Saturday, July 16, 2011

HEAR YE! HEAR YE!! Support the Old School Renaissance Group!!


Things are happening faster than I can keep up almost. First I own the OSR and my readers an apology. My rant on the Old School Movement's failings were misplaced. I have already begun eating my crow. (Tastes like chicken by the way).

What I really want to do here is to encourage people to support the Old School Renaissance Group! ADD Grognard pointed this out to me recently and I had no idea they existed. We already let TARGA slip away. So I would really urge all OS gamers to support this excellent endeavor. Ostensibly they are an organization for publishers of OS games to get coverage at GenCon. A wonderful idea in and of itself, but more than that it has incredible potential to be something even more. This is a place where old school publishers can come together and rub shoulders, get advertising, exposure, and more. The OSRG can also serve as a place OS players can come to find all OS publishers in one place. I know the group is now focused on getting presence at GenCon, and establishing a presence in the industry. So let's support them wholeheartedly in this endeavor, and encourage them to be all they can be.

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.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Even More Retro Clones!

This is one of the problems I alluded to. There are just so darn many retro clones! And some of them are really hard to classify. Especially since I haven't played them all. I don't know how anyone could play them all, let alone read them. I'll set out to do that eventually. But for now I'm just trying to get them on the site. Thus far I've made the following changes and additions
  • Changed T&T to a variant with a shout out of thanks to Anarchist for the tip
  • Added Spellcraft & SwordPlay
  • The Big Brown Book
  • For Gold & Glory
  • Epees & Sorcellerie
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • Warriors Wizards & Wyrms--tho I can't find a link presently
  • Myth & Magic
  • Dragons at Dawn
  • Retro Phaze
  • Fire & Sword
  • Legends of the Ancient World
  • Dangers and Dweomers
  • Mini Six
  • Siege Perilous
  • ZeFRS
  • And also began posting links to other summaries of retro clones around the web--it isn't surprising that others are doing what I'm attempting. Oh well, I could quit, but I'm too excited to do that
I doubt all of these systems will see active support from my site. What I mean by that is that I will likely catalog them by compatibility eventually, but not keep long lists of products being released for them. I will likely stick with those that are being heavily used by the gaming public. That way you can see what the few big names are producing and what their supplements may be compatible with. But anyway, not sure how to deal with that yet.

Check back for more soon!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Complete List of Retro Clones

Hey everyone. I've been updating my pages, particularly Game III. It will have a complte list of available retro clones with links to where you can download or purchase them. I will also include some minimal commentary on the editions and their variations. Hopefully this will fulfill the need for a centralized location where anyone can find all the clones and their parentage in one place.

My biggest concern is that I don't want to leave anyone out or make anyone feel slighted. My current list looks something like this:

0e
  • Swords & Wizardry
  • Microlite 74/75
  • Delving Deeper
Basic/Expert/BECMI
  • Meep's Companion
  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Basic Fantasy Role Playing Game
  • Dark Dungeons
AD&D 1e
  • OSRIC
  • Labyrinth Lord Advanced Edition Companion
AD&D 2e
  • Adventures Dark & Deep
D&D Rules variants include
  • Hackmaster 4e
  • Mazes & Minotaurs
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Hackmaster Basic
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG
While there are other excellent old school type games, some put out my TSR, I have focused mainly on Fantasy Role Playing Games designed to give a D&D type play experience. Games that don't fit the genre, but that I consider old school like:
  • Boot Hill
  • XPlorers
  • Mutant Futures
  • Gamma World
  • Star Frontiers
  • Traveler
  • TimeMaster
  • Top Secret
  • Starships & Spacemen
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Star Without Number
  • ... ...
Are admirable games, I love 'em, and I have played 'em. But are beyond my focus here. I sincerely hope I or someone else gets the time to pull them into the cataloguing fold as well. Other games that are curently supported and old school in tone, feel or age that are outside of the D&D model, such as:
  • BRP
  • GURPS
  • Savage Worlds
  • Lejendary Adventures
  • Tunnels & Trolls
  • Dangerous Journeys
And a host of others simply aren't designed to replicate D&D enough to be part of our purview. With the possible exception of DJ by Gygax. But he dropped that pertty quick when smashed by TSR's Dragon Lady, so it never went very far and has little current support.

There have been others mentioned, but I can find them nowhere on the web now beyond a mention or two. Games like Warriors, Wyzards and Wyrms simply aren't available for perusal anywhere I can find. But if you know of any I have left out please let me know. Game III should be up and ready by tomorrow at least. I'll be scouring the net for updates and news for systems on the horizon every so often, but I'd appreciate any help you can give.

Oh, and some have wondered about a list of supplements, modules, settings and the like for these games. I'll be forging a list of those asap. That will be reorganized soon in my links section by edition and game. So keep checking back.

Also, the site is growing in size and hopefully utility, so I'll be adding a kind of Table of Contents on the side soon. It should give people new to the site an easier time figuring out what we are about here and navigating around. So look for that to appear soon.

