Friday, May 16, 2008

Universal System

I've been known to say that the transition to 4e this year will be very different from the transition to 3e in one undeniable respect: the Open Game License. Even though Wizards of the Coast will no longer be supporting v.3.5, others can do so freely and legally, as Paizo is doing with its upcoming Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. What I suspect this means is that, if they play their cards right, Paizo will soon become the de facto inheritor of a large portion of the remnant v.3.5 community. How large a portion I can't predict and it's really not important for the point I intend to make here anyway. What is important is that v.3.5 will not die with the advent of 4e. Indeed, it now has the capacity to grow and evolve along a natural trajectory, according to the wishes of both Paizo and its fans.

For that matter, even if Paizo were to declare bankruptcy tomorrow, v.3.5 will survive, thanks to the OGL. Anyone who wishes to publish their own version of the game can do so, using rules and, more importantly, concepts that are available to anyone who is willing to abide by the terms of the OGL and WotC can't stop them from doing so. Whatever else I may think of WotC and what it's become over the years, I owe the company my thanks, as the OGL is an amazing gift to the gaming community. Besides preserving the v.3.5 rules (about which I am largely ambivalent), the SRD also preserves innumerable ideas, concepts, and terms from the history of D&D. I can now talk about magic missile spells and ankhegs and gelatinous cubes and I'm not violating WotC's copyrights or trademarks. That's a powerful thing. D&D's DNA is now there for anyone to manipulate, provided they play by a few very simple ground rules that can never be changed. Thank you, WotC, for this! (I suspect the reason why 4e is in fact so different from 3e and doesn't "feel" like D&D anymore is because WotC regrets having "given away the store" through the OGL and now needs to reinvent the game from the ground up in order to "reclaim" it, but I digress)

Unfortunately, no previous edition of D&D is open in the same way that v.3.5 is. There have been numerous attempts to reconstruct past editions through the clever use of the OGL. I'm fond of all of them, for they all attempt to preserve different aspects of the patrimony bequeathed us by Gygax and Arneson. The problem with these retro-clones, leaving aside legal questions that some have -- questions I generally don't share, I should add -- is that none of them has come close to being universally accepted, even within the old school community. OSRIC, which attempts to preserve AD&D for the ages, seems to have made the most impact, but, honestly, its acceptance does not appear widespread. The number of products available under OSRIC's license remains small and I have a hard time imagining its growing significantly. Anything is possible, I suppose, but I don't have the sense that there are publishers laying big plans to use OSRIC to help fuel the old school renaissance I feel percolating beneath the surface. (The situation is, if anything, even worse for retro-clones of Basic D&D, where we have two competing versions, each of which takes a different approach to adapting the source material.)

I don't think I'm being Pollyannish by saying once again that, within the next year or two, we will see an old school renaissance. There were rumblings of dissatisfaction with the direction of the hobby before the announcement of 4e last year, but I think its arrival next month will serve as a catalyst for a lot of people to look back to where the hobby came from and where it strayed from its original vision. I'm not (necessarily) saying that this will result in the rise of a game or a company that will take the world -- or even the hobby -- by storm in the same way that old school D&D did. As others have said better than I, tabletop roleplaying will never again enjoy the faddish popularity it had in the late 70s and early 80s. So, I have no delusions of grandeur. What I do have, though, is a powerful sense that a line has been crossed in the development of the hobby and that some gamers -- and not just older ones -- aren't well served by the overly complex, difficult to learn, and time-consuming to prep RPGs that have become the norm. These gamers are looking for something simple, exuberant, and fun. Combine that with the era-ending deaths of Gary Gygax and Bob Bledsaw and I think you have the recipe for a counter-reformation.

But there's no standard bearer, no unifying figure or company, to lead this counter-reformation. Everyone who wants to get into the old school game wants to create their own system, their own interpretation of the original editions. And I think these desires, while understandable, are making the old school renaissance harder to get off the ground than it needs to be. No one is in the position Paizo is likely to be with regards to v.3.5 and that's a shame. The reality is that, for all the various persnickety changes to the rules, it's not so huge a leap from OD&D to 2e that a product made for one edition couldn't be used, with very few changes, for another. By and large, the rules have a degree of continuity that does not exist with 3e, let alone 4e. This isn't meant to minimize the differences between editions, but the reality is that even the much-reviled 2e is light years closer to Gygax and Arneson than 3e is. Its rules, as written, can be played in an old school fashion, whereas that's mostly impossible with more modern editions.

What am I getting at? Old school D&D already has a common language. But for some "dialecticisms," an OD&Der can communicate intelligibly with a AD&Der or a 2e-er in a way they can't with a player of a modern edition of D&D. Despite this, there's no universally accepted or recognized "meta-system" for writing old school materials. Back in the day, Judges Guild had what it called its "Universal System," which was a not-so-subtle reworking of common terms ("Hits to Kill" or HTK, instead of "Hit Points," for example) so that meaning was conveyed without using terms specific to any single edition (or even game).

I can't help but think that maybe we need something like that again. In the absence of One Retro-Clone to Rule Them All, what old school gaming needs to kickstart its renaissance is a lingua franca that everyone, from a fan of the three little brown books to a Zeb Cook groupie, can understand and use without much difficulty. In a very real sense, grognards don't need new games; they already have the games they like and have had them for years. What they don't have is new products that are professionally made -- yeah, it always comes back to that -- that carry the old school spirit forward to the future. Part of the reason why they don't is because no one has stepped up to the plate to do that. And part of the reason why no one has stepped up is because, if they choose OSRIC (or LL or BFRPG or ...) to do so, they're seen as "one of them." The old school community, like many marginalized communities, is very fractious and insular. It's riddled with ancient rivalries, nursed hurts, and bad blood and I see so many missed opportunities because of it.

Finding a way to unite all these people under a single banner would be a monumental task and it may not even be possible. The reality is that pre-3e D&D players, regardless of their favorite edition, have far more in common with another than they sometimes like to admit. I understand the appeal of elitism and exclusivity; I sometimes engage in it myself. But, ultimately, it's destructive and self-defeating. Too many of this hobby's traditions have already been willfully destroyed in pursuit of the bottom line. Why must we do it to ourselves without meaning to? No, the time has come to bury the hatchets and make an attempt to build on what we all have in common rather than to fixate on what separates us.

How will we do this? I'm not sure yet. The projects I want to undertake are a part of it, but just a small part. We need to do more and that's where I'm seeking advice (yet again). What can we do to bring the old school community together and help it become the seedbed for the flowering I see in the offing? We have a chance here to reclaim much of what we love about this hobby and make it vibrant once more. Will we seize it?

69 comments:

  1. This is legally naive, but is it possible to label a product as being "D+D"? Or "D plus D", if a "+" is legally equivalent to an ampersand ("&")?

    How simple it would be to denote a product as "D+D=0" when OD&D/bare bone stats are used, "D+D=1" for a 1st edition equivalent module or "D+D=2" for 2e.

    Maybe "D²"?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I’m ambivalent towards any commercial aspects of the renaissance. I don’t have anything against commerce. I am and will buy some of the renaissance products. But it’d be fine by me if the renaissance had no commercial aspect. Just people playing the games, talking about them, and sharing their creations.

    Though, I can’t deny the vision of walking into my local Hastings and seeing that shelf of d20 stuff replaced or matched by a shelf of “old school” products would feel awfully good. Seeing the Hackmaster stuff and then the C&C stuff and now—even better—some OSRIC stuff at my FLGS certainly has been heart-warming. I won’t judge the success of the renaissance based on those kinds of measures, though.

    FWIW, I think Kuntz’s CU-style is more useful than the JG kitchen-sink universal system. I asked him once how he’d feel about other people using it, but never got an answer. (He said he’d think about it.)

