Tuesday, July 13, 2010

No Gods, No Masters

"But we would hope that underlying our entire investigation is the realization that our idols might be destroyed."
- Chris Black, METAL Episode One: Diamonds and Rust, 1999

So I have in the boxes behind me 46 publications not written by me and not published by me (44 if we want to disqualify Fight On! because I have articles included in those books). They include books written by:

James Boney
Joseph Browning
Rob Conley
Michael Curtis
Matt Finch
Andrew Hind
Rob Kuntz
James Maliszewski
Moritz Mehlem
RC Pinnell
Jeff Talanian
Alphonso Warden
Suzi Yee

... and that's not including all the contributors to the Knockspell and Fight On! articles.

That also doesn't mention the publishers that help bring this stuff to the people, such as John Adams, Joseph Goodman, and Jon Herschberger.

Even more, that doesn't include people that have created books that I'm not carrying, like Bill Barsh, Guy Fullerton, Jimm Johnson, Geoffrey McKinney, and Dan Proctor.

That doesn't include the people who have done other work for publication such as Mario Barbati, Nicholas Bergquist, David Bezio, Joseph Bloch, James E. Bobb, Marv Breig, Daniel Collins, Mike Davison, Nicolas Dessaux, Cameron Dubeers, Doug Easterly, Clint Elliott, Vincent Frugé, Andrew Kenrick, James D. Kramer, Salvatore Macri, Stuart Marshall (deserves bold, don't you think?), Greg Oppedisano, Dominick Pelletier, Phil Reed, Charles Rice, John Riley, Michael Shorten, Artemis Silversmith (can that possibly be a real name?), Randall Stukey, Jan Willem van den Brink, Jason Vey.

That doesn't include everyone that's done work on all of these things, whether supplemental writing, artwork (I probably should make a separate artist list...), editing, etc that make a publication actually happen.

That doesn't include all the bloggers who continually put gaming content on their blogs for these old games (I can't even begin to start listing those, so just click around to your right there in the blogroll, they're easy to find).

That doesn't include all the people I overlooked in making those lists, and the ones I'm not even aware of in the first place.

That doesn't include all of the people who just run and play the games who aren't at all connected to publications.

It is the work of these people that excites me, that cause me to say the work of the OSR is better than the work of TSR. People creating, taking their own vision, their own inspiration and hanging them on the framework that already exists, feeling free and ready to bend that framework as they wish, and not having to answer for it to their peers, to any authority, or to the past. People creating and releasing those creations, for love and money. These are things that TSR actively discouraged and disparaged while it existed.

And I stand beside them, every one of them, as an equal. It is the work of these people, the work of the Old School Renaissance, that inspired me to pick up my own pen and to do some of this myself. I didn't have the confidence or the need before OSRIC, before Pied Piper, before Basic Fantasy RPG, before special 1E Dungeon Crawl releases for Gen Con. Nobody knew who the hell I was before I read the writing of James Maliszewski and Jeff Rients and David Bowman and was inspired to think that maybe I could do that too.

We do not stand on the shoulders of giants. The "giants" which are spoken of are men. Just men. They are creators and wonderful inspirations that continue to provide enjoyment and wonder, but they are not holy figures. They are not sacred.

We build our monuments to honor them because we recognize that they have done great things. But because these monuments contain our own creativity, our own passion, these monuments all have the potential to be worthy enough to stand on their own. Some of these monument makers will themselves be mistaken for giants, and they in turn will inspire those who will one day step out of the shadow of their inspirations.

Anyone who says that this can not possibly happen will be buried under their own irrelevance. Anyone who says that this is not happening right now is being willfully ignorant of all the truly great work being constantly released by many people.

The past does not have exclusive rights to greatness, and the accomplishments of the past are not barriers through which we are forbidden to pass.

Fight On.

42 comments:

  1. "We do not stand on the shoulders of giants. The "giants" which are spoken of are men. Just men. They are creators and wonderful inspirations that continue to provide enjoyment and wonder, but they are not holy figures. They are not sacred."

    Absolutely. One can respect without having to revere.

    Anyone who demands reverence doesn't deserve it.

