|Art by Zdzisław Beksiński|
The iconic, in my opinion, image of adventurers when it come to 'old school roleplaying and fantasy', both the old material and the rebirth via the OSR is an imagery of ruins. As Joseph Manola points out in the aforementioned linked post, the world around them carries an imagery of ruins. The past is gone, broken, haunted and the adventures are exploring it in hope of looking for something, possibly a treasure, to find something of worth. Unless the setting or locale was recently destroyed and it represent an early post-apocalyptic setting it is then very likely that these broken down ruins and empty locales are from an age long-gone, one which the characters never experienced themselves. All they ever see are the echoes and remnants of that past age or the fossilized artifacts and forgotten treasures.
If you think about it, it's very much how a twenty-seven years old man(child) would experience delving back into older fantasy.
In many ways, 'Fantasy' almost became a dirty word to me at times: it conjured images of trite, cliché fantasy worlds where nothing of interest happen or the imagery of bloated now-incomprehensible settings which make no sense and are not recognizable after a decade of constant retcon and additions, barely resembling the worlds and stories one enjoyed as a child. Even Dungeons & Dragons, past my initial love for the game (as my first RPG, obviously) had become to me nothing but a pile of nonsense. In a way, I was moving through the ruins and the pitiful attempts at rebuilding the past or maybe the cancerous post-apocalyptic junk town which had grown it.
The imagery of ruins, of decays and the melancholy it inspire has a rather strong resonance to me: it hint at a past which was once glorious but can never be truly recovered, rebuilt and even less so experienced. Once I removed the strata of garbage which composed the wasteland, such as all the modern fantasy and science fiction, once I dug deeper and deepr and uncovered the real dungeon did it all start to make sense. Fantasy genuinely only began making true sense to me when I found Conan, Elric and the stories of Vance or to an extent rediscovered the older Fighting Fantasy books.
But in the end? These are still either ruins or fossilized echoes. Their era is gone. All we do is walk among the ruins and piece together the past. Suddenly the 'aesthetic of ruin' resonates with me even more in this idea of an older, larger past which I can never experience. Only explore the ruins and dig up the treasures. But I can never rebuild them.