A TED talk that has the soul of the OSR

Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity | Video on TED.com

Most of this isn’t particularly relevant but two things are:

1. A lot of people complain using the OGL to create the retro-clones is just laziness at best and parasitism or piracy at worst. I think Lessig has a better interpretation in that the OGL has created a remix culture. While the first few out of the gate hew close to the original newer games like Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Roleplaying and Emprise are certainly going new (and very different) directions. My Chest of Wonders, which I haven’t discussed much, will hopefully be a new direction for another part of the family tree.

2. The core of roleplaying, to my mind, is expressed in Lessig’s “Read Write Culture”. Late last year I actually wrote a mission statement for this blog, the short version of which is now the subtitle. The long version, the elevator pitch is, “Places to Go, People to be champions tabletop role-playing games as the most accessible form of public creativity and self-expression. We provide reviews, ideas, rules, inspirational sources, and other guidance and encouragement for people to play tabletop role-playing games in a traditional manner. We prefer homebrew settings and mix-and-match rulesets. We want each game-master to build a unique game that tells the stories he and his players have in them instead of acting out stories already written. Are you ready for old fashioned adventure?”

Mix and match rule sets and telling the stories you and your players have in you are the essence of the OSR for me. While I do again with JER IV in that all it takes to be a member of the OSR is to play one of our games honestly and without irony I see that as lay membership. Initiate membership is when you start remixing the pieces of our games (and other games for that matter) to create your own (for those curious about Rune Lord membership see Grognardia for how it’s done…for Rune Priests, get busy creating your own material that becomes part of the common vocabulary).

So as a closing note, let me make two recommendations, one of which I pledge to follow with any products I produce and the other as another suggestion on where to find not only new players but plain fellow travelers:

1. Embrace open gaming via the OGL or Creative Commons. You don’t have to give up the farm but at least give back 10% of the total you have drawn from the open gaming world.

2. Meet and talk to the kinds of people doing the video and music remix culture. Listen to Paul’s Boutique (20th Anniversary Edition) and Fear of a Black Planet, two of the greatest sample albums of all time. When you meet a local remixer or YouTube video maker, invite them to your game. The ReadWrite culture is our culture and they are our people.

Robert Dubois of Dream Pod 9 Follows Up

First, before we get to the content of his reply let me publicly thank Mr. Dubois for taking the time to respond.

Second, let me appologize to him for letting this post sit for weeks.

Now, his response:

We talked it over at the office and will be correcting the price of a few of the titles next week (after the GM’s Day Sale ends) mainly a few of the older books that are priced at 70% off the printed book price they will be reduced to 50% off, for Tribe 8 its only the 2nd edition players handbook that will see the price decease. Our newer books for Heavy Gear Blitz will maintain their current pricing. I read the post you linked below and can understand peoples point of view, we have to live with piracy and we still have to pay all the writers, artists, sculptors, and production staff that work on the products, be they printed books or eBooks. One thing we came up with at the office was the idea of making bundles the eBooks for each gameline and selling them for a special additional 25% off discounted price for people that want to pickup the entire gameline at once. We’ll be putting those bundles up next week after the sale ends. Let me know your comments about our plans.

I’m glad to see they are looking at it. I’m disappointed that are doing so little. As I said in my original post I understand the issues with PDFs of books currently in print. However for PDFs of out of print books different rules apply.

As for having to pay his staff: if five plus years out of print books aren’t amortized off they never will be. If he is depending on PDFs above reasonable price points to fund future projects he also has problems.

The simple fact is, as is proved by a post over at RPG Blog 2 about The Cortex System PDF being over priced, there is a ceiling to PDF prices. If you can’t get under it I would say don’t bother being in the market.

Dream Pod 9 has ceded my business to the used market as has White Wolf. Perhaps I’m unique but I doubt I am. In a business with razor think margins pushing customers to the used market or piracy is not a smart long term strategy.

