Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why Use Open Source Retro-Clones For Publishing New Material?

Okay everyone knows I love Hackmaster and Castles and Crusades. I also love lots of things about the new swords and sorcery based RPGs coming out like Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG, Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea and the very excellent Crypts & Things (thanks again for the heads up on that one Drance--can't wait to get my copy). But in considering what system to write within I would prefer an open source system. Let's talk about that for just a minute. Because it may seem like I'm preferring a clone over a commercial system. I've always been a little sensitive about brand loyalty, so I'd like to explain myself.

The OSR has brought about a flowering of fan-based game production. In many ways it has restored the early days of the hobby when everyone was so excited about the game that they were as busy as dwarves in the mine churning out new creative material. I mean let's face it, there wasn't much to 0e and the assumption was that you would create your own worlds and adventures for your friends to enjoy. That was the way the hobby was done back then. When AD&D got rolling the supplements were coming out fast and furious. I and my friends started gaming in 1981 and there were so many commercial adventure modules coming out that we could stay busy for some time without ever running out of material. Sure we homebrewed a few, but not right at the start.

The ethos of D&D had changed. It was assumed that the company provided everything for you for those of us who came right after the full release of AD&D. And this trend continued in greater and greater measure right up to about 2001. You got your gaming from the man. Now, of course we built and brewed our own. But not necessarily under the assumption that it was better to do it that way. There were exceptions of course, but by and large build your own was an ethos of 0e. It wasn't until after about 5 or 6 years gaming that I decided building my own was more fun than just taking what TSR gave me. I still remember the massive continent spanning mega-dungeon we finished just before HS graduation. More fun than we had ever had before.

Well, the OSR has brought back that old ethos in spades. Not only are people brewing their own adventures en masse they are now homebrewing games too! And that's great. Although I must admit, I've had mixed emotions about it really. For along time I always thought it better to have a central company or game authority to which people could turn for game dissemination. I even tried to be that for a short while on my blog, collecting the OSR under one roof. It as short lived. The OSR wouldn't really cooperate. Not the people but the movement itself. It's not meant to be "collected under one roof". What I missed was the fact that the OSR is a central authority in and of itself. Granted it's a loose, grassroots, decentralized authority. It's more of an idea and a principle than an organization, but it's very tangible and powerful. The past few years have more than shown that.

So, could I write submissions for a commercial game? Yeah, I could. Not a lot of big commercial publishers take or like submissions unless they have a venue for them. Hackmaster does have Knights of The Dinner Table and their Hackjournals. Castles & Crusades has the Crusader magazine. And while I'm not knocking them by any means (I _love_ KoDT), the stuff I have right now are not exactly perfect fits for either game. You see, HM and C&C have a certain tone and feel that seems to me determined by their setting. For HM it's Kingdoms of Kalamar, for C&C, After Winter's Dark. They are both awesome settings, but my current works don't quite "fit" the feel of either campaign setting. I know I'm being short sighted here. I mean C&C and HM can be used for any setting. Just like AD&D of old you can brew your own. But to really get the "freedom" I desire I need that old 0e ethos.

The fact is the open source retro-clones give you an anything goes sort of feel. The idea behind alot of them are to keep things as simple and straightforward as possible leaving as much open to interpretation as the game allows. I always point to Swords & Wizardry as the ideal example of reproducing that "the field's wide open" sort of game. I know that Brave Halfling is putting out Delving Deeper to more closely emulate 0e rules and play. And that's fine by the way. There are lots of people who prefer to still play with the original little brown books. But what Matt Finch achieved with S&W was to create a 0e type template upon which people could imagine whatever they want. Some might argue, and actually many have, that he did it even better than 0e did. I am one in the latter camp. Matt produced rules that were well organized, well presented and "just enough" to run a game out of the box and create from there. the original 0e was much more chaotically organized and by 1977 added onto in great measure.

And that is what lots of fan-based game writers are looking for. A wide open field where anything goes. A backdrop game against which they can let their imaginations run wild. That's what I'm looking for anyway. Because my creations are very much my own. By that I mean they have my flavor. They change rules where needed, add new monsters, NPC types, diseases, and often aim for a strongly evocative tone that is distinct to the way I like to do things. When creating I don't want to be constrained--not much anyway. And this, my friends is what the OSR is all about.

--Stay tuned later today for a consideration of which clone would be best for me to create within.--
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