitment, the vigor with which they propose why this or that mechanic is better.

Do I have my preferences? Sort of but I am kind of a system junkie. I will always be beholden to B/X and BECMI gaming. Warhammer 1E gave me the grimdark political feeling that to this day I infuse in everything. Runequest’s skill system was transformative in my thought process as well. Either way, there has been a clear trend of us vs them within the gaming community of late, and I feel like shining a light on it.

Random, Deadly and Unforgiving

The Old School gaming crowd that started out in this hobby was reared on characters with roll down the line stats, instant kill traps and things such as Races being classes. Hitting a target required doing some basic math. Our books often looked like they had been through a blender. This was mainly due to the often poor layout and organization.

This was no one’s fault, I mean these were the first of the kind. The ideas in those first tomes of Dungeons and Dragons, Traveller, Metamorphosis Alpha etc were one of a kind and aesthetics were the last concern. As such, in today’s worlds we tend to get annoyed by games where you are never truly a zero. After all, what’s wrong with being nothing and building up to something?

Our literature even informed us of this. Hero’s like Conan were often the first to turn tail and run. Our imagination did most of the work for us so our depth and problem solving in a theater of the mind sense were very sharp. This is an important point to consider which I will bring up later.

I brought my character portfolio with me!

As the ’90s winded down and the Millenium was upon us our gaming styles changed. Games such as GURPS, Shadowrun, Hero System, while being present in the prior decade really hit their stride. Our gaming groups splintered at this point between those who were happy with the first two decades of gaming and those of us whom had been kids during this period and wanted more crunch now that we were older.

This was also the time period where the Narrative focus games such as White Wolf’s product line really took off. There was always a sort of understood balance between the separation of gamers. I knew plenty of folks who refused to move past BECMI or 2nd edition D&D. They were content with Star Wars D6 and saw no point in the D20 version. I liked all versions so it did not matter much to me.

Games during this time period did do one thing. They really ratcheted up the power levels. 3.5 began to bear little resemblance to its predecessors, Pathfinder even more so. GURPS became so massive it spanned 3 books shelves of mine at one point the options and worlds were endless. We began playing a tactical game and our character sheets were more like spreadsheets. This further alienated gamers from the era before, who in some cases (Tunnels and Trolls) could fit their character on a 3×5 index card.

My Avatar’s ambition in life is to be a…

The more modern style of gaming is looser. In many ways, it heralds back to its roots in mechanics. However, it by far lessens the amount of crunch and consequence of both generations. Character Roleplay aspects are certainly enforced and in fact, do a lot to inform how the mechanics affect the gameplay.

5E Dungeons and Dragons, Savage Worlds and Apocalypse Engine games offer many different alternatives of slightly more ROLE play vs ROLL play. On the other hand games like Hackmaster, Fate Engine, redefine the genre of RPG’s entirely with either complete clean tactical crunch vs Free flowing story-driven gameplay with the rules-lite approach.

Meanwhile, the OSR movement has redefined the old school gaming entirely, causing complete overhauls of the grand old games of our youth. What is odd and frankly downright sad, is how much the OSR clashes with the 5E and previous generation crowd. I have some explanations to come on why I think this is. It might ruffle some feathers.

Get off my lawn!

Ya, Grognards, my fellow brethren of the 6 cha half-orc. The men and women who have crossed out more character sheets than a crowd of politicians have liars. We can be some real pricks. The gray in our hair (or beards) is worn like battle scars, and we have exchanged Cheetos for carrots (if our wife is watching). 

Think, really think. We get upset because the gamers of today want to be superstars. Now think about 13 years old you playing D&D. Dude, dragons were dropping flame bombs, fireballs were blowing whole parties to accidental pieces. We were up and animated and every dice roll was accompanied by some Errol Flynn animation. (this is mainly due to all the processed sugar shit we were putting down our gullet)

Ya, some of us were also the guys that got our asses kicked. The target of the bullies, for wearing a Star Wars shirt, or having to go to the principal’s office for the nipples on the succubus in the monster manual. We generally have a clique of fellow fantasy enthusiasts (nerds) that we roved with as a pack and gradually the bullies forgot all about us.

Now, remember the fun of youth, what made you LOVE this hobby. How crazy you got, and how many times (Especially as a DM) you completely made some crap up on the fly and fudged some rolls just to keep the game moving in the hyper-extreme mode. I once was so pissed at how off topic my players were getting, I killed my party with an aerial bombing of Dragon shit. Ya, that was cruel. I still giggle a little.

