Gamehole 2021 Diary: Arrival

1. I arrive in Madison, Wisconsin, and check-in for Gamehole.
2. I ponder what I might buy in the Dealer Hall in the coming days.
3. I reflect on a growing dissatisfaction I am having with a segment of the OSR.

I enjoyed a most relaxing 5 hour drive to Madison, Wisconsin from Minnesota. The weather was cool with a brief encounter with rain, and the leaves were an array of yellows, oranges, and red. After checking in at my hotel I headed over to the Alliant Energy Center to check in. Checking in was quick and easy and I enjoyed a wee wander about to refamiliarize myself with where things will be over the next four days.

One thing that did catch my eye was the massive beholder in the Dealer Hall! Luckily, I survived the encounter and will be returning tomorrow to provided merchants with my hard earned coin in exchange for their finely crafted products!

What do I plan to buy at Gamehole this year? Well, Troll Lord Games (TLG), Frog God Games (FGG), Goodman Games, and Nord Games are companies where I previously purchased the most merchandise and I now, frankly, have most of what they offer. However, TLG, Goodman, and Nord are not here this year, so I couldn’t buy anything from them even if I wanted.

Since I will be unable to chat with most of the folks from these companies, I am going to take advantage of their absence to meet other vendors and perhaps forge new relationships that can take me in new directions. Along with the companies I mentioned above, I quite enjoy the creative output of Kobold Press. They, like Nord games, make 5E material, but I like the twist they give things.

I am also beginning to feel a distance growing between myself and the OSR.

Let me explain. There are at least two types of OSR folk I encounter:

i. Those gamers that never stopped playing their favorite old school game (e.g. AD&D 1E, B/X, OD&D, etc.).

ii. Those that continued gaming through most editions, then left the hobby for a while, and then returned later.

All the people I gamed with in the 80s, 90s, and early 00s are in category (ii). We played BECMI, AD&D 1E, 2E, and moved to D&D 3E. It was in 3E, however, where we grew disillusioned and all left RPG gaming at roughly the same time (c.2007). 4E held no interest for us when it appeared, and Pathfinder was just more 3E.

What brought us back to tabletop RPG gaming?

D&D 5E.

Compared to 3E/4E/Pathfinder, 5E was a throwback to old school (something that was talked about a lot in 2014-2015 but is now strangely forgotten by many). I ran and played 5E pretty heavily until 2018, when I then grew disillusioned with it and made the shift to the OSR. It should be noted, though, that all my 80s, 90s, and early 00s friends continue to play – and love – 5E and have no interest in going back to the games of their youth. When I made the shift to the OSR I had to find completely new players for my games. Funny enough, the most energetic players I have in my Castles & Crusades games are players in their teens and 20s! So on a weekly basis I am surrounded by the youthful excitement of the 5E/Pathfinder generation.

This obviously has effected my view of gaming. For example, I haven’t met a single 5E/Pathfinder player that has anything bad to say about old school gaming or gamers, I have, however, heard substantial amounts of moaning from some old school gamers about the 5E generation of players, WotC, etc. And since I do know 5E somewhat well from the half decade I ran and played it, those that complain the most about 5E are usually the most uninformed about what they talk about. These OSR folk may be a minority, but I think they are a growing voice in the OSR community. Some seem to get enjoyment out of denigrating the new RPG players out there and I am just getting weary of it all (and you don’t have to bring up the whole “cancel culture” response, I have heard all of that before).

I still love old school game play. I own enough material just from TLG and FGG to run weekly games for the next one to two decades! But I am now broadening my perspective on what gaming material I will be drawing upon.

WotC is, for the most part, not producing products that interest me, but third-party 5E publishers are coming up with some exciting material I can use. When I wandered past the Kobold Press booth this afternoon as they were setting up, I realized that I will be giving them several visits over the next few days and may be further building up my library of Kobold Press goodies.

Also, with a substantial academic background in various areas of philosophy and history, I am now mostly doing my own research and game creation, so that is making it easier for me to do my own thing and distance myself from the community with which I feel I am losing a connection.

I seem to find myself in a strange place. I don’t want to go back to 5E. I have no interest in Pathfinder. And the OSR is becoming alienating. Is there a mid-point between 5E and the OSR? I get the feeling that if there is I am now moving onto that path, I just don’t know where it will take me.

With that being said, I am playing a half-dozen old school Swords & Wizardry and Old School Essentials games this week, so maybe I will encounter good OSR folk that will rebuild my faith in the OSR community of GMs and players.