Monday, January 28, 2013

OSR, Phase II


There is, of course, no singular event that one can point to and say, “The OSR started here.” Certainly it was a product of a particular time within the gaming hobby, wherein a number of circumstances combined to make the OSR possible. D&D 3.5 was petering out and 4th edition was received to blasé reviews or outright hostility. The OGL allowed games such as Castles & Crusades (2004) and OSRIC (2006), and later Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, MicroliteXX, etc. to come about, and desktop publishing and the increasingly sophisticated abilities of on-demand publishing made it possible for individuals or a handful of people to put out really incredible products for little or no cash up front.

2008 was the year many flagship OSR blogs were founded, such as the Retroroleplaying Blog (founded February 20008); Grognardia (March 2008); The Society of Pole, Torch, and Rope (August 2008); and Bat in the Attic (October 2008); among many, many others too numerous to name. These blogs and message boards such as Dragonsfoot and the Knights and Knaves Alehouse (again, plus many others) fostered a community of deep introspection, analysis, and discussion about just what made older games great, on a mechanical, “player ethos”, and aesthetic level.

However, one thing I've noticed in the last year or so is that the level of philosophical analysis has decreased dramatically both on the blogs and message boards, in favor of an enormous wave of practical application. There are far fewer fundamental questions being discussed and older editions of D&D being evaluated, and many more reviews of new products, analysis of older non-D&D games, organization of face-to-face and virtual events, and the like. This, I think, is the transition between the first phase of the OSR to the second.

That’s not to say, obviously, that nothing of practical use has come out of the OSR in the last four or five years; far from it. But while the first phase of the OSR has seen foundational works such as those mentioned above, what we are now seeing in the OSR is a flowering of material that take off in wild new directions. Now that the final holes in the retro-clone coverage have been filled (the basic game-play of (A)D&D 0E, 1E, and now 2E are covered by multiple products), the OSR as a whole seems self-confident enough to break off in new directions.

We see this with games such as Lamentations of the Flame Princess (2010) that take the D&D game into new directions, but also with “reconstructions” of games that never saw print, such as Dragons at Dawn (2010) which attempts to recreate the game as it was played at Dave Arneson’s table in the very earliest days of the hobby, or my own Adventures Dark and Deep (2013) which attempts to show what direction the game might have taken if Gygax had stayed with TSR in 1985. There are fantasy games that are not based on the D&D rules, but harken to the old-school “feel” such as Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea, The Secret Fire, and Adventurer Conquerer King. We see science fiction games such as Sorcery and Super Science! and Stars Without Number. There are innovative and envelope-pushing settings and adventures such as Carcosa and Vornheim. And more material is being published every day.

Now, of course, we live in a hobby/industry where Wizards of the Coast has seemingly embraced older products in their back catalog, making them available in pdf format or in distribution-chain reprints. Old TSR stalwarts are publishing new and exciting material with their many decades of experience to guide them. So the landscape is once more changing. But in that change I see really good times ahead. The OSR has done its soul-searching, we've figured out what we are and what we like, and we’re settling down to the business of doing it. “Mainstream” gaming has caught up to us, and for a short while at least, we’re driving the bus. Let’s not hesitate to be bold and confident, and take things in exciting new directions.

As Gary Gygax said, “One more thing: don’t spend too much time merely reading. The best part of this work is the play, so play and enjoy!”

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Gygax Magazine Launch Party

I was one of the scores of people who attended today's launch of Gygax Magazine at the Brooklyn Strategist. It was certainly a hoot-- not only was the event itself a lot of fun (there were dignitaries from the elder days via video), but I got to meet a bunch of OSR bloggers face-to-face for the first time. Erik Tenkar, Mike Curtis, and Chris Mennell were there, and apparently Tavis Allison was there but I didn't manage to hook up with him. Alas!

I also got to hang out with four of the players from my own game; Dennis, Kate, Dale, and Mollie (who is also the editrix and one of the artists for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual). After some excellent Brooklyn pizza (anchovies, olives, and capers-- yay salt!), we went to the Strategist only to wait for 30 minutes until they let folks in for the event. Did I mention it was 17°???

Here are some pics of the event. It's a small thing, but I'm glad I can say I was present at this bit of gaming history.

Waiting outside for the event to start. So cold. So very, very cold.

