Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Live and Learn

I've been reminded of numerous truths over the last few days and one of them is this: talk is cheap. At the end of the day, the old school renaissance I remain convinced is going to happen can't be something we just talk about it and it certainly can't be something we just complain about. Instead, it just has to be done. So that's what I plan on doing. That's not to say that I won't be talking about it, discussing it, or even, from time to time, complaining about it -- but that won't be all that I am doing. The time has come to put up or shut up and the naysayers be damned.

I am certain that, for all the acrimony, disunity, and kvetching, the old school community is not in fact a herd of incontinent cats. Or at least it's more than that. Fight On! offers a good model of what I want to see more of. It's an absolutely brilliant example of people who share a common passion for old school games and not much else coming together to create something that brings the community together. That's due in no small part to the vision and dedication of its publisher and editor, who's a huge inspiration to me. Issue 1 was a terrific first start -- not without its problems, certainly, but a far, far more constructive example of what the old school renaissance could be than any I have seen. Fight On! will only improve with time and I have few doubts that it might, in spite of -- or maybe because of -- its lack of a unitary focus, help usher in a second flowering of old school gaming.

I'm a dreamer and planner by nature, as I told someone just yesterday. I'm not content with being told "but it'll never work" or "you just don't understand how it is." It's quite possible that I don't understand how it is, but I see that as a point in my favor, since it means I'm willing to try "crazy" things others have dismissed as impossible or even foolhardy. I know I'm not alone in this regard, which is why I am sure we will see more projects after the fashion of Fight On! and those projects will succeed, modestly at first perhaps, but such is the nature of leaven, whose action is initially small but nevertheless produces nourishment.

And so I say: Fight On!

32 comments:

  1. Fight On! indeed.

    What's important, I think, is that we take a holistic approach. Much of the debate seems to revolve around a "universal system" and Old School "play styles". But one of the key components of the Old School Revolution, if it is to happen, must surely be art. I'm utterly convinced of this. Good art is a huge part of attracting new players to a given role playing game. What I'd like to see is Old School products with professional-looking, good-to-look-at frontends; the art doesn't have to be "dungeonpunk" (in fact it should be the antithesis of that), but it has to look like something that people will want to play, read and look at. I think that's just as important as rulesets and gaming philosophies when trying to convince newcomers to give Old School games a go.

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  2. I don't know if it is wanted or not but I see a very closed up "old-school" community is discussing and playing with itself.

    For me this whole initiative must be much, much more open.

    All the gals and guys who are giving their time for this old-school gaming thing will not get results if this is not opened up for much more views and opinions from people out there.
    Only then this initiative can bear fruits.

    To accomplish such an opening to the outside world I am working on a special project: I am building up a so called "GNU/Linux distribution" for Roleplayers and this distribution will include many, many free RPGs with rulebooks and documents and much more.
    The good thing is - from your view - that the "modern" old-school games (LL, OSRIC, etc.) are open and free ;-))
    (If you don't know what the above mentioned words mean, just read on Wikipedia about GNU and then about Linux and then about distributions)

    So, I am at least trying to open up these tomes of RPG knowledge to the super-modern world ("look Ma, I have BFRPG on my IPhone") and I want - as a side-effect - bring two geek worlds - the one of RPGs and the one of Free-Software - together.

    To the geeks who can understand this: Can you imagine what it means when the documents on the BFRPG site are distributed with the next Ubuntu?
    Something like that I have in mind.


    But great articles on your blog, James.
    Carry on, carry on, forever carry on

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  3. I don't know if it is wanted or not but I see a very closed up "old-school" community is discussing and playing with itself.

    I agree, on both counts. I've had a couple of revelations over the weekend -- the mundane kind, not the religious sort -- and I've realized that I was in danger of heading down the same paths as many before me and I've decided to reject that approach. I think the open, exuberant approach of Fight On! is the best one and it's going to serve as my model and inspiration.

    But you're right and it can't be said often enough: this whole thing needs to be much, much more open and open-minded that it has been. I think I almost lost sight of that. I won't make that mistake again.

