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Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Grow the Hobby, Regain the Wonder - Guest Poster - Michael "Zudrak" Gross




This morning we have a guest poster, +Michael Gross . If you hang out in The Tavern's Facebook Community or on The Tavern's Discord Server, I'm sure you've seen (or heard) some of Michael's thoughts. Its with great pleasure that we present to you what we hope will be the first in a regular series of postings by the man otherwise known as Zudrak :)

Most Old School Role-Playing Game/Renaissance/Revival players started in the hobby the way most anyone is introduced to something new: by word of mouth. In the early years of the role-playing game hobby (while Dungeons & Dragons was still categorized as a “wargame”), college kids and wargame aficionados tried out the new game created by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax. These plucky guinea pigs took to the game with the same aplomb that they and their forebears did when the game, Chainmail, appeared not long before (in 1970). Chainmail’s fantasy appendix was the first time a game was published in which a player could be in control of troops -- even single characters -- with magical powers. It was mostly through word-of-mouth that other players were taught the game or told about it.

During the current “era” of the 5th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons (again the world’s most popular role-playing game), there have been questions on how to make the OSR portion of the hobby grow. The “OSR portion” is that segment of the hobby that prefers to play their fantasy role-playing games akin to D&D in its 1974-1991 published forms and/or Advanced D&D in its 1977-1985 published forms. I have often wondered why this is such a difficult puzzle to solve, when the hobby has created some of the brightest and most sensible problem-solvers, creative types, and inventors the world has seen.

Like a rock band going back to “its roots” and playing music the way they did years before, perhaps the OSR needs a Rick Rubin-type of producer to tell it to look at its own origins because the human touch of the hobby is the same as ever. People like sharing hobbies with one another. People like engaging in said hobbies with other people. The Internet may have given us all a “player screen” we all like to hide or obfuscate behind, but the desire for some kind of play or collecting hobby exists in many of us. Now that sites and tools like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds exist -- allowing people from all over the world to come together to play RPGs, many hindrances that keep players apart have been removed since one does not even need to leave the house to join in a virtual tabletop role-playing game. (I do admit, as I sometimes struggle with it, that anxiety is an issue many folks have that can keep them from engaging in the hobby.)

Rewinding my own calendar, I can report that my third-grade classmate, Kellen, came to school with handwritten notes based upon her dad’s original (1974) D&D books at home. She talked classmates into creating player characters, one classmate a day (the original “session zero,” because recess time is limited). Then she began assembling the classmates together for the first game session. For me, I would have been 7 (if it was within the first 3 weeks of September) or 8. I was not invited to play for a couple days, because Kellen was slowly creating characters for other folks so that she could have a party that contained a variety of races and classes. Eventually, we all had characters made up and my fighter, Thor, was born. Well… he was made anyway -- full-grown and with an axe. I don’t remember much of the gameplay other than it was a lot of fun cooperating with classmates as Kellen the Dungeon Master led us through her homemade castle and dungeons.

Soon, I began telling my younger brother about the game and he wanted to play, too. I did not have a way for him to do that since we were two grades apart and did not share recess time. So, we asked our parents for a copy of the game. The game was unknown to them, but our uncle played it with an older cousin of ours. Uncle Mark told my parents -- board game aficionados that they are -- to buy the Dungeon! board game first. If they had no issues with Dungeon!, he said, then they would have no issues with D&D.

Within a week, I think, Dad came home with Dungeon! from either Kiddie City or Woolworth’s. We loved playing it, but knew it wasn’t exactly what we wanted to play. About two weeks after that, Mom and Dad were to be going on a skiing trip with friends. My brother and I were to stay at our grandmother’s house for the duration. Dad took me to Woolworth’s to point out the game to him, since I was older and was to be “The Dungeon Master.” Another friend of ours had the Basic book from the 1981 box set, the edition edited by Tom Moldvay, so I knew to look for the awe-inspiring Erol Otus art. I saw the pinkish box with the great art on its cover and pointed it to dad. Holding that on the way home was a highlight, for sure. I can still remember the sense of wonder as I read the back of the box, waiting to open it at home. That sense is what I (and if I have the correct pulse of the OSR, many of my fellow OSR players) try to recapture when we play. The sense of wonder -- which Luke Gygax succinctly described in an episode of “GM Tips with Satine Phoenix” back in October of 2017 -- is enticing and can keep a mission, an entire session, and even a long-term campaign going indefinitely.