Fortunately, once we were inside, the place was so packed we warmed right up.


Editor-in-Chief Jayson Elliot and Games Editor James Carpio

The grand unveiling!



Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Want to See the TOC for Gygax Magazine #1?

Then BoingBoing has just what you're looking for!

Also, for those who are relatively local, a reminder that the unveiling of the magazine will be this Saturday. Assuming nothing Bad Happens, I'll be there to enjoy the festivities. (Free) pre-registration is required, but there will also be a live video feed, so I'm told. Can't wait!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Wizards of the Coasts PDFs Now Available

Well, the rumors and speculation have turned out to be true; Wizards of the Coast has teamed up with Onebookshelf to make pdf's of a bunch of their older products available.

Their items are available both on the main RPGNow.com site as well as the new DNDClassics.com site, which was set up specifically to accommodate the new WotC material.

There seems to be a smattering of items from all versions but 0E, and everything's in pdf format right now, but I'm assuming there will be new things added to the site all the time. There are both books and modules included, and B1 In Search of the Unknown is currently available as a free download to get the ball rolling.

No idea if people who had previously bought access to the pdf's will somehow be granted access, but UPDATE: Apparently if you previously purchased pdf's through OneBookShelf, your previous purchases are honored with the re-release. That's a terrific bit of news. It's a huge step forward for WotC, and they've certainly kept one promise made early on in the 5E development process. I'll be interested to see what new things get added.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Forgotten Realms 5E Concept Art

Conceptopolis, a professional graphics firm, has posted a number of pieces of concept art for the upcoming 5E Forgotten Realms, which by its nature also includes a number of pictures of more generic monsters and such. You can see the gallery at Deviantart --> HERE <--

Thoughts? Impressions? I've got a few myself, but would like to hear some of yours, first.

PG or not PG, That is the Question

So now that the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual is humming along so well (more than half the finished art completed, all edits received and more than half reviewed applied to the master document), I have a minute to think about the next book; the Game Masters Toolkit.

Now, for this, I'm thinking about having a more "edgy" cover, involving nudity (in-context, of course, not merely gratuitous), but it brings up the question of whether I have two versions of the cover. One would be the full-monty version, and the other would be a PG version with some bits of cloth placed in strategic locations.

Now, the question I'd like to pose to the Peanut Gallery is, would having a nude on the cover offend your sensibilities to the point that you wouldn't buy the book? 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Interview With Shapeways CEO Peter Weijmarshausen

In a sort-of follow-up to the story about Games Workshop suing someone over 3D printing, here's an interview with 3D printing pioneer Peter Weijmarshausen, CEO of Shapeways. It's not specifically about gaming, but the implications brought up in the interview apply just as well (in some ways, better) to the production of miniatures, which by their nature are only made of one material and thus are perfectly suited to the technology.


Table: Undead Origins

From the upcoming Adventures Dark and Deep Game Masters Toolkit (not the Players Manual, which will be coming out first, of course):

Why is That Undead Creature Not resting Peacefully?
  1. Aborted baby
  2. After death, body was taken out through the front door of the house
  3. Bride or groom who died on their wedding night
  4. Buried next to or with someone they couldn't stand in life
  5. Buried without the customary coin in the mouth/on the eyes
  6. Child who died before being baptized, etc.
  7. Died a violent death
  8. Died while under the effect of a curse
  9. Died with unfinished business 
  10. Died without proper funerary rites/blessings
  11. Drowning victim
  12. Fiancé who died right before their wedding night
  13. Had a premonition of their own death
  14. Hanged (criminal 75%, innocent 25%)
  15. Something stolen from their grave/tomb
  16. Stillborn baby
  17. Suicide
  18. Too ornery to accept death
  19. Woman who died in childbirth
  20. Woman who died soon after her baby was born

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Champions Complete Coming Soon!

From ICv2:
The Champions role-playing game, one of the longest-running superhero games ever, will soon be released as a new core book.  Champions Complete has finished printing and will soon be available in both print and digital versions.
...
The latest version of the game, Champions Complete, will be a 240-page softcover book with black and white interiors and a full-color cover by Sam R. Kennedy. The book was written by Derek Hiemforth.  This single volume core rulebook will include all of the rules needed to play the game.  The suggested retail price will be $40.00.  A PDF version will also be available for $20.00.
...
Champions Complete is fully compatible with all sixth edition Hero System products. 
Champions, along with Villains and Vigilantes and Marvel Super Heroes, saw a lot of action around our gaming table in high school. I haven't played it recently, but I do own a lot of the 5th edition Hero System stuff, and might want to give the new version of Champions a try. Certainly a nice price-point nowadays.