Until then, May All Your Hits Be Crits!!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why I don't like 4e

Wow, how many blog entries like this can you find on the web? But this one might be a bit different, given that it's going to be a bit more personal. So, if you read yesterday's blog entry you feel my pain, right? Okay, maybe not, but you at least know how I'm feeling. So I contemplated biting the bullet. I pulled out the 4e books, and the Pathfinder books and started reading through them again. I also posted a plea for help on the WoTC DnD forum. You can read it here. Lastly, I agreed to run 4e encounters at my FLGS.

So I'm reading through the books, trying to give myself over to this concept again ya know? And, anyway, I'm having problems with things here and there, but I can see why they made a decision to do this and that and this other rule change. But something is gnawing at me. I can't really tell what it is. But it's like I'm being haunted by something. Little blurs of darkness coalescing at the corners of my mental vision. I'm feeling a bit afraid, like something is happening, being torn away.

It builds and builds throughout the day, until about 4 o clock or so I realize that I'm having trouble reading the racial descriptions. They seem, sort of, oh I don't know, neutered. They are so generic and simplified it's kind of like reading toilet paper. Good for one thing, but not for what I'm trying to do with it. Maybe that's a bit harsh, but I hear on the radio in the background that Irish stocks have just been ruled as junk by the European Bank. And I think that, you know what ... this is junk too. But I can't argue with the design. It plays well; it's just been like somehow vastly devalued. I'm not even really looking at fantasy anymore. Where did the Dragonborn come from? They don't even resemble previous dragon men from the game. Eladrin? Tieflings? What is this world I'm reading about. They all seem sort of like, twist the head off the doll and glue a new one on, Ooooh look at the cool new race. There's no history behind them. The game used to be rooted in legends and myths of the past. It had gravitas. This new crap is about as weighty as stale cotton candy.

And the rules, for healing, for initiative, for checks. It's all about the game. The game design and mechanics have been moved to the front. Its like the whole purpose of the game is to showcase the mechanics and not the story and imagination behind it. They've abandoned it, they've killed it and stuffed it away somewhere, run it through the meatgrinder, flushed it down the toilet. Where's my game?!

I throw the book down, breathing heavy and my heart is racing. My stomach is in knots and I feel strong anxiety. I mean I KNOW anxiety and this is it. The tight squeezing grip on the chest, making it harder to breath, threatening to squirt the contents of your colon into your shoes. You think I'm exaggerating right? I'm not. It was making me sick.

So I surrendered myself to a fitful sleep last night. Tossing and turning I didn't sleep well. And I had a nightmare. It  was all about me trying to build a new house. On stilts. I mean the house was on stilts, not me. It kept falling and breaking and was all uneven. I was frustrated and not knowing how I was going to get this to work. I woke up with a headache and acid reflux. What in the Abyss had I got myself into? I was walking away from the fantasy realms of my dreams; endless, boundless vistas of magic and wonder, for, for, for what? A cheapened plastic imitation? I mean anyone can admire slick game design and technical innovation--just look at video games. But that does NOT mean they are the same thing as my game. My game. I want my game back.

And that dream *shudder*. It's left me feeling like I was uncertain, unsure, lost, helpless, and like well ... like I had no foundation. And that's when it hit me. This game had abandoned its foundation. It is no longer an evolution of D&D. It has become coopted by a bunch of mad scientists, who have made some half machine, half Frankenstein monstrosity of it. Evolution is a natural and very slow process. This aint that. It's like it never was D&D. It isn't just a remodel, it's a complete levelling of what was; and a ripping out of the roots that remain. They have abandoned all that was sacred about the game. And I don't care how much you spout diatribes about how you've kept the "core" of the game (Mike Mearl and others), you have lost the spirit. And a shell without a spirit, or with some demonic possession of an imitation is not the same thing. That was something I inherently knew, but had to learn the hard way.

D&D is not about the rules. It is about the Spirit of the game.

I stopped commenting on WoTC site. They had devolved into some rule debate over how powerful powers were or something. Went from 5 to 11 pages overnight. Whatever. No loss there. Luckily, my work schedule isn't gonna allow me to run 4e encounters and the FLGS. I have to keep my evenings open in the summer. And the PF game is a wash too, as it has screwed getting all my hours to Hades. So I called and told the counter monkey I can't do it 'cause of my schedule. He says he's gonna try and get someone else to do it. Great. More power to 'em.

I feel better already. It's like a weight was lifted off my chest. I'm walking away from the table crowded with young eager 4e players frothing over their WoW stained lips. They recede into the background as I walk not into the sunset, but towards a horizon with the promise of mystery, of magic and of the imagination.

I'm not sure how to address the problems with the OS movement. They are admittedly real and some, I feel, are serious. But I will carry on the crusade. I will not be deterred. I will game what my heart tells me is true and what fills me with the magic and the wonder of the ages. Walk with me friends! I would be glad for some company on my quest.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Nobody Likes Old School?

