Friday, August 28, 2009

Information Doesn't Spread

We often get so caught up in what we're doing that we forget that effectively nobody else has any idea what we've been up to.

I've found the problem of information and isolation gets worse, not better, with social media - blogs, forums, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Certain people read our stuff, but we often forget that not everyone does, even if they're aware that updates are happening, even if we think it should be of relevant interest to them, and especially if we know they've been reading in the past. Just because people see our updates sometimes, we assume they're doing so all of the time. Not so. Not a lot of people seem to go cross-platform, either.

The "Mentzer announces company plans in an extremely casual manner, Grognardia comments" showed the rift between "factions" within the OSR as it lit up Dragonsfoot and the RPGsite. People weren't "edition war" nasty, but the eagerness to dismiss the "other side" was disturbing. "Old guard" vs "bloggers" vs "forum-goers," eh? Does that strike anyone else as... rather silly?

And it's been hitting home for me the past few days.

Just today, I was made aware that my new ad campaign slogan "The New Age of Old School" is close to Elf Lair Games' slogan "The New Class of Old School." It's been on all the latest versions of their books, and on their merchandise. I had no idea, and I'd done some proofing on an early version of Spellcraft & Swordplay. Some people who are quite active in the scene commented on that ad thread last week and didn't mention it so I assume they didn't know either. S&S has a significant amount of interest, but it seems to be in different circles than the ones I run in.

One guy contacted me to let me know that he's selling off most of his RPG collection, but keeping my stuff. The person he sold a good amount of material to, including early TSR rarities, wanted to know why he was unloading everything. In that conversation, it was pointed out that a large portion of the stuff he was keeping was authored by me. The response? "I've never heard of James Raggi." From a hardcore active online oldschool D&D guy. I'm not surprised one bit, but the person that forwarded the info to me was.

In the past few days I posted two polls to, tagging them as specifically "Old School." The poll about which old D&D module was best has gotten 83 votes. My poll about the best new "Old School" material? Seven responses, five of which went to one author's work. People don't know about this stuff, even if they are online and active and know about the clones and the fact that people are doing things.

And it continues. Yesterday on EN World, someone asked if the OSRIC community was still doing anything, and didn't know what Swords & Wizardry was about. That's a weak example on its own but I don't catalog or bookmark all those I see, and anyone who bounces around the forums knows this pops up frequently. (I'd had to see the results of a Dragonsfoot awareness survey of new OSR goods...)

A Finnish gamer went to Gen Con and was specifically looking for new "Old School" stuff. He found nothing. That's pretty astounding, and while I know at least a few copies of Shorten's S&W Quick Start were there, and surely XRP must have had some material available somewhere there, but overall this does show how absolutely bush league we as a movement still really are.

I know some of you are fine with that, and to really embrace organization or commercialization would spoil a lot of the fun for you, but I firmly believe that if Gary and company didn't pursue that path back in the 70s we wouldn't be here now and these games would be all gone and truly dead, unnoticed by most of us and the world. Even counting the woodgrain box as just a hobby effort (which is a stretch beyond credibility in itself), did you get started on Holmes? Moldvay? Mentzer? AD&D? 2e or beyond? Then you got in because of deliberate and crass commercialization of the role-playing hobby, so don't start with your complaints about it now.

I think the Gen Con situation was something of a wakeup call. Over the past couple of days a few people have taken the TARGA bull by the horns and are starting to actually do something. If they do what they say they want to do, it will help immensely.

But right now I'm looking at you.

Yeah, you.

This isn't a call to arms. I'm not trying to instill some sort of sense of responsibility to buy anything you don't want to buy or proselytize the movement if you're not so inclined.

But some of you do care, and do try to spread the word. Realize that just having a blog doesn't cut it - you're just getting a subset of the people who read the blogs, which is merely a subset of the people online who are interested in this subject, who are merely a subset of the people who are interested overall, all of whom are merely a subset of the people who would be interested if they were informed about it at all.

When you retreat from a forum because of whatever reason, you're not just isolating yourself from whatever bad influence that you're trying to avoid, you're also preventing whatever you have to say from being heard. The isolation goes both ways. The blogs are largely an echo chamber. We're talking to ourselves here. We're not providing more focused content or any such hogwash we want to tell ourselves, we're shipwrecking ourselves on deserted islands and expecting other people to go sailing. That some people have made attractive island resorts out of the experience doesn't make the rest of us any more special.

