Renaissance

Kilgore on March 25th, 2010

No. I’m not going to comment on any of the recent shenanigans involving various parts of the OSR blogosphere.

I have blogged in other (far more charged and controversial) areas for a long time. It’s the internet. Either get over it or get off of it. I’m disappointed that some have chosen the latter, but that’s their right.

One opinion that I do have, however, is that pulling down your blogs and removing existing material is Real Bad Form.

UPDATE: I now see that some of the folks in question have also pulled their products from Lulu and other outlets.

That is beyond ridiculous.

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Kilgore on February 17th, 2010

Erin Smale of Welsh Piper left a comment on yesterday’s post about old-school overload (sarcastic term, folks!) in which he linked to a post of his own from last September. This is serendipitous, as I had seen that post a few months back and meant to comment on it, but never got around to it.

The actual post is basically wondering what purpose the old school renaissance really serves and if the material that’s coming out of it is really much more than nostalgic fanism. Honestly, it’s the sort of stuff that I usually just blow off.

But near the end of the post he writes this:

Could it be that using the OGL to write a retro-clone is really just an old-schooler’s way of making a game his own? Maybe OSR isn’t about nolstagia, or inventing new tools for playability, or even tempting a new segment of the market. Maybe OSR is about taking our hobby to a level that ignores the boardroom and focuses instead on the gamer, the player, and the imaginative GM. We all have our tweaks and variants and house rules. We all have our gaming groups and styles of play. Maybe OSR is really just a statement to the industry that says, in dutiful 10-point Futura, that we can do it too: Let us play, and stop trying to tell us how to go about it.

If so, that’s quite encouraging. [emphasis mine]

That, I think, is a great summary of a lot of what’s going on. It’s the mad days of the late 70s/early 80s, except with high-quality self-publishing and instantaneous communication/socialization.

Even more interesting to me than that, though, was this comment he left nearly two months later:

I still maintain that I’d like to see a bit less clone and a bit more innovation, but maybe that’s a phase 2 thing, as some of you have already said.

I do think we’re going to reach a point (if we’re not already there) where a lot of people go, “Gee, that’s nice and all, but how many 95%-faithful reproductions of Game X do we really need?”

Some of the existing clones and near-clones have been out long enough and have enough of a following that corrected and improved 2nd versions are out, so they have reached a certain level of “maturity.” I think this refining will continue as (if?) more and more people use the games and provide feedback, especially if there is the promise of a little money to offset the huge investment of time and effort the best projects require.

The “phase 2 thing,” as Erin calls it, has already begun with a number of new rules based on the “first wave” coming to light. These include games like Mutant Future (Labyrinth Lord platform), Ruins & Ronin (S&W White Box platform), and even a homebrewed Ultima game (also S&W White Box). I’m not exactly clear on what James Raggi’s Weird Fantasy is going to be all about, but it’s no doubt going to be worth a look. Others, like Urutsk: World of Mystery, not only avoid using existing clones for foundation, they eschew the OGL altogether.

I know that lots of people have lots of other projects in the works and we will be seeing a slew of new games and major supplements over the next year or more as they reach completion. Some will tweak existing games and ideas, some will forge new roads, and some will just plain be way the heck out in left field. Or beyond.

For what it’s worth, before I realized the scale of what was going on, I fully intended to do my own take on a sword & planet spin-off of S&W White Box. But there are already a number of similar projects in the works.

I’m at once thrilled to see what this all brings and a little worried that it’s going to be a deluge.

Finally, and I kid you not, my 12-year-old daughter is currently working on character classes for her own spin-off of S&W White Box. Really.

UPDATE: It appears that the final revision of this post did not get saved properly, so for the first hour or so today a not-quite-complete version was live on the site. I have corrected this and the final version is up now. My apologies.

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Kilgore on February 16th, 2010

The comments section on my recent post about the differences between racial abilities in 1e AD&D and the new Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion attracted the notice of Dan Proctor and he weighed in a number of topics, one of them the sheer number of games seeing the light of day now that the Old-School Renaissance seems to be in full swing:

I think the real concern people have but have a hard time putting into words is that it is hard to support every clone (ish) game that is coming out or will come out. Many many more will come out, I have no doubt. I think what people are feeling is “support fatigue.”

How many more of these should we high-five before we say screw it, who cares? That’s a legit question, and I don’t have an answer. Honesty I don’t think any of us should feel an obligation to support every new retro game that comes out…one might ask why support AEC instead of OSRIC. I’m not asking anyone to.