    More to the point though: I’m unsure a lingua franca would really buy us much.

    When I use a product from another game system, I just ignore the system-specific bits and make up any numbers my system needs myself. My friends and I have been doing this for years, and with games that are much more divergent than oD&D and AD&D2e. So, why include mechanical bits at all? Why not just describe things and let the individual referee translate it into his own system?

    But, even if that is too idealistic, let each author use the system he (and his lawyers) are most comfortable with. Conversion between these systems is not significantly more difficult than from any “universal” scheme.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I meant to also say that having a banner to rally around would be good. I just don’t think it needs to be something like a “universal” lingua franca.

    ReplyDelete
  4. First off, your post was well written. You communicate your thoughts very well.

    Secondly, if you have no commerical ambitions, then as you said the lingua franca is already there. It's OD&D, Holmes Basic, B/X, BECMI, AD&D, AD&D2, and the Rules Cyclopedia. Coming up with our own home rules and retro-clones and new "old-school" games is fun on its own, but if you want is a more vibrant community of people playing the older games- then I would humbly submit that you discuss, write adventures for, and DM/play the older games.

    As you said a module written for one is easily used for any of the other pre-3.x versions of D&D. And if you're not going to sell it, than it's perfectly legal to write up- hit points, hit dice, beholders and all. I mean that is what the game is designed for- a DM creates stuff and then shares it with others. Over on dragonsfoot there are lots of homemade modules for the older versions and no corporate gestapo has come to shut them down.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wulfgar has a good point.

    OSRIC is an interesting intellectual exercise, but I personally think it's just absolutely pointless. Why?

    1. All the old 1e AD&D books are available at a pittance from RPGnow, meaning for a few bucks you can get the core books you need via pdf. So the need for a "resource document" for the old material is kinda silly - the old material is easily available for anyone to buy online.

    2. Anyone who is really going to care enough about 1E to actually sit down and write publishable adventure material for it, probably has the original books anyhow. No one is going to just out of the blue say to themselves "you know, I've never even touched first edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons before, but I'd like to start writing adventures for it even though it's been out of print for twenty years...".

    3. Like Wulfgar said, this is no longer the mid-90's, and the TSR-Gestapo is no longer scouring the Internet for evil homebrew perpetrators. You want to write up an adventure for 1E and post a link to it on DF, no one is going to be dropping a "Cease and Desist" order in your mailbox a week later.

    4. I have no quarrel with the belief that in the next few years, we'll have a "Old School Renaissance". I do think, however, this Renaissance will take place almost entirely among older gamers who will be "coming back to the fold" and re-discovering the older games they loved as teenagers.

    Yes, you might snag a very small percentage of younger gamers, but the majority of those you do will either A) enjoy the "retro" vibe for a few months, then move on, or B) enjoy the older games, but merely as a minor diversion in and amongst all the other things they spend their nerd-time on.

    So yeah, within the next couple of years I can see a rise in popularity among out of print games, as compared to say, five or ten years ago. But that rise could also be due to the availability of this stuff via retro-cloning and PDF purchasing. It becomes a chicken-and-egg scenario - is it available because it's more popular, or is it more popular because it's available?

    In the end, no matter the Renaissance, it will still remain a very tiny percentage, and that is fine with me, because I've still got "old school" books on shelves, eyes to read them, and players to game with them, and that's all that matters.

    ReplyDelete
  6. There have been numerous attempts to reconstruct past editions through the clever use of the OGL. I'm fond of all of them, for they all attempt to preserve different aspects of the patrimony bequeathed us by Gygax and Arneson. The problem with these retro-clones, leaving aside legal questions that some have -- questions I generally don't share, I should add -- is that none of them has come close to being universally accepted, even within the old school community.

    I'm not at all certain that the "old school" gamers really need to have a clone to play. I mean, aren't there enough DMG's, PH's, and MM's floating around eBay and used bookstores for $4 or less a pop?

    When we speak of 1E not being "currently supported", I don't consider that support to include the printing of the core rulebooks. I consider it to be the publication of adventure modules and possibly adventure settings geared towards that style of gaming. A really professional forum for the sharing of ideas would be most welcome too (and by that I mean a magazine; Dragonsfoot does an admirable job as an online forum). I'm hoping Fight On! gets enough critical mass to become that forum. And for that sort of support, the OGL works absolutely fine; just look at Pied Piper's efforts in that regard. Hit points are hit points, and AC is still AC.

    Ideally, though, I can't help but wonder if WotC would be willing to license out the original AD&D rules the same way they did to Kenzer. Kenzer made several mistakes (IMHO) with that license, but if handled properly that could really become the cornerstone of an "old school" revival.

    Joe (check out my new blog!)

    ReplyDelete
  7. Actually, I think that we are doing it. I believe that these blogs fill holes, and give places like us a place to go to discuss things.

    I long for the old days of spending an afternoon down at "Dragons Lair" discussing books and how we ran the modules. Sharing war stories, and maybe sitting down for a game taking place in the back room. Those were good times! It felt good when you walked into the store and the owner would great you with a copy of a module that he'd been saving for you because he knew that you'd love it.

    I do try to give back. I am excited about the add-ons that I'm doing. Yeah they take awhile, but I think that they can be things that gamers can use. I figure one a week won't be too taxing. I use 2e, but they can be translated easily into any system that you want. One has to love bare bone stuff. To me, I think that that is the future of the industry . . . at least where I would like to see it go. Leave the fancy crap like plots and where it fits into the grand scheme of things up to the DM. Give him lots of stuff to steal, explore historical aspects with accuracy, and leave the hack and slash up to the characters where it belongs.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I do consider printing of the core rulebooks to be important for support. Consider:

    1. After a fifteen-plus year hiatus, I've come back to the hobby. An old gaming friend of mine purged several years ago so he doesn't have his anymore. He wants to play, but he has no books. He could always use mine, but...

    2. ...I am afraid of mine falling apart. Some are from as far back as 1979, and it's the only copy I ever used. They're well-constructed, but not that well-constructed. Some aren't even well-constructed (e.g. the Unearthed Arcana)! I don't want to loan mine out, some are sentimental because of who gave them to me, and I generally consider them keepsakes at this point. Copies on eBay are often quite poor, so that's not a good solution.

    3. Some of the books I have are collectors' items. For instance, we would consider playing RC except my copy is first printing, pristine and unmarred. I can't see opening it up and using at this point.

    4. I've looked at retro products trying to get that old-school feel, but they're not quite right to me. With C&C I have issues with the SIEGE mechanic; OSRIC codifies too much reading between the lines for my taste; BFRPG is nice, but I think I really want to play 1e again, not something more like B/X.

    5. PDFs don't do it for me. I want to be able to read a copy to refresh my memory without being bound to a computer. The PDF quality isn't generally that great, eBook readers aren't high-enough resolution yet and I'm not going to try read from a ream of paper in a D-ring binder in bed while trying to fall asleep.

    What it comes down to is that I am afraid that my old materials can't stand up to regular use anymore. I want new copies, and I am sure I wouldn't be alone in that. I am convinced that if WotC would just reprint some of the old core books or give someone license to they could make quite a bit of money. I guess they learned the lesson of self-competition back in the old days by producing too many settings, so they don't want to repeat it by doing the same with multiple editions.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I wholeheartedly agree with your thought about pdf's being inadequate, but I must disagree with the quality of used books. Perhaps I've just been lucky, but I've managed to find upwards of a half-dozen PH's in fine condition, and the same shop has a plethora of the other books as well (shoot me an email if you want me to pick some up for you; I'd be glad to).

