Listening to old-timers describe RP in the 70s and 80s


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ThorinTeague

Creative/Father/Professor
Define cheating.

I encountered some munchkins (in the literal sense of much younger gamers) with like 30th level characters. But the way that had happened was they had never played an adventure per se. Rather, they had a group of 2 players and the DM would select a monster from the MM's and then the player would fight it, get treasure and full XP for the combat, and they'd rinse and repeat. For hours. For days. For whole summers. As the PC's leveled up, they got overgeared and OP compared to the sort of things the DM was throwing at him. They'd moved on to creatures in the Dieties and Demigods by that point.

But they had no dungeon crawling skills, had never encountered movement or, terrain, or traps, or reinforcements, or attrition, or really anything we'd associate with the experience. It was probably something like playing 5e with a long rest between each fight with each fight being slightly under leveled. They'd had a lot of fun playing, but also at the same time it was obvious they didn't know how to play.
I don't know. Unintentionally cheating maybe? There is certainly space for misinterpreting the rules, or playing in a style that is unique.

I guess I would have to say that it boils down to motives. You could get the same results by playing the game in an unintended, but honest way that you might get from deliberately cheating. Also there's a question of age. Really can't judge a group of 8-10 year olds vs. 16-18.
 

Virtually everyone I talked to between 1980 and 1989 was playing a different game and calling it "D&D".
I'd say right up to 2000 myself.

In the Time Before Time: In a lot of places. There simply are not that many gamers around. RPGs were a lot less popular. You could ask around at random, though with only a small chance of finding someone. You could post a written add and hang it at the Stop and Shop or Library. You might get a response. Your only real shot is to hang out at a bookstore or mall and wait to see if anyone walked over to the RPG shelf.

You did have the 'lifeline' of Dragon Magazine, or whatever other in print magazine you could find. And nearly no place other then the book store (or game store, if you had one) even carried RPG magazines. I remember my Stop and Shop did not even carry Nintendo Power. So, really, your only option, was to subscribe in the mail.

And I should say a LOT of 'older' gamers were very secretive and or defensive about even talking to anyone.

So every game was unique. You could not share ideas or exerpences, even if you wanted too.

By the 90s, it did get a bit better as there were more gamers and I lived closer to a mall. At the mall you could meet lots of gamers.
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
I'd say right up to 2000 myself.

In the Time Before Time: In a lot of places. There simply are not that many gamers around. RPGs were a lot less popular. You could ask around at random, though with only a small chance of finding someone. You could post a written add and hang it at the Stop and Shop or Library. You might get a response. Your only real shot is to hang out at a bookstore or mall and wait to see if anyone walked over to the RPG shelf.

You did have the 'lifeline' of Dragon Magazine, or whatever other in print magazine you could find. And nearly no place other then the book store (or game store, if you had one) even carried RPG magazines. I remember my Stop and Shop did not even carry Nintendo Power. So, really, your only option, was to subscribe in the mail.

And I should say a LOT of 'older' gamers were very secretive and or defensive about even talking to anyone.

So every game was unique. You could not share ideas or exerpences, even if you wanted too.

By the 90s, it did get a bit better as there were more gamers and I lived closer to a mall. At the mall you could meet lots of gamers.
Not to dismiss this, but for me it's another manifestation of how much the gaming experience differed. I don't know what a Stop and Shop is but I moved countries a lot as a kid (as an adult too but that's by the by) and there were gamers everywhere I went. There were the guys in the Netherlands who introduced me to D&D in the early 80s (although there was only one shop in The Hague area that sold gaming stuff - a wargames shop - until the international bookstore got in on the act). There were gamers when I moved to Japan (and an actual gaming store under Yokohama station with a ton of material!). When I moved back to the Netherlands, there were even more, and entire clubs of them by the time I made it over to the UK in the late 80s. Dragon magazine was only intermittently available (or too expensive for us kids) but school notice boards and word of mouth meant that we had a steady supply of people to join our group and were aware of several other groups playing in every town I lived in. Yes, we all were developing our own styles of play, but gaming was already a global phenomenon by the mid-80s, with a strong grass-roots infrastructure. At least, that was my experience, which of course differs from that of others - which is the only real common element here, I think :)
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Not to dismiss this, but for me it's another manifestation of how much the gaming experience differed. I don't know what a Stop and Shop is but I moved countries a lot as a kid (as an adult too but that's by the by) and there were gamers everywhere I went. There were the guys in the Netherlands who introduced me to D&D in the early 80s (although there was only one shop in The Hague area that sold gaming stuff - a wargames shop - until the international bookstore got in on the act). There were gamers when I moved to Japan (and an actual gaming store under Yokohama station with a ton of material!). When I moved back to the Netherlands, there were even more, and entire clubs of them by the time I made it over to the UK in the late 80s. Dragon magazine was only intermittently available (or too expensive for us kids) but school notice boards and word of mouth meant that we had a steady supply of people to join our group and were aware of several other groups playing in every town I lived in. Yes, we all were developing our own styles of play, but gaming was already a global phenomenon by the mid-80s, with a strong grass-roots infrastructure. At least, that was my experience, which of course differs from that of others - which is the only real common element here, I think :)
The places you mention are all large, cosmopolitan cities. Not only do you have a better chance of finding gamers and game stores, but you have a larger percentage of people who move in and out of those cities, bringing and sharing experiences and ideas from other places they lived. Where you lived greatly affected access to gaming communities, materials, and ideas. This is much less true today due to the Internet and social media.
 

