Let's take a quick trip back to 1989. Wargaming, and especially historical miniature wargaming, is suffering from an over-abundance of complex rules, expensive entry points and, anecdotally, waning interest. A gentleman by the name of Phil Barker, of Wargames Research Group, walks into a Society of Ancients conference, that year, armed with a revolutionary two page document. It was an experimental set of rules which "stripped away" the points, the tables, the complex rules and took the game back to a very basic, but very open format. Wargamers could play games in under an hour, as versus many hours. Novices didn't need to spend large amounts of money on miniatures, they could field an army with only twelve elements (each element has a couple of figures to represent the type of element - spearman, swordsman, cavalry, etc.) and fight a complete battle.
This two page document took the wargaming community by storm. Within a year, a commercial version of the rules had been generated. From 1990 to today, DBA (De Bellis Antiquitatis) is a very popular, and easy to learn, wargame. It has gone on to branch into different versions of varying complexity, but the basic DBA game remains very accessible, with few changes. It has gone through only 6 "official" change versions, with the last being in 2004.
What an amazing story and what interesting parallels it holds for D&D.
In my observation and participation, wargaming, and historical miniature wargaming in particular, can be a community obsessed on details and complexity. If we also look at the evolution of wargames from a very broad perspective, we see it going through a cycle of simple leading to complex, then back to simple. I find that very interesting in light of how D&D has progressed - from the simplicity of OD&D, to the building complexity of AD&D, 2E, 3E and now 4E. Contrast that progression of complexity and expense to the real interest these days in the simpler versions of the game: Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry and the like.
It seems to me that there is real heartening lesson in looking at how DBA came about and how it changed the historical wargaming community. There is still a vibrant and active DBA community and there is still a great deal of interest in the rules. It made its mark on a community that needed a simpler option and it opened the door for a great many people to enjoy what had become an expensive, complex niche of a niche.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - my main mission is to share my love of the original editions of D&D. I think that is best done with simple rules, open games and an accepting attitude. Just as DBA paved the way to provide an extremely viable alternative to the complex rules at the time, I think what we do in the "old school revival/renaissance" can echo that. I don't think the RPG world is an exact parallel, but I do see how the retroclones and the OSR have opened the door to a simpler and perhaps more accessible version of the game we all love. I think that by stressing alternatives to the expensive entry point for D&D, we will find more and more interest. I think this is especially true, considering the fact of the continuing "Core Book" churn that I hear about - the plan by WotC is apparently to release +1 x 3 so-called-Core Books each year for 4E.
For what it's worth, I've been reading DBA so I can learn how to play - and perhaps have an endgame to my campaigns where massive armies can duke it out using DBA (or perhaps the fantasy based offshoot of DBA - called Hordes of the Things.) I'm also reading it to gain a perspective of going back to simple - and then in looking at my copies of the retroclones, feeling like I'm in good company all around.
Sharpen your pencils, get out the graph paper and enter the One Page Dungeon Contest! A "metric ton" of awesome prizes awaits those who dare! Contest ends May 14th.