I mention this just so you might have some idea from where I am coming from when I read the following. Over on the Dreams in the Lich House blog, Beedo wrote about Horror in Dungeons & Dragons, and then again in Horror Revisited. I hadn't thought of Dungeons & Dragons as using horror elements, but some of the suggestions that he gave made me think that this is the type of thing that I wanted to do to make my games more 'gritty'.
Then I spun off of that, from a link in one of his posts, to the Lamenations of the Flame Princess blog where James blogged about how D&D is a Horror Game. This brought this all together for me. Earlier versions of the game were 'Horror Games!' Back in the day, we were disappointed when a character succumbed to the hazards of adventuring, but the 'death' did not diminish our fun. Several moments later, we were up and adventuring again with a new character. No fuss, no muss. With this in mind, it was the best IMHO when a character got up to 9th+ level. That one-in-many character was a true hero! It made it that much more rewarding. If someone had a 'name level' character that they advanced from 1st level it was a source of awe and admiration by others. I would argue that adventuring with such an invested character was even more of a horrific experience. Loss of such an investment was scary!
There were alot of good comments to the LotFP post. One that caught my attention was by Superhero Necromancer, who said, "... I rarely hear reports that the deadliness of (say) Call of Cthulhu just leads players to make cardboard characters they don't care about, but I do hear of it happening in D&D. I rarely hear about people reacting very poorly to their character's death in CoC, but I do hear about it in D&D. Why? I think part of it is right there: expectations."
This is interesting and on par with what I observe when I GM. Newer generations of D&D players expect 'High Fantasy', in my definition of the phrase anyway, and are occasionally disappointed to the point of quitting when their character dies. Thinking that I "surely wouldn't put a dragon here if we can't defeat it!" is a mistake in my games.
Now, the crux of my train of thought where I hope to be brief, to-the-point, and concise:
For universal understand, let's assume my take on Gritty Fantasy as being all about individual character survival adventures while High Fantasy is about world shaping survival adventure. In very loose terms anyway.
Observations / thoughts:
- Though both earlier and later editions of D&D can be played in either a Gritty or High Fantasy setting, earlier version rules lend themselves better to Gritty Fantasy (ease of getting back into the game) and later version rules lend themselves to High Fantasy (more intricate character rules to enhance survivability, IMO) better.
- Typically older edition players, based on various polls that I have read around the internet, prefer lower level games. Most like 1st to 3rd, some like 1st to 6th, and less still like 1st to 9th. The majority of the polls I read, show a significant drop after 'Name Level' play. This lends credibility to, in my mind, that we favor challenging individual survival play over 'save the world' type story arcs.
- With High Fantasy play, survivability is more paramount to the success of an Epic Heroic High Fantasy adventure, hence the expansion of character rules detail, IMHO. New generation players are accustom to long survivable story arcs with 'save points'. It's more about the world changing story than simple character survival. Perhaps this is why later versions of D&D had such an impact on console and PC games?
- When an OE party got to the point of being heroic, again IMO, it was that much more rewarding due to its rarity.
- In my experience, when a character dies in a newer version game of D&D, there is a higher chance of the game concluding as opposed to earlier versions. It seems older versions were more conducive to bringing in a replacement character than later versions. You could bring in a lower level replacement character in moments and with the lack of required balance, it wasn't that much of an issue. Heck, it was even more or a 'horrifying' experience for that player. Spinning up an equal level character, to maintain balance, in later editions is time consuming requiring an extended pause, if not complete halt in play.
- Are we nearing the end of Gritty Fantasy being viable? Considering the emergence of the "Entitlement Society / Generation" that has spawned recently? I believe it just might be.
- Could this be the reason for the OSR? A form of backlash to said social changes? With that, is the OSR sustainable? Sure we can introduce new longer players to older version of the game, and they may like it, but as they develop and become aware of 'entitlements', will their desire to play world shaping level games emerge and as a result they switch to more 'modern' rules sets?
- If #2 is correct, is this why a preponderance of older version players are either young (say < 15 or 16 years old) or old (the age where people become disheartened with 'entitlements' and expect people to survive on their own)?