Thursday, August 26, 2010

Kerfuffle de la Semaine

I suppose it will come as no surprise that I've gotten a lot of emails asking me my opinion about the somewhat unexpected controversy -- unexpected by me anyway -- surrounding the recent announcement of the merger between Mythmere Games and Frog God Games. Experience has taught me to be grateful when this blog is not at the center of one of these periodic outbreaks of grumbling, but I can't deny that, having read my fair share of blog and forum posts over the last couple of days, I do have a few words to say on the subject. I don't really have the energy to compose a coherent essay, so instead I'm simply going to present some random bullet points, in no particular order.
  • This is one of those times where it's difficult to take sides, because, truthfully, I really can see the merits of each position. I know that sounds like a cop-out (and I'm frequently accused of being too pacific -- except by those who think I'm an intemperate Puritan, but that's a topic for another day), but I really mean that.
  • I don't believe for a second that the now-removed section of Frog God's "About Us" was intended as a slam against anyone in the OSR, let alone the entire hobbyist movement. That said, I do think it was a foolish thing to include on a game company's website, both because of the possibility of its causing inadvertent offense (which it did) and because it comes across as petty and, frankly, unprofessional, the latter quality being ironically the very thing Frog God was claiming to possess in distinction to their competition.
  • I also perfectly understand why the move caused some anxiety in various quarters. The way it was rolled out, right down to the talk of a "merger," made it seem as if Frog God was coming in and "poaching" Swords & Wizardry after lots of amateurs poured their hearts and souls into supporting and promoting it, all the while getting the cold shoulder from larger companies, including Frog God's predecessor, Necromancer Games. Again, I don't think Frog God meant to give this impression, but the fact is they did and it could've been avoided if the roll-out of this announcement had been better handled all around.
  • One of the things people often overlook is that, for many old schoolers, not being noticed by larger companies is a feature not a bug of the OSR. They prefer to exist on the margins, outside the notice of the Big Boys (not that Frog God can reasonably be called a "Big Boy," but that's not the point). They've seen how "old school" is slowly morphing into a nebulous bit of marketing speak designed to feed consumerism amongst nostalgia-besotted gamers (witness WotC's upcoming "Red Box" release of D&D IV) and they rightly, I think, worry that this move is another manifestation of that. And given that Frog God is not only changing S&W in terms of content -- the "Complete Rules" vs. the "Core Rules" -- but esthetics, I can't say I blame them.
  • Equally overlooked is the fact that there are other old schoolers who've never really gotten over the fall of tabletop RPGs out of the mainstream. They're as committed to the Old Ways as any of us, but they also long for the days when you could go into Toys 'R Us or a major department store and see a boxed version of D&D on the shelves. For these old schoolers, attracting the notice of a better funded, connected, and "professional" company is an unequivocally good thing, because if it leads to even a fraction of an increase in the popularity of the hobby in the world beyond our little echo chamber, there's hope for the future.
  • Also overlooked is the reality of what Frog God is doing. According to this page, the initial printing of S&W will consist of only 300 copies -- 100 limited edition hardcovers and 200 softcover ones. That's less than half the number of products that Jim Raggi published in the first print run of his Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Role-Playing boxed set and about the same for most "small press" companies, probably even less. So, while S&W has a new publisher, it's not as if the game is suddenly going to be much more available than it was before or than other retro-clones are, such as Labyrinth Lord. This shift seems to me to be more about workloads for those involved and not so much about S&W "going mainstream."
  • That said, I don't like or approve of the change in the look of the game. The new cover, posted above, while technically very proficient, lacks the quirky brilliance of Peter Mullen's original. It's just another run-of-the-mill D20 era cover slapped on to a game that really deserves its own unique graphical look. I can understand why, for "branding" purposes, Frog God wanted a new cover, but why something so indistinguishable from hundreds of other early 2000s D20 products? Brave Halfling altered the look of White Box for their version and did a good job of it, I think. I am, as I say again and again, not a fan of aping the graphic design of TSR circa 1978 and I've taken a lot of flak for that position. By the same token, why should Swords & Wizardry's "Complete Rules" look like a generic high-end D20 product from 2005?
And that's about all I can think to say about the matter right now. I think, ultimately, this merger isn't going to amount to much, except that we might start to see more regular releases of S&W products and that's a good thing. The real test will be whether those releases are good ones and in keeping what we've already seen. In the end, that's all that matters.

[A Potentially More Controversial Postscript: I will never cease to be amazed by others' amazement that someone should become emotional and even irrational about news like this. We're dealing with fandom, after all, and all of us are, to varying degrees, strongly emotionally invested in this hobby. If we weren't, we wouldn't spend so much of our free time discussing it with one another. I'm not a very emotional person myself, but I have my moments of enthusiasm, even mania, and they occasionally lead me astray, but so what? I'd frankly be more concerned by a lack of such a response, because it's then that I'll know the flame has finally gone out of this hobby.]