I was thrilled to have Dan leave this comment, as it addresses something I’ve been wanting to write about for some time.

In July I wrote:

I’m also wondering how many people actually play multiple systems. Is it uncommon? With so many retro-clones, spin-offs of retro-clones, and new games out there now, not to mention the originals, do many players utilize several of them? Or do most pick a single system and stick with it?

Personally, I cannot materially support (in terms of purchases) every old-school game out there. I cannot even support every one I think is particularly good. First, the financial commitment would be far greater than I can afford. There is a lot of product being released, much of it of very high quality. I cannot even justify the expense of Labyrinth Lord hardcovers at this time, even though LL is my choice of one game to rule them all. There are a few products I’ve purchased to show my solidarity with the creators, and there will be more in the future. But not very many. If I don’t think I’ll use it at the table, I probably won’t be spending any money on it.

But even more limited than my gold is is my time. I simply don’t have time to play all the games I would like to check out. The whole reason I chose to go All Labyrinth Lord All the Time was that I was having trouble getting anywhere on my proposed S&W White Box game. And it wasn’t a lack of interest, as I was (and still am) very intrigued by the power curve of White Box. But there is only so much time in the day and so many players to play, so I won’t be spreading my effort over a half-dozen cool games. Unfortunately, this means that some games I’d sure like to try, such as Ruins & Ronin and Mutant Future, probably won’t get a chance.

I think most players are in the same boat as I am. I’ve made my choice (at least for now) and others will have to make their own choices based on their own interests. Some will pick multiple games. Some will play one or two but buy material for many others. I don’t know which direction things will take, though it appears that there will be a small number “bigger” games and a large number of “smaller” ones.

I’d hate to see good games struggle because things are so diluted, but the market will have its say. Fortunately, the publishing options available mean that nothing has to permanently “die,” and I think that quality material will always be in demand.

If you write it well, they will play it.

UPDATE: From a comment:

Arguably, extra gaming time is better spent expanding a smaller game than grokking a bigger game. Add to that the ease with which publishers can nuance games with house variants and setting/genre tweaks, and yes, we’ll continue to see more titles than we can keep up with.

But I think you hit the nail on the head: the required number of games is as many as it takes to find one you like.

I don’t think that we’ll reach a state of truly “too many” old-school retro-clones and retro-spin-offs. Such a state would be similar to having “too much” beer or “too many” girlfriends.

But (and this is a big “but”) once one finds the right game, beer, or woman, the others usually sort of fade into the background.

UPDATE 2: Grognardia linked to yesterday’s post with Dan Proctor’s comments. That in itself is cool, but I encourage you to check out what James has to say on the subject.

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Kilgore on September 14th, 2009

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Kilgore on August 3rd, 2009

Dan Proctor writes about the term “retro-clone”: Another one bites the dust

Dan, as you may know, is the creator of Labyrinth Lord, the retro-clone that recreates the 1981 B/X set of D&D rules, and is one of the first (if not the first) to use the the term “retro-clone.”

Now what we are seeing are games released based on the OGC content of the retro-clones and near-clones. Many of these games hybridize to one degree or another the older style of games with 3e, or take them in different directions altogether. I predict there will be dozens and dozens of these games released over the next 5 years or so.

All of these games are being called “retro-clones” out in the wild (that is, forums) even though according to MY model that the world should be paying attention to most of them would be near-clones (I hope you sense my sarcasm, I’m not actually that self-important!). Compound that with the fact that some of these games will claim to be cloning 0e, or Original Edition D&D, or delivering the feel of one version, or another version, etc. and the whole concept of what constitutes a clone has changed. By my usage a “true” retro-clone is a game that attempts to emulate as closely as legally possible the rules of a particular game.

For what it’s worth, though I do believe that some clones are more, well, clonier than others, I suspect that in standard usage the term “retro-clone” is going to mean a game that clones the old style of play, not the old games themselves.

I’d prefer that “clone” meant a clone of the rules, but I guess I don’t really see harm in looking to clone the style of play.

I know not everyone will agree.

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Kilgore on June 22nd, 2009

Old School: A Style of Play or Just Playing Early RPGs?

Randall at RetroRoleplaying: The Blog posts part of a note from a friend of his:

My rules incorporate all sorts of “modern” things that online “Old School” proponents would have a hissy fit over given their reactions to things like ascending armor class or spell points. For example, players get narrative control to describe the results of their hits (subject to GM veto, of course). I discovered that borrowing this player narrative idea from story games makes our combats more interesting to newer players who really like 3.x and 4.x tactical slugfests without the complex combat rules that annoy my long-time players and make a 5 minute combat in my game take an hour in D&D3 or D&D4.

