The Adventure Game School

Reading other blogs talking about "old school" games and how the latest edition of D&D is/isn't like an old school game really emphasizes something I've come to realize:  my approach to role-playing games is not the same as a lot of other people.

Before I had heard about Dungeons & Dragons, I was a big fan of Choose Your Own Adventure books.  Our school library had them and they were very popular with all my friends.  The Cave of Time, Third Planet from Altair, Who Killed Harlowe Thrombey? -- stories that were also games, where you got a little bit of the story, and then made an interesting choice about what course of action you wanted the character to take next.

About the same time I'd also played my first text-based adventure game on a computer:  Colossal Adventure (a variant of Colossal Cave). They were much like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, except they usually had a shorter passages of text, more choices, and an inventory that tracked things you were collecting on your adventure.

One fateful day in the summer of 1983 my babysitter, a goth/metal chick who let us listen to Alice Cooper, told me that if I liked reading Choose Your Own Adventure books, then I'd probably like the game she'd been playing: Dungeons & Dragons.  She described it as being like a CYOA, but with more choices, and dice to see if you were successful if you tried to do something hard.  She made up a little example game with some of our regular boardgame dice and some scraps of paper.  I loved it.

I got my parents to buy me the Dungeons & Dragons Basic game book (possibly for my birthday) and a set of weird D&D dice to go with it.  I also bought the module B5: Horror on the Hill - most likely because I liked the colours and artwork.  I set about trying to figure out how to run the game, and then got my friends together to give it a shot.  They loved it too.

I don't think I ever actually read the entire rule book though, and that's a trend that has continued through every RPG I've tried.  They've mostly been games based on that original "like a CYOA" example game, with varying amounts of the rules presented in the books added on as well.  Gameplay was always about exploring, solving puzzles and mysteries, and enjoying the world of adventure the games provided.

As I continued to play RPGs, I stayed interested in Adventure Games both in print (Fighting Fantasy, Lone Wolf, Endless Quest) and on the computer (Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken, Grim Fandango).

Reading other peoples approaches to RPGs on blogs and forums I've grown to understand that this was far from a universal approach to playing these sorts of games.  Many other people approached games like D&D from a background in wargaming, a desire to tell stories, do a lot of in-character acting, or run some sort of fantasy/medieval simulation.

This has most recently been made very apparent by discussions around "what is old school" and to what extend 4th Edition D&D is "old school" or at least "plays like it always has".  I've found that 4e doesn't play very much like how D&D was introduced to me.  It seems much more like Warhammer (or Rogue Trader) which I started playing in Highschool after our group stopped playing D&D.

At the same time, I don't find myself strongly identifying with a lot of "old school" gaming discussion. People suggest lots of things about that style of play that I hadn't really heard of or considered until a few months ago.  I'd never seen a printed sheet of hex graph-paper until last fall, so there was certainly no "clearing hexes" when I played D&D.

Something that is perhaps overlooked in a lot of discussion around RPGs on blogs and in forums is that back in the 80s there were probably as many different ways to pick up a game book and play an RPG as there were groups playing it.  For some people (and I'm guessing this would include the game's designers) the newest edition of D&D plays very much like how they've always approached RPGs.  For others (and I'll include myself here) it plays like something else.

While the genre of the game is generally the same for me, the gameplay itself is quite different. Videogames like Grim Fandango and Myst remind me of how I've always played D&D more than World of Warcraft and Diablo do.  I'm not sure that some modern RPGs are well suited to playing like that, and that to have fun with them you really need to approach them in another manner.

So while the game may say "D&D" on the cover, I think to fully enjoy it some people will have to change their approach to the game, lest they try to hammer a square peg into a round hole. :)