Dwimmermount Thoughts

By now, I'm sure most people reading this are aware of the hullabaloo surrounding the Dwimmermount Kickstarter campaign, occasioned by a comment by Tavis Allison (link will only work for supporters of the original KS), whose Autarch company was deeply involved in managing the Kickstarter campaign itself, although James M. was ultimately responsible for getting the book into the backers' hands.

First off, I think it's unfair to say that James has absconded with the money, or that this was a "scam" (which is the exact term some unfortunate over at the Autarch message boards used), etc. Yes, it's late, but as Erik Tenkar has been reminding us on a regular basis, so are a bunch of other Kickstarter rewards. There have been regular updates, the backers have gotten pdf copies of the drafts, we've seen the art, etc. 

So it seems that all, or most, of the pieces are in place. We just need to see them all put together and shipped off to the printer. 

Now, it seems that James has been incommunicado for the last month or so. No blog posts, nothing on G+, not even any communication with Tavis we are told. So obviously something has happened to James, whether it be health related, family related, or something else. I don't think it's right or fair to jump on him for being out of touch for reasons which are, by definition, unknown. People are engaging in all kinds of baseless  speculation, and it's not helping anything except fuel the rumor mill further. 

Unless folks are suggesting that James will go the way of Dave Trampier and never be heard from again, we just need to take the news that Dwimmermount is going to be yet later than it already is, and move on. Is it disappointing? Sure, but it's hardly worth all the venom that I've seen in certain quarters.

After all, when Rich Burlew nearly cut his thumb off, nobody was giving him grief that his Order of the Stick Kickstarter rewards were going to be late. Something's clearly happened to James to take him offline for a while, preventing him from letting folks know what's up, and I urge patience to all involved. Well, continued patience, anyway.

UPDATE: Victor Raymond over at Sandbox of Doom has spoken with James and gotten permission to let everyone know what's going on. I'm sure everyone wishes James nothing but the best in these trying times. I know I do. 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

OneBookShelf Discontinues Crowdsourcing Fulfillment Support

Well this is a kick in the head.

OneBookShelf, purveyors of RPGNow.com, DriveThruRPG.com, etc. just announced that they are no longer going to support publishers who need to fulfill crowdsourcing rewards:
Some of you will recall that we started a new program last August, helping publishers with Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaigns to fulfill your digital and print product orders. Since then, we have helped a number of our publishers to fulfill their Kickstarter obligations.
Unfortunately, after careful examination of the costs and benefits, we have decided to discontinue this program. We apologize to any of you who were considering using this method for your own Kickstarter campaigns.
Of course, you can still use our publisher tools and infrastructure to help send products to your backers.
Now, this is of particular moment to me, as I used RPGNow to fulfill the print and digital rewards for my first Kickstarter campaign with great success, and was planning on using them to fulfill the rewards for the Adventures Dark and Deep Players Manual. Now that that option has been closed to me, I might need to re-evaluate my publishing strategy as a whole, and look to venues other than RPGNow.com entirely.

It could well turn out that having to switch to a new publisher at this late date, after the Kickstarter campaign is ended, but before the rewards were sent, could turn a slight profit that would have been folded back into new products into a not-so-slight loss. I find myself in this unenviable position; my planning and budgeting was built around the RPGNow.com fulfillment quotes. Now that's all out the window.

Gotta say doing this so suddenly really makes me feel like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet. Announcing that "as of XXX date, we will no longer support crowdsourcing fulfillment" would have been much better from my point of view, and allowed me (and, doubtless, other publishers caught in the same position) to make alternate plans. As it is, I am left with a very bad taste in my mouth regarding OneBookShelf.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Lulu No Longer Allowing DRM Protection

