Thursday, August 20, 2009

Back to the Future

Jim at Lamentations of the Flame Princess passes along more specific information about a game company being formed by Frank Mentzer, Jim Ward, and Tim Kask. I'd been hearing rumors about this from various sources ever since GenCon, but I discounted them as typically garbled gamer nonsense. Looks like I was wrong to think that, since, as the link above shows, Mr Mentzer himself has now revealed some details, such as the scope of this new endeavor:
We want to publish new and innovative OGL products with an Old School approach (defined for the moment as rules-light, very dependent on DM quality, heavy on innovation & enjoyment), addressing many different OGL-based game systems, including BFRP, Savage Worlds (Pinnacle), Hackmaster (Kenzer), Castles & Crusades (Troll Lords), and Pathfinder (Paizo).

We would like to include OSRIC (Ronin Arts), Labyrinth Lord (Goblinoid) and RuneQuest (Mongoose) but haven't talked with them yet about permissions. The first two are very probable; we'll see about Mongoose.
If you wanted to alleviate my concerns about the wisdom of "getting the band back together," this is precisely the way not to do it. I realize that Mr Mentzer's post was, essentially, speaking off the cuff and so shouldn't be expected to be flawless, but attributing OSRIC to Ronin Arts suggests a lack of awareness about even the most basic history of the old school revival. Similarly, the scattershot approach -- "addressing many different OGL-based game systems" -- is, if handled poorly, a recipe for disaster, especially since many of the games cited are very different from one another, both mechanically and esthetically (not to mention the fact that several of them aren't in fact "OGL-based" at all). Any definition of "Old School approach" that encompasses both Savage Worlds and Pathfinder is, I fear, so broad as to be meaningless.

Mr Mentzer is also looking for investors, stating that "Realistically we'll need at least a quarter mil" to get this company off the ground. That's a lot of money and it reminds me of an old joke about the RPG biz: "What the best way to get a million dollars by founding a RPG company? Start with two million." Far be it from me to criticize anyone for wanting to build a well-capitalized new company dedicated to producing old school materials, but, when you consider how much the old school renaissance has achieved over the last few years, and on nothing more than a shoestring budget, one wonders what Mr Mentzer has in mind here. Obviously, he and his partners have high hopes for creating something long-lasting and influential and, if he can raise $250K for a venture like this, I'll be most impressed. That suggests that this little revival has stronger legs than most of us realize.

I hope I can be forgiven for being somewhat skeptical about all of this, though. Much as I respect the contributions Mentzer, Ward, and Kask have made to the hobby over the years, I'm not sure how much they really understand the current resurgence in interest in old school gaming. That's not to say they can't be brought up to speed fairly quickly, but Mr Mentzer's initial post, which lumps together a whole bunch of games under a very broad rubric, doesn't immediately inspire confidence in me. Likewise, "reunion tours" in this hobby are often disastrous, as anyone who remembers various post-TSR projects by its ex-employees can attest.

My attitude might change as more substantial information is released. I certainly want something like this to succeed, as it'd be a good indication that the old school movement is more than just a fad amongst a small sub-set of weirdos on the Internet. Right now, though, I'm greeting this simply as "interesting." Whether it'll be change-the-hobby interesting or car-crash interesting is something we'll have to wait some time to discover.

69 comments:

  1. I'm also very skeptical about this announcement and I think anyone who would invest in this is crazy. Is there anyone who makes an independent living from publishing OD&D compatible material much less support a company with multiple employees and shareholders?

    Besides, neither Savage Worlds or HackMaster are OGL games. :P

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  2. Jim Ward=Fast Forward Entertainment. Remember them? Crappy black and white picures and clip art for monsters. Horrible unbased rules and systems. Broken Classes and insanely overbudgeted magic items. Monsters that had the stats of gods and challenge rating of 4. I still laugh to this day over making Lucifer (the grandaddy of all demons) with 16HD and a CR of 12. The anti-christ beatable by Level 10 characters? Come on now.

    All in all maybe the other 2 will offset Ward's ability to completely discard rulesets, balance acts, and force him to SPELL CHECK (see any first print FFE book you'll understand).