85 comments:

  1. That was very well said. Thank you for the measured take on the subject.

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  2. Good points. For myself I didn't catch the implications of limited print run of Hardbacks.

    It is a bummer that it happened because I worked with Bill Webb and Necromancer on the Wilderlands boxed set and they are pretty nice folks. I wish them the best.

    The only thing that really bothered me about the whole controversy is that people are missing the fact that because Swords & Wizardry (and most of the retro clones) are under the OGL. They can never truly "go away" like what happens to prior editions under traditional publishing.

    I blogged about this in more detail over on http://batintheattic.blogspot.com

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  3. So apparently I hang out at the wrong sites- or the right ones.

    This is the first I've heard of this controversy. Could someone link me to the discussions James is referencing?

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  4. Thanks for sharing your feelings, James. You always have a way with words, even if I don't always agree with you. That bit about the emotional ties and fandom certain applies.

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  5. Regarding the packaging and cover art, I agree. While I love the current S&W look, I don't object to change per se. What I object to is trading an original (albeit nostalgic) design for the dated, derivative d20 look.

    I'd like to believe that Frog God has developed a new product design which reflects the character of S&W even better than the existing cover, but I find that hard to believe based on the work I see on their website.

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  6. I can understand Frog God wanting a new cover, but they should of had Pete Mullen or any of the other new wave of old school artists illustrate it. Really, Its a big mistake making S&W look like other systems on the market as half the attraction of S&W was the art itself.

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  7. I don't believe I will require anything beyond my Black Blade copy. While not as dismayed as some, when a $40 price tag hits oldschool core rules I am not biting. I like the DIY look and feel of the older S&W books and their Pete Mullen covers.

    However, I do see wisdom in not printing as many of these as James Raggi did of his game. Raggi will sell all of his.

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  8. Some really good thoughts, James. Particularly on the aesthetics, from 3e onward the art of D&D (and the d20 / OGL universe of products) has never really appealed to me. It's just not evocative of anything other than itself. What I am concerned about is precisely the dilution of old school material becoming too much of a buzzword, it's enough of a community right now that I can still use it as a filter for tastes and ideals similar to my own.

    Swords & Wizardry has had some good supporting materials published, but I think it's diluted this sense of community and I won't give its material the benefit of the doubt, or raring-at-the-bit enthusiasm, any more. I'm not saying I would never buy any S&W stuff ever again, but I'm certainly not going to do so without some recommendations from people who do share the ideals of our little community.

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  9. I dunno; I quite like the new cover. Looks like maybe Jon Hodgson or somebody like that?

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  10. As an artist that has worked on both the White Box and Core Rules, FG's comment really rubbed me the wrong way. I don't think I created any masterpieces of art, but I hoped it at least fit into the feel of the original game. But taking away the amateur feel will more than likely turn this into yet another D20 game, complete with illustrations of buxom dark elves and emo warriors.

    I think I'm going to stick with my old books and with T&T.

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  11. I don't like or approve of the change in the look of the game...

    I don't feel a strong dislike for the cover art, but, by the same token, I really do like the cover art for the Labyrinth Lord hardcovers I just managed to secure, and am very happy with the book design and aesthetic for them. I doubt I'll need any other set of OSR rules other than LL: they suit my purposes quite nicely.

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  12. That bit about the emotional ties and fandom certain applies.

    I've noticed a rise in the number of commenters who palpably sneer at others' emotional connection to the hobby -- and yet seem to spend an inordinate amount of their time visiting every forum and blog they can find to tell people what fools they are to behave this way.

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  13. What I object to is trading an original (albeit nostalgic) design for the dated, derivative d20 look.

    That's probably my #1 criticism of this announcement, actually. I think the new cover is just dull, a paint by numbers D20 era piece that neither establishes a new look for S&W nor one suitable for it. If there's any chance FGG can change that before release, I'd highly recommend they do so.

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  14. I can understand Frog God wanting a new cover, but they should of had Pete Mullen or any of the other new wave of old school artists illustrate it.

    Yep. There are tons of great artists out there with their own unique styles who'd have been perfect for something like this. I certainly didn't expect Frog God to stick with the Mullen cover (though it is awesome), but they could have at least gone with something more genuinely evocative and original than the one they've chosen. I'd love to know if it was specifically commissioned for this book or if it's a holdover from some other project.

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  15. While not as dismayed as some, when a $40 price tag hits oldschool core rules I am not biting.

    To be fair, that's just the price of the limited edition hardcover. The regular release softcover will be $19.95, I believe. That said, I don't like limited edition RPG releases; they're geared toward a primarily consumerist market rather than actual play.

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  16. What I am concerned about is precisely the dilution of old school material becoming too much of a buzzword, it's enough of a community right now that I can still use it as a filter for tastes and ideals similar to my own.