Monday Pointers: March 23, 2010 Edition

D4:Customizing 4E – “Old School”
MJ Hanish at Gaming Brouhahah has some notes on optional rules from the Fourth Edition’s Dungeon Master’s Guide 2 and some campaign restrictions to get a more old school feel out of the current WotC game sold under the D&D banner. He includes core ideas and then some specific recommendations for a Moldavy/Cook or AD&D game. With a lot of people who have never played the older editions and the upcoming new red box knowing how to adapt fourth to our style is worth investigating. If you disagree, try MJ’s last paragraph.

D6:Raggi gives the perfect standard for OSR membership
Playing one of these games is pretty much the only requirement to be “one of us.” No matter where you came from, what you did before, doesn’t even matter if it’s your favorite sort of game. You play the game in good faith, you’re one of us, and fuck anyone who tries to impose greater “membership requirements” than that.
Word

D8:Feeling Old School
A interesting thread on RPG.net requesting descriptions of old school games other than D&D. With some specific requests. Head on over and share your knowledge.

D10:Musings on Sandbox Campaigns
Bat in the Attic has some interesting points about running a sandbox campaign. I think the second is the most missed point about sandboxes. They exist without the player characters and the GM should have an idea of what is happening outside of what the PCs do. Then, if the PCs run into those plans by NPCs you get plot.

D12:Realms and Remembrance
Having gotten a great response to his Secret Origins post of inside facts about the original Marvel Superheroes RPG Jeff Grubb decided to follow with one about the early publishing history of the Forgotten Realms.

D13:Red Box Bryan College Station
Bringing out the D13 to toot my own horn again, I’m working to start a monthly BECMI game inspired by Red Box New York, Red Box Vancouver, and Red Box Calgary. I’ll also be using Meetup to promote. Expect a longer post on my Red Box Network idea later this week (or not…we all know me).

D20:How the Red Moon Came to Glorantha
I found Greg Stafford’s personal site recently and it has some interesting articles. This one, on the genesis of White Bear, Red Moon was a revalation. As someone who learned of Glorantha from gaming it was odd to find out the part of the world that has dominated, almost to the exclusions of all others, wasn’t originally conceived as part of that world. This only reinforces the drive to create “My Glorantha”.

D100:Speaking of the Mythmaker
Allen Varney, in his rotating spot in the High Adventure column at The Escapist profiled Greg Stafford. In light of my mission statement/subtitle here I have to share this quote:
Roleplaying is one way for us to stimulate that mystery sense. Furthermore, its tropes activate all kinds of deeper curiosity and let us exercise both beneficial and gruesome fantasies that lie dormant in us. Choose anything from great heroics to serial murders – what greater opportunities do geeks like us have than to seek these while sitting at a table of friends? Are we heroes as a result? Nah, course not. But we are friends with shared thoughts, and that is good for the soul. And when we romp through those tropes, something deep inside is exercised – the mystery stirs.
Word

So, we start another week. Last week was my best ever in terms of numbers. While I think the fact that I posted five days running might have something to do with it I have to bow to the reality that my TARGA posts got the numbers. Still, to new readers welcome aboard. I hope you find my material interesting to enough to stay. And that Miss Manners post is still getting hits.

Runequest Appendix N

I just noticed something last night. I was thinking about posting the Runequest reading list from the appendices. As soon as I sat down I noticed that it is N. Bibliography. That’s right, RQ maintained the tradition of putting reading material in Appendix N. For general interest and comparison here it is.

[Appendix] N. Bibliography

Bibby, George. 4000 Years Ago – check your library for other titles as well; anything by Bibby is recommended.

Byfield, Barbarbara N. The Book of Weird (formerly The Glass Harmonica) – a delightfully-written and illustrated encyclopedia of things fantastical.

Coles, John. Archeology by Experiment – excellent description of the practical side of archeology, easily relatable to FRP games.

Conally, Peter. The Greek Armies, The Roman Army, and Enemies of Rome – three educational picture books of incredible detail and content.

Draeger, Donn F. and Smith, Robert W. Asian Fighting Arts – an excellent survey of what it really takes to master a weapon.

Foote, Peter(ed.) The Saga of Grettir the Strong – on version of the making of a hero, direct from the Age of Heroes of Iceland.

Funcken, Lillane and Fred. Arms and Uniforms: Ancient Egypt to the 18th Century – first-class illustrated book of historical costumes and weapons.