    Good luck, god bless, I'll wait till the stuff is in the bargain bin and scoop up for pennies on the dollar like I did with the rest of FFEs catalogue.



    NOTE! Remember when they promised if you drop them $3k they'd give you products for life! I can see that coming in now.

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  3. Well, it's someone trying to create something, which is usually a good thing in my book. They might do better to keep such causal chat off-the-record, however. No doubt what they actually do will diverge much from that sweeping outline of possibilities. It would be a shame for a good effort to be tainted by preconceptions.

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  4. I agree this whole things comes off as being uninformed, and perhaps more than a bit naive, which I find astounding. But it seems they have their collective heart in the right place. I wish them all the luck in the world!

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  5. Sounds like this was maybe fueled by a few pints down the pub - well-intentioned, but no so well thought out. If they are genuinely serious about such a venture, I hope someone advises them to design any products simply for "D&D" (standard B/X-style stats work for almost any system, is un-copyrightable, and D&D need not be specifically names) and let prospective customers adapt it for whatever version they want.

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  6. when you consider how much the old school renaissance has achieved over the last few years, and on nothing more than a shoestring budget, one wonders what Mr Mentzer has in mind here.

    marketing?

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  7. "Likewise, 'reunion tours' in this hobby are often disastrous, as anyone who remembers various post-TSR projects by its ex-employees can attest."

    You know, just this weekend I was on vacation (1) reading the Mythus Prime rules, (2) kind of getting sucked into them and wanting to play a bit, and (3) thinking, when the hell would this subject ever come up on the blogs I read?

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  8. This also strikes me as very "early days" kind of talk. One would hope that -with some research and comparing of notes- Mentzer and the others involved would focus their efforts and expectations a bit more. OGL v. non-OGL games aside, that wide a net has fail written all over it. Don't even get me started about the $250K figure!

    I think Frank and the gang would be well-served initially to apply their talents and name recognition to small ventures into things like the retro-clone movement. A "Dragon" like subscription e-zine, a series of modules, or a setting designed by these fellows would attract a lot of interest from the retro-clone & DF crowd. Perhaps Frank could release a BECMI/RC clone. I'd buy that!

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  9. I'd wish them well, especially if they'd succeed in supporting LL, but I too am very skeptical of how well they would do.

    I second James' point that the OSR has been happening on nearly no money at all. It seems to me that throwing my money to the people that have had "boots on the ground" for the past 3 or 4 years would be wiser than waiting to see what this "dream team" can conjure up.

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  10. If they are genuinely serious about such a venture, I hope someone advises them to design any products simply for "D&D" (standard B/X-style stats work for almost any system, is un-copyrightable, and D&D need not be specifically names) and let prospective customers adapt it for whatever version they want.

    I agree. I would think that the big draw of such a company would be having former TSR guys again producing stuff for "D&D," however that's couched legally. I'm not sure I see the appeal of Random-HackMaster-adventure-written-by-some-guy-and-published-by-Frank-Mentzer's-company, but perhaps I'm not the target market for this.

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  11. marketing?

    If so, it's going to be a waste. I just can't see anything they produce being sufficient mass market to justify blowing a lot of money on marketing, especially when nearly every potential buyer will know of their products' existence through word of mouth and/or reading about it online.

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  12. I think Frank and the gang would be well-served initially to apply their talents and name recognition to small ventures into things like the retro-clone movement.

    That's what I'd recommend too. Goodness knows a Mentzer-penned Labyrinth Lord module or a Jim Ward Mutant Future one would be well received by the existing market and would nicely lay the groundwork for expansion. Right now, it sounds as if they have no clear plans other than a vague sense that "there's gold in them thar old schoolers" and wanting to make their claim before all the good stakes are gone.

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  13. It seems to me that throwing my money to the people that have had "boots on the ground" for the past 3 or 4 years would be wiser than waiting to see what this "dream team" can conjure up.

    I'm clearly biased on this point, but I feel much the same way. None of these guys have been much involved in the OSR to date or indeed gaming in general. I wonder how much they can meaningfully contribute compared to guys like Jim Raggi or Dan Proctor or, literally, a dozen other guys who've been laboring in the trenches for years to get things where they are today.

