Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Quality Control and a Train Wreck

See this thread. Someone claims that "Jim Ward is ruining Troll Lord Games." The discussion quickly veers off into discussing The Tainted Lands thing that was just released.

Extra-short version:

Check out this review (ignoring the first two paragraphs, of course). Now check out this comment. The full version of the thread is still fun, especially when the critics and supporters start arguing over the quality and content of a single passage of text.

Now I haven't looked inside a new Troll Lord book since perhaps 2006. I do know that the C&C books released up to that point were atrociously edited. I could almost believe not a single proofreading pass was made on them. The Gygaxian Worlds books suffer from the same problem.

It sounds like in 2009 that these problems continue, as discussed in many places (and noted by supporters, not just critics). Sad.

I know typos and mistakes will happen and are unavoidable. But they are embarrassing. They can take all the pride and joy out of one's creation. If I release a 36 page book and discover one typo (I wish), that one word is how I see that book from that point on. And it's funny how they hide in manuscript form but leap out and dance on the commercially released page. Yet there are things to be done to minimize such things. You don't need to be a gamer to spot inconsistencies and unintended silliness, and it doesn't take a professional to spot typos.

That they're dredging up Ravenloft in the first place is something else I don't understand. I guess I should say I never understood the appeal of Ravenloft. It turned "horror" into a gimmick. Horror lurks in the heart of the D&D experience, as I've gone on about before. If one wants to brand more explicitly horror-focused products, I can understand that, but turning horror into a separate setting like it's Spelljammer or something? Awful. And now the concept lives again.

... and the company is trying to sell pdfs of a pad of graph paper. That takes big brass balls.

It's really a shame. Troll Lord Games is the most public face of an older style of gaming. People know the C&C name and the books are widely available. They had Gary (and The Castle), they release adventure modules as an important support method for their games, and the whole thing superficially resembles classic D&D. They should be the company that us OSR publishers should try to emulate and perhaps be the company that writers want to work for.

But Castles & Crusades, and Troll Lord's output in general, is completely irrelevant to me as a gamer and I hardly think I want to be like them when I grow up as a publisher.

What happened?


  1. "... and the company is trying to sell pdfs of a pad of graph paper. That takes big brass balls."



  2. My group switched over to C&C for a while when it first came out. I started running a C&C module (something manor/villa?) just in time, I thought, to prepare for the dungeons of "Castle Zagyg" and "temporarily" used my 1E DMG (and 1E MM, the C&C MM was... unfortunate), and then watched delay after delay, these promised products never appearing (a portion of castle zagyg would appear, years later, but only a woefuolly small portion, comparable to just getting the kobold section of KotB).

    As far as we're concerned, TLG owes us about $120.00 refund for the "introductory" stuff we bought for products that never materialized.

  3. Not that I'm the best one to speak on delayed products, but...

    In all fairness, the Castle Keeper Guide was never promoted as a core book. Of course, originally, C&C was promoted as a one-book game when it absolutely was not.

    As for Castle Zagyg, well, the tardiness may have been TLG's fault, but the fact that it was a stillborn project isn't. The license got yanked over a year ago, and as slow as TLG was about getting CZ stuff out... stuff still came out. *sigh*

  4. I am not so alarmed by minor mistakes, but I will say that I am surprised Jim Ward still enjoys a good reputation in a large number of old school gamers after failing and failing again at delivering intriguing, imaginative, playable product. I have read examples of his output from an early fanzine adventure to Fast Forward, and except for 1st edition GW (co-written with Jake Jaquet), it has been of uniform poor quality.

    Now I have also been disapoointed in TLG's support modules for C&C, and said so before (the system, mind you, is very good for running a low-workload campaign), but I am entirely sure recruiting Jim Ward to address that problem is a horrid idea.

    So there.

  5. > ... and the company is trying to sell
    > pdfs of a pad of graph paper. That
    > takes big brass balls.

    And if that wasn't ridiculous enough. The PDF is over 30 MB in size and features 50 identical (empty) graph pages.

  6. I would have LOL'd if the PDF simply had the link to Incompetech. That would have shown a sense of humor...

  7. I can see selling graph paper. Sure, there are freeware generators which'll do it in any size you like, or hexes or whatever, but a sheet with a nicely-designed key, some fancy but not overpowering borders, maybe a section for a title and brief description... Or even basically the one-page dungeon template, with a little more artiness about it.

