When “different” meant “interesting”

James Maliszewski and I were talking the other night about the practice of naming campaigns.  I got my start in gaming back in 1975, and after reading The Strategic Review, it was pretty clear to me that naming your campaign was a way to signify that it was your own interpretation of the game.  This wasn’t just a matter of coming up with your own dungeon (or “mega-dungeon” in current parlance), but also – as James and I discussed – an opportunity to come up with your own rules and rules interpretations.  At the time, it meant that each campaign was different, and going from campaign to campaign meant that you needed to check in with the referee about how things worked.  It led to some interesting discussions about how people thought about D&D, as well as a lot of arguments about what was “fair,” etc.

Over time, particularly after the emergence of AD&D, there was a shift towards “by-the-book” game-play.  It seems to me that what this led to was the notion that “different” was bad, whereas during the early era of role-playing (roughly 1974-77), “different” meant “interesting” – the value judgment would come after you played in someone else’s campaign, as you decided if it was to your own taste or not.

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