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  14. I agree they would be best off starting small and (re?)establishing some street cred first.

    However,

    1. OGL =/= d20 or D&D. OGL is any game published under an open gaming license. I believe BFRP, which includes Runequest, is OGL. This is probably the sense in which Mentzer intended it.

    2. It sounded to me like they'll probably be doing their own stuff, the way they like it, and _providing stats_ for the systems mentioned. All but Pathfinder of the systems mentioned can be done stat-light (Runequest less than the others). That's how we did it in the old days, after all.

    3. Jim Ward - ok his 3e stuff sucks, stat-wise. That is not a capital crime; many good RPG authors cannot handle the extremely complex 3e D&D stat system. As long as he's kept well away from Pathfinder, he should be able to do perfectly good stat-light or stat-free work. I hear Bottle City is good.

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  15. JD:
    "Lucifer (the grandaddy of all demons) with 16HD and a CR of 12. The anti-christ beatable by Level 10 characters? Come on now."

    Sounds fine to me, and fully in the pulp fantasy-horror (and folk tale) tradition. When Johnny took that shiny fiddle made of gold down in Georgia, I guess he must have been a 30th level Epic Bard? >:)

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  16. "Sounds fine to me, and fully in the pulp fantasy-horror (and folk tale) tradition."

    The problem is the CR12 Lucifer being in the core-rules context of fairly common CR16 Pit Fiends and stuff like that. (And many more examples from the FFE books themselves.)

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  17. I wish them all the best - but do you have any idea HOW MUCH Brave Halfling Publishing, Goblinoid Games, etc - could do IF WE HAD ONLY $5,000 BETWEEN US?!!!

    Honestly, all of those fellows have been very gracious to me and I hope they turn the industry on its ear. But you guys are correct, what info we've been given so far looks kinda cloudy.

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  18. Sounds to me like Mentzer wants to take the Ms. Frizzle approach: Take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.

    To be honest, I don't think there's anything more old school than that, and I wish him luck. Anything that has the chance to move the old school movement beyond a bunch of reactionary old fogies ( ;) ) and one academically curious teenagers has potential far as I am concerned.

    And, well, if they blow it, the backlash will be such that I can probably draw my final conclusions right there and then.

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  19. @S'mon: "I hear Bottle City is good."

    James Ward didn't have anything to do with Bottle City. That mod was written by Rob Kuntz.

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  20. How do you make a small fortune in the RPG business? Start with a large fortune.

    This sounds more like a scheme to gather $250k, than a sound business plan. Everything about it sounds completely out of touch with the OSR.

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  21. Two of those gentlemen ran me through the Tower of Gygax this past weekend at Gen Con, and the other has produced some material for Castles & Crusades I’ve very much enjoyed. I’ll wish them well, and it’s exciting to have these names together, but given what everyone else has been able to do for bare-bones budgeting, I’m very curious as to where this will end up, and if any sort of investment will be able to be lined up.

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  22. As stated above Jim Ward is working for Troll Lord Games right now. He hass done several products for them recently including Tainted Lands and Towers of Adventure. He is also the managing editor for Crusader magazine. Not passing judgement on his recent work, but he has been working in the industry lately.

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  23. I look forward to seeing where this all goes.

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  24. " I already know 30+ well-off folks who can afford it."

    Yeah so do I: Bill Gates, George Lucas, Donald Trump, etc..

    Knowing someone and having their money in hand are two different things, especially in this economic climate.


    If I was interested in forking over the dough to these guys (Jim, Frank and Tim) and I knew anything about the current old-school movement and what they have done on basically "nothing" (financially speaking) and having seen these three guys "understanding" of the "new old-school movement", I would feel that I and my money would soon be parted (with nothing to show for it..Cyborg Commando, Fast Forward Entertainment I'm looking at you!)

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  25. Anything that has the chance to move the old school movement beyond a bunch of reactionary old fogies ( ;) ) and one academically curious teenagers has potential far as I am concerned.

    You clearly don't know these guys, do you? If you think the OSR is full of "reactionary old fogies" now ...

