I stumbled across a wonderful blog today, GROGNARDIA, which is a blog about old school table-top gaming. The role-playing games from the seventies on which Warcraft eventually spun off from. As I too played these games in their original forms, this blog is of great interest to me. My favorite world setting in D&D was the World of Greyhawk, and on searching this blog I stumbled across a review of it. It brought back a lot of memories, and I continued to search through the site to see what other old-school goodies I could uncover. I found a lot of them, but the one which brought back the most memories was the review of Ravenloft.

Ravenloft was released in 1983 and was a game module. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, game modules were pre-designed adventures which the Dungeon Master, (referee), could use to base a gaming session on. Ravenloft was a classic vampire adventure in a gothic setting. It had several revolutionary features for its time, such as the 3-D maps, the tarot cards to decide which way the adventure would unfold and others. But reading James Maliszewski’s review and the comments after it, I became aware of another aspect of which had slipped past me.

Ravenloft changed the direction in which D&D had been heading. Just a little thing to have missed, I suppose. In short, it introduced a pre-packaged story to the equation, but even more importantly it made the story and the NPC’s bigger and more important than the players themselves. It began the adventure driven story kind of play that still dominates to this day as opposed to the old-school or “Vanilla D&D” of open sand-box style gaming. The sand-box style gaming was, in effect, that you made it up as you went along using the broad outline of the game to keep everything in place. This required a lot of imagination and skill on the part of the players and GM but it had a lot more rewards than just being a pawn in a story or bigger game sort of thing. The GM, in particular, had to be very skilled. He made up the entire world that you played in, the people, the countries, the demographics, the religions, the politics, everything that you can think of. And the players became a part of this.
The new story-driven game killed old school D&D but it can be argued that it saved it as well. Because this new direction opened the game up to a much wider audience, the player who wanted to be spoon-fed a lot more. It probably wasn’t a conscious decision on the part of the company making the game, but it happened and D&D flourished as a result. Now DM’s did not have to be as skilled – they could open a new module and have the whole adventure there ready for them to play through with the players. The game was now a tool-kit and more importantly, you were constrained if the tools were flawed. This in turn led on to the utter abomination that was Dragonlance. And that was when I stopped playing.

World of Warcraft is at the same point now. It has passed through its Vanilla period and become more popular based on specific and conscious decisions from Blizzard, that make perfect sense, and as a result they now have 12 million players. But, much like D&D back in the day, players are now spoon fed the parts of the game that were the biggest challenge in the beginning, with epic items being just one glaring example of this. WoW, like D&D before it, has had to leave its original player-base behind to grow and survive. When D&D left us behind we moved to the very early computer fantasy games, such as Hack and Bards Tale. Now the computer gaming world is the mainstream and as such it leaves gamers such as myself feeling unsatisfied.

So the question is, what is the new direction? Where can we go now to get that challenge back once again?