D&D is reinventing itself, apparently with a promising degree of success. The usual sites, this one included, are starting to buzz with discussions of the revised rules and how they play, what that means for the way we game. I've actually found myself casting an interested eye over the game; and as I largely gave up on it with second edition AD&D that's saying something.
Of course, it's far from the only game in town, or even the only style. From detailed tactical simulation to broad-strokes story creation, it seems that there should be a game out there for everyone these days even if D&D is taken out of the equation. Something it certainly is, rather weirdly and certainly more so than any other game, is exceptionally self-referential. When RPGs - and fantasy RPGs particularly - first appeared their influences were quite clear: Tolkien, Howard, Lieber, the Norse sagas and Le Morte d'Arthur. The paperback fantasy boom of the 1960s reintroduced a slew of heroes like Conan to the public and gamers mixed those exotic elements into the historical settings they knew well. A few oddities such as Empire of the Petal Throne appeared, but even that owed a great deal to the swords and sorcery tales from the pulps. By the time you get around to AD&D 2nd edition TSR was publishing a huge range of books and something started to shift. Lots of gamers have now grown up in a world where the main influences on D&D would appear to be previous D&D publications.
This struck me particularly clearly earlier this evening as I was reading Black Colossus again, a typically vigorous and muscular outing for everyone's favourite barbarian. Often I'll be thinking about running a certain game, then I'll read a book for inspiration and find that it seems to point me to a different system. In this case, rugged sword and sorcery inevitably sends me back to Tunnels and Trolls. There's something in the DNA of those early games that ties them to that sort of fiction in my head, even though plenty of modern games could run those settings at least as well. The more recent games, though, aren't written for people who grew up reading the sort of pulp reprints and fantasy anthologies that were such a staple of my own youth; nor should they be, really. Someone getting into gaming now is clearly going to have a different understanding of what constitutes fantasy, a different set of precedents and reference points.
So I'm wondering, in my rambling and unfocussed fashion: is it simply an historical association in my mind? or do those older systems do a better job of dealing with the sparse, rugged stories of Kane and Conan and Kull? Will modern gamers always find a degree of disatisfaction with old games because they assume a different core background?