    Those who deserve it don't have to ask for it.

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  2. If I had all those awesome gaming books I'd spread them on my bed and do a Demi Moore Indecent Proposal.

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  3. Fight On, Jim.

    @Daddy Grognard: Well said, sir.

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  4. Well said, Jim!

    ¡Amén!... y gracias.

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  5. "Standing on the Shoulders of Giants"

    I don't think you understand what that quote actually means. More is the pity really.

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  6. I acknowledge my inspirations. I simply reject the metaphor.

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  7. It appears that you, and your movement "can't see the forest, for the trees". More is indeed the pity....

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  8. Standing on the shoulders of giants is an expression and a common one at that. The metaphor is apt.

    Now as for OSR vs TSR, well how's sales of the OSR vs TSR?
    How many of you have employees and companies and investors and so on?
    What are your sales numbers vs TSRs?

    Is it really even an apt comparison considering self publishing and the internet as opposed to those little brown books or the first issues of Strategic Review?

    How many of you created and published a game nobody ever had played before? And in doing so started an entire hobby and sub gaming industry?

    How about comparing TSR establishing a hobby, introducing it to people who never heard of D&D vs the OSR which had both Gygax's and Arneson's deaths of late to remind us 30- 40 something year olds of our youth, not to mention the 3rd edition and web sites that for years kept old school D&D alive.

    Shoulders of Giants is the way it works anyway and is no slight really.
    Yet when the work you produce is a clone that could not exist without an open license and when there is already a good number of clones, not to mention the old rule books- out there, I wonder how much of this is really needed?

    Anyway, Love your blog Mr. Raggi and I wish you many many sales of your new game.

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  9. My first RPG release had "EGG forever" on the back cover. When it was picked up by another publisher, I made sure the phrase got moved to the introduction since the back cover was completely redesigned.

    Last Friday I posted the credits for my upcoming game with the inspirations listed right in there.

    The idea that I'm somehow downplaying or overlooking or intentionally ignoring those that came before is simply wrong.

    As far as sales go, I don't think my favorite bands from the past decade cracked 5000 sales of any one album, and I think that reveals my feelings about the relationship between commercial success and worthiness. Gygax's work wasn't great because it sold well.

    Anyway, I just delivered the last bits for the box to the printer. We'll find out very soon whether it's worth anything to people or not. If it fails, at least I tried.

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  10. Fantastic post James and a great reminder for us all. To those who can read that incredibly inspiring list above and still miss the point, or worse, ignore it and instead offer snide comments - you are sad little men indeed.

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  11. "Now as for OSR vs TSR, well how's sales of the OSR vs TSR?
    How many of you have employees and companies and investors and so on?
    What are your sales numbers vs TSRs?"

    On the other hand, fan publishers are not likely to wind up bankrupt due to botching their endeavors like TSR eventually did. :)

    "Yet when the work you produce is a clone that could not exist without an open license"

    Not true, actually. Common mistake. Read up on game rules and copyright law.

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  12. I disagree with James Raggi about quite a few aspects of what this thing is that we do, but his heart is in the right place and I think he hit the nail on the head with this post.

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  13. "What are your sales numbers vs TSRs?"

    What were the sales numbers of The Dungeoneer fanzine vs. The Dragon? Probably minuscule. Yet the same fanzine had amazing creative content (mostly by Paul Jaquays) which stands as high as anything from TSR.

    But what are the sales numbers of all RPGs taken together versus the console game market? Here is the uncomfortable situation: basically irrelevant.

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  14. Great post, Jim, and well stated. We can, indeed, respect without revering as Daddy Grognard stated above.

    I've followed your blog for a while now and while I enjoy the occasional rants, it's more impressive to see how you've grown instead. Posts like this one show what you can be.

    None of this is about sales numbers or how large a corporation any of us can become. It's about a love for the game, sharing our creations, and being able to take advantage of the talent of so many people from so many walks of life. To me anyway.

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  15. Very nicely stated, Jim. There's something special going on right now in the OSR (or "OSR") community - a creative generosity that may or may not last. These things usually don't. But for right now the OSR zeitgeist deserves celebration by anyone who enjoys the singular and communal creativity that is the beating heart of the RPG hobby.

