I have written about the Golden Age (1974-1989) and the Silver Age (1991-2000), this begs the question of where are we now. The problem with setting “Ages” is you really rarely know where you are until long after its over and it is not unusual for the genre you are speaking about to go in to a long decline before the new emergence occurs. It is definitely possible we moved from the Silver Age directly into the Bronze Age. Dungeons and Dragons 3rd edition (D&D3E ) certainly caused a large influx of new players and brought a large number of players back to the table who had not gamed in a decade or more. It is also very true the history of the RPG hobby is the history of D&D. Even the Silver Age was characterized by D&D’s decline as much as by the rise of the World of Darkness.
There are other things which point to the serious probability we have already seen the Bronze Age. For instance the Old School Renaissance, which is a niche within the RPG hobby of players and publishers returning to the old games. This renaissance started with the publication of HackMaster in 2001 and was followed by Castles & Crusades, New Editions of Traveller, RuneQuest and Tunnels & Trolls. It also gave birth to the Simulacrum Games which are games that attempt to emulate the old games without treading on copyrights and allow for the publication of new material for the old games. Simulacrum Games include, but not limited to, Labyrinth Lords, Spells and Wizardry, OSRIC, Lamentation of the Flame Princess to name just a few. This movement is characterized mostly by people who have fond memories playing the game back in the early 80′s, have now reached middle age and want to recapture that feeling of wonder and exploration we all felt when our first characters took their first tentative steps into the Caves of Chaos.
The Open Game License opened up the possibility of 3rd party game companies to write material for D&D3E and they did. In the years following the release of D&D3E there was a huge expansion in the number of companies writing game material. The Internet also gave rise to electronic distribution, companies no longer had to print actual books, but instead release their work as a PDF. The majority of this content was crap, but there was some really good stuff put out as well, material that would have never seen the light of day in previous decades.
If in fact the Bronze Age started in 2000/2001, it is also a good possibility it ended in 2008. In that year two things occurred, first the U.S. had entered into recession in late 2007 (known among my conservative friends as the Carter/Clinton recession) and recessions are never good for business, but also tends to hit niche hobbies harder than other business types. The second thing which occurred was the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition (D&D4E). First, when D&D3E was released, I think the hobby was ready for a serious change to the game, second players had no where else to go, Wizards of the Coast simply stopped selling Advanced Dungeons and Dragons 2nd Edition (AD&D2E) and if you wanted support, you transitioned to D&D3E. When D&D4E came out, people were not ready for a complete over haul of the game and Paizo Publishing took advantage of the Open Game License and published the PathFinder RPG, which is 99% compatible with D&D3E, so players had a place to go for new material, they did not even have to buy new books if they didn’t want to. Although D&D4E was not a failure, it also did not live up to expectations, initial sales were far below what D&D3E produced and players who did adopt the new game, did so very slowly. In effect, the hobby has been in contraction for at least 2 years and it looks like this trend will continue.
At this point, I am not sure I want to say with any authority that the Bronze Age has come and went, but it does appear as though it has. However, it is just as likely it was the Silver Age getting its second wind. Most Comic Book historians place the end of the Silver Age at 1970, however between 1970 and 1975 there was a mini resurgence marked by the Death of Gwen Stacy, the Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams Green Lantern/Green Arrow stories and Mike Grell’s work on the Warlord and the Legion of Superheroes. It is well within the realm of possibility that the Bronze Age is yet to come. Either way, I can’t wait to see what happens next.