Thursday, February 24, 2011

Envious

If, like me, you've ever imagined what it might have been like had Dungeons & Dragons not taken off and eventually become the plaything of a multinational corporation, a good model might be Tunnels & Trolls. T&T is still produced by its original publisher (Flying Buffalo -- man, do they need a new website) and is still controlled by its creator, Ken St. Andre, who remains very active in the game's community of fans, particularly through Trollgod's Trollhalla. Having had the occasion to interact with Mr St. Andre on several occasions, I can't speak highly enough of him. He's funny, self-effacing, and accessible -- an all-around stand-up guy.

Consequently, I feel more than a little envious of fans of T&T fans. In many ways, they have the kind of situation I wish D&D fans had: their favorite game in print in several editions, the differences between which are small enough not to have permanently splintered their community, and an engaged, down-to-earth creator always ready to communicate with his game's fans. D&D fans have had (and continue to have) parts of this situation, but not all of them and, over the last few years, Time has robbed us of even those.

Unfortunately for me, I'm a D&D guy and always will be. I've read Tunnels & Trolls many times and really appreciate its virtues (which are many), but it's never quite clicked with me, for some reason. I'm not entirely sure why, though I could venture some good guesses if I had to do so. I've hung around Trollhalla and visited several of the T&T-related forums and, as I've said, I've interacted with Ken. All of these things have made me envious of what T&Ters have and, although they're quite generous in offering it to me as well, I've never been able to take it up, since Tunnels & Trolls isn't "my game," if that makes sense.

Perhaps it doesn't, I don't know. All I can say is that I hope T&T fans appreciate what a wonderful situation they have compared to the enthusiasts of many other RPGs. I am envious.

38 comments:

  1. I've never directly attached myself as being a fan of one game to the extent you describe and as such I consider myself quite lucky.

    That is, I'm a Star Trek fan. Regardless of what games come and go, what editions they make or even how well a movie does or doesn't do, I still love Star Trek and will run it with FASA or ICON or D20 if I must or whatever I have on hand.

    The same holds true for Supers. The same holds true for Star Wars. Giant Robots. Anime Romantic Comedy. Etc.

    I love genres and I love certain universes and the big, bad, world of gaming doesn't really effect that. All it does it provide the tools.

    If black and decker stops making a hammer or a drill I don't care. Somebody makes hammers and drills and the ones I have still work. It doesn't stop me from building my dreamhouse.

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  2. But James, I’ve been assured that this can’t happen. CoC, T&T, GURPS, &c...they just can’t be like that. Game companies are businesses. They obviously—or so I’ve been told—must do things the way Wizards of the Coast does or their families will starve to death.

    ^_^

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  3. I completely agree with this sentiment. I've certainly tried to give myself the T&T bug. I even played in a game at last GenCon with Ken St. Andre himself. Granted he was a player, and I suspect I would have much more enjoyed having him as DM. Still, I count myself lucky having gotten into that game at all.

    Nevertheless, T&T has just never really clicked for me. Guess I'm just a D&D guy at heart. Too bad really.

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  4. I have to agree that huge changes in a system ruin a property's community continuity. D&D and Warhammer, which happen to be my two favorite fantasy systems, are the worst offenders and have horribly fractured fanbases. Call of Cthulhu, probably my second favorite game of all time after D&D, is noticeably different. And I like that.

    It is truly a shame.

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  5. I agree with your sentiment. I had T&T (5th ed) but after reading and re-reading it more than once, I could never find the will to run a game, and in the end I sold it.
    Probably I too am just a D&D guy; and probably because D&D was my first game? Don't know.
    Fact is, T&T (and CoC and some other games) show that you don't need to revolutionize a game to keep it afloat as a viable business.

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  6. I followed the link to Flying Buffalo's web site and was amused to see Mike Stackpole included in their product list. I wonder how many of him they have in stock?

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  7. We may not have that situation in the past with D&D but we do now with retro-clones for older editions and Pathfinder for 3.X fans.

    Ten years from now there will be retro-clones and some form of 3.X

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  8. @ Sean Robson

    Would you happen to know if that's a 1st or 2nd edition Mike Stackpole? I'll check ebay, too.