    I share that concern to an extent, though I try to look on the bright side and see that as evidence that old school is starting to make waves outside our community.

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  17. Looks like maybe Jon Hodgson or somebody like that?

    It's Rick Sardinha piece, actually. He's a talented artist, no question; I just don't feel his style really suits S&W, or at least this particular piece doesn't.

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  18. But taking away the amateur feel will more than likely turn this into yet another D20 game, complete with illustrations of buxom dark elves and emo warriors.

    The cover certainly suggests that, yes, but I guess we'll wait and see what the interior illustrations were like. If were Frog God, I'd be getting in touch with some of the best neo-old school artists, including those who'd worked on earlier S&W products, and bringing them on board. It'd be a nice gesture of goodwill toward all the people who've made S&W the game it's become.

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  19. It's Rick Sardinha piece, actually. He's a talented artist, no question; I just don't feel his style really suits S&W, or at least this particular piece doesn't.

    Ah that is right, he did the cover for A Family Affair as well (which I thought was a cool cover), so has previous links to Necromancer. For my part, I understand the idea that a game is associated with a particular aesthetic, but I suspect that if this had been released as the cover of S&W in the first place we would not be judging it so harshly. Sure, the serpent creature is a bit stilted and the proportions of whatever the heck it is they are walking towards are wacky, but I think S&W need not have just one art aesthetic, and this one will probably appeal to a wider audience.

    Of course, although I always thought S&W was a great idea and loved Mullen's two covers, I never actually bought into the game. I guess when folks are loyal to a brand, the flip side is that they always run the risk of feeling betrayed! :D

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  20. I think that anytime a "Old school" product becomes a little closer to mainstream there will be a big ado about nothing. I for one am going to hide in this nice dark 10x10x10 room I just found with a treasure chest and wait it out till I see the products that come of this, not just the arguments.

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  21. I guess when folks are loyal to a brand, the flip side is that they always run the risk of feeling betrayed! :D

    Well, I don't even play S&W, so I'm not sure it's a question of brand loyalty so much as a sense that the game's design is strongly rooted in the early days of the hobby and so its visual esthetic should reflect that. Within that esthetic, there's a lot of room for diversity, though, which is why no one raised any alarm over, say, Mark Allen's work on BHP's White Box version of the game, even though it was clearly different than the quirkiness of Mullen's Core Rules (or original WB) cover.

    I guess, in the end, appearances matter and Frog God stumbled at the starting gate by simultaneously talking up "professionalism," "breaking into the mainstream," and very different cover art, all the while trying to sell yet another version of S&W and seemingly slighting hobbyist gamers. None of this was intentional, I'm certain, so I don't begrudge them the error one bit, but, as I said above, if I were Bill Webb, I'd be working hard right now to build better bridges to the old school community so as to avoid making these kinds of errors again.

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  22. Style aside, I think the original cover art is, straight-up, a better piece. It's composition is clear, direct, and the content choices are evocative, and while I wouldn't mind that same image done using the craig-mullensy digital-impressionist style, the new image is definitely murky in its narrative, and (perhaps ironically) goofier. I lol'd when I sussed out what was apparently happening ("Hey, guys, did you hear Fred say something?").
    ---
    HÜTH
    illustration and graphic design
    www.chrishuth.com

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  23. It will be interesting to see if this causes S&W to be exposed to a wider audience of younger players. A large number of the S&W recaps I've read to date come across as being Miller-Urey experiments. I want to see what a new generation of gamers does with S&W and where they take it.

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  24. Well, I don't even play S&W, so I'm not sure it's a question of brand loyalty so much as a sense that the game's design is strongly rooted in the early days of the hobby and so its visual esthetic should reflect that.

    I dunno, that sounds a lot like brand loyalty to me, but I guess this is not the place to press the point too strongly. Maybe I should put it another way, I have no real preconceptions of what the art should be like for S&W, so I am judging the piece only on its own merits and not with relation to a specific aesthetic that I identify with S&W. Yeah, this has been a bit of a public relations disaster, but to some extent it is the learning curve for new players in the market.

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  25. Thank you James, this is as even-handed an approach as I've seen. Kudos.

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  26. I must admit, I honestly thought it was Jon Hodgson when I first saw it.

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  27. The Frog God guy has been pretty polite, pleasant, and as apologetic as one could reasonably expect in the comments I've seen him make.

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  28. I am confused. What makes this new cover "d2oish," let alone dated?

    I think the cover represents Finch's work quite well: Victims... er, adventurers entering a strange, mysterious, dangerous place.

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  29. I think that anytime a "Old school" product becomes a little closer to mainstream there will be a big ado about nothing.

    And that's because there's a lot of ambivalence within the OSR to the possibility of becoming mainstream. For many of its participants, being outside the mainstream is one of the primary attractions to the scene.