    I also agree about the newer games like C&C; they're fine games in and of themselves (I've bought all the C&C rulebooks thusfar), but it's really not a substitute for AD&D in my eyes.

    The more I think about it, the more I think a consortium of old-timers might be formed to pool their money and obtain a license from WotC to reprint the original rulebooks and AD&D modules.

    I wouldn't be too sanguine about the prospects, though. WotC seems to have done a very thorough job of re-collecting all their licenses in the lead-up to 4E. Kenzer, the Weisses, even Dragon and Dungeon are all now back under their control, and I don't think the timing was any coincidence. They might not be too interested in giving a license until the dust settles after the 4E release, or even after that.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Also, there's the commercial aspect to keep in mind. Yeah, you might be able to give away free stuff created around older versions of D&D, but I'm certain that if you build a successful company around it, the lawsuit hammer will drop.

    I don't plan to get rich of the stuff I write for gaming. Hell, I don't even plan to try living on it. But if I could get my hobby to help pay for itself, I could indulge in it more often. Right now, every handful of hours I spend on RPG stuff is another week my wife and I have to push back buying a home, or taking the vacation. These are serious issues and can't be ignored.

    Money also does things like buy advertising. How many people are out there who would enjoy "old school" RPGs but haven't ever heard of Dragonsfoot or Grognardia or OSRIC?

    Money also buys better production values. How many folks are put off from trying "old school" gaming products because they look cheap? Good cover art sells, folks. The more professional your product looks, the more eyeballs and interest it will attract. Fight On! is fun, but it's nowhere near able to compete with the likes of Pathfinder or White Dwarf for attracting attention.

    And, damn it, I like good art! I want to see Willingham and Jeff Dee return to fantasy art. I want to see more stuff from Jim Holloway. I want new visions from the greats, artists like Frazetta. Heck, I'd even enjoy some good ol' fashioned Elmore fantasy work that wasn't tied to a computer game. And I want new artists I've never even heard of to have the chance to create new works and new styles for us to enjoy. But that won't happen if they're too busy working with dungeon punk or crafting skins for 3D MMOG monsters so they can put food on the table.

    It's easy to blow off the commercial aspects of a hobby and just be lazy and expect your fellow hobbyists to trickle out the stuff you want. And I know that some folks consider making money to be evil and the quickest way to poison the hobby. But the truth is, so long as this remains an utterly amateur effort, you're going to get amateur results, without the care and the polish necessary to make anything that's truly great, and truly worthy of the possibilities of the game.

    - Brian

    ReplyDelete
  11. It’s easy to blow off the commercial aspects of a hobby and just be lazy and expect your fellow hobbyists to trickle out the stuff you want.

    (o_O)? This hobby is about playing. It’s also about creating stuff yourself.

    It is not about buying. It is not about wanting other people to do the creating for you, free or not.

    Yeah, if people share stuff that you can use or be inspired by, that’s great. Yeah, if someone publishes something worth buying, that’s great. (Nothing evil or poisonous about it.) But those are gravy. The main course is playing.

    I wouldn’t mind seeing all those things that the commercial side could bring. But there’s more than enough stuff on my shelf that I haven’t used and more than enough stuff already out that I haven’t acquired.

    Way, way more than enough, since all I need are two 64-page booklets, dice, pencils, paper, friends, and imagination.

    And I can get by without some of those if need be. (^_^)

    ReplyDelete
  12. Re: core rulebooks

    As has been said, the books are available second-hand for reasonable prices. Not ideal, I know, but they are.

    PDFs are not meant to be read on the computer. (OK, some are, but they are the exception.) You don’t have to print them out one-sided and put them in a D-ring binder either. A good print-shop will be able to turn a PDF into a perfectly usable book for a reasonable price. And will be willing to accept proof that you purchased the PDF.

    (I don’t know about the quality of the AD&D PDFs, but I’ve made perfectly usable, saddle-stitched, cardstock-covered booklets from the oD&D PDFs with a consumer grade duplex printer and a saddle stapler I picked up in a chain office-supply store.)

    Yes, I’d like to see Wizards either (A) make the older editions available under an open license, (B) reprint them as Far Future did with Traveller, or (C) license them out to someone else.

    The current situation, however, is actually not that bad, IMHO.

    ReplyDelete
  13. (o_O)? This hobby is about playing. It’s also about creating stuff yourself.

    It is not about buying. It is not about wanting other people to do the creating for you, free or not.


    True, but buying and selling help grow the hobby and spread it around. I mean, if Gygax and Arneson had been content to just make enough mimeograph copies of Chainmail for their friends at the hobby club, and maybe a few dozen more to give away at conventions, you and I might never even have heard of it, or the rather cool games that came in its wake.

    I had more than enough RPG stuff for lifetimes of play by the end of 1983, but if the industry had folded up shop and shut down, I imagine I'd have a much harder time finding folks to play with. I certainly don't need to ever buy another RPG product ever again, but if the chance to make a little scratch allows James to publish some cool stuff that I can use to make my games even more fun, that's great, and I'm more than willing to express my thankfulness with cash. That's especially true if James has taken the time to make sure his rules work through playtesting, and has done the editing necessary to make sure his ideas are expressed clearly and succinctly.

    - Brian

    ReplyDelete
  14. Yes, I guess I could buy them off whatever source second-hand if I wanted to visit every used bookstore in town and haunt eBay constantly, or just print my own from PDF. The PDF quality, though, truly is lacking. Just sorting through the 1e core rulebook files I have here, some have contrast problems, some aren't rotated completely right, and one even looks like it was laid on the scanner's glass rather than cut up and run through a high-volume scanner, so you have the shadow and text distortion from the spine at the edge.

    Ideally, I'd love to see the books licensed to fans for a reasonable amount or freed so they could be reprinted, as Greyhawk Grognard suggested. I won't hold my breath, though I do wonder how much a license like that would cost? I suspect the folks at Dragonsfoot could raise quite a bit of money to license it so they could be reprinted at lulu.com, but I suspect not nearly enough to interest WotC. I'd have at least couple hundred I'd donate to such a cause, though, plus I'd buy at least a couple copies of each book.

    (A side thought: how big a blue brick do you think they'd pass if someone scanned the art, touched up and vectorized it for use, and then laid out the core books out identically to the originals, text, graphics, fonts and all such that there were high-quality non-scan PDFs floating around freely that could be readily printed duplex-style and bound into books?

    A pretty big one, I suspect, but it'd certainly serve 'em right AFAIAC.)

    ReplyDelete
  15. A couple of the comments left here show that there still persists out there a misunderstanding of what the Retro-Clone movement is all about. People keep saying "why bother with a clone when I can easily get hold of the originals?"

    The various Retro-Clone rule systems were not created to replace the originals, but to provide an avenue for people to legally produce original-compatible material (and sell it if they like). The focus of the exercise is not the rules themselves but what can be legally created through them.

    Original rules compatible material can be created - the internet is full of it - but if you want to then sell it, that's when things turn nasty or dodgy. The Retro-Clones allow this to happen. People value and appreciate more those things they have to pay for than stuff they just get for free. Usually (though not always), production values and quality are superior in a bought product vs. the fan-material that is so readily available.

    Retro-Clones are an incredibly great opportunity for the old school community to grow our game. I agree with your desire for a lingua franca James and I think Fight On! is attempting to make that happen. It'll be interesting to see if it catches on.

    Dave (Greyharp)

    ReplyDelete
  16. Got to agree with Dave about this. Simulacrum games are available only to provide legal protection for companies seeking to publish material compatable with older editions of D&D. As a side effect, they can be downloaded and used as a rulebook that closely approximates an original out of print game. For people who want to see what those games are all about, but aren't willing to spring for an unknown quantity, they are extremely convenient methods of introducing people to the hobby.

