Wednesday, March 9, 2011

"Dead Systems"

Reading an interesting post over at the Alexandrian today, and in the comments they mentioned (more or less as an aside) the 'dead system' phenomenon.

Now, myself and most of the folks following this blog play old, out of print versions of D&D, so we're not, for the most part, that sort of person.

But don't you ever wonder about the whole idea of only playing an RPG if it's being actively 'supported' by the company that originally published it?

Even the whole retro-clone movement plays on that mentality.*  I've got enough actual TSR produced D&D stuff on my bookshelf (not to mention the other stuff on my hard drive) to play D&D for years.  But there are some people who wouldn't bother playing it because TSR is out of business and WotC aren't producing anything for the old game.  But since Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, and OSRIC are out there allowing new stuff to be published, they might consider it.

I'm not a psychiatrist or psychologist, just a loud-mouthed braggart with a blog instead of a boom-stick.  But those sorts of people just seem sorta pitiful to me.  Not pitiful in the sense that they're worthless schlubs, but pitiful in the sense that I actually pity them for their lack of imagination or initiative to just make some stuff themselves. 

I pity them for their lack of courage to try something 'new' just because there isn't something physically new on the store shelves for them to buy. 

I pity them for falling into that marketing trap that makes them think they need some company out there to produce something for the game they love.  And falling for the company line that when a new edition comes around, they should follow suit and keep feeding the beast.

I may get a few hateful comments to this post.  I may bruise a few feelings.  Likely not many, as I know most people that read my blog aren't the sort of people I'm talking about.  So be it.  Maybe Dave's comment on my last post is making me feel like being a bit smug and superior sounding for a change, but I'm hoping this leads to some constructive/positive thought on the issue.

If any of you people who refuse to play 'dead systems' are reading this, I'd love to hear your thoughts on why a 'living system' is important to you.  Give me a reason to stop pitying you, and respect your choice to only play a game that receives support from the company, and to drop it as soon as the company stops supporting it.

*Yes, the clones are meant to foster creativity, not serve as a crutch to keep those systems 'alive.'  But I've seen quite a few people hyping them by claiming that they keep the old games 'alive' to those who shun 'dead' games.


  1. I'm not one of the people who won't play a dead system. However, I knew that to run a decent game, I'd need to gather new players, and it is a bit of a harder sell for people when you tell them "Well, it's not sold in stores, and not legal to download a pdf scan, so you can't have your own copy of the rules." One of my players had never played D&D at all but wanted to read up on it before the first session so he'd have some idea about what it is all about. FWIW. In the end no one has a problem playing an OOP game but newer gamers are sued to being able to have their own copy of the rules, so there is a different mentality now. BITD I resisted the temptation to read my brothers MM and DMG because I wanted to be surprised; now it's seen as "mastery" of the game.

  2. I like out of print systems for a couple of reasons. First the fan-community is usually pretty strong and you can get all sorts of gems for free. Star Frontiers is a good example of this.
    Secondly as a collector I can actually complete my collection instead of worrying about new releases every month.

    Mine is different sort of psychopathology I am sure.

  3. I think the main reason why some people don't want to play a "dead" system is because of the externalities of the actual process of gaming. It's a social experience that's harder to experience with less (in terms of numbers of players) of a society.

  4. I have no problem with a dead system per se. In fact, I have been craving going back to Vampire the Masquerade lately.

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  6. One of the people in my group will not play a dead system. I've managed to get him to agree -- in theory -- that he would play a retro-clone, but even then that was a struggle. His viewpoint is essentially that old games are broken, new games fix what was broken, and so that's why we should only play new games.

    It hasn't occurred to him that new games might also have their problems and will be fixed in future editions, or that it's not about fixing problems but rather making people buy new books.

    I honestly cannot begin to understand his position.

  7. @Kelvingreen

    I think it has to do with your friend being an entitled idiot. This is not a slam against him - just a descriptor for someone who's never learned to think for himself. (i.e. just because something is new doesn't mean it was better).

    I did the same thing. . . when I was 14 and 2e came out. My dad said "Just because it's new, doesn't mean it's better"

    His position is just ignorance.

  8. The thing is that he's erudite and open-minded in other respects, but this just seems to be a mental block for him.

  9. Dennis, you don't sound smug. And last post I never intended to imply you sounded smug, just the guy whose post you were reporting.

    As for not playing something that's out-of-print or no longer supported, I just don't see the reasoning behind it beyond that it might be difficult to obtain the necessary books to play. What's the difference between a game that's currently supported by a company and one that isn't? Time, really. Not much else. It just seems profoundly illogical not to give a discontinued game a try.

    I still have my Decipher Lord of the Rings and Star Trek RPGs and intend to keep playing them. I also have the old Alternity books and D20 Star Wars books. Why wouldn't I want to play them? So what if they're discontinued. That still doesn't mean I can't play in a fun game using them.

  10. Apply this same scenario to any other medium and I think it all falls into place:

    Orson Welles is dead- Well, can't watch Citizen Kane.

    Elvis Presley is dead-No more Hound Dog for me.

    That H.G. Wells was pretty rockin'-but now he's dead...

    I think you can see a pattern here :)

  11. We are playing a Moldvay D&D campaign, so count me as not understanding why people believe a game must be in print to be played. Now, I do own retro-clones because I find other rules and tinkering interesting. But I want to play D&D, which I own, so why not play it?