Friday, March 6, 2009

Don Quixote Rides Again

I've been thinking a lot about Monte Cook's Dungeonaday.com and I have to admit that I'm a little miffed about the whole thing. There are two reasons for my feelings, one rational and one not. Let's go with the irrational one first, because it's more easily dismissed. On a primal level, I feel as if there's a poacher in the King's Forest. Cook hasn't shown much evidence that I can see that he's at all sympathetic either to old school gaming or to the old school renaissance. I rather suspect (though, admittedly, I don't yet have proof) that his use of the term "old-school tradition" in his announcement is a marketing fiction rather than a statement of his philosophical commitment to the Old Ways. Like I said, this is my irrational, lizard brain reaction to the whole thing, so please don't criticize me for it.

My more rational feeling pertains to the commodification of the whole thing. Yes, I know Monte Cook's a writer and he needs to make a living just like everyone else, but knowledge of those realities doesn't change the bad taste I get in my mouth when I think about this. For what it's worth, I think WotC's D&D Insider is a similarly crass venture. Over the last year, the old school community has done some amazing stuff, much of it for free or for nearly so. We've launched not one but two fanzines, seen multiple retro-clones made available (all with free PDFs), and shared our ideas and homebrew dungeons with one another -- and all for the love of this hobby. When you consider that, it's hard for me not to wonder why anyone would bother to subscribe to Cook's latest project.

So, I've decided to take up the gauntlet and create an old school answer to Dungeonaday.com. Like Fight On!'s "The Darkness Beneath" and Matt Finch's "Megadungeon Slam," I envision this as a collaborative project, drawing on the talents of as many people as want to contribute. Though I may revise my plan, these are the major points of my proposed approach:
  • I draw up a scheme for the entire dungeon, including its levels. I'll probably need help with this from someone who can make maps.
  • I create a rough background for the dungeon to use as a framing device for the entire project.
  • I get some maps for the various levels, again with the assistance of people with actual skills in this area.
  • All of these things get posted to a website somewhere, free of charge.
  • Then, each day, a room, collection of rooms, or some other aspect of the dungeon -- starting on Level 1 -- is created and posted to the website. By default, I'll do this myself, but I would very much like help in doing so. To that end, if anyone wants to submit something to me, it'd make my life immensely easier.
  • My hope is that each daily entry will include something new: a magic item, spell, monster, or even a clever new use of something we've all seen before. Even empty rooms -- of which there must be many -- will be interesting in their own right.
I will be exercising some degree of editorial control over the whole project, since I want there to be some "evenness" to the dungeon. That doesn't mean I'm opposed to the wild or whimsical, but I do favor a broad coherence even in a dungeon. At the same time, I am open to persuasion, so if you have a terrific idea for something that's rather off-kilter, I can be convinced to use it. I'm going to try very hard to come up with a broad background for the dungeon that allows for a lot of variety, so rest assured that this won't be a boring place.

I welcome any help people are willing to offer, but it'll be without any compensation beyond my thanks and the knowledge that we're doing something really remarkable. I especially need cartographers and artists who are willing to offer their skills, as I lack the ability either to draw or make maps. I likewise need writers who can contribute anything, no matter how small. Your work will be credited in your name and it remains yours to do with as you please, so long as I may use it for the purposes of this project.

Unless there's a huge uproar against this, I plan to use Swords & Wizardry for the rules -- yes, even with the damned Ascending AC -- but the goal really is to keep it as free of rules as possible. S&W has the advantage of being very simple and easily compatible with all pre-WotC editions of the game. Plus, it's what I use in my own campaign.

I plan to get this up and running ASAP, but a lot depends on how quickly I can get dungeon maps, so if you're able to help with that, let me know. After that, I'll get the ball rolling in a serious fashion.

Yes, I am aware that I am crazy.

104 comments:

  1. Yes, you are. We must be on the same channel in the feelings of ambivalence towards all the announcements this week.

    Why couldn't this be something that is part of the fanzines? I just hate to see all this energy put towards something that feels like a response more than a fulfillment of need. Maybe that's just me.

    Still, even with misgivings, I do know my way around GIMP and can help with maps and graphics and content. What do you need?

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  2. Well, to be honest James, I have to find both points to be somewhat irrational.

    The concept of the Megadungeon is not something that belongs solely to the old school gamers or even D&D itself. Plus, I don't believe there is "one true way" to be old-school. Monte's essay on Gary Gygax pretty much shows he grew up with the same traditions we did. He just doesn't subscribe to what I would call the "orthodoxy" of this.

    The second point seems to be anti-commercialism, and, from my mind, even more irrational than the first. Why is paying for a writer's project suddenly give people a bad taste?

    Just because some people are doing it for free doesn't mean that should be the norm. It's like anything on the web nowadays, if they dare to charge people money for it, all of the sudden it's something verboden. I hope you don't think old school gamers do everything for free or just for the love of the hobby.

    People will subscribe to Monte Cook's project because they like his writing. He's been one of the most successful publishers of D&D based material.

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  3. I think it's a great idea, although I don't have any reason to question the purity of Monte's motives in his effort - "old school" has different values for different people, and for some a little archaic flavor in a project using current rules is sufficient. Of course, I won't be subscribing to Monte's effort, but I'll be delighted to keep up with yours. I'm all about making RPG content available for free.

    Probably there will be little trouble regardless of which old school system the reader is using, except possibly for the ascending AC thing, which I personally prefer. Do any of the various recent efforts NOT use ascending AC?

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  4. I think it's a noble idea. I'd like to submit a dungeon aspect or two, and I have no problem at all with a S&W format.

    Chgowiz raises an interesting question about whether or not it could be included in a zine. However, I think the online format provides greater accessibility and allows for real-time discussion, which really gives life to the project.

    Any project like this does need a benevolent dictator however, and I believe James has the tact for it.

    IMHO, I really think the old-school community would benefit from a portal. However, I think growing one would make more sense than doing an 'if you build it, they will come' project. Is this the start of something? Poor James. ;)

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  5. What do you need?

    To start, I'll need some level maps and also the larger cross-section of the entire complex, but I need to do some thinking first before we get to that stage.

