Wednesday, August 17, 2011

OSRCon Thoughts (Part III)

After I completed my second session of refereeing Dwimmermount, there was a short break, followed by an hour-long Q&A session, featuring myself, Ed Greenwood, Alex Von Thorn, and Glenn Pearce. Discussion was open-ended, though vaguely focused on the question of "How has the hobby changed since the 1970s and 1980s?"
I don't think it's a secret to say that Ed Greenwood loves an audience. So, while there were four of us on the panel, it was really Ed's show and I was fine with that, because I absolutely love listening to Ed tell stories and generally ham it up for the crowd. I should say, though, that Ed made every effort to include the rest of us in the discussion, often specifically directing questions or comments toward us, so that we could respond. He acted as an impromptu moderator of the panel, albeit one who participated fully in the discussion.

And, as I said, I didn't mind at all, since, frankly, Ed's extremely entertaining to listen to. He had a lot of great stories to share, including tales of his introduction to the hobby and his entry into professional writing ("TSR was clearly desperate"). He also ventured his opinion about the current edition of D&D ("It's a different game entirely") and how TSR drew the wrong lessons from the popularity of the Forgotten Realms, to the detriment of both the company and the setting. Glenn Pearce of the Napoleonic Miniatures Wargames Society of Toronto also had a lot of interesting things to say. What I found most fascinating was how the rise, success, and decline of miniatures wargaming so closely mirrors what has happened in our own hobby. For example, Mr Pearce mentioned that 15mm Napoleonics minis were easily obtainable through department stores in the 1960s and '70s, something I never knew. I was reminded of a similar situation with regards to RPGs in my own youth.
The panel lasted only an hour, so there wasn't a vast scope for discussion, but it was worthwhile nonetheless. What strikes me now, in looking back on it, is that everyone on the panel felt that good games have no expiry date. They are -- or at least can be -- every bit as fun to play at age 40 as they were at age 10. That's certainly my feeling on the matter. The notion that you "can't go home again" is only true in a very limited sense. Certainly I can never again be the naive and wide-eyed kid I was in 1979, but that doesn't mean I still can't enjoy the same things I did back then. I may enjoy them somewhat differently than I did back then -- but I still enjoy them and see no reason why that has to change. 

13 comments:

  1. That's pretty inspiring, JM.
    : )

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  2. Any idea if there is a transcript or podcast or some such from the Q&A session anywhere, for those of us too distant or distracted to attend?

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  3. A podcast of something like this should always be done at cons these days. There's no reason not to do it and it will bring more attention to the fact that the con actually exists. If they didn't do it this time, they need to get on the ball and set it up for the next time they host it.

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  4. Did anyone ask Mr. Greenwood about his version of the "Forgotten Realms"? I always wondered how different his version must be compared to the WotC take on it, what edition he uses to play and what's the impact of the ruleset on the setting (if any). Not gonna happen, but a book (or a boxed set) titled "Ed Greenwood's Forgotten Realms" with HIS current version would be an interesting thing.

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  5. I enjoyed your OSRCon updates James. Thanks for sharing with us.

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  6. Bwahhh. I'm brokenhearted I had to miss this. I hope it becomes a semi regular thing.

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  7. Any idea if there is a transcript or podcast or some such from the Q&A session anywhere, for those of us too distant or distracted to attend?

    If there is, I am unaware of it.

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  8. I hope it becomes a semi regular thing.

    I believe it's already on schedule for next August, so there will definitely be another. :)

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  9. Did anyone ask Mr. Greenwood about his version of the "Forgotten Realms"?

    No, no one did at the con, although it's a topic I've discussed with him before. I believe -- but don't hold me to this -- that he's contractually unable to publish anything formally about it, though he can talk about it informally. If you visit sites like Candlekeep and pore over his responses there, you'll find lots of fascinating tidbits about how his version of the setting differs from the published one.

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  10. ...how TSR drew the wrong lessons from the popularity of the Forgotten Realms...

    Can you summarize what he had to say about that?

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  11. Can you summarize what he had to say about that?

    Basically, Ed argued that, because the Realms proved popular, TSR assumed that it meant that "setting material sells" and so inundated the market with not just too much Realms product but too many new settings. The result was that the Realms became overexposed, over-developed, and increasingly inaccessible to newcomers, thereby necessitating reboots of various kinds every so often. Meanwhile, other settings were pushed out the door and supported at length even when they had a little audience and we wound up for tons of support for products almost no one wanted.

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  12. I started as a wargamer in the early ‘70s, something that was feasible for a preteen with limited pocket money precisely because wargaming and modelling products were available almost everywhere.

    I purchased my first boxed boardgame (Avalon Hill’s Napoleon at Waterloo) at the local Hudson Bay Store; and literally every department store carried Airfix and Matchbox 1/72, 1/76, and 1/35-scale plastic miniatures and model kits.

    Hobby stores (which at the time really meant models & railways) usually carried some AH or SPI wargames as well, and many carried metal miniatures. There aren’t that many traditional hobby stores left these days, and those that have survived seem to carry a much smaller range of “wargame-suitable” material; and I can’t remember the last time I saw a bookcase game outside of a dedicated gaming store. Last time I checked, Toronto’s Crossed Swords was still the kind of store where you could buy wargames, roleplaying materials, and metal wargames figures, but one store like that in a city of 3+ million is a far cry from the ready availability of wargaming products in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

    One thing I’ve always been surprised by is the disappearance of plastic miniatures and model kits from department stores. Those Airfix and Matchbox miniatures and models were really aimed at teens and preteens; you found them in the Boy’s Toy aisle of every major department store (and even some grocery stores and drug stores). Almost every kid I knew had played with them at least once, and they were the logical entry point for getting into wargaming (and later roleplaying). Every gamer I knew growing up started by building and playing with these toys, then tried making up rules to go with them, and finally photocopied or “permanently borrowed” a wargaming book from the Public Library. For whatever reason, plastic military miniatures – other than those hideous mutants lurking on the shelves of the local dollar store – have largely disappeared from the world of teen and preteen boys (even though most of the miniatures and kits made in the ‘70s & ‘80s – and a host of more recent ones - are actually still available today … but only in speciality hobby stores).

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  13. “... Meanwhile, other settings were pushed out the door and supported at length even when they had a little audience and we wound up for tons of support for products almost no one wanted.”

    I find WOTC’s D&D4E publishing strategy almost as perplexing but in the opposite direction. Each summer they present a new campaign setting, usually releasing 2 hardcover tomes and a single adventure module … and that’s it for that setting. Next year repeat with something new.

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