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  9. I feel confident in saying that every edition of D&D has a larger fan base than any edition of T&T. D&D players could completely have the same sense of community; all they need do is agree to disagree.
    The fault lies not within the companies that have produced these games, but within the subsets of gamers who feel the need to separate from one another based upon edition. I think its high time gamers took responsibility for their own divisiveness and bad behavior.

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  10. @Robert FIsher: You realize that none of those games you listed make anyone any money, right? E.g., if SJG depended on GURPS to pay its bills, SJG would be out of business.

    Not every company needs to be like WotC, but let's be realistic here. Heck, even D&D (as you can see from TSR) has never really made anyone any money. (D&D's brand, of course, has mode at least some people some money, but not on the tabletop.)

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  11. Aos - I have nothing to discuss with a 4th edition gamer, for instance. The style of game I run doesn't mesh with that edition's rules well at all.

    The rules fragmentation drives the community fragmentation, not the other way around.

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  12. For me (and this is a compliment), T&T was great for those times when you wanted to get a quick RPG fix in, had only 30 minutes to play before you went to bed, or didn't want your friends over wrecking the place, eating your chips and despoiling your bathroom. This was accomplished by playing through one of the T&T solo adventures. None of them took long to play, usually thirty minutes, sometimes shorter, and you could cure your quick RPG bug.

    Flying Buffalo's niche in the market seemed to be these solo adventures--they published approx. 25 solos compared to about 3 GM adventures, and they did a fine job with them.

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  13. Really, Pat? You're talking to me right now. I've played 4th. I can find something to discuss with just about any gamer, regardless of edition or game or whatever. Why are you reading a blog entry about T&T? Is it the game you play? Surely with its crazy rules it has nothing to offer you.

    Beyond that, even if you ignore 4th and all editions you do not play, you still have a larger community that T&T. Rules don't make up a community, people do. Blathering endless edition wars and angry, entitled and arrogant fans of every edition have done far more to divide "the community" than any rule set could ever hope to.

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  14. I deeply love T&T, and am a member of Trollhalla (Dupin), and enjoy the fact that the editions are largely compatible. I have found that the T&T combat system can break down at certain points and that players need to be willing to accept perfectly abstract combat -- no real wargaming roots to the combat rules.

    I also very much enjoy the path that D&D has taken over the years and run a regular 4th edition game. I don't see either path as superior or inferior. I love the integration of role play, tactical, and strategic decision making involved in the latest edition of D&D.

    That said, I respect people who don't like the current flavor of the game. Personal tastes are personal tastes after all. I just don't understand venom against the company for changing the game -- even so radically.

    There are abundant "official" products for each edition, and there are abundant small press products for older editions as well. One literally cannot play all the existing products that are worth playing to their absolute end -- for any edition -- in a life time. One could spend a life time merely exploring Greyhawk.

    This is wonderful. I revel in this wonderful world.

    I think the main difference between D&D and T&T is that T&T wouldn't have any adventures -- and would have died long ago -- but for a community akin to the modern OSR community. The trolls of Trollhalla kept the game alive for a 7th edition (and 7.5) by creating product during lean times.

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  15. Tunnels & Trolls is a great game for a particular mood. I've played both T&T and D&D over the years, and I've had fun with both. They scratch different itches.

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  16. T&T is so under appreciated, imo. T&T 5th's 30-year+(5.5 in 2005) Reign of Awesome is unparalleled!(The fan-made Unofficial 6th[compatible with 5.5] is even better in my eyes, but there's currently no plans to re-issue it or the excellent reprints of older editions, outside of Monsters! Monsters!, as far as I know. I hope FBI and all concerned can come to an understanding and make these widely available.)

    @Buzz:
    'You realize that none of those games you listed make anyone any money, right?'
    Flying Buffalo did bang-up with T&T, especially in Solos, for years(on both sides of the Atlantic, actually), CoC wasn't the reason Chaosium went into debt(their Mythos CCG was) as it was profitable along with Elric and their other primary games, and SJG USED to do well with GURPS until the early 2000's.