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  16. Comparing sales of TSR vs. OSR sounds like one of the less coherent ways of measuring anything. How many PDFs did TSR sell? What sort of print-on-demand numbers did they achieve? Add in that TSR's sales numbers are sales to distributors and most OSR stuff has no middleman and we're well past apples and oranges and into comparing apples and Studebakers with this scheme.

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  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  18. For those of us who deeply respect legacy and tradition, it's easy to let our appreciation for the great accomplishments of Gygax, Arneson, and others blind us to the fact that they were just men and women, and what they did we can do, too. In our society it is far to easy to become passive consumers, voters, fans, to forget that the original spirit that created and animated the RPG movement was the DIY hobbyist impulse, which is an active and empowering one, not a passive one.

    Gygax during some of his TSR years lost track of that, when he was trying to standardize the game for tournaments and to get everyone to play it TSR's way, using official supplements only. This is the same man who previously pushed the DIY approach to D&D, and would later return to his roots, sadder but wiser for his time spent in the wilderness, as it were, and reinvigorated by his return to the original spirit of the game. I can respect him and his accomplishments and recognize my debt to him without pretending that he was some kind of perfect angel who always got things right.

    Likewise each of those people who made what we do possible. They each have their stories of the tensions between the great spirit that moved them and the realities of business or life or personality conflicts that made things difficult for them to always find their way.

    Much of the difference between respect and idolization lies in recognizing the people for who they were rather than reducing them to unattainable marble caricatures. That kind of honesty about who they were makes their accomplishments all the more impressive, since they had to struggle for greatness; it wasn't easy. It is also more liberating, because if greatness is possible, if it's not just some distant unattainable ideal, then what's to stop us from going forth in the world to try to make great things happen ourselves?

    Sure, no one is going to invent D&D again, but that's not some kind of insult; it's good news. It's why we can build on that work and create other great things that reinvent or extend that legacy. As long as we're true to the empowering spirit that created RPG gaming in the first place, we, too, can do great things

    I'm with Jim that sales figures are not the important thing about his post, about the OSR in general. How great an idea is and how well the products made from it sell are often unrelated in this imperfect world. When a great idea's products sell well, we're going to cheer, sure, but don't expect us to feel contempt for the great products that only sell a few copies, or none, or that are entirely free.

    Many good people are writing many good old-school gaming products today, and the spirit of DIY hobbyist gaming is alive and well. Jim's right. It's impressive and worthy of note.

    Great post, Jim.

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  19. Beautifully put, James. Try as I might, I can't find anything to add to it. You are exactly right.

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  20. And the hyperbole continues, perhaps as a result of trying to increase interest and "buzz" prior to a release?

    The content and interest is great. It's no different than the interest and content of any other hobby that has seen a resurgence due to the collaborative nature of the Internet and the freeing nature of open source type licensing.

    Open Source Software "OSS" was the big thing in the late 90s/early 00s. It had it's buzz, it's 15 minutes but it continues on mainly because people are shutting up and coding and not trying to over-inflate their importance. They make a significant contribution, but they're not the be-all, end-all and they certainly DO stand on the shoulder of giants. As does anyone who picks up the pen or hits the keyboard to write D&D-related material.

    The more you keep pounding away at "OSR uber alles", the more this just sounds like you want to make sure you have a big enough audience to appeal to. There are so many people who still pick up the 1e/BECMI books that couldn't give a crap less, just as there are millions of people who deploy their websites to an Apache (open source webserver software) srever and don't give a crap about OSS.

    You're writing a game, not ending world hunger. Try to keep that perspective, huh?

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  21. Why is it old farts get their dander up when a young 'un gets a little cocky? Maybe they can't remember that age.

    I read The People of Pembroktenshire all the way through for the first time this morning. I'm resolving to find a way to use it with my gaming group.

    Keep going, James, and don't let us old farts slow you down.

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  22. This exchange was entertaining a few days ago, but it's getting tiresome. Can we go back to that other really edifying "debate" back in March about how OSR threatens to destroy the porn movement ... or how did that one go?