Lulu.com, one of the leading print-on-demand services around, announced that they will no longer be accepting files that make use of Adobe's DRM protection for EPUB and Pdf files. Further, all files that are currently on Lulu with the protection will be required to have that protection removed from them before they can be sold again. Why? Here's the official explanation:
DRM works best when administered by those who control how content is purchased and viewed. Companies like Amazon, Apple and Barnes & Noble integrate a reader’s experience from purchasing to downloading and finally to reading. These companies do a fantastic job in this area, and eBooks published through Lulu and distributed through these retail sites will continue to have the same rights management applied as they do today.
For readers who download eBooks directly from Lulu.com to the device of their choice, removing DRM on EPUBs and PDFs will remove their need to create an Adobe account, authorize the purchase in Digital Editions or install a third-party application. This creates possibilities for the growing number of readers who want to shop, purchase and download books to their eReaders from sites other than large corporate providers. 
In other words, it seems that Lulu has discovered that they're losing sales because small publishers want to have DRM protection on their files, and having that protection introduces another step.

Now, I fully understand the arguments in favor of this move, and certainly Lulu has a right to do whatever it wants to do as a company. However, if I were a publisher with them, I'd feel more than a little miffed at the condescending attitude that "the big boys know how to do this right, but you don't, so we're taking away the option for you."

If the argument is, "DRM is a flawed technology that ultimately hurts both producers and consumers of media", then allowing it for Amazon and B&N but not for smaller publishers smacks of hypocrisy. If it's bad for me to use it, it's bad for Amazon to use it, and Lulu should take the principled stand and remove their works from those distribution outlets until they stop using it, too.

But here, the argument simply seems to be "We want to make more money, and so we're removing an option that some of our publishers choose to avail themselves of," and I personally find that less than idealistic. Let the producers of the content make the decision, and live with the consequences, good or ill.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Lenovo Introduces 27" Table PC

From the Associated Press:

Dismayed that family members are spread out over the house, each with a separate PC or tablet? Lenovo has something it believes will get them back together: a PC the size of a coffee table that works like a gigantic tablet and lets four people use it at once.
Lenovo Group Ltd., one of the world's largest PC makers, is calling the IdeaCentre Horizon Table PC the first "interpersonal computer" - as opposed to a "personal computer."
At first glance, it looks like a regular all-in-one machine in the vein of the iMac: It's a 27-inch screen with the innards of a Windows 8 computer built into it, and it can stand up on a table.
But you can pick it up off the table, unhook the power cord and lay it flat for games of "Monopoly." It's big enough to fit four people around it, and the screen can respond to ten fingers touching it at the same time.
There's more at the original article, but the implications for tabletop gaming are clear, and even alluded to in the article. Where monstrosities such as dedicated gaming tables have fallen flat in terms of finding a market, this device might actually have a chance. It's going to start retailing this summer at $1,699, but doubtless that will come down in short order, and discounted prices will be had online as well.

Imagine something like that for playing Cataan. Or displaying a dungeon map, or battle grid with markers for characters and monsters, able to be manipulated in real time by tapping the screen. If this thing does catch on, it veritably screams for someone to put together an application to facilitate generic dungeon crawls, or even system-specific facilitators. Heck, right off the bat it could be used to display large flat image files, which could be good enough for battle-mat applications.

I'll be interested to see whether this gets any traction. It's a high price point, but there's lots of potential there.

Gygax Magazine Live Release Party

Got this in my inbox today. I might just make the journey into Brooklyn for this!

It's been quite a wait, but it's finally time! The first issue of Gygax magazine will be unboxed at 2pm EST on Saturday, January 26th at The Brooklyn Strategist. We'll be streaming the unboxing live at GygaxMagazine.com for everyone who can't be in New York City that day.
As soon as the first box is opened, you'll be able to order single copies or subscriptions online. (And of course, we'll have them in the store as well.)
The staff of Gygax magazine, including Ernie Gygax, Luke Gygax, Tim Kask, Jayson Elliot, Jim Wampler, and James Carpio, will be online for a video Q&A. We'll have some other special guests that day as well. 
After the unboxing, we'll keep the video running while we run gaming events all afternoon. There will be a limited number of online seats available to join the in-store games via the virtual tabletop Roll20. A followup email will be sent next week with a link to a form where you can sign up to play online.
Keep following us on Twitter and Facebook for more details as we get closer to the unboxing day! We'll be sending a followup email next week with details for anyone who wants to attend the event in person.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Upcoming Movies for 2013

2012 was a banner year for genre films, with such films as Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, and The Hobbit: an Unexpected Journey hitting theaters. 2013 has a lot of promise as well, and I thought I'd highlight some of the movies that I'm personally looking forward to.

