Today I got together with friends and played a fun miniatures game, AT-43. The company that created it went into liquidation four years ago. After a brief flurry of interest brought on by fire sale prices, the game settled into its new normal–it slipped from people’s minds.
We face this struggle all of the time in roleplaying. Many local fans of 4th edition D&D were disappointed by the coming of 5th Edition–and it’s growing harder to recruit for 4e campaigns starting up now, despite an abundance of books still available for 4th.
When a New Edition Splits the Player Base
The worst situation is where the new edition is much less popular than older editions. White Wolf games suffered this locally; players had a great deal of themselves invested in the old World of Darkness. The new die system may have featured better math (and fewer game breaking powers), but people didn’t fall in love with the new clans, conflicts, and stories.
Recruiting for games became difficult and for a while the games weren’t publicly offered, but recently there’s been a local renaissance. People are unapologetically offering old World of Darkness games, while others are offering games from the new. GMs for both make it clear that experience (and interest) in either is sufficient… and it’s working. But recruiting is still harder than it used to be.
When the whole player base has moved on–as, say, it felt like in the world of D&D by 2002, or Champions on release of 4th edition, the situation is easier for a new player. You join the game that’s on the shelves, the game that everyone is running.
It’s often difficult to recruit players for an old edition at this point–though, if your group is generating new roleplayers, they’ll learn the game you’re running. As they gain more experience, they might want to experiment with the new hotness… but you’ve created new gamers who will probably always treasure the game that got them into roleplaying. That’s still a big success.
One very interesting trend of late is the Old School Revival movement. Via clones of old editions of D&D (and actual old D&D books), people are returning to (and recruiting for) D&D as it was played in the 70s and 80s. Even better, many GMs are using forty years of experience to craft new experiences with skillful rules mastery. Martin’s articles about Hexcrawls have been a fascinating look into that world. Another interesting tool for these games with Martin’s fingers all over it, is the Drop Map.
So Many are Lost
While a lot of games have happy endings, there are even more that have faded completely into obscurity. When I was discussing RIFTS last week, I briefly remembered TORG, a similar “worlds collide” system from the early 90s. For all of the great games that live on in new editions, there are a number that just disappear.
One of the games that intrigued me, but was too much math for me to casually tackle, was Journeyman. I rarely think about dragging it out of mothballs, but it’d be interesting to use the world physics, settings, and random tables to create a galaxy to explore. These days I’d probably break out Diaspora for the actual rules system… but it’d be an interesting journey.
Do complete in one book indie RPGs avoid the trap of obsolescence? It’s been a long time since I played The Pool, but you wouldn’t have to ask me twice to take a Dog to Bridalveil Falls to save the faithful. On the other hand, there are a number of games that never caught on and count among the lost…
What’s your favorite game that’s been lost to time? Did an edition change split the player base, or was it just never popular enough to be supported sufficiently? Is there a game (or edition of a game) that you keep alive, but you never meet anyone else who still plays?