Friday, November 25, 2011

Open Friday: Hobbyist vs. Professional?

To say that there are differences of opinion in the old school community is to state a truism. Yet, sometimes, it's worth looking at some of those differences to see what insight might be gleaned from them. A good case in point is what I've come to see as the "hobbyist vs. professional" debate. You see, a lot of us -- correctly, I think -- believe that, somewhere along the line, the industry part of the roleplaying world went off the rails, to the detriment of the hobby part. There are naturally many divergent points of view on precisely when this derailing occurred, but, regardless, I don't think this perspective is controversial among the vast majority of us promoting old school gaming these days.

Where the controversy often appears concerns the question of professionalism and indeed the very idea of "the industry" itself. Understandably, there are some gamers who feel that the industry that grew out of the hobby lost its way when it "went professional." They equate the amateurish look of those great early games and adventures with the term "hobbyist" and see the move away from that look toward a more "professional" one as the source of the derailing they decry. I think there's some truth in this, but I'm not sure the derailing had anything to do with production values or "professionalism."

For me, "hobbyist" refers not esthetics so much as origin. That is, whence did game X or module Y come? Was it created to fill a slot in a production schedule or did it arise out of play? That's the big difference between, say, Gygax's Giants-Drow series and the Dragonlance modules. The former were professional write-ups of adventures based in actual play, whereas Dragonlance was conceived from start to finish as an effort to sell modules. Certainly Dragonlance borrowed elements from adventures and campaigns that were actually played (like Jeff Grubb's deities), but there was no such thing as a Dragonlance campaign prior to its being written up for sale, unlike nearly adventure Gary Gygax wrote during his time at TSR.

I won't go so far as to say production values or esthetics are irrelevant to this question. However, I will say they're of secondary importance to me the origin of the content being sold. If someone is selling a rules set or an adventure or a campaign setting, I always think it better if it has some connection to actually having been played rather than merely being an ivory tower brainchild of a writer or designer looking for something to sell. So, I don't see hobbyist and professional as necessarily opposite qualities. I can imagine lots of very slick, professionally-made hobbyist products. That doesn't bother me and, given the tools technology have given us over the last few years, it's easier than ever to make hobbyist products that look every bit as good as something made by "professionals." What I don't want, though, are products made solely as consumer goods. When that started happening in the RPG industry, that's where things started to go off the rails.

This is a more rambling and open-ended question than usual, but I'm curious to hear people's thoughts on this. What does "hobbyist" mean to you and do you see it as antithetical to "professional?" Do you care if a RPG product is just someone's thought experiment and has little or no connection to actual play or is that not an issue for you? As ever, try to remain polite and respectful in the comments. This could be a potentially contentious topic, but there's no need for it to be acrimonious.

100 comments:

  1. "Do you care if a RPG product is just someone's thought experiment and has little or no connection to actual play or is that not an issue for you?"

    I think you're talking as if there are two significant categories, when there are three:

    i) A summary of ideas which were developed in play, initially without the intention of selling them.

    ii) Ideas developed for commercial reasons, but thoroughly playtested.

    iii) Ideas developed for commercial reasons and not thoroughly playtested.

    I'd imagine that the difference between ii and iii would usually be more significant than the difference between i and ii.

    In fact you could divide i into

    ia) ...and then properly explained for people who weren't part of the original campaign.

    ib) ...and not so explained.

    ia and ii probably seem much the same to the consumer, and ab and iii probably likewise seem quite similar.

    So maybe the problem isn't professionalism/commercialism, but people laying down rules that they like in theory but wouldn't use themselves.

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  2. As a professional games writer myself, I can offer a third possible option. Often when you're filling that slot in the production schedule you're dredging up ideas you had years before but never got to fully explore in your own, private hobby. All those 'what ifs' are a great source of inspiration when they'se a clock ticking and you're staring down the barrel of an all-too short Gant chart :-)

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  3. This reminded me of a favourite quotation by filmmaker Stan Brakhage. Unfortunately, I can't seem to find a version of the complete text, but it's a compelling defence of those who create for love of creating, rather than as a profession.

    In the modern world there is a correlation in the public mind between professionalism and doing a good job. While that can certainly be the case, it's not as true as many people think.

    It's always interesting to see people in diverse fields reaching the same conclusions.

