Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Retro-Cool: How to Spread the Old School Games and Make D&D "Viral" Again

I think there's a certain demographic that older versions of D&D (via retroclones mostly) can grow with. It's the same demographic that Oddysey discusses here. I think the "retro-cool" approach is the best way to get it in front of the younger generation today.

The question I've been mulling over is how? How do you take a game that was poplar 30 years ago and repopularize it? How can we make older games of D&D trendy again? After reading this post from James Raggi, he converted me. I believe it can be done. It was just a matter of how. There was something nagging at me in the back of my mind about shoes from the 90's, and it came to me the other day.

Back in my salesguy days working in Manhattan, one of the popular books out was called The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, a book by Malcolm Gladwell. It was all the rage. Click on the Wikipedia link above for a good summary. The book described the conditions and factors under which things became "viral", contagious, or a craze. One story dealt with Hush Puppy shoes. Apparently in the 90's no one wore them. The Hush Puppies company was going to phase the shoe out. They were basically sold only in mom and pop stores in places like East Bumfuck, Alabama.

Anyhow, some people in NY City in the Village started wearing them, as a fashion statement, a retro-cool thing. And it caught on. Like wildfire. Next thing you know, major fashion labels are using them in high end fashion shows, and millions of shoes are sold all around the world.

All this came from a few people wearing them in a small (but trendy/influential) section of NY City.

The book is filled with stories like this, and details the kind of people and factors that go into making something go from something a few people do, or are a fan of, to a contagious epidemic of cool that everyone has to have.

A lot of us remember the Grunge days well. Who wore flannel on a regular basis before 1991? People in the woods of Washington state where it was cold did. The clothing people in upstate Washington wore on stage, because its was only clothing they owned, became de-facto Grunge-wear. Again, high fashion eventually co-opted flannel for the runways (which was pretty much when I knew the scene was over, but thats another story).

I think the same thing is possible with older editions of D&D. I think the OSR could finally burst out of its shell of a half dozen boards and a few hundred blogs, and really become something mainstream. Right now it seems to exist more as a reaction to new gaming trends, or act as sort of a "coming back home to where it all began" event for many older players.

As far as getting new players to older games and their clones, the way the clones are written is fine if you're going to target it to a market that gets the new school game and is wondering what old school is all about. But to a demographic that doesn't know anything about the game at all, other than that geeks played it 20 years ago, the intro/description/flavor/character/style/feel/vibe that a reader has to "get" in order to describe it to his/her friends while they're hitting the bong needs to be whimsical/fun/funny/over-the-top/ironic/retro-hip. The current mood or vibe of the clones won't attract people who never played it before, since there is no point of relation.

I think the audience for it are the same types of people who Oddysey describes who collect vintage records, or who hit used clothing stores for the vintage look. It would be the latest "cool find" to share with friends.

I has to be a game that would be explainable to newbs in the time it took to have a drink, or pass around a joint. Simple and basic. Two minutes tops. Players shouldn't even need to reference the books during the game.

It would essentially be Swords and Wizardry repackaged to have some sort of retro-cool character/feel to it. Right now S&W is written to be a game that is bare-bones rules, but is lacking in character. Any character it has and any flavor it exhibits are language meant to distinguish it from new school games, and describe its rules-light approach, and the principles in Matt Finch's Old School Primer.

The number one requirement though is that it has to be a simple game.

And preferably in a format that can be played with everyone sitting on a couch, with maybe a coffee table in the middle of everyone for rolling dice.

It can't take itself too seriously. The whimsical approach to dungeon design exhibited in the early days would be the way to go to attract this audience. One minute you're running from a platoon of orcs, you jump down a hole, and the next you're in "Alice in Wonderland".

(I had hopes for Hackmaster Basic hitting this demographic, if they could keep some of the old whimsy, but they blew it with the level of detail in the game.)

After a new guy plays it for the first time with a group of friends, he can go pick up a copy of it at a bookstore, throw onto the shelf next to Pictionary and Scrabble, and then HE can be the cool guy who "found" this old/new cool game and introduced it to HIS other circle of friends. Of course he would have to tell his friends that when HE found the game, he didn't buy it at Barnes and Noble, but had to get it from some hard to get/exotic place, to keep the aura of mystique and exclusivity surrounding the game. He may let slip that it might be found on Amazon now though...

Eventually it will end up in the hands of people who are described in The Tipping Point as the types of people who get things to spread like wildfire.

Like I said though, I think in order for this to happen, in order for the game to be attractive to folks like this, something about the clones needs to change. The vibe is wrong to attract newer people who have never played the game before, and who have no experience with RPG's.

Next, good DM's need to play the game with people they don't normally play with. Try to expand the exposure of the game to others who don't know what D&D is. And for God's sake tell them where they can get the game afterwards.