Howard, Robert E. Conan (and others) – the archetypical noble and savage barbarian written with muscle and guts; his notes have been finished with less gusto by other writers as well.

Keegan, John. The Face of Battle – the descriptions in this book are a must for anyone wanting to know some truth in grisly detail about ancient and medieval warfare.

Leiber, Fritz. Swords in the Mist (and others) – a basic source of modern fantasy; the stories about Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser are classics.

Magnusson, Magnus (ed.). Njal’s Saga – an excellent look at a Dark Ages culture, and some rousing fighting besides.

Malory, Thomas. Le Morte d’Arthur – more information on heroic actions, though of a limited cult. Useful too for inspiration on possible event for FRP.

Moorcock, Michael. Elric (and others) – a basic source of modern fantasy.

Smith, Clark Ashton. Hyperborea (and others) – more standards of fantasy fiction, which everyone should at least taste.

Stone, George Cameron. A Glossary of the Constuction, Decoration, and Use of Arms and Armor – heavy emphasis on Japanese fighting gear, but worth it anyway.

Sturlasson, Snorri. King Harald’s Saga – a superb epic tale by Iceland’s most famous saga writer, proving you do not need fantasy to create a legend.

Tolkien, J. R. R. Lord of the Rings – a modern fantasy classic. Tolkien is rightfully accorded as the Master of fantasy, and if you have not yet read LotR, please do yourself a favor. Of his other works, see also The Silmarilion – notes of the Master compiled posthumously by his son, Christopher. These are a chronicle of the earlier ages of Middle Earth.

OTHER FANTASY ROLEPLAYING GAMES
Chivalry & Sorcery; Bunnies & Burrows; Flash Gordon & the Warriors of Mongo; Starships & Spacemen – all from Fantasy Games Unlimited, PO Box 182, Roslyn NY 11576.

Empire of the Petal Throne; Knights of the Round Table; Space Patrol; Superhero 2044 – all from Gamescience (Lou Zocchi & Associates), 1956 Pass Rd., Gulfport MS 39501.

Advanced D&D; Dungeons & Dragons; Gamma World; Metamorphosis Alpha; Star Probe; Star Empires – all from TSR Hobbies, Inc., PO Box 756, Lake Geneva WI 53147.

Bushido; Space Quest – Tyr Gamemakers Ltd., PO Box 414, Arlington VA 22210.

The Fantasy Trip (included Wizard and Melee) – Metagaming, PO Box 15346, Austin TX 78761.

Tunnels & Trolls; Monsters! Monsters!; Starfaring – all from Flying Buffal, Inc., PO Box 1467, Scottsdale AZ 85252.

Traveller; En Garde! – Game Designers’ Workshop, 203 North St., Normal IL 61761.

Legacy – Legacy Press, 217 Harmon Rd., Camden MI 49232.

Arduin Grimoire; Welcome to Skull Tower; Runes of Doom – all from James E. Mathis, 2428 Ellsworth (102), Berkeley CA 94704.

Star Trek – Heritage Models, Inc., 9840 Monroe Dr. (Bldg. 106), Dallas TX 75220.

FOR LIVING IN THE PERIOD
The Society for Creative Anachronism. Write to Society of Creative Anachronism, Inc., Office of the Registry, PO Box 594, Concord, Calif. 94522

FOR MULTI-SIDED DICE
Write for prices to Lou Zocchi & Associates, 1956 Pass Rd. Gulfport MS 39501,or see you local hobby or game store.

Notes:

When contrasting it to the DMG the following stand out:

  • The presence of a lot of non-fiction.
  • The fiction on this list is present on the DMG.
  • The addition of commentary
  • That this list is specific works for all authors
  • The pointers to other games (more about this below)
  • The presence of DIY history in two places
  • The presence of non-modern texts in the form of sagas.

The presence of other games I think is very telling for two reasons. One, it indicates this work is a product of a period when the hobby was one of associates and friends not rival businesses becoming an industry. Second, it provides a context not only for the stories the designers wanted to tell but the games they knew. It is an interesting addition to the context of the game looking back 30 years later.

