Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Ever Changing Appendix N

I've been thinking recently about the sea-change in pen and paper attitudes that marks the difference between the old, hard, "realistic" games from the 70s and the newer, shinier, "fun" games from the now. Since the OSR blogosphere is abuzz with additions to, discoveries in, and reviews of things from Appendix N, my thoughts recently turned to what exactly is going on here in the pen and paper world. Games have certainly changed, and they have changed because the people who play them have changed. Gygax was 36 when he and Arneson released the first edition of Dungeons and Dragons (or so my rapid and poor calculation skills tell me). He certainly wasn't in high school, and he already had a lifelong dedication to wargaming.

But that's not the big difference. The difference between games of today and games of yesteryear are their Appendix N. What sources do they draw on? What the are they trying to be, trying to emulate? What's the feel that inspired them? It's different now than it used to be, in large part because the intended audience of D&D keeps getting younger. Like a cigarette company, Hasboro wants to hook 'em young, hook 'em strong, and keep 'em stringing along. TSR had bad penetration into the very young demographics, probably because of the language of their books and the relatively strenuous weight placed on simulation.

What was in Appendix N of the old days? Anderson, de Camp, Burroughs, Dunsany, Lovecraft, Howard, Leiber, Moorcock, Tolkien, and Vance. The inspiration was primarily from books, and those books were primarily grim and gritty sword and sorcery. It follows that the worlds, rules, and emotions associated with D&D drew from the same pool. Even at its most outrageous, it was at its heart a Jack Vance or an REH tale. People did things that were reasonably realistic things for people to do, in reasonably realistic manners.

What is the Appendix N of today? It seems to me to be X-men, to be Hong Kong Kung Fu movies, and to be the Lord of the Rings -- not the book, the films, which are gutted action movies devoid of content. What are we simulating today? Exceptional people doing exceptional things that you could never do, people that don't even really look like people anymore, who can shoot shiny rays from their hands and eyes and obliterate their foes. These are people that you generally expect to win, unlike the characters of Vance or REH (Conan may always survive, but he isn't always victorious).

Modern roleplaying games, D&D in particular, seems to be telling a different type of story altogether. The rules are made to support something I'm not interested in, namely exaggerated and cinematic action. Of course, this is just one of my innumerable problems with the new systems. They don't call me a grumbler for nothin'.

1 comment:

  1. I definitely wouldn't say that your current Dungeons and Dragons editions are MORE cinematic - you compare the initiative systems of AD&D 2e and D&D 3.5 or 4e, for instance, and I think you'll see that there is a vastly greater potential for visceral, cinematic fighting. No, D&D hasn't become more cinematic - it's become more choreographed. The dancers know the moves ahead of time, they're just rolling to pull 'em off.