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  30. Style aside, I think the original cover art is, straight-up, a better piece.

    Absolutely.

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  31. I want to see what a new generation of gamers does with S&W and where they take it.

    Unless a larger number of book is printed in subsequent print runs or very few existing S&W players buy the Complete Rules when released, I'm not sure very many of that new generation will even see a copy of the game.

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  32. The Frog God guy has been pretty polite, pleasant, and as apologetic as one could reasonably expect in the comments I've seen him make.

    Bill Webb has always struck me as a good fellow with his heart in the right place. That's why I'm willing to cut him some slack on this, even if I do wish the whole thing had been handled better from the get-go.

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  33. James you said in a comment above:

    "I think the new cover is just dull, a paint by numbers D20 era piece that neither establishes a new look for S&W nor one suitable for it."

    I admit that I like the new cover painting (I also really like the Mullen piece - the "old cover") but I hadn't really thought about establishing a "look" for the line. So, even though I still like the image, you're right. It doesn't establish a look for the line under the new publisher. For me, Otus established the tone of B/X D&D just with the covers, though the Easley covers for the revisions established a new look there, too. I get it now, and I have to agree that the new image just doesn't do it...

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  34. I am confused. What makes this new cover "d2oish," let alone dated?

    I think it's mostly that it looks so much like a lot of other covers used by Necromancer during the D20 era, which is no surprise, since Rick Sardinha did a lot of work for the company back then.

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  35. Honest to god, when I first saw the new cover, I thought "Maybe that Cursed Chateau look is catching on?" Guess not. :)

    Bill Webb has been nothing but a class act during this whole kerfuffle and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Old-schoolers seem to be about on the same level of crust punks and Fallout fans as far as outrage goes.

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  36. Old-schoolers seem to be about on the same level of crust punks and Fallout fans as far as outrage goes.

    I still remember the unbelievable punk rock nerd rage when Jawbreaker signed to a major. Fortunately, I completely ignore what passes for "punk rock journalism" and, since I'm hours from the nearest scene, I don't have to actually listen to anarcho-punk types kvetching about Against Me! making the jump.

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  37. Let's not forget something in the rush to pillory those of us who really took this event emotionally - right or wrong. I have permission to copy this paragraph from a private communication:

    "This is the thing that I'm reading that most people aren't getting. I see all these people asking "what's the big deal? Why are people upset or hurt?" These same 'cheerleaders' are consumers and not the people that actually contributed and got snubbed and slighted. That's the difference between this side and that side. And this is the thing that those people will never understand no matter how much you tell them, because they aren't wearing these shoes. This decision, regardless of what some might say, affects alot of people."

    There's a lot of emotional coin people spent on S&W. I was as vociferous of a cheerleader as you'll find - I still am for the basic concept of a simple, accessible OD&D clone and S&W (Core and WB) fits that bill. When you get presented with a fumbled opening, with a deal that just drops on you *blam* and on some changes that on the surface feel like coporatism, well... it feels like something was taken. Right or wrong, that's how I and others feel.

    Maybe Webb and FGG et. al. will prove to be a class act, or maybe this is the worst mistake that Matt could make. Time will tell. For me, this has been a pretty hard 36 hours and I am just sitting back now and waiting to see how it unfolds with a healthy sense of skepticism.

    But don't dismiss my love for the game as some piece of dung... I/we really care about S&W and what happens to it.

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  38. Hell, anarcho-punk types kvetched about Against Me! signing to Fat, whose only crime was being a bigger independent label than No Idea or Plan-It-X.

    However, I feel that Dear You has been vindicated by time. It's still my favorite Jawbreaker record.

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  39. While I really like the concept of a cleaned up OD&D ruleset, the cover, and the especially the name Swords & Wizardy, I found S&W had a number of shortcoming especially compared to LL. S&W hangs onto too many OD&D vagaries like the dual class elf rule while trying to foist that ascending AC scheme on us.

    I'm not sure what impact yet another edition in a few 100 copies is going to make. It's still available as a free PDF isn't it?

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  41. Honest to god, when I first saw the new cover, I thought "Maybe that Cursed Chateau look is catching on?" Guess not. :)

    Lots of old schoolers criticized the look of The Cursed Chateau and, while I don't share their feelings on the matters (obviously), I get where they're coming from. The big difference, though, is that that product was and always has been my product, so, like its look or not, it's not a change from a previously established esthetic.

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  42. Self-identifying as an anarchist is in itself kvetching.

    I am confused. What makes this new cover "d2oish," let alone dated?

    Well, the d20 boom led to lots of crappy digital painting and photomanips in gaming art, both in and out of WotC, and I think a lot of people getting into it at the time were using the Mullinsian digital impressionism style as an excuse to suck. That WotC has stuck to Wayne Reynolds as their cover artist standby is definitely saying something.