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  4. What—if anything—makes Fight on! different for you than OD&Ditites or Footprints? (Or anything else you care to compare it to.)

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  5. What inspires me about Fight On! is that it's animated by an old school spirit that doesn't discriminate on the basis of rules, content, or even taste. It showcases the breadth of what "old school" can mean rather than trying to pin it down and stick it in a box. Many other past and present 'zines have always struck me as being much more philosophically "narrow" or "insular" than Fight On!.

    I suppose the best way to put it to use an analogy someone once related to me about the difference between the "old school" Star Trek and its more modern iterations. Back in the 60s, the writers of Star Trek were writing science fiction stories that happened to be set within a rather flexible backdrop of a setting. Later, the writers of Star Trek were writing Star Trek stories, some of which happened to be science fiction. I rather feel that most people writing for D&D since at least 1982, if not before, have been writing D&D rather than fantasy that happens to use D&D to express those ideas. Fight On! seems to exemplify the older approach and I love it for it.

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  6. In brief, good luck - you're gonna need it.

    In not so brief, all I'm seeing is a vague discontent with what's already out there and a vague desire to make something "totally old school" but "completely new" at the same time. I still have yet to see answered:

    - What SPECIFIC edition/flavor of "D&D" is this supposed to support? Little white box? BECM? 1E pre-UA? the "community" can't even agree on what "true" old school D&D is - how are you supposed to write an SRD that supports it when no one can agree on what "it" is?

    - What SPECIFIC reasons are there to disqualify LL and OSRIC from being the Basic/Advanced pairing that fills the need? Cuz if the answer is something like "it doesn't cover Iteration XYZ", then we're back to the "good luck" bit.

    I lamented this whole business on my own blog today, and for better or for worse, I pointed at the D20 SRD as a great example of this whole thing in action, but of course, it's for 3.5E. If you could produce something like that, then I'd say great. If not...

    Again, good luck. I think this whole project is, in the end, a vaguely defiant and discontented stab in the dark, but one never knows what might come from it, right?

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  7. I would think the solution is independent of any system/rule set.

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  8. I would think the solution is independent of any system/rule set.

    Smart man. You win a cookie.

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  9. I'll be interested to see what this "solution" is then, if it's job is to serve as a reference document for these systems and yet will be at the same time independent of them.

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  10. I'll be interested to see what this "solution" is then, if it's job is to serve as a reference document for these systems and yet will be at the same time independent of them.

    I think you misunderstand. There are two things going on here. The first, which the guys at K&K seem to find so absurd and not worth doing, is a very modest thing: an attempt to establish a common frame of reference for all OD&D-derived materials, so products need not worry about the edition/retro-clone wars. The second, which the guys at K&K will probably also laugh at, is an attempt to galvanize the old school community according to our shared values and interests. It's this second one that is in fact the most important and the one that's independent of rules/systems. It's also the one that's moved into high gear and about which I'll talk publicly once everything is in place.

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  11. ::shrug::

    I guess this is one of those rare-as-hens-teeth situations where I agree with that community.

    I think the only common frame of reference needed is the original rules themselves, and just as it has been done for the last 30 years, smart people will adapt and refit products for their own use no matter the system. Yet another "reference document" isn't going to help this appreciably, I feel.

    With regards to the "galvanization"...we shall see. Every time someone tries to "reach across the isle", all you wind up with is yet another faction that tries to be all things to all people and winds up creating further devision.

    But whatever. I see myself as a solidly middle-of-the road person with regards to the old school/new school issue, which just means I get run over by people on both sides. File me under "pessimistic but willing to be pleasantly surprised".

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  12. I wonder if factionalism is such a bad thing? The more factions and individual groups that exist the more these groups may find common ground between the gaps. I know this sounds insane, but what I am talking about is decentralisation and I think it is a good thing.

    What we have to avoid is constructing identities for other groups and instead concentrate on our own.

