Was discussing gaming with my players on Saturday. We’re all older gamers, playing AD&D 1e, and all used to game togeather years ago before RL got a grip that lasted almost 30 years. Started out with our observations on major differences between old vs new gaming.
The First Observation: Just from personal experiences since we restarted, it seems the majority consensus was modern games/gamers go to great pains to not appear to be ‘serious’. Does serious drive off modern players? Is it not cool to play a game without being cool about it in the form of slapstick humor? What I and others have seen is lots of low humor and meme-type events in the new games’ modules and DM-made adventures. It is as if everyone is somehow embarrassed to RP so they cover it with humor. When there is RP instead of yucks, its always overblown like the melodrama’s of the old time radio shows…people talking in silly voices and much gesturing (for those more into computer gaming, think the “Silver Shroud’ questline in Fallout 4…over-the-top voice, etc). I’ve seen more levity and silliness in AD&D 4-5e than in a game of Paranoia, and that game was written to be tongue-in-cheek, punny and humorous.
Not at all like what most old-school gamers did/do…we RP our characters without the over-the-top cheese humor or the equally over-the-top melodramatic voices and actions. You know, serious about the game but still having fun, and not self-conscious about it! Here’s an example — Previous game the players lost an NPC that had come to be a part of their party (they rescued him and he signed up) and players were visibly bothered by his death after several sessions with that NPC. This Saturday, after a series of brutal fights that could have gone south for them quite quickly, they found a raise dead scroll. They talked it over and decided to raise their NPC friend rather than keep it for the future. So they go back to camp, and we RP the cleric raising their NPC friend…candles lit, cleric casting the spell, explaining to him what happened, etc. The players were happy to have him back and said as much after the game. At no time were we laughing at the game, the NPC NOR were they hamming it up with the RP. It was rather a powerful moment from the standpoint of the party (made up mostly of Neutral Good/Chaotic Good, with a LG paladin and a True Neutral Cleric), behaving as their characters would, with friendship and ethics. And you know, we were serious AND had fun without the omnipresent humor and melodrama.
The Second Observation – Part 1: Next point, and not a criticism, but a notable difference in playstyles — tactics. This one seems to be age/experience related. Back in the day, we and everyone we knew – DM or player, tended to take the biggest direct damage spells. SOME took things like Hold Person, but if there was a spell that did damage, you could count on that being in their books first and foremost. NOW, we have experience with the game and other games, I find the strategies my players are using…and that I am using…are far, far more complex and spell selections varied than in the past. My players today, for example, jealously hoard a slow spell for big enemies or numerous enemy encounters. The perfect application being a Leader type enemy…slow to reduce its attack speed by 50% (say turning a 2 attack/round monster into a 1 attack/round) which yields 50% less potential incoming damage per round while not reducing theirs or burning spells unnecessarily. They are even using spells like prayer for the bonus to their attacks rolls. 30 years ago, they would have started with fireball/lightning bolt and worked their way up, and to be honest as a DM I would have as well. Playing with a mind towards overall efficiency, I nearly killed them all with two enemy clerics behind a line of bugbears (silence, hold person..next round cause blindness, prayer) before the party cleric backed up and deployed a silence of his own….simply by using the spells we would have once ignored because they didn’t do damage.
From observing modern gamers, they seem to play the same way we did ages ago, i.e. ‘If it don’t do damage dice, it don’t get cast’. My theory on this is it is just age/maturity. We’ve had more time to read, played more and varied games, are used to looking at things from multiple angles due to work and life experiences.
The Second Observation – Part 2: Second thing we noticed seems to be an artifact of modern MMO’s that many play. I’ve noticed where when we were younger we would use hold person on occasion…even in modern games with the analog to that spell no one seems to cast it. I suspect this came from the MMO mindset. In Most MMO’s hold spells have morphed into crowd-control spells and in addition to a time duration the spell is dispelled if you hit the enemy, rendering them mostly useless (in AD&D 1e they last 4 rounds + 1 / Level, so that AOE does not break the hold). Perhaps it is MMO thinking causing this tactical blind spot? The times I have seen older players in new games, they are a bit more tactical, but still seem to shy away from spells like Hold Person…at least I never see anything analogous to it being cast. Maybe folks that went from old school, to computer games, then back into modern gaming? Just speculating here.
Anyway, just a group discussion we had over our food (every game has an intermission and a food run/delivery, it is traditional!). If anyone that plays the modern versions of games is out there reading this, feel free to comment and explain why uncontrolled levity/melodrama is so prevalent and your take on the Direct Damage over strategic spells observation.