Monday, March 31, 2008

The D&D Reformation

My contention is that, while we've lost touch with the roots of our hobby, those roots are still there, waiting for us to connect to them again. Likewise, I'm not uncritical of the genuine flaws and shortcomings of early D&D. There are reasons subsequent editions evolved as they did and it's partly in response to these very flaws and shortcomings. I often don't like the response but I won't deny that there are issues that need addressing. So, I guess I would say that I don't see pulp fantasy D&D as "nostalgia project" because my goal here is more than just reliving or even recreating the past. Sure, it's animated by a love for a past long gone -- and in that literal sense, I suppose there's nostalgia at work -- but it doesn't stop there. My feeling is that D&D is the origin of our hobby and our hobby is sick; the only way to cure the sickness at the heart of roleplaying is to cure D&D and so I am.

Thus are reformations born. Sensing that things seem to have gone wrong somewhere along the line, people cast their eyes back to the storied past, in an attempt to “reboot” with a purer version, unsullied by the barnacles and accretions of time.

There seems to be a lot of this going on. Whether it’s Dr. Rotwang’s realization that “random” doesn’t have to mean incoherent, or Jeff Rients embrace of “Retro Stupid” games, more and more people seem to be investigating the old ways D&D used to be played, and finding that it’s not quite the schizophrenic disaster they’d always assumed it was. There are, in fact, nuggets of real gold that appear to have been lost along the way, just waiting for the right hand to save them from the grime and give them careful shape and new luster.

Clearly, the impending release of yet another edition of D&D has inspired a lot of this thinking. The death of Gary Gygax and other industry greats is also, I imagine, lending a certain spur to thoughts, reminding us that the past is not something that will preserve itself.

James Maliszewski, author of the recently published Thousand Suns sci-fi roleplaying game, has chosen to take this to the next logical step. He’s attempting to craft a new version of D&D based on a more perfect embrace of the original intents and inspirations. This isn’t a recreation of a specific version of D&D, such as Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC. Instead, he’s trying to get at the core of what made the original versions of the game such a smash success, and reground the game in the sources that inspired the original creators. Thus, he’s not so much looking to excise things that Gygax, Arneson, and others got "wrong," but instead taking what they did and pushing those ideas further. He’s embraced the incoherence of some of those ideas, pointing out how they force fans to personally invest in them by creating their own rationalizations. He’s even found imaginative ways to create new fun in hoary old chestnuts like Vancian magic.

In the modern equivalent of nailing his ninety-five thesis to the church door, Mr. Maliszewski has created a blog devoted to this project. It’s going to be a mixture of the hobby’s and pulp literature’s history, game design, and personal ranting. It promises to be a hell of a lot of fun.


James Maliszewski said...

Wow, I'm famous.

trollsmyth said...

Darn straight. Next thing you know, its groupies, and then a drug problem amidst accusations of having fathered Britney Spears latest baby. ;)