When I wrote my introduction to this series, I noted that I began roleplaying in 1979. It took until today for me to realize that was 40 years ago. Thanks for making me feel ancient. If you had asked me then what I’d be doing this far into the future, I probably would have expressed hopes and dreams about having run some decades-long campaign or having binders full of worldbuilding notes on the intricately detailed setting I’d developed. Of course neither of those things happened.
While I never completely let go of roleplaying, I have periodically wandered away and back again. My younger self might feel disappointed that it’s not a through line in my life. Each time I’ve stepped away I’ve brought back knowledge and experience that have made me a better player, guide, and designer. Past me would be excited that I’ve supported myself as a game designer for the past three years. I think he’d ask why it took me so long. I’m also pretty sure he’d be confused by what I create now, and hate it with a passion.
Making Me Feel Ancient
What makes me feel ancient, though, is that so many of my contemporaries cling to the past. Things that I loved 40 years ago aren’t the same things I love now. Yes, there are nostalgic bits I cling to, but I don’t build my life around them. I have great affection for my first car (which was still a couple of years off in ‘79) but it wouldn’t meet my needs today. It was a big deal when I got a color console TV, a cassette player, and my own land line back then, but if those were all I had to work with today it would be frustrating and a possibly a little sad.
Don’t tell me that there can never be better genre television than Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or Mork & Mindy. Please don’t make me have to read Conan pastiche or Thomas Covenant novels. Yes, there was good stuff then, but the joy of it is that we carry the best of it forward and jettison the crap to make room for new and better stuff.
What I want from a roleplaying game has changed. My focus is on story and character development. I want systems that have those elements baked in, not tacked onto rules for miniatures combat. We have new ideas not just about game design and storytelling, but inclusiveness. While we clearly still have a long way to go, we’re learning to treat one another better, and improving the social aspects of roleplaying.
Old doesn’t mean bad. It doesn’t mean better, either. If the only thing I had available to play was 1st Edition then sure, I’d embrace that. But I’d hack the hell out of it to make it fit with everything I’ve learned and experienced over the past 40 years.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.