I think I had an attack of the curmudgeonlies yesterday. Out of the blue it occurred to me that for nearly every genre I give a crap about there was a fun and functional adventure roleplaying game published twenty years ago or more. And not just a "good enough" game in that genre, a game I truly like on its own merits.
Fantasy: various incarnations of D&D, MERP
Sci-fi: Traveller, Space Master, Star Frontiers
Post-Apocalyptic: Gamma World
Espionage: James Bond 007
Western: Boot Hill
Horror: Call of Cthulhu
Superheroes: Marvel Supers
Stupid Comedy: Toon
Multigenre Crosstime Craziness: Lords of Creation
I guess there are a couple of exceptions. Mekton Zeta didn't come out until 1995, so that's more like a decade ago. Were there any good kung fu games before Ninja & Superspies in 1988? If so I don't know about. Ninja Hero for the HERO System didn't come out until '90 and Feng Shui was '96. There's no pirate game on the list, but Long John Silver can be rolled into D&D with ease and to good effect. The Evil DM pretty much has me convinced that Marvel Supers is the perfect system for pulp when more over-the-top action is called for than Call of Cthulhu normally provides.
Don't get me wrong. A lot of very cool games have come down the pipe since 1986. And a lot of groovy games are being written right now. But for the kind of thing I like to run, a lot of the heavy lifting was done in the first fifteen years of the hobby. Most of the more recent games I dig actually look back at that formative period in one way or another: Mazes & Minotaurs, Encounter Critical, the current incarnation of D&D, etc. The most modern games I actually play are probably Risus and Savage Worlds. S. John Ross will be the first to tell you that Risus isn't new-fangled so much as old school distilled to a potent proof. And Savage Worlds is a time machine straight back to the era when RPGs were more than 50% skirmish wargames for miniatures.
What's the point of this post? Am I again trying to talk myself out of buying more games? I don't think so. For one thing, I seem to have stopped doing that all on my own, without any moral struggle to stop wasting my money on conspicuous consumption. The last new game I bought was what, Spaceship Zero? I got that back in March, I think. Have I bought any new games since then?
Am I concerned the hobby is moving away from my play style? Not really. I think there will always be players who will take an easy pitch like "Hey, let's do a Old West gunfighter campaign for a few months." The people who actually write and publish games seem to be speaking crazy moon language sometimes, but what difference would that make to a guy with a whole roomful of games waiting to be played?
I guess if I had a point it might be this: if I diverted even half the energy I currently devote to following the scene, I could probably put some nice polish on some mini-campaigns for games I already own and love. For twenty years I was eagerly chasing the next big thing when I probably should have been simply playing a game already on my shelf. I'm not saying we should throw out or new games or ignore what cool things are appearing on the horizon. Hell, I'm not arguing that anyone else do anything different at all, except maybe for this one little thing: The next time you catch yourself buying a game or supplement just for reading material, consider re-reading a favorite old game. Maybe it will spark something this time and you'll actually end up playing it.