Roleplaying: 1989-1993

I don’t like to fill up too much space in the comments sections of other people’s blogs, so this is my longer response to James’ post over at Grognardia regarding the era of the second edition of AD&D.  By pure coincidence this coincides with probably the most prolific time for me in roleplaying games, namely college.  My college was an Ivy-League fallback filled with a lot of frat-boys and sorority girls.  I wasn’t into that scene, and ended up falling into a RPG-related club that often ran two or three games a week of one system or another.

But AD&D 2E never came up.  Actually, one club member played in a campaign back home with her old friends in Connecticut, but that was it.  The reason wasn’t TSR’s poor corporate strategy, it was because the game was being covered in an avalanche of new RPG’s, many sporting innovative rules and new genres of play.  Just to give you an example of what came out in those four years, here’s what the club ran:

  • Champions Fourth Edition (in my mind the definitive and most successful edition)
  • Rifts
  • Cyberpunk (and its later iteration, Cyberpunk 2020)
  • Shadowrun
  • Vampire the Masquerade
  • Over the Edge

To wit, a lot of point-buy, build-what-you-want, medium- to high-crunch games that were really stretching some of the pre-conceived notions about genre.  They also often reflected the rise in American interest in Japanese anime.

In the meantime, AD&D 2E looked like a calcified dinosaur.  For all the nerdrage froth I’m sure I’d find over at Dragonsfoot or elsewhere, at the time Second Edition AD&D didn’t look that different from First Edition AD&D: random stat rolls, armor that negated rather than decreased damage, no skills, Vancian magic, etc.  There was a revolution in roleplaying games going on, and AD&D wasn’t getting with it.

What we did get was tons of Forgotten Realms, Dragonlance, Dark Sun, Ravenloft, Spelljammer, or Planescape worldbooks all a wee bit on the pricey side.  Oh, and a bazillion novels.

One final and perhaps scandalous note.  I think the “Old School Renaissance” and the “cutting edge, indie RPG” movement are actually tacking to the same wind.  When OSG supporters talk about how gameplay should feature players telling the DM what they are doing (e.g. searching for traps, exploring rooms, seducing duchesses) they sound almost identical to the deconstructivist, narrativist fans of games like Fate or RISUS.  Less rules, more intuitive roleplaying over the rule-heavy “skirmish wargaming as RPG” argument.  You can see the dichotomy in my 1989-1993 window, which holds both Champions and Over the Edge.  Champions 4th Edition makes D&D 3E look “lite” (not surprisingly both have the fingerprints of Aaron Allston all over them).  Over the Edge was stripped down bare and was shocking in its paucity to gamers at the time, and a clear forefather of many of the free, indie games out there now like Dogs in the Vineyard.

This makes, in my mind, the nerdrage over OSG and the whole rule-lite indie movement an ouroboros chewing its own tail.


  1. I agree that OSG and indie RPG are tacking to the same wind, but they go different directions with it.

    Both try to strip away rules that get in the way of the story but do that in vastly different methodologies.

    The story games Ive played or read seem to be aimed much more towards multiple stories that connect, while OSG is one story thats told by multiple actors at once.

  2. Over the Edge! Man, I was trying to remember the name of that game for WEEKS. That was a diceless system, right?

    Some excellent games came out in that time period and I look back then (or, more accurately, from ’91-’97) as my gaming heyday. In college (94-98) I had 2 or 3 games a week, mostly World of Darkness, Shadowrun or Cyberpunk, with a smattering of the WEG Star Wars; I think I played a total of 8 sessions of AD&D in that time period. Maybe 10. It was as you described: there was just much cooler stuff going on, why waste time on a ‘dead’ system that had become a cliche and didn’t allow for a whole lot of gamer (or DM) creativity (and, in my opinion, got bogged down in needless crunchy bits).

    I have no problem with 3rd-4th ed. D&D because I still prefer games with fewer crunchy bits and more opportunities for creativity (not that they’re necessarily exclusive, but they seem to appeal to different gamers). The trick for me is finding a gaming group that evokes the guys and gals I played with in college and grad school who saw the rules as a starting point, not an end to themselves…

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