4E did not beget the OSR, it was already alive and well thanks to 3E and a previous interest/use of older editions (previous to 3E).
I compiled 130 answers to the poll that was posted on here, OD&D Board, Swords & Wizardry forum, RPG.net, ENWorld and TheGamerDome blog (where a chunk of this was inspired from), as of Friday morning 6/19. I appreciate everyone taking the time to answer, as well as talk about their own experiences. What I'm VERY appreciative of was that there were no edition flamewars in those threads and blog posts.
If you wish to crunch the numbers yourself, here's a link to the "Why Original Edition/retroclone" Google spreadsheet.
Note that the percentages will not add up to 100%, as these were multiple optional answers to each question.
What are you doing with an original edition/retroclone D&D?
|I'm playing in established campaign as a player||30||23%|
|I'm playing in established campaign as DM||83||64%|
|I'm looking to play in a new campaign||15||12%|
|I'm looking to run in a new campaign||49||38%|
By far, most of the respondents are DMs/GMs or are GM/DM'ing while playing. There is also a good chunk of respondents looking to run a new campaign - a sweet spot for publishers, if I wanted to be one.
What type of roleplaying game were you playing (or are still playing) before you became interested/involved in an original edition/retroclone?
|I've always been playing original edition/retroclone D&D||55||42%|
|3rd Edition D&D (includes 3.0/3.5)||70||54%|
|4th Edition D&D||30||23%|
|I was playing something other than D&D||45||35%|
Out of all the options, 4E is DEAD LAST in the picture in terms of active participation prior to looking at OED&D/retroclones. In many of the responses that included some anecdotes, it was noted that people had looked at 4E, or perhaps played it, but it didn't factor into their decision to look elsewhere. What was very apparent was that out of the two later editions, 3rd Edition was the leading edition that pushed people back to OED&D/retroclones.
In retrospect, when you look at when various retroclones were conceived/published, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC and Castles & Crusades were taking off just at what seems to be the high-glut-frustration-point of 3rd edition. Although there might be more of a buzz now - leading some to posit that 4E drives the OSR, perception isn't reality, at least as far as these data show. 4th Edition is the least played edition, for these respondents, even after a year and a popular perception that 4E is a best-seller.
If you were playing 3E, why did you decide to investigate/play an original edition game or retroclone?
|I still play 3rd Edition||28||36%|
|I'm not looking to replace 3E with original edition, just curious||9||12%|
|My group of friends are playing OED&D/retroclone and I went along with it||3||4%|
|I was unhappy with the 3/3.5E rules, mechanics or approach||54||70%|
|I was unhappy with how Wizards of the Coast published/marketed 3E||14||18%|
|I like the OGL and wanted to play games that use it||17||22%|
A vast majority of those who were playing 3E when they decided to look at OED&D/retroclones did it because they didn't like 3E rules/mechanics. Despite that, there are still a fair amount who responded that they continue to play 3E.
Is the 22% of people who saw the OGL a significant number? Out of 130, no - but WotC and other publishers should take careful note - the OGL had an influence and there's still an interest in rules that are open. 22% of the supposed D&D community is a signficant number, in my mind.
If you were playing 4E, why did you decide to investigate/play an original edition game or retroclone?
|I still play 4th Edition||17||46%|
|I'm not looking to replace 4E with original edition, just curious||7||19%|
|My group of friends are playing OED&D/retroclone and I went along with it||0||0%|
|I was unhappy with the 4E rules, mechanics or approach||22||59%|
|I was unhappy with how Wizards of the Coast published/marketed 4E||11||30%|
|I like the GSL and want to play games that use it||0||0%|
I'm impressed that both the 3E and 4E respondents showed a "stickiness" to continuing to play their edition, even for those who also responded negatively about their edition.
Similar to 3E, the majority of people who investigated a retroclone or original edition did so out of dissatisfaction for the mechanics. A low percentage are looking at retroclones while continuing to support 3E/4E - another publishing point to make note of.
Also, a data note - some people responded to playing 3E/4E, but did not give further details, and some responded that they had tried 3E/4E, but didn't list it as an edition they were playing at the time they made the choice to investigate OED&D/retroclones.
What attracted you to investigate/play an original edition/retroclone D&D?
|It was recommended by a friend||7||6%|
|It was what my game group is playing||10||8%|
|I used to play these games and wanted to "go back"||61||51%|
|I liked the approach of the rules/mechanics||84||70%|
|I liked the philosophy behind the rules/mechanics||81||68%|
|I liked the "feel" (Swords & Sorcery or pulp) of the game||60||50%|
|I was attracted by the amount of "buzz" on the Internet||31||26%|
These data show a clear and consistent picture - the retroclones must hit these notes over and over - approach/philosophy and feel, as well as appealing to those who want to "go back".
I was surprised that buzz, existing groups and recommendations answers were such a low percentage. To me, that means that finding OED&D/retroclones is an individual task which may or may not lead to other people playing those same games as well. Publishers and content writers again should take note - getting people to share these games is an untapped area - and something to look at.
How did you learn about the original editions/retroclones?
|It was recommended by a friend||10||8%|
|It is what my game group is playing||10||8%|
|I already owned my older books||65||52%|
|From a blog||35||28%|
|From a D&D related forum||60||48%|
|From the retroclone publisher's website||34||27%|
Here again, the data show that word of mouth or existing play was not a primary avenue for OED&D/retroclones.
Half of those who responded indicated they own their older books, which may lead to an interesting conclusion that I never considered - the retroclones are competing against older editions and the PDFs (if they ever come available again) for shelf space and mindspace. The data also show that forums are an important avenue, even with the advent of the blogs and the RPG Bloggers Network.
Concluding Thoughts and Controversial Tidbits
It can be fairly said that 130 respondents is hardly a scientific and exhaustive set and I agree. Still, given the amount of activity and discussion, I take the 130 as a decent small representation - given that I did appeal to various forums outside of the usual "old school" venues.
I did not post this on K&K, simply because I thought there was enough overlap on the OD&D/S&W boards and my blog. I did try to get this poll posted on Dragonsfoot. Dragonsfoot has a strict policy about not discussing 3E/4E, and I had sought permission for the poll, given the nature of the questions. I was very disappointed I didn't get a response.
I hope the data here serves to refute statements such as "4E drives the OSR". I also hope the data serves useful for other purposes, such as to help OSR publishers and interested content authors. For me, it was interesting to do this and read the responses and see how D&D and gaming has touched lives.
Here's an interesting thought to leave you with... did WotC already know all this prior to the design/development of 4E? I can't imagine, with the marketing muscle of Hasbro, that WotC didn't know that 3E was having a negative effect.
If you look at how the miniatures gaming world is taking off with many titles and interest, perhaps the handwriting on the wall from 3E forced WotC to move D&D towards what is selling these days? Perhaps the comparisons to MMOs aren't the true picture - but rather a comparison to other miniature games is more appropriate? After all, if you can combine some of the obsessiveness of MtG collectors with the most popular RPG and aim it at the (what seems to be) accelerating market of miniature gaming - perhaps WotC did have a plan?
I dunno, I did not pay attention to what was blogged or written about during 4E design/development. It's an interesting thought.
What do you think? What do these numbers say to you?