Thursday, January 20, 2011

Delving Deeper

By now, many of you have probably heard the news that Brave Halfling Publishing is discontinuing its publication of Swords & Wizardry: White Box in order to focus on their own retro-clone, Delving Deeper. Though surprising news on one level, it also makes a great deal of sense. White Box is Brave Halfling's flagship product and is produced under license. And while, from all that I have gathered, the terms and conditions of that license are very generous, the fact remains that unforeseen future events could alter them in ways detrimental to BHP's business. So, rather than risk that possibility, however unlikely, producing and selling an in-house clone seems a logical choice.

I'm sure the usual suspects are already registering their displeasure over the appearance of yet another retro-clone, but the complainers are forgetting a couple of things. First, all the retro-clones of D&D to date are broadly cross-compatible, so it's not as if BHP's publication of Delving Deeper will suddenly make, say, the adventures John Adams will also publish uncompatible with Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, or even Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There's really no harm to anyone who isn't interested in another clone. Second, there are plenty of old school fans who are interested in additional clones, since the best of them all bring something to the table that others don't, whether it's S&W's unified saving throw or LotFP WFRP's encumbrance rules. And since the texts of all these clones are available for free, anyone who just wants to cherry-pick their best ideas without buying them is able to do so with ease. Finally, BHP's White Box was the only boxed, introductory old school RPG out there. Retailing at under $30, it was affordably priced and suitable for a wide audience, from children to adults. That gave it a unique place in the old school market, a place that ought to continue to be filled.

It's worth noting, too, that Delving Deeper looks like it'll cover a couple of related bases. It'll both allow people to play something reminiscent of LBB-only OD&D, as well as, with a few tweaks, something in line with the Holmes Blue Book. I think that's rather unique as well and will help to distinguish DD from both White Box and the other existing clones. So, from my admittedly biased perspective, I don't really see a downside to this announcement, especially since Matt Finch has stated elsewhere that he intends to continue to make WB readily available in some form, for those who prefer that version to Swords & Wizardry. What's not to like?

31 comments:

  1. I think Brave Halfling* is my favorite of the OSR publishers, so I'm happy to see this arrangement, rather than John just giving up in disgust.

    *(For some reason, I always want to say "Bad Halfling." That probably says something about me.)

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  2. Thats okay, whenever I see Greg's avatar I think its Mr. T until i change perspectives ;)

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  3. I'm glad John and Matt are making something positive from all this.

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  4. I'm with Anthony. I always look forward to BHP's offerings. An in-house clone is fantastic news as far as I'm concerned.

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  5. Can somebody reading this succinctly explain why each OSR micro-publisher needs their own game system if everything is so cross-compatible in the first place? Why not spend one's limited resources on supplements, modules and other stuff people actually might need?

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  6. Thanks for the neat news James! Especially glad to hear Matt will continue with Whitebox. I have been running it for many months now from the free pdf, but would love to get the hardcopy when I can finally afford it.

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  7. I'm sure the usual suspects are already registering their displeasure over the appearance of yet another retro-clone...

    The truth is there are only two actual retro-clones - Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC - all the rest are at best simulacrum games, Swords & Wizardry: White Box included (as Matt Finch admitted during the WB implosion). This is not a criticism, just putting things in perspective for those who are complaining that here is "yet another" clone.

    If John Adams produces a true clone of the 3LBBs, that'll make the third true retro-clone on the scene. And if he gives it options that will make it compatible with Holmes and S&W:WB, gamers can only gain (including any White Box fans who are feeling let down at the moment).

    And of course as has been pointed out, all these clones and simulacra are easily compatible.

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  8. "the best of them all bring something to the table that others don't, whether it's S&W's unified saving throw or LotFP WFRP's encumbrance rules."

    I guess this raises the questions of why we need the now-seemingly endless repackaging of the other 90 percent of the rules.

    I dig the innovative new parts too, but have started to wonder if we would all benefit more from people publishing the 5-15 pages of variant systems that are actually unique in each of these sets and be done with it.

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  9. Bravo for Mr. Adams and Crew, I'll definitely be getting one of these! Under $30 for a box set, totally complete! You rarely see that these days, and he deserves kudos for it(White Box == Awesome), in my view. Also, he owns the rights to X-plorers, and I look forward to his development of that game.