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  6. Wow. I have to agree with john here. You keep saying that you're not the Pope of Old School and that there is more than one true way and then you get upset because someone not a part of your own cabal has the audacity to provide a product with he considers, in some sense, old school?!

    I think it's great if you want to go ahead and start a similar project on your own initiative that reflects your own take on this whole 'old school' perspective...but man, let's get some perspective! If you're not the arbiter of what 'true' old school really is then why does this upset you?

    Even St. Gary created his products to make money...is a new requirement for 'true' old school that it has to be free? And why do you get to make this decision.

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  7. Why is paying for a writer's project suddenly give people a bad taste?

    It's the subscription model that annoys me, not merely that he's charging for his work.

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  8. Do any of the various recent efforts NOT use ascending AC?

    Both OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord use the traditional AC system.

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  9. James, I've got a whole bunch of "draft" maps that I won't be using for my own Castle of the Mad Archmage (don't let the appellation fool you; they look exactly the same as the maps in my Castle, just don't fit for one reason or another). They're yours if you want them. I can scan 'em in tonight and tomorrow if need be.

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  10. And by "exactly the same", I don't mean all the exact rooms and corridors are the same, just the look-and-feel.

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  11. If you're not the arbiter of what 'true' old school really is then why does this upset you?

    You will notice I didn't claim that my feelings on this were normative or indeed even rational, so suggesting I'm setting myself up as an "arbiter" of anything is nonsensical.

    As to why it miffs me, it's the subscription model primarily, which is designed to milk as much money out of people for as long as possible.

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  12. Joseph,

    Thanks so much for the offer. Once I get things up and running, I'll certainly be asking for those maps.

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  13. "My torch, pole, and rope stand ready to assist," he said, eyeing his 12 HD "To Do List" warily.

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  14. Which version of S&W will you be using? The core rules or the white box?

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  15. That's a great map from Greyhawk Supplement? I plan to use it as a gateway to the wasteland.

    I like the fun of creating my own adventures, so to Monte Cook and other would be Dungeon pushers - thanks, but I will pass.

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  16. Like everyone else, I've noticed more interest in "old school" approaches and philosophies, even amongst gamers that are playing WotC versions of D&D. Monte's effort is one of those, but there's also Necromancer Games and "Classic 4E," the interest from the Indie crowd, and even posts on EN World and RPG.net talking about TSR D&D, or describing a new megadungeon or hex-crawl campaign they're trying.

    I think it's good.

    I think "old school" has something cool to offer, and I hope that it's being recognized. I doubt that everyone will jump into it with both feet and start running a megadungeon campaign set on the Outdoor Survival map using OD&D rules, but I like that even the "new school" is using or borrowing the stuff that they see as cool. Common ground is good.

    I don't worry about old school being co-opted, so that the label means something else. I know that's a possibility, but terms "old school" or "dungeon-crawl" already mean something different (and usually not very positive) to many newer school gamers. Yet we keep playing and talking about the gaming approach we like, and doing our thing. We should just continue to do so, in a positive way.

    I'm not real enthusiastic about Monte's offering, because I'm not sure that it would be any use to me. There's some question in my mind about how well it would mesh with my preferred approach and style. There's also the issue of the subscription. I'm not against subscriptions, and I'm definitely not against commercial ventures. I just don't think I'd get $7 a month of value from it. I'm more about doing my own thing, lately, anyway.

    I'm similarly dubious about the utility of other community dungeons. I think they're cool to check out for inspiration, but the fact is, I'm probably not going to be running them. I'm going to be running my own stuff. Even if I did want to run them, there's the problem of the dungeon being available online. I might have trouble because my current group includes a bunch of online guys who would probably all be contributing, anyway. [grin] (This is one of my problems in submitting adventures for Knockspell and Fight On; I want to keep and use that stuff in my game, and if I publish it, Mythmere and Grim, at least, will see it, for certain!)

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  17. As to why it miffs me, it's the subscription model primarily, which is designed to milk as much money out of people for as long as possible.

    Out of curiosity, did Dragon magazine "miff" you when it was a staple-bound paper tome delivered via the US Postal service? Did Dungeon Magazine?

    Honestly, I don't see the "commodification" argument at all - the hobby has always been a mix of people doing things for free and people publishing things and trying to make a buck off of it. The "subscription" model is no different from the magazine model when you get right down to it, except it expends fewer trees in publication, less fuel on delivery and should be commensurately cheaper because of it. Things that fail in THAT aspect irritate me because they're a classic case of someone not understanding the market they're working in, but that's their problem not mine.

    I am looking quite forward to seeing how the community-based model goes, though. I personally think it's a better model than the for-profit model for gaming, and I hope I have something to contribute down the road (though my own mega-dungeon is taking up most of my free time these days).

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  18. I plan to use the S&W Core Rules unless there's sufficient demand that I use White Box instead.

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  19. I think they're cool to check out for inspiration, but the fact is, I'm probably not going to be running them.

    That's something I'm taking into account. Part of my plan is to use the megadungeon as an inspiration to others, as well as a living example of how to build a proper old school dungeon.

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  20. Out of curiosity, did Dragon magazine "miff" you when it was a staple-bound paper tome delivered via the US Postal service? Did Dungeon Magazine?

    No, for two reasons. First, with few exceptions, every issue of a magazine gives you the entirety of what it's selling at once, not parceled out over many months to ensure your continued subscription. Second, you had an actual product in your hand that you could keep even after your subscription ran out. Combined, these two factors make magazines much less problematic for me.

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  21. Wow! This is exciting if only for the sheer scale and approach. Might this become the biggest collaborative dungeon?

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  22. I suggest using the White Box rules. After all, this dungeon is not being sold, and Dragonsfoot (for example) has for years been hosting free modules that are explicitly for D&D.

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  23. James, I'd certainly be happy to assist as I can. I've been doing more work with Labyrinth Lord than S&W but (obviously) it's not a huge shift-of-gears.

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  24. I like the White Box rules, too. Might help set it apart from similar efforts, and seems fitting with the goals. "Here's a traditional old school dungeon. It's cool even with the least mechanically complex system, because that's not what its coolness depends on..."

