Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Why are we even talking about the "1st edition feel"?

One of the fascinating things happening right now are the numerous discussions about how the actual play of D&D 4e either does or does not have either a "1st edition feel" or a "Basic D&D feel," both of which have been claimed by people playing 4e. These debates can get very heated, and it actually seems to me like there are players of 4e out there who really, really want 4e to be perceived in this way. But why? Who cares, and what does it matter? I only mentioned in passing in one blog post that I think 3.x publishers are partially responsible for the "old-school revival," and I think this relates to what I'm talking about here.

When 3.0 came out, as there always is with a new edition, there were flames galore on the internet. The shift represented a major change in the way D&D was presented. I remember being shocked as I thumbed through the new 3.0 core books. Forget about whether mechanics were in any way related to old editions, just looking at the art and presentation alienated my old-school senses. The stat blocks and variious powers/feats were completely alien to me. It was clear that this new game would play very different than 1e or even 2e. But lest we dwell on the rules too much, I want to move on to the main topic.

The point I'm getting around to is that 3.x, despite people like me who dreaded it, was received with great enthusiasm. People were very unapologetic at accepting it, basking it its differences compared to older editions. there were a number of people who welcomed the change. One thing that is very different about then versus now is that you never saw anyone talking about the "1st edition feel" At that time I don't think as many people really even cared about that, much less found it something desirable to inject into the new edition.

That is, until the marketing efforts of Goodman Games and Necromancer Games. I honestly think that their marketing is very much responsible for the internet phenomenon we have now where it is so important to some people that 4e have that old-school feel. Whereas in the shift to 3.x no one cared, in this shift to 4.0 people have been told over and over by marketing that the old-school feel is both desirable and maybe the best way to play....but it butts heads with the idea of what system to use.

The problem with the "1st edition feel" is that not only does that mean something different to many people, but it is also warped to mean whatever it needs to mean to be attributed to 4th edition. But rather than argue the finer points of that, I think it is enough to acknowledge, and I think many people would agree with me, that this whole desire to play like the old-school but to do it with the current rules, if that is even possible, is a desire injected by 3.x publishers.

So I think what all of this means to the "old-school revival" is that more and more people are starting to explore the idea that maybe, just maybe, the best way to get that old-school feel is to actually play the old-school games. That maybe, just maybe, those games are not "evolutionarily obsolete systems" after all.

Keep in mind that I'm not saying that either 3.x or 4.o are bad games, because they may very well be, but frankly I don't care because they don't interest or appeal to me. That they can be "old-school," though, at least in terms of what I think is old-school, no, not for me. And that's ok, they don't have to be anything other than what they are, which are games designed both in system and aesthetics to appeal to a specific market of which I am not a part. But the really interesting thing is that this marketing of "old-school feel" is bridging this gap between old-school and the new audience WotC is aiming for, and I think that bridge will help bring in new people who may not switch over to older games, but who may at least develop an appreciation for them.


S'mon said...

The strange thing is that Necromancer modules, at least, have no 'old school' feel that I can discern. Partly it's the White Wolf art style, partly the focus on tentacled aberrations and "corruption". Harley Stroh's Goodman Games modules are the same. Some GG modules such as those by Chris Rutkowsky do have something of a 1e feel, though. And the GG Dungeon Crawl Classics trade dress is certainly 1e TSR-esque, whereas Nec's very much not.

Dan of Earth said...

For all of those reasons I'm somewhat dubious when I see people say that 4e has the 1e feel. I doubt most of them ever even played 1e, and are basing it on the 3e material they've played.

Dan of Earth said...

I should add that this isn't always the case, I do see people out there who claim to have played 1e and they still think 4e has a lot in common with, I have no idea, but the claim is there nonetheless.

K.R. Proctor said...

I think this represents a maturation in roleplaying in general. This is typical in most cultural fields in that as they develop overtime they become more self-aware and reflexive. This is more of an appeal to authenticity than anything else. You note that there are old school gamers, such as yourself, that lie outside of this market, but I think the very point of this maybe to try to reign some of you back in. This may also be an effort to cater to more sophisticated gamers who began with 3e who are increasingly interested in becoming more of a part of the gaming community and "old school" tie-ins provide this connection (even if it is just symbolically).

I remember back in Junior High telling a kid that we played D&D 2e. His response was, "Wow, that is some advanced stuff." It is laughable in retrospect. But he had only played D&D and the "Advanced" addition to the name represented something far more sophisticated to him. Years later when I began playing 1e there was a cool-factor to it because the DM running the game was an older guy who grew up with 1e. To be honest, I didn't notice much of a difference in the rules, but it felt cool to play first edition because I felt like I was closer to where it began.

Joseph said...

Personally, I don't think 4E should be expected to reflect "1E feel" or whatever. If I want that (and I do), I'll just play 1E.

4E, to me, has a very different vibe, and I think that's a good thing, as far as it goes. Not that I particularly like the vibe itself, but that a new edition of the rules, that goes in what appears to me to be such a radical departure from what has gone before, should have its own feel, and should not attempt to emulate the feel of previous editions.

Steve Zieser said...

I see 4e as the extreme extension of the goal of 1e, which was to be the "official" version of D&D. I can understand the reasoning at the time: TSR needed to protect it's trademarks and having all sorts of folks putting out supplements for their game was confusing and diluting their customer pool.

However, this led toward the "need" by gamers for "official" answers to things, rather than just winging it, which was very much the spirit of the first rule set. This has culminated in 4e, with a rule for just about everything you could think of and players coming to the table with pages of errata under their arm in addition to their dice!

Matthew James Stanham said...

Whilst I didn't pay any attention to the release of D20/3e back in 2000, I am told that part of the marketing method was to suggest that it would be "back to first edition" or "back to the roots of D&D", so I don't think thsi marketing process began with Goodman Games or Necromancer Games. Rather, they chose to focus on that aspect of WotC marketing, perhaps perceiving that D20/3e was in fact very different in feel to B/AD&D.

I think, if you have not already, you need to take a look at how WotC was framing D20/3e in the run up to 2000.

Dan of Earth said...

That's true Mathew, and I did note that in my earlier blog post, but while I think "back to the dungeon" was a focus, nobody gave a crap to much about a "first edition feel," which has come to mean more than just a dungeon environment.