    @James C:
    So customers can use the variant of 'D&D' that appeals to them most, to go along with the adventures and other supplements.(No one is forced to buy anything, ya know!.) More customer choice is good, I think. I don't mind throwing my money to publishers with quality products who love the game.

    @ckutalik:
    It's easier for actual use to have the preferred 'tweaked' rules set to hand in one package, imo.

    I don't think there's a limited amount of overall creative energy to be parcelled out, therefore I'm cool with more 'clones'(i. e. the 'cloners' aren't 'wasting their time' coming up with rules when they could be cranking out 'other stuff'. If they wanted to do the 'other stuff', they would, regardless.); though obviously only 2 or 3 will be 'dominant'.

    Note also more modules, settings, and general game expansions are making there appearance, as amateur(especially on blogs) or professional products.

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  10. There certainly is a lot of brand diffusion; The Tome of Horrors is coming out for Pathfinder and ... I want to say Swords & Wizardry? I remember it was an OSR game, but there's so many of them. If consumers see a book for Delving Deeper, will they know how close that it is to what they're playing? Will they even know it's D&D; it could be FATE or FUDGE or something whose closest resemblance is to GURPS or RIFTS. Even if you remember that it's D&D, what rules are going to trip you up in the game? Are the saving throws, the spell resistance, the skill system anywhere close to what you're using?

    There could be a lot of D&D 3.5 look-alikes, but most publishers seem happy working with Pathfinder. The only other one that comes to mind, at least as currently in print, is Castles and Crusades, and they seem to have picked a deeper position. Two isn't bad; it's the constant proliferation.

    And, um, Delving Deeper? Between this and Adventures Dark and Deep, methinks that someone is going to get a nastygram about trademarks in 2011.

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  11. Can somebody reading this succinctly explain why each OSR micro-publisher needs their own game system if everything is so cross-compatible in the first place? Why not spend one's limited resources on supplements, modules and other stuff people actually might need?

    There is no 'need' involved, of course. Enough people will buy the stuff that a little money can be made; that's all that matters, businesswise. As for modules and supplements - Jesus, does anyone still need more of those? There are more RPG modules out there than any gamer will ever, ever play in a single lifetime - not just D&D stuff but material easily ported from other game systems. (And of course other games entirely.) Folks make more of the damn things because the making itself is enjoyable, etc. No one's going to get rich off 'old-school' gaming.

    That said, at this point, OSR publisher folks like Jim Raggi either (1) know they're never gonna make much money at this, and can live with it, or (2) are idiots.

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  12. (To be clear: Raggi is an example of group (1).)

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  13. @Prosfilaes:
    Brand diffusion:
    Also known as choices; I don't think its that confusing, myself!

    'will they know how close that it is to what they're playing?':
    They can check? Informed consumer, and all that.

    'Even if you remember that it's D&D, what rules are going to trip you up in the game?':
    Rulings, not rules. Most clones are so close to original rules(i. e. quick 'n' easy) that most issues could be resolved quickly, anyhow. It's preference, really.

    There could be a lot of D&D 3.5 look-alikes:
    There were; most of 'em are dead now, 'cuz of quality issues. I'd say the 'clones' are different due to being in a market segment that is generally more decided on the features they're looking for.

    'most publishers seem happy working with Pathfinder':
    Due to WOTC's policies.

    'Between this and Adventures Dark and Deep, methinks that someone is going to get a nastygram about trademarks in 2011.':
    Doubtful; AD&D is not DD! ;-)

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  14. I have no problems with retro-clones or simulacrums because I'm a game looter. All these versions of The Game have their own ideosyncracies and quirks. I strip them in my dungeon chop shop and weld the provacative components on to my own super charged AD&D street rod.

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  15. I like having lots of varying complete rulesets. I find the one or several that strike a chord with me, then tell my players which one we're using. I like the conversations that go "I like how this one does this or that one does it that way."

    Each of my games goes on to have its own unique character and quality, but it's forever flavoured by the specific ruleset that I started tinkering with. For me it's just like doing art - it's like being able to pick between canvas types, different papers, oil, watercolour, pencil, etc. It would suck if all my art store had was acrylic paint and one type of canvas, and then I had to try to use that if I wanted to make something that looked like a pen and ink or a pastel or whatever.