    "I have been making films for over 15 years now. I have contributed to many commercial films as 'director,' 'photographer,' 'editor,' 'writer,' 'actor,' even, 'grip,' etcetera, and sometimes in combinations of all of these. But mostly I have worked without title, in no collaborations with others--I have worked alone and at home, on films of seemingly no commercial value...'at home' with a medium I love, making films I care for as surely as I have as a father cared for my children. As these home movies have come to be valued, have grown into a public life, I, as maker of them, have come to be called a 'professional,' an 'artist,' and an 'amateur'. Of those terms, the last one -- 'amateur' -- is the one I am truly most honored by...even tho' it is most often used in criticism of the work I have done by those who don't understand it."


    From "In Defense of Amateur" by Stan Brakhage

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  4. It doesn't matter either way to me. Whatever its source, should I purchase it, it will soon be applied with my own RPG aesthetics and used accordingly. So, in the end, it will be played.

    I have respect for both hobbyists & professionals. Some prefer to play for the sake of play. Some may not have the luxury of time & money to go further than their game tables. Others have enjoyed the play so much that they have found ways to invest their time and energies to create future paths to play. Bravo to all!

    Ciao!
    Grendelwulf

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  5. I think you bring up some good points in this post. I prefer the hobbyist material myself. I can tell that stuff like Keep on the Borderlands was part of something bigger. As I go through that module, I can imagine the possibilities going this way or that way. Basically, I get a sense of opportunity in the hobbyist material. Much of the professional material just feels sterile to me.

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  6. Something like Forgotten Realms was a natural development out of someone's campaign, and totally felt as such. Dragonlance felt more like a corporate concept being rammed into your face.

    I really don't like Dragonlance...but I do like Kenders.

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  7. I prefer "corporate" vs "independent". Otherwise I'd argue that hobbyist and professional aren't mutually exclusive; LOTFP is professional but has a strong independent (hobbyist) attitude.

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  8. That's the big difference between, say, Gygax's Giants-Drow series and the Dragonlance modules. The former were professional write-ups of adventures based in actual play, whereas Dragonlance was conceived from start to finish as an effort to sell modules. Certainly Dragonlance borrowed elements from adventures and campaigns that were actually played (like Jeff Grubb's deities), but there was no such thing as a Dragonlance campaign prior to its being written up for sale, unlike nearly adventure Gary Gygax wrote during his time at TSR.

    But that's a bit of an odd dichotomy. The very act of creating the Greyhawk adventures took a lot of time and work, and was adapted for print. I will agree that I think a single author with a single vision like Gygax or Greenwood usually has a more satisfying campaign world than the ones "designed by committee", but at the same time both can produce very good results. The career of Hickman and Weiss took off from that "Shared world design", for instance.

    Game companies tend to be more like Hollywood in which there are multiple screenwriters, etc. I think TSR was always a mix of commerce and art, like many things. There's a lot of good that can come out of shared worlds--I've enjoyed several computer games that were created that way.

    The whole "hobbyist vs. professional" argument seems to miss the point. I see this everyday when I read YouTube comments about old Music Videos, Cartoons, or shows--and usually people end up saying something akin to "people used to care about the art, now it's all about the money", etc. But yet that is not true.

    That's why I have trouble with the Old School mentality that says the early Black and White modules in the Futura font and the less polished artwork is better. That to be is a distraction and seems more to prove the nostalgia aspect of the OSR. That's a distraction. I know as we moved from 1980-1986 I appreciated the better quality and design of modules and the artwork therein.

    A lot of the arguments between Hobbyist vs. Professional seem to imply that hobbyists care about the art, and professionals just care about the "buck", but I find that to be a very gross oversimplification. For instance, Ed Greenwood write professionally for WoTC, accepting their changes to his world, and also continues his campaign privately. Is he a "hobbyist" or a "professional"? Gary Gygax ended his Greyhawk campaign in 1988 and never fleshed out Castle Greyhawk to a publishable point by himself with all that time, and yet he was always following his muse and creating new worlds, adventures, and settings that had nothing to do with D&D. Was he a "hobbyist" or a "professional"?

    Sometimes, being more "professional" makes more sense, in that the art of commerce helps people to remember. If D&D was never put to commerce, most of us would likely never have entered the hobby. The seeking of financial recompense has always driven this hobby.

    Right now I think that the whole "hobby" vs. "professional" argument comes from the fact that anybody can publish anything for virtual no capital expense, and thus we have creators who don't care about making money--unfortunately that is not and indicator of quality, and I think that mentality tends to hurt the industry (and thus, the hobby) overall.

