The awful trolls at YDIS got it right the first time with #BlowSR
Pangs for those lost, joyous, childhood days. It turned to rot, but what guffaws were had, and what great Beasts were hunted.
So then. I once wrote an essay where I lambasted the idiotic foundations of Artpunk and lamented its corrosive effects upon the hobby but I deleted it because it was rather too mean and it was Christmas. Let me try a nicer version.
If we wish to examine why this contemporary material, of which Artpunk is simply the most salient, platonic version, so often falls short we must first examine what makes the original games compelling. In my conception, this can be reduced to three pillars.
* A set of rules and rulings that together make up 'oldschool play' and are distinct from 'new school' or ' modern' rpgs in key ways. Others have written extensive guides on what is or is not oldschool, but as a shorthand; Characters that are randomly generated and not built, A rules light chassis allowing for flexibility and improvisation, resource management, combat/exploration/interaction, Gold for XP and procedural generation.
* Rules meant to emulate fantastic adventures in the spirit of the Appendix N, with deviation from that spirit being possible in minor degrees but with some essential quality being lost if the deviation is too great. The rules may be ported, but if the underlying assumptions are too greatly altered they no longer make sense.
* Gameplay that is fundamentally challenge oriented, with the understanding that the game is meant to be enjoyed and mastered as a game, and roleplaying be layered atop and around it as beautiful ornamentation, but never to displace the focus.
My contention is that Artpunk, as in, the central group just outlined, as well as its offshoots and the nebulous area of 'adjacents' have methodically chipped away at this foundation and the resulting desintegration is in many ways inevitable. This desintegration has taken place as follows.
* The minimalism espoused by Zak S (and his importance is key, I think) and his compatriots, which started a trend towards rules-light games, one-page dungeons and the extirpation of many systems and procedures considered 'unneccessary' but the iterative removal of which drastically oversimplified and bowlerized the gameplay until what was left was eventually a hollow fascimile. The trend can be seen today in games like Mork Borg, Knave and Troika; hollow fascimiles suitable only for short-lived, meaningless romps, lacking any technical depth and requiring no investment. It can be seen in One-page Dungeons, Five Room Dungeon and what I assume shall be the Two-room dungeon before long.
* The trend towards minimalism would normally be balanced by the need to continue to provide meaningful challenge as a central objective but this also fell by the wayside as the focus shifted towards, not even the roleplaying of the 90s but something even less meaningful, creativity, novelty and themes. We were meant to evaluate adventures based on the amount of ideas they provided, the emotions they conveyed to the participants and the little dopamine thrills. You can see a shadow of this in the works of Patrick Stuart, who after DCO published a book entirely devoid of mechanics and even in Veins of the Earth struggles to provide a framework around which the exploration of the underdark can take place. The disconnect is Actual Play. I am cautiously hopefull since the remastered edition of DCO that he at least considers people playing the game in Demon Bone Sarcophagus but I remain skeptical. You can see signs of the extreme degeneration in some later era (pre-Zakfall) Lotfp modules and definetely in the Mork Bork modules where very often the adventure is treated as a sort of theme park ride, not as a gauntlet. Troika modules are even worse.
* Furthermore, the erosion of the challenge based focus could have been delayed if adventures were still cast in the mould of the spirit of the Appendix N. Even if we are only pretending to be the heroic characters of the pulps, rather then players facing the challenges that they faced, they are still performing the same process, albeit it with some inefficiency because of a refusal to metagame. Unfortunately the focus on novelty and artistic expression, fuelled by undercurrents of rather darker, more unpleasant sentiments, meant that this too had to vanish. The key part here is that it was not replaced with anything else. Lotfp very clearly drew a line in the sand and stated what it was about as opposed to its parent. A line that could have been followed (and occasionally was). With Artpunk no such thing was done. There was, in the beginning, a sort of coincedental overlap of minor works of fantasy, the likes of Jorge Luis Borges, M. John. Harrison's Viriconium and arguably Ghormenghast, and occasional minor inspirations pop up (Gene wolfe in the case of Troika, for example) but there is no direction to the current. Everything is an aesthetic, replicated by further aesthethic. What an adventurer is, what an adventurer is supposed to do, this is all meaningless now, there are no common assumptions.
While practitioners with extraordinary talent or some degree of knowledge that preceded this collapse can still reliably produce work in the new format, newschoolers are hopelessly lost, and cannot be taught how to make compelling works from the Artpunk examples they are given. How could they, when the very purpose of such material has been erased?
There is, perhaps, a hopefull note. It is not difficult to replace nothing with something. Participants in the Artpunk climes that catch, beneath the garish yellow layout and ugly flailing of the Artpunkmen some faint glimmer of the power of oldschool gaming will soon move on in search of greater things, and, if they can bypass the constant invective and scorn cast upon the old ways by the would be resentful luminaries of the NuSR, they will take up the old ways. People soon tire of novelty. We shall see what substance they will flock to (but reading fifteen different threads on KotB on Reddit with about one in ten complaining about supposed problems, I am not overly worried).