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  13. James, just FYI I would never laugh at someone following their love of games and doing something that he/she thinks needs to be done. I don't even know what it is you plan yet, so how could I be critical? Sometimes we all get pretty heated over these things, but that's ok if we can all come back together and say, "You know, these are games. They're meant to be fun, lets do what we can to make them fun."

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  14. There was a quote I saw on RPG.net that I think might be relevant:

    The thing is, like many games, you need to ignore the grognards because they love the game so much they kill it and nail it down under a nice piece of glass where it can stay pristine and untouched.

    The original poster was talking about Traveller, but the O/A/B D&D community tends to fall into the same trap as well. Is "old school" an approach to gaming? Or is it just the rules that were in use back then?

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  15. It is certainly not just the rules. That poster is doing the same thing that has been hurting the old school community for years. He's taking the most extreme type of 'grognard' and then using his perception of that individual to construct an other to define himself.

    You just have to look at the language to see that the message is "Don't be one of them, be like me, I'm totally easy going and obviously know how to play the game better than some guy who doesn't agree with me".

    This is what we have to fight, and yet nine times out of ten all we end up doing is constructing him so that we can better define ourselves as not him. Being positive, articulate, and on message all the time is hard work and not what hobbies are really about, but by giving up we allow them to construct us.

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  16. Is ‘old school’ an approach to gaming? Or is it just the rules that were in use back then?

    I’ve played “new school” style with the old games, and I’ve played “old school” style with the new games. So, for my own personal meaning of the terms today, that’s my answer.

    For whatever it may be worth.

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  17. "I think the open, exuberant approach...is the best one and it's going to serve as my model and inspiration."

    I'm glad to hear this, James. I say this as one of the kinds of gamer this whole project hopes to bring into the fold. As amusing as a good jeremiad can be -- and I'm not speaking of you specifically here -- it's enthusiasm and exuberance that have drawn this casual gamer into the old-school/retro/legacy circle and perhaps more importantly, back to the table.

    As noted here and elsewhere, there's been enough complaining about the new and amen-brothering about the old. There's been enough handwringing and axe-grinding. I'm not piecing together via eBay the RPG collection I gave away in 1990 out of revolt against 4e. I'm not downloading retro-clones and buying POD books from Lulu to show my sectarian loyalties nor to thumb my nose at WoTC. I'm doing all this because I've seen how much danged FUN there is to be had with the games -- new or old -- that evoke the old school spirit.

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  18. As a long-time Traveller fan (I even wrote for it back in the day) I saw a lot of truth in the statement.

    The point I was trying to make is that anyone who says "we don't need any new rules because we already have OD&D (BD&D, AD&D)"--and you can't tell me that's a caricature or a straw man--is doing exactly that. Going back to old editions, and recreating them, is just preserving the past under glass. It's not going to attract people who aren't already nostalgic for the old days.

    I'm not sure old school gaming needs a lexicon first and foremost. I think what it may need instead is a manifesto. What makes a game old school? Why would I want to play it? I can't help but think that if you're debating which old game you should write for you're doing it wrong.

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  19. "As a long-time Traveller fan (I even wrote for it back in the day) I saw a lot of truth in the statement."

    Sure, I am not saying those people don't exist, I am saying we don't need to all be tarred with the same brush.

    We've essentially got four 'old school' versions of D&D - LL, OSRIC, BFRPG and C&C. The latter two are modern versions of D&D and could even be called BD&D 3e and AD&D 3e, if you were inclined. LL and OSRIC are restatements of BD&D and AD&D for people who were not satisfied with C&C.

    What are the problems with C&C, you might ask? Well, there are personal issues for some people, but there are also two actually valid reasons not get on board. The weakest argument is the 'art', an entirely subjective issue, though it is undeniable that art sets the tone of an RPG. The more relevant complaint is the Siege System. There is no need for it, except to attract players who want solid numbers to resolve task resolution. It represents a form of play that is arguably anathema to 'old school' D&D.