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  23. Was that only in march? I thought it was longer ago.

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  24. Are people even reading the post before they comment? Because, you know, in some cases it really doesn't look like it.

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  25. Although pride is justified, and it looks good...

    It all does come across as pretty sanctimonious, arrogant, and sort of like the goth kids from South Park. More passive aggressive than the now-infamous anti-James posting, but still aggressive.

    And to be clear, we are all in it to make money, and sales do matter. Argue extent of import, but it matters, highly. If not, do it non-profit and distribute PDFs for free unlimitedly in the interest of spreading that which is beautiful. Or, don't sell it at all, have one boxed set.

    Ah yes, I acknowledge that sales are overrated correlation as to how "good" something is, but it is a referendum upon the extent of its influence. And there is SOME correlation, albeit moderate.

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  26. You're writing a game, not ending world hunger. Try to keep that perspective, huh?

    @ChicagoWiz - Michael, just because you've lost your passion, there's no need for you to throw your wet blanket over the rest of us. Believe it or not it's actually OK to be passionate about a hobby. You used to be once.

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  27. I actually think the LOTFP game will solve the problem of world hunger and the OSR will bring about world peace.

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  28. While I do not believe Jim could feed millions all by himself, he certainly would a starving family.

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  29. I'm not asking Mr. Raggi to end World Hunger. I'm asking him to continue being the kick-ass game designer, he's proven himself to be. My world is Richer, with Mr. Raggi in it and doing his thing.

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  30. My take here:

    http://wondrousimaginings.blogspot.com/2010/07/my-final-take-on-latest-osr-debate.html

    (too long for blogger, and i dont want to go thru the trouble of breaking it up again like I just had to do for LOTGD)

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  31. M'eh. People need to play the games they want to play and remember that on the internet, no one knows your a dog.

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  32. I've been thinking about the "better than TSR" thing.

    I think it would be important to note that they didn't have computers. And digital copiers and printers that could handle extremely high resolutions and produce cheaply in quantity.

    Initial mastering could be a painstaking process, cutting the page elements with a razor blade and assembling by hand.

    Of course the production values are going to be higher. And cheaper to produce.

    Note that I'm not speaking to content. That's a different discussion. Just saying it's a lot easier now to make a good looking product, even for a hobbyist.

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  33. @DM - @ChicagoWiz - Michael, just because you've lost your passion, there's no need for you to throw your wet blanket over the rest of us. Believe it or not it's actually OK to be passionate about a hobby. You used to be once.

    Pfft. You know nothing about me. You don't have a single clue to what goes on in my life, you don't sit at my game table, you don't participate in my online game. In short, you only know me through these blog comments where we've taken opposites sides.

    You want to be the cheerleader for the so-called OSR? Fine. You don't like it that I don't see it as the be-all, end-all, so fucking what? The fact that I game the way I want, how I want, when I want and that I've washed my hands of being a cheerleader for (thanks Matt) an Internet fueled circle-wank doesn't take away my passion.

    My passion is for the people who sit at my table and for the people who care more about the game than for TARGA, OSR, and all the petty bullshit that goes into it. My passion isn't for cheerleading for publishers. It's for people like Rients, Max in Milwaukee, the people who put together GaryCon and WinterWar and the places where differences are made.

    In short, I'm for the energy, not the machine.

    When you sit across from me face to face, with either a beer or bike or punching my lights out, then you'll know me. Otherwise, the phrase "keyboard commando" really applies.

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  34. You don't have a single clue to what goes on in my life

    You're right, the only clue we can go by is your writing style before and after your TARGA incident, where you've gone from being a very positive person, to a very negative one. It's sad to see.

    You want to be the cheerleader for the so-called OSR? Fine. You don't like it that I don't see it as the be-all, end-all, so fucking what?

    I don't see it as "the be-all, end-all", but I do see the OSR as a positive trend that is achieving great things in the hobby, both in terms of publishing and bringing people together to play games. I don't give a stuff that you now hate the OSR, but if you're going to talk out of your arse about it, then I feel I've got a right to challenge you and put forward the other side of the story - and there is another side to this story.

