Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Monte Cook is Cool

In light of recent events, I'd like to state clearly that, whatever our philosophical differences, I think Monte Cook is a good fellow. I received an email from him yesterday in which he offered me access to his Dungeonaday.com so that I could see for myself what he was up to. He did this without any strings attached and in fact said upfront that, if I didn't like what I saw, he'd have no beef with my saying so here. He didn't have to do that and, honestly, after the uproar my posts caused, I'm mightily impressed he did so. Monte is obviously a bigger man than I.

More than that, though, he's a man who's interested in engaging in discussion about the points I've raised here. Our initial email exchange ranged over a number of topics pertaining to the "old school" question and I'll admit that I was taken aback by some of what he said -- not in a bad way but because a lot of it sounded like things I myself have said here on this blog. And as I'm constantly reminded by some of my commenters, I like nothing better than having my prejudices confirmed by others. All the better if Monte Cook is among them!

That's not to say we agree on all counts, because we don't, but I didn't expect we'd agree on half the stuff we do agree on, so those sources of disagreement seem a lot less significant by comparison. In any case, I certainly hope to continue this dialog with Monte; it's already been immensely useful to me as I grapple with a couple of issues related to the "old school" question. I'll also be taking a good, hard look at Dungeonaday, as I said I would in my initial post. Once I've had a chance to do so, I'll compose my thoughts into a review, with an eye toward its utility for gamers whose understanding of "old school" is roughly similar to my own. My first peeks at it left me with a positive feeling. There are things I already know I dislike about it, but there's also a lot to admire and approve of. But I'll save those thoughts for another time.

My hat's off to Monte Cook. He's one of the good ones.

21 comments:

  1. My hat's off to you both. IMHO, if there's one thing this hobby of our does not need more of, it is exclusivity. That said, stating one's opinion is not being exclusive. Opinions are interesting. Exclusivity is not not about what you say, but rather how you say it.

    I see this is as a great example for what the future might hold.

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  2. That's great! So either Monte Cook has been listening to the old school community and taking our views into account. Or James Maliszewski is being drawn to the darkside of 4E (kidding).

    It's nice to hear you have some commonality though.

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  3. I have met both Monte & Sue, and they are great folks, and they are both super talented in what they do.

    So I logged on to Dungeon-a-day, and I will have to say I was impressed with what I saw. I would recommend everyone to just take a peek, regardless if you are going to subscribe or not. The scope of what he is trying to do is impressive.

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  4. Damn! It's an awesome site, I would subscribe to it right now if the costs weren't so high though.

    If it were say 3 or 4 bucks a month I wouldn't hesitate. 5 or 6 bucks, then I'd take my time to consider whether or not to subscribe. But 7 bucks for a year, and 10 if I just wanna try it out for a month seems like a lot. I suppose if I waited for a few months and then picked up a month and just learned as much as I could with a months worth then it wouldn't be too bad though.

    Still free beats all and I'm looking forward to this megadungeon community project going on.

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  5. I took a look at the site as well. I was pleasantly surprised; he does seem to be paying a lot of heed to some old-school concepts. Unfortunately brevity isn't one of them; those sample encounter descriptions are pretty huge. Also, was I the only person who read "...what I call a megadungeon..." and got a puzzled look? Is he trying to claim some sort of coinage of the term, or did I just misread it?

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  6. "I suppose if I waited for a few months and then picked up a month and just learned as much as I could with a months worth then it wouldn't be too bad though."

    This begs the question: Does site content expire? If not, there's a bit of a flaw in the subscription plan, isn't there? I mean, I could just wait a couple of months, fork over $10, and have all of the same content as someone who's paid for all of the previous months. If it does expire, then there's still a flaw, since you would have to be a subscriber from day one to get the whole dungeon.

    Not that I care, personally. The whole dungeonaday.com thing just leaves me feeling "meh." Which is basically how I felt after spending more than six months playing 3.x edition. (Not to mention, in spite of James' new-found respect for the man, that I throw up a little in my mouth every time I hear or see the name "Monte Cook." [hurk] :P)

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  7. Also, was I the only person who read "...what I call a megadungeon..." and got a puzzled look? Is he trying to claim some sort of coinage of the term, or did I just misread it?

    Without having read the original context, perhaps he's merely acknowledging that what he calls a megadungeon is perhaps not what others would call a megadungeon?

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  8. This begs the question: Does site content expire? If not, there's a bit of a flaw in the subscription plan, isn't there?

    From what I read, yes, some content will roll off the site after a while, to be replaced with (theoretically) not-as-cool stuff so that latecomers aren't completely hosed if they try to run the dungeon. But to ensure you have it all, you need to subscribe from day 1.

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  9. I guess I'm in the extreme minority position of being very less than impressed. I don't like the megadungeon concept being co-opted as if it's his creation (my interpretation of his words and approach based on what I read on his free content), I wasn't impressed with the constant reference to his bona fides and I really am abivalent about paying for content (ala all the 3e'isms) that I'm not going to use or care about.

    It's a wiki mega-dungeon - its subscription model hassome serious issues as to the value of the cost. Monte might be an excellent game designer for people who like 3E type of games, but he's not a designer of games (and now dungeons) that I necessarily enjoy, nor is this looking like something that a subscription model is justified for.

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  10. Also, was I the only person who read "...what I call a megadungeon..." and got a puzzled look? Is he trying to claim some sort of coinage of the term, or did I just misread it?

    Based on my email exchanges with Monte, my guess is that that section is there to clarify what he means when he says "megadungeon," not to make any claim to having coined the term.