However, I’ve been told by a couple of online “Old School” pundit-wannabes that this alone means my game and campaign aren’t really “Old School.” The impression I get from online “Old School” proponents is that “Old School” means “I’m playing an early version of D&D and playing it by the book.” By that definition most of the people playing D&D or AD&D in the 1970s and early 1980s; the time period the “Old School” movement apparently wants to bring back were not really playing “Old School” games.

This is something I’ve touched on a few times previously. Whenever new-edition gamers wonder where the rule is for this or for that, old-schoolers gleefully proclaim “That’s the beauty of the old-school games…you can do anything you want!

That is, of course, until “anything you want” resembles anything in new-edition games. Then, suddenly, grognards crawl out of the woodwork proclaiming that someone’s doing it wrong. I will gladly note, however, that these critics seem to be in the distinct minority.

It was nice to see a couple of old-schoolers that I follow show up in the comments on that post and weigh in with words that I agree with on this subject.

School’s out for summer. Go play.

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Kilgore on May 29th, 2009

A while back, Verhaden had a post up that began thus:

For a while, there has been a lot of talk on various forums and blogs about the usefulness of having a RPG system in booklet format. The discussion seems centered around utility and a certain rules-light-DIY philosophy, tinged only a bit by nostalgia and novelty. I can see the appeal of having books you can print out at home, keep in a small Munchkin-sized box, and store in your glove box or something for in-promtu gaming purposes. It sure as hell beats lugging around three 400 page hardback books.

Kilgore's WhiteBox

Kilgore's WhiteBox

I strongly prefer digest-sized booklets for game use. Yes, there’s certainly some nostalgia there (though I must admit mine is for the black LBBs of Traveller rather than the brown LBBs of OD&D), but I find them easier to use and keep behind the screen while playing.

And, come on, isn’t the nostalgia+utility factor one of the driving ones behind the “old-school renaissance”?

I’ve printed up my Labyrinth Lord PDF digest-sized and used comb binding. I’d prefer coil over comb but a comb punch is available at work. Either one lies nice and flat when open, even with higher page counts than anyone’s LBBs.

I’ve also used digest-sized comb-binding for my Swords & Wizardry White Box rules. My long term plan for S&W is to assemble myself a customized White Box book incorporating all of my house rules plus monsters from the Monster Book.

I print my booklets using Clickbook by BlueSquirrel. It’s got a lot of printing options and allows me to easily combine different formats into one booklet (or other size/style) as needed. It manages the two-sided printing, working with both duplex and standard printers to get your pages sorted and printed as needed. However, it is not free. At $50 it’s not a killer, but if it’s only going to be used a few times it’s probably tough to justify the expense.

A free option is BookletCreator.com. You select a PDF to upload and it sends you back a new PDF with the pages ordered for booklet printing. This leaves you to print the odd-numbered pages, get it back into your printer correctly, and print the even-half in reverse. Though I always seem to need at least two tries at this, the price (free) is right if only a few booklets are going to be printed. I ran up a couple of copies of Dungeonslayers as a test of the service and it worked great. (Just make sure to select “Letter” as your Result Sheet Size for digest booklets.)

[UPDATE: I also think there’s a booklet option in recent versions of Adobe Acrobat. I use Foxit, so I’m not sure about it or how it works.]

Another route for limited printing, of course, would be to go down to Staples or Kinkos and get it done there. It’s not free, but the price might be worth the saved hassle. Plus they’ve got a number of binding options available.

Bat, meanwhile, has a nifty little carrier that just begs for digest-sized booklets. I may have to look into something like that.

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Kilgore on May 26th, 2009

The kids are arguing about the term “old school” again. Here, there, and everywhere. I won’t bother linking. If you read any other game blogs besides this one (and you had better be) you’ve seen plenty of it in the past 48 hours. It’s probably got about 48-72 hours to go.

Anyway, I’ll just say that the term “old-school” is very useful in a general sort of way when used to describe D&D gaming as it was up until about Unearthed Arcana and Dragonlance. This can generally mean open campaigns, player skill being at least as important as character stats, power levels lower than in later versions of the game, often simpler rules, and games where plot is secondary (if it exists at all).

However, I also believe that trying to definitively nail down just exactly what old-school gaming is and what it is not would be very counter-productive and harmful. I fear we’d end up with people arguing that AAC is not old-school or that a particular PC race or rule mechanic precludes old-school play.

That won’t help anyone.

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