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  25. James,

    Feel free to plunder anything you'd like from my blog that you think might be useful, with attribution of course.

    Once you get your basic themes and structures posted, I'll see if I have anything else I can contribute.

    - Brian

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  26. I'm with you in spirit, at least.

    One of the reasons hearing the people who brought us 3e and further iterations of the game was the whole "new and improved" argument that the 'new school' used to support switching to newer versions of the same game. The new rules were 'clearer' to eliminate arguments about exactly what could or could not be done in a round. AC was ascending so bigger number = better AC, etc. And the 'style' of adventures offered changed dramatically --- one of the examples of what was said by many proponents of new school to be 'wrong' or 'bad' or 'amateurish' or 'illogical' about older versions of D&D was the classic dungeon crawl.
    Now, suddenly, it's back in fashion and they want a piece of it.
    I feel like one of the people who picked up one of the oldest artifacts of the D&D hobby (the big dungeon) LONG AGO and I treasured it... but all of the sudden it's become hip so everybody wants a piece.
    Can I do anything about that? No. It's not as if I even want to try to 'prevent' anyone from making a buck on it.
    I find it ironic, however, that many of the 'new school' devotees who spent so long pissing on the idea of the 'dungeoncrawl' will now be shelling out $7.00 a month for a subscription to a megadungeon just because it was written by Cook.
    Kinda reminds me of some of the hairband f*ckers who loudly proclaimed that Rap and hip hop wasn't music UNTIL Aerosmith did a tune with Run DMC... then they suddenly changed their tune and tried to pretend they liked Run DMC all along...

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  27. Sorry, my first sentence should have read:
    One of the reasons I find the announcement ironic is all the time I spent hearing the people who brought us 3e and further iterations of the game argue that 3e was a "new and improved" game, and that this 'new school' philosophy was used to support switching to newer versions of the same game.

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  28. I'd be very surprised to see a $7/month subscription offering get a circulation large enough that it could support itself, and I'd be very curious about Monte's business model, expected circulation, time commitment etc. Almost curious enough to contact him about it.

    I also think that putting together a many-user persistent portal for dungeon creation is likely not so simple. Have you thought about using a wiki for it? Are there other online collaboration tools that would help to structure the project, and keep you from having to single-handedly edit the whole thing, I wonder (on which topic, Steven Marsh might be worth contacting)?

    I'd also quietly been hoping that you would get a subscription to Monte's efforts and review them. I'm still clinging to that irrationally, actually - even though I have no buck and therefore no say in how you spend your time. ;)

    Please excuse the tone of this message. There's probably a way to make it less blunt, but I can't think what it is right now.

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  29. Are you sure that's a dragon and not just a windmill? I applaud the idea, but fear it will in its enthusiasm crush you underfoot.

    (Meanwhile, the whole thread has given me a goofy old-school inspiration of my own, one which (once revealed) may warm the cockles of your grognard heart. More when I feel more certain that I can get it done in the sixty-day window available to me.)

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  30. [i]I'm similarly dubious about the utility of other community dungeons. I think they're cool to check out for inspiration, but the fact is, I'm probably not going to be running them. I'm going to be running my own stuff.[/i]

    I agree with Phil here. Published megadungeons rearlly get runned as published. People prefer to run their own stuff.

    What people really seem to run "as published" are small, self contained modules, adventures or lairs.

    I would find much more useful a series small (4 to 32 pages) modules or wilderness AND CITY lairs! (the latter, being something very much unexplored in the hobby).

    This kind of stuff can be easily dropped into peoples campaigns with little fuss and actually get used. Megadungeons demand just to much focus of the game for a DM to run something totally written by other, that rearly contemplates the virtualities of his setting and characters, and are just much more harder to adapt. Also, they require quite a degree of "study".

    So yeah, megadungeons are great, but that does not mean they are the best products to be published.

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  31. Unless you publish under the ONE PAGE FORMAT used by Sham, Chgowiz, etc.

    That seems to work.

    Tegel Manor is another example of a really big dungeon done in only 40 pages, people can make it very much there own.

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  32. Jimmy Swill said:
    IMHO, I really think the old-school community would benefit from a portal.

    I obviously agree with this. I think this mega-dungeon would be a lot more accessible if it were on a wiki than parceled out on someone's blog.

    Philotomy said:
    I think they're cool to check out for inspiration, but the fact is, I'm probably not going to be running them. I'm going to be running my own stuff. Even if I did want to run them, there's the problem of the dungeon being available online. I might have trouble because my current group includes a bunch of online guys who would probably all be contributing, anyway. [grin] (This is one of my problems in submitting adventures for Knockspell and Fight On; I want to keep and use that stuff in my game, and if I publish it, Mythmere and Grim, at least, will see it, for certain!)

    I have the same problem: I keep wanting to put up Monsters of Onderland and whatnot, but I can't until my players have discovered everything.

    But, again, I think the wiki idea would make it really easy for someone to pull out the parts that intrigue them and put them into their own dungeons.

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  33. Finally, I would avoid a confrontational and reactionary style: "We make it better", even thought in fact, I believe, we do ;)

    Let what we need and enjoy drive us. Not what others are doing.

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  34. Sorry, "El Monorón" is "Zulgyan".

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  35. I don't begrudge Monte for whatever he's doing to put food on the table, but there's no way it'll be good value for the money from my point of view. It's like one guy saying "Hey! I'll write a magazine all by myself! It'll be thinner than a magazine, and you'll have to print it yourself, but it'll be more expensive. I'll write and post a page a day! Won't that be great?"

    My guess is that unless he's got a huge buffer ready to go or the updates are really tiny, the "a day" thing is going to kill it. I don't think anybody really appreciates how grueling a daily deadline for creative material is until they've had to work to one.

    On that note, I think a collaborative mega-dungeon sounds like fun, but I'd urge not adopting a daily schedule. In a world of web publication and RSS readers there's no reason for it. Post logical chunks as they're finished and usable, don't parcel things out piecemeal just so there's something new each day, and don't put yourself in a position where the grind of feeding the beast burns you out on working on it at all. If you can put out decent updates a couple times a week, great! If you've got a period when you're busy with other things, well, you never promised something each and every day.