    What seems to be under debate here, though, is the brand 'D&D'. We have lost that. It isn't coming back, it's gone. We can jaw about the possibility of getting a license to reprint stuff as much as we like, but it isn't going to happen and, more importantly, it wouldn't be a pleasant experience if it did. Just ask Kenzer how their relationship with Wizards went. Wizards didn't take the license back, Kenzer refused to renew it.

    Brands are the thing here, recognition and signaling without alienating. Many people are simply not interested in paying money for new material and that's understandable. Like Robert, I am a hobbyist with little interest in making money off simulacrum games, though I enjoy seeing and buying new material in my local game shop.

    In short, there already is a lingua franca, it's out there as LL, OSRIC, C&C and BFRP, all that remains is for us to use the language and stop seeking a new dialect.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Simulacrum games are available only to provide legal protection for companies seeking to publish material compatable with older editions of D&D. As a side effect, they can be downloaded and used as a rulebook that closely approximates an original out of print game. For people who want to see what those games are all about, but aren't willing to spring for an unknown quantity, they are extremely convenient methods of introducing people to the hobby.

    I would agree with your first point but disagree with your second.

    You are correct when you say, in not so many words, that the simulacra (great term, btw) give modern publishers legal cover to put out adventures and supplements compatible with the original rules without actually using the term AD&D.

    However, I don't know of anyone who actually *plays* OSRIC. Or L&L. They play AD&D, or D&D. The simulacra are just a convenient legal umbrella for those who want to publish professionally.

    Why would anyone want to download a pdf of OSRIC when they can download the original DMG and PH? Or even better, purchase one on eBay for less than the price of ink and paper to print out the pdf?

    We are talking about two different things here. The simulacra give publishers legal cover to print new modules. They are never ever going to bring new people into the fold.

    Joe

    ReplyDelete
  18. Well, good question. The quick answer is because they're free. When I'm over on the GitP boards and I bring up BD&D or AD&D, I often end up directing folks to OSRIC or Labyrinth Lord. If they like what they read, they might then go and spend cash obtaining the 'real deal', but until then they have a passable equivalent. It is amazing how many people there admit to not paying for even their D20 books, either using the SRD or illegally obtaining pdfs.

    Similarly, when I started up a new group at university a few years back, nobody except me and one other guy owned a copy of any original D&D books and nobody went on to buy the originals, despite playing AD&D for three years and loving it. They all have pdfs of Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC, though.

    It is true that by themselves a simulacrum game (I can't remember who coined the term, but it wasn't me) cannot bring new blood into the hobby, but they can act as a bridge into BD&D and AD&D.

    We do need a brand to unite under, and it cannot publically be D&D. Maybe something like 'Advanced Swords & Sorcery'.

    ReplyDelete
  19. We live in interesting times, in the sense that we have a great opportunity to reinvigorate "old school gaming" now that 3.X D&D is going to go the way of the dodo, but at the same time WotC seem equally aware of the way things are heading, and are trying to cut us off at the pass by creating a new edition which has more in common with earlier versions than it does with 3.X.

    In trying to unite "grognardia", in other words, you face competition not only from the various special-interest groups who come under that umbrella; you also face competition from a "back to basics" mindset in the form of 4th edition.

    (I should add that I don't believe 4th edition is a genuine back-to-basics game; I'm just citing the explicit design goal of brining the game back to its supposed roots.)

    ReplyDelete
  20. I have no idea how OSRIC is legal. About five or six years ago I was involved (well, that sounds cryptic, I'm not a hacker myself) in a cranky program that you could download for free and use it to emulate a very popular old videogame from the 80's. All we did was take the source code for the game, and make it so that you could add your own sprites and program your very own hack and slash game.

    There seriously wasn't any harm in it, nor was anybody getting paid. Users could just download it, and share their own versions on the web and everybody was pleased that we could play this old game in new and fantastic ways . . . until the company that produced it for their system caught wind of it. I mean, who would had thought that the company still had plans for this thing? Now you can "Download it" onto their fancy new system and play the game, but it isn't nearly as cool as what we had done with it, but that didn't seem to matter. It was the sourcecode itself that was protected.

    I don't see how you can actually avoid this by simply calling magic users by another name. Yes, they may let us get away with stuff right now, simply because their lawyers are too busy with other matters, however the mechanics themselves are still the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast.

    I can definitely see them cashing in on the retro gamers, they no doubt are watching us right now just to see where this goes. If there is a market to republish old books from their vaults, then it may be something that they would do after the whole 4th Edition thing dies down. It's just a matter of timing.

    COME SEE THE ORIGINAL MASTERPIECES!!! Now with bigger price tags.

    Actually, I think one of the things that really shocked me is how little our books are actually worth! Sad really.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Greyhawk Grognard said...
    "Why would anyone want to download a pdf of OSRIC when they can download the original DMG and PH? Or even better, purchase one on eBay for less than the price of ink and paper to print out the pdf?"

    Matthew James Stanham said...
    "The quick answer is because they're free."


    Good answer Matthew. The fact is I was able to print out the LL rules, hand-sew the document, and give it a durable binding using material lying around the house, all for about 4 or 5 dollars, an amount that wouldn't even cover the cost of postage should I have had to buy the original rules off ebay.

    Also, plenty of people have the perk of being able to print their rpg materials for free at work, I know I used to. :)


    Greyhawk Grognard said...
    "However, I don't know of anyone who actually *plays* OSRIC. Or L&L. They play AD&D, or D&D....They are never ever going to bring new people into the fold."

    I'm not sure that's true. I've seen quite a few posts on forums of people who now use just LL or BFRPG rules with their gaming groups (remembering that these rules though similar, are not exactly the same as the originals and have their own flavour).

    I'm sure the same thing will happen with OSRIC when they release version 2, which will have the added bonus of having all the rules in one book, instead of three separate volumes - something many people will find attractive.

    Some of these folks have testified to introducing (and converting) 3e players, and non-D&D gamers, to the older versions of D&D using the Retro-Clones.

    (Oh and Greyhawk Grognard - saw your new blog and love it. I was going to leave a comment praising it, but was unable to do so without signing up, which I didn't want to do - but I'll follow it with interest.)

    Dave (Greyharp)

    ReplyDelete
  22. Well Ripper X, it's like this.

    So your question, albeit a fair one, is asking why did my apples get squished when your oranges didn't.

    You messed around and produced a program that you didn't have a license to allow you to make those changes.

    Osric, LL, and the others DO have a license to do what they do. It's called the OGL.

    The legality has been debated to death and then beaten over and over again to no avail. There are reams of material out on the web if your question is really serious.

    The bottom line is that OSRIC after all these years has shown to be legal. WOTC has never issued any writs or demands, although many would like to believe so there ya go.

    I find it kinda funny that people still pull the lame, "there must be some IP issues with XXXX. Yeah, WOTC is just ignoring them right now but yadda yadda yadda they will get it soon!"

    Any company that does not vigorously protect their IP will lose it or it will cost them good chunks of money to prove otherwise - re-Disney - re-Hasbro - re-Apple - and so on.

    If there were any and I mean any IP issues with OSRIC do you really believe that WOTC and Hasbro would be rocking on their thumbs? Do people really think that oh yeah there are huge IP issues but since wotc isn't doing anything they must be going to release the IP on D&D soon! (yeah right).

    There has to be some really messed up ideas going on cause everyone screams IP issues yet nothing has ever been said or done about it - which in itself is exactly opposite of what any company would do if there really were IP issues.

    I now can understand why the creators of OSRIC pretty much stopped answering this type of nonsense. After a while it does get tiring to read all the armchair lawyer/judges decisions or the ever favorite I AM NOT A LAWYER but here is my unsolicited legal opinion anyway that is worth spit. Of course it wouldn't be so funny if they didn't always preface it with....