The lack of information about what's out there is appalling. Let's take Expeditious Retreat Press' OSRIC modules. I do believe they were first (if not, then losing that race by a nose) to support the OSR with third-party material using a clone's "brand name." Getting into stores, no less. How many reviews have you seen of that line? How much talk about those adventures? Finch's Pod Caverns is known of course, but there are a bunch of other books in the line by Alphonso Warden, James Boney, and Andrew Hind, among others. I haven't seen much about them, and it's very easy to interpret "no talk or buzz" as "must be bland and uninteresting, if not outright bad." That can't be true, not for all of them, yet what evidence do I have to the contrary? This is the fourth year that the line has been active so they must be selling them in decent enough numbers. To a bunch of mutes, apparently.

If you have comments that you put online, don't just put it in one place. You have a blog? Good for you! Also post your comments on Dragonsfoot. KnK. EN World. Whatever other forums you visit. Did you write a formal review? Don't keep it to yourself. Post it on the big sites. If it claims to be about RPGs in general, your review belongs there. Period. Regardless of the poster base's preferred topics.

What about that purchase you made from Lulu, or Noble Knight, or RPGNow, or Your Games Now, or wherever? Chances are it has a customer review function. Those don't have to be Shakespeare. If you liked something (or hell, if you didn't), write a couple or three sentences at the place you bought the item. That's all it takes.

I'm not saying people should crash 4e threads to talk about old school or just up and talk about the OSR out of nowhere. In fact, don't do that. The Forge followers followed that course of action some years back and it did nothing but annoy the shit out of people. But submitting reviews? Participating in polls on the subject (even if you don't care to place an actual comment)? Saying a few words in a topic that is of relevance? Yes!

No, we're not going to become a mass phenomenon again. But we've got so much more potential than what we're doing now, and we've got no reason to hide.

Stand up for the things you enjoy.


  1. Yes I have encountered all these issues in getting Points of Light out there. What I find helpful in addition to the usual stuff is doing google searches on my stuff on a weekly basis. If there is a question I will pop in and try to answer it.

  2. "The Bush League" is the name of the new Mutant Plant PAC in my _Mutant Future_ game now. Thanks!

  3. I’ve started to add google alerts for various games and topics that interest me. I do run a blog, I do put my reviews on sites like theRPGsite and RPGnet, but I’ll admit—there’s forums I don’t go to. Not for any sort of philosophical reason, but either because I don’t have the time or find them less enjoyable than other pursuits.

    I would add that while most people respect honest input, even across different forums, it’s important not turn enthusiasm into being a shill.

  4. While I am benignly neutral on the OSR front, I will agree 110% on the comments that with all the means of communication available, people's desire to gather diverse information has often shrunk, not grown.

    A few years ago, you might go to ENWorld, or Dragonsfoot, or some other message board (or even USENET, back in the day), and dig through threads you are or are not interested in, and read comments from posters you are or are not in agreement with. Nowadays, with blogs and people's personal blogrolls or RSS feeds, you can custom tailor your gaming input to JUST the sources you want to hear from.

    Every so often JM or some other comment poster over at Grognardia will grumble about uncouth visitors etc., and inevitably a slew of people will proudly declare how his blog and only a handful of others (perhaps this one, maybe Reints' blog) are the ONLY gaming content they ever look at online anymore, because they were tired of "wading through the filth" or whatnot.

    And, of course, you're right - it is one big echo chamber. Every so often I see my blogroll light up with a dozen or so bloggers within a couple of hours who are all doing nothing more than commenting on each other's comments about...each other's comments.

    "Online Circle Jerk" comes to mind.

    The only thing I can think of to say in support of what you're talking about is; it costs nothing to add blogs to one's blogroll, so don't be a bunch of stingy bastards and limit your 'rolls to just those people who agree with you and think just like you do.

    I've got people's blogs on my blogroll (133 entries and growing) who I don't really like, and yet I'll read an entry if the title seems intriguing and I'll even comment on it if I have something to add. Treating one's blogroll as some exclusive club that few get added to and many get cut from if they "turn away from the light" just seems dumb to me, but it definitely happens. When I moved away from talking about "Old School Gaming" I quickly saw my own blog drop from certain OSR blogger's lists for seemingly just that reason. On the other hand, the only times I've ever cut a blog from my 'roll was because it went defunct and was removed from Blogger.

    Again, the idea that having more avenues to gather information means people will further limit what they pay attention to kinda boggles the mind, but unfortunately that's exactly what has happened.

  5. I ran old style D&D at a convention this summer, and plan to do it again this fall, and at upcoming game days in my town. In fact, Death Frost Doom is going to be my next public gaming undertaking.

  6. I've been surprised by how many regulars on OS forums have recently asked "what's TARGA?", with he latest being the author of LL-compatible products and recent 0e-style game. When the people within our little niche are not seeing what seems to me to be the visible and obvious, what hope is there for those outside (the growth factor)?

    I can't help think that hand-in-hand with an organisation like TARGA, which will be focusing on cons and stores, the OSR could do with an online news hub, a place where reviews, resources, links, etc. are all gathered in one place and kept up to date. Then such a site should be hammered and promoted all over the gaming net. A one-stop OSR shop.