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  36. Well I could help out, I did some illustrations for S&W white box and the upcoming re-release of the Core rules. I haven't done as much cartography as I'd like to do, but if you want help I'm offering it.

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  37. My opinion's for White Box over Core - a writer/contributor/DM can probably ignore non-Core easier than "recreating" supplements.

    Not that people shouldn't create supplements of course...

    I think that it's a wonderful idea. Immediately thought of a forum board format for it that could host PBP games in it. Yes all the information is right there. Like old solo games, players we on their honor not to cheat.

    Some of surely are honorable?

    In any event, I think it would be wonderful to develop this and think there's millions of directions it could go.

    (There's no exalt button over here! Where's the exalt button!!!)

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  38. What jamused said re: "Monte Cook: the Online Magazine Focusing on a Megadungeon". I don't think I'd pay $7 a month for access to all the blogs and boards I read now taken together. Maybe.

    I don't care if old school D&D-ism will enjoy a brief faddish popularity as a marketing thing. The old school abides! Old school will still be old school when they've moved on. For now I welcome more people being involved in it, but it's no skin off my nose if they can make a living at it or not. Perhaps this is how wargamers feel about RP gamers :)

    I feel that we're now seeing the true benefit of the OGL, after the false benefit of the D20 glut. It's not important whether or not Monte Cook can make a buck on the fringes, it's important that you can get all you need to play for free, and anyone can publish whatever they want without a license fee or huge publication costs.

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  39. Wow. I’m really not keeping up with the news these days. I thought Monte had “retired” from professional game designer except for his consulting gig on Pathfinder.

    FWIW, I think when Monte says “old school” he’s meaning something much more limited than many of us (even with our various own meanings) mean. It’s the same way he might have said that 3e harkened back to the “old school” in 2000. In the vein of the “Back to the dungeon!” thing. This looks to me like something Monte might have done whether there was an OSR or not.

    Personally, though I think he and I have very different tastes in gaming, I have to give Monte credit for actually owning up to the “take the DM out of the equation” thing and admitting that it might have been a mistake.

    I have mixed feelings on the subscription thing.

    Anyway, I’ll be looking forward to your project, James. I hope I find the time and inspiration to contribute.

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  40. I'll be glad to help out where I can... Though I have to agree with John that both points have their faults. I mean, after all, let's face facts, I'd be gladder with old school style and modern rules most of the time, so I could hardly complain if Monte ends up doing the same.

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  41. As I mentioned in the previous topic, I offer my services as a web designer/developer/host to handle that end of things. Pro bono, of course.

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  42. I'll throw my hat into the ring. Not for any moral high ground or philosophical reasons, simply because I like dungeons and this could be an enjoyable project.

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  43. I agree with James about being dubious about the overt commercialization of "old school" culture. This, however, is not to say that I don't believe people should not be allowed to charge money for their work. To say that I am skepical about commercialism is not to imply a rigid, mutually exclusive, dichotomy between the production of cultural works for fun versus their production for profit. The question, however, is whether a work is produced primarily for pleasure or profit.

    Basically, we're talking about the age old distinction between folk culture and capital. Old school culture right now is basically a kind of modern folk culture. As is the case with most folk cultures, if it proves to be popular, capital will inevitably try to coopt it and turn it into a for-profit enterprise. Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with this, but typically much of the quirky charm and authenticity, dare I say "soul," will be drained from the folk in the process.

    This is what happened to the Blues, Punk Rock, Fairy Tales (a la Disney), and yes original D and D.

    I for one don't think there's anything wrong with wanting to minimize the influence of Capital on ones folk culture.

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  44. Like Zulgyan, I vote for using the One Page Template that was recently created. I usually find it faster to create my own dungeons rather than study someone else's.

    But the One Page Template lets anyone referee any level on the fly! :)

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  45. 24 dungeon levels in just 24 pages, +1 or 2 pages of introduction and general guidelines.

    That would be a kick ass 26 page product I would buy.

    Follow the lesson from FFC, from many JG and gygaxian modules (the first giant adventure is just 9 pages long).

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  46. Aside from the hoopla (which is justified) and an assertion of interest in contributing in whatever ways I can - I'd like to say that I'm very glad you put "ETC" at the bottom of the map you posted!

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  47. Considering how much you can put on one page, do we want a unified dungeon, or maybe something more like the underground Wilderness Gygax created for the D-series of modules?

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  48. trollsmyth: depending on how it's set-up it seems it could include both. Like the vampire/succubus "room" in D1(?) - essentiallty an encounter in isolation. As far as how to represent that - ah! ASCII has no 'continue this passage as long as you need' symbol. Chaosium (among others) did - again I think there's room for both - but a lot of this is dependant on the implementation it takes and the methods applied...

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  49. So the idea is you fix a map, James, and the interested participants stock a room each, which then gets published dayily, weekly or whatever?

    Sure I can join in and stock up some dungeon rooms. Sounds like fun.

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  50. sorry to multi-post but I thought I should clarify something: I love (and more importantly - use) the one page template. I would also love to NOT draw one natural limestone walled passage of varying 15-40'' width continuing for miles and miles...

    I have ended-up drawing many exits off a page of the template and connecting them to others as needed. Or ignoring exits that I didn't want there during play (one-way-in one-way-out areas, etc).

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  51. I'm not a big fan of the one-page level approach. I think it tends to constrain the levels (i.e. the mapping). That's not an iron-clad condemnation, it's just not the approach I prefer, which is far more loose (in fact, I wish I were better at drawing freehand, because I think the grid influences my mapping too much, even when it's not limited to a small area).

    I'm also of the opinion that an old school megadungeon is designed, evolves, and grows through actual play. That is, I think that running it is part of the design process. Deeper levels are being worked on even as the PCs explore the upper levels. Sublevels and secret doors and stairs get added. An empty room becomes occupied. Questions the PCs ask, comments they make, or things they do influence the design of some of the deeper levels as the referee's imagination responds to them.

    The top-down approach to megadungeons seems a little artificial, to me.

