Have you seen the box for D&D's new starter set? Check it out:
Oops! That's from the old Mentzer set. How could I have mixed those two up? Here's the box for the new 4E Essentials Starter Set:
I got to see this at GenCon, inside a large display showcasing Elmore's art. As we were looking at it, a guy came up behind me and said, "Now that's what D&D is supposed to look like!"
The similarities are glaringly obvious. It's not just the same Elmore art, and the exact same shade of red, and the exact same dimensions. It's also the exact same font and ampersand for the name. This box doesn't just harkin back to the Mentzer box; it is almost exactly identical, with only a little change in the text and the company logo at the bottom.
I think Oddyssey nailed it when she suggested that the target audience for this box is clearly lapsed gamers. Middle-aged parents are going to see this and it will evoke immediate memories of all-night summer marathon sessions and biking over to a friend's house to spend a rainy Saturday slaying orcs and exploring ruined temples. The similarities are more than skin deep. Check out these details. Rumor says that the pre-gen characters have Elmore art. And I don't think I've seen die-cut counters in an RPG box since Star Frontiers!
But the pièce de résistance is the suggested retail price: $19.99. Well within impulse-buy range. This is easily something Mom or Dad might buy for somebody's birthday. Heck, this is something Mom or Dad might buy for the child of some other parents birthday.
A rising tide lifts all boats; bringing in lapsed gamers can only be good for the OSR. Some of the folks who buy this set and bring it home are going to be disappointed that Mentzer's rules are not inside. There's already been much discussion on the differences between the most basic aspects of 4e and older versions of D&D; no need to hash that all out again. Folks who don't like what they see in this box may go looking for "the real thing." That means now is not the time for the OSR to rest on its laurels. I don't think we'll get most of the people who buy this box, but I also don't think it's unreasonable to expect a new influx of interested and excited ex-gamers looking for a little bit of the fun of those glorious days of yesteryear. It's going to be up to us to make certain that they can find Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry and all the rest. Keep an eye out for questions popping up on message boards. Be sure to provide links on your blogs. And we really need to do something to make sure the OSR has a serious presence at GenCon next year.