    Anyway.. "We take what we want and leave the rest, just like your salad bar." - Egg Shen

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  16. I like this very much... Especially this: "Go back to a time when every weapon did d6 damage, clerics could cast no spell at first level, only fighters could use magic swords, and if you wanted a locked door opened you had to bash the thing in!"

    But can someone name this RPG to me: "the Third Print Edition of a modern rpg inspired by Original Edition" ?

    I'm confused :)

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  17. Guys, I like having options and that there are different takes on the baseline rules as well. But what if the creative and commercial resources being expended on re-skinning the same game again and again with 20% unique were instead spent on further developing the 20% unique. If those buying all of these editions are only kit bashing anyway, why not focus on making kits to bash vs. restating the rules that are being kept?

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  18. Can somebody reading this succinctly explain why each OSR micro-publisher needs their own game system if everything is so cross-compatible in the first place?

    I suspect not. Each has their own reasons, and a useful explanation of any one of them often isn’t brief.

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  19. @ Bard: "the Third Print Edition of a modern rpg inspired by Original Edition" ?

    That's S&W Whitebox - so DD is a 3-in-1, there is the S&W:WB-isms (single save?), the truer-clone than WB (more saves!), and the Holmes options.

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  20. @James C:
    'But what if the creative and commercial resources being expended on re-skinning the same game again and again with 20% unique were instead spent on further developing the 20% unique.':
    See my post on 'creative energy', and Wally's on 'need', Robert Fisher's most concise explanation on motivations of the publishers, and I add for emphasis:
    'Cuz that's what the people coming up with this stuff want to do, dude! It's their time and money...

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  21. No need to point out to me the posts preceding yours velaran, I'm capable of reading and comprehending them on my own. The motivations of the publishers strike me as simply pride or possibly misguided greed. Recent bulletin board hissy-fits only reinforce my suspicion of the former. I was just wondering if anybody else had a different take aside from adulation or "because THAT's why, dude".

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  22. @James C:
    'simply pride or possibly misguided greed':
    Pride? Maybe. But most of the rules are derived from the work of others. So...

    Greed? The profit margin on this is not very high. It's not 1981 any more. :-)

    'I'm capable of reading and comprehending them on my own.':
    I didn't elucidate them for you. :-/ I just thought they were pertinent to my post.

    adulation:
    ????
    There's been mostly 'why do we NEED more clones' from what I saw...

    'because THAT's why, dude':
    I don't see how pointing out that the publishers want to clone(using their time and money) is irrelevant to your question.

    You obviously don't like the idea; that's cool. The clone guys aren't concerned about it apparently. My take is they're just coming up with their version of D&D and sharing. It's not likely to set the world on fire, and I'm pretty sure they know it. YMMV.

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  23. @velaran: There's a reason why D&D has always been the biggest game; it's because everyone knows D&D, and is willing to play it. No matter how close S&W is to DD, I'm not going to be familiar with all of them.

    I love the "informed consumer" nonsense. In general, people buy what they've heard of or is the right price, which is not necessarily best. Most people would rather play then spend a lot of time comparing different game systems to each other. And if they're looking at something in a store, and don't have an iPhone or any other internet connection?

    Most of the D&D 3.5 clones are not dead because of quality issues; they're dead because the market for yet another D&D 3.5 clone was nil. Many publishers publish for Pathfinder, because the demand for a book for Pathfinder is much higher than that for a new D&D 3.5 clone.

    @migellito: I don't know what effect the D&D OSR is having on the RPG ecosystem as a whole, but while OSR D&D may be different sizes of canvas or different colors of paint, but they're all the same type of canvas and paint. I'm looking at Adventures Dark and Deep, and bailing out after 25 pages; I've seen it all before, and it's not worth reading the whole thing to find out the few differences.

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  24. @Prosfilaes:
    'everyone knows D&D, and is willing to play it':
    Not everybody is willing to play, though most all know it, but I know you mean to say most, as in household name recognition. Like say Nintendo in the video game field, Ford for trucks... YMMV on various brands.

    'No matter how close S&W is to DD, I'm not going to be familiar with all of them.':
    The clones are so close to the originals in %92 or thereabouts I wouldn't see a problem, personally.