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  26. This sounds more like a scheme to gather $250k, than a sound business plan. Everything about it sounds completely out of touch with the OSR.

    Pretty much. I mean, I'd love -- love -- to see some new material from Mentzer and Kask and Ward for old school games, but, from the sounds of it, that's not quite what they're planning to do. Or rather, it could be, but who knows? There's still a chance this could be a good thing, but they certainly didn't put their best foot forward with the original post on DF.

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  27. I think attributing OSRIC to Ronin Arts isn't the huge gaffe you think it is James.

    Remember that Ronin Arts released the 1e OSRIC PDF.

    So if you download a PDF from a company, it's not completely out of the ballpark to think they made it.

    It does make them look under-informed I guess.

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  28. Not passing judgement on his recent work, but he has been working in the industry lately.

    This is true. My main concern in his case is twofold: 1) His regular revision of Metamorphosis Alpha suggests to me that he doesn't quite get just why the original game remains so compelling after 30+ years -- Hint: it's not the richly detailed setting and 2) He's repeatedly had very uncomplimentary things to say about Open Gaming. Taken together, along with the joke that was Fast Forward Entertainment, and I find it hard to think this new venture will do much better than previous attempts by TSR folks to catch lightning in a bottle again.

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  29. It does make them look under-informed I guess.

    That's my point really. If I were going to publicly announce the formation of a company to publish old school gaming products, I'd make damned sure my public statements inspired confidence about my knowledge of the current marketplace for said products.

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  30. RE: TSR folks catching lightning in a bottle again.

    My favorite OGL company formed by former TSR folks would have to be Sovereign Press.

    They actually had some nice books, which seemed to actually grok what made d20 tick.

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  31. Jim Ward=Fast Forward Entertainment. Remember them?

    I remember the company crashing and burning because Mr. Ward couldn't figure out how to avoid flagrantly violating the D20 System License, and was accordingly required to pulp a lot of product.

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  32. They were in trouble before that.

    But in every way, Fast Forward's motto was "shut up! we know what we're doing! shut up!"

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  33. But in every way, Fast Forward's motto was "shut up! we know what we're doing! shut up!"

    Most people aren't very good at running successful businesses, game designers included. I'd think, given the track record of some of the people involved, they'd start very modestly rather than appearing, cap in hand, seeking a quarter of a million dollars in investments for an unproven company.

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  34. Well I put my two cents in over at Dragonsfoot.

    The basic gist of my post is that if want to sell to a community that has been created around open standards then you need to use the standards and be open.

    If you don't what generally happens is that you will be ignored and have to build your customer base like any other new company.

    The probable result is that you wind up being a niche of a niche.

    If you have a unique setting or adventure that created with a specific vision (like Bottle City) then this doesn't matter as much.

    In the best case this give positive push forward for us all.

    The worse it is a distraction and a new niche within the whole OSR is created. Like C&C and Hackmaster are distinct niches within the larger OSR.

    The fact is that Swords & Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Mutant Future, etc are getting to the point where they are self sustaining.

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  35. Delta:
    "The problem is the CR12 Lucifer being in the core-rules context of fairly common CR16 Pit Fiends..."

    So you use CR 12 Lucy as an avatar, or in a setting where pit fiends either don't exist or are the 13 hd guys from the 1e MM, not the 3e monstrosities.

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  36. Yesmar:
    "James Ward didn't have anything to do with Bottle City. That mod was written by Rob Kuntz."

    Oops, sorry - I get my D&DG authors mixed up. :(

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  37. "...and was accordingly required to pulp a lot of product."

    Now that's old-school pulp literature!

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  38. "So you use CR 12 Lucy as an avatar, or in a setting where pit fiends either don't exist or are the 13 hd guys from the 1e MM, not the 3e monstrosities."

    Great, in 30 seconds you just out-designed anything from FFE, because they failed to foresee any of those needs.

