Why Old School Gaming Needs New Players

Earlier this week I was asked what type of new old school adventure modules would interest me enough to part with what little money I have that doesn’t go to basic survival or paying off the huge cancer bills. I looked at the boxes of modules from TSR, Judges Guild, Mayfair Games, etc. I have from the 1970s and 1980s — that’s probably 300 or 400 modules — (plus modules from old Dragon, old White Dwarf, and old Dungeon magazines) and realized that I would be unlikely to pay the high per page (and shipping) costs associated with old school modules today unless the module was something I knew in advance that I would love as much as Tegel Manor, Keep on the Borderlands, the City-State of the Invincible Overlord, etc. And there aren’t many modules likely to do that.

About all I buy these days are PDF copies of magazines like Knockspell and Fight On! (as I can be pretty sure that there will be something in each issue that will be worth the money even if Sturgeon’s Law applies to the issue as a whole — which it hasn’t yet) and PDF copies of rules that look interesting. I’d rather have hardcopies, but shipping them is too expensive for me.

Let’s face it. I’m a horrible target for publishers. I prefer to homebrew my settings and adventures, I already have more published adventures I can could ever use even if I never created another homebrew adventure, and I have very little money to spend on new material just to support it. While most old school gamers aren’t unlucky enough to be in my financial condition, I suspect the majority of us homebrew and already own more published adventures than we could ever use.

This means that as long as we are around, the hobby of playing old school style games isn’t going to die even if no new old school material is ever created by the RPG industry. However, if a part of RPG industry is going to survive on publishing old school material, this means they probably need to really concentrate on getting more old school players into the the hobby.

To be honest, I get the impression that a lot of the success of old school publishers thus far has depended on a (relatively) small group of long time old school players buying material they don’t really need because they want to support the publication of old school material. I know if I wasn’t spending all my disposable income on cancer bills, I’d be doing just that. While this may be great for jump-starting things, it can only go on for a limited time before people burn out on doing this — especially as more and more companies create old school material and try to sell it. If an old-school RPG industry is going to survive, let alone thrive, they are going to have to find a way to attract a good number of new players to old school play. New players will not already possess 10 or 20 modules (let alone a few hundred as I do), copies of every major rule system out there, etc. and would therefore be a much better market for new old school products than old grognards like me.

Note that I said the RPG industry needs to to that, not the old school hobby. The old school hobby can easily thrive with a slow trickle of new players, it’s the industry who need a steady and larger stream of new players, therefore most of the work of getting those players is going to have to fall on the industry. I’ve recruited seven new old school players over the last year. That fills up my game, so I doubt I will recruit nearly that many this year. I don’t need more, but the industry does if it is to have a real chance of thriving.

Randall Stukey

Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund.

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Randall is the author and publisher of a number of old school games (Microlite74, Microlite81, BX Advanced, etc) through RetroRoleplaying.com. Randall's main job, however, is being caregiver for his MS-afflicted cancer survivor wife. You can support Randall with a donation to the RetroRoleplaying Cancer Fund. Gates & Glamours RSS Feed

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JerJoetheLawyerTimeshadowsFlynnStuart Recent comment authors
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Jer
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I guess there's also the question of whether the hobby is big enough and lucrative enough to support an industry though. A lot of the stuff that TSR did in the 80s and other game companies have continued to do since then is the stuff that they did to build out from gaming being something for hobbyists to being something large enough and profitable enough to support an industry. But old-school gaming is somewhat a reaction against the actions those companies took and a look back to what the hobby was like before they took those moves. Maybe I'm completely… Read more »

JoetheLawyer
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I posted something related to this on my blog yesterday…

http://wondrousimaginings.blogspot.com/2010/02/retro-cool-how-to-spread-old-school.html

And I'm shocked SHOCKED that I'm not listed on the right… 🙂

Timeshadows
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Tekumel has had several different rules sets and the fanbase is always slowly (very slowly) increasing, and it is still very much alive.–I think the key is to create compelling, high-calibre works of a detailed and intricate nature that can be mined for decades, not endless knock-offs and repetitive dungeon crawls which seem to appeal primarily to neo-grognards, whereas the true Old Guard players have played in their hombrewed campaign settings for so long that new players find them as 'opaque' and 'daunting' as Tekumel. If the industry wishes to find new players, it must adapt the material to expand… Read more »

Flynn
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Well, to be honest, Joe, neither am I, but I'm still new to the scene. 🙂

In Like Flynn
http://flynnwd.blogspot.com/

And thanks, Randall, for a thought-provoking post.

With Regards,
Flynn

Stuart
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I've balked at the "Old School" label a few times (I never played Kung-Fu Psychic Cowboys back in the 80s), but I think DIY is a very good way of describing the approach to RPGs we all seem to share.

I find all of you guys ("The Community") much more important than "The Industry" for my own enjoyment of my personal gaming hobby. 🙂

Daddy Grognard
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Randall, you and I must have some of telepathic link. As I commented on Joe's post the other day ,this is totally where I'm coming from. I also homebrew for reasons of cost and to avoid the Forgotten Realms syndrome, where one of your players is always going to know more about the setting that you and everyone is going to have an opinion about it. I've got heaps of modules as well, so I'm sorted for product. While it is easy(ish) to woo players from other editions and even bring back those who have played and gone dormant, the… Read more »

Randall
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Jer, Most old school gamers include the time TSR had D&D in the "big time" (circa 1979-1985) in their definition of "old school gaming." The "golden age" of D&D had come and gone by the time TSR started making lots of changes to the game that started to turn old school players off. D&D was extremely popular and mainstream (with huge print runs being normal) relatively early in its existence. Old school tries to recapture what D&D was in the early years before AND while it was very popular. The business model back then was to sell mainly to DMs… Read more »

Randall
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Stuart,

The hobby has always been far more important to me than the industry. In the first place, if the industry disappeared tomorrow, it wouldn't affect my part of the hobby at all. Of course, if the industry completely disappeared tomorrow, all that would happen is a bunch of new, smaller companies would spring up over the next few years. Thanks to software, the Internet, PDFs, and Print-on-demand publishers, the cost of entry into the tabletop RPG industry is very low.

Randall
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Finally, apologies to everyone who should be on my Old School Blog list and isn't. I really need to update it, but am so far behind in so many things that I just never seem to get around to it.

Jer
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The business model back then was to sell mainly to DMs (AD&D1e players needed — at most — a copy of the Players Handbook) and to concentrate on bringing new players into the game to generate cash. Sure. The game was novel and growing from nothing, so this was a great business tactic to take for the industry. If you can get this model back then it's a huge victory. It's part of what I think Wizards was trying to recapture when they had their big push for third edition D&D back in 2000, mixed with the post-mid-80s trend of… Read more »

Kiashu
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Don't hassle me, I'm working on it, damnit.