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  11. (Not to mention, in spite of James' new-found respect for the man, that I throw up a little in my mouth every time I hear or see the name "Monte Cook." [hurk] :P)

    Any man who responds to controversy not with bile of his own but by extending his hand in friendship is OK in my book. I'm still up in the air about the whole Dungeonaday thing, but I now have a very positive opinion of Monte Cook the man.

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  12. I wasn't impressed with the constant reference to his bona fides and I really am abivalent about paying for content (ala all the 3e'isms) that I'm not going to use or care about.

    I think the bona fides is there to stave off the very accusation I made in my original post: that Monte's a poacher just looking to cash in on a fad. I think it's pretty clear to me now that he isn't and that I was gravely mistaken in even floating that notion in the first place. I have no beef with him on that score.

    I agree with you that, based on my initial examination of the site, that it's a little too rife with 3e-isms to truly be called "rules light." Whether that damns the whole projects I don't yet know, but it's a perspective I can certainly understand.

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  13. I think the bona fides is there to stave off the very accusation I made in my original post: that Monte's a poacher just looking to cash in on a fad.

    James, I have no doubt that Monte is a nice man. My comment stands as someone that doesn't know Monte, that comes in "cold", if you will, to his site. As someone who might be interested, I find the constant references off-putting.

    While I doubt that Monte is going to call every shmoe like me to establish that he's a good guy, I think that he needs to back off on the self-aggrandizement and perhaps give a more explicit nod to the history and philosophy. I know that doesn't sell "him" as The Man in terms of selling subscriptions to his vision; it does add a deserved counterpoint to him coming off as tooting his horn and sounding like he's the Voice of Megadungeons.

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  14. Oh, believe me, I fully understand. I often find the hype surrounding Monte's projects very off-putting as well, but it's clearly a model that's worked well for him. It's not how I approach things, but then that's probably why I'm just another gamer with a blog and not a big name designer.

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  15. 3e/D20, which Monte had a big hand in developing, is simple, powerful system at its core. Witness the Retro-clone White Box, which uses some D20. It's the absurd levels of detail that make D20 only appealing to very specific hobbyists and not anyone else.

    Was Monte a restrainer on all those details or an enabler? That say reams about his "Old School" cred.

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  16. I would like to second a general endorsement of Monte Cook. He has a tremendous knowledge of the early days of the hobby and good taste in those early products. He likes a lot of the same things we do, though he likes some other things too. That's OK. I would take an article by him for Fight On! pretty much sight unseeen.

    In terms of corporate life, one thing I know about Monte is that he wrote some stuff for the original 3e DMG on making playing without miniatures easier and the lawyers at WotC made him take it out. He's on the side of the players in general, whatever system he's writing for.

    Monte has done a ton of work in a ton of different styles. Some I like, some I don't, but his Demon God's Fane and Books of Eldritch Might were some of my favorite 3e products - and they definitely had that spirit of spontaneous creation that led me back to the old ways. Monte is a professional game writer who works in a lot of different idioms, some of which I have little or no use for. But just because someone isn't part of our 'movement' doesn't mean they can't do things that coincide with it. Heck, Vincent "Dogs in the Vineyard" Baker wrote some of the best random monster charts I've ever seen in Fight On! #2. There's no rule that people can't be part of more than one club.

    - Calithena

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  17. Was Monte a restrainer on all those details or an enabler? That say reams about his "Old School" cred.

    I wish I knew, honestly. I have heard contradictory reports about the role he played in the design of 3e, so it's very hard to say.

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  18. Heck, Vincent "Dogs in the Vineyard" Baker wrote some of the best random monster charts I've ever seen in Fight On! #2. There's no rule that people can't be part of more than one club.

    That's certainly true. The difference, though, is that Vincent Baker never touted Dogs in the Vineyard as an old school game, whereas Monte Cook is saying that his megadungeon is old school, despite its use of v.3.5 rules. That claim set off my skepticism immediately.

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  19. Was Monte a restrainer on all those details or an enabler? That say reams about his "Old School" cred.

    There was a period before I decided the drawbacks of 3e outweighed the advantages, and during that time I was an enthusiastic follower of Monte Cook's projects - particularly his posts at Malhavoc Press, which often focused on some aspect of the rules which he would chew over and offer some revision.

    My impression is that he likes his rules to be robust - he wants them to be capable of handling any situation that may come up. At the same time, he wants them to be fast-playing and streamlined, getting out of the way of the fun. For example, where 3e's social influence system depended on referencing a chart that was, on the surface, fairly simple, Monte eliminated the page-flipping by adding a simple resolve system the works about the same way hit points do. When he created his alternate PHB for Arcana Unearthed, he streamlined many of the skills to make character generation and skill use in play faster and easier. His end results are still consistently crunchier than I prefer, but it's hard not to be when you're still playing in (a variant of) 3e.

    As for writing style, he can deliver a lot of flavor text when he wants to, but many of his supplements and sourcebooks are pretty light on it, focusing on the rules a DM can put to use, and just enough flavor to ground it, to give examples of how it can be used. Indeed, the Book of Eldritch Might is, IMO, about as old school as a d20 product can get.

    And having followed his blog, having interacted on his forum, and having met him and Sue when they came to Olympic Cards & Comics in Lacey, WA, I'm honestly not surprised that he approached you as he did, James. I've always been impressed by his sense of decency and civility, and his devotion to the basic idea that we can all get along.

    All that aside, I am a little skeptical about the utility Dungeonaday would offer to gamers using classic systems or retro-clones, since his crunch factor tends to be rather high IMHO. Still, that's exactly why I'll be interested to see the Grognardia perspective.

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  20. Indeed, the Book of Eldritch Might is, IMO, about as old school as a d20 product can get.

    It was one of my favorite products of the 3e era, certainly.

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