    Also, the word "avatar" for D&D entities makes me puke a bit in my mouth, but we're all friends here.

    http://www.superdan.net/dndmisc/avatars.html

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  39. Delta - while avatar is an Indian term, equivalent entities exist in many mythologies - eg High/Most High/The Third are avatars of Odin. The concept also works in a Moorcockian multiverse to represent Lords of the Higher Worlds appearing on planes where they're not yet well established.

    OTOH I am not disputing FFE were not good at statting 3e. To me that's not a big strike against Jim, though. 3e can be a real straitjacket.

    OT: I first heard the mouth-puking thing from some dweeb on rpgnet. Please don't use it here, or in any respectable company, if you want to be respected.

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  40. not only does the approach that encompasses both Savage Worlds and Pathfinder worry me, the bit about including Mongoose Runequest seems odd. I mean why not Chaosium's Basic Role Playing? Runequest & BRP don't suffer from quite the edition wars of D&D's progeny, but I wouldn't exactly call Mongoose Runequest "Old School"

    I remain perplexed. ;-)

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  41. From Frank's comments later in the Dragonsfoot thread, it appears the intention is to release a generic adventure or supplement, and bundle it with a booklet of stats for a bunch of different systems.

    So you look up the Troll from room 17 in your Savage Worlds, Hackmaster, Pathfinder, etc chapter, and go from there.

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  42. So you look up the Troll from room 17 in your Savage Worlds, Hackmaster, Pathfinder, etc chapter, and go from there.

    That seems needlessly complex. I mean, if you're going to write a stat-less product, then write a stat-less product and let each referee come up with his own game mechanics. Having a little insert with stats from a dozen different games is only going to be a headache, especially since I can guarantee that many of those stats will be done incorrectly and will only catch you flak from fans of those games.

    The more I hear, the more skeptical I become.

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  43. The first idea for success is removing Jim Ward from any involvement.

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  44. The first idea for success is removing Jim Ward from any involvement.

    Let's not turn this into an anti-Jim Ward post, because that's not the point at all. My feeling is that Mr Mentzer and company are barging into a situation of which they don't seem to have a really good sense and I fear the whole enterprise will founder because of it. That'd be a shame.

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  45. I always hated dual-statted products, much less tri- or, god help us, quad-statted product.

    Although as I say that, I clutch my class Thieves' World books, that are many-statted to my breast like a security blanket.

    I guess it depends on how GOOD the book is and if it, you know, is about Thieves World.

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  46. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  47. "High/Most High/The Third are avatars of Odin."

    I am enormously skeptical. Citation?

    "I first heard the mouth-puking thing from some dweeb on rpgnet. Please don't use it here, or in any respectable company, if you want to be respected."

    And now I'm also enormously skeptical of (1) your views on rpg.net (which I've never visited), (2) idiomatic origins, (3) dweeb-ness, and (4) what is counted as respectability here. I'll take my chances.

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  48. Lots of cons here. Some pros:

    Frank has 30 years of OLD SCHOOL written material (i.e., AD&D 1E, D&D, etc) to draw from. He ran three different 1E sessions at NTRPG Con, all from his files, after running four completely different 1E adventures in a convention earlier this year. I asked him how many adventures he had "ready to run" in his handy file cabinet. The answer was "hundreds"......!

    Thirty years of material to draw from, including his own campaign world (Aquaria) complete with multiple fully fleshed out megadungeons. Doesn't look like they will be begging for any material soon.

    On top of that, since Tim's return to the hobby, he's been cranking out multiple OD&D adventures for various cons the last two years. The ones he ran at NTRPG con and Gencon got high marks from players. From what I witnessed they are extremely old school in tone, style and presentation.

    Multi-statted product means mega-sell through, without having to come up with your own system. Frankly, even I get confused at the multiple systems out there now, and we are close to reaching the point of system saturation. If you can sell the same adventure to players of Pathfinder, C&C, Hackmaster, OSRIC, BFRP, BRP, L&L, and S&W, you've hit on quite a little goldmine. Frank, Tim et al aren't going to stat the things themselves; they realize their limitations. The plan is to have an "expert" on each system to the conversion/statting to avoid problems.