So, how were you introduced to this wonderful hobby of tabletop RPGs? Was it, like me, when a classmate brought her notes to school? How do you think new players can learn about the game? Do you think, as I do, that word-of-mouth has no comparison because advertising and seeing a box online or in a store just cannot compete with a friend, peer, or family member showing off or talking about a game?

24 comments:

  1. I started off as a hex-and-counter wargamer, with SPI and Avalon Hill games like Tactics II, Afrika Korps, World War 3, and Invasion America. RPGs were in the air at the time (mid/late 70's), and I kept seeing references to D&D in catalogs, so I picked up the LBB's out of curiosity, and then almost immediately Holmes Basic.

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    1. Cool stuff, Joe. I regret not learning about those "bookcase" war games and the like until much later when I discovered Dragon Magazine.

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  2. I saw D&D ads in comics for years before meeting anyone who played. It was during the Satanic Panic and my parents and grandparents wouldn't pick it up for me. However, I was able to get MSH. Fast forward a couple of years and I had a friend that played D&D and another that had MERP which he gave to me if I remember correctly. RPG fever just snow balled from there.

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    1. It spreads like a virus. The only cure is MOAR RPG.

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  3. I knew of D&D because of games like Baldur’s Gate and because of the novels. But my first time playing was because of my uncle. We played 3rd edition. It was like an eight hour game with a mindflayer at the end of the adventure that we had to kill. It was awesome.

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  4. I got into RPGs as a lad of 9 years old in 1988 or so. My father was a career Navy man and we were attending a party at his bosses house. This happened to be at Yokosuka Navy Base in Japan. The bosses oldest son had a copy of Palladium Books Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness RPG. I was hooked at first flip through. I played for the first time that night. Mom thought D&D was satanic but the turtles were good to go! I would hide my D&D books from her for years. Spines facing inward on the bookcase so they didn’t get binned while I was at school.

    I couldn’t find the core book at the base book store (which had a surprisingly large rpg section) but I cobbled together a game with the rules I could remember and the After the Bomb setting sourcebook. I later mail ordered the code book and hence became the forever DM.

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    1. Wow. That's quite the unique experience. Thanks for commenting, T.G.

      Reactionaries, censors, and shows like 60 Minutes did much harm to the RPG hobby. Instead of having D&D lauded as something that was inspired from reading and could inspire one to read more, players had to defend their choice of game.

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    2. My father once told me he flipped through one of my D&D books just to see what all the "D&D is bad" fuss was all about. I asked him which one, and it turns out he picked Vault of the Drow. He told me he couldn't understand a word of it, so it was probably okay. :-)

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    3. Bahahaha!

      "Erelhei Cinlu?!?" :tosses book in the air:

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  5. When I was 11, my older sister subscribed to Mythlore, which was a LotR and Narnia fanzine. One Christmas my dad got her the Phb and the Magenta Box. She had no ibterest, but I did. That door opened and never closed.

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    1. Misfit toys finding a loving "home" makes for a great Christmas story. Thanks, Denis!

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  6. Fall of 1979, I was a sophomore in high school. A guy I made friends with in math class carried around with him some non-school books, which I now know were the 1e core rule books. I eventually asked him about the books and he invited me to his weekly Saturday game to see what it was all about. It was a lot of fun and I soon bought the Holmes boxed set for myself. That was before I understood about different editions of the game, all I knew was that the box said Dungeons & Dragons on the cover.

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    1. Nice. The good thing is that the original and advanced lines were not so far from one another. When we moved in 1982, the kids in the new town were playing Advanced. We had just moved into Marsh/Cook Expert to go with our Moldvay Basic set. It didn't take long until my brother and I adjusted. Thanks for sharing, Brett.

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  7. It was mid 80's for me, I was 8 or 9. Hanging out at a friends place messing around with his dad's computer andjust generally being kids my friend happened to show me a box of books he had under his bed that hsi dad had bought him. Inside that box was the Mentzer red box set and Star Frontiers.

