Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Great Shame of the OSR

Somehow, there grew a separation between "Dungeons and Dragons" and the clone systems now being used to spread and grow the traditional gaming community.

Clone publishers and supplement publishers using the OGL can't say D&D outright, and the people using old TSR books don't seem to want to accept the new material as being for their D&D, even though that's the entire original point of the whole thing. It's a mess.

I don't understand the separation. The difference is so cosmetic as to be negligible.

This is really fucking stupid.


  1. Traveller has the same issue. Their version of Knights & Knaves, Dragonsfoot is the Traveller Mailing List.

    From my Points of Light experience it is a tougher sales job but it can be done. I think you are doing well on Dragonsfoot myself.

  2. I've noticed the same misconceptions, Jim, and am getting no closer to developing a theory to explain the weirdness.

    Some folks (not *everyone* mind you), particularly faithful 1E players, are extremely "patriotic" about their game, and view anything else with outright hostility, even OSRIC, which was intended to facillitate the release of new 1E adventures.

    There was also a bit of a flap a couple years back with a couple of publishers (two that I can think of) making great efforts to visit all the bigger gaming message boards and decry OSRIC (this was before LL and S&W) as unscrupulous and illegal. When people see crap like that enough, it starts to get repeated as "fact", and I think that led to a lot of avoidance.

    Fear not, though, from what I can tell, RCs are only growing in popularity. The irony is that the influx of new players seems to be coming from the younger generation of gamers, rather than the old.

  3. 20-25 years ago, when I was playing TSR's D&D, I wouldn't have touched a non-TSR supplement with the proverbial 10' pole. That is to say, I only spent my hard-earned money on officially licensed product, never on Judges Guild or any other "compatible" material.

    At the time, my naive response to "WHY?" would have been something along the lines of "Consistency and/or quality control." I'm not saying there WAS any of either at TSR (and when the quality slipped for me...around about 1986-7...I stopped buying their stuff anyway). But I had the ILLUSION of it in my head...that some honcho at TSR would look at new products and test it against a measure of "okay this doesn't break/contradict anything."

    Granted, I was a naive kid back in those days, but I'd imagine there are still some folks (young and old) who are feeling that attitude...that no matter how shitty something is, they're only going to want "official D&D" product...of whatever stripe fits their preferred game system. I say this from the perspective of someone who did just that, back in the days of ignorance.

    What the OSR may need is an official banner under which all independent publishers operate. I'm not saying "hey, everyone, let's form a big ol' corporation!" But something that unites them...hell, a stamped logo or something that says 'hey, there's officialized quality here.'

    This branding worked for TSR back in the day: they were publishing 1E and B/X, later BECMI and 2E, all under the same "TSR" banner in the (not to mention other non-D&D game systems). And people would buy that which suited their tastes. Right now the OSR is like a bunch of warring feudal states...we need to unite into one big German Empire (while maintaining our own regional nobility, culture, and brew houses). I mean, we all speak German right? Just with different accents?

    (hmm...perhaps I'm carrying the analogy too far)

    It's been said, "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," but WOTC is not going to allow OS publishers to join their party as official D&D material (at least, not so long as we're pushing competing game systems and not tithing to Hasbro's Holy Coffers). But it's possible we COULD join together under a single banner...maybe...and become a steam-rolling "juggernaut of credibility."

    OR...we could simply try to convince people to buy our stuff, one individual at a time. But that seems kind of tedious....

  4. James, I've thought about this a lot, and I don't know how big of a problem it really is. The people you're talking about don't buy new stuff anyway. For them I don't think it is as much a matter of system as it is about who they perceive as "legit." Anything the original TSR guys publish = legit. That's about the only criteria. Fortunately, we're talking about a small group on the internet.

  5. James, this naysayers aren't that influential, and aren't going to be your target audience anyway. As a matter of fact, they are NO ONEs target audience due to the fact they haven't bought an official (or unofficial) published product since 1984. Dan of Earth is right, they are a niche of a niche and can be safely ignored.

  6. There is no way to save people from self-inflicted stupidity. Nor should there be one.

  7. All the arguments I read boil down to this:

    1.) I like (insert OOP D&D product here).
    2.) Gamers have more choices.
    3.) ???

    Nobody seems to be able to articulate exactly what about the clones bothers them. You know a reason is floating below the surface, but people are either afraid to say what it is or realize they don't have a rational argument against and so decide to pussyfoot around the issue.

  8. I think Swords & Wizardry is a substantially different product, even if the rules and gameplay are similar to OD&D. That is - I think it's a superior product. ;)

  9. James, your last sentence says it all. Sadly, many problems and conflicts in life come down to exactly that same phrase. I suppose this affects those of you who are working hard to publish and sell, as oppose to those of us who are gaming.