The current TARGA BS

1. I’m very sad to see Chgowiz go…he was in my top ten to read.

2. It appears I wrote my entire response to this thread about “oh noes, we need to be kiddie friendly” already, albeit indirectly, when I wrote about a gilded age.

3. Based on what I’ve seen of Zak and Scottz’s writing, I suspect I’d be more likely to see Miss Manners at Zak’s table. I know I’d find Miss Gothic Manners there.

Monday Pointers: February 22, 2010 Edition

D4:Chronicles of Drenai RPG

The late David Gemmell wrote great swords and sorcery. His longest, and I suspect most popular series, was the Drenai series. I was introduced to it via Legend when Gary Gygax’s New Infinities Productions published it as Against the Horde. Now, Dareil over at The Madman’s Cave gives us an RPG purpose built for that world. It has some interesting ideas, such as combat being a save against fear and your “score” as a product of your points for both heroic and anti-heroic actions. In spirit it reminds me a lot of Pendragon because it provides mechanics for the kinds of passions that drive Gemmell’s characters. Well worth a look for those interested in swords and sorcery and experimental ideas.

D6:The Lost Fort: Roman and Medieval History

My historical interests via the SCA and boffer LARPS is sub-Roman and Anglo-Saxon England. This website is a great source for someone interested in that period by Gabriele Campbell. The pictures alone qualify as an entire blog of inspirational images for RPGers. I appologize to whoever in the OSR bloggosphere first posted this because I forgot to put it in my notes.

D8:Some Considerations of Polite Society

I’m of two minds on this post. One, I’m glad to see more people taking up the idea that RPG groups should meet basic standards of courtesy even if the stereotype and expectations of the gaming community are otherwise. In fact, that we should even as society is abandoning them. On the other hand, that we need it seems to reinforce the fact that Miss Manners Wouldn’t Play D&D. On the gripping hand, the battle to restore etiquette, dark or otherwise, in our culture at learge and our community in particular can always use a new leader.

D10:How Many Books Will You Need for a Decade of Gaming

If you’re Chris that number is five. Think about it, he got a decade of playing out of five books. That’s old school and doubly so when you read the books he used.

D12:Play Style and “Fun”

Meanwhile, one of our young ones (who I don’t want off my lawn but maybe she could mow it while she’s over) takes on the theory geeks with some practical rules on playstyles. A lot of them are basics we probably know but don’t think about. They also point out something we should remember when we discuss what “old school” means. It’s not one playstyle but a bunch of mostly compatible. If Oddysey is the future of our hobby my great-grand kids will be playing D&D in a traditional style.

D13:People Link to Me

While I love being linked to I feel bad when I brag about it. So, at the very least I can make it a D13. That said, both of my posts this past Saturday were picked up at Old School Rant. I’m listed under “The Bad” but I think that’s because my PDF topic is about what’s wrong not that I’m wrong.

And that’s a Monday wrap. If this isn’t the biggest pointers (excluding the D13) it must be close. This week will have a delayed post in the Silver Age series (it was supposed to be this weekend while baby sitting server upgrades but the PDF rant pushed its way in instead). I have four of the things outlined so one should be finished already. We’ll also have inspirational art, either a buried treasure or a review, and hopefully a follow-up from Dream Pod 9 (maybe we’ll hear from White Wolf on the topic too).

One in 1250

One question that has come up with my recent post on rudeness hurting the hobby is what the benefit of role playing games being viewed as an adult hobby would be. In fact, at least one poster argued it would be a bad thing sending us to the least common denominator even in behavior, which I find hard to even consider. The most interesting fire it sparked, however, was over at D&D with Pornstars claiming the hobby is about the right size, specifically the DIY part. Zak even argues more people means more assholes. While that is a truism in the same sense that more people means more eyeballs I don’t think it would increase the ratio in general.

These are all valid points so I think it’s time to take a step back and explain some of the logic behind my “grow the hobby” posts. I’m also inspired to do that by something I found in my old game collection when I went home for the holidays. I was looking through one of my favorite issues of Strategy & Tactics. The issue is 49 from 1975. The issue game is Frederick the Great which is easily one of my top five hex and chit war games and top twenty-five games periods which is why it is one of my favorite issues.