    (Again, I hate to sound so negative, but I do think that the top-down, design-the-whole-thing approach misses a valuable, cool, and very old-school element to megadungeon-centered gaming.)

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  52. I'm afraid I'm not to keen on the one pgae template myself. It makes you think to much in squares for my taste.

    Plain paper without squares or lines is probably best, but it is a bit harder to put in the grid later I guess.

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  53. but as far as contributions go from multiple sources there has to be some set standard (like the 10' square say) - there has to be some agreement to 'match the maps up'.

    This is largely an academic tangent for me as I am not technologically advanced enough (no scanner) to upload maps.

    In other words to submit a 1-pg template map or a 'non-template' map shouldn't be problematic, so long as their scales match.

    The magic mouth says "Beware! You have entered the lair of the 30' grid! Tremble tiny beings!"

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  54. I'm kind of with Philotomy on the 1PG template thing--I love the idea and think it's great that some folks find it so productive, but I find that it doesn't work for me.

    Not to sound like a broken record, but if this was done in a wiki or the like, then ALL of these ideas could be accommodated. That is, James could lead a group doing his thing. Someone else could post his 1PG template a piece at a time as he plays it out, and a third someone could solicit suggests as he builds his piece by piece.

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  55. As a player in one of Monte's campaigns for about 7 straight years, I think his "old school" bona fides are as strong as just about any designer who published in the 3e era outside of the original TSR guys. Monte came to TSR during second edition, but his love for gaming was born in the same era as most of the posters to this blog.

    Whenever I ran something vaguely "old school" in Dungeon or Dragon magazines, Monte was one of the firmest supporters. I played in dozens and dozens of his dungeons, and found them to be very much inspired by the original AD&D material we all treasure so much.

    I can appreciate not loving third edition, and I can also appreciate not loving Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (though I think the revised moathouse is a minor masterpiece), but I don't think anyone needs to be suspicious of Monte's claim at "old school" in this case. He isn't doing it to scam his way into a perceived market. He's saying "old school" because he personally thinks the old school approach is worth preserving and continuing.

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  56. Why would you use S&W rules??? Use Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC instead.

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  57. I suggest using the White Box rules.

    It's assuredly very tempting for a number of reasons. I'm going to give the question some thought over the weekend.

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  58. "Here's a traditional old school dungeon. It's cool even with the least mechanically complex system, because that's not what its coolness depends on..."

    That approach does have a lot of appeal.

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  59. I find it ironic, however, that many of the 'new school' devotees who spent so long pissing on the idea of the 'dungeoncrawl' will now be shelling out $7.00 a month for a subscription to a megadungeon just because it was written by Cook.
    Kinda reminds me of some of the hairband f*ckers who loudly proclaimed that Rap and hip hop wasn't music UNTIL Aerosmith did a tune with Run DMC... then they suddenly changed their tune and tried to pretend they liked Run DMC all along...


    It's all too common phenomenon, alas.

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  60. I'd also quietly been hoping that you would get a subscription to Monte's efforts and review them. I'm still clinging to that irrationally, actually - even though I have no buck and therefore no say in how you spend your time. ;)

    I'm not sure I'd be able to give the project a fair enough shake to review it. I'll certainly check out whatever freebies he might offer to see if my initial impression is mistaken, though.

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  61. I applaud the idea, but fear it will in its enthusiasm crush you underfoot.

    It may very well, but I'd like to give it a try nonetheless.

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  62. So yeah, megadungeons are great, but that does not mean they are the best products to be published.

    Well, it's not going to be "published" so much as posted to a site, but I understand your point. As the idea is evolving in my mind, I'm thinking of using this megadungeon as a "tutorial" of sorts in the old school ways. I think a lot of gamers don't really understand the hows and whys of dungeon design and I'd like to use this opportunity to explain them by way of example.

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  63. Unless you publish under the ONE PAGE FORMAT used by Sham, Chgowiz, etc.

    I like the one-page format a lot, but it's not really practical for the kind of megadungeon I have in mind, which would be a lot more sprawling in nature.

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  64. Finally, I would avoid a confrontational and reactionary style: "We make it better", even thought in fact, I believe, we do ;)

    It's my hope that the quality of the megadungeon will speak for itself.

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  65. This is what happened to the Blues, Punk Rock, Fairy Tales (a la Disney), and yes original D and D.

    I see I have a kindred spirit amongst my commenters. Thank you.

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  66. I'd like to say that I'm very glad you put "ETC" at the bottom of the map you posted!

    That map is from Volume 3 of OD&D, actually, so thank Gary or whoever drew that schematic :)

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  67. (Again, I hate to sound so negative, but I do think that the top-down, design-the-whole-thing approach misses a valuable, cool, and very old-school element to megadungeon-centered gaming.)

    That's not negative; it's a very useful comment and I thank you for it. You definitely make a very strong point here and it's one I've been thinking about myself. I have some ideas on how to address these questions, which I'll discuss in an upcoming post.

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  68. I applaud your decision to stick your neck out like this, and you are going to get it in the neck from lurkers and begrudgers but there are coifs for that.

    My advice is reign in your ambition a little at the beginning. If your are the editor let the quality and style of submissions influence your high level decisions. Philotomy is right there. And perhaps use white box, I think that's where your heart lies.

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  69. I can appreciate not loving third edition, and I can also appreciate not loving Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil (though I think the revised moathouse is a minor masterpiece), but I don't think anyone needs to be suspicious of Monte's claim at "old school" in this case. He isn't doing it to scam his way into a perceived market. He's saying "old school" because he personally thinks the old school approach is worth preserving and continuing.

    I'm glad to hear this, but I hope I can be forgiven for retaining some skepticism until I can get a better sense of just what this project will entail. When there are all sorts of people running around claiming 4e is "old school," for example, that makes me think the term isn't very well understood in the wider hobby, so I tend to get my back up when I see a designer I don't personally associate with the Old Ways promote his new project by reference to them.

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  70. Why would you use S&W rules??? Use Labyrinth Lord or OSRIC instead.

    S&W is much closer to OD&D than other options and it's what I use in my home campaign.

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  71. My advice is reign in your ambition a little at the beginning. If your are the editor let the quality and style of submissions influence your high level decisions. Philotomy is right there. And perhaps use white box, I think that's where your heart lies.

