I am eventually going to write again about the Golden Age of RPG’s, but frankly the research kind of depressed me. It heavily reminded me of times long gone, when I didn’t have to work for a living. So for the time being, I am going move on to the second great age of RPG’s. As I said in the first installment, the Golden Age either ended in 1981/1982 time frame or by my reckoning, around 1988/1989. So then the question becomes, when did the Silver Age begin and what prompted it. The answer to those questions is very easy, the dawn of the Silver Age was 1991 when Vampire: The Masquerade came out and started its ascendancy. There are those who will argue Vampire had nothing to do with the Silver Age, that it was AD&D2E which powered the Silver Age during the 90′s. I argue differently, because it was Vampire that was the first RPG to ever out sell AD&D and it did so at the peak of the Silver Age.
The Silver Age is marked heavily by TSR’s fall, the decline of AD&D and eventual acquisition of both by Wizards of the Coast. TSR’s decline occurred for couple of reasons. RPG’s in general were in decline primarily because a new genre of games emerged lead by Magic: The Gathering (MtG). With limited gamer dollars out there and with AD&D largely considered to be passe, gamers switched in mass to MtG. Those who stuck with RPG’s started playing Vampire, which was considered new, hip and cool. Seeing its money flow decline, TSR quickly jumped on the trading card game band wagon with SpellFire and then tried to grab market with Dragon Dice. Both games failed miserably and make matters worse, they made several poor marketing decisions concerning AD&D. Instead of concentrating on a few very popular game world settings, they diluted their market by introducing Dark Sun, Mystaria, Dragon Council and Birthright on top of GreyHawk, Forgotten Realms and DragonLance. Add in the general move towards splat books, instead of generating more money, they simply spread the money they were making across more products and continued to do so until none of the products were profitable. By 1997 when Wizard of the Coast acquired TSR, it was a shell of its former self and all but decimated, all the while White Wolf was building the power house World of Darkness product line. The Silver Age was a little bit about the fall of D&D, but more about the rise of Vampire: The Masquerade. I however have spoken more to TSR’s fall than White Wolf’s climb in popularity only because I know more about TSR than White Wolf.
There are some who make the claim that the Silver Age was also a time of enlightenment in RPG’s. That gamers were moving away from old paradigms like the classic Dungeon Crawl and PC’s killing monsters and stealing their stuff. Gamers were at the time moving towards more theatrical Role Playing where character development is more important that cool new powerz. The claim is these new games were more sophisticated not on the mechanical level, but rather on the intellectual level. This is of course a crock of shit, but I am not going to get into that right now, because I want to dedicate a whole post to Role Playing vs Roll Playing.
The end of the Silver age probably occurred around 2000 or 2001 when Wizards of the Coast released D&D third edition and started the second ascendancy of D&D. On a personal note, unlike the Golden Age, I was AWOL from gaming during the Silver Age. I played MtG, and was very obsessed with it for a couple of years. But as far as RPG’s go, I played next to none. When I returned to the States after Desert Storm, I played a little GURPS and AD&D at Fort Gordon and while I was in Germany, I put together a game group which lasted about six months and broke up because we were deployed to Bosnia. So I pretty much slept through the Silver Age and sadly, I have no real emotional attachment to the age at all.