    As for 'dated,' I think someone's rolling on the Random Internet Critique table...
    ---
    HÜTH
    illustration and graphic design
    www.chrishuth.com

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  43. These kind of debates over DIY end up reminding me of my time spent involved in punk scenes, when it suddenly wasn't all right for me to like the Blue Meanies or Against Me! anymore because they were trying something new on a major label.

    I'm just really excited for what seems to be an Advanced Edition Compendium equivalent for Swords and Wizardry.

    @James, that's completely understandable. I guess I didn't really see it as a deviation from the established aesthetic when I first saw it. I only have the Core rules, but I felt that the color palate in the Complete cover was deliberately evocative of the Mullen original.

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  44. But don't dismiss my love for the game as some piece of dung... I/we really care about S&W and what happens to it.

    That's the thing that seems to be forgotten by some of the people wondering, "What's it to you?" Disagree with the sentiment, sure, but do so with some understanding why folks might be anxious about this.

    I remember when WotC was bought by Hasbro, there was lots of hand-wringing in various quarters about what this meant for D&D. Good thing that turned out OK and the worriers were all mistaken, right?

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  45. I'm not sure what impact yet another edition in a few 100 copies is going to make.

    Well, it's 300 copies, if you combine both the limited and unlimited versions, but, even so, 300 isn't that many. Now, maybe that's actually more than were out there in distribution beforehand, I don't know, but I was under the impression that S&W was already pretty widely available. I know you can get it through Amazon, for example.

    It's still available as a free PDF isn't it?

    The Core Rules and White Box still are, so far as I know.

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  46. I'm glad this is the only old-school site I regularly visit; I grew tired of RPG tempests-in-teapots a long time ago. Also, S&W isn't my OSR game of choice; I lean more toward Labyrinth Lord, so I haven't a dog in this fight.

    On the topic of the cover, I can see your point, James, about styles and unique looks, but, I have to say, I do like this cover quite a bit.

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  47. As for 'dated,' I think someone's rolling on the Random Internet Critique table...

    Heh. To be fair, I don't find the Sardinha cover "dated" exactly, but it does remind me strongly of a lot of products from the latter days of the D20 boom. That's not necessarily a knock so much as an acknowledgment that it's every bit as recycled as OSR products that just imitate TSR's trade dress. S&W's original look certainly wasn't derivative.

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  48. @James - understanding why folks might be anxious about this.

    This is like a classic movie script - small town kid who everyone helped out suddenly makes it big and the townsfolk feel a little left out of the whole deal or they are upset at the changes and the attitude of the big city folks.

    D&D/RPGs got their start from hobbyists becoming professionals, and I think this (S&W) is probably a rare moment that we're seeing that happen again, especially after there being so much freely given content/contributions to its success. Most people identify as consumers, I suspect, so they don't see the big deal. For those who have closer ties, it's a much different perspective.

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  49. On the topic of the cover, I can see your point, James, about styles and unique looks, but, I have to say, I do like this cover quite a bit.

    It's not a bad cover by any means and, if I played S&W, I could learn to live with it. I think the bigger issue is that it's so different from what we've seen before that it gives the impression that Frog God is abandoning all the came before in favor of a new vision of the game. True or not, I can understand why guys who've poured their heart and soul into supporting the original game are anxious about this.

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  50. Most people identify as consumers, I suspect, so they don't see the big deal. For those who have closer ties, it's a much different perspective.

    Precisely.

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  51. Well, I dont know a lot about art, and I can't feel nostalgia either because I wasn't even born in the OD&D era, and I play 3.5, so I guess Im the intended "target" for FGG. And I must say, that I liked the original cover a lot more, it looked "right", it is what I think D&D looks like, to a certain degree. Although the adventurers there look kinda strange, but, as I later discovered, thats just Mullen's way of drawing people.

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  52. Quote=James M.

    "I remember when WotC was bought by Hasbro, there was lots of hand-wringing in various quarters about what this meant for D&D. Good thing that turned out OK and the worriers were all mistaken, right? "

    Well, to be fair- D&D was dead. TSR was dead. WOTC not only "saved" D&D (as a brand at the least) it (and Ryan Dancey of course) also is responsible for S&W, LL, C&C, Necromancer Games, and a host of other retro style products that are talked about on this BLOG and many others. Without WOTC giving people a way to make new, old product, there would most likely be no "OSR".

    Now, getting back to the grog side of my split D&D personality- I'm off grab my pitchfork & torch, and echo the villager chorus of "not digging the D20 art" !! Blech.

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  53. Without WOTC giving people a way to make new, old product, there would most likely be no "OSR".

    Absolutely. I have always sung the praises of WotC and Ryan Dancey in particular about the OGL, which really did enable D&D to live on regardless of what company currently holds its trademark. But that praise doesn't require me to think that, on balance, the sale to Hasbro has been a positive for either the company of the hobby.