    'even D&D (as you can see from TSR) has never really made anyone any money. (D&D's brand, of course, has mode at least some people some money, but not on the tabletop.)':

    D&D made a LOT of money, especially on the 'tabletop'. Fortune 500 Company, the FIRST fully computerized company in existence, cartoon on a major network, books(novels, coloring books, how-to hobby, etc...), board games, Electronic versions on Console(Intellivision, NES, SNES, etc...) and PC(SSI especially/Black Isle later), T-shirts, Dice Bags, Booksacks, and so on. They raked in 20 or so million in 1982 alone. It was shennanigans with overproduction of novels, Heroquest/Magic Ripoffs, neglect of non-AD&D properties(including D&D), suing GDW, focusing overmuch on Buck Rogers, etc... that doomed them, see the post-mortems. The current owners could do more to push the game, I'd say. It should be more widely available in stores of all types alongside their other products. The belated Quick Start in Walmart, Target, FLGS, and the like is a good, but belated(and unfortunately, the game isn't 'complete' of itself) effort.

    'if SJG depended on GURPS to pay its bills, SJG would be out of business.':
    Instead, it depends on Munchkin!(Eggs, basket, the whole deal) The hardback, divided, more expensive rules, with similarly priced/bound supplements didn't seem to help. Sad, GURPS was once known for its comprehensive, readable, and reasonably priced rules and sourcebooks.(WOTC's 1999 survey indicators placed GURPS as the 5th most played RPG in the late 90's, IIRC.) Powered by GURPS games were a step in the right direction for me, and there have been more cheaper GURPS softbacks mentioned lately, so hopefully with some more effort the line will be up and running again.

    @Higgipedia:
    'huge changes in a system ruin a property's community continuity':
    Or perceived ones. Or actual/believed changes in the focus or tone. See 2nd Edition AD&D, for example, as well as your examples. But your sentiment is spot on.

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  17. Post had to be broke up...
    @Aos:
    'I think its high time gamers took responsibility for their own divisiveness and bad behavior.':
    Preference for whatever edition/game won't go away solely due to a desire for 'unity'.(nor should it, it's games, after all; this ultimately is just fun. And debating merits/faults of rules/settings, done with Politeness and a sense of Fun, is too!)

    'The fault lies not within the companies that have produced these games':

    No blame whatsoever for Edition Wars? Wow. There are other ways of making cash off the already existing Editions, but the Received Wisdom is to crank out another in say, 5-10 years and hope for the best. Companies like WOTC bear the brunt of opprobrium because they own and produce the game itself, and players alone can't decide what's official and what's not. Their creation of multiple Editions is the only reason Edition Wars even exist!(Regardless of intent.) Player made Editions never become the most popular iterations and barely even rate in the consciousness of the fanbase.

    'Blathering endless edition wars and angry, entitled and arrogant fans of every edition have done far more to divide "the community" than any rule set could ever hope to.':
    This seems to absolve the owners of the rules from any responsibility.... Many people think Rules(and Official Support for them) Do Matter. And I don't think the 'angry' people are 'arrogant' and 'entitled', but upset that they don't have 'official' support for 'their' game anymore.(They're perfectly aware anything copyrighted to any company or person[s] is not 'theirs', of course. But Ken St. Andre and Gygax/Arneson said T&T and D&D was "your game" now, and people took it to heart!) WOTC should release Printed Editions(if only Print On Demand) and cleaned up PDFs for fans of earlier Editions, imo. It'd make them money, for sure.(It did before.)

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  19. @ Velaran, I don't think official support matters. Period. So we will have to agree to disagree on that point. See how easy that is, everyone? No need to scrag the other guy- even if he by chance did it to you first (which obviously did not occur in this case).
    As far as absolving the companies of responsibility goes- sure, I do. I control what I buy and what I don't, not WoTC or any other company. If they don't produce something I want, I don't buy. Getting mad about it serves no purpose except to make me feel important and at the center of things. In reality, however, it is no more all about me than it is all about anyone else. Sure, I'm a really special fucking snowflake, but I don't expect anyone to give a damn about that.
    I do agree that polite and mutually respectful conversations between those that use different systems or editions are awesome, as I think I made pretty clear in my posts. Too bad it's in such short supply.