The more people do this, the more exposure the game gets outside of typical gamer circles, the better chance the game has to go viral again.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Ones That Got Away -- Turning a Typical Adventure on its Head

Here's an idea. How about running a scenario where the PC's are the folks whose homes are being invaded? The Orcs from TOEE for example? Having survived the initial onslaught of the more powerful PC's (by running away or playing dead), they are now stuck inside the temple. Either they can't get out, or going outside is instant death, as in the TOEE is surrounded. They must survive within the Temple, as Home Invasion Group (normally the role played by PC's) continues their onslaught. There could even be multiple groups of PC's invading at the same time.

The Orcs would have to be more clever than their kin, and their goal wouldn't necessarily have to be to kill the PC's, as much as it would be to get the PC's killed or otherwise defeated, while the Orcs navigated the dangers of the Temple themselves. Level by level they would be pushed down, and would have to manipulate the tricks, traps, and inhabitants of the Temple into defeating the PC's. Along the way they may find out the secrets of the Temple itself, like the Elemental Nodes, etc, and use that knowledge for their own benefit.

Definitely a roleplay heavy venture, where player skill is all important. More than likely the Orcs wouldn't be rewarded or recognized for their efforts, just surviving would be the goal and reward. If they managed to scavenge some loot along the way from fallen PC's or evil guys, so much the better.

If you want to give a little bit of xp to the Orcs, that would be fine, but not enough to get more than one level. The Orcs definitely should not progress in level enough to ever be able to challenge the PC group. Hence, the PC's would get relatively stronger and stronger as the adventure went on, and the Orcs would have to get smarter and smarter to make survive. Meaning, the players have to bring their A game.

This sort of turns the typical adventure on its head. I think it would be fun as hell to trick the players into it. They show up, character sheets in hand, expecting to play the adventure normally, and then you get to use their beloved characters against them. Any backup characters they bring could be used to make the second or third adventuring groups.

Damn. I just started typing this idea out as the thoughts came into my head, stream of consciousness style, as I wait for the pizza guy to get here. But the more I think about it, the more I want to do it.

I'm going to bust out the TOEE book....

Monday, February 15, 2010

New Study on Youth and Social Media, and Some Thoughts on How it Affects RPG's and the OSR

Came across this while reading an interesting blog article, wherein Black Diamond Games noted that its blog has become a feeder for its Facebook page. The facebook page gets far more activity.

The study he cites to which supports his personal experience is here:

I've been thinking lately about my own changing RPG-related online reading habits. I used to go to at least 4-5 boards a day just a couple years ago. Now I pretty much go to daily, and maybe once a week I go to Dragonsfoot and ENWorld.

Most of my actual reading and commenting seems to be on blogs these days. I've created a good list of about 300 blogs, and get notified if they are updated.

I have a twitter account, but I use that more to let me know of any big news that people are yapping about.

Anyhow, one of the big data points in the survey is that blogging has dropped significantly among kids and young adults, and has gone up with older adults.

As a business you want to be everywhere your customers are, so you want to be on every medium. As for hobbies though, unless you have a specific goal, you just want to be where fellow hobbyists are. For RPG's, that seems to still be boards and blogs.

Which makes me think there may be even more of a growing disconnect in the ability of the hobby to attract newer younger gamers, unless there is some sort of concerted effort to get a meaningful presence on places like Facebook.

Regarding the OSR, where the style of game due to its simplicity would be a natural attraction to younger gamers, it seems to exist in cyberspace in mediums in which membership of the younger audience is shrinking--namely blogs and boards, not Facebook.

How much does everyone use Facebook for their RPG-related social interactions? Do you use it for some types of interactions but not for others? I used to have in my friends list a ton of RPG industry people, but deleted them because I wasn't that interested in their personal lives, just their gaming thoughts and perspectives, which I didn't get a lot of through Facebook. Does anyone find it useful for RPG-related social interactions or as a forum for an exchange of RPG ideas?

Food for thought...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

What Good RPG Blogs Do You Follow That Aren't on the RPGBloggers Network?

Title says it all. I like to add good blogs to my individual blogroll on the right. Are there any I should be reading? Any make/model/edition of RPG...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Ending Dungeons and Dragons Online

After a couple of life-stolen months, I am giving up DDO. Besides wanting the time to commit to achieving other things in my life, both my brother and I came to the same conclusions about the game that made it less fun the more we played.

While the game engine was great, and the 3.5 system's thoroughness was fully utilized by the game, the one big thing lacking was the social aspect. The lack of social interaction was profound. Everyone always seemed to be doing their own thing.

Also, the lack of the ability to actually travel around a world got old. We always based out of the one town they made, and went on one adventure after another, wherein we never interacted with anyone else. It wasn't the same as the old EQ dys, where you saw various groups running through the same dungeons as you, camping various parts of it.