    We played both games that day, my friend as the DM and me as the single player. The Star Frontiers game I don't remember but the D&D one I sure do. I played a Dwarf, I found a treasure map that ended up leading me to a stash of 1000 platinum, I remember asking "What does 1000 platinum look like?" and my friend replying, "Its a shiny block about the size of a car". That moment has stuck with me since.

    Those two games were the only RPGs I played until high school when I got pulled into a game of Heroes Unlimited and things just took off from there. Been playing RPG's ever since.

    I've tried to get back to playing Basic D&D but I find that many players who have played newer, more "modern" games have a hard time returning to the "basics". That could just be my game group however. Its a shame because theres a lot of wonder to be had when you get back to being a kid.

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    1. Well said, Chris. The back-to-basics approach gives the player more agency since the character being played has less bells and whistles. It's helped me win the argument when I said that the character sheet is the players' "game piece." The more the game piece can do, the less the player can do because choices are walled in by the character's abilities.

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    2. Thats almost the exact argument I used to try to bring my group around but it didn't take. Most the guys I game with started with 2e and moved quickly to 3e when it came out and so I think for them "going back" would be playing 3e.

      I think for people just getting into RPGs it's D&D or, if they happen to be lucky enough to know someone that plays RPGs, it would be whatever that person plays.

      If I'm a new player walking into a local game store I'm going to be walking out a D&D 5e player (or maybe Pathfinder, but D&D 5e is king around here). Anything else is a niche game and isn't sold, stocked, or represented; because they don't make money I assume.

      It's funny because so many people go online for everything now you'd think someone interested in getting into RPGs would stumble across a free game like S&W and go from there. That doesn't seem to be the case however. New people still seem to want to visit brick and mortar shops to talk to real people. Which is fine but then they end up only being exposed to whatever the shop happens to sell.

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  8. I never even heard of D&D in high school during the late 80's, I join the Army after high school in 1990 and was deployed overseas. I found a dragonlance book laying around one day and started reading it. I quickly work my way through the series. one of the other soldiers saw me with the book and asked me if I played the game and then invited me to join him and his friends. Nothing like a bunch of Infantry guys playing D&D by flashlight. I played for several years while I was enlisted. I drifted away from the game and had not though about for many years. Then flash forward to 2016 I am a teacher now and the administration wanted every teacher to lead a club. The student picked the club and teachers signed up for the one they would run. I was at training the day the teachers signed up, so when I get back the only club without a teacher was the D&D club. So after a few decades out I'm back

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    1. How fortunate! The kids will benefit with an experienced teacher as their sponsor. Thanks for sharing that and thanks for your service.

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  9. It started off for me when I saw a copy of the Rules Cyclopedia in a second-hand book store, I was wondering around a town (I can't remember where) with my father on a terribly tedious shopping trip, and I had some money that I'd saved in my pocket. My original plan was to buy the book, but my father persuaded me not to make an impulse buy, saying that we could always come back and get it later if I saw nothing else. Of course when we went back to get the book someone had purchased it while we were elsewhere, I ended up buying some crappy choose-your-own-adventure book (that disappeared into the ether a short time later) and my father put up some extra money to buy me a hardback Tolkien Bestiary (since I think hefelt sorry for me).

    I didn't do anything connected with roleplay until my early teens when I received a copy of MB Games Heroquest for Christmas, this lead to me getting involved with Warhammer and Games Workshop (I know), but I found that I preferred writing the backstories to my armies and imagining the generals and champions rather than actually playing the game. When the GW prices started getting really ridiculous I began looking elsewhere for my hobby fix and discovered the Hogshead edition of WFRP, even writing a couple of short scenarios that appeared on one of the WFRP websites in existence then. WFRP opened my eyes to the sort of game I wanted to play and--since I had the books--I was the GM, and I never looked back from there really.

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    1. Cool! I have no experience whatsoever with WFRP, but I hear from those who have played (including our barkeep, Tenkar) that it is a fun game.

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  10. My mother mail-ordered the boxed set (Holmes Basic) from an ad in Boys' Life Magazine in the very late 70s. I was 11 or 12. As soon as I saw the Sutherland art on the cover I was hooked. I moved on to AD&D soon after, which is still my favorite edition. For my part, I'm DMing my daughters, their boyfriend(s) and my son-in-law in an AD&D campaign. My oldest daughter and her husband have both created campaigns using v3.5. The saga continues...

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