Monday, June 10, 2013

Smash It & Build Anew

Just to be clear regarding this, I detest nostalgia.  That's in part because I rail against so many of the things nostalgic interpretation of the past depends on, chiefly the mental removal of all the unpleasant nasty things that were never fixed and continue to plague society, as if to pretend somehow that those things didn't exist then, or that we were not in fact more ignorant in our childhood than we are now.  On the whole, this would be harmless, but so many older people use it as a weapon against the young, to dump on the problems on them as though these were never responsibilities of any previous generation ... along with the ridiculous notion that life OUGHT to be pure and simple and in fact based upon the brains of infant children, such as those attending kindergarten, and not the magnificent smorgasboard of intellectual gratification the actual unrestricted adult world offers.

I did not learn everything I need in kindergarten.  In fact, where it comes down to the mat, I learned pretty much jack shit in kindergarten - all that necessary wisdom about respecting other people and learning how to love was actually sourced out to my miserable, difficult, developmental 20s, where the only actual kindergarten teacher I knew was working as a prostitute because she'd been fired.

Yes, I did learn things from her.

Sunday, sacked out in bed, recovering from the game the night before, I found myself thinking of the campaign I ran back between 1984 and 1994 ... and about the fact that I don't remember any of the dungeons, any of the little adventures the party had, even any of the monsters they faced, really ... in anything like what one would think of in a typical adventure.  I remember they fought in a war against elves ... but seriously, I don't remember one detail about the leaders, or who killed who, or even who of the party may have died and come back to life.

In short, I tend to see those adventures the party has the same way I see my own, actual life.  I remember we went to bars; I remember we saw bands and got hammered and slept with people.  I don't remember all the time which girls I took to which parties ... hell, I don't remember ninety-eight hundreths of the parties themselves.  I remember a few really BAD parties ... but for other reasons.  People who got injured, or places I got stranded.  I don't remember the houses or the apartments.  I didn't try to remember.

I can remember generally what happened to that party over those eleven years.  I remember they started in Vienna; they slowly cut their way to the Black Sea coast, to Odessa.  I don't remember anything of that trip, but it was months of campaigning.  From Odessa they went to south Turkey, and then they decided to plunder a coastal town in Cyprus.  Limassol.  Funny I remember the places.

That was a huge battle, I remember; people died, but I can't remember who.  They took a lot of treasure out of the town and fled west, to Valencia in Spain.  There was some reason for them to go inland, and they wound up around Toledo.  They bought land, started raising cattle ... when that got slow I inserted a war.  The black elves of the Cantabrian Mountains in north Spain attacked from their underground lairs (I had different versions of drow/gray elves in those days) and marched on Madrid.  The party joined the King of Portugal and fought the Elves in a massive battle ... and for that they were awarded a fief in the province of Viana, at the very north of Portugal.  By then they were name-level.

After choosing to let ten years pass, to get married, build up their position, etc., they decided to expand their power into the Portuguese colonies of Africa.  The main party left their henchmen to manage their estates and they went to Guinea-Bissau, where they fought back apes, explored the interior, replaced the governor of the colony when he was murdered by British privateers (I've actually forgotten how that happened) and ultimately began to build roads in the colony.  Then they left more henchmen in Guinea and set out to return to Europe.

They were caught in a storm, crashed on the coast of Grenada in the Leeward Islands, hopped islands until they got to Cuba.  There they seized a ship of the Main, paid off the crew, and headed east ... but unfortunately they were again hit by a storm and had to abandon the ship on the Irish coast.  There followed months of adventuring in Ireland as they got embroiled in seiging a castle.  At last they returned home to Portugal.

We were playing side adventures, trying to rescue one of the character's daughters who had decided to become a cleric (she was 18 by then), and the African campaign was trying to put an acquired landless henchman on the throne of a small kingdom of northern Nigeria.

But what I've written above comprises almost everything I remember.  We played night after night, they fought miles of monsters and heaped up huge piles of treasure, they toppled governments and led men in massive great battles ... but the details are lost to me.

I compare that with those people who have their copy of the Tomb of Horrors and can relate step for step of a night of adventure 30 years ago.  They've had that adventure sitting on their shelf all this time and they can read through it like a book to lift those memories to the fore ... but I'm not sure this is a good thing.

My campaigns have been fluid, like my life has been fluid.  I don't have picture albums, I don't have home movies.  I remember being in this place or that, or meeting these people, or fighting with some political faction against some other ... but these are things in my PAST.  I don't care that I'm not able to re-live them.  There's a lot of waste reliving something that's been done and is gone now.  It's a decision to die in small parts, to surrender the present and the future in favor of something that really is dead.

I wonder how much resistance to expanding and developing a campaign is for people who hold so tightly in their memories to special runnings they had twenty years ago.  I wonder how many parties ran in the Tomb of Horrors this past weekend not because it is a really good adventure (it isn't, unless you want to call the fucked up, misplaced smarminess of DMs as iconic), but because the DM really likes it and just wants to "live it again," like they did in the old days.

I wonder how much D&D exists metaphorically in bubble-wrap, crated and bronzed, stored on neat little shelves where it can gather dust until its time to be taken down and marched through just the way it was, like a civil war battle.  I don't feel, you see, that what happened in that campaign long ago carries much relevance to me today.  I'm sure I learned skills; I'm sure with practice I got to be a better DM.  I know I invented rules then that I still play with, the combat formula I use, for instance.  I know that I grew as a DM those years, but that change is in me, not in the adventures I ran or in who killed what monster.

I never kept any notes from those days.  I never kept any floorplans or preparation.  I threw it all out as soon as it was used, because to me all that was worthless the moment the party finished with it.  Better that I make something new from scratch, even better that I remake whatever I made at that time from scratch again, so that new ideas and new life would go with the act of creation ... so that the person running the game wasn't some reflection of me from the past, but the me that exists right now, with my present outlook.  The one that is living new memories, not old ones.

I have always been the sort to leave the past in the trash can.  That, I think, is where the old school game should be left - in the trash.  If there is anything that is worthy in the letters OSR, it's the last one.  The actual Renaissance, that became the Renaissance because it gained the knowledge of Rome and Greece that had been lost, did not recreate Rome and Greece.  It surpassed them.  It manufactured a world that had never existed before.

That's the task at hand.  To recreate the game, to make it greater, to surpass the old guys, not to humble ourselves before them.  To do more than just reinvent the wheel, as WOTC is bent on doing forever.  To create something that has never existed, was never conceived to exist, by the simple-minded pagans of the ancient era (the 60s and 70s).  Learn from what has gone before, but don't emulate it.  Don't fetishize it.  Lift up from the muck and the mire, smash the old temples and build new edifices that would smash the minds of Gygax and Arneson.

You have it in your power to be Newton to their Archimedes.  Enlighten yourselves.

1 comment:

Vlad Malkav said...

Inspiring, I must say. And I am pleased to note that we hold pretty much the same view on the past.

You summed up very nicely my views on the OSR. This trend, that I only discovered last year, seems full of promises, if only they can grow out of their roots and use those for a full fledged tree, nourished by the mud and corpses of what was before.

And it's not like they are lacking in ideas and energy.

Well, refreshing, be it the part on life, and the one on gaming (is there even really a difference...).


Oh, by the way, I must thank you for your insights on my Infrastructure and general map problems.
Now I am cursed to study biomes, climates, soil fertility and other basic elements, all that and more to forge the missing parts of my world and rebuild the wrong ones.
And only after all that will I finally be able to start populating it ...

Needless to say, learning and building that much is thrilling.

So, thanks ^^.