Monday, March 2, 2009

The Demise of the Random Rumor Table of the Hobby

Before I get into this post, let me preface it by saying I think the internet has been a wonderful tool for tabletop gamers. We have access to more information than ever before, easier contact with our gaming companies, and an incredible opportunity to network and share our ideas.


...Remember the old dungeons that had rumor tables about whatever dungeon or challenge you were about to pop into (Keep on the Borderlands, anyone)? About half the rumors would be wrong, but some of it would be accurate. That's about what the gaming hobby used to be like, pre-internet boom.

Most of us would hear secondhand information about this product or that. We'd talk about how our friend's friend played with some crazy-ass house rules, and maybe they'd jot them down and bring them back. If your local gaming store was slow on the uptake, you'd usually only find out about new RPGs from a friend who'd gone to some convention, a magazine, or by the resident would-be publisher in your town who was cranking copies of it out in his garage.

Disinformation ran wild. We had a guy who swore his cousin was an intern at TSR. I personally believed Gary Gygax was still at that company as late as 1993, and that there was an entire line of X-rated adventure modules sold only at conventions. We all "knew" some kid the next town over had killed his DM after he'd killed his Paladin character--it was practically gospel (apocraphya, turns out). Word of mouth on new releases was sketchy at best, and again, having a local gaming store that was on the ball made all the difference. There wasn't a lot of capacity for fact-checking--it was very much a blind, groping effort at times to find what you wanted, depending on what your gaming group had amassed, word of mouth, and which conventions you'd had the luck to show up to. Company catalogs would be passed around jealously; you'd try to glean what you could about the product from the title and brief description.

Even the arguments were slower. You'd have these long, drawn-out arguments (no less vehement than many of the internet) that would occupy multiple, multiple magazine volumes. Sometimes you'd miss some issues and have no idea what the hell was going on.

Improved communication has made the world seem smaller, and, in sort of the same way, its done the same with our hobby. I can go straight to the horse's mouth for an almost immediate answer now, I can browse the entire back catalog of releases for any company I want, but once those things are fixed values, and not some mysterious cipher far off in the magical Land of Wisconsin, they lose some of that mystery. While it's far more useful to have "America" labeled on the maps, you miss the potential of the "Here There Be Dragons" that used to be there. We lived mostly in the dark, but that made the points of light seem even brighter.

Then again, even (especially?) with the internet, there's enough disinformation to keep anyone happy and/or excitable for months on end. And though diminished and more easily called on their B.S., there's still plenty of liars hanging out at the cash register at your local gaming store. Maybe I just miss the personal, slightly frenzied touch of it all. Its good to remember, too, the good old days are never quite so as idyllic as we remember.

But if anyone has a cousin who's an intern at Paizo or WotC, try to get him to spill the beans on what's in the pipeline, would you?


PatrickWR said...

Interesting post. I find myself drawn to hobbies that offer just such an atmosphere of mystery and guesswork. There aren't that many left these days. One that comes to mind is the 1/144-scale micro-armor hobby (tiny toy WWII tanks). Many of the newest products come from Asian companies, and message boards are always crawling with a couple guys who live in Japan or South Korea who have actually *seen* the latest releases in their local stores. The rest of us can only hope to find them on ebay in a few more months. It hardly holds a candle to the patchwork fandom of OD&D, but it's still somewhat thrilling to read about a rumored release or a new product sighting.

sirlarkins said...

I've had similar thoughts on this issue. Growing up nowadays must be very different from our own childhoods--what of playground rumors when all an enterprising 8 year-old has to do is hop on Wikipedia to learn the trufax?

::shakes head and goes off to browse Wikipedia::