    Good advice all around. Thanks.

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  72. but as far as contributions go from multiple sources there has to be some set standard (like the 10' square say) - there has to be some agreement to 'match the maps up'.

    I think it’d be better to let the contributors do whatever works best for them and leave integration to the editor.

    e.g. If one map is 10 foot/square and another is 5 foot/square, you just have to make sure that where they meet up is shown twice as large on the 5 foot map.

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  73. While I enjoy your blog, yes I agree. Your crazy and being irrational about Cook's venture. You're coming off a bit snobbish about this.

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  74. You're coming off a bit snobbish about this.

    I'd say "possessive" more than "snobbish," but I concede the point. A lot will depend on just what Cook does with this project, I think, and, as I said in my initial post on the subject, I'm willing to be convinced my gut feeling about it is mistaken.

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  75. James,
    This sounds like a great project, and i'd like to volunteer as well.

    Thinking about some of hte megadungeons that have been done, and some of the design philosophy that seems to be espoused by Ed Greenwood, with his 'minor dungeons' you may want to take pitches or drafts for sub-areas of the map. This could be the idea of I want to do a Lizard Man camp sublevel, or this is where the tunnels broke into the burial tomb of a resting necromancer, broke his coffin, and now he's pissed. The original party could be his lesser minions, etc.

    I'll keep following along for more info.

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  76. There's more than enough room for more than one mega dungeon around. Its like getting in on the ground floor of Ptolus, which is an amazing product.

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  77. Its like getting in on the ground floor of Ptolus, which is an amazing product.

    By all accounts, Ptolus is a very impressive product. So, let me clarify: my beef with Dungeonaday isn't the monetary aspect of it specifically but that it's being parceled out in small dollops over a long period of time for a fee. As someone pointed out above, it's like being sold a magazine a couple of paragraphs at a time and the only way to ensure you get all the paragraphs needed for it to make sense is to stick with it until the end. That just sits poorly with me, especially when this is an electronic rather than a print product.

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  78. This is as crazy of an idea as it gets but... what if this becomes a book?

    You've said that you want to write about your history and the history of D&D. You've said you want to talk about the philosophy and method of creating a megadungeon. You have a lot of collaborative help. Kinda like some of the retroclones.

    So let's make a goal to publish this thing. Think of it like a living document. People see/contribute/use the electronic part, but if we have a definite goal and we draw a line and publish at that point - well, you have a tome of history, philosophy of OD&D *and* the megadungeon that backs it up from a narrative as well as a "use it as part of your game" format. The megadungeon stays online as something to use as an electronic resource, but a collection of your posts/our posts goes into it. We can all collaborate and in the end, we can come up with some "what" to do with anything we happen to make on it. To be honest, I don't really want anything, just to be a part of this would be cool.

    I know, it's crazy... but no crazier than anything else we've talked about this thread and it gives us the "reason" as well as a goal as well as fulfillment of several of the things you've wanted to do and I've wanted to do.

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  79. I should mention that Wil Wheaton (yes, that WW of "Stand by Me" and Star Trek TNG acting fame) has made a living and some fame from publishing from his blogs. It's just a thought.

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  80. I'd be happy to contribute, but doubt I will have the time or energy. Right now what little 'dungeon designing' time I get is used for transcribing my own 'megadungeon' from back in the day (written mostly in pencil on notebook paper) to a comprehensible format for eventual publication as a pdf for the world.
    But I'm with you in spirit. I love the DIY thing.

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  81. "it's being parceled out in small dollops over a long period of time for a fee. As someone pointed out above, it's like being sold a magazine a couple of paragraphs at a time and the only way to ensure you get all the paragraphs needed for it to make sense is to stick with it until the end."

    Again, I think thats a bad anology and irrational. From what the blurbs read, the posts themselves will be complete encounters, groups, monsters, areas....that can fit all together if you want. Or used seperately.

    Its not different from say, a series of books- like steven king did years ago a book in 6-7 parts. Or movies that are serial.

    I think its alot of nitpicking until we see the first product.

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  82. I think its alot of nitpicking until we see the first product.

    Perhaps it will be, which is why I intend to pay close attention to the launch of the project next week, as well as whatever free materials Monte Cook makes available.

    If I'm mistaken in my concerns, you can be sure I'll say so here. Implications to the contrary, I actually do own up to my errors in judgment and have changed my opinions when persuaded, but I hope I can be forgiven for being very skeptical of this undertaking, particularly with regards to its use of the term "old school" as a marketing buzzword.

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  83. I know, it's crazy... but no crazier than anything else we've talked about this thread and it gives us the "reason" as well as a goal as well as fulfillment of several of the things you've wanted to do and I've wanted to do.

    Let's see how things develop first before making such grand plans. I'd be very happy if they came to pass, but I'm also realistic and would rather aim for something more modest to start and then go from there.

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  84. I should mention that Wil Wheaton (yes, that WW of "Stand by Me" and Star Trek TNG acting fame) has made a living and some fame from publishing from his blogs. It's just a thought.

    Alas, I am no Wil Wheaton. :)

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  85. There is an odd zeitgeist brewing here for "Old School"... after the last month of delving into my dusty Greyhawk archives to provide the gaming group I have happened upon a mega-dungeon Castle Zagyg experience, I decided to see if there were compatriots with some content -Imagine my surprise. Alive & well, thriving.
    Now my torch is lit and I have found 3 more DM'Ss willing to enter into the fray. Its more than a weird coincidence.
    The timing of Cooks venture seals it.
    PS: Has anyone noticed that the Yellow Cabs in San Francisco have Tharizdun's unholy symbol on all their taxi's??

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  86. My more rational feeling pertains to the commodification of the whole thing. Yes, I know Monte Cook's a writer and he needs to make a living just like everyone else, but knowledge of those realities doesn't change the bad taste I get in my mouth when I think about this.

    Needless to say, your attitude toward people making money off something you claim to be willing to do for free says nothing about their work, but also nothing about your actual willingness - only about your pique. You gave two irrational reasons and no rationals (but as we all learned in high school math, 'irrational' sure doesn't mean 'not real'!).

