Next Gen

   We were fourteen years old. Our hair was long but not yet too long. Each of us drank half a can of beer and nothing else, because we couldn’t risk stealing more than 2 cans from the fridge without some parent taking notice. And we played AD&D while listening to Iron Maiden and Dio (in my opinion, Sacred Heart remains the best dungeoneering song ever). Good times – hell yeah!

   But hang on. What’s gonna be the Millennials’ mind-blowing good memories? Instead of that D&D / metal combo, Millennials had a Masquerade / grunge deal. And what about those kids who just turned fourteen this year? What’s it gonna be for them?

   This post is a collection of tidbits, thoughts and observations about the younger players, typed in no particular order, because winter is making me lazy.


   Twenty-year-old gamers have bizarre misconceptions about 1E. Two of them recently said to me: “You play with THAC0? Are you crazy? It’s complicated! You have to calculate Armor Classes in the negatives???” What did they mean by that? There is no calculating involved. You’re a fighter, level 7, monster is AC -2, you need 16. Do they think it works like the To Hit roll in Ashardalon?

   They probably didn’t give AD&D a single browse, that’s what I think.


   Everybody also seemed to freak out because they didn’t get a list of all the monsters from the new Monster Manual “by challenge level”. What’s the big fuss? You just look at the monster’s stats, like we did. Beholder: that’s strong. Kobold: that’s weak. Wight: that’s in between. Easy enough. What do you need lists for? I never used any “lists” of monsters in any of my campaigns; I went in prepared, always, and regularly play-tested my shit beforehand, with copies of the PCs record sheets, to adjust things.


   The old Retreat & Recharge strategy was already in use back in the day, before Fallout and Halo and the rest of it, but I don’t remember players ever abusing it, retreating & recharging after every single room / encounter, systematically. It’s annoying and it feels fake. In a novel, that would be completely unpalatable: you’d tear out a whole bunch of pages from the book while yelling at Elric or Caramon or Fafhrd, “Come on, dammit! COME ON! Storm the place already!!! Quit doing this!!!!!!!” But Elric never retreats & recharges, thank the gods. Neither does Caramon, or Fafhrd. They’re heroes. Now, why can’t most modern players do the same? There is an evil sorcerer in the cave ahead – get him, or die trying. Don’t come back 6 times over a period of 48 hours!?


   Something new appeared about the time Millennials really hit the gaming scene: the “exceptional” characters. You are a vampire, but the basic humans don’t know about it. You are a werewolf, or an exalted, and the “rest” of the population is just normal, dull people. Your power sets you apart. You’re a vampire: you’re glorious, you’re sublime, you’re beautiful, you are indeed a superior species!

   Of course, characters in Dungeons & Dragons, Tékumel and even Cthulhu sometimes got very, very powerful, but they were not “set apart” right from the get-go. Any level 1 D&D character who got struck by a wight still had to temporarily downgrade to level zero ordinary human.

   Millennials think very highly of themselves. Gen X, not as much: you had to become exceptional, but were not born exceptional. Two distinct philosophies. Games like Mage: The Ascension and Masquerade and Exalted came around in ’91 or ’93... it could be a simple coincidence, but I doubt it.


   I don’t like Elder Sign as much as I do Arkham Horror, with as many supplements as you want. But the younger generation – late twenties and early thirties – prefers Elder Sign because it’s “light” and “shorter” (those are the adjectives I’ve heard).

   There is absolutely no lovecraftian atmosphere in a game of Elder Sign. It’s just math. Players don’t even bother to read the flavor text on the various quests available; they just look at what you can gain if you succeed, how much Stamina or Sanity you lose if you fail, and what dice rolls you must make in order to nail it. Then it’s merely strategy. “This one’s too difficult for me – I’ll leave it to you, because you have the yellow die and your special re-roll ability. We get two more Elder Signs: it’s worth it.”

   It’s quicker all right, but you really can go through an entire game without “feeling” anything remotely Cthulhu, and that’s sad. The monsters themselves kind of disappear in that big equation: one more dice roll in Quest #3 (it got a bit more difficult). Monster tokens are thumbnails, nothing more. I’ve seen players draw them up from the cup and not even look at what they are. Ghoul? Dhole? There’s a huge difference! But no: it’s one more challenging dice roll, that’s all.

   If Arkham Horror is a blog, then Elder Sign is Twitter: everything’s tiny in there, every token, every card – and the texts on the quests are about 140 characters, yes, and you can play the game without reading them...

   Thirty-year-olds say they don’t have the time for a full game of Arkham Horror with Bokrug as the Ancient One. Too bad, guys. You are missing out on a really terrific thing.


   I played several games of The Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow with my cousins and their boyfriends – Millennials again – and I made the effort to role-play just a bit because there is not much role-play going on in that game. For example when I got the Lord, I talked like some medieval count or baron: “Ah! My good subjects! my loyal villagers! Certainly you won’t suspect your beloved Lord and Master of being the werewolf, will you? That would qualify as peasant treason indeed...”

   One guy then told me I’d be an excellent LARPer. Well, I don’t know. I could have said, “I sat at tables and ran campaigns before you were even born, and long before LARP was ever a thing, so yes, I suppose I can role-play a baron off the top of my head.” But the guy didn’t know about RPGs at all. He knew the words Dungeons & Dragons of course, but he thought it was a board game – and seemed to think LARP had just appeared outta the blue one morning, without any previous base or mechanics. That’s like saying the iPad appeared on its own, and computers didn’t exist before: no VIC-20, no DOS, nada.

   Oh, and one of my cousins believed Star Wars first began as a series of books... and then was made into those first three movies. Her boyfriend added, “Like Harry Potter, y’know?”

   Anyway, I still love Next Gen. They’re OK – as long as you keep your list of Elder Sign monsters sorted out by challenge level, and LARP without THAC0.