    IANAL - they aren't joking when they say that! ROFL.

    ReplyDelete
  23. I had more than enough RPG stuff for lifetimes of play by the end of 1983, but if the industry had folded up shop and shut down, I imagine I’d have a much harder time finding folks to play with.

    Well, once again, I have to agree but... (^_^) Yes, having the industry can mean that there’s a pool of existing players to find.

    But I don’t agree that, without the industry, it would be much harder. The best way to get new players is to introduce them to the hobby yourself.

    And while I’d love to see everyone who might like the hobby find it, I’m not counting on it.

    Again, I’m in no way against commerce. Yeah, I acknowledge and enjoy the good things that can come from it. I’m simply not going to consider it necessary.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Yes, I guess I could buy them off whatever source second-hand if I wanted to visit every used bookstore in town and haunt eBay constantly

    Seriously, they aren’t hard to find.

    Searching ad&d players handbook on eBay turned up at least 14 first edition PHBs. (From a rough count looking at the pictures to separate out the 2e and other extraneous hits.)

    Typing the ISBN into Amazon yields 45.

    AbeBooks? 35.

    And that’s not even going to vendors that specialize in RPGs!

    While it may vary in your location, here in central Texas I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a Half Priced Books that didn’t have at least one first edition PHB on the shelf.

    The others aren’t much harder to find, but you don’t need as many copies of them, right?

    If you like players to also have the UA, that is more of an issue. They didn’t print nearly as many of them as the PHB, and they weren’t very good quality.

    Not trying to be argumentative. Just informative.

    ReplyDelete
  25. he mechanics themselves are still the intellectual property of Wizards of the Coast

    But that is exactly it. The mechanics aren’t protected. They can’t be covered by copyright, only the specific expression can. They can’t be covered by trademark, only specific terms that can be avoided (or used under the OGL). Perhaps they could have been covered by patents, but they aren’t. Having been published, they aren’t trade secrets.

    The mechanics aren’t intellectual property.

    TSR understood this, before the dark times. (Even during the dark times, I suspect they knew it, but evil companies don’t let the truth get in the way of suing GDW.) Wizards understands this. Hasbro certainly understands this, or there wouldn’t be all those unlicensed Monopoly clones out there.

    The OSRIC authors have been contacted by Wizards. They won’t say what was said, but OSRIC didn’t get yanked.

    Or, to put it more simply: The law is all about details. It’s not enough to say, “Hmm. That looks like it should be illegal to me.” You have to dig through all the legal details for technicalities. The OSRIC guys have had lawyers do that for them, so they’re in a much better position to state whether it is legal than any non-lawyer or any lawyer who doesn’t specialize in intellectual property or an intellectual property lawyer who hasn’t specifically investigated it.

    ReplyDelete
  26. I am satisfied that OSRIC is legal and I'll be using it for upcoming work (and here's my blog sort-of-about this same thing)...

    But even if this was some alternate universe and OSRIC was completely illegal, it doesn't mean that everything published using OSRIC would fall afoul of the same illegalities OSRIC does (you can get much of the same results just using the OGL anyway, OSRIC is just the closest thing to a 'brand name' the simulacra movement has), and you certainly wonn't be punished for buying an OSRIC item even if it all gets yanked after the fact.

    I guess I can understand publishers being hesitant. But gamers? Why?

    ReplyDelete
  27. Robert,

    Yes, I'll absolutely agree that a thriving (or even a limping) industry isn't necessary. I'd just rather have one.

    As for Half-Price Books, the odds are much, much better in central Texas than most other places of finding old D&D books, though just about any college town will elevate your chances. That said, Austin seems to have more nerds per capita than just about any other city in the US short of Seattle, WA and White Rock, NM. And it doesn't hurt that Steve Jackson occasionally dumps his excess GURPS stock in the Half-Price stores from time to time. ;)

    And that said, the used bookstores would be the first place I'd look where ever you are. Even if you don't find any 1e books, you'll likely find something worth picking up. But then, I leap at any excuse to go to a bookstore. (And no, I can quit any time I want. Why do you ask? ;P )

    - Brian

    ReplyDelete
  28. RE: JR Mapes: I didn't wish any harm against OSRIC, I simply had a negative experience and thought that it may be relevant.

    RE: Robert Fisher: This is excellent news! I had heard of the Gygax screwjob, and that did worry me some, but clearly not enough to stop using 2e artwork on my blog, huh!

    ReplyDelete
  29. To those who keep saying we need a brand name.....

    Guys, that's what the name OSRIC is for; it's a brand name. The brand is meant to be used and supported, which is why they made a free license to use the trademark. Now, you can choose to try to come up with some other trademark, but if you support OSRIC(or Labyrinth Lord) the best way to develop the brand is to give it your support. You'll just fragment things even more by trying to create more brands that not everyone will use anyway.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Personally, I have major issues with both OSRIC and LL, so neither is suitable for my needs.

    ReplyDelete
  31. Sorry, but a vague post like that from an anonymous poster doesn't offer much insight into the situation. I'm not trying to be snippy, but if you are a publisher and have something to say, say it. We're all big boys and girls here. We can take it ;-)

    ReplyDelete
  32. Robert Fisher said...
    So, why include mechanical bits at all? Why not just describe things and let the individual referee translate it into his own system?

    I think this is an ideal solution and hope it is given serious consideration by anyone looking to publish their own creations.

    trollsmyth said...
    But the truth is, so long as this remains an utterly amateur effort, you're going to get amateur results, without the care and the polish necessary to make anything that's truly great, and truly worthy of the possibilities of the game.

    The gaming materials I have found most truly great and worthy have been the results of amateur efforts. I think the denigration of amateur productions runs counter to the do-it-yourself attitude intrinsic to the appeal of old school games.

    ReplyDelete
  33. The gaming materials I have found most truly great and worthy have been the results of amateur efforts.

    I'd be curious what's made your list. I'd be surprised if there wasn't some good stuff I've missed.

    - Brian

    ReplyDelete
  34. I think the denigration of amateur productions runs counter to the do-it-yourself attitude intrinsic to the appeal of old school games.

    Possibly. It certainly runs counter to one common take on what "old school" means. I know, for example, there are people for whom amateurish art is an encouragement, conveying the feeling of "I can do this too." I have no quarrel with that perspective and even share it to a degree, but that perspective is not going to animate a widely successful counter-reformation. It's fine if old schoolers have no interest in seeing their preferred manner of play return to the mainstream once again (or at least become less fringe-y).

    But I want to have a go at promoting old school fantasy roleplaying in the commercial realm. I think there's both a desire for it and an opportunity at this time to expand it beyond both its historical origins and its present fanbase. To do that requires more than just aping the past, which is all a lot of old school products seem to do.

    Maybe I'm crazy to think this. Maybe this is just tilting at windmills. But there's a chance that that's not what this is and, if so, I intend to find out.

    ReplyDelete
  35. I'm in agreement with you, James, that there's something of an Old School Renaissance about to happen. But I'm troubled by the excessive focus on the publishing aspects of this, when there is so much that could be done about getting people to actually play the games we're so earnestly discussing. It's more than IP ownership issues, it's about getting people to sit down and experience this thing we all seem to enjoy. If we want to increase the number of gamers who enjoy "Old School" gaming, we need to get them to try it out (and not just buy it or download it).

    One thing I'm in favor of is some sort of connecting organization. It wouldn't be exactly like the old RPGA (heck, it would probably look very different) - but an "Old School Gamer Association" might be part of a larger strategy to add some lift under the wings of this effort. (I've written more about that on Knights'n'Knaves - here's the link).