    More importantly, what LL and OSRIC have done, apart from restating an older rule set, is make those rules available to anyone who can download them; they can be reproduced and they can be used to actually create and sell material in a legal manner [i.e. create a cottage industry]. This is a huge bone of contention for many reasons best left undiscussed here.

    So, let's be blunt. There are two reasons for LL and OSRIC and neither of them are to 'preserve' a rule set. I can do that by buying an out of print book. What LL and OSRIC do is make a rule set available to be reproduced at will, modified and redistributed for as long as there is interest. They free us from reliance on TLG, TSR or WotC and proof us against the inevitable 'edition change' as a cottage industry.

    So, let me be clear, simulacrums are not 'preserving the past', they are living games that we want to see supported by people playing them and producing material for.

    So, why bother? Couldn't I just play 'old school' with D20? The short answer is no, the long answer is 'to some degree', but the modifications I would make to D20 to make it more playable with an 'old school' mentality would virtually turn it into AD&D.

    LL, OSRIC and BFRPG are no different from M&M, C&C, True20 or any number of other games in their purpose as games, but unlike these games, they are free from centralised control.

    That is a double edged sword, because without central control, we lack leadership and the means to attract and construct a fan base in a conventional way. That, however, is the problem we are seeking to address with support structures on a local and non virtual level.

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  20. Kevin Brennan said...Going back to old editions, and recreating them, is just preserving the past under glass. It's not going to attract people who aren't already nostalgic for the old days.

    Another common misconception. Retro-Clones are introducing new people to the game who have never played the older versions of D&D before. It may just be a trickle at the moment, but that can change with some effort to get the message out there, which is part of what all this talk is about.

    Old School gaming isn't popular amongst its adherents because of nostalgia reasons, it's popular because it's fun.

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  21. What we have to avoid is constructing identities for other groups and instead concentrate on our own.

    This is key, I think, and the various people who've put together the OD&D boards and Fight On! offer superb models in this regard. I think the future lies there.

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  22. Sometimes we all get pretty heated over these things, but that's ok if we can all come back together and say, "You know, these are games. They're meant to be fun, lets do what we can to make them fun."

    I agree. This is precisely the attitude that we need more of and that I think (slowly) is starting to take hold. It's going to take time and work to make it the driving force behind everything we do, but it's well worth it.

    In any case, I wish to offer again, publicly, my apologies if I've come across as singling you out in any way. As I've said repeatedly, I think Labyrinth Lord is an amazing thing and I'm amazed by the work you undertook to make it possible. My only "complaint" is that it is not more widely available, but you're taking steps to make that happen and you can count on my support in that endeavor.

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  23. I'm doing all this because I've seen how much danged FUN there is to be had with the games -- new or old -- that evoke the old school spirit.

    Yep. That's the main thing and it's very easy to lose sight of that. The Internet is a wonderful and terrible thing at the same time. It brings people together with ease, but it just as easily magnifies differences and life's too short to do that, especially when we're talking about a hobby.

    So, while I'll still indulge my inner Old Testament prophet from time to time, that's not what I want this blog to be about and it's not what the old school revival is about. I need to remember this as much as anyone.

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  24. Matthew, Greyharp,

    I think you're missing my point and running off over what you view as criticisms of LL, OSRIC, etc. My question to you (and the rest of the old school community) is much simpler.

    Are you primarily interested in seeing recreations of old products? Or do you want to see people doing new things that haven't been tried before? If you want to see a "renaissance" of old school gaming, it's only going to happen if people start experimenting and playing with new ideas. They can be different ideas than the ones that have dominated the gaming industry post-Dragonlance--they'd obviously have to be--but you can't have a living, vibrant gaming community unless you encourage experimentation and development. Without that you're just trying to preserve the past in amber.

    That's why I said that a manifesto might be needed more than anything else. It gives the community a shared sense of the principles they're building on and why those principles are important, without bogging people down in debates over which 25+ year old edition of XD&D is best.

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  25. James,

    I'm still not sure I understand your discontent with things. I'm not sure why some in the "old school community" dislike OSRIC so. It simply doesn't make sense to me.