March 1 - Jack the Giant Slayer. I saw a trailer for this in front of the Hobbit, and I've gotta say it looks pretty nifty.

March 29: G.I. Joe Retaliation. I know, I know, but it's not like I'm expecting Casablanca here. But I really liked the first one and the trailer for the second one has me pretty jazzed.

April 26: Lords of Salem. I'm not a fan of Rob Zombie's remakes of the Halloween films, but this original one (loosely based on one of his songs) looks like it could be great. I saw a trailer at his concert in NYC last year.

May 3: Iron Man 3. Robert Downey Jr. does such a good job in the role of Tony Stark, I look forward to these films just for him. But Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin? This has the makings of awesomeness.

May 17: Star Trek Into Darkness. I didn't particularly like the first film in the reboot of the Star Trek franchise, but it's Star Trek, and I'm not going to pass it up. Plus, Benedict Cumberbatch should be great as the villain (Gary Mitchell?).

June 7: After Earth. A thousand years in the future, Will Smith and son are stranded on a world that is totally alien to them, where every life form has specifically evolved to hunt and kill humans; Earth. Again, I saw the trailer for this in front of the Hobbit, and it really looks interesting.

June 14: Man of Steel. It's supposedly a total reboot of the Superman franchise, so I'm willing to go into it with fresh eyes. I didn't much care for Superman Returns, but if they can make it more like Superman II, I'll be happy.

September 6: Riddick. Finally! A finale to the Riddick trilogy. It's not 2001: A Space Odyssey, but it's not trying to be. The first two films are fun, and the Necromongers are great villains. Looking forward to seeing where they take the series.

November 1: Ender's Game. I know absolutely nothing about this movie, but I love the books, so I'm going to see it just on that basis.

November 8: Thor: The Dark Worlds. The first one was good, and this one looks like it's going to be more interplanetary war against the Frost Giants and less tearing up a small town on Earth, so I'm definitely looking forward to it.

December 13: The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The first Hobbit movie wasn't perfect, but I liked it a lot, and can't wait to see Smaug the Golden in all his glory amid the ruins of Erebor. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Deluxe T&T Kickstarter Now Live

I confess that I only played Tunnels and Trolls a few times back in high school, and that was it. I wouldn't describe myself as a "fan" of the game, but not through any fault of the game itself so much as my own preoccupation with Dungeons and Dragons as our go-to fantasy game at the time. But it is undeniably one of the seminal publications in RPG history, one that has never gone out of print to my knowledge, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the Kickstarter for the Deluxe edition is now live, and has already hit about 15% of its goal. The deluxe version features gorgeous production values, a full-color map of Trollworld, and tons of extra material. Definitely worth a look-see and the fine folks at Flying Buffalo have such an impeccable track record that I'm probably going to be supporting this just on the face of it.

ICv2's Top Ten Hobby Games Business Events of 2012

Over at ICv2, they have a list of the top ten events, trends, etc. that impacted the gaming industry in 2012. Some of it is obvious, some of it is very insightful, and very little do I find myself disagreeing with. Bear in mind it covers all tabletop games, not just RPGs, and some of it is "inside baseball" industry-wise. Definitely do read all of their analysis, but the bullet-point list is:

  • Hobby Games Up a Lot (As Videogames Decline)
  • Kickstarter Becomes a Major Force in Hobby Games
  • Tabletop Becomes Huge Sales Driver
  • Licensing Drives Game Sales
  • Magic: The Gathering Is the Largest Game Brand
  • New D&D Edition Coming; Reprints in the Meantime
  • High-powered TCG Launches
  • 4Kids Assets Sold to Konami, Saban
  • Mayfair Goes Exclusive
  • Piracy Hits 3-D Objects

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The OSR Officially Wins

Larry Elmore's Snarfquest is coming back (in Knights of the Dinner Table from Kenzer)! Holy moly! What's next, Wormy* and Jasmine??


If you don't know what Snarfquest is, you've not been reading Dragon Magazine long enough, whippersnapper!
_____
* I know, I know. Not gonna happen, ever. sigh

(h/t to Windsor Gaming Resource)

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year!


Happy New Year to everyone. May your 2013 be better than your 2012, in whatever way it might.