Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Would you rally behind a "Rosetta Clone"?

Its no revelation that RPGs are a niche market. Somewhere within that niche, is a smaller, somewhat more insular group, the OSR. But that group is a creative lot, and what they do is getting noticed, more and more. The bigger publishers are starting to get an idea that there is a buck to be made on "going old-school", and supplemental products are trickling out. The bigger, more mainstream RPG forums have begun to argue the old "nostalgia vs. solid game design" discussion the OSR put to bed years ago, as well as stuff like "what retroclone is best for me?".

One stumbling block to Old School gaming really re-emerging back into the mainstream is the lack of a single system to stand behind. One Clone to Rule Them All? Not here, at least not yet. Currently, groups decide whether to stick to the originals: OD&D, B/X, 1E, Holmes, etc; or whether to go with an RC: Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, M74, etc. I just don't see one of these games clawing its way to the top of the old-school food chain, leaving all others smoking ruins in its wake, to emerge as the true flagship game of the OSR.

But a new game might.

Hypothetical situation: someone at WotC, or Paizo, or even Joe over at Goodman games recognizes this possibility. 2010 or 2012, etc, sees the publication of say, "Dungeons & Dragons Classic" from WotC, an amalgam of say, B/X and "lighter" elements of d20, or say, "Pathfinder '79" from Paizo, a 1E-inspired d20 variant.

Would you rally behind this (perhaps last and only) attempt to bring old-school gaming back into the mainstream? Or would you scoff and go about your business? Or would you give the game a couple of test sessions and judge from there?

Well, think about that and, please, let me know, its been on my mind a bit lately. As hypothetical as the above scenarios are, don't think for a moment that something isn't actually in the works, the signs are there if you care to look for them. And while I would prefer to see something develope organically from within the OSR, part of me shudders at the thought of such a fantastic well of creativity attempting to become a business machine, and would rather see someone else take on the grunt work 0f publication, printing, distribution, etc. Its a tough call, in my opinion.

What do you think?


  1. For me personally- Not interested. When I want all the old school rules/mechanics, quirks, and charm, I have my Moldvay/Cook/Marsh B/X stuff sitting here to use. Along with my 1E hardbacks & some OD&D materials. I've got S&W as well.

    To be honest though- I find myself drifting away from those games-at least as far as mechanics/rules. Games like Spellcraft & Sowrdplay as well as C&C have become the preferred tools for me to utilize all my old D&D materials with minimal to no conversion (as well as many OSR materials).

    And of course- I am a big fan/supporter of 4e so I really have all my bases/needs covered. I'd prefer WOTC to focus on 4E (cos they are doing a bangup job) and Paizo needs to cater to the 3.x crowd.

    I'd like to see some of the OSR companies be more sucessful for sure- I think guys like Peter Mullen deserve the recognition outside the small internet community, but then again- I think the "for the hobbyist, by the hobbyist" mentality of the OSR is a big part of it's allure/charm. There is also the personal hangup I have with retro-clones profiting in a big way from Gary, Dave, and other's hard work. Thats in no way a condemnation of the clone authors- but is an ethics question I often ask myself, and have a hard time coming up with a clear-cut answer for.

  2. Nope. Those of us publishing aren't done yet, either.

  3. I personally would not because I think the clones that are out there are sufficient AND I think the all these clones (with the exception of OSRIC which had a stated purpose and is now, FAIAP, done) express something about the game that the publisher wishes to say. The system has already been chosen, if you will - it's D&D. The rest is just iterations of personal interest.

    I have no doubt that the big publishing will try to make a buck - they always do and that's fine - I just hope the nature of the world allows the hobbyist to keep up and excited as things go forward.

    Just think... in 10 more years, 3E will be the new Old School! :D

  4. >>nd would rather see someone else take on the grunt work 0f publication, printing, distribution, etc.

    Whoever does that will also control what material gets published and distributed, which is why it's an awful idea to leave that to "someone else."

  5. Besides, I have no interest in another version of Castles & Crusades, a sort of 3e hybrid. If Paizo publishes something I hope to God it's not something like that.

  6. Honestly, I'm pretty happy with the way things are right now. I think the "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach is the best one and the one that's most true to the spirit of the hobby's early days. I'd certainly welcome an established company's producing or distributing an old school game, but I'd hate to see anyone attempt to make such a game the old school game to which we all ought to pledge allegiance. If recent history has taught me anything, the hobby's much better off without a single master.

  7. If they released a facsimile version of OE, I would get it. But if they release an OE, B/X, d20 hybrid I won't even bat an eye. The way WotC had treated their customers, I'd rather not have anything to do with them. My bros at S&W are more fun to hang out with!