    Good luck - perhaps someday everyone will get back to merely gaming instead of breast-beating and tribal-flag-painting and endlessly self-justifying and to-the-choir-preaching et tiresomely cetera. Cook's not a bad writer and he's got some strong ideas about game mechanics; I wish him well too. If you can actually produce something more playable and evocative than his stuff, more power to you, and mark me down as willing to advertise your shit from here to the end of the hollow earth!

    While you're at it, though, it's worth reading up on 'blog triumphalism' and the fantasy that a couple hundred amateurs with no incentive to produce quality materials other than curiosity and ego are going to overthrow experienced professionals devoting themselves 9-to-5 to producing new material. The right precedent (and appropriate gut-check) for this sort of venture isn't Linux; it's Pajamas Media. Not to say you're unlikely to produce a neat dungeon; only that taking up a yearlong project out of personal pique might not to be the best start to a creative venture...

    ...but I desperately hope it works. Where else will I get my faith in the world, if not from a revanchist gaming blog?

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  87. While you're at it, though, it's worth reading up on 'blog triumphalism' and the fantasy that a couple hundred amateurs with no incentive to produce quality materials other than curiosity and ego are going to overthrow experienced professionals devoting themselves 9-to-5 to producing new material.

    I don't think anyone here, least of all me, thinks we're going to "overthrow" anything. We're not under any illusions here that our eccentric little niche of the hobby is going to be the David that slays the Goliath of commodified and brandified modern gaming. What we are about -- or at least I am -- is preserving and promoting an approach to this hobby that's been largely forgotten, if not outright abandoned.

    Call that "revanchist" if you will, but I prefer to think of it as "traditionalist" and perhaps even "counter-cultural."

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  88. ...but I desperately hope it works. Where else will I get my faith in the world, if not from a revanchist gaming blog?

    If you are really that cynical (and I hope you are not --- because life would be a real drag for you), then there probably is no hope at all, at least in your world vision.

    I think when you attempt to apply logic and a business model to something that amateurs do for fun, you are probably bound to misunderstand their motives.

    I can't speak for anyone else, but my enthusiasms are based on emotion, not the result of rational deduction. The sudden surge of interest in 'old school flava' from the market driven side of RPGing (some of whom spent years dismissing my interests in older versions) strikes me as ironic, to say the least.

    What could be more 'old school flava' than the older versions of the same game?

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  89. Well I certainly see revanchism (political/cultural retaliation and ground-retaking) as quite explicitly countercultural; but then 'counterculture' is a neutral term in my lexicon rather than a straightforward compliment. :)

    I apologise for the too-strong whiff of sarcasm and derision in my tone before; I had a good lunch and am feeling markedly less negative. Still, I gotta say:

    What we are about -- or at least I am -- is preserving and promoting an approach to this hobby that's been largely forgotten, if not outright abandoned.

    This preservationist attitude is noble and commendable, but it's by no means coterminous with the 'old-school' revivalists' attitude toward the new stuff, which even in your unusually articulate case is often-though-not-always fetishistic (rationalizing through mannered repetition a preconscious attachment to an aesthetic/intellectual mode that was established during childhood) and denigratory (not merely elegiac but disgusted).

    Again, motivation by pique tends to lead to awkward places. Tolkien produced one work of literary genius in his life and was the lord mayor of Nostalgiatown - but he achieved the former in spite of the latter shortcoming, not because of it. He was wrong or lying about allegory, out of defensiveness and so forth. And his immensely complicated set of rationalizations for his nostalgia - his constant retreat, literary and personal, to an imaginary Golden Age that simply never was - doesn't make his nostalgia and conservatism any less reactionary and irrational (the former a criticism, the latter a neutral term in my above-mentioned personal lexicon, huzzah).

    Which is to say I like seeing you honestly share your skepticism and personal struggles - that aspect of Grognardia is purely admirable - but you've provided no evidence (is this necessary anyhow? dunno) that your attitude toward Cook's project is learned cultural/critical assessment rather than the dressing-up of preconscious revolt in pseudodisciplinary vocabulary. And I'm saying that's par for the course. You and me and everyone else, babe. :)

    Well this isn't the place to go on further about these broad matters (unless you as host say so), so I'll bow out for the time being with another 'Good luck and godspeed' (were there a god providing assistance - one sort of disbelief I can't quite suspend, alas).

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  90. The sudden surge of interest in 'old school flava' from the market driven side of RPGing (some of whom spent years dismissing my interests in older versions) strikes me as ironic, to say the least.

    Monte, however, has been one of those people who has invoked “old school” since at least 2000. While what he likes about/considers “old school” may be different than us, I have a hard time seeing him as someone who is using the term just because he thinks it has some new cachet.

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  91. "While you're at it, though, it's worth reading up on 'blog triumphalism' and the fantasy that a couple hundred amateurs with no incentive to produce quality materials other than curiosity and ego are going to overthrow experienced professionals devoting themselves 9-to-5 to producing new material."

    Your point would stand up to scrutiny if RPGs were a professional activity requiring professional skills. As it stands, however, RPGs are hobbies where curiosity, enthusiasm and ego are the valuable driving forces. At its core, they are about imagining things and pitching them to other people to see how they react; intensely personal and bottom-up. It is an amateur activity. There are no professional gamers.

    Some game-related material can be turned into a product and sold (and more power to those who can make a decent living on it), but it is a mistake to equate commercial with quality. Frankly, the vast majority of products produced by the "game industry" (and what an overblown, stuffy nonsense that idea is) is simply dreadful - written on a two-cents-per-word basis in insulting work for hire arrangements. The industry is not a meritocrarcy; if anything, it rewards intellectual mass production, where what matters is word count, being on time and writing to certain (not necessarily benevolent) formal standards.

    What I find much more refreshing is not necessarily the old school concept (that's personal aesthetic preference - with motivations far beyond the tired old "rose coloured glasses" fallacy, but I will not address that subject here); rather, the celebration of shared creativity and seeing roleplaying games as a fundamentally hobby-based activity. Now this approach does not invariably produce quality, but what it can produce well is raw imagination and enthusiasm; the wonder on which our hobby is built. That certainly matters more to me than getting a stamp of officiality.