    ReplyDelete
  36. @Dan Proctor

    I was cut short on time before I had a chance to elaborate; hopefully I'll be clear enough in this post:

    One of the larger issues I have with OSRIC, LL, C&C, etc. is a major aspect of their intention - to be a brand. Even if they are an EXACT translation of an older edition, I feel (personal opinion) as though I've been given someone's set of house rules.

    There are certain assumptions made about races and classes that are heavily tied into the rules. I feel that what is required is something more stripped down and generic. Something that OSRIC and LL should be able to REFER TO.

    To me, OSRIC and LL should be supplements, like Greyhawk and Blackmoor, to a (currently missing) OD&D rule set.

    For example, the "core brand" should have four classes - Fighting-Men, Magic-User, Cleric and Monster (even if those aren't the names used). Everything else should be optional add-ons.

    ReplyDelete
  37. Maybe I'm crazy to think this. Maybe this is just tilting at windmills. But there's a chance that that's not what this is and, if so, I intend to find out.

    That’s the thing. If the commercial side is going to happen, it is going to take some quixotic people to make it happen. Despite the fact that I’m not pinning my hopes on it, I’m glad that you are.

    ‘Old School Gamer Association’

    OSGA!

    ReplyDelete
  38. I just want to add that my comments aren't meant to undermine the work and intention of others. I just think that the renaissance would be better served with more of a unified front. After reading a lot of blogs, it seems like a lot of people are also noticing the division [citation needed].

    Maybe what is needed is not necessarily a rules set, but as James seems to be hinting at - an "official" lexicon.

    ReplyDelete
  39. @rumcove

    I'm genuinely curious. Who would have to write a rules set before you would see at as a step above someone elses house rules? You said yourself you're talking about the source, not the content. Is TSR from the 80s the only source you'll accept? Those guys are either gone, or they aren't interested.

    When you talk about a unified front, you disregard how all of this got started in the first place. It's easy to look back on OSRIC and blame it for not being unified, but with who? Who else then was willing to do the same thing? We are now benefiting from what OSRIC did. It has changed everone's thinking about what is possible and how to approach it.

    Who needs to be unified? Even if you get a circle of a dozen or 2 dozen or 3 dozen people on the internet to be "unified" in a whole new effort, you've just created a new small niche. I'm not saying there is no worth in trying, just that I'm not sure how another effort will be any different.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I don't mind answering questions so long as the discussion seems civil. I wouldn't want to ugly up James' blog.

    Also, everyone has to accept that most of what I say is spontaneous musings (on a lazy holiday weekend) and cannot be used against me in the court of law. I'm discussing, not writing an essay.

    ReplyDelete
  41. In response to dan proctor:

    Who would have to write a rules set before you would see at as a step above someone elses house rules? [emphasis mine]

    It's easy to look back on OSRIC and blame it for not being unified, but with who? [again, emphasis mine]

    Maybe I wasn't clear, but I neither blame any rules set for creating the current situation, nor do I give ranked values to any system.

    So let me add, while addressing:

    Who needs to be unified?

    The discussion here, from what I understood, was about publications. For it to be feasible as a business venture, I would think that a more unified lexicon/rules set would be beneficial.

    From most of the comments I've seen from would-be publishers, they seem to be hesitant because of all the factions.

    I agree with an earlier post, that maybe having just descriptions is the safest route - but (from personal experience) I've seen a good portion of DMs rely heavily on the time saved by using stat blocks.

    To have a guideline that could be recognized by all, would be nice. And that would require a really stripped down standard, I would think.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Ok, I understand where you are coming from. If I came across as hostile, it was unintentional and I apologize. I've read some discussions lately about the "old-school movement" from some people who seem to miss the point, or only see things without context to the history, and I can get a little worked up.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Yeah. That’s what the original post was about, eh? Not a rule system like OSRIC or LL, but just a lexicon, like the JG universal system or the CU system. (Seems like Inner City Games had a similar thing that Gygax spoke well of too.) That would become the unifying brand.

    Then rumcove’s vision would be that OSRIC and LL (and any other set of rules) would use the same lexicon.

    The thing is, this is what I always saw OSRIC as being. The point isn’t the OSRIC SRD itself, but the safe lexicon that is a by-product of it. By being essentially a full clone, it ensures that it is a complete lexicon. Before LL was around, I mused about using OSRIC’s terminology for classic D&D material. (Being clear, of course, that it wasn’t intended to be 100% OSRIC.)

    ReplyDelete
  44. In regards to "OSGA" (not a bad acronym for such a thing), I do have experience starting up non-profit organizations. Such a thing could very well be done, as a literary society, empowered to publish and distribute rules and supplements.

    In fact, I wouldn't be a bit surprised if WotC mightn't be a bit more inclined to license out the AD&D rules to such a non-profit enterprise rather than a commercial one. They'd be able to use the value of the license as a deduction.

    I too get the feeling that there's about to be a renaissance of "old school" gaming, for a variety of reasons. Perhaps such an old-school RPGA might just be the ticket to get things hopping.

    ReplyDelete
  45. I don't think I mentioned it in my previous comments here, but I posted a quote over at K&KA in the thread that is covering the same subject - the OD&D forum and their Fight On! zine seem to be doing exactly what rumcove is suggesting - "a guideline that could be recognized by all...And that would require a really stripped down standard".

    Here's the quote from the Fight On! editorial:

    If it is anything, Fight On! is a magazine devoted to preserving all these threads of old-school gaming, and to sustaining what's left of and perhaps even building up a little more of that old greater community we all started from before we began to wander down our separate paths. We welcome creative contributions from all games and all styles of play. Even those who work in more current systems might find useful material here, or even enjoy writing for us, freed of most of the burdens of game-mechanical characterizations of your creations.

    and here's the "Standard Abbrreviations" they use:

    Core character types as used in many (not all) games are Warrior, Mage, Priest, and Rogue. A character's overall power is Rank (e.g. "The hero of Marchand is a Rank 4 Warrior"). Monsters are rated in terms of Wound Dice, Wounds, Defense Class, Attacks, and Damage as follows: "Four jackal-headed guardians, WD 3, Wounds 15, 13, 10, DC 5, 2 attacks (bite/spear) for 1d6 damage").

    This I think could be the beginnings of the "lexicon" Robert Fisher just suggested. It wouldn't be hard to put in a paragraph or two in each new product explaining how the lexicon translates into the different systems.

    Oh and I think the OSGA idea has great merit.

    ReplyDelete
  46. I hope I won't be banned from the conversation by admitting that I run my games using the World of Darkness rules. It happens to be the best compromise for the various tastes and needs of the group, and so far, everyone's satisfied.

    I actually use ALL the D&D books as reference, from OD&D on up to 3.X, using my own conversion rules. The Fight On! standard works well enough and is on the right track.

    The only hurdle is being accepted and USED by everyone in the "old school gaming" community. The (tentatively titled) OSGA is a brilliant way to go about it.

    If only all the factions would be on board, that is.

    ReplyDelete
  47. Wow, now I'm really confused. Has everyone here actually looked to see what terminology is used in OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord? The SRD gives us the terms we're already familiar with, like hit points, hit dice, armor class, etc. etc.

    Why would we want to use some unfamiliar terminology when we are not only already using the same terms, but we are also already using the temrs we already know by virtue of the OGL and WoTC's SRD?

    I must be totally missing the point? I thought I knew what this discussion is about, but I clearly don't.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Sorry, that was me.

    ReplyDelete
  49. If anyone is interested, I've posted a few preliminary thoughts on what form an OSGA might take, over on my blog. Still in a "thought experiment" stage at this point, but if it does gain traction, I'd be willing to do a lot of the leg-work.