Anyway remember the fun, and remember being the outcasts my Grogs.

I want to really sculpt my character

I was in the military for most of 3.0. I was still playing 2nd edition D&D at that point. So when I finally got into 3.5 it actually happened for completely backward reasons. I found the Scarred Lands Core Guide at a Garage Sale. It was so cool, I went to look for the Player’s Handbook and DM’s guide it required and picked up 3.5 not knowing any different.

I remember sitting down and taking about 3 hours to make a character. So many options, only 3 saving throws, combats having conditions and modifiers. So, in a nutshell, a cool setting drug me into the rpg behind it. Goodman Games also kept me going right along with their old school feel modules for 3.5. 

Between GURPS and Hero System, I became enamored with the precision with which I could make my hero. Folks really loved the drilled down mechanics and table after table of crunch. The thing this generation of gamers has to understand is, at some point, you have to decide how long you want the immersion to be affected by someone pouring over page after page.

Laptops and netbooks have made this much easier but still, this style begins to be a little bit involved for some, for those in the 5E crowd it might be how they started gaming, so this IS their first edition. They seem to be able to appreciate all editions better than the grogs from what I can tell. Either way, if you entered into this era and moved from the old school or you started here, you kind of lost or toned down the swashbuckling gamer. It was all about the tinkering.

I want complete control but TLDR

I find this era of gamers the most interesting of all. My kids fall into this generation and I run games for them all the time. We play Adventure Conqueror Kings System, getting ready for Classic Greyhawk Adventures Dark & Deep playthrough of U1-U3, A1-A4, and then into the Castle of the Mad Archmage.

I run fifth edition D&D for a family group with cousins. No, I am not crazy with it, but I run it like it is the best thing ever because my gamer’s smiles make it all worth it. I get why they like 5E though. It is light it is fast, it handles their lightning speed thought processes well. These are the Children of the Digital Age. You have to keep things moving to keep them interested.

Games like Hackmaster with heavy crunch do have a following, But for a specific crowd. My son lives in a very logic based world. He loves Hackmaster for the critical crunch aspect of it. (Crunch but only where needed not gratuitous)

So stats are higher, characters are much tougher to kill and have more damaging capabilities. Do you know what these guys are doing? They are standing up, getting excited, cheering when natural ’20s are rolled and acting stuff out. Sound familiar Grogs?

The whole point is a good time!

Look, you get a handful of people that want to play a game and know what the game style is, awesome! Does it honestly really matter? I mean think about it, your rolling bones, your doing something that involves multiple people to have a good time.

Nothing pisses me off more than being at a con and having some ass clown decide to run down another players experience at the table. I was at a Shadowrun game and this lady was mocking this FATE player at the table. I asked the FATE player if this was her first time trying Shadowrun. She said yes and then I looked at the lady in question and said: “Well then I guess we will try it out together, I haven’t played 5th edition Shadowrun.”

The troll quieted down no longer being engaged but it made me a little hot around the collar. Who cares what they play. Seriously! Did they have a good time? Good! That is the frigging point. Remember, at some point, a lot of us were that first time player or that young imaginative player. We were the socially awkward kids that only felt comfortable amongst folks with the same passion. That awkward guy with the mullet behind the glass counter of magic cards was our savior some days at the FLGS.

So let’s all agree to understand our hobby has been around a long time. With so many possibilities to try why not give some things a chance. You never know, you may play something that makes you feel like that 13-year-old all over again. Besides, if we do not keep adding new players our hobby will die, and who wants that!

Join me in a week for Part 3 of the Ever Widening Gulf, where I will tackle the topic of inclusivity.  Thanks for reading.

3 Comments

  • I enjoyed reading that. I’m with the TL;DR generation of gamers, even though I’m one of those aging grognards.

    Venger Satanis
    Posted June 4, 2019
    • I think it is hard to nail a lot of gamers down to an era. A lot of us crossed many different styles of gaming. I love the random nature of older games but can appreciate “functional crunch” and the need to craft your character to exacting standards. That being said I still believe that crafting should take place at the table rather than on a spreadsheet but I can adapt as needed to have a good time!

      Posted June 12, 2019
  • I think your point at the end should be a post all on its own. There are a lot of folks drawn to RPG that don’t have smooth social skills. Back in school we didn’t mind because they were friends and that’s just George being George. But at a Con where you don’t know the person it can really come off as jerky (even if the person didn’t mean it that way). I think both sides in such situations need to step back and try to do better for the love of the game(s).

    Ruprecht
    Posted June 28, 2019

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