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  20. BTW, you can buy Monsters! Monsters! for the Nook and it should be available for the Kindle soon. These editions actually contribute to the coffers of Mr. St. Andre.

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  21. @Aos:
    'I don't think official support matters. Period. So we will have to agree to disagree on that point':
    Um, no. We agree on this one!

    'I control what I buy and what I don't, not WoTC or any other company':
    Yep, but they make what they want/believe to sell, and they MAY go back later and and revise it, or they may just give up, and write it off as a loss. Various factors contribute to the production and maintenance of the game, but someone has to actually market it first.(So the first salvo is theirs in the Edition Wars! And the balance of responsibility on them for further versions.)

    'Getting mad about it serves no purpose':
    As I said earlier, I don't think most people who are dismayed about Edition changes are pissed off as much as disappointed, from what I've seen. And the 'anger' you see may lead to a new edition, the scrapping of the old, people not buying from the company, etc... Not all constructive/destructive, though.... i.e. 'If they don't produce something I want, I don't buy'. :-)

    'I think I made pretty clear in my posts':
    I thought you did, myself. :-)

    'Too bad it's in such short supply':
    It seems to depend on where you go, and on the individual(s), the time of day, etc... The usual.

    Thanx, great reply!

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  22. Aos: When a game changes so drastically between editions that your entire library of previous edition stuff is unusable that causes a fracture in the community. Yes I can sit in the same room as a 4E player and discuss the best way to kill orcs but we can't sit at the same table and play the same game unless one of us decides to play the others game. Thats a fracture in the community created by the publisher of the game not the players.

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  23. @ Velaren. Just to clarify, I don't think most fans of out of print editions are arrogant entitled feeling jerks. Sadly though, those that are make a tremendous amount of noise, and many will attack fans of other editions unprovoked, often with the excuse, "They did it first!" This is a sad excuse for bad behavior, imo, especially if one takes a step back and comes to grips with the fact that no groups of fans exist as a monolithic organization. The best and worst sorts of folks play them all. Some fans of 4e really hate 1e and can't shut up about it, but no all fans of 4e. If we lump them altogether we must, perforce, lump ourselves in with all the fans of the game or edition we like to play. As for me, I'm not much for belonging, really, so no thanks! Given that fact, in retrospect, I'm probably the wrong guy to be holding forth on "community."
    Anyway, enough of my dumbass blathering.

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  24. @ cibet, I just don't get it, I guess. I loathe 3.x, but I didn't feel sidelined or excluded by it. I still used all my op material (but I'm a core books only guy) and I just played that stuff with people who wanted to play that stuff. I admit though that I may have a skewed viewpoint, because I'm almost exclusively a referee and I've never had any trouble getting my guys to play whatever i wanted to run. We're playing one game now and we have at least two on deck for when the current campaign winds up in a year or so. So no company has ever broken up or really even impacted my game in a negative way- except for TSR, of course; they kept my cleric from having a sword. The bastards.
    Anyway, this has been a great discussion.

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  25. Yes, really. I wouldn't have written it otherwise.

    If this was a T&T blog I wouldn't be commenting (or reading), and it's not really a T&T post either. It's a post about fragmented communities.

    It's also not a 4th edition blog. You're the fellow wading in. I don't go to 4th edition anywhere and crap on their game (and I'm not implying you're crapping on earlier editions). But in the same vein, the rules don't support how I game, so the things I do and the things they do have little bearing on each other.

    For instance, I put together a big dungeon map, and want to share it - I look at 4e maps posted, it's lot of little battle maps. It's got game mechanics that discourage how I put my maps together.

    There's not much value in me hanging out in 4e forums. It's all different. Rules fault, not mine.

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  26. I haven't been a part of the T&T fandom for a while - as much as I love parts of the game, there are other parts that just don't work for me, no matter how hard I've tried to get past them (as a result, I'm slowly working on writing a T&T 'heartbreaker' on my blog). That said, when I was more involved in the T&T mailing list back and the day, and briefly got to play in a M!M! PBP game run by Ken St. Andre, I was always impressed by how open, friendly, and civil everyone was. They're a great bunch (Jim Shipman notwithstanding).