  8. @ Dan & Jim - maybe I should clarify the whole "distribution and printing" statement - I'd rather not see the OSR have to make creative decisions from a business standpoint. I didn't mean to imply I felt a big name publisher should take over the job;)

    The way things are now, which is why I enjoy the OSR so much incidentally, is basically that someone creates something really cool, and decides to share it with the world, be it a blog post, free .pdf, or small print run / print on demand product.

    My fear with "big company" old-school rpg would be changing that dynamic to churning out product with the primary focus being on what would turn a profit. The risk of supporting our fictional "D&D Classic" would be the possibility of business ethic tainting the creative impulse. Weighing that against the large scale exposure the OSR would gain from such a product is my quandary.

  9. I don't see WotC ever doing this, it competes with their core business strategy.

    I could picture Paizo doing it, and to me the exciting thing about that is the quality of writing, art, and graphic design they would bring. Also I think they would understand how to maintain the "spirit" of old school.

  10. I don't know. I'd probably pick it up eventually, but to be honest I'm quite happy with my LL and OSRIC. It would have to be pretty high production value for me to "replace" either of them.

  11. From WotC? Nope. They're not getting another opportunity to pull the rug out from under me. I'd take a look at Paizo or Joe Goodman's efforts, but I really think we all need to look beyond this whole "system" thing.

  12. I thought C&C was an attempt to do all the things you mentioned in this post - and look where that stands in the OSR. I think what is emerging as the strength of the OSR is the fact that it puts control of the game into the hands of the hobbyists, wresting control from the corporates.

  13. First, I wouldn't be so sure that one of the current crop of retros won't rise to the top in popularity eventually; second, it hardly matters because ultimately, there are really only two retro games - D&D and retroclones and AD&D and retroclones. I mean that the difference between any given D&D retro clone and any other D&D retroclone are trivial and the game modules are freely interchangaeable with hardly any modification. (Okay maybe OD&D retroclones are a little bit different too). The upshot is that if a "corporate" version of a retroclone comes out it may attract lots of new or switch over gamers but I don't think it would hurt the creativity of the rest of the OSR one bit. If anything it will only add to the fire.

  14. I believe that the current stable of games is right where we need to be. One game to rule them all would eliminate the (mostly) friendly competition between the current lineup.
    To be honest I also like the idea of those of us making or contributing to these games as helping people understand a simpler, not just nostaligic time in gaming.

    Saturday I will be introducing a new player, an 18 year old young man, to my Labyrinth Lord group. Hardly a grognard, he likes the look of the book and material and is eager to play.

    What are we up to now in the OSR? 151, 152? :)

  15. We are WAY focused on Pathfinder at the moment, but I will say that I can't imagine us designing and developing a rules clone of a pre-3.5 edition of D&D, or for that matter putting serious effort into developing and marketing a competing sword & sorcery fantasy brand other than Pathfinder. It's possible that the launch of our main game will be so successful that money will fall from the rafters like rain, in which case I suppose anything is possible, but the sort of thing you propose is not on our dance card for some considerable time.

    It's possible that some time down the road we might want to partner with an existing Old School game in order to help that game get a better market share or perhaps some higher production value, but then again, there a DIY element to most of the Old School games I'm familiar with that is at the heart of their charm.

    I _can_ see Paizo developing some non-fantasy games down the road that would appeal to a lot of the same pulpy sensibilities shared by a lot of the OSR crowd, and while I'd expect the rules for such a system to be CONSIDERABLY simpler than 3.5, I most likely wouldn't start by cloning an old game system.

    --Erik Mona
    Paizo Publishing

  16. >>It's possible that some time down the road we might want to partner with an existing Old School game in order to help that game get a better market share or perhaps some higher production value, but then again, there a DIY element to most of the Old School games I'm familiar with that is at the heart of their charm.

    You wouldn't even have to go so far as to produce, or distribute product to really give the OSR a boost.

    Just release a free pdf with OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord or S&W (or plain '1e' or 'oldschool' notes if not wanting to endorse any particular clone) "conversion notes." The legitimacy of a big RPG company doing that would be a great boost all by itself.

    Or release a pdf/POD full-on oldschool conversion of one of your modules or adventure paths. Again, a shot of legitimacy and just maybe a bit of income on it to boot. I'm sure you could find someone to do the conversion work for cheap (or a royalty to minimize the upfront cost), and I guess the big investment would be the new layout for the new version?

    (this next one is so self-serving it almost hurts, but what the hell...) Or license and convert some oldschool product for release with Pathfinder. It won't help the OSR directly, but it's sure to help the credibility of the original author/publisher.

  17. Rather than teaming up with an existing rpg publisher I would much rather see the OSR branch out into other areas with the OSR trappings and showing a clear path to the oldschool games. If you are going to get out there and try to make a difference why not shoot for somewhere beyond rpgs? Try to bring people in through unrelated venues and ideas over keeping within a niche market.



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