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  54. Just to explain my much ado about nothing comment, I do not mean that old school trying to go mainstream or at least mainstream trying to co-opt it is nothing. What I meant was that no matter what they try either they get it "mainstream" and it fails because they are mutually incompatible terms at the moment or it turns out to not really be mainstream and everything is back to square one but with a new option in play. As of right now old school can not in anyway go mainstream because the people that support it do not want that and to try you would go down the road that D&D has already gone down culminating in what is fourth edition and the thing that drove many people to old school in the first place.

    To summarize it would be like trying to get a paladin to work with a chaotic party, even if you succeed the paladin loses all his cool ability's that you wanted to play the paladin for in the first place.

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  55. This is from Bill on the swords and wizardry forum:http://www.swordsandwizardry.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=35&t=2852&start=90

    "Cover art is the cover art--pretty nice (I almost cried actually) Sardinha piece made just for this book."

    So it was specifically commissioned for the new book. So I don't think it will be changed.

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  56. So it was specifically commissioned for the new book. So I don't think it will be changed.

    Thanks for the info.

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  57. I like the idea of changing the cover art. I do wish they had a better piece than this, however. So drab and subdued.

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  58. @chig
    D&D/RPGs got their start from hobbyists becoming professionals, and I think this (S&W) is probably a rare moment that we're seeing that happen again, especially after there being so much freely given content/contributions to its success. Most people identify as consumers, I suspect, so they don't see the big deal. For those who have closer ties, it's a much different perspective.

    You know.....okay, The above from James and this, has convinced me I was out of line. I work in an area where nerd rage is all about self indulgence and posing, so yes, I missed the fact that you were sincere here; plus too, I've been bitten by this in other communities. It seems its got a bit too easy for me to be cynical, and I'm sorry for that.

    Having said that, I'll not stir this up again with opinions about the issue - and just move on.

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  59. Here's my opinion on the subject:

    "To me the the Rick Sardinia cover says "Some may poh-poh the idea of a simple, oldschool system such as S&W providing a rich, sophisticated, adult RPG experience..but you're wrong! Not only is S&W good for simple dungeoncrawls, Rient-sian gonzotude, and funn cheetoism; but it can also be used for serious, "adult," dramatic, "literary" play!" (not that I'm advocating railroading, Dragonlancing, or story-before-game), "Not only can you use S&W for the Treasure Dungeon of Darth Viraxis, but you can also use it for a serious game of Tolkein-ish questing!" (does anyone else get a watcher at the gates of Moria vibe from it?)."

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  60. One reason I guess I can't identify the cover as "d20ish" is that I really can't think of the cover of a single d20 book. I never looked at them.

    I don't think I could identify an old Necromancer cover out of a lineup. Well maybe the Wilderlands box cover, but that's it.

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  61. They've seen how "old school" is slowly morphing into a nebulous bit of marketing speak designed to feed consumerism amongst nostalgia-besotted gamers (witness WotC's upcoming "Red Box" release of D&D IV) and they rightly, I think, worry that this move is another manifestation of that.

    This hits me on the nose. Again, to back this up, here are some choice examples of Frog God Games' blather:

    We've got "guilty pleasure" anti-intellectualism:

    "If you want to know the flavor of the elven tea, we are not your guys. If you want to slay dragons, rescue maidens and steal the treasure...well, we are."

    Angry mob chants to fan the flames of vacuous antagonism:

    "Down with MMOs! Down with video games! Down with miniature games thinly disguised as roleplaying games!"

    Passive-aggressive strawmen-snipping:

    "Our encounters won't be "balanced" to make sure no one dies, and a 3rd level monster may or may not have 50.2 gp (like its supposed to in certain rule books)."

    Now let's contrast this with the kind of thing that a hobbyist approach produces...oh, let's say Philotomy's OD&D Musings.

    If you were a new gamer, which would be more helpful to you in terms of developing a healthy and satisfying relationship with the hobby?

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  62. "I've noticed a rise in the number of commenters who palpably sneer at others' emotional connection to the hobby -- and yet seem to spend an inordinate amount of their time visiting every forum and blog they can find to tell people what fools they are to behave this way."

    Speaking only for myself, I have no problem with others' "emotional connection to the hobby." I have a strong emotional connection to the hobby myself, and S&W in particular (having written a number of articles for Knockspell).

    What I found so upsetting about the (over)reaction to the minor piece of ad copy at FGG's website was the willingness -- indeed the enthusiasm -- of some people to assume the absolute worst about Matt Finch's judgement in making this deal. People were leaping to the most negative conclusions possible.

    I've known Matt for 6 years now (albeit only online). He has never failed to be considerate and respectful in his relations with others. Moreover, he clearly has a passion for this hobby, one not in any way related to a simple desire to "make a buck."

