Sunday, July 26, 2009

What would you do if WotC republished older versions of D&D?

Hot on the heels of my previous topic, I have happened to wonder what would happen if WotC suddenly put hard copies of the pre-3.x versions of D&D into print. How would it change the playing habits of those of us in the OSR? If Moldvay was once more available, would you drop LL? If you could buy Holmes in your FLGS, would you still play S&W? Does Mentzer trump Microlite74? If you could once more buy a 1E AD&D PH, would you still prefer OSRIC? Would you do something else? I am genuinely curious.

Poll's off to the right.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Is the OSR spread too thin?

Something has been bubbling in the back of my brain for a while now, relating to the OSR and what we've got to work with. The success that certain games have enjoyed on, and most recently in the Ennie awards, has brought it to the fore.

That is, I wonder if there's room in them thar hills for as many games as we currently enjoy. Would we perhaps be better served if we only had one game to carry the flag, rather than the surfeit of choices that we now have?

Personally, I prefer to just go with the originals (in my case, AD&D, but I have nothing against those who are playing with the LBBs, or the various incarnations of Basic), but I can-- grudgingly-- understand the attraction of a game that is being currently supported with new products. Rules sets, expansions, modules, settings, etc. I accept it. I would be willing to move to a new game that felt like the version of AD&D I play.

But functionally, is there really enough of a difference between Swords & Wizardry (2 versions!), Labyrinth Lord, Spellcraft & Swordplay, Epées & Sorcellerie (there's talk of an English edition), Microlite74, and doubtless one or two I've forgotten, to justify them all? OSRIC, perhaps, because AD&D was indeed a different game than 0E, but it hasn't really captured the OSR's imagination as it might have (for a variety of reasons, including, if I may say, a hundred dollar hardback on lulu. Are you nuts?) But even there, one could put out a supplement that changed an 0E emulator into a 1E emulator in one nice neat package. Still no need for a completely different game, different branding, and diluted effort.

I don't have any particular dog in the race, because I don't use any of the rules in question, and I buy supplements and adventure modules for them all (and convert them for my own AD&D game). But criminy! Are we not shooting ourselves in the foot by having so many games all essentially saying the same thing? Is there really so much that S&W left unsaid that required LL to be published? Or vice-versa? Couldn't six pages of house-rules have done the job?

Please understand, I am not trying to knock any rule set, author, or publisher. I am trying to point out that we can still let a thousand flowers bloom if there was a single OSR game out there, and people felt like they had the freedom to simply fold, staple, and mutilate it to match their heart's content. That's what folks did back in the so-called Golden Age. Thus was born Arduin, just to take one example, and umpteen articles in Dragon magazine. DMs would pick and choose, and change what they chose, according to what they wanted and needed. And it worked!

My ideal model would be to have a single stripped-down rules set that was 100% open game content under the OGL. A version akin to the three LBB's stripped-down, but still "supported" so there would be a unifying branding that could attract new (or old) players. Want to play where elves are a character race that can't switch between M-U and fighter? Someone will have a supplement for that. Maybe several someones. Want a skills system? Ditto. Cavaliers a-la Unearthed Arcana? Ditto. Monster books, adventures, and campaign settings? Ditto, ditto, ditto.

But the difference would be that we wouldn't have the artificial barricades between a half-dozen games, which amount to a distinction without a difference. If we of the OSR poured all our effort into a single brand, yet caused that single brand to embrace all the various versions and visions of the game, I think we would be much more successful, at least in a commercial sense, and possibly in a sub-sub-cultural sense as well.

Hell, I've run into this myself with my CotMA project. I considered branding it as a S&W product, or a LL product, or OSRIC, but then I realized that doing so would probably put off at least some of the people who play a different game. Not that the mechanics would be even an iota different, but there is that branding, and that means you've taken a side, and that turns off folks who've taken a different side.

It could be that this will happen naturally, as a result of a sort of commercial survival of the fittest. Eventually one title or brand will prove itself to be the survivor, and the OSR will gravitate around it. But it's also possible that the OSR will continue to fragment itself, dilute its brand identity (and therefore its ability to get into brick-and-mortar distribution chains, let alone non-gaming venues), and be relegated to the footnote of a footnote.

Personally, I'd like to see a different outcome. Thoughts?

Vote Early, Vote Often

As you have probably heard by now, Swords and Wizardry is up for an Ennie award for "Best Free Product". Mythmere Games and Goblinoid Games are also up for a fan award "Best Publisher". Go out there and show your support!

You can vote here:

(Just kidding about the "vote often" thing.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage in Action

A shot from Dexcon 12, with Yours Truly behind the screen, and unfortunately missing Rob (who occupied the empty seat on the left, and who took the picture) and our stalwart Ranger off to the right whose name unfortunately escapes me at the moment. *blush*

Are those really goldenrod AD&D 1E character sheets on the table? You betcha!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Whither TARGA?

Coming off a great time at a local gaming convention this weekend at which both the RPGA and NAGA had full-blown event tracks, I am given to share my vast disappointment at the direction TARGA has taken. Or, more precisely, the lack of direction.

The two email lists that support the organization are virtually unused. Nothing has been posted to the organizers' list since April, and the TARGAtalk list has seen a month go by with no activity. Is there really nothing to talk about? No conventions? No games looking for players (or players looking for games)? No module reviews? No new gaming news from among the OSR publishers? There's a spiffy wiki, which Michael S. was kind enough to set up, but after a month and a half, no one had added a single page until I did so tonight. The "official" TARGA website (itself a wordpress blog) hasn't seen any activity since April.

