Monday, February 11, 2013

The Joy of New Worlds

When I was younger I always looked forward to going to the bookstore or the comic book shop. Not because I liked comic books—I've never managed to bring myself to care about the super-heroic mythos of mainstream comics. I went because I was always guaranteed to find some new roleplaying supplement that I didn't own. I loved expansions, complete books of, and all those little supplementary tomes, but the real gem wasn't any of those. The true magic was in the campaign settings.

It took months of saving to be able to afford one. Hoarded allowances piled up like precious samite. Then one day at last I would have enough to get one of the big boxed sets all wrapped in plastic. They were near Warhammer figurines (too expensive for me in those days, I had no real clue what it was) and the boring WWII tanks on a wire shelf below them. There was some model scenery directly on one side and the sacred Shelf Of Roleplaying on the other. I rarely spoke with anyone in the store. Maybe I would also get a pack of Magic cards as an afterthought (yeah, I know I'm dating myself as a young'un amongst all those real Grognards, but just because I'm not "old" Old Guard doesn't mean I can't grumble).

The true magic hadn't happened yet. Not while I was still in the shop nor during the car ride on the way home. The magic wouldn't happen till I got home, sat down, and opened the box up. Then, oh then! An orgy of maps and little punch cards, of booklets and manuals and handouts, sheafs of monsters and monstrous supplements, glossy covers and cardboard ones, acetate paper printed in hex patterns, and more maps maps maps. In that moment I left Earth behind.

I was as enterprising as any astronaut and as careful as any historian. The relics I dumped out onto the table were sacred things, things recovered from some lost far-away place. I combed through them carefully, taking stock, making careful mental notes. The guidebooks I thumbed through once but then returned to study as though they were holy manuscripts. I was, in a word, transported.

I stopped feeling that feeling when third edition came out. I wasn't transported through any of the new books. They were glossy and lifeless and dull, containing bits and pieces of what I remembered mixed in with a gormless stew of other things. The new campaign sets were bland to me, and boring. No third edition book has ever taken me the same way. Warhammer rules can now, in this day and age, bring me there. Some of the indie OSR publications can do it. Magic cards, their little blurb of flavor text, their delicate hints at a wider reality just beyond the boundaries of the frame can do it too. But I don't play those games, at least not often. I play D&D.

I know there are a thousand thousand settings. I know the 10th Age probably isn't really that unique. I know that people aren't really looking for campaign settings, and those that are generally aren't looking for hyper-detailed ones. I know that the OSR tends to value weirdness, sci-fantasy, and goofy fun over research and attempts at sociological analysis of fantastic societies. I know all this. Yet I go on. Why? Because I want to capture that feeling, and I feel it when I design. I want others, however many there are be it one or one million, who are like me to have the chance to feel that wonderment again. I don't ask that you be impressed with the 10th Age... just that you give it a shot.

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