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  27. I'm not wading in anywhere Pat, I play both TSR D&D (0e, I even have a blog about it, and I am writing a supplement) and very occasionally 4e.
    I use the same kinds of maps for both, and I have learned a great deal from people who play both games.

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  28. Matt, I'm sorry of I'm coming off as tool. thinking on it I realize talk is just talk. Here are some examples.

    1. The only published setting I have ever had any interest in is Dark Sun. I will probably use it in an upcoming Spelljammer thing I've got in mind. However, I hate the way the first AD&D 2e box is presented (the gazetteer is in first person). I bough the 4e CG and, the loss of Brom's art notwithstanding, I vastly prefer the gazetteer- which is pretty much system free. I wouldn't even think of playing DS with 4e, but I'd use the gazetteer and the map of Athas (which is, imo, also better than the 2e version).

    2. The other day I read a post wherein someone suggested that when a player has a henchman or a hireling, that NPC should be played by another player. This keeps the NPC from being used as a living 10 foot pole and can lay the groundwork for some interesting group dynamics. I have no idea what edition this guy plays. It doesn't matter. I can use that idea in just about any game.

    3. This link is to a blog article about populating megadungeons; it was written by 4e GM. there is some (very little iirc) 4e specific stuff in it, but I think he provides an good framework to approach such a task- with any game.
    http://angrydm.com/?s=factions .

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  30. It is nice that the community of T&T players is pretty solid - the differences in edition are miniscule compared to the similarities. And having the game authors and original movers & shakers around is nice too. There are differences among us of course (the same as with D&D, or probably every RPG ever - people house rule and play differently at every table/skype client/etc and such) but there seems to be a lot more respect and interest in understanding each-other's play styles... And yes, Ken's moderate, good natured personality helps in this regard methinks!

    I started with D&D, but T&T was the first game that I really ran with, really "got it". Of course, I quickly began to complicate it up to D&D scale and beyond (ah the follies of youth!).

    It's just a lovely game that you can really make of what you will.

    Cheers!

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  31. :-P Missed part of post! My bad. Trying again....
    @Aos:
    A community's composed of all kinds, and just by participating in the discussion, you're a part of it! :-) There is of course, an overarching 'D&D' community composed of all Edition players, some just tend to hang out with others who roughly share their preferences most of the time. Quite a few float back and forth between versions it seems. Me? I play B/X(LL) and 2nd Edition in the D&D vein, and am a HUGE T&T 5.5/6.0 fan and BRP(CoC especially) aficionado, an Encounter Critical devotee, and a fanatic for Streetfighter: The Storytelling Game! Recently I started playing the 4th-Edition-Lite Castle Ravenloft and the D&D Fantasy Adventure Boardgame(From the 3.X Era). I'm not hostile to anyone(or their genre/version/Edition/so forth); gaming should be fun, and I don't waste vitriol on it!


    'except for TSR, of course; they kept my cleric from having a sword. The bastards.':
    2nd Edition AD&D heard of this injustice, and corrected it! Specialty Priests, a subclass of Cleric, found from the beginning of this Edition in the PHB, wield whatever weapons their God allows, rather than the no-bladed weapons stricture of the generic Cleric. A God of War, Swords, Tyranny, Slaughter, etc... may have sword wielding Priests. This became normative for 3.X+, IIRC.

    'I wouldn't even think of playing DS with 4e':
    Yeah, somehow, the grim, desperate, survivalist 'vibe' of DS didn't quite come off in the 4E version, imo. Ravenloft with its mordant atmosphere of dread and doom is going to be a challenge to pull off, I'd say. Red Steel and Birthright would seem like a great fit for 4E, I'd think.

    'the loss of Brom's art notwithstanding':
    A great loss, from my standpoint. :-( And odd, too. From a 'brand' perspective, Brom defined Dark Sun!

    Great post! Thanx for the link!
    Good luck with the Spelljammer plans...

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  32. Yeah, somehow, the grim, desperate, survivalist 'vibe' of DS didn't quite come off in the 4E version, imo. Ravenloft with its mordant atmosphere of dread and doom is going to be a challenge to pull off, I'd say.