    ReplyDelete
  50. "Wow, now I'm really confused. Has everyone here actually looked to see what terminology is used in OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord? The SRD gives us the terms we're already familiar with, like hit points, hit dice, armor class, etc. etc.

    Why would we want to use some unfamiliar terminology when we are not only already using the same terms, but we are also already using the temrs we already know by virtue of the OGL and WoTC's SRD?"

    I think it's the nitty gritty of stat blocks, Dan. When it comes down to it a Labyrinth Lord Orc s pretty damn similar to an OSRIC Orc, but a 'Labyrinth Lord' Fighter is different enough so that people begin to notice and wonder.

    What people are looking for is the skeleton of OD&D, upon which was built BD&D, AD&D and later C&C. I started a thread about this problem on Knights & Knaves a few months back when I was first thinking about how to present module stats. The answers were interesting...

    ReplyDelete
  51. Is this a fighter from D&D or AD&D?

    (F3, 25 h.p., chainmail, shield, longsword +1, potion of healing)

    I'm not sure what the major differences are to which you're referring...

    ReplyDelete
  52. (F3, 25 h.p., chainmail, shield, longsword +1, potion of healing)

    Oh, that’s an easy one. It must be AD&D because I can’t find this “longsword” in either Men & Magic or Moldvay’s book.

    Sorry. Couldn’t resist. (^_^) Not meant to disagree with the point.

    I don’t see why you can’t use the terms from OSRIC in an oD&D or classic D&D module and call it “OSRICesque” and achieve the same thing as the other alternatives. The nice thing about this is that, for the most part, (thanks to the OGL and d20 SRD) the OSRIC terms are going to be the same as the oD&D or classic D&D terms. Being based on oAD&D, OSRIC has nigh all the terms we need to cover all the older editions.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Heh, I just argued for the kitchen sink after complaining about JG’s version for that.

    (Although, the JG system included stuff I’d never seen in a D&D variant.)

    Continuing that trend: OSRIC does depend upon the OGL. I have to admit that I’d prefer a public domain lexicon.

    ReplyDelete
  54. Robert Fisher said...I have to admit that I’d prefer a public domain lexicon.

    I think a lot of people feel the same - something with no direct link to WotC/Hasbro - which probably answers Dan's question.

    ReplyDelete
  55. A lexicon that's both public doman, and not taken from WotC... hmmm.

    *the gears are turning*

    ReplyDelete
  56. "I'm not sure what the major differences are to which you're referring..."

    Not major differences, just differences. Robert actually identified the issue, though he was joking. Statistic blocks are most useful when they list all the pertinant information; if they fail to do that, it's barely worth including them. The attributes of a Fighter in AD&D affect his combat statistics differently to how the same scores affect a Fighter in BD&D.

    ReplyDelete
  57. Definitely there are differences, but they are very minor as you point out.

    For instance, just because I'm running AD&D doesn't mean I can't use B1 completely as-is. After all, part of the old-school mystique is that not everything is handed to you on a platter; if I, running a BD&D game, have to change "longsword" to "sword", that's something I would just do the same way that D3 didn't include a street map of Erelhei-Cinlu. It just goes with the territory...

    However, you do have a point, and I think it speaks to the fact that those differences, minor though they are, between BD&D and AD&D, stand in the way of creating the sort of universal lingua franca for old-school gaming.

    I think what's going to have to happen is that either BD&D is adopted as the standard, and the AD&D folks just have to make the relatively minor changes, or vice versa. And doesn't that just put us right back where we standard? ;-)

    Joe

    ReplyDelete
  58. This is why my attitude towards stats has always been: The author writes it for whatever system he wants. The DM does whatever converting he thinks is necessary.

    Rather than saying my module is “universal” and using some “universal” lexicon, I’d rather just say it is “Labyrinth Lord” or “classic D&D c. 1980”. (Or even “OSRICesque, but more basic, wink, wink, nudge, nudge.) Then the DM knows exactly what my stat block means and can ignore, convert, or use-as-is to taste.

    (Though I like the idea of stripping stats completely, they do have some value. Even if I’m playing GURPS, a AD&D stat block that I know is an AD&D stat block can be useful in guiding what I make up to throw at the PCs. With some of the JG universal things I’ve browsed before, though, I was at a loss for what game the author intended and, thus, how to interpret the stats.)

    ReplyDelete
  59. Two versions of each stat block might be the way to go. Once all the work is done for the AD&D version, stripping it down shouldn't be too much trouble.

    Would there be issues to labeling a product compatible for both OSRIC and LL?

    ReplyDelete
  60. I think Robert has the right of it here, and it is what I concluded from my survey on Knights & Knaves. The differences are minor enough so that they are easily changed, but major enough so that there is no middle ground.

    Dual statistics I would not recommend, as writing for two systems (or more) is a barrier to the author. That said, if you take a look at the old modules like T1-4 you'll note that many things simply do not correspond to AD&D and the same is true of the very manuals themselves. Even the nomenclature is inconsistant: Footman's Mace is usually rendered 'Mace', Large Shield is rendered 'Shield', etc...

    In this world of pdfs it's easy enough to produce two or three documents that are essentially the same, but statted differently. I wouldn't recommend it, but it's possible. Printed documents are another matter.

    ReplyDelete
  61. JimLotFP has a great list on the K&K forum:

    LINK

    ReplyDelete
  62. In response to Mr. Proctor:

    I would like to see a unifying document (maybe even of rules) that says "this is all public domain". No where inside are people claiming trademarks or copyrights. Words like hit points or armor class are used without needing to attach legal text.

    I hate to imagine what would have happened if playing cards had been invented in the last century or so. Where Jack of Diamonds or Royal Flush could only be mentioned with licensing agreements.

    This probably doesn't make sense, but during this whole discussion, I couldn't stop thinking about patents for DNA sequences.

    Sorry if this only leads to more confusion.

    ReplyDelete
  63. I think many are, even if only on an unconscious level, of the opinion that the OGL is some kind of devious snare set by the company in order to give themselves total control over anything produced under its licence. It would certainly be true to their past behaviour.

    I've certainly had these suspicions myself and they've been based on my complete ignorance of the subject. Today is the first day that I've ever bothered to read through the gobbledygook at the end of an OSRIC or LL product.

    If instead the OGL/SRD is in fact one of the biggest blunders/back-fires ever made by WotC, which instead of increasing their control has actually led to them losing control of the older editions, then I would love to see that fact communicated widely, simply and effectively amongst not only the old school community, but further afield too.

    Perhaps, if this is the case, this could be the engine that "unites" the old school crowd, prompts someone to complete the simulacra suite with a clone OD&D (two down, one to go), and drives the talked about renaissance forward. At the very least it might kill the lie and misconception that the retro-clones are somehow not legal.

    ReplyDelete
  64. If instead the OGL/SRD is in fact one of the biggest blunders/back-fires ever made by WotC, which instead of increasing their control has actually led to them losing control of the older editions, then I would love to see that fact communicated widely, simply and effectively amongst not only the old school community, but further afield too.

    You need look no further than the fact that, with 4e, WotC is basically abandoning 34 years of D&D concepts and traditions. D&D's original IP is now, with a few exceptions, free and legally available to anyone and everyone who wants to use it, provided they abide by some very simple and straightforward guidelines. This includes not just general concepts like "hit points" and "armor class" but also things like "magic missile" and "gelatinous cube." WotC really did give away the store with the OGL and WotC's behavior with the new edition pretty well confirms this. More to the point, in the 8 years since the OGL has been released, WotC has never engaged in the tactics the fear mongers have worried about.