    Note that for several years Frank ran a very successful bakery with multiple outlets, and was forced to sell out not due to the economy or any sort of financial disaster, but simply due to the fact he could not run the business in his "hands on" style while living in another city (he had his wife had to move to take care of their elderly parents) and moving the businesses would be problematic. Frank is familiar with the business end of a large company.

    I admit I am a little perplexed where the fifty 5K shares will come from. He says he has 30 lined up (I know at least one of the investors myself) and I trust he wouldn't throw that out there unless he has a pretty good idea where the rest will come from. I wouldn't be surprised if some of the publishers he mentions (Paizo, Troll Lords, and Kenzer) aren't some of the investors themselves. Why not? It's advertising dollars when Frank gets the product out and the name of their game system is on the cover.

    FWIW, Frank first announced this endeavor at the Acaeum dinner at Gencon 2008. Since then he's had a year plus to work out a lot of the details, including talking to several of the publishers and getting verbal permissions to use their systems. Knowing Frank, he's already gotten his ducks in a row...this may look "seat of the pants" but I'm sure Frank has done a ton of behind the scenes work in the last year. No matter how you look at it, it is a "win-win" for the OSR, if for no other reason we may see new product from some of the few remaining legends of our hobby.

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  49. "High/Most High/The Third are avatars of Odin."

    Delta:
    "I am enormously skeptical. Citation?"

    Gods & Heroes from Viking Mythology, Branston, 1978, at pg 14.

    It's actually "High, Just-as-High and The Third", sorry.

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  50. No matter how you look at it, it is a "win-win" for the OSR, if for no other reason we may see new product from some of the few remaining legends of our hobby.

    As I said, and as people seem to be forgetting, I want this to succeed. I'm simply skeptical of it, given what we know now about the proposed company's plans and the track record of such endeavors in the past. I don't think that's the least bit unreasonable or "negative" and I'm a bit shocked that anyone would interpret it as such. If what people want is 24/7 rah-rah fanboyism for everything produced under the banner of "old school," they've come to the wrong blog.

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  51. Badmike: Multi-stat means mega sell-through.

    That is not representative of gaming history at all.

    The last high-profile lines I can remember going DUAL stat were Silver Age Sentinels and Deadlands.

    Neither line fared well.

    Once you get past dual-stat, there are so few products that have even tried that it's really hard to judge.

    At any rate, past data of actual game lines I am aware seems to disagree that dual-stat is an advantage.

    In fact, my experience leads me to believe its a disadvantage.

    Especially, as has been mentioned, in a case where the games are very different (like OSRIC, Mongoose Runequest and Pathfinder).

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  52. Multi-statted product means mega-sell through,

    Having some experience with this with Points of Light. Multiple-stats or edition neutrality is not a panacea. Used the right way it can help.

    But also using it the right is a pain as you have to explain to each audience why it works for their niche. And what works for fans of 4th edition doesn't work for fans of Labyrinth Lords.

    Plus that 18 pages comes out of your pocket. Either you get less game material for the same $$$ or you pay for the extra pages. In either it gives a comparable product designed for a specific ruleset an advantage.

    Now Points of Light is a bit unique in that I don't have to have full stats to make it work as a product. If I tried to make adventures based off one of my Points of Light lands then I would facing the same trade-offs.

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  53. "Once you get past dual-stat, there are so few products that have even tried that it's really hard to judge."

    I think it's a good point. Has it ever really been done right? I can think of far more edition neutral items than multi-statted. I don't think it's impossible to do, however, and it entirely depends on the material. Conley's Points of Light and the Freeport series comes to mind as recent material that is alreadly somewhat content neutral and might thrive in various genres.

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  54. Badmike: It's so much a problem of no one having done it right. People have done a good job imo, including both of the prominent examples I listed (Silver Age Sentinels and Deadlands).

    In each case, the d20 stats were done WELL imo.

    But dual-statting has several intrinsic problems. First, like a port of a game between different gaming platforms, not all implementations of a game product will be optimal.

    The more different the game systems are, the more pronounced this difficulty becomes.

    Second, being able to write well for a game system is a specific skill. Not everyone can write for every system.

    This means you often have one writer per system. Ever hear about too many cooks?