    'Most people would rather play then spend a lot of time comparing different game systems to each other.:'
    I'd say a quick skim through the book/a PDF preview and visiting a forum or two would probably be enough to make a decision. Of course, everybody's different on this score.

    'informed consumer nonsense':
    Not everybody's an informed consumer, ya know...
    But the concept is hardly nonsense, I know quite a few, plus the Internet, various magazines, word of mouth, etc...

    'And if they're looking at something in a store, and don't have an iPhone or any other internet connection?':
    I'd ask other people browsing in the store as well as the attendants, myself. I assume many people'd do the same...

    'Most of the D&D 3.5 clones are not dead because of quality issues; they're dead because the market for yet another D&D 3.5 clone was nil.':
    The others weren't considered to be up to late 3.5/Pathfinder's standards and dropped by the wayside, so I'd say quality had something to do with it. I'd say Paizo has it sewn up for the foreseeable future!(But I'm no Oracle, so grain of salt, and so forth...)

    'I've seen it all before, and it's not worth reading the whole thing to find out the few differences.':
    I'd say that's the essence of the debate for those who don't want more clones, wouldn't you? :-)

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  25. In the end, though, the reasons aren’t really important. If Delving Deeper isn’t worthwhile, then it’ll get ignored. Even if it was created with the best of intentions. If it is worthwhile and finds success, then it doesn’t really matter if it was motivated by greed or pride.

    Raggi created his RPG simply as a tool to get his supplements and modules into stores. It was successful enough that it has him rethinking his business. I have a hard time seeing where the error in that is.

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  26. @veleran: I understand the likely profit margins, hence "misguided" qualifying the word greed. Pride relates to the sentiment "yeah, these rules are already all out there, but this is my version"

    I've actually got no beef with Raggi's game because ultimately he is striving for something original. He is expanding on that 10%-20%.

    Look, I've got no problem with publishers trying to sell what they make. I'm just wondering why the community is willing to keep buying what they already have. Robert Fischer already summed up the reality of the situation above, so I'll leave it that.

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  27. @James C:
    That's a different question. I think I know why the publishers clone.(Tinkering, sharing, maybe a little spare cash...) As for the fans buying the clones, I guess they like the options, packaging, the different feel of the various rules. But that's imprecise, so I'd suggest the best method, imo, would be for the posters(if any more happen by, and are willing!) to give their reasons.

    Me, I like looking 'em over, noting tweaks, mulling design choices, and estimating playability, but I only own three clones in hard copy: S&W, Mutant Future, and LL.(I will be getting Original Edition and Advanced Edition Characters, though. And maybe Peyrton Fantasy RPG(OGL 3.0 Clone[I don't have one of those, and it looks interesting, so... ]). I'm going to donate S&W to someone and pick up Delving Deeper.(Which looks like it'll bring something new to the table as well as emulate White Box.)

    'He is expanding on that 10%-20%':
    Agreed. You never know how far he's gonna go.Looks worth it. Love the vibe anyhow.

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  28. I bought LL, AEC, OEC, & MF. I like LL because B/X is my favorite D&D, but I like LL’s all-in-one organization and that it is OGC. With OEC & AEC, I find it a very compelling package. I am thankful for it (and GORE as well), so I'm happy to send some money Goblinoid's way.

    I bought the LotFP Wierd RPG because it was such an impressive product. A quality box that was packed full. Contents that made a lot of sense. And some interesting twists rather than just a retro-clone. I want to see more products like that. I was curious if it really was going to be as good as it looked, and it was. And it seemed like a perfect starter set for my gf.

    Now that I write that, it seems that both of these are bringing value beyond the systems they contain. It is about form and organization. Trying to build on what exists and make it better.

    But that's all I've bought. I don’t foresee buying more, but I might. If something impresses me.

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  29. I'm looking at Adventures Dark and Deep, and bailing out after 25 pages; I've seen it all before, and it's not worth reading the whole thing to find out the few differences.

    That's fine, prosfilaes. I'm not writing it for you, I'm writing it for me. I just happen to be making it available to anyone else who's interested. Some (most?) will get it just to have the new classes or spells or magic items or monsters, and that's just fine, too.

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