In my last post on this topic, I discussed the form and structure of art within the old school community.
To paraphrase, the post talked about how old school art is meaningful rather than why it's meaningful. There's a simple reason for that: from the standpoint of cultural study the how question is, in my experience, easier to address than why. Moreover, answering how is also the first step in explanation, and thus a good place to start. The why questions tend to be slippery - they are temporal, shifting, and subject to change. Also, one doesn't want to generalize more than necessary and why questions can lead down that road (not always, but sometimes).
So, we are still left with the question: why does the early art of D&D resonate so strongly within our community? Conversly, why do we have such strong feelings against the hero-worship in 3.5 and 4e? Is our over-riding motivation simply nostalgia as some might suggest?
I think the first step to answering this question is to look at the context.
For those who started in the 1970s, and even for people like me that began playing in the early 1980s, we experienced the creation of a brand new paradigm: the first fantasy role-playing game.
Although we may not have recognized it at the time, the experience was profound. This is called a first play experience. We have all experienced the sensation at one point or another - it's that feeling of liminality. The feeling of standing on the threshold between the imaginary "game" world and the "physical" world (this is a false dichotomy but that's for a different post).
The profound nature of this experience was backdropped with a unique aesthetic - module covers and hardback books that depicted the fever-dreams of Erol Otus, the scruffy adventurers of Jim Holloway, and the sheer brilliance of Dave Trampier. There were no viable alternatives in terms of RPGs in my neighbourhood, so we voraciously played TSR D&D and those AD&D Monster Manual images burned into our subconscious. They left an indelible mark on generations of D&D gamers. We can all point ot examples. The recent one that comes to mind is the episode of Community that highlighted AD&D instead of the currently-supported 4e.
I think one of the biggest misconceptions of the OSR is that, because we base the look of our games on previous editions, we are inherently backwards-looking. We know it's quite the opposite. The early art of D&D allows us to both look backwards in a form of homage (as a cultural historian I believe that's just wise advice in any venture), but I'd argue the old school community is inherently forward-looking. With an acknowledgement of the past (and thanks to the OGL) we can exert our own agency and chart a course for our individual games and the collective hobby.
So people ask, is it just a nostalgia trip?
Those who want to dismiss the OSR will say yes and move on, but clearly the answer is no.
Nostalgia was a part of my decision to return to old school gaming, but it was only a small part. I can't deny that I had great time playing previous editions. Most importantly, though, I believe the game I'm playing now is better. I believe the game I'm playing now connects mechanically, aesthetically, and culturally to the game Gygax intended - I want to play and write classic medieval fantasy. That isn't important for some, but it is important for me.
The best advice I can give to Schindehette and his visual team (as well as the design team), is the same advice I gave last time - do not reject your inheritance. The history, look, style, and mechanics, as well as the ease of prep and play. We certainly won't.
Because, if given the option to vote (with my wallet) between, in Monte Cook's words, the "simple-yet-wahoo style of old school Basic D&D and the carefully balanced elegance of 4th Edition" it's a pretty easy choice for this simple wahoo.