    Third, this also means your editor will likely be less familiar with one system than another. Which means either worse editing for part of your book, or multiple editors, putting even more cooks in that kitchen.

    Fourth, multiple writing and editing teams means books just take longer.

    Every person you add to a team is one more person to get sick, or get married, or get divorced and miss a deadline.

    5th, you inflate page count (and thus printing costs) without inflating content.

    If you print 30 pages of fluff and 20 pages of rules times 4 systems, you've printed 110 pages for a 50 page book.

    These problems are not, by and large, problems that can be "handled" or skillfully done away with.

    They each make a dual-statted product a little worse than a single stat product.

    And the more types of stats you include, the more of these problems you have.

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  55. I will remain wilfully hopeful. There's a lot of talent and experience there. A lot.
    That they're trying to get investors? Seems a fundamental part of most every business.

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  56. I'm a bit surprised and disappointed at the instant arm-chair-expert nay saying. We're not talking about a bunch of n00bs who think they can turn pro because their buddies said they run a good game. These guys are proven professional writers and designers.

    At the moment so-called 'old school' products are aimed at old school players. For the most part, the products themselves even copy the semi-amateurish look of the 1970s originals. And, frankly, sometimes nostalgia trumps quality. But there is no reason to think that professionally produced 'old school' inspired items that are clever, unique, and well presented can't find a wider audience or their own niche along side Goodman Games, Green Ronin, Malhavoc Press etc.

    Even if the company that is eventually set up is more modest in scope, the entry of these legends of the game into the current gaming market place of ideas should be something to be excited about and not sh*t upon from a great height.

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  57. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing their stuff. I've rather gone off Goodman's DCCs, which ape the old modules' look but generally are of vastly inferior quality - so much so that I felt embarrassed running my wife & brother in law through one recently. Compared to eg B3 Palace of the Silver Princess, which they had played years earlier, Dreaming Caverns of the Duergar was dreck. Same for my regular game group - after starting with B7 Rahasia and B5 Horror on the Hill, Palace of Shadows was just about ok but The Slithering Overlord didn't really cut it - and those are 2 of the better DCCs, I think.

    If Mentzer and co can match the quality of old TSR, in a nice glossy package at something not hugely above Goodman prices, I'll be ecstatic.

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  58. Even if the company that is eventually set up is more modest in scope, the entry of these legends of the game into the current gaming market place of ideas should be something to be excited about and not sh*t upon from a great height.

    If merely admitting to well-founded skepticism about the likely success of this is a bad thing in itself, then guilty as charged. I'd be quite happy to see excellent new old school products from any source. If they come from the hands of those who shaped this hobby at its foundation, all the better. But, judging by the past, there's good reason to be doubtful.

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  59. If Mentzer and co can match the quality of old TSR, in a nice glossy package at something not hugely above Goodman prices, I'll be ecstatic.

    Me too; I never said otherwise. I'm simply skeptical that this is likely to happen, given the history of similar ventures in the past. I'm wrong, I'll be the first to admit being so, but I don't think that likely, based on what we know now.

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  60. I have no information, so I'm only speculating, but I wouldn't be surprised if the high start-up cost of their proposed buisnes is because they might want to invest in their own printing equipment from the start. Not a bad plan, because most publishers deal with relatively low volumes, and if you can get that print cost down you'll be in much better shape. Not only that, but they can go the Troll Lord route and print material for other publisher's too so they can get the most return on that equipment.

    Again, just my speculation.

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  61. Would it be a heretical thought here to ask people ever contemplated a system-less series of adventures (or largely system-less) take the basic OSRIC concepts and just write damn fine adventures that anyone could port into any gaming ruleset?

    Much of the Old School seems to be arguing over this and that but what is happening is that individual founders had really radically different orientations when it came to designing games. This formed a common ground because they were all aping one another to gain commercial success. Now, they have had fame but not fortune they want to start the whole thing again and yet the market does not want yet another game system - it wants more interesting things (speaking as a consumer) how you get the whizz, bang & flash in the pan is incidental to the fun that you have experiencing it.

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  62. Dan,

    That's an interesting speculation and I hope it's true, because it'd at least make more business sense than several of the other theories that come to mind.

