Saturday, September 22, 2012

Where's the Common Ground?

The way I see it, the d20 Dark Ages generation has a tougher time finding common ground with fellow gamers outside their normal gamer circles. That is 2e players and onward do not have shared and familiar experiences like the previous generation. I'm talking about modules and boxed sets in particular.

The oldest of grognards, of course, remember the original 1974 wood-grained D&D boxed set. They are the rarest. They can probably tell you stories about how wargamers became upset at this new D&D 'fad.' Gamers in the 1970s share the common experience of being creative because, well, they had to be. The 1974 edition was very bare bones and not even complete (it used the Chainmail rules). Furthermore, both the main rules and supplements, even reprints, were often hard to find.

With the grognards, Gygax became a household name. TSR put him on books that even he had little or no authorship.

This trend mingled with the module's that TSR produced. Many from that Golden Age recall with fondness the giant and drow series. Or with mixed feelings about how unfair Gygax had made The Tomb of Horrors. 
The Keep on the Borderlands introduced thousands of players into the hobby. These shared experiences seem to unify the players from the Golden Age.

The d20 Dark Ages generation have fewer shared experiences. TSR published vast amounts of material from AD&D 2e and the newest edition of D&D. AD&D 2e and D&D ceased being "generic," with modules published for nearly any campaign setting with a pseudo-medieval theme (or, by default, Greyhawk).  AD&D 2e had Greyhawk, The Forgotten Realms, Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Birthright, Planescape, Al Qadim, etc.. Mystara was generic, but it used D&D Rules, which were different from AD&D 2e. The Forgotten Realms could even be broken down into different campaign settings, given that they slapped on any pseudo-historical idea onto the Realms (Maztica, The Horde, Kara-tur, and so on). With so many options the gaming community was bound to fragment. (And this doesn't even factor in other systems being published at the time).The 2e era wasn't known for it's modules, anyway. Thus, this generation experienced a lack of shared gaming experiences.

And it still does. 3e at first unified D&D players with the d20 core mechanic. 3e and 3.5e did have a few modules that seemed to generate some common ground, like the Sunless Citadel or The Forge of Fury. 
Players who went through Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil seemed to share common ground with the Crater Ridge Mines being a such a chore. Some of the best modules, in my opinion, that produced shared experiences came from Necromancer Games: The Crucible of Freya, Rappan Athuk, etc. These seemed to generate a following. Keep in mind thought that Necromancer Games was run by people from the Golden Age. "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel," was their slogan.

Still, there was so much being published. A glut of third party products flooding the market. Many may have bought The Worlds Largest Dungeon or the stuff Monte Cook published, but did anybody have the time to actually play through everything that was out there? No. Players faced more choices than they did even with 2e.

Don't even start me on what 4e did to the gaming community.

With D&D players fragmented into what I call "gamer ghettos" (more on that later), the gaming community as a whole is split up like the provinces of the Western Roman Empire after the Fall of Rome. Each sub-community is like a barbarian successor kingdom, almost always at war. We'll say Pathfinder is like Charlemagne's Empire.

While the Edition Wars ever wage onward, the grognards look on, like the Byzantines of the East.

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