Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Clone by Any Other Name

What's become apparent is that I've got to more clearly define my terms here. I was reading a blog entry from back in Januray written my Jeff Bloch, the Greyhawk Grognard, here; and I agreed with him at least in part. I'm not sure that the retro clone purist movement is coming to an end. Mainly because there are always going to be some players who want a more accurate reproduction of either rules or feel of earlier versions. Brave Halfling's Delving Deeper is the most recent example of this. But it is true, after awhile you can only go so far without violating copyright. I've struggled with that myself in regards to 1e.

But where we do agree is that  there are some games that can't really be called retro clones anymore. These games are trying to do something that hasn't been done before. Either in creating what they believe would have been the next step in the game's evolution; or in creating a new concept altogether. And while new, there is definitely no problem in calling these games old school. A hard to define term in itself, we have to go on rules presentation and feel or tone. And in that sense all of these games fall squarely in the OS camp.

I too like what is taking place, even though it makes the market much more crowded. I've abandoned the idea that there will ever be "unity" of version in the old school movement. Largely for the reasons listed above, but also because the OS crowd is one creative bunch. They can't seem to leave well enough alone. They are always building on a new wing in the craetive landscape. But that's a good thing. What does bring us together is unity of spirit. Admittedly a hazy concept at best; but as they always say--you know it when you see it. The fans have embraced the chaos, as it were, of the wild and wooly world of the imagination. Fans everywhere are putting out not only games, but supplements, worlds, races, classes, monsters and adventures. You can swim in the creativity it is so deep. In strongly commercial games it is a little harder to go swimming. They have a private pool so to speak. In highly commercial games, lots of the creativity is dictated by the publishers; you paticipate somewhat passively. It's all been done for you. Not so in the OSM.

All this productivity however, does bring with it some potential pitfalls. Ocassionally the water is a little shallow in some places. Either through level of quality, or lack of support. This is one reason I would urge the publishers of what I am calling variants to keep an open license for players to add to or extend your concept. Otherwise we might be beholden to a very slow release of materials from the creator and his necessarily small design team. An open ended license will keep the waters deep and these new games alive.

In order to control quality I would urge would be designers to do two things: first always present a playtest first. This is quite common when new games are produced; not so common with supplements, adventures or what have you. I know this is a hard pill to swallow, because the game rules are often offered for free download, but later game supplements are the designers meager chance to make a few bucks. I don't begrudge them that, but without an open or extended playtest of some type for all materials you risk charging people for what may in the end be inferior material. This is a rough water to navigate, but the only possible way around it is to take the second step. Always have some way of allowing reviews and rating of your product online. Whether you use a simple star system, number ratings or a comments section, there as to be some peer review of your work. Such a system helps us produce better work and support and spread such work throughout the old school universe.

As to what we call these retro games that aren't clones, well ... I'm calling them retro-variants for now. And they take in some pretty big names like Hackmaster Basic and Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG. I'm not sure if I should call the point 5 games like Adventures Dark & Deep, Hackmaster 4e retro-variants or retro-extensions. But perhaps I'm getting category happy. There are clones and not clones. They might smell as sweet, but they don't smell the same (as old Willy might opine). I'm still working on a good way to list them with the distinction they deserve.

One thing is for sure, I admire these designers. It is no mean feat to put a game together, largely on your own or with a few good friends, like so many have done. Nor is it easy to weather the inevitable critiques that come. Designers not only have to be creative and intelligent they have to be thick skinned. I hope we keep producing them myself. I'm updating and adding to the list as fast as I can.


ADD Grognard said...'s easy. Categories are nice, but all we have to remember is that no matter how we might verbally duke it out on the interwebs we follow the same path:

Games designed by gamers, made by gamers and distributed by gamers...just like the way it started.

The only pitfall to avoid is the one that swallowed them last time...the money pit...don't sell out your friends, colleagues and partners. Just keep doing what you are doing.

I think there is a natural slowing of clone systems being produced with more activity in just offering material for use with the ones now available.

But for me the exciting part is just starting...the 'what if?' factor. What if the hobby had went another way...not become an industry but continued on as individual elements all adding to the mix.

We don't have to dream anymore...we're doing it.

Standing on the shoulders of giants and reaching for the stars.

Ka-Blog! said...

Hm, your term retro-variants is far better than my 'neo-clone' term.

Chris said...

Well, I'm not too worked up about it. But it seems that a new word to distinguish true retro clones from what some gamers are doing by taking it to the next level as it were is proper. But you're absolutely right, in the end these are games designed by gamers who love games. I actually like that as a definition of what the OSR design movement is all about.

I'm really excited about what is happening, I think it is good for a number of reasons.

Thanks for reading guys!

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