I was talking to my girlfriend, who is much more a computer/console gamer than I am about the problems with going backwards. That is to say, when you play a console game, like a PS2 game on your PS3, you can often see how much has changed, how much has updated. Graphics are better, everything is shinier, brighter, crisper. The games often play faster and have better reactions. The AI keeps getting more fluid. It was during this discussion that I realized a really important way that video games are not like table top games.
RPGs never get old.
What I mean by that is — the rules for a pen-and-paper roleplaying game don’t — perhaps can’t — actually ever age. RPGs don’t become obsolete. Look at the OSR for a large-scale example of this, but realistically, choose any game, anywhere and you’ll see that you can play it now, just the same as five years ago and still the same in ten years. I still run Deadlands occasionally — the original version, not reloaded or D20. I went back and was reading all of my old 2E D&D hardcovers and was reminded again of the fact that 2e was a deep and interesting set of rules, with a complex but interesting system. Of course, back in 1989 I was a lot younger and just wanted to play the darn game — I didn’t spend as much time thinking about it as I do now. But I could play 2e D&D, right now, with no problem — and I’d hold it up to any current release RPG without blinking an eye.
This is not to say that games don’t change and evolve. Of course games change — but any edition of D&D is just as good as another (depending upon personal taste, of course). I mean, now that I have SoulCaliber IV, I don’t find myself popping in III very often — but I don’t mind running 3.5 D&D or playing an older edition of Shadowrun or sticking with 2E Mutants and Masterminds. Which is another great point. When 3E M&M came out — I realized that I really didn’t like what they’d done to the game. But so what? I have a whole collection of 2E books, along with my character write-ups. I never need to upgrade if I don’t want to. Now, of course, the one downside to playing a game that is not in active production anymore is a lack of official support from the game company/publisher — but again — so what? I have everything I need to run the game — and the upside is knowing that since no new supplements are coming out, my campaign may even have the backhanded benefit of being more stable.
Why is this important to me? Well, it has to do with the fact that we play these games in our imaginations. I can gather a few friends, a few pencils and dice and a couple of notebooks (or, if you prefer, set up a video link, have laptops and smart-phones and a few digital dice-rollers) and be ready to play anywhere at any time. I don’t often take my PS3 to the beach with me, but if my friends want to throw down some old school L5R, I can be ready in ten minutes. Heck, the game people ask me to run more often than any other is Amber DRPG. The ultimate in Low-Tech gaming, you don’t even need dice. And Amber was published in 1991, only 2 years after 2E D&D. The game only ever had one official supplement. And yet, the longest running and best campaigns I’ve ever been involved with have been using this system. I didn’t start playing it until about 7 years after it first came out. And if I agreed to run it tomorrow, well, I’d have players.
I love this about our hobby. I love that no matter how much technology marches on and we are forced to change and adapt and constantly update our PCs or buy new console systems — my shelves full of RPGs will never be obsolete (so long as I can find players).
Another interesting aspect to this though, is something I was thinking about during the RPGNow sale in July. Old games are cheap. I mentioned L5R — and I’ve always had a bit of a soft-spot for the original L5R, but I never owned all the supplements. When I was browsing around RPGNow, I realized that a ton of old games are on there. I could buy any of the old supplements for L5R 1e for about $5 each. I picked up the original Way of the Scorpion during the sale for ~$4. With my laptop and an internet connection, I could be playing L5R, or Cybergen, or Castle Falkenstein in a matter of minutes, probably for less than a single RPG sourcebook costs today.
Does this mean we should stop making new games? Heck no. I love the way the hobby continues to grow and change, and if I don’t like some “new” games (Warhammer Fantasy RPG 3E, Mutants and Masterminds 3E, or D&D4E) there are also quite a few that I love (Shadowrun 4E, Pathfinder, Barbarians of Lemuria). And I never have to feel bad about not upgrading, because if I still want to play Warhammer Fantasy 2E, no one can stop me. And I may not like D&D 4E, but that doesn’t mean that if a great sourcebook comes out I can’t get anything out of it. Fluff material — even some crunch — is very easy to convert and I can mix and match at will… something else that’s a lot harder with software (again to reference my previous example, I really wish SoulCaliber IV had custom character-making more like III, but I can’t pick and choose the parts I like on the PS3).
As a final point, it also bears noting that the OSR is a shining example (occasional squabbles aside) of what a group of dedicated gamers can do. After all, an official OD&D product hasn’t been produced since the early 90s, but now, if I wanted to run an original D&D game I have a wealth of resources I can turn to for brand new material. I’ve written tons of stuff for Amber games over the years — and while I can’t produce it in any official capacity, I’ve been lucky enough to influence a few GMs with what I’ve done and share with them great ideas for an old game.
So enjoy your gaming, no matter what system you play or when it was published. After all, they never grow old.