Okay, that title was designed to be inflammatory. It was at least designed to make you look. The real dilemma I have right now is that nobody wants to play with me! Okay, it's not exactly me they're rejecting it's the games I wanna play.  I got a wee bit mad at them at first. Called them some nasty names. But just on my blog ... it's not like I did it in public or anything.

Seriously, I have been trying to get a Hackmaster Basic game, a HM 4e, Dungeon Crawl Classic RPG playtest, and a 1e game for awhile now; and I've got no takers. Well, they agreed to humor me and began rolling up PCs for HM4e, but quickly dumped it. So I'm currently running a Pathfinder game for the summer group, and no one wants to take it over so I can run an earlier or new OS version. And even if they were willing to take it over I would probably have no one wanting to play in my game with an active PF game going on.

I've also got my hobby shop owner really wanting me to run a 4e encounters session at the FLGS. He rarely carries RPG stuff, and says if he has a hope of supporting anything it's likely to be 4e. They run a very successful Friday Night Magic game and he thinks a Wednesday Encounter session would be as popular or moreso--but he needs an experienced and forgiving DM to organize and run it. He also wants the DM to be an adult that he can count on. He says I'm perfect for it. But I keep trying to talk him into supporting an OS game, or a small press game; but while he says I'm more than welcome to run the game at the store, he's unlikely to be able to support it much with print sales. He's a small store with a small customer base.

Sigh. It's like I can't get away from the inevitable. As many of you know I began the blog under the auspices of 4e, but over time changed the focus to old school gaming. I've been all over the page on this, and I'm right back where I started. Lately I've really struggled with the lack of cohesion in the OS community. It's fine if you've got a group of OS players that are willing to play each week in classic OS style. But you can forget it if you want anything like larger gaming community. And moreover, I'm afraid that the decentralized nature of the OS publication endeavors makes for lots of repetition and variable quality. I mean there's Dragonsfoot, and there's Knights and Knaves, but those forums really are just individuals exchanging opinions on what has been, and discussing ideas that have been explored dozens of times before. Literally I have a tough time finding something new to read or talk about there.

But even that's not the real difficulty the OSR seems ill-prepared to answer. As I've talked about before: there is no central OS authority. Support is diffuse at best and often very slow in coming. Lots of people spend time duplicating the efforts of others by rewriting rules again and again after their own preferred fashion. I started one project like this myself, before somebody cut me off at the pass; and believe it or not was just considering starting another one as well. How many times can we cut down the same tree? In my opinion this is all due to the fact that we lack central authority. Some would say this is good, sort of like the free market. But, we are not just talking about economics here. We are talking about a social endeavor that cries out for some organizing factor. Thus far, as good as they are, Dragonsfoot, K&K, and even TARGA have all failed to bring the movement together. If we desire to make contact with other old schoolers outside of th net, we are left with a small group of conventions that cater to OS games like Garycon. And if you're like me you can't afford to get to any Cons more than 6 hours away. TARGA was designed to bring OS gamers together but it didn't work. To be fair I geuss the OS gamers didn't support it. I put myself on the list to be a regional rep in Utah, but no one ever called or contacted me. And when I sent requests on how I could help or what I should do, never received any notice or contact. Now the TARGA website has been coopted by some gambling site and they have a minimal Facebook presence.

If you follow my blog at all you will recall that just recently I was contemplating a radical shift in my focus to try and be an old school clearinghouse. A place where old schoolers could come and find everything in one place; I was also hoping it might develop into Old School Central and perhaps succeed where TARGA failed. Suffice it to say the cold hard hand of reality slapped me down but quick. The reasons why it didn't work were all those mentioned above and more. I just don't think it can be done in the current old school environment. Don't get me wrong, some good stuff is being put out there. I like some of it. But it simply lacks the kind of community that other games are providing. Other games like D&D 4e and Pathfinder.

Some might say they are able to pull this off due market share or economic power. But either way the situation remains unchanged. And you would think building a community doesn't take market share or buying power. It simply requires that the community be willing to come together around something more than an idea. Hell, even if they would actually come together around that it might be different, but they don't seem willing to.

And the real trouble for me, is that hereabouts there is nobody that wants to belong to that community anyway. This blog was my attempt to connect with that community. But that's all it's been--an attempt. It's one more old school blog amongst the hundreds if not thousands out there. It was more successful in some ways when it was a diary of our gaming experiences for 4e. Now, this doesn't mean that I'm stopping the blog, oh no. But here I sit writing old school rhetoric and philosophy, yet I'm playing a very modern iteration of the game, and being begged to play the latest version. When you're in my position and trying to build a gaming community it seems kind of counterintutive to pull so strongly against the stream. With the intentions of building gaming in my own small neck of the woods I've now effectively isolated myself by edition division. I and my blog is just spinning the wheels and we're stuck in some pretty deep mud.

It may simply be time for me to bite the bullet and move over to the table where there are acutally players willing to play.