Wednesday, February 27, 2013

These d20 Dark Ages and "The Auld Alliance," by Arthur Collins

"...I see kids today read the rule books before they read the stories that inspired the games. That means their palates have been trained in some strange ways."

--Arthur Collins, "The Auld Alliance," Dragon #216, April 1995

If you haven't already, download Dragon #216 and read "The Auld Alliance." It's a great article about keeping a gaming group together.

Collins's points of advice have stuck with me over the years. When I follow them, gaming groups usually stay together.

Yet for our purposes the article mentions something key that I think sheds some of light on ideas such a Old School, New School, or the Golden or Dark Ages of gaming. The quote above is just a small part of the passage I've pasted below. If you have the issue, you can find it under the sub-heading "Remember why you're there."

So, does being exposed to the game before the reading the history and fiction that inspired the game lead to "strange palates?" I think it does. And I theorize it is linked with what many Old School gamers call the end of the "Golden Age" of RPGs. While this trend probably had been going on for years, I think by the mid-1990s more people were being brought into the hobby who hadn't read the material that inspired it.

As I've said before, I'd been well-read for a 10 year old, but I hadn't read hardly any of Appendix N--let alone Greek Mythology, History, or any of the other "classics" of literature (I'd read The Hobbit and a couple of my brother's Conan books, but that's about it). And many of my gaming friends at the time probably hadn't either. Remember that at one time D&D was labeled as a "Game of Adult Fantasy." By my time it was for ages 10 and up.

From Dragon #216

By the mid-to-late 1980s, I'm sure many new gamers had been exposed to the hobby before they'd been exposed literature that inspired these games. By the 1990s, I'm sure this was even more so.

Feed me, we said. Hence the rise of splat books, entire world settings. Adventure modules that were no longer, well, modular. Yes, I know Dragonlance pioneered this trend, but by AD&D Second Edition all of this was in full swing and people like Collins began to notice.

I think my older brother, who introduced me to D&D, noticed too. He would ask me: "What's the deal with kits? Why should I play a barbarian from the The Complete Fighter's Handbook when I could roleplay a fighter who just happens to come from a barbarian tribe?" or "Isn't anybody who tries to sneak contraband past authorities considered a smuggler? Why would I need to have a "smuggler" kit, when I could play any class that just so happens to "smuggle"

Because the kits give your character skills and powers that the regular classes don't have, duh! (Well, back then I actually didn't know how to respond).

When I read "The Auld Alliance" for the first time, I remember agreeing with Collins. But certainly I wasn't one of those boring people who'd only talk about D&D, right? I'd encountered some of those gamers at the book store or gaming store. They'd regale me tales about their favorite character (usually a Drizzt clone or "Elminster's Nephew") while holding a small bundle of RPG books they were going to buy. I'm sure they expected me to be impressed. But I wasn't. I learned at an early age that nobody really wants to hear about your favorite D&D character, nobody. 

So surely I wasn't one of these boring gamers Collins talks about, right?

Most of my D&D/RPG collection comes from the AD&D Second Edition era. Even after I had read Collins's article I kept buying D&D stuff. "Well, at least I'm not buying Forgotten Realms stuff," I'd rationalize. The cycle pretty much ended by my mid-twenties when real world finances took priority over gaming purchases. 4e killed the cycle.

Still, looking back, I just want to ask to all of the gamers who've bought shelf-loads of D&D/RPG material from 2e onward--especially if you'd been introduce to RPGs as a teen or younger:

What were we looking for? 

Or were we (or are) just eating and eating and never sated? 

How many D&D/RPG gaming books does it take to make a gamer "complete?"

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