  10. I'm not sure terms like OSR have any value to people outside of the online group self-identifying with it. I wouldn't be more inclined to buy a good product (say LL) just because they added an OSR logo to it.

  11. What are you talking about, Jim?

    Oh, some of the navel gazing people at Dragonsfoot have opened their mouth again? I left that place a long time ago and I'm not missing it much. Censoring filter and all, I find it attracts way to much stupidity.

  12. I have to agree with Dan - what does it really matter, since any group that has an issue with OSRIC, etc. isn't likely to buy anything new anyhow. Their voices are eventually going to be less heard amongst all the talk about and enjoyment of the new OSR products. They’ll come around, or else become more isolated by choice - I don’t think it’s a matter of some marketing angle that hasn’t been tried or a product that hasn’t been made that would somehow speak to that group.

  13. Two comments:

    1) I don't believe that new supplements and adventures etc. are put in the same category as the rule-clones. Supplements and adventures are just a continuum from the fan related material created from time immemorial. More the merrier I say!

    2) But the new rule-clones are beginning to create their own fans separate from the original products. "Swords & Wizardry is my game of choice because it's better organised than OE and has ascending Armour Class" type of comments, for example, are beginning to pop up.

    For my part, I support the retro-clones because they help promote vintage editions of D&D. However I am a fan of the actual, original products: the words, the art, the feel of the items that I read and fell in love with as a kid ... not just the tables and algorithms that can be republished.

    As a fan of these old items, the thought that they are now being cast aside, by some, in favour of the new retro-clones is a little disappointing...

  14. This comment has been removed by the author.

  15. As a fan of these old items, the thought that they are now being cast aside, by some, in favour of the new retro-clones is a little disappointing...

    @Classicdnd - it may be disappointing, but it's better than the alternative, our little niche shrinking and dying as we all go past middle age into our latter years. If we want to keep alive our Old School D&D, we need fresh blood and that's NOT going to happen by romantically and dogmatically hanging onto our old books, hoping the love and magic we felt decades ago will be caught by a new, younger generation. The retro-clone movement is a golden opportunity and one that should be embraced.

    I can only repeat what has been said by others here, the most important thing to do now is to help people understand that the different clones and brands are all just one game - D&D. If we can crack that, issues of brand loyalty (including OOP loyalty), should become a minor issue. How to end that confusion? Hmmm, tricky.

  16. I tried to post a response to this, but it was too long to post, so I turned it into blog post located here:


  17. Eh... the sales of my OSR products seem fine. You just have to realize anytime you sell something that isn't "core", especially to a group that was forced to live without new supplements for DECADES, that you don't just get to tap right in to the entire old-school market.

    There is a lot of grass roots work to be done BUILDING an awareness and demand for these products.

  18. i just read the original thread and the "elitism" of some, including the OP, really got under my skin. Every D&D game I played in was house ruled to some extent, how is a clone any different then a set of house rules?

    I'd much rather game from a new book then my worn "collectible". I don't want to game from someone's old used copy.

    If you don't grow the old school nitch it will die a slow death. You don't grow a hobby with old and used products, you grow it with new products.

    Sigh, I feel like an old man has just yelled at me to "Get off my lawn!" All that caused me to do when i was a kid was to return that nite with a roll of toilet paper and a desire to decorate some trees ;)

  19. Eh. Personally, of the D&D "clones" out there, I find only Labyrinth Lord meets my standards. Everything else has too many changes or omissions (missing psionics, bards, and monks in OSRIC, unwelcome new saving throw and challenge rating rules in S&W, etc).

    But if anyone out there can find a way to make a clone that's as close to OD&D or AD&D as Labyrinth Lord is Mentzer D&D, I'll buy and use it in a heartbeat.

    Clone writers just need to resist the temptation to insert their own "new and improved" rules (S&W, I'm looking at you) and aim for 95+% fidelity with no missing races, classes, spells and monsters and items (cosmetic name changes okay for these), etc. Then they'll be on-par with the originals and not poor imitations.

  20. Oh, was this prompted by the thread over at DF? I'm actually sympathetic to the concern some people have that the clones might "steal" players from the OOP games. I'm sympathetic, even though I think that's wrong. The most important and simultaneously simple but ignored fact is that you're never going to be able to recruit many new players on a larger scale with those OOP games. Most people need the validation of an in print game. That's why it was important to me to get LL out there to game stores. Getting the book to game stores is actually only about advertising. The "profit" margin is barely enough to pay for the print run. It's the advertising that can happen when you get that game on the shelf and demo games rolling, convention games, etc. that is important. It's the perception that the game is "alive" that counts. I absolutely love the old original 1e and Moldvay books, but if you want new players they won't be enticed by that nostalgia. They're new to the game.

