They Never Grow Old

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.

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7 responses

  1. Amen~

    I think the longer a person is involved in gaming, the greater the chances of being mortified by what ‘gets done to a game’ either through edition changes, or heavy-handed injections of canon loaded with “nevers,” “wonts”, and the like.

    Agreeing to disagree and playing an older version, or a version without the crap injection hurts no one – or ought to hurt no one.

  2. Well — I guess I wanted to avoid a term like “Crap Injection” but then, I found it so funny that I’m now totally okay with it.

    Kidding aside… That’s basically it. I mean, the technology of PnP games is not your laptop or DDI or how you roll dice and which modifiers you add… it’s your imagination.

  3. Haha~

    You are right, it’s not crap – it’s just misunderstood
    ;}-

  4. I love my old video games – I will still pop in some of my favorite games in order to just experience my favorite story lines again.

    Unfortunately, I have found a couple of games where I will quit in frustration because the mechanics of the game, which in the past were acceptable, are almost unplayable. Example: the Resident Evil games with their pre-rendered backgrounds and awkward movement mechanics or the lack of decent save points.

    However, the mechanic limitations in video games are (usually) caused by technical limitations. I could point out a couple where that was not the case, but that’s not the point – Video games become ‘outdated’ because the technology that they are based on improves. However, like RG said, pen & paper games are only limited by a groups imagination (well, and in most cases, their ability to do math. I suspect a game that uses calculus equations to determine hit points would not take off).

    Anyways, just chiming it to say I agree with this post. As much as I love video games, it’s a lot harder to go back to an old video game than going back to an old pen & paper system.

  5. RPGs can have obnoxiously outdated presentation and antiquated nonsensical game mechanics, just like video games. TSR’s material has both. You’re basically just saying that RPGs are easier to mod than video games, not that they have any intrinsic timelessness.

  6. @JohnMagnum

    Actually, I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that the “technology” of RPGs doesn’t “age” the way electronic/digital technologies do. An RPG that is poorly written or presented will lose audience — not because of an age issue, but because it was poorly written or presented.

    I tend to disagree (as I suppose my post points out) that games have “antiquated” mechanics. Clearly, if the OSR is any indication, many gamers still quite enjoy the TSR material of older editions of D&D. As far as “nonsensical” I can say the same about just as many current games as I could about older games. And presentation issues are not something the gaming industry has outgrown either. I’ve read quite a few “modern” games that are presented horribly.

    My point was, ultimately, that even without modification I can pick up a game from 1980, or 1990, or 2000, or 2010 and play it now just exactly as I could have when it was new — with no loss of fun. With no feelings of “OMG, do you remember 8-bit?”

  7. cauldronofevil | Reply

    I’m thinking that there are apples and oranges being mixed up here. D&D definitely has “antiquated” mechanics. By definition it has to because it’s the first RPG. Simply because people still enjoy those mechanics through the OSR doesn’t mean that they aren’t outdated. In fact, the OSR exists because those styles of rules aren’t being published anymore. Current D&D is very different from those rules (though not different enough to not be called “antiquated” even with the 5th edition!).

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