    Consequently, the failure of so many people to extent to him any benefit of the doubt struck me as quite rude and childish. Especially those who should know better, given their association with S&W.

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  64. I can understand the emotional involvment in a beloved game.
    I can understand that there are different opinions on how S&W should be represented in layout and art.
    But I really wonder at the rampant elitism that sneers at S&W (and with it the OSR) going mainstream.
    What would be so bad if suddenly lots and lots of gamers would play S&W (or LL or LoFPWFRP etc.)?
    Or is it that mainstream also means that a lot of people will play these games in ways that are not approved as Old School?

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  65. I've never really played S&W. I looked at it and decided I preferred LL. So like some others, I can't say the new cover rubs me the wrong way. I actually think it looks nice, and I think it does evoke the sense of an "old-school" game, given D&D's inspirations (thinking Abraham Merritt here). And like JimLotFP, I can't really identify d20 stuff because I never looked at much of the stuff. I'd have a better chance of identifying Adam's cat.

    On the "worried about 'Old school' becoming a marketing term" bit, I'd say that genie has long been out of the bottle, indeed since circa 2001. Pull that Hackmaster (4th edition) Player's Handbook off your shelf and turn it over to the back cover. What's the dominant copy there? "Old-school Gaming."

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  66. So drab and subdued.

    It's a mite understated for my tastes too, especially when compared to Mullen's original.

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  67. One reason I guess I can't identify the cover as "d20ish" is that I really can't think of the cover of a single d20 book. I never looked at them.

    Drop by their website sometime and take a look at the gallery of cover images there. You'll find that this new cover very much of a piece with the others shown there. Like I said, I don't think it's terrible by any means, but it's pretty uninspired compared to Mullen's original and does nothing to establish a unique look for this new game line.

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  68. What I found so upsetting about the (over)reaction to the minor piece of ad copy at FGG's website was the willingness -- indeed the enthusiasm -- of some people to assume the absolute worst about Matt Finch's judgement in making this deal. People were leaping to the most negative conclusions possible.

    I didn't see much "enthusiasm" for this in evidence on any of the blogs/forums I read; what I did see were people in shock of the fact that a company whose predecessor had publicly turned its nose up at the flagship retro-clone appearing without warning as the new publisher of S&W. I think that shock was/is justified, even if I don't think, as some initially did, that it portends something dire.

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  69. What would be so bad if suddenly lots and lots of gamers would play S&W (or LL or LoFPWFRP etc.)?

    I don't think it would be, but that's just me. That said, I don't think that outcome is likely with so small an initial print run. I'll bet a lot of self-publishing amateurs out there produce more than 300 copies for their products.

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  70. On the "worried about 'Old school' becoming a marketing term" bit, I'd say that genie has long been out of the bottle, indeed since circa 2001. Pull that Hackmaster (4th edition) Player's Handbook off your shelf and turn it over to the back cover. What's the dominant copy there? "Old-school Gaming."

    I don't think anyone begrudges Kenzer's use of the term, because HackMaster does indeed represent something one can genuinely identify as "old school." The worry is about companies who can't make the same claim coming along and using the term.

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  71. I actually like the illustration. It's not like they commissioned some godawful thing with Liefeld-esque adventurers in uber-dynamic "look at me" action poses swinging 80-lb weapons. The muted colors work for me, and make sense for a subterranean city, whose residents probably don't go through a lot of house paint and cloth dye.

    The only issue I have is that it took me a moment to figure out that the monster in the foreground was holding an adventurer, and wasn't an Elasmosaurus wearing a snorkel and mask.

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  72. "I think that shock was/is justified"

    In general, I think that people should be respectful towards others, instead of immediately and petulantly leaping to the worst possible conclusions (especially with respect to someone like Matt Finch, who has done more than anyone else here in terms of actually promoting OS games).

    Being "in shock" is no excuse for leaping to unjustified and disrespectful conclusions.

    But, hey, perhaps that is just the idealist in me. :)

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  73. Blair: "Not only can you use S&W for the Treasure Dungeon of Darth Viraxis, but you can also use it for a serious game of Tolkein-ish questing!" (does anyone else get a watcher at the gates of Moria vibe from it?)."

    Ah, at this point I would so much like to link to another, unpublished, Mullen cover... but it was not made public yet.

    I very much liked the Mullen covers (all of them), their function was almost that of a brand, across all products and publishers (Core, White Box, Knockspell, Ruins & Ronin, modules...). S&W will lose that.

    But I can also see the need for a mainstream look, and the new cover delivers that very well.
    I don't see the d20 connection either. I, as well, was under the false impression that it was a Hodgson piece, linking it more to Dragon Warriors than anything else.

    The only fear I've got is that the new image will get old soon. That, after using the book for a year or so at your table, you don't want to look at the detailed, cluttered architecture.
    That's a fate the old Mullen cover will never meet because of its highly iconic quality.