    What all this has to do with Cook is up for debate; I personally find him better than the industry average, but I have for a while been at a point where I downright refuse to buy anything unless it comes with the strong recommendations of people whose judgement I trust - and often not even then.

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  92. I think the best course of action is judge Mr. Cook's product long before its release, in typical internet fashion.

    It's also important to note that for S&W compatibility you need to list ascending and decending AC, however you are under no obligation to use ascending AC.

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  93. Let me try to distill this down to its most important point from my point of view. The primary thing that impresses me about this project is not that it's competing against a propsed commerical product, because I'm not sure it even does that.

    What's cool about this is that it's a great expression of the sentiment that started around the time I started noticing the explosion of blogs and the birth of fanzines that all do the same thing.

    People are celebrating RPGs as a creative and collaborative hobby

    Best wishes to everyone involved!

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  94. I think the best course of action is judge Mr. Cook's product long before its release, in typical internet fashion.

    I won't speak for anyone else, but will deny (on my own part) such motives. I'm not against Mr. Cook. I'm not against him making a buck off of people who want his subscription.
    I can't help but notice, however, that the gaming 'professionals' community (many of whom relegated 'old school interests' to the scrap heap of "been there, done that, let's move on") have suddenly sat up and taken notice of the big dungeon.
    I've got no beef with Monte Cook.

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  95. People are celebrating RPGs as a creative and collaborative hobby

    This echos my thoughts about all such current projects.

    Best of luck, I'll be watching from afar and will likely borrow ideas aplenty for my own projects!

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  96. While what he likes about/considers “old school” may be different than us, I have a hard time seeing him as someone who is using the term just because he thinks it has some new cachet.

    I think this is probably quite likely, but I do still find it interesting that he's chosen to create and market a new megadungeon at this particular point in time.

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  97. I think the best course of action is judge Mr. Cook's product long before its release, in typical internet fashion.

    No one has judged anything. What some of us have done is express skepticism at the likelihood that this project will be consonant with this community's understanding of "old school." And I've also expressed a desire to keep an eye on Dungeonaday to see if my skepticism is warranted. If it isn't, I'll happily admit to my error, as I have in other cases where I was mistaken in my initial assessment of something.

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  98. I've got no beef with Monte Cook.

    Nor have I, although I really did dislike Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil. Many of his 3e era products didn't jibe well with my own tastes (though, as a setting, I very much enjoyed his Diamond Throne), but that's no knock against him.

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  99. Tolkien produced one work of literary genius in his life and was the lord mayor of Nostalgiatown - but he achieved the former in spite of the latter shortcoming, not because of it.

    I think, if that's your considered estimation of Tolkien as a man and as an author, that we probably have far too little common ground to engage in fruitful dialog. I therefore assume you're being facetious.

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  100. Oh, I'm quite serious that Tolkien produced only one great novel - The Hobbit is a classic fairy tale and The Silmarillion an intriguing collection of esoterica (which holds no further interest for me), but only LotR is a canonical literary work. As for nostalgia: the man suffered serious emotional trauma during WWI and devoted his life to literary return to a premodern world; of course nostalgia is one of the major forces operating in his writing. For which one can't fault him - recapitulating trauma and all that.

    But I don't adore his writing because he longed to return to an imagined Golden Age. I love it because he found a way through his writing to mourn that Age's passing - to let go of his fancy as a sacrifice in favour of communion with, y'know, other human beings. Reading Tolkien I experience the rapture of resignation - which is to be carefree, thereby emboldened. Heroic.

    Carried away a little here, I think.

    Regardless - I mention Tolkien only to say that pique has to transmute or fade into something else in order to sustain creative work. I bet you know it - but I figured a reminder couldn't hurt!

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  101. Jer said...

    Out of curiosity, did Dragon magazine "miff" you when it was a staple-bound paper tome delivered via the US Postal service? Did Dungeon Magazine?

    The "subscription" model is no different from the magazine model when you get right down to it, except it expends fewer trees in publication, less fuel on delivery and should be commensurately cheaper because of it. Things that fail in THAT aspect irritate me because they're a classic case of someone not understanding the market they're working in, but that's their problem not mine.


    It remains to be seen if you will get the high production values, evocative art, broad utility and promotional material (for good or bad) that approaches the equivalent page counts of those two venerable publications. This - with a price point approaching that of the Dragons later issues. In the end I am not holding anything in hand. No tactile sensation. No collector’s value. So much for, "should be commensurately cheaper".

    It’s not like we are cutting down old growth forest for paper. Recycling and trees planted, grown, harvested and replanted repeatedly fulfill this roll now. There is more forest in this country now than there has been in decades.

    As I listen to the 450 watt power supply to my PC hum away, I find the fuel saving argument to be empty.

    I'm all about entrepreneurship, but let's leave it at that.

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  102. I see it from this perspective alone:

    OD&D, in fact all commercial games prior to that, were purchased. Without capital investment and, yes, a lot of sacrifice and devotion by many fellows in Lake Geneva, Minneapolis and elsewhere in the day, the game would have never existed. To say now that the culture which has been spawned by that very commercialization is in conflict with one which began through a monetarily supported game as then appreciated by its purchasers is in a word strange and contradictory if you think about it, and IMHO.

    James' idea is a great one. So is Monte's. Free enterprise is part of our main culture--without it, D&D would not have existed and this Blog, and others, such as mine, would not exist. If there be irony anywhere, it is assailing the very basis of why this industry exists to begin with and thus how we can all share in it on many levels, both "free" and for profit.-RJK

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  103. If there be irony anywhere, it is assailing the very basis of why this industry exists to begin with and thus how we can all share in it on many levels, both "free" and for profit.
    Speaking only for myself, the issue is one of the model Monte is using. The subscription model, for a "product" that one cannot hold or touch, access to which ceases after one lets the subscription lapse, isn't something I can really get behind. I don't begrudge the man his livelihood nor do I think there's anything wrong charging money for good gaming material, but I much prefer an approach that leaves one with something to show for it after the money changes hands. A subscription model is more like "rent-a-dungeon."

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