For those not familiar with Strategy & Tactics it is a military history magazine that comes with a complete wargame in each issue (or did, you could get it sans game and it is sold that way at bookstores today). In the 1970s it included a post-paid bubble card. The last two pages of each issue had a variety of questions ranging from basic demographics to opinions on existing games to game proposals to be rated. Readers sent it in and the numbers were crunched. It was probably the only genuine long term market research in the history of the broad gaming hobby. Even if not unique I would bet real money no one has been more through. Each issue reported on prior issues feedback answers with most space being devoted to how the game proposals rated and which would be put into the production cycle.

In issue 49 there was a discussion of the demographics of the hobby. I doubt anyone today from the newest gamer to the oldest grognard would be surprised by most of it. Hex and chit wargaming at the time was overwhelmingly male and young adult to early middle aged. The gamers were mostly college educated and more urban and suburban than rural. It goes on to discuss some regional breakdowns and other issues but most striking were two numbers. They feedback lead to a conclusion that there were about 400-500 people per 1,000,000 who played SPI games with about another 200-300 who played hex and chit games but not SPI products. If we add those numbers together we 6-8 hex and chit wargamers per 10,000 of population. While hex and chit wargaming still had some growth left before it peaked in the late 70s I think this number is close to the sustainable number of hex and chit gamers. I also think it is a good first estimate of the sustainable number of role playing gamers for a variety of reasons not the least of which is how many role playing gamers in the late 70s boom came from this population. In fact, D&DD would show up in the feedback list of games to rate regularly in the late 70s and SPI would produce two rpgs in the early 80s, Dragonquest and Universe.

So, when I talk about growing the hobby I’m talking about having between 200,000 and 300,000 people in the hobby of whom about 125,000 constitute a stable core of series roleplayers. More importantly, I’m talking about that stable core being composed of a group with somewhat similar demographics to the hex and chit wargamers of the 70s. While I wouldn’t want to see us going back to being as male as we were in the day I wouldn’t mind seeing us reading as much as that group. As I have said before I believe role playing is a literary hobby and that the hobby is healthier when its primary inspiration is written as opposed to visual.

The ironic thing is we had that in our grasp thirty years ago. As I argued in the rudeness post a huge reason we lost it was the marketing of rpgs to teens and tweens exclusively. A second was TSR’s mishandling of their takeover of SPI. There were others but the only one that matters today is rudeness and kid image of the game. Thanks to the internet the core of role playing, a creative gaming hobby, has a second chance to be what it could have been. That to me is the real magic of the OSR. It can be the seed of a redo that brings those members of that eighth of a million people who are currently writing novels during NaNoWriMo or painting dragons or cross referencing the Dark Tower series who think D&D is for kids back home. When I recruit for a new game these are the people I want to attract and play with for what I think are obvious reasons. If the price of bringing them to us is telling the children of all ages to grow up and behave I think it is a trade worth making.

Miss Manners Wouldn’t Play D&D

Some rules I have encountered in my travels:

  • Refrain from making negative comments during play concerning the contracts made.
  • Always pay attention to the play and stop your mind from wandering.
  • Making a questionable claim or concession is inadvisable.
  • Don’t prolong the play unnecessarily.
  • To vary the normal tempo of bidding or play in order to distract opponents is not recommended.
  • Do not leave the table needlessly before the round is called.

While a few of you might be able to guess what these are for I suspect most of my readers won’t. They are taken from Bridge: Rules of Etiquette by David Braybrooke.

You are probably asking one of two questions and possibly both. The first is “why am I bringing up contract bridge in an RPG blog?” The second is “why am I bringing up rules of etiquette in an RPG blog?” The answers are “because bridge is commonly seen as a game for adults” and “because RPGs aren’t” respectively. Last week I discussed how TSR’s marketing choices moved D&D into being primarily perceived as a kids game. Today I’d like to discuss what I consider the single biggest obstacle to changing that perception; role-playing gamers as a whole have horrific manners.