    I see things like OSRIC, LL, BFRPG, Rob Kuntz's work, Fight On!, DF's free publications, C&C, Hackmaster, the old .pdf's, Goodman's DCC's and others all as seperate legs of the "old school" table, helping to keep it standing. I'm sure that any product you were to produce would go to serve the same purpose.

    I don't really see why there needs to be a choice between them. In many ways we're seeing a market created that's more like the mid-70's, with all the basement produced products and fanzines, than at any time since.

    Is some of it amateurish? Certainly. (Some of it is also extraordinarily well-produced.) But then, despite what WotC and its adherents have to say, this is a HOBBY!!! It's a passtime, like model railroading, where much of the fun is getting together with other hobbyists and seeing what you've all created.

    The drive for professionalism, the drive to push the amateurs out and only deal with the products produced from "on high" by some central authority "that knows what it's doing" is part of what has driven the "old-school" out of the hobby, and part of why we're discontented with what's been produced over the last 20 years.

    If there is one thing that I can pin-point as what this whole "old school" thing is all about, it's the hobbyist taking back the hobby from the so-called professionals.

    So, I guess I'm saying is that what I'm taking from your writings on a "universal system" is that a centralization of effort would be counterproductive to the overall movement. There doesn't need to be fewer avenues. If anything there needs to be more.

    Now, it could be that I'm completely misunderstanding you and that you're looking for something more like a "central depository," a neutral ground for all the "old school" products and ideas floating out there. And that's something that certainly would be useful.

    Chris "rogatny" Tichenor

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  26. Now, it could be that I'm completely misunderstanding you and that you're looking for something more like a "central depository," a neutral ground for all the "old school" products and ideas floating out there. And that's something that certainly would be useful.

    That is more or less what I'm hoping before, at least in part. I'm also hoping for a greater degree of cooperation between old school publishers than we've seen thus far. The impression I get as a latecomer to this is that there is a lot of bad blood and ancient grudges that are hampering the kind of synergy I wish to see. And, for good or for ill, OSRIC and the community that's grown up around it is perceived to be at the center of a lot of this.

    I'm not saying it's a fair perception, let alone a true one, but I won't hesitate to say that, as a forum, K&K is much too strident and doctrinaire for my tastes. I simply don't feel welcome there. I know I'm not the only one who feels that way, so I don't think I'm just imagining it.

    I would love nothing more than to see OSRIC succeed and help preserve AD&D for the ages. However, You will note that I do not share the worries some have about the legality of the project nor do I see no point in its having been created. But many people question both and I don't think it's enough to say "We've been down this road before and no one listens, so why bother?" It may well be that no one listens, but, for my part -- and I'm actually fairly well versed in these matters -- I have only ever gotten snippets of this discussion and often from third parties who might not present matters in the best possible light. Likewise, OSRIC's page does little to dispel these concerns and in fact probably encourages them in spite of itself, with all the disclaimers and qualifiers and suggestions to consult a lawyer before proceeding.

    I'm new here. I don't know everything and I've certainly missed out on many things. I'm also stubbornly idealistic and quite often blind to anything that contradicts what I hope is the case. At the same time, I learn quickly and I'm very well read on this history of this hobby. I've been playing RPGs since 1979 and I intend to do so for the rest of my days.

    Despite this, I can't help but look around and see far too much division and disunity in the old school community, some of which could easily be dispelled if anyone were interested in doing so. I am interested in doing so, which is, I'm here now saying that if I've stepped on any toes or otherwise given offense -- I apologize for that. Like I said, I'm new here. But because I am new, I'd like to think I have some fresh perspectives and perhaps even insights and it's very frustrating to be told time and again, "That'll never work" or "You just don't understand."

    It's enough to make a man wonder why he even tries.

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  27. "Are you primarily interested in seeing recreations of old products? Or do you want to see people doing new things that haven't been tried before?"