    What I wouldn't like at all (and where the d20 connection is right in your face) is S&W adopting the trade dress of the regular Necromancer/Frog God modules. That faux stone/swirly mist frame, those banners and ribbons and text boxes and too many logos - that was almost iconic of d20 fare. (Note: this is just about the outer appearance - the inside layout of Necromancer books was always top notch!)

    But the width-to-height ratio of the new cover suggests rather strongly that it is meant for insertion into the regular frame layout.
    If that happens, the image will be ruined. The cavern is huge but at the same time it sets a limit to the space. The wall in the foreground adds another limit. That enormous Necromancer frame will squeeze all air out of the image, totally killing the vastness of the cavern. (An effect that can already be seen on the Slumbering Tsar cover.)

    That image needs to get the full bleed treatment.

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  74. I can't figure out what the new cover is supposed to be, which isn't a great start. The Mullen piece, whether you liked the style or not, was at least clear; this is a smudge of yellowy-greens.

    There's also not much in the way of, well, swords and wizardry, which seems a bit of a failing.

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  75. I don't like the damned if you do, damned if you don't thing going on with the cover. D&D isn't Call of Cthulhu. There's crazy, horrible shit beyond the threshold of the mythic underworld, but you decide exactly when and how to equip yourself before crossing it. This guy gets picked off by a monster because he hesitated at the gate with the skulls.

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  76. I stand corrected on the price, James, the $40 was the first price I cam across and I balked right there.

    The new cover doesn't appeal to me for two reasons:

    1) I much prefer the feel of the Mullen cover, it is in your face, in the action.
    2) This isn't a strong piece of Sardinha's work, and he does do good work. The composition and lack of depth/contrast is rather weak and visually unappealing.

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  77. The composition and lack of depth/contrast is rather weak and visually unappealing.

    Yeah, the lack of contrast with the GIANT GLOWING PILLAR OF LIGHT against the rest of the cave (where's the backlighting coming from? some big opening on the other side?) really bugs me. The placement of the light-thing in relation to the undercity-thing bugs me too; it looks like it's emerging from it? I don't know. The cover involves too much 'Wait, what...?'

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  78. James, I think you are 100% correct on the cover art. I think it's a fine piece, but it doesn't hold a candle to Mullen in terms of signifying the Old School.

    The aesthetic must fit the style, or ideology, of the game. I don't think this image accomplishes that.

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  79. Being "in shock" is no excuse for leaping to unjustified and disrespectful conclusions.

    Interestingly, neither Matt nor Bill Webb seemed to take these expressions of anxiety as unjustified or disrespectful, but instead used them as an opportunity to clarify the reasoning behind this move and tried to allay any fears they could. I'm reluctant to be more outraged at others' behavior toward a third party than the third party is of it themselves.

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  80. The aesthetic must fit the style, or ideology, of the game. I don't think this image accomplishes that.

    No, it doesn't, at least not in my mind. The Sardinha piece is too "generic" and definitely not quirky enough to suit S&W's "imagine the hell out of it" ethos. If a more "modern" art style really is a non-negotiable -- and, if so, that's rather telling -- then I think it'd still be possible to come up with something better suited to the quirkiness of S&W.

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  81. "Interestingly, neither Matt nor Bill Webb seemed to take these expressions of anxiety as unjustified or disrespectful, but instead used them as an opportunity to clarify the reasoning behind this move and tried to allay any fears they could. I'm reluctant to be more outraged at others' behavior toward a third party than the third party is of it themselves."

    Matt and Bill did indeed display considerable grace and restraint in publicly replying to others' harsh comments about their agreement.

    How they themselves felt privately about others' behaviour is something neither of us have knowledge about.

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  82. How they themselves felt privately about others' behaviour is something neither of us have knowledge about.

    That's my point. I think many of the responses in defense of Matt and Bill were out of proportion to the presumed offense, especially when we have no evidence that they were in fact offended.

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  83. "That's my point. I think many of the responses in defense of Matt and Bill were out of proportion to the presumed offense, especially when we have no evidence that they were in fact offended."

    Fair enough.

    In my own case, I certainly concede that I may have overreacted to the overreactions of others. Such exchanges can take on a dynamic of their own.

    I'll stop bothering you now. :)

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  84. I think some thought did go into this painting. As someone else noted, the color choices are compatible with the previous cover. The elements of the painting also fit at least one of the criteria you've previously lauded in older covers, like Tramp's PH. The emphasis is on a dark, mysterious, subterranean environment and location. Not on the characters. There is a feel of mystery, of danger, and of the mortality of the PCs. It looks to me like they were going for old-school content, with a style that won't feel nostalgic or "old" to newer gamers. I agree with Astropia though, that they shouldn't mess it up with a border or logos obscuring and constricting it.

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