Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The 3rd Wave

The 3rd wave was probably the most short lived and confusing period in my personal gaming history. It probably did as much harm as good. The reference is one I have used for years as both the end of one style of gaming (having been grounded in chess, wargames and an obscure game from 3M called Feudal) and the birth of another (free form, all but structureless role-playing full of heavy rules modifications,etc).

And we absolutely LOVED it.

Comprised of 1st (OD&D) and 2nd wave (AD&D) rpg players and materials, the 'welding' process, 'blending' and 'freestyle' rose to the top as THE primary way to create and play a role playing game. Add to that the first use of home computers in tabletop gaming sessions (of the three DMs in the group 2 had computers-a Vic-20 and the other a C-64) and you have the makings of a Frankenstein Monster that seemed powered by cheap beer, creative one-ups-manship and New Wave music through the peak period of 1983-84.

Most of this was reactionary. The early rule sets were nearly hieroglyphic in nature (not a value judgment) and resulted in many interpretations of the rules. I, unknowingly, had bought 3 items to start that were unrelated (the Blue Book box, an AD&D module and an issue of Dragon magazine). The whole stack made no sense and after giving it a good look over I filed it on the shelf and probably wouldn't have picked it back up if I hadn't met my first DM. When I showed him what I had he kinda chuckled and said it was no wonder I was confused. He went to his bookshelf and pulled down his collection-Player Handbook, DM Guide, Monster Manual, the Greyhawk setting and the City State of the Invincible Overlord. That day it clicked. All the pieces fell into place. 3 years later I would be running my first business-a mail order supply house for AD&D and thousands of other products. How things can change in just one day.

But something like that can't last. It's too inbred and ritualistic. You almost had to know someone playing to be able to figure out this new gaming concept (remember, this is a time when only certain groups of people were even playing OD&D). I think TSR soon realized it would lose its way if it allowed this type of gaming to continue. They needed to keep their customers on a TSR path, on message so to speak, and thus was born the concept of the pre-made campaign settings and supplements. No longer would modules just be disconnected adventures. They would take place in specific settings. Greyhawk, Dragonlance, Forgotten Realms and so on.

No more would players enter the game through those already playing and playing a variation, very likely, at that. They would have a path to follow, a set of rules and settings where anyone could play just by buying the right sequence of TSR products. Mind you, I'm not calling them out on this. I think the concept is solid (and is something I practice myself) but the execution over the years left a lot to be desired.

Almost as quickly as it came together it fell apart. But from those ashes a multitude of games and gaming styles would be born. A love of video games would soon mix with frpg and lead us to the early crpg. People would move away, the circle would be broken. But the spirit was never lost. For a very short time tabletop gaming had become the wild west, where you could do absolutely anything.

And yes, there are days when I miss those 12 hour sessions very much. I've never had that much fun gaming since. Here's to brave new worlds of imagination and the energy to make them come to life.

And that's the mission statement of this blog. Kickin' it old schooly no fooly :)

Next Up: What is 'Blending'?