Is there even a TARGA? There is a bit of an internet presence, but is there any actual organization? We've got officers, apparently. Has a corporation been formed? I know I collaborated on bylaws many moons ago, and there have been some conference calls, but has any real progress been made? Have there been any TARGA-sanctioned events at conventions? Any attempt to generate synergy with some of the OSR publishers? Even a game finder? As far as I can tell, in 14 months, we've come up with a pair of low-traffic email lists and two websites that are essentially unused. There was an "International Traditional Gaming Week" back in January that seems to have consisted of mostly people running their ordinary games out of their houses, with a few one-shots at a local FLGS. A second one, planned for May, seems to have fizzled.

I do not mean to disparage anyone in particular, because this is not a failure of any individual, but I was frankly hoping for a little more progress over the course of more than a year.

Is this a failure of the concept, or a failure in execution? After only one attempt, it's impossible to say. I'm willing to give it another go in another organization (perhaps in another form, or with another emphasis), but I have regretfully come to the conclusion that TARGA is not the vehicle to support a revival of old-school gaming.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Castle of the Mad Archmage: Dexcon 12

This time around for the Castle of the Mad Archmage AD&D 1E game at Dexcon 12, I made sure to plaster the place with posters (an example of which is in the upper-left of this very post, as a matter of fact). It turned out to be a really good promotional device, as we had two more people show up than I had character sheets! One fellow made up a new character on the spot, and another bowed out and moved to another game in the same room, but I was very pleased with the enthusiastic turnout. Naturally, the account below is very truncated, and there was a lot of good RP that took place, and puzzle-solving and tactics-planning that I just cannot convey.

The party (ranged around 4th level, but there were a few multi-classes in there, so it wasn't uniform) started on the 3rd level of the dungeon, coming in through the dry cistern entrance. They were immediately jumped on by a pair of ghouls, which they dispatched with a minimum of fuss and continued their explorations.

They made their way into a dead-end hallway that the module stated was the receiving area for a one-way teleporter, but on a whim I turned it into a two-way teleporter just to shake things up. Very quickly they figured out that they had teleported, and from then on in were careful to keep track of their rear to notice any more sudden changes in their environment.

Next up was a random encounter with a floating pearlescent bubble. Most of the party was very cautious about the thing, but the fighter/magic-user decided that boldness was the word of the day and used a 10' pole to probe the thing. 13 points of damage later, he found that it contained a gem which clattered to the ground after it exploded in his face.

Continuing down the corridor, the party next encountered what they very cleverly figured out was just a watch-post for some orcs. They dispatched them with little trouble, but I could tell that some antennae were raised at that point. Where there is a guard-post of orcs, more orcs are somewhere about, being guarded.

They were very good in figuring out that an octagonal space in the middle of some corridors was likely to contain a secret room, and dutifully found the secret door thereto. Unfortunately, the ranger managed to take a spiked ball square in the face for a whole lot of damage; fortunately, he was the party's tank, and could take the abuse. Much silver was to be found within; far beyond the party's ability to carry out easily. They decided to reset the trap and note the location for later retrieval.

Next up was an encounter with more orcs, guarding a stairway up (remember, they started on the third level). One of the orcs dashed from the room as soon as they entered, a sleep spell took out three more, and some hack-n-slash did for the rest. One of the sleeping orcs was awakened and interrogated, and it was eventually learned that the sergeant had hied out to warn the rest of the tribe.

While the interrogation was taking place, the cleric of the party decided to investigate the stairs, and while he was careful not to go all the way to the top, his light did so, and when another member of the party called up the stairs to him, more orcs from the second level were alerted and came a-running. The party used some fire to slow them down and beat a hasty retreat back into the corridors where they could better defend themselves. Unfortunately, the sounds of more orcs coming from the corridors were heard, and they decided to hie tail and retreat while they could, dropping some flaming oil to slow the pursuit.

They then ran into some previously-unexplored portions of the dungeons, and their map was a bit munged, so they missed some connections that some of the corridors were making. They ended up eluding the pursuing orcs briefly, but stumbled on an outpost of duergar, who were none too pleased to be disturbed. Flight from the druegar brought them back to the orcs, unintentionally. With quick thinking, however, and a fair grasp of the local topography, they managed to get the orcs and druegar to fight each other rather than them, and they ran into the uncharted depths away from the melee, dropping more fire to discourage pursuit and encourage the gray dwarves and orcs to engage one another.

They didn't know it, but they were running in the general direction of the exit. They ran at full speed past a stunjelly that took a pot-shot and missed, and took a chance on a door that ended up leading to a whole lot of nothing. They were thrilled, though, at having eluded the orcs through clever thinking and at least surviving.

At this point, alas, our four-hour session was coming to an end. They were at least one six-way-intersection away from the entrance they had used, but I'm sure they would have found it if they had had another half hour or so.

The whole session was a blast. The players really seemed to enjoy themselves, and I got a lot of terrific feedback (one of the players was shocked to learn his DM was the Greyhawk Grognard, as he apparently reads this blog, and will hopefully be sending me a picture he took of the gaming session!). If they had half as much fun playing as I had running it, it was a huge success.

I will definitely be running at least one, and maybe two, sessions of CotMA next time around. And I will definitely be making more posters.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Dexcon in Morristown, NJ

Sorry for the short notice, but I realized I should tell folks that I will be at Dexcon 12 in Morristown, NJ starting tonight and going through Sunday. I'll be running three games; Dune on Friday night, a session of 1E AD&D "Castle of the Mad Archmage" also Friday night, and Diplomacy starting Saturday morning.

If you're planning on attending, look for the guy wearing the "SPI Died for your sins" button. :-)

Bonus points if you even know what that means.

EDIT: To the left is a poster I quickly Photoshopped to advertise the game, which I'll be posting at strategic points in the con hotel. "Come and Party like it's 1979".