Before you contend I’m alone in my thinking or that I’m merely subscribing to gamer stereotypes let’s look at the evidence. While I had considered this before the topic was rammed home by two postings in the RPG community. The first, and more acerbic of the two, was by Alexis at The Tao of D&D and was titled DM As An Asshole (a how-to guide). The RPG Rules of Etiquette he laid out were very strict and drew on his experience as a chess player, specifically tournament play. However, strict as they are he correctly points out that they are common for many activities such as yoga, theater (performing or attending), and even playing in some musical ensembles. About two months after a similar post was made at RPG.net entitled Critque my table rules by D. Archon.

As for gamer stereotypes, I am indulging them. If we want to move RPGs back to an adult hobby from a kid’s hobby which for any niche hobby is vital to its long term survival, we need to confront these stereotypes on two levels. The first is most people have them. The unwashed, mouth breathing, obsessed with his 70th level Paladin/Mage/Dungeon Master and the S&M elf chick that character is having sex with is the broader view of the hobby. Alexis is right. That is exactly what your coworkers are thinking when you walk away after talking about what you did this weekend. They may not think it of you specifically, but even then they wonder why you put up with people like that and what’s wrong with you. To claim the same respect hex and chit wargaming had in the 1970s, an acceptable adult hobby even if not for everyone, we need to correct this image.

Before you start writing Alltel or the guys who write whatever sitcom dumped on gamers this week we need to clean up our own house. The fact is the matter is Alexis only went part of the way when he said, “D&D has consistently been, in my experience, the second worst offender when it comes to poor manners, poor habits and unbelievably infantile self-proclaiming posturing. The worst, of course, is any bar with a television where you’re trying to get solemnly drunk.” The reality is too many of us not only accept this but celebrate it. When you consider the most popular gaming comic out there, Knights of the Dinner Table, this is driven home. I love the Knights and identify too much with the comic. That is part of the problem. Three different tables are regularly featured and at best one of them has a majority of functional adults at the table, Patty’s Perps. To even bring them to that status of majority functional adults we have to include an ex-con as functional. That an ex-con trying to go straight is more functional that all but one of the lead group’s players (the only functional adult in the Knights is Sarah) says something. Before anyone says, “but it is just a comic”, they should come up with a reason for it being routinely funny and very popular that doesn’t involve it reflecting the hobby as a whole.

If you need a more real world example let’s return to D. Archon’s table rules at RPG.net. Despite being milder than Alexis’s rant there were multiple objections to rules I would consider fairly common sense. Some examples that people thought were “bring your own stuff” and “be on time or call”. When you’re 14 these are common issues that you put up with. When you are 25 or 35 or 45 or beyond and trying to squeeze gaming in along with a full time job, grad school, spouse, kids, maintaining your house, and so on the behavior being explicitly prohibited should not even come up. Even more disturbing, for me, was how much of myself I saw in both lists and how, with one exception (being on time, which is an ongoing personal struggle), they are mostly gaming specific.

The fact is we don’t act like chess, bridge, or hex and chit gamers. We don’t model their public and tournament play in our public and tournament play nor do we model their casual play in our casual play. We have more in common behaviorally with science fiction fandom. Even adults who love fantastic literature and media often avoid fandom. For the same reason, a large number of adults who love the literature and media that inspire us and love to create stories avoid our hobby. Not only do they avoid it but actively consider it in a negative light.

Yet that occurs in a world where one of the most influential figures on TV, Stephen Colbert, an NBA player, Tim Duncan, and some popular actors, Robin Williams, Mike Myers, and Vin Diesel, are all one of us. As I wrote last week this could be the real golden age of the hobby. It is older than it’s been in two decades in terms of players, fantastic media is on the upswing, some prominent people are players, and we are returning to our DIY roots as DIY is on the upswing again. Let we are still considered a childish hobby. If we want to begin to reverse that trend and take advantage of all the possibilities to carve out a place as a stable, adult, niche hobby that will be around for our old age and our grandchildren the first step is to act like adults. Hell, in this day and age that might be another groundbreaking creation of the hobby.

