Right now, RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, and DnD Classics are deluged with gamers lining up (virtually) to spend money on the newly-released pdfs of old Dungeons & Dragons products. When the pdfs were yanked by Wizards of the Coast nearly four years ago, it added to a tidal wave of discontent that already been forming due to the handling and direction of D&D 4th Edition.
Those four years have seen a lot happen in gaming. 4e lies quiet, near the end of its initial lifecycle. Retro-clones, neoclassical gaming, Kickstarter, and a better understanding of open game licenses and products has changed the landscape. Now, WotC has brought back the pdfs, and their popularity and positive reception cannot be ignored. As I write this, the servers for DriveThruRPG/RPGNow sites have gone down at least twice, presumably due to sheer customer volume.
I find myself wondering, how many people downloading these titles are doing so because they were first introduced to classic RPGing by products such as Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, and Basic Fantasy? Alternately, how many people rediscovered a love of gaming not only because of these products, but of the active, productive gaming community that made them possible?
There’s a place for these OSR products; they have excellent values, are often free to download and use as creative tools, and most importantly, have inspired collaborative communities all their own. But getting to use them in conjunction with Keep on the Borderlands, Against The Giants, or other early TSR products just makes it sweeter.
They also remind us that this is not a simple move for nostalgia’s sake, but an active, living movement of people who prefer a certain style of gaming.
Half of me wants to really stretch an analogy, and describe the OSR as some sort of Robin Hood character, protecting and guarding what they could until King Richard came home, but that’s not really apt. It’s more like waiting for King Richard to come to his senses and start acting like the paragon of what a king and leader should be once more.
To Wizards of the Coast, congratulations, and yes, thank you. By showing at long last the common sense on this issue gamers had long been pointing out could only work to your benefit, you have also engendered plenty of goodwill, and helped repair a lot of the damage done by years of PDF-Gate, snotty 4e commentary to fans of older editions, and generally poor gamer relations. You’ve also instantly become relevant once more to a group of gamers that had felt shut out for years. I’m not sure yet what form D&D Next/5th Edition will take, but I am sure you’ve just bumped up the number of people that will at least give it a look. If you were considering a special reprint of, say, the Rules Cyclopedia, I would hope this would inspire you in that regard…
When the D&D titles I downloaded pre-2009 show up, I’m pretty sure I’ll download about 12 copies, putting them in various secure locations, just in case this ever happens again. And should WotC/gamer relations ever sour once more, I’m happy we have bulwarks against that, in the aforementioned OSR titles and so many more open and creative works. Gamers have the best of both worlds now, and that’s great news for just about everyone. Create, be inspired, and game, using all these wonderful tools both old and new.