    My passion is for the people who sit at my table and for the people who care more about the game than for TARGA, OSR, and all the petty bullshit that goes into it.

    As is the passion of those moving within the OSR, only you've let your prejudice and anger blind you to it. It is the passion to see more people sit at the table, our own and other peoples', that is THE reason why people are sharing, publishing, doing demos, writing blogs. Our goals and motivations are the same as yours, but you've become so focused on personalities, you can't see the forest for the trees.

    When you sit across from me face to face, with either a beer or bike or punching my lights out, then you'll know me. Otherwise, the phrase "keyboard commando" really applies.

    And that Michael is a two-way street.

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  35. The fact that I game the way I want, how I want, when I want and that I've washed my hands of being a cheerleader for (thanks Matt) an Internet fueled circle-wank doesn't take away my passion.

    I've kept my trap shut during this whole debacle, but I would like to ask you to please clarify what you consider "an Internet fueled circle-wank," Michael.

    I understand you have some problems with people associated with this thing of ours, perhaps rightfully so. But if you are calling the entire OSR nothing more that an "Internet fueled circle-wank," that's a mighty big brush you're painting with and I for one don't appreciate being splattered with the paint you're using.

    As someone who has be a supporter of yours and wished you only well, I must take offense if it is your intent to dismiss the accomplishments, goals, and intentions of everyone involved in the thing of our as one big circle jerk.

    That saddens me and it does make you seem a bitter, bitter man. And I really don't think that's the case.

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  36. It is the passion to see more people sit at the table, our own and other peoples', that is THE reason why people are sharing, publishing, doing demos, writing blogs.

    On that we agree. I just don't see OSR "uber alles" as being the One True Way, nor do I see it necessary. But we've come a long way from the original assertion -- this isn't world hunger we're solving - it's a game. You like it your way, you see red roses. I don't. I think that's about as far as we'll get.

    @Michael - I see this constant bickering, this constant need to define, to limit, to make the "OSR" into some big kumbayah that we all must be a part of as a circle-jerk and it is. I see the creativity, the content and positive energy as something that doesn't need to be put into a neat little cheerleading box. So in that regard, yea, the "OSR" as a marketing demographic is an Internet fueled entity.

    The stuff that we all have participated in, and continue to participate in in our ways, the love of old school gaming and the good shit that happens when we sit down at tables, or when we make something that works - that's just part of the RPG hobby. It's been going on 40 years. This is a continuation of it and it'll be happening 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now.

    I can't say it much clearer than that or I'm going to keep repeating myself. And with that, I'm sure DM will love to have the last word and I relinquish the floor and the blog comments to him. I'll keep on keeping on without the "OSR".

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  37. @ChicagoWiz: Wow.

    You know, I was crushed when you bailed on us. I always saw you (via your blog) as a positive force for gaming - OSR or no OSR - and really appreciated you for that.

    But "circle-wank" - really? Is this what you've become?

    I agree that there are aspects of "the OSR" (as ill-defined as that term is) that regularly diverge down absurdly useless and divisive paths (present tempest included). But to assert that this therefore means that the entire nebulous entity is - as you put it - a "circle-wank" is not only just as absurd, but extremely insulting to those of us who are part of this thing and who just as regularly avoid those paths.

    I can understand wanting to get off the merry-go-round, but how about a little respect for those who have chosen to bear with it and weather the eccentricities of the lunatic fringe?

    Oh, and by the way, you talk a good "I'm through with the OSR" line, but you're not being very convincing by behaving like a troll and posting inflammatory comments in response to just the sort of OSR bad behavior you claim to want no part of. It doesn't seem like you've left the OSR as much as it seems like you've decided to join the ranks of all that's wrong with it. What a fucking waste...

    As for the tempest at hand: it's nice to see that nothing's really changed during my respite.

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  38. Hey, thanks for the shout-out. In return, a quote from Newton I ran into today:

    "For I see a man must either resolve to put out nothing new or become a slave to defend it." [Isaac Newton, Letter to Oldenburg, quoted in Westfall, Richard, Life of Isaac Newton, p. 107.]

    Thanks for showing the way to avoid that pernicious trap!

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