Thursday, November 10, 2005

The role of nostalgia in gaming

This post over on The 20' By 20' Room combined with my recent plans to go back to old campaign settings got me thinking a bit about nostalgia. Nostalgia is a powerfull emotion that brings back the best of old memories. It can be harnessed to build excitement about a new campaign. But there's also some dangers.

One danger is that of rose colored glasses and the softening effect of passage of time. You might resurrect some ideas from an old campaign, forgetting the fact that the nostalgic memory is based on the one good session in a generally blah campaign. Of course if you can examine what went right in that one good session, you can turn this disadvantage into a strength.

A similar danger is that you just replay the old campaign. The new campaign will most likely feel stale because you're just solving the same old problems. The new campaign has to have new problems to solve. You can reference the old campaign, but don't let all the problems be solved.

A final danger is a crippling one. If you let yourself feel like the new campaign could never live up to the old one, you're doomed. This danger is probably holding me back from playing Rune Quest again. I had one really good campaign, and I wonder if a new campaign can hold up to the standards of the old.

Nostalgia can also be a powerful drive for gaming products. D&D 3e/3.5 is definitely powered by nostalgia. The 3e team used nostalgia to get old players to buy into a new game, but they also leveraged modern design techniques and production values to produce a game that has been popular with new players also.

Goodman games has used nostalgia to power a series of modules that harken back to the old days (and they even use the simpler production values of the old days to constrain costs). Many old campaign settings are getting a face-lift (Blackmoor, Tekumel, Wilderlands of High Fantasy, and now I hear even Rune Quest/Glorantha, even Greyhawk had new maps published in Dungeon Magazine).

I will be starting a new Cold Iron campaign that takes me back 15-20 years to my college days. But I don't plan to simply relive the old campaign. I'm bringing some fresh ideas to the table. I'm bringing a much better understanding of play style that will focus on gamism and cut out a lot of fluff I had introduced trying to bring in non-combat skills (I will still have some stuff, but it's designed to not get in the way of designing a good combat character).

I had some failed Cold Iron campaigns using Tekumel and Talislanta as settings. These in part failed because I strayed from what made my old college games succeed. I used complex settings that begged for a less "hack 'n slash" game. They are also both fairly strong settings that didn't bend easily to Cold Iron's magic system. My new campaign will be set in Blackmoor. I'll be able to use some of the material from my college Blackmoor campaign, but other material is based on the recently released Blackmoor setting by Zeitgist games. I'm using the deities mentioned there instead of the mishmash of stuff I had back in college (The First Fantasy Campaign version of Blackmoor published by Judges Guild had no deities listed, making it easy to put whatever I needed in). When I made my first attempt at the deities, I thought they were going to be a problem, but I started over with a different angle, and everything came out ok. So I will be able to power this campaign with some of the excitement from the old, while not being trapped by the old.



At 8:37 AM, November 11, 2005, Blogger ScottM said...

Sounds like a great balance.

You're very right when you say that it's hard to seperate out the good part of games from the system & adventure. Many of the older campaigns I played are down to an "overall" emotion-- without the ups and downs of real roleplay.

I'd love to play the Spelljammer/ Ravenloft/etc. game from college-- but mostly for the people. That part's not portable, sadly.

At 11:20 AM, November 11, 2005, Blogger Martin Ralya said...

In trying your "blend of nostalgia + newness" approach (which I think is neat), Frank, do you think there will be any issues caused by the fact that you're nostalgic about things that your players have no prior knowledge of?

(I'm assuming your group now is different than your group back then -- if that's not the case, the question is meaningless.)

At 9:15 AM, November 14, 2005, Blogger Frank said...

These are definitely new players. What is good is that I've just finished a D20 Arcana Evolved campaign with them, so they have a strong identity of their own, but it's compatible with the way I ran Cold Iron back in college.

The most important thing will be to avoid creating expectations that it will be exactly like the college gaming. It will be it's own thing. But I can use the nostalgia as fuel for the new fire.



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