    The simple fact is that the OGL is not a "trick" or part of a diabolical plan, except perhaps on the part of its original creator to ensure that D&D is preserved for the ages outside the control of WotC, in the likely event that, one day, its corporate masters decide that D&D as we know it is no longer worth preserving. I'm honestly not sure what more can be done to dispel these fears and I'm frankly not very interested in trying, as they're based wholly on willful ignorance. If someone wants to believe that the OGL was such a brilliant bit of deviousness on WotC's part that they're abandoning it with 4e, nothing I say can change their mind.

    The legality of retro-clones is slightly different, because, in many cases, what they do is extend the logic of the OGL beyond what it specifically covered. That leaves some people suspicious and I understand why. The truth, though, is that game mechanics are not copyrightable and the OGL itself is a kind of "don't ask, don't tell" agreement between WotC and publishers. WotC opens up the bulk of their D&D IP in exchange for publishers not putting the lie to the notion that you could quite legally produce a game obviously derivative of D&D without the need for a license, as companies have done in the past. The OGL is a promise of good conduct on both sides.

    Retro-clones are almost certainly legal and the fact that the original publishers have taken no legal action against them is proof of that in my opinion. But I know that many companies and creators dislike them and consider them theft, or at least in poor taste. That is the sole reason why anyone feels uncomfortable with them and why the lie that they are illegal has gained any traction. I understand the viewpoint but I don't share it. Again, I don't think there's anything that can be done to combat it except perhaps to see these games published and made available through traditional sales channels. Until that happens, lingering doubts will remain and the promise of an old school renaissance will be hobbled.

    ReplyDelete
  65. One thing you can not do with the OGL is say "Compatible with D&D" or say "D&D" at all.

    I haven't kept up so much with all the third-party stuff in the d20 era, but the impression I get is that the real success stories coming out of the OGL/d20 era are the ones that branded themselves as new games - Mutants & Masterminds, Castles & Crusades, that sort of thing. (and then there were a few imprints - Necromancer Games - that had special arrangements with WotC)

    If that impression is correct (and somebody do correct me if I'm wrong) then this OGL "rebranding" can't ever get us beyond our own little circle because the casual gamer doesn't care/know/trust something without a recognizeable brand name on it, and the traditional movement are starting from ground zero instead of being able to just say what it is. Trade dress isn't going to help because of all the 3.x stuff that intentionally looked "oldschool."

    It's tough. The OGL does give us all the tools once it's actually in people's hands but is it going to be a handicap to reaching people?

    I don't think it could hurt to give this some real consideration instead of handwaving it away as a ridiculous argument.

    ReplyDelete
  66. It's tough. The OGL does give us all the tools once it's actually in people's hands but is it going to be a handicap to reaching people?

    I think there are two realities the retro-clone/old school movement needs to come to terms with if they want to succeed:

    1. The old brands are dead. We need to create new brands. For all the bad-mouthing of Castles & Crusades, Troll Lords succeeded in creating a new brand that is recognizable and whose content is understood even by people not deeply plugged in to the online gaming world.

    2. We have to appeal to more than just the out-of-print, online crowd. If we can't reach new gamers and show them the appeal of old school games or games in an old school style, there's no point to do this. I don't buy the notion that "preserving" AD&D or Basic is in and of itself a laudable goal. These are games we're talking about here, not priceless cultural artifacts. If they're not being played -- and played by people beyond those who've been playing them since 1977 -- this is all just intellectual masturbation and I have no interest in that.

    As I see it, we need one or more retro-clones that stand on their own two feet, not just as homages/preservations of original games, and these games need to be readily available and recognizable to non-grognards. If we can't do these things, it's over.

    ReplyDelete
  67. I don't buy the notion that "preserving" AD&D or Basic is in and of itself a laudable goal.

    It's the entire point.

    These are games we're talking about here, not priceless cultural artifacts.

    I disagree. The reason people still care about these games isn't the "game" itself, but the entire culture around the game. How many of us formed friendships and at one point or another had our entire lives revolve around the game? The idea that you could go to any town in Western civilization and find people to game with - and the same game, to boot - is pretty powerful. It's not really a "game" we're talking about, but the entire cultural experience facilitated by the game in a way that the current versions don't do. From 1974 - sometime in the early 90s, for all the changes and updates, there was a common language, and it was D&D, and whether you spoke OD&D or AD&D or one of the Basic dialects, it didn't much matter.

    If they're not being played -- and played by people beyond those who've been playing them since 1977 -- this is all just intellectual masturbation and I have no interest in that.

    Of course. That's the point, but if all you're doing is looking at the business concerns and thinking about what alternate brand you can use and you're looking forward without remembering that the "preservation" is the ultimate goal, through exposure and current play, then I'm not sure what you'd be doing is all that different than what WotC is doing with the "property."

    If you establish new brands as individual entities separated from where they came from, then the line is still broken, there's still the disconnect between old and new.

    I think the only real purpose an "old school renaissance" could have to to re-establish that cultural line, promote the idea that "older game" does not mean "broken," or "out of date." We have to defeat the public perception of editions, trends, and branding, not work with them. These are the weapons of the enemy that put us in a ghetto in the first place.

    Right now we're disco, a garishly out of style trend from decades past, when we should be Deep Purple, or Black Sabbath, or Iron Maiden - classics that never died, no matter what the "reality" of public perception was during the darkest days, and are now again increasingly listened to by the young. An unbreaking continuity that cuts right through four decades of development.

    ReplyDelete
  68. If you establish new brands as individual entities separated from where they came from, then the line is still broken, there's still the disconnect between old and new.

    We have to establish new brands, because the old brands are gone. We will never lay claim to D&D as a brand, but we can lay claim to that connection to the past, both mechanically and in terms of spirit and play style. Without new/old games, we're rallying around OOP products that will, one day, become hard to obtain and be seen as even more antiquated than many already see them as being.

    In the end, though, there's probably no single correct approach. There are almost certainly many ways to bring the past into the present so that future generations can enjoy it as we have. I think I now know the path I will take, but I'm happy to see others try other paths. So long as we all wind up serving the same end -- the promotion of old school games and philosophies -- I'm not going to tell anyone they're "doing it wrong." There's enough of that out there already, some of which I've engaged in myself; we don't need more of that.

    ReplyDelete
  69. Boy, I always come to the party late.

    I always feel the need to point out the irrelevance of the corporate model when these discussions come up. Many here are talking marketing... how do we entice new players to the old-school side?

    We invite them, one at a time, in person or via play-by-post or play-by-email games. One at a time worked fine "back in the day;" it's how most of us got into the game (but not me, I actually bought the thing without really knowing what it was).

    We don't need a brand. We know who we are, and we get people into the game personally. I don't care if the game is Basic Fantasy RPG, or Labyrinth Lord, or OSRIC, or some other game I don't have permission to name... if it's old-school, it's all good.

    It's true, at higher levels, adventure modules and other game materials become less portable... there's a big gap between a 10th level BFRPG fighter and a 10th level OSRIC fighter, for instance. Low-level modules can be very portable, though. But even the high-level adventures can be converted between systems with a finite level of effort that is much lower than the effort required by modern games.

    And the game IS about creating your own stuff. Over at Dragonsfoot.org, we've been doing that for years, even though we are a bit stalled right now (but look for the restored Forgotten City of Al-Arin by summer, I promise we'll get it done). The Basic Fantasy project adventures are all intended to be compatible with OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord as well as BFRPG, and the compatibility level appears pretty good so far.

    This isn't about marketing, or markets at all. The Internet lets us get beyond that, and connect person-to-person. Kids these days "get" it, but I'm afraid we may not always see it so clearly. Open your eyes and see past companies... it's a lot better without them dictating our fun.

    ReplyDelete

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.