You just can’t go back…Posted: November 29, 2010
Sometimes I wish I could re-create the fun my young friends and I had back in 1978, starting with the ‘basic set’ (pictured at right). Maybe I’m looking at the past with rose-colored glasses, but it seems as though we were less jaded that the players I encounter (or the player I have become) today.
One of the most obvious changes seems to be in the number of options and choices available to the players in preparing a character to play. Here I guess I’ll start to sound like the old Dana Carvey curmudgeon who wheezes about walking barefoot fifteen miles to school in the snow each day, uphill both ways, “and we liked it,” but I actually find myself nostalgic for the very basic and simple ‘cookie cutter’ characters and classes in the original D&D. One started character creation by rolling dice to determine your strength, intelligence, wisdom, etc., and then, based on what you rolled, you chose a character class. One could adjust your scores in very minor ways: you could swap two points of intelligence for one point of strength if you were a fighter, etc., but one usually ended up with characters whose average ability score was 8 to 10.
My memory of those games is that as players, our pleasure in the game was much more immediate and less abstract — what we as players decided to do or not do seemed to have more bearing on events than anything written on our character sheets. There seemed to be less ‘rules lawyering’ because there were fewer rules to lawyer with. Instead of resolving all actions through balanced universal d20 mechanics with things like ‘roll a dice to notice’ or ‘roll a dice to listen’ or ‘roll a dice to use your engineering knowledge,’ we would talk about what we wanted to do. “I want to look under the bed and behind the dresser” instead of “I roll a search check.”
I’m thinking about these things because recently a friend of mine, who was running a session of a newer RPG told me that the last time they met “he had the worst session ever.” I don’t honestly think that a different set of rules would have helped or hindered (the problems were probably more a set of abrasive personalities rubbing each other the wrong way), but our conversation about what went wrong at the session made me want to think about what goes wrong or right when we sit down and play (I was not at this horrible session, BTW).