Another thing lacking was that nothing you did ever affected anyone else's game experience, even in the smallest ways. I actually missed having someone yell "TRAIN!!" as they came running from some impossible fight that went out of control, with a trail of badass monsters running after them, slaying all in their path.

Death and resurrection were too easy, with minimal penalties.

Maybe it was just being used to old Everquest, or just coming from an old school mindset, but the game did not satisfy anymore.

In any case, I welcome my life back, and am looking forward to doing other stuff with my time.

I'm running Castle Zagyg: Upper Works in NYC for Dave Arneson Annual Gameday on March 27--Wanna Play?

I completely stole this post from Tavis Allison's blog here. Go there for more information on the gameday as a whole, as I cut parts from the post below.

I’m pleased to announce that on Saturday, March 27th we will be celebrating Dave Arneson’s seminal contributions to adventure roleplaying by getting together and playing games in his honor!

This date is chosen to fall at the conclusion of the International Traditional Gaming Week, organized by TARGA, the Traditional Adventure Roleplaying Game Association. The week begins on March 21st with GaryCon II. I’m very happy to have the ITGW bracketed by events remembering these two sadly departed heroes of the polyhedral dice.

Thanks to the generous support of the Compleat Strategist, we will be meeting in the gaming space of their New York location:

11 East 33rd Street (between Madison and Fifth Avenue)
New York, NY 10016

Games will begin at noon and wrap up at 5, to allow time for cleanup before the store closes at 6.

I’m hoping we will once again have a variety of games, since Arneson’s legacy reaches beyond Dungeons and Dragons and encompasses all of us who like to get together with friends and imagine that the fate of our imagined adventures will be determined by the roll of a dice.

If you’re in travel distance of NYC, I hope to see you on 3/27/10!

For Fellow Fritz Leiber Fans....

New Stuff!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Your Go-To Non-RPG Reference Book For DM's For Design/Inspiration/Reference?

What book or set of non-rpg books do you find you use between sessions for adventure or design ideas and reference for the next session more than any other?

Specifically, I mean book. As in "made of paper." Not looking for answers like Google or Wikipedia for purposes of this thread. Regardless of if you have it on a PC in pdf format, to list it here as a resource it must be in paper format, in your possession, not a rpg book, and reached for by you more often than any other book.

By set of books I don't mean Encyclopedia Britannica---a set of books to qualify for this would be one book/story broken up into several volumes. Like the Leiber Lankhmar series, or a 3 volume set of The Complete Works of Shakespeare for example.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

80's D&D cartoon: Designed to Make Kids Mindless Followers?

Pertinent quote from the guy who designed it"

"The kids were all heroic — all but a semi-heroic member of their troupe named Eric. Eric was a whiner, a complainer, a guy who didn't like to go along with whatever the others wanted to do. Usually, he would grudgingly agree to participate, and it would always turn out well, and Eric would be glad he joined in. He was the one thing I really didn't like about the show.

So why, you may wonder, did I leave him in there? Answer: I had to.

As you may know, there are those out there who attempt to influence the content of childrens' television. We call them "parents groups," although many are not comprised of parents, or at least not of folks whose primary interest is as parents. Study them and you'll find a wide array of agendum at work...and I suspect that, in some cases, their stated goals are far from their real goals.

Nevertheless, they all seek to make kidvid more enriching and redeeming, at least by their definitions, and at the time, they had enough clout to cause the networks to yield. Consultants were brought in and we, the folks who were writing cartoons, were ordered to include certain "pro-social" morals in our shows. At the time, the dominant "pro-social" moral was as follows: The group is always right...the complainer is always wrong.

This was the message of way too many eighties' cartoon shows. If all your friends want to go get pizza and you want a burger, you should bow to the will of the majority and go get pizza with them. There was even a show for one season on CBS called The Get-Along Gang, which was dedicated unabashedly to this principle. Each week, whichever member of the gang didn't get along with the gang learned the error of his or her ways.

We were forced to insert this "lesson" in D & D, which is why Eric was always saying, "I don't want to do that" and paying for his social recalcitrance. I thought it was forced and repetitive, but I especially objected to the lesson. I don't believe you should always go along with the group. What about thinking for yourself? What about developing your own personality and viewpoint? What about doing things because you decide they're the right thing to do, not because the majority ruled and you got outvoted?

We weren't allowed to teach any of that. We had to teach kids to join gangs. And then to do whatever the rest of the gang wanted to do.

What a stupid thing to teach children.

Now, I won't make the leap to charge that gang activity, of the Crips and Bloods variety, increased on account of these programs. That influential, I don't believe a cartoon show could ever be. I just think that "pro-social" message was bogus and ill-conceived. End of confession."