Mark Hope

Adventurer
The places you mention are all large, cosmopolitan cities. Not only do you have a better chance of finding gamers and game stores, but you have a larger percentage of people who move in and out of those cities, bringing and sharing experiences and ideas from other places they lived. Where you lived greatly affected access to gaming communities, materials, and ideas. This is much less true today due to the Internet and social media.
I mean, yes? My point is that people lived in different places and had different gaming experiences as a result. There was no one "this is how it was back in the day". Clearly things are different now, but I wasn't comparing then with now :)
 

Hex08

Hero
And are you still in that small town? Have you been other places? Heard other things? If so, you should know overgeneralizing is false.

And if you haven't been in other places, and don't know--by itself, that should tell you you shouldn't be generalizing because your experience was extremely local.

Either way, you're making a generalization you shouldn't be making, and shouldn't be surprised when you get taken to task for it.



Because they want to work their mouths and make broad claims? If they can't be bothered, again, they either shouldn't be generalizing, or should be expect to be called on it.

Again, the issues is that all these objections could be pushed off the table by putting the phrase "Where I played..."


Since we're talking about the people who make claims where others can hear them, the others don't matter. They aren't making such claims, at least where many people will hear them, so they're not in the group being referred to.
It looks like we are just going in circles so I will just address some of your reply. I specifically wasn't making generalizations. I spoke to my experience and even said that you and I had different ones. Since I wasn't making a generalization, I feel like I should be surprised if I am taken to task for it (although I wasn't surprised at that someone had a different outlook than me, just that they were misrepresenting what I said).

No, I don't still live in that same small town and haven't for decades and it's not relevant to my point. I was specifically talking about my experiences then and in response to your experiences you stated you had in 1976.
 

Autumnal

Bruce Baugh, Writer of Fortune
But since there's not a huge number of people who played in the West Coast or around MIT at the time who are both still around and still wedded to that style (or even D&D), you don't hear it presented as The Way Things Were.
That‘s almost my cue. :) I started playing in 1977, aged 12, taught by classmates in school. I grew up in Pasadena, CA. Dad worked for Jet Propulsion Labs. (If you saw the ‘90s movie Arrival, with Charlie Sheen? Sheen had to have been working in Dad’s office or at least on the same floor, dealing with ranging systems for the Deep Space Network.) My high school had 700 students, the smallest of Pasadena’s four public high schools, and we had speakers of 48 first languages other than English. I had classmates and friends who lived in the Northwest Pasadena ghetto (2nd largest in Los Angeles after Watts), and others who lived in South Pasadena, with a median household income just behind Beverly Hills.

What I mean is, if you look up “cosmopolitan”, there’s one of my class photos.

The center of gravity for gaming there was the Caltech Gaming Club and the nearby bookstore Book Village. The guy who ran it was active in SoCal sf fandom, and carried Lee Gold’s RPG fanzine Alarums & Excursions. I got the blue box and a couple issues of A&E (31 and 32, I think) at the same time. I therefore played face to face in groups that were pretty Gygaxian, with up to 10-12 players with PCs (often two PCs each if fewer than six or so players) plus NPC followers, a designated caller, the whole nine yards. Meanwhile, I was reading each month about wildly different styles of play, from the hellhole of New York City hyper competition (Paranoia is a not very exaggerated satire of it) to Dave Hargrave’s glorious excess in Arduin to Lee’s and others‘ roleplaying- and storytelling-oriented campaigns.

Gradually I realized some things.

* Since I wasn’t available to play as often as others, I was always going to have some of the lowest-level characters. I was never going to get high-level play at all. The Caltech club reset its campaigns each year, and the local high school DMs did the same. So building up over multiple years wasn’t an option. Starting at a level higher than 1st was regarded as a form of cheating, getting power I hadn‘t “earned“.

* None of this was what I actually wanted in the first place. I’d been lured in with the promise of participating in fantasy adventures like I loved reading, but dungeon-oriented quasi-militaristic campaigning wasn’t that. There were only small scraps of wilderness to get through to find the dungeons, not marvelous worlds to explore. There was no social engagement at all, precious little opportunity to develop any sort of PC personality.

* Few of the people I was playing with actually liked or cared about me very much. I was desperate enough for community that I’d put up with a lot of grunt work.

in my last couple years of high school, I sort of blossomed socially, becoming part of the music, theater, and journalism scene. Gaming withered as I started spending time with people who did like me and helped to grow further. I didn’t play again until college, and then it was Call of Cthulhu (with Jason Carl, now a prominent social media person for the World of Darkness), RuneQuest, and other games, played in ways very unlike what I’d started with.
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
It looks like we are just going in circles so I will just address some of your reply. I specifically wasn't making generalizations.

And I wasn't necessarily talking about you. I haven't seen enough of your comments about "how things were" to judge that. But I'll absolutely stand by my opinion that many people who talk about that period in gaming are both overgeneralizing, and by doing so effectively passing and/or reinforcing misinformation. As such, I think when called on it they absolutely get what they deserve. They should have known better.

If I'm taking you to task for anything here, its for making excuses for others on this, to the degree you appear to be doing so.
 

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