  21. Classicdnd said...

    However I am a fan of the actual, original products: the words, the art, the feel of the items that I read and fell in love with as a kid ... not just the tables and algorithms that can be republished.

    Well. That's the emotional argument, what we call nostalgia. It wont create any new gamers, and it will only help fuel rising eBay prices on OOP products. Is that the main thrust of that DF thread which nobody have even linked to yet?!

  22. Andreas, whether or not you like old school games versus newer RPGs is an emotional argument too. It's not really about nostalgia; you either like something or you don't. The fact is one can be a fan of Mentzer, or Cook, or Gygax ... or dare I say James E Raggi. The products that these and other game designers create have merits beyond their simple rule mechanics to be copied and cloned. Their unique words can create new audiences as much as anyones'.

    As I said, I support the retro-clones movement as a means of facilitating the publishing of products for the original D&D games. But most newbie players are likely to be introduced to old school RPGs by other old school players. However, what will these handful of newbie players be introduced to? OSRIC or Gygax's uniquely written 1E? Labyrinth Lord or Mentzer's classic D&D with Aleena, Bargle and the nasty goblin? etc.

    Or to put it another way, would a Beatles fan convince a potential new convert to their music by playing them an original Beatles recording, or a fellow fan's cover version downloaded off the net?

  23. People are brand conscious, unfortunately. Although I know that what I'm publishing compares well with what TSR published 78-83, others will just never believe it because it doesn't have that brand. We'll soon have 15 adventures out - Some people will just keep ignoring them.

  24. It's just the same old territorialism you see endlessly repeated everywhere on the internet. "We did it first! This other group is new and stealing our thunder!" Focus on quality product, like Death Frost Doom (haven't seen the others), and you'll find an audience happy to use your products.

  25. Jim,

    Just keep doing what you're doing and don't worry about the rest of the OSR. Seriously. You're doing good, original stuff and you've found an audience for it. Keep doing that. Don't worry about all this nonsense, because there will always be people in any online community who will moan and complain and find a dozen different ways to take issue with what you've done. The old school movement belongs to those who do and you're one of the best of them. Forge ahead and don't look back.

  26. Classicdnd,

    I get the feeling that you are implying that the original have a different kind of "magic" and that they therefore have another kind of charm. That is just nostalgia talking, in my world.

    Maybe you are saying something else and I'm misunderstanding you. In that case I'm sorry, and let's just leave it and game on! :)

  27. Classicdnd: I dont think the current generation will put the same weight on Gygax's prose that those of us that cut our teeth on it back in the day do.

    Different generations require different approaches. Besides, the Beatles are still in "print". You don't have to find an old vinyl or 8-track to listen to them. If you did, you would probably have to find a good cover band to share the experience with your friends ;)

  28. @Classicdnd - I introduced a bunch of newbies to D&D a few years back. I chose 1e and they fell in love (in hindsight I wish I'd gone down the basic track, but that's another story). I am absolutely certain that if I'd had a clone like LL at the time, they would've experienced the same love and magic for the game that they got from learning 1e AD&D.

    I think a combination of both the gaming experience and the style of the rules creates the magic. In my book LL has captured the style, it's up to the DM to create the experience. It's the DM that controls the result.

    Just as the original rules are simply a tool, so too are the clones and they are in no way inferior. In fact, as much as I love Gygax & co, their organisational skills left a lot to be desired. Almost 30 years later and I still shake my head reading the DMG, thinking "why isn't this bit over there with that?" While the clones may not have me reaching for the dictionary every sentence, I'm not sure that this is a negative in any way.

  29. @Classicdnd - oh and I think the Beatles analogy is a poor one. The clones aren't trying to exactly replicate a game (the OGL prevents that), they are instead replicating a style. Using a music analogy, we're not talking a cover band here but a musical style, such as Punk, Grunge, etc. This is a very different thing.

  30. No, David. The retro-clones are generally trying to replicate the rules as close to the originals as they can get away with. If the clones deviate too far then the products created for them won't be compatible with the original games ... which was the intended purpose of the retro-clones in the first place!

    To others here, I see we are just talking past each other. I believe that rules can be copied, the original products obviously cannot. However, if people think that the words of the original authors, who actually invented these games, don't matter so much, that's fine. If people like the newer items' presentation and explanation of the rules, copied from D&D, then that's fine too. But fans of the original products are still going to wonder why others are casting aside the actual authors' works for other peoples' copies.

