I was going to speak more about the Golden Age of our hobby, but I decided not to. I went to the trouble of having a couple of fairly extensive email conversations with a couple of old friends about that time period. We had a great lot of fun reminiscing about the good old days and wallowing in nostalgia. The problem is, I came away from it somewhat depressed about the whole thing. You see, I am a middle aged man, my youth is gone and it is never coming back. I am a different person and the world is a different place. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing really, because time moves on and our lives progress, but this does not keep us from looking back on our youth with some fondness.
So what does this have to do with gaming ? Well, my talking extensively about the Golden Age with friends got me to thinking about the current retro clone revolution, or the old school renaissance if that is what you want to call it. The question I have is, is this movement really a long term shift in the hobby or is this just a case of a group of middle aged men trying to recapture their lost youth, which will fade as these people start becoming grandparents and wonder away from gaming again. There is some credence to both theories.
This movement does not seem to be centered around a single person or company. Several retro clones have been released, both as commercial products and as free products done out of love. HackMaster 4th edition was the first of these products, followed shortly by Castles and Crusades. Not to mention the resurgence of Traveller, RuneQuest and Paranoia by Mongoose games. All of which were/are successful product lines. The there is the free products, OSRIC, Labyrinth Lords, BFRPG, Dark Dungeons and a few others, which have also shown to be popular. For the first time in more than a decade, there are adventures and supplements on the market that are compatible with D&D and AD&D. In short, people are making money and if people are making money, that is a good sign for the future and the long term viability of this movement.
On the other hand, who are buying these products ? Is this movement bringing in new players or just stroking ego’s of old players ? As close as I can tell by surfing the various forums, the answer is, the latter rather than the former. I see no sign of a new generation of gamers coming up in significant numbers, playing any of these games. None of the publishers or developers of these games even seem to be targeting the younger players. The future of this movement depends not on the 40 somethings, but rather on the 12-16 year olds who will be playing these games for the next 10-15 years and who will be the future game designers and adventure writers. Without new blood, this movement is doomed and the movement does not seem interested in new blood.
I think in the long run, this renaissance will more or less be a bump in the road. Right now there is a small demand for old school AD&D/OD&D modules and such, but it is primarily in demand from a small demographic of older players and this demographic, as far as I can tell, is not a growing one. These companies are making no effort to get their products into game stores or even into Amazon, they are sticking to Print on Demand through Lulu and or PDF downloads with DriveThruRPG. So while this is an interesting spike, in another few years these companies will probably move on to other revenue streams. In another 10 years, the kids who grew up playing D&D 3E will be entering thier 30′s/40′s and start looking back fondly on their misspent youth, only this time Paizo with their 3E clone Pathfinder, will be there to catch them.