    I guess we'll see. If this venture proves to be a big hit and just what the OSR needs to hit the proverbial "big time," I'll be the first to admit my skepticism was unfounded.

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  63. Referee,

    System-less products are feasible to an extent (see Rob Conley's Points of Lights for good examples of these), but the lack of system-specificity has limits, particularly when it comes to adventures. Even Judges Guild back in the day had a "system" they used for the non-licensed fantasy adventures and sourcebooks. I suspect that a company that focused solely on system-less products would have a very limited sub-set of an already-small market.

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  64. Multiple-stats or edition neutrality is not a panacea. Used the right way it can help.

    But also using it the right is a pain as you have to explain to each audience why it works for their niche. And what works for fans of 4th edition doesn't work for fans of Labyrinth Lords.


    Indeed. Personally, I prefer writers to pick a system and then use and leave conversion to the individual referee. If you're dealing with games like OD&D, 1e, or 2e (or their clones), conversion is easy; it's when you start throwing other games into the mix that I start to be skeptical and think the virtues of system-neutrality become much less.

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  65. @Dan of Earth

    As you note, Mongoose went that route, getting their own printing press. The whole scheme failed spectacularily.

    Printing with printing presses requires professional trained printers, and a lot of other stuff as well, which makes it neigh impossible for anyone to just buy a press and start churning out books.

    And then the problem becomes how to get economy into the picture, when the press isn't printing rpg stuff, what is it doing then? And so the need to print other stuff arises, and then suddenly there's a whole other ballgame you're playing.

    If, and I don't believe so, the plan is to use 250 grand to buy a printing press and start cranking out books, then the aforementioned venture is even less likely to succeed than I have so far believed. And I'm not giving them very good odds to start with.

    @the general bussines plan

    If they bring in 250 000 dollars, they have to sell about 50 000 books before that investment has earned a grand total of 0 dollars, assuming the get 5 bucks back from every module they sell at 10 dollars.

    And that's if all the money from the books goes to paying the investors. If any money goes to other expenditures, like salaries, rent for office space, computers, freelance fees, or what have you, we're pushing 100 000 books sold before the investors see that 0 dollar return.

    Let's say they are very successful, and sell a 1000 copies of each module. I think that's feasible, although Paizo has said that larger numbers are doable. Still, a 1000 copies is very good in this industry today, and reaching Paizo level is still only 2000 to 3000 or so, when it comes to modules (note: I don't have any numbers, but I think I read on EN World that this is what people might sell today).

    Let's say a 1000 copies. Then they have to put out 50 or 100 titles respectively before people make 0 dollars. And the thing is, I strongly believe that the number they are looking at selling, when it comes down to real life, is closer to 500 than to 1000. Even less maybe.

    If they get a bunch of people to sign up for this deal, it's about the longest shot ever at getting your money back I've heard of in the RPG industry. Anyone investing in this would likely get more money back out of skimming parking meters for left over pennies, in the long run.

    I'd love to be wrong by the way. Frank Mentzer had a hand in creating the first D&D I played, and it was immensely cool. I just think they are over reaching at this time and in this economic reality.

    /Magnus

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  66. I'd heard that the Mongoose in-house printing scheme proved to be a poor business plan and that their books suffered in terms of physical quality because of it. Most small press stuff these days seems to be done either through some form of POD or overseas, because of the economics of it. Given the likely audience for any gaming products, never mind ones specifically aimed at the old school, I have to wonder whether in-house printing would be viable.

    But we'll see, I guess.

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  67. Keep in mind it's only a guess, we can't assume that's what they have planned. If it is, I wouldn't be too quick to assume failure. I don't know what the factors were with Mongoose, but the Troll Lords seem to be managing successful with their own print setup.

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  68. I don't know what the factors were with Mongoose, but the Troll Lords seem to be managing successful with their own print setup.

    If it's a model that can be made to work, more power to all involved. As I said, I certainly don't hope for the failure of this or any other venture. I'm just intensely curious as to what kind of old school publishing endeavor could possibly require a quarter of a million to get off the ground, given how small the likely market is for such products.

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