    And at risk of labouring the point, it's not about nostalgia, it's about preference. I can retell the story of the latest best selling novel, but I suspect most people will still prefer the actual author's original version to my own! :)

    Finally, I want to state for the record that the "debate" is about the core rule-clones, not about the intentions or merits of the fantastic adventures and supplements being done by James and others. These are the very things the retro-clones were supposed to help facilitate ... and why I do support games like Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC! As I said above, more the merrier! :)

  31. If you're doing creative work, stay out of discussions of that work with fans. It's not worth it to try and negotiate people's narcissistic fantasies. Let the work be the conversation - respond in good faith to people who do the same. Dragonsfoot is a circle-jerk in a mausoleum; skip it. Good luck.

  32. I know I'm not trying to run a business liek you are GM, but if someone is happy with their dusty old stuff I say MORE POWER TO THEM. There's plenty more people who can be recruited, converted and marketed to outside the group of folks still playing older editions.

  33. Getting new fans while being ignored by/leaving behind the core faithful feels like selling out.

    You know, like all those bands that have the cool following, but it's just when they sign to a new label and change their look and sound that they get popular, alienating their previous fanbase but selling millions to people that don't even know they have earlier albums?

    I hate those bands.

  34. James, I'm not sure if you have been following all this since OSRIC came out, but we can't leave them behind because they were never on board to begin with. We thought they would be, we hoped they would be, but they just weren't. They made themselves irrelevant, not the other way around.

  35. I was there before OSRIC was announced, even if I didn't do anything at the time.

    Looking at Finch's comment on page three... hmmm... did I do some supporting clerical (cure light wounds, teehee!) work for OSRIC?

  36. Getting new fans while being ignored by/leaving behind the core faithful feels like selling out.

    No, brother. It feels like selling. (Read Dave Eggers's rant about the Flaming Lips and 'selling out' for a definitive take on this tired subject.)

    You (the abstract 'you' and you James) figure out why you're writing the shit, and don't lie to yourself about it. Is it to sell to Maliszewski and his four dozen online friends? Or to get your ideas into people's hands and heads without presuming to know anything about what else is in there?

    If the work is strong it will stand up without the prior knowledge of esoterica so beloved of the 'scene.'

    The Creature Generator is a great little product. It should be in the hands of players of every D&D edition - or should at least pass before their eyes. The OSR is a small clique that can fit inside a large school Study Hall. Can your sensibility appeal to people other than the Boys' Club? I think you'll learn more about your writing by answering that question than by playing status games with semiprofessional nostalgists. All this reactionary-traditionalist agita keeps shit from growing.

    'Selling out' is what happens when you fuck up the work out of fear. Just, uh, don't. Head down, hands up, stay lean.

  37. Classicdnd:
    "However, if people think that the words of the original authors, who actually invented these games, don't matter so much, that's fine. If people like the newer items' presentation and explanation of the rules, copied from D&D, then that's fine too. But fans of the original products are still going to wonder why others are casting aside the actual authors' works for other peoples' copies."

    Do you actually *play* these games, or just read them?

    The retro-clones are for playing, not reading.

  38. hi……………………
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  39. I'm sure this has been covered in the responses (to be honest I didn't read all 40) but to add my very minuscule 2 cents to the conversation. I have been very frustrated with the attitude of RPG fans in general Old School, New School and Middle School ... alike. Tabletop RPGing is tabletop RPGing in my opinion. There is far more in common between all of us than not. What brand of RPG we enjoy shouldn't really matter ... but it somehow does. Its like politics or religion. People love to feel smug and superior in their choices versus other people. I believe that is about 75% of what is going on. People are more concerned about the correctness of their choice versus other people than they are about having fun and just reveling in the experience and enjoying some camaraderie online with other people who have the same interests. I can't deny that at times I myself have fallen victim to "my system is better than yours" syndrome but I've recovered now. I learned lessons about all this just with friends in the local gaming group and my old game group back in Vegas. A few years of conversations on the whole 3.0 vs. 3.5 vs. 4e vs. Pathfinder vs. OSR ... have brought me full circle to the current understanding I have now. ALL versions of D&D (of course including retro clones, etc. etc. that IS D&D TOO!!) hell all versions of RPGs period ... have their upsides and downsides. At the end of the day though its just about getting a group of like minded folks together for a good time sitting around a table rolling some dice. Who really cares what your brand preference is. It certainly isn't something to feel arrogantly superior about ... that is destructive, childish behavior and there is far, far too much of it on the interwebz these days. At any rate great blog really wonderful game system too btw!! Love it!! Keep up the good work!!