Thursday, August 20, 2009

Regarding Mentzer, Ward, and Kask's new company, and the Grognardia comments

In case you missed it, the old timers are starting up a new company which is going to put out generic stat-less modules, with a booklet inside with the relevant statistics for most every older style game system out there, like C&C, LL, OSRIC, etc...including Pathfinder. They may even put out a new game system. They are obviously taking advantage of their names, reputations, and the current "Old School Renaissance", and based on their plans to hopefully raise $250,000 in startup cash, they seem to have a big vision of where to take the company.

Thinking this is a great thing, I was surprised by all the negativity towards it on Grognardia. Basically, it seems that James thinks because they aren't up to speed on, and a part of, the OSR, he's not sure what their contributions will amount to. I was kinda shocked at that. He also seems to think that since the OSR achieved so much on a shoestring budget, why the need for $250,000? When someone pointed out it might be used for marketing, he said "If so, it's going to be a waste. I just can't see anything they produce being sufficient mass market to justify blowing a lot of money on marketing, especially when nearly every potential buyer will know of their products' existence through word of mouth and/or reading about it online."

This kind of thinking is to me what will keep the OSR in the hands and on the gametables of existing hobbyists, and not grow the thing with new players. It shows a colossal lack of vision, and perhaps bitterness that someone else is playing in his sandbox and making a bigger better sandcastle without the need for him and his followers.

If you read further into the Dragonsfoot posts by Mentzer, he goes on to detail more of his plans and outline a vision, that while sketchy and obviously in its formative stages, is exciting. He actually has plans to market this thing for maximum exposure, for multiple systems, and make money by selling good quality creative stuff to as many people playing as many systems as he can.

What's wrong with that? Maybe if there were older style games on the shelves you might get new gamers coming to play. Jeez, imagine that, huh? Pathfinder is a great game, but it is written mainly for the existing 3.5 player base, and can be daunting for the newcomer. So far as I have seen, the OSR is mainly made up of a bunch of people who used to play older games, and now are playing them again---for whatever reason. My personal opinion is that a lot of the movement was initiated by Gygax's death, the fracturing of the D&D gamers with 4e, burnout on 3.5, and a good amount of nostalgia as well as a bit of empowerment in that people feel they can create their own game they want to play now, based on all their decades of experience. Said empowerment being reinforced by a lot of other people all doing and feeling the same thing. Those people were simply added to the ranks of people who never stopped playing older games, and voila, OSR.

When you consider that the OSR is a niche within a niche within a niche, the potential market for such games is small. When they are mostly given away for free, there's not much opportunity to make any real money at it if you just keep its exposure limited to "...nearly every potential buyer will know of their products' existence through word of mouth and/or reading about it online."

Just because it grew from a couple hundred people to a couple thousand people with no money in, and very little money being made, doesn't mean said growth is meaningful in any way commercially speaking. It's still just hobby level growth.

Now, however, we have a few guys who were around when the original hobby that started it all exploded commercially. They want to recreate that explosion, see if lightning can strike twice. Good for them I say. All the best. The are taking a different approach to the OSR than the existing members of the OSR are taking. They see a potential untapped market, beyond a few dozen bloggers and boards full of people who are basically playing some version of a game they played 20+ years ago. These old timers think that the Old School approach to publishing modules and perhaps a rule system, defined by them SPECIFICALLY as "rules-light, very dependent on DM quality, heavy on innovation & enjoyment" might have a viable market outside a couple hundred people. They think that with the right amount of money, mixed with the right amount of creativity and business savvy, it can work and new people can be brought into the OSR, perhaps people who've never played D&D in any way, shape, or form before. They are treating the OSR not as a hobby, but as a business opportunity and the players and potential new players as an untapped market. They have a vision of expansion. Imagine that. You might be able to actually walk into one of the few gaming stores left, open up a LL or S&W based module, and have people who recognize the game and want to play with you.

Why the resistance to such a vision? Why the need to have the expansion be founded in the existing OSR movement's charter and bylaws as propounded English Common Law style by a bunch of people's blogs and board posts? Is it resentment that the playground might be overrun by the 3 big kids coming to play and the friends they bring? Is it hubris? Is it like those guys who always say "I like such-and-such band, but only their EARLY stuff"? Is it resentment to someone co-opting the movement for commercial purposes? To being treated as a demographic? Sounds like perhaps all of the above.

James made some comments on the differences in systems he will be publishing for, stating "Similarly, the scattershot approach -- "addressing many different OGL-based game systems" -- is, if handled poorly, a recipe for disaster, especially since many of the games cited are very different from one another, both mechanically and esthetically (not to mention the fact that several of them aren't in fact "OGL-based" at all). Any definition of "Old School approach" that encompasses both Savage Worlds and Pathfinder is, I fear, so broad as to be meaningless."

Call me unsophisticated and not a true connoisseur of the OSR, but to me LL, S&W, BFRPG, D&D, C&C, OD&D, OSRIC AD&D, 2E, and all the rest of the old school games or old school style games are basically 95% the same damn thing. Then you have the 3.0/3.5/Pathfinder world, with detailed skills, feats, and tactical miniature/grid combat as the main point of differentiation from the other games listed. All of those games are still so similar that you can mostly convert on the fly from one to the other while running a module. I've done it. So have many of you.

Disclosing my lack of sophistication in other areas and applying it here, I admit I can't tell the difference between most beers or between most wines. It's all alcohol to me. It all tastes basically the same, gives me a buzz if I take it in sufficient quantities, and I generally have a good time when I have a buzz. Same with all the older versions and clones of D&D. There's not a dime's worth of meaningful difference between them, I enjoy playing them all equally, and always have a good time. I'd play Rob Kuntz's Dark Chateau module with any system out there and have a damn good time doing so, either as a player or a DM.

Isn't that what its all about? Isn't it more important to share those good times with more people than just a small self-congratulatory echo-chamber of niche people? With the decline over time in new players to PnP RPG's, isn't any attempt to get people to play games of any and all systems a good thing? Who gives a shit if its not done one someone's terms, or within the auspices of the charter and bylaws of the established OSR? Sounds like snobbery, hubris and resentment. It's too bad.