  7. Quite agree with your post James, though the ones who should be commenting on the forums are the ones who have a product or who've puchased one.

    I will hit the forums that might seem interested when my product is ready...right now the mental masturbation of my blog is the only place I feel like waxing enthusiastic.

  8. "This is the fourth year that the line has been active so they must be selling them in decent enough numbers. To a bunch of mutes, apparently."

    LOL! Sometimes is seems like that. We've 10 Advanced Adventures, 3 in the pipeline, 1 in manuscript form, 1 in proposal, and 1 possible proposal. We had 4 new AA at GenCon this year compared with last year.

    Reaching people is hard.

  9. Well I must admit that I own all 10 ERP's Advanced Adventure modules and while I've read and enjoyed Pod Caverns, I haven't found/made time to read any of the others, let alone write any sort of review for them anywhere. I guess I should hang my head in shame, but I can't help wonder how many others do the same, buy the products but don't read them until a long time down the track.

  10. Yeah.
    I registered to run "The Abduction of the Good King Despot" with Castles and Crusades at a decent-sized local con, Dragon Flight, earlier this month.
    My co-DM (we were hoping for two tables as a mini-tournament) didn't do any promotion other than a post at Dragonsfoot and Troll Lord Games.....

    Our mistake. In the crowded field of offered modules (and lower than usual attendance, likely the economy), we didn't get critical mass for a table.


    But on the other hand, we did find another player for our massive, co-DMed old school sandbox.

  11. This is one of your posts that I think is 90% there, which is rare, because I know that you pour 110% into what you do.
    As I have said in the TARGA discussions that we were both a party to, online is part of the deal.
    Are you surprised with a low turnout on There are so many jackasses there that I rarely see the point in visiting the site at all. And while ENWorld has the forced politeness (which seems like it is tested every ten minutes) the threads are buried so quickly that it is hard to keep up unless you constantly visit or get lucky.

    I have to say that I am not so concerned with the online community finding the Oldschool, they will. I would rather have a secret army of people all over the world in a viral campaign to physically put mini-posters up in public places. That may be my TARGA project or a solo effort. Guerilla marketing.

  12. This is the fourth year that the line has been active so they must be selling them in decent enough numbers. To a bunch of mutes, apparently.

    LOL! Sometimes is seems like that. We've 10 Advanced Adventures, 3 in the pipeline, 1 in manuscript form, 1 in proposal, and 1 possible proposal. We had 4 new AA at GenCon this year compared with last year.

    Reaching people is hard

    I have read AA1-9, reviewed AA1-4, and am currently in the process of reviewing AA5-9.

  13. I'm an Oldschool / Newschool type of guy. While I love my OSRIC, S&W, LL and even Rolemaster Express (keeping RM manageable) I also enjoy C&C, Dark Heresy, WFRP2 and Pathfinder (damn purty little thang).

    I find I straddle both worlds and I like to think my gaming is better (and more fun) then it would be if I closed the door on one side or the other.

    The torch I carry is that of a Gamer. Old or New matters less to me then is it fun.

    I do tend to avoid, or at least lurk and not post, at sites that tend toward elitism in their attitude toward new blood.

  14. The osr is horrible at social networking beyond reaching the fanatics with nothing better to do than talk in circles.

    That said, the problem is the lack of a unified effort to just go out and play the damn game.

    Grognardia's Malieszewski. He's an archivist and a critic and could be a spearhead of the osr invasion on the mainstream but is so caught up in the stupid details that nothing ever happens. Case in point, a grand disappointment.

    TARGA looks promising, but really what the osr needs to spread the information is to play more often and with more people. Start a gaming group, identify the gamers that are likely to be interested in dungeon mastering and show them the ropes, encourage them to start a group and repeat. Start a club centered on playing the groups chosen system. Encourage shared game settings, whatever it takes to keep gamers interested in playing and running their own games.

    When I really, really, really think about it though the main barrier for the osr is this:

    Most 'regular' gamers(as opposed to casual) are either weird, elitists, outcasts, or socially inept. Information doesn't spread because many gamers are unable to reach out to others beyond their own little monkey spheres. Their are exceptions of course but really, think about it...

    Here's an idea: Ask those in the osr how many players are in their group? How many of their players have groups of their own? How often do they introduce new gamers to the game? How often do they become regulars?

    That might be a good place to start.

  15. It's an interesting and worthwhile commentary you've made. And I agree with you, mostly....which is why I set up a Meetup group for OSR gamers in Madison Wisconsin: Madison Traditional Gaming, and a Facebook group to go along with it? To me, if we're going to get the word out, we need to do that concretely by holding games and getting gamers involved.