    Kevin, perhaps there is a misunderstanding here about what is going on. The only old products that have been recreated are the rule sets. What people want to do with them afterwards is completely up to them and part of the decentralisation movement. Experimentation and innovation are absolutely welcome, but not everyone is going to like everything.

    There is no unified idea of what exactly is 'old school', we all pull in different directions and that's fine. It's fine to be an crotchety old grognard who hates anything published past 1979, just as it is to be nuschool freak who derides everything published pre 2000 as self evidently inferior.

    To put it another way, the answer to your question is we want you to produce what you want to play. I don't want a manifesto, though I might be quite interested in seeing a definition of old school attempted (a model, if you will, that like all models will only approach the truth).

    "I'm not saying it's a fair perception, let alone a true one, but I won't hesitate to say that, as a forum, K&K is much too strident and doctrinaire for my tastes. I simply don't feel welcome there. I know I'm not the only one who feels that way, so I don't think I'm just imagining it."

    It is absolutely important to remember that OSRIC and Knights & Knaves are not synonymous. Knights & Knaves is a forum for a particular approach to 'old school'. It has been closely involved in the development of OSRIC, but it is not a place 'for all things OSRIC.' To put it another way, K&K is the primary and OSRIC the subordinate.

    However, OSRIC is also free of K&K; there is absolutely nothing stopping me taking OSRIC and establishing a completely different forum with a very different set of ideas than K&K as to what old school is all about and I don't think that the guys at K&K would begrudge me, though they might deride my ideas as 'not very good' or 'not for them'.

    This is the significance of the liberation of these rulesets from centralised control.

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  28. Or do you want to see people doing new things that haven't been tried before?

    After more than three decades, there’s precious little—at least mechanically—that hasn’t been tried before. Heck, the more I investigate, the more I’m amazed by how much ground got covered in the first decade alone. This is only natural. The more a plot of ground is explored, the harder it becomes to make discoveries.

    I’m certainly not against innovation, but I prefer innovation that attempts to learn from the lessons of the past instead of blindly repeating the same fumbles. Innovation is now something I expect only as a rare surprise rather than a regular event with this hobby.

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  29. It is absolutely important to remember that OSRIC and Knights & Knaves are not synonymous. Knights & Knaves is a forum for a particular approach to 'old school'. It has been closely involved in the development of OSRIC, but it is not a place 'for all things OSRIC.' To put it another way, K&K is the primary and OSRIC the subordinate.

    A very fair point but one that also illustrates at least part of my point. The perception exists that the two are synonymous and thus the behavior and opinions of the denizens of that forum are often ascribed to OSRIC itself. That's not the case, as you rightly note, but how many interested outsiders know that? Heck, I very easily forget this and I actually try to keep on top of these things. I suppose my point is that it'd be a valuable thing if there were a place "for all things OSRIC" that provided more than the current OSRIC web page but wasn't K&K.

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  30. Indeed. The OSRIC homepage is in need of update and perhaps even restructuring. Of course, that requires skill, time, energy and experience with webpage management. I haven't got a clue about how webpages are maintained, so am not in a position to judge. ;)

    I am in complete agreement that it would be a great step forward to have the OSRIC page link to publishers and products that are available and also for it host reviews of those products. In fact, I would even go so far as to say it should only host links to reviewed products.

    I would also want it to display links to various forums and a short blurb as to their purpose e.g. "Dragonsfoot Simulacrum Games Forum - General Discussion of OSRIC, LL and BFRPG".

    I suspect that to be a najor undertaking and one that Stuart simply does not have time to attend to at the moment [e.g. has prioratised other things]. I also suspect that he would welcome any volunteers willing to do the work for him, but I don't know for sure.

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  31. I can't even directly access my own website and I get it updated when I need to. Certainly somebody can take a few minutes and update the OSRIC site.

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  32. I also suspect that he would welcome any volunteers willing to do the work for him, but I don't know for sure.

    Alas, I both lack the skills and the connection to offer my services. On the other hand, I have a number of other projects on the go that might, as they say, lift all boats, so I can help OSRIC, even if only indirectly.

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