    My understanding from the recent DDXP talks (secondhand) is that Ravenloft is off the table for the time being - the developers couldn't 'make it work' or something. (Imagine a Tim Gunn voice there.) I'm inclined to say that player expectations would make for bigger roadblocks than mechanical matters, Ravenloft4e-wise, but there it is, anyhow.

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  33. I can remember back in AD&D 1E days when the local gaming community would be bickering for weeks every time Gygax used his "Up on a Soapbox" column in the Dragon to critique some style of play or popular house rule, and end his lecture with some variation on "you may have fun doing x but if you're doing x you're not playing D&D."

    I guess you could say that the fractious nature of D&D was there from the early days.

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  34. Good post. A great example of Ken's engagement with the community dropped on my doorstep this morning. Two signed adventures from Ken himself. For me this is like if Gygax sent me a signed D&D adventure. I can see why many people don't 'get' T&T, but I love it and the community is one of the best, if not the best, gaming communities around.

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  35. For me, the big problems of T&T are the lack of clerics (Dorothy March's excellent article providing them, Mirable Dictu, not withstanding), and players not being able to get in the "Stupid PC Tricks" mode needed to avoid rather mechanistic combat.

    And while Ed. 7.0 and 7.5 are recognizably T&T, the differences from 5.0/5.5 are profound: spell levels are different, stats and their relationship to character levels are also quite different. And despite the same basic combat and saving roll mechanics, the difference in character generation and advancement makes the feel quite different.

    The T&T community IS fragmented, but, unlike the D&D Classic vs BECMI vs AD&D1 vs AD&D2 vs AD&D2+Player'sOption vs 3.0/3.5/pathfinder vs AD&D4E, the 4 big groups are still on speaking terms... There's the editions 1-4 crowd, the 5.0 purists, the 5.5 crowd, and the 7.x crowd.

    @buzz D&D made plenty of money. TSR just squandered it. Even 2E made money. What didn't make money was the over-supplementation.

    @AOS Suport matters.

    To the company:
    Too little, and there's no continuing purchase income. Too much, and the fans can't keep up. Too poor in quality, and sales drop below release costs; too high a quality, and costs rise above what people will pay.

    To the novice
    Too little, and the work of establishing the game setting can be overwhelming. Too much, and learning the setting is overwhelming.

    Further, subsidiary materials allow transferability from group to group, where houserules tend not to. Thus it's better for the average player who might be switching groups to have a supplement with the expansion than for the GM to have come up with the exact same rules on his own... because in the latter case, other GM's won't have.

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  36. @ aramis your support comments are not, imo, relevant within the context of this thread. We were discussing fan reaction to editions going out of print. furthermore, since we're on an old school board, I feel comfortable in saying that back in the old days, everyone was pretty much on their own in regards to setting, novice and experienced gamer alike. I'd been playing for years before I saw a commercial setting. As hard as it is for those who rely on support to believe, plenty of groups never use anything but core books. Furthermore, I believe my exact statement was 'I don't think official support matters' not 'support doesn't matter.' There is a significant difference- especially in regards to the OSR and D&D where support is not in short supply- at all.

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  37. I think that stating that the T&T edition differences are 'profound' is a bit hyperbolic. Considering that I can, and have, played both GM and solo adventures from 3 decades ago with 7.5 rules with a minimum of on-the-fly conversion shows that the differences are pretty minor.

    The division within the T&T community over those differences is also one of polite differences in taste. Everyone at Trollhalla, the Trollbridge, etc. are exceedingly polite and considerate.

    So, yeah, we do realize that what we have is special and appreciate it.

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  38. T&T changed quit dramatically with the publication of the fifth edition, not just in terms of organisation and a professional presentation but in the way combat results were calculated for foes, the way armour worked and the number of dice required doubled (or more in some cases); all bad things in my book. 7.x edition made some big changes exactly as Aramis (above) describes, so yep, I'm with him, there are several camps.

    The difference is, the camps play nice together and material from one edition can be used in another with only a little modification.

    I'm one of those old curmudgeons that still plays 4E and thinks 7E brought little of value to the table ('cept maybe talents) but I don't get booed off the stage at Trollbridge.

    It's worth playing T&T just so you can join the community!

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