    Maybe 10p, 20p would be a fair price as a pdf for that, if it looked nice and wasn't padded to an insane size.

    I bet it's a bitmap, as well...

  8. Basically, they burned through their credibility. From what I can tell, Troll Lord Games is not a professional outfit where the main thing is getting stuff out the door to pay the bills, it is a hobby company that has over-reached its grasp. That is not to defame them, as they are by far the most successful traditional company going in terms of volume of products, level of distribution, brand recognition, and more than likely units sold. That said, they are not that different from being a reflection or shadow of TSR in the period 1989-2000, which is pretty much the aim.

  9. It saddens me whenever Troll Lord Games stumbles.

    I think Castles & Crusades is our great hope for perennial-style D&D gaming to be adopted by a significant number of younger players. The out-of-print A/D&D books and the retro-clones are (comparatively speaking) more for us 137 old-schoolers.

    Castles & Crusades is a great game system with a wide appeal. I hate to see anything sully its reputation.

  10. @Matthew: I'd say more TSR circa 1978-1985 (the 1st edition period) and that's cool.

    But yeah, they've killed their credibility. I have two printings of the C&C PHB (first and one of the edited ones) and C&T plus a bunch of adventures (3.x when they had the fire sale) and World of Erde (hardback). Great mining, but except for the Event Horizon pdf nothing sense and I doubt I will buy again.

  11. Our gaming group has committed ourselves to C&C and is not likely to change because we have a number of newbies who are enjoying the gaming sessions but are casual gamers--I don't see them bouncing around from system to system. We also have some teens in our group and, as Geoffrey notes, the value of C&C lies in having nice, in-print materials available on a wide-scale.

    I am personally withholding judgment until I see some of these things, like "Tainted Lands," for myself but I admit that I don't have a good feeling about what I am seeing. This is unfortunate, as I liked some of the other recent TLG items and thought that the latest printing of Monsters & Treasures was very well done and quite useful, albeit a bit tame and clinical. I have the sense that there is not a clear vision for C&C as a system and as a brand.

  12. After reading all of this, I guess I count myself lucky for never having bought one of their products! All kidding aside, I was looking at getting some of the C&C compatible supplements like the Monsters & Treasure of the Wilderlands 1 for source material. That's still safe, isn't it?

  13. James Mishler also has some nice C&C compatible items at http://adventuregamespublishing.blogspot.com/.

    The third printing of C&C Monsters & Treasure (not to be confused with M&T of the Wilderlands) was very well done. It is a very workmanlike rendition, but I think that works well for the primary creature and treasure book (and no modrons, an added bonus).

  14. *sigh* Sad but true.

    I've spent a few hundred dollars on TLG product, but really there's no way that the quality of most of the product justifies that.

    The Darlene map in Yggsburgh is nice, though. And I recall Lost City of Gaxmoor fondly. But their hit ratio is about 1 in 10, and even the hits are badly flawed.

  15. The last C&C product that I purchased was the box set for "Castle Zagyg: Upper Works" by Gary Gygax and Jeff Talanian. It is reasonably well-edited, and of generally high quality. I'd recommend it, quite highly in fact, and think that it can serve as the basis for a very good, long-term dungeon crawl style campaign.

    That aside, though, I think that I've had it with C&C. I was enthusiastic about C&C when it first came out, and wrote a positive review of the PHB for RPG.net (despite my irritation with the PHB layout, spelling errors, etc.). I thought that TLG would improve on the editing front as time went by. I also thought that TLG was the 'last, best hope' for 'old school' D&D gaming.

    With the exception of CZ:UW, however, TLG has not improved in terms of quality control (at least as far as I can tell). The 'Haunted Highlands' modules by Casey Christofferson (sp?) have a nice 'old school' and 'sandbox' feel to them (if used together), but are plagued by layout mistakes (e.g., small, barely legible maps) and the usual TLG spelling/grammar problems. The other modules seem to lack flavour (at least the ones that I've looked at).

    I feel sorry for TLG. The guys who run it seem like good chaps. But they just keep dropping the ball, and I have no interest in buying poorly edited products anymore. Also, their art direction seems to be veering away from anything remotely 'old school' or even interesting in nature (the consequence of giving free reign to the horrid Peter Bradley).