Not a Golden But a Gilded Age

Although it overlaps ages in James Maliszewski excellent D&D chronology the period from 1981 to 1985 is generally considered the golden age of D&D and of RPGs in general. People generally say the early 1980s but I’m putting in specific dates for a reason. They represent the beginning and the end of the worst thing to happen to our hobby. The opening year is the release year of the Moldvay Basic set which is generally seen as the classic version of Basic D&D. The closing year is the year 60 Minutes ran its now famous expose about the game. They also serve as rough bookends for D&D as a fad. The damage of that era is due to how TSR choose to mass market D&D. Unlike many OSR members I do not think that appealing to a mass or broad market in and of itself is destructive to the hobby. The sin against the broader hobby TSR committed was marketing to kids

The Moldavy boxed set reads “The Original Adult Fantasy Roleplaying Game For 3 or More Adults Ages 10 and up”. Contrast that cover information with the earlier Holmes boxed set’s test that read “The Original Adult Fantasy Roleplaying Game for 3 or more players”. The original boxed set had no age information on it.

For those who weren’t around in the era you need to understand a few things about games in that time frame. Games for adults, especially in the mass market, were generally party games. Hobby games were mostly hex and chit wargames sold in hobby shops and for some peculiar reason I’ve never learned Avalon Hill games were commonly found in Hallmark stores. Board games were mostly kid or family oriented games. Major game publishers indicated the target market for their games with lines like “suitable for ages 10-14”. In choosing ages 10 and up for their marketing TSR was making a conscious choice to market D&D to tweens. By 1983 and the Mentzer set TSR had dropped any pretense of marketing to adults by removing the word itself from their mass market oriented age range. The Mentzer Basic read “Ideal for 3 or more beginning to intermediate players, ages 10 and up”. Star Frontiers, Marvel Superheroes, and other TSR games would bear the same age range in that period.

This had a series of perverse effects. First, adults who even three years earlier might have been open to the game were lead to perceive it as a “kids” game. Second, by marketing to the fickle children’s market TSR was choosing a ton of revenue today in exchange for sacrificing a steady income stream in the long term. The worst damage, though, was to both the kinds of kids who were playing and the nature of the groups they played in.

I’ve written before about the value to teenage players of being accepted into an adult peer group as an adult. Testimony from people who started playing as a teenager in the era of 1975-1985 is quite interesting. Those who stayed in the hobby tend to have been their group’s kid while. Those who were in peer group games seem to have left during and after high school. A handful are now coming back in their late 30s and early 40s. I have no hard statistics to prove it, but I suspect most of the former stayed and most of the later left to never come back. Peer group players were taught the same thing adults were taught by the box ages, this is something for kids not adults.

That is the true damage TSR committed and it is both deep and far ranging. Listen to this story from NPR’s All Things Considered about the release of third edition. The story talks about designers trying to appeal to a new adult fan base. Anyone with a clue about the hobby knows most third edition books were sold to adults who had been playing for decades. This association of D&D with kids is a huge part of the negative geek image the hobby has. To the average adult choosing to be involved in a kids game puts you in the same category as comic book guy from the Simpsons. For example. just two years later the same show would run this story for the thirtieth anniversary. As you listen to the tone in parts of that story you are paying the interest on all that money TSR made. The surprise that adults still pay a kid’s game is palpable.

The sad thing is that TSR could have chosen another path to a broader audience. In that version of the past D&D never becomes the fad it was but remains an adult hobby. The mass marketing moved into Hallmark stories along the lines Avalon Hill games or into mass market bookstores aimed at adults. In that world TSR probably still exists and Avalon Hill probably does too. That marketing, after all, marked the hobby as whole and just roleplaying as a kid’s hobby. We’d still be different but in the way chess players and amateur painters are today and wargamers were in the 1970s. Do not underestimate the changes to our hobby, internally and externally, that acceptance as an adult hobby would have.

So, I don’t consider the mass market era a golden age. It was a gilded age that hurt the hobby for two decades. The silver lining is some of the players who played as a teen and left at adulthood are coming back. The indie movement of a few years ago, the OSR, and even WotC’s targeting of people in their 20s with both of their editions of D&D all are doing today what TSR could have done then. The hobby survived long enough for use to get a do-over. Having seen the error of appealing specifically to children we can now appeal to adults, even those 10 and above.