It's been roughly about 3 years since a little game called "microlite20" lured me away from the soul-sucking morass that was my 3e Ultima campaign design and back into playing D&D the way I remembered it. In that three years, I've seen some pretty amazing events happen in our little hobby, both old-school-wise and just RPG-wise. I've been wool-gathering on this for a little while (what the hell else are you going to do when you have no power... and it's middle of the night...) (OK, don't go there, ya perverts...) and I thought I'd share some of the mind-lint that I've found.
Old school is cool - but is it because of the "OSR" or because of the failure of 4e/success of Pathfinder? That was a bit of a puzzle for me, and still is. I'm pretty sure that 4e hasn't been the raging success that most at WotC had hoped for - the success of Pathfinder makes it clear that people like what they like and they like what they like and they'll BUY what they like. I'm pretty sure that this whole deal breaks the mold that had been established for the previous 30 years... that there is no other D&D than the official TSR/WotC D&D and thou shalt buy it or thou shalt be marginalized. No longer - Pathfinder said to the 3/3.5'ers "Come home to momma!" and they did. Going back wasn't just a bunch of fat-beards, there was real money, real impetus and a real concept of "going back to the basics."
Now I'm sure the grognards sniff at that.. hell, I did at first. But it's not as far fetched as you might think. You could say that the whole old-school/clone thing beget Pathfinder and beget the whole "go back" thing that people are talking about when they talk about 5e and "the future" but I'm not so sure. There's no doubt that C&C, OSRIC, S&W made a huge mark. Books like Dungeon Alphabet, Stonehell, and others staked out some territory that others have followed in. Yet I can't help wondering if the sheer size and impetus of Pathfinder pushing people "back" also made it easier for people to look beyond Pathfinder to see what else there is... momentum I guess you could say? Anyway, with the successes of the small print stuff, the hobbyist (and hobbyist-to-publisher/published author) path is alive and well. Yet I'm wondering if that path will slow down a lot...
... because there's nothing lately that has jumped out at me with the same intensity that OSRIC/S&W did back in 2009. Now that is completely a personal opinion. You can call me an ass, that's OK, but I found what I liked and wanted in those clones because they clarified and pointed me back to the games I love to play. What I play now is such a mashup of OD&D/AD&D/Holmes/B-X and the clones thereof that I can't call it any one thing. I also can't speak to the latest/greatest stuff - I haven't played nor was really motivated to play LotFP. The latest book that seems to garner a lot of blog attention - Vornheim? - never really piqued my interest and it's not something I'd shell out the hard earned cash for. These days, I've got so many riches from the free stuff on the web and the modules and information from the originals that it's hard for me to feel that "gotta buy it now" need. I suspect I'm not alone in that regard - the vast majority of my players in my AD&D tabletop campaign are very similar.
So I wonder if we're seeing what life would have been like had OD&D/AD&D been released and that was it. OK, so Matt Finch keeps fiddling with S&W Core and that's OK, that's his baby. S&W White Box has hit it's natural "final draft" which I think is appropriate. Anything further would be simply houserules tacked on. OSRIC has reached it's "fin" although we do see people creating supplemental stuff - again, houserules. I think the slow-down is good, even natural because it "feels" right - I've got what I need, I've got what works, I can find just about any additional piece from the "fanzines" of blogs/houserules and whatnot and that's an embarrassment of riches that will fuel a ton of games.
So combined with the "old school is cool", I have this personal satisfaction inside that we're all "set". OK, we could grind over Chainmail and reclarify it. We could even possibly do the same to Battlesystem. For those people who have a 2e love, I know there will be a time when a clone comes out... but in all honesty, I almost want to say "Mission Accomplished" and feel good about that.
Is there a desire for more clones and more clones and more houserules? Oh sure... and I get where that drive comes from. I'm going to keep digging into the old wargaming stuff to get a handle on it and plug it into my campaign, so I think that same drive will continue to get people to dig into the old stuff to mine new interpretations of it. I'm with Jeff Rients in "the more the merrier" although I have a personal belief that at some point, the spinning and respinning will hit an end point. I suspect that with the new movies coming out, we'll see more games about Mars and Hyboria and so on...
I wonder though.. if we haven't taken our best shot and it worked... and now it's just time to enjoy and play games and let those games show the way to where we want to go next?