Friday, August 5, 2011

The OSR: A House Divided?

"A house divided against itself cannot stand."
-Abraham Lincoln

ADD Grognard tried to warn me: "This next step your about to take is a doozy." But I was foolhardy, and just overcofindent enough to think that it would be easier than he was making it out to be.

I had been planning on publishing some of my gaming stuff. I had thought I had come to the conclusion that the OSR is supportive of this kind of thing. That the purpose of the OSR was to keep Old School Style playing alive and well in whatever form possible. If you've kept up with my blogs you know my opinions on this, developed over intense debates with myself. That if you play a retroclone you are playing it because you think it is better than the original rules in some way shape or form. Without trying to defend that anew: that you will play the game that you think is best. Also, that the best thing to do in this day and age was embrace the OSR because in it stands our best chance at preserving our style of play.

So, I was ready to start isolating the best publishing vehicle for my material. For those of you who aren't clear on what exactly I'm doing I had decided I would help "expand" the old school arena and by extension my own favorite game; and publish adventures I had written over the years that I felt merited such production. I wasn't out to produce a new game, that's a big job. Moreover I knew what the perfect game was: AD&D. Hadn't others already cloned it? No, at the most I might put out some of my campaign material, but my goals were, I felt, modest.

It just remained to find the best game to go with. Now mind you, I'm talking not only about a game to publish my stuff within, but also a game that I would be primarily converting to. I figured if this is the route I was going to go (publish my own material to keep the flame alive) then I would also want to play that game. I had narrowed the field fairly quickly to two: Basic Fantasy RPG and OSRIC. I spent the day looking over these two and the evening scouring the forums and internet for clues, resources and previous conversations by people looking to do the same.

Ouch. I thought it would be a simple matter of choosing the best game that fit my needs. How wrong I was.

Let me first say that I really like what Chris Gonnerman is doing on principle. He put out his game for free, and them committed to putting out resources for free. He is generating community around his game based on everybody sharing their stuff. Very nice. What held me up some was that compared to OSRIC, BFRPG came up a little short of AD&Dness. I actually like the game quite a bit. And the "missing" AD&Dness is trivial at best. Rules I probably didn't even use when I was playing. It was a tough call really. Did I risk going with BFRPG which was a little different than the game I was used to, but probably more like how I played? Or do I stick with a relatively known quantity and go with OSRIC?

Well I decided OSRIC would probably be best since it was most like the game I knew. Stick with what you know, right? I was a little sad about it because I really liked the feel of the BFRPG community I had seen thus far. But I felt good sticking with my original goal of staying as true to AD&D as I could. I spent the next hour or so reading through the OSRIC licenses, hilighting and annotating until I felt like I had a pretty good handle on how this needed to go. Then I turned to their community. I had been there before, but I'm not a regular on many forums, tho' I do have a presence on several. So first, off to Knights and Knaves to scour their forum for info and advice on what I was thinking about doing. I mean surely there had to be lots of people doing what I was contemplating, right?

I spent hours, finally giving up at 2 AM, reading with increasing dismay the tone and opinions of the most vocal of the oldschool community. I can't stress enough how important this is. Because these are my potential readers. People I would hope might want to download my supplements. In the end, I not only had decided they probably wouldn't, but that they would lambaste me with criticism if I tried. The hideous vitriol out there against the OSR by the OSR community itself shocked me beyond belief. For every encouraging remark there were ten salvos aimed to destroy any would be game writer's aspirations.

The deeper I got I also discovered something I had always suspected myself. That the big names in the OSR  held opinions much like I had held before. That retro clones were never designed to replace the original books. That they were there to serve as a vehicle for publishing your own material for the original games, or that they existed as an introduction to new gamers or non-old school gamers to the original works. That it was expected that you would use retro clones to try out the game to see if you liked it, and if you did you would buy the original books and play exclusively with them. It was true, hard-core old school. And it was what I had thought and believed all along.

By the end of the night, as I switched off my computer and turned off the light I was troubled and uncertain. For the longest time on my blog one thought had come up again and again. Community was as important as the game itself. It used to be in the days of yore almost everyone played the same game. And if you didn't play the same game you played a game by the same company. And then there were those few on the fringe who chose games from other small companies. I would even dare say, by complete conjecture alone, that it was an 80/20 split. Now? Now we're all on the fringe, and the fringe gets farther out each day. There are only 50% are sticking with the big boy. About 10% are with the the new startup Paizo. The other 40 are spread out all over gamerdom--even within the OSR there is little agreement.

It makes me wonder how long it can last. If gaming is a house it is slowly splintering into a thousand feudal fiefdoms warring with and against each other for each and every peasant they can garner. And the OSR itself is divided against itself. I mean the sheer number of retro clones and variants speaks to that somewhat. Yes, it does also bear witness to the creativity and imagination of the fan base. But it would be different if the bulk of the OSR was excited about what everybody else was doing, but my excursions last night led me to believe there is a large vocal portion that truly aren't. We are either cheering our own projects, or shouting someone else down. We are working against ourselves. There are only so many gamers to go around. If everyone creates their own game then who's left to play it? We've got to get behind something. And it's got to be more substantial than the idealistic notion that the OSR is about "expressing your creativity". I mean that's great but not if noone appreciates or admires your creativity by playing it. And there will be as many in the movement shooting you down as cheering you on. No let me correct that, most will be shouting you down and if you're lucky a few will cheer you on. But I don't think either camp is doing anybody any favors. This movement is so fractured it risks complete dissolution.

Remember this? Well it came to mind alot yesterday as I read the opinions of many of the old school forums. I mean jeez! Can't we all just get along?

That was when something dawned within my own mind as well. Can I really blame them? Don't I often feel the same bitterness and anger myself? Absolutely I do. I also realized something else as well. Recall my number one reason someone would play a retro clone? Because it's better right? The problem is, deep down inside, I don't think OSRIC is better than the original AD&D books. It's nice, it's well organized, it's professionally done. But it aint "it". I was compromising that belief based on the fact that clones allow me to contribute my own material. Which is fine as far as it goes, but actually playing a retro clone over the originals? Well, it would never last for me because at heart I know that I don't think it's better. But the answer isn't for everyone to go back to playing teh originals either. It's impractical and in the end a limited solution at best. There are only so many originals left out there.

Now, don't get me wrong. Lots of people have commented on the fact that I'm up and down and all over the place half of the time. But see, what I'm really doing is playing out my own process of inner debate and discussion for the world to see. We all make decisions and then reevaluate based on new evidence. That's where I'm at right now. There seems to be no solution. Or a hundred different solutions. So why would I publish material in that environment? It makes me wonder, it really does. And it has also caused me to cofnront my assumptions and personal beliefs again. The solution that presented itself previously may have been ill-advised. I'm not exactly sure at this point. I mean I could just go to a warmer community like BFRPG. But that game just doesn't seem "better" for me. I mean for all that there's the incredibly supportive and growing Castles & Crusades comunity and the stuanchly loyal Hackmaster community. But none of those are an exact fit for me.

And yes I have considered the fact that there are those in the old school that trudge on with their visions held tight in spite of the civil war raging within the community. Those that look forward, write their games, and seek to reestablish what was lost. The only trouble for me is that noone has really achieved that in my eyes. There are so many trying to do that, that the movement is simply increasingly splintered and everyone is a castled lord in their own eyes setting up their own kingdom with visions of reestablishing Camelot.

One thing  makes me smile though--Gary might like the idea that he has become the Once and Future King. And his brief time of glory on earth was indeed Camelot.

For in truth what once began with this:
Has, sadly, become this:

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