Monday, 19 April 2010

Looking for Life in the Back of Your Mind

I think it's somewhat interesting that the first two editions of AD&D fairly accurately map to developments in rock music - the height of 1st edition's popularity coincided with the zenith of metal, whereas 2nd edition came into its own just as grunge was taking over the music scene. Whereas people from my friend's older brother's gaming group were all into Iron Maiden and Slayer, if you passed the room where our group played all you were likely to hear were the raw sounds of Mudhoney, Dinosaur Jr., Screaming Trees or Soundgarden. (Never Pearl Jam, though. It was our highly developed and well informed opinion that they were shit.)

I sometimes wonder if that had some sort of influence on "the game" itself. 1st edition AD&D is, as a general rule, a pretty gonzo and simultaneously hard-edged affair, which always seemed to me to reflect "metal" rather well, whereas 2nd edition tends towards a slightly (although only very slightly) more "grungy" introspective and emotive feel. Obviously the comparison is hardly perfect - 2nd edition took a deliberately unironic and heroic view of fantasy, which is pretty much the opposite of the grunge mentality - but I think there's a case to be made that it had a more slightly more reflective and arch approach (although 2nd edition was all about high fantasy, it seemed to have a far less hard-core view of what good and evil represented; just compare 2nd edition Baatezu and Tanar'ri with devils and demons from 1st). And all the grunge bands were much more reflective and arch than their 1980s metal forebears.

Or maybe I'm overthinking it.


  1. Interesting. I wonder if it works with other musical shifts of the period:

    Does AD&D:2e::Funk:Rap?


  2. Where does my group's traditional use of Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno and Kraftwerk fit in? :)

  3. I once wrote a dungeon inspired by the lyrics to various Doors songs.

    Hmm..must stop eating that three-week old Cheddar at the back of the fridge.

  4. I don't know if it means anything, but I have noted that quite a few of us who prefer older games are metal heads. Quite a long list of comments on my blog when I posted about metal music. :)

  5. OD&D - psychedelic rock
    AD&D1 - METAL!!!
    AD&D2 - grunge

    But grunge paved the way for the pretentious 'story game' fad (complete with section quotes from the writer's fave alt.rock bands) of the 90s...

  6. RuneQuest 1e/Stormbringer = Hawkwind/Space Rock

    (This has been mathematically proven)

  7. Runequest needs more Ozric Tentacles.
    Also, the soundtrack to the ITV Robin Hood series, and Conan.

    My games had a lot of Pearl Jam, but mostly tdue to me sitting nearer the CD player.

  8. Does that make all 4E-ers Miley Cyrus and Melissa Cosgrove fans?!

  9. Fersboo: No. You have to look at the emerging trends of rock, rather than those of popular music in general (if that was the comparison, then 1e would be even more poppy and overproduced).

    If you look at the editions not prefaced with the word "Advanced", the pattern actually continues in a way that I think is very telling.
    OD&D Came out in the 70s, when the trend in rock was toward progressive rock, and let's face it OD&D was Gonzo.
    B/X and BECMI correspond reasonably well to 1e and 2e. The early 2000s, 3e's period, was a time when Pop-Punk dominated, but 3.x did not find its feet until 3.5, at which time the shift in Rock was swinging even further in the direction of alternative. 2003 is of course when Emo came into the popular consciousness. However by 2008, thanks in part to Harmonix and Activision's success with the Rock Band and Guitar Hero games, along with new releases by AC/DC and Metallica, it became once again cool to be unapologetically metal. And indeed, this corresponds well, because even if mechanically 4e is decidedly modern, it's quite well-tailored to going back to what D&D started out as: going into the dungeon and kicking some ass.