Monday, January 13, 2014
My Nostalgia be Different
Last week, I did a bad thing. I ran a game and it wasn't Traveller. I was weak (and the home group was going to be missing its pilot), and so I repurposed an old Uz map, put in some bandits and some degenerate "elves," and put it in hex 2521 of the Elephand Lands. In keeping with what I talked about a while ago, I used the last D&D Next playtest packet to run it, and we had a blast.
I probably wouldn't be talking about it, except that over at the Hill Cantons blog Chris did a post about a recent game he played and the nostalgia he felt in doing so. Despite using a new system, I felt a lot of nostalgia as well, and weirdly about things that are essentially the opposite of what Chris describes. I started with 3e and for most of my high school and college games used a weird mix of 3e and 3.5 (I had the 3e books and my players had 3.5 and I had no idea what the difference was). The things that took me back, so to speak, were things like 4d6 drop low stats, barbarians as a class, and weird class/race combinations like dwarf ranger and tiefling cleric.
Certainly the setting and the play group had something to do with it - the people at the table were the same people I played some of my first games with back in high school, and I ran the Wilderlands for most of my undergrad college career - but there was something in the air that wasn't when I tried some of my OD&D/S&W experiments out with the same group. They liked Uz, sure, but it didn't feel like this did.
I also found that D&D Next was able to evoke this certain special something without a terrible amount of rules complication - in fact, certain aspects of the system mirrored what I was already thinking of doing or had done with my Dark Country house rules.
Ah, but since I am Demogorgon (probably) I would not be true to myself if I was not also filled with lingering doubts and some small voice whispering "no! no! it is wrong!" The thing that originally attracted me to OD&D and S&W was their mutability. In 2008 when I started reading these blogs, Huge Ruined Scott - in contrast to his current "no setting information whatsoever" ethos - was first working on his Wilderlands of Darkling Sorcery and then his long lost Thool setting. These were in uncountable ways different than what I had thought of as D&D while still feeling obviously like D&D settings, with ruins and adventurers and weird magic and stuff. He took OD&D and banged it into something weird and idiosyncratic to Scott, and he did it with ease.
So I said I wanna do that, and did my own thing for the Hammer Horror set. The Dark Country is, as I have often said, my baby, and running a fantasy game (or really any game) outside of it - despite my constant urge - ultimately always seems pointless. But it has developed in ways that, while still fairly close to D&D, make it and D&D Next, or at least what my group seems to want out of D&D Next, like fitting a square peg in a round hole.
But - says my other, D&D Next liking head - the characters they made for the little test session seem easy to convert to the Dark Country. The chaotic wizard and the dwarf ranger are acceptable untouched, and the half-orc barbarian whose adopted human father tried to burn him works just as well if he's some kind of riff off of the calibans from the 3e version of Ravenloft. Maybe I can do this, thinks Aameul. Ah, thinks Hethradiah, but your wife made a tiefling cleric of Braz Kazon, Battle God of Smoke. That would be quite a bit harder...
A note on the top picture: my favorite book for 3e was Oriental Adventures, and when trying to find 3e art that made me nostalgic, I was lucky enough to find this illustration. Not only does it make me nostalgic for 3e, but it always reminds me of a Chinese folk tale about a dragon who lived in a kingdom under the sea I heard in my rather bizarre 7th grade history class. Any time I have a map with an ocean or lake on it, I always put some little underwater ruins there because of that exact story. Unfortunately, I don't think any group in my games has ever had the water breathing spell.