    There's not really a very clear line between "hobby" vs. "profession", or even "corporate" vs. "independent". I think the people who think the game "moved to be too corporate" are oversimplifying things.

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  9. If D&D was never put to commerce, most of us would likely never have entered the hobby. The seeking of financial recompense has always driven this hobby.

    I should make it clear, I am not equating "professional" with "sold for money." I am talking about "professional" as "a product made solely (or at least primarily) for money and with little connection to playing the games for which the product was ostensibly made."

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  10. I should make it clear, I am not equating "professional" with "sold for money." I am talking about "professional" as "a product made solely (or at least primarily) for money and with little connection to playing the games for which the product was ostensibly made.

    But where do you draw that line?

    How do you know that it was never both? That's making a subjective judgement call based on more or less a "gut" feeling. Perhaps a CEO writes down a mandate and then the writers create something with care and love? We have no idea, for instance, that every module written by Gygax was done in the way you think it was--or how much was altered for purely professional use.

    Was the Slave Pits done for money or for the games?

    If Dragonlance had at least one playtest session, it would still count as playing the game, right?

    That's where I feel the line is very blurred and there are no easy answers.

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  11. Speaking specifically about campaign settings, I actually prefer the commercially developed ones. Settings like Forgotten Realms or Greyhawk were developed naturally out of play, and they feel that way, it's true; that's exactly why I have no reason to ever use them. I can develop my own hodgepodge campaign setting during play and turn out something fairly similar, and not have to deal with all that unnecessary information that comes with it. If I'm going to go to the effort of using a published setting, I want something that has a clear and unique tone from the top down. Planescape, for example. Spelljammer and Dark Sun have similarly distinct flavours, as does Eberron. None of those settings could have been developed "bottom up".

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  12. If Dragonlance had at least one playtest session, it would still count as playing the game, right?

    I assume Dragonlance actually had many playtest sessions, but when I'm talking about "playing the game," I don't mean playtesting. I'm talking about things that have their roots in someone playing the game before they decide to write it up and sell it to others. So far as I know, Dragonlance didn't arise out of anyone's campaign; it was created to accommodate a business decision to produce a series of adventures, each of which highlighted a different type of dragon from the Monster Manual. That's a big difference in my opinion.

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  13. Both approaches have their pitfalls. Regardless of whether a published module was one, first conceived as a commercial product or two, represents the writer's attempt to memorialize a really good series of adventures that he ran with his players, the danger is there isn't enough room for my players. Whether they are crowded out by the writer's future plans for Tika of the Frying Pan or by the writer's fond memories of Rufus and Burne, players may feel stymied by both styles of module writing.
    The soultion I would think is to write a module from nothing and then play-test it throughly.

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  14. Dragonlance had "one dragon type per module" instead Against the Giants had "one giant type per module." I don't see much of a difference, frankly.

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  15. Dragonlance had "one dragon type per module" instead Against the Giants had "one giant type per module." I don't see much of a difference, frankly.

    The difference is that the TSR marketing department didn't tell Gary Gygax "We need more giants in adventures. Can you write a module with giants in it?"

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  16. Anarchist, I think you make very good points. A difference between ib and iii, is that you might eventually figure out a good way to use the materials on your own, even if it requires some work. The non-playtested material might be eternally rubbish.

    I appreciate Zak S's analysis of things like the various D&D monsters (e.g. Invisible: boring) in terms of how their various characteristics actually work in play, and this in turn informed Vornheim. This is in contrast to the crud from TSR in the 90s with splatbooks with pages and pages of crud which never made any impact on our play. All of this reminds me of Ron Edwards' claim about the "cargo cult" nature of the early hobby. It worked for some, but it was hard to reproduce.

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  17. @James: I don't like Dragonlance either, but look at Planescape. That setting originated from purely monetary concerns - there was consumer demand for a planar supplement, and TSR decided there was profit to be had in making a whole campaign setting. They assigned Zeb Cook to the project, and gave him a brief to create [quoting Cook] "a complete campaign world (not just a place to visit), survivable by low-level characters, as compatible with the old Manual of the Planes as possible, filled with a feeling of vastness without overwhelming the referee, distinct from all other TSR campaigns, free of the words "demon" and "devil" and explainable to Marketing in 25 words or less."

    Cook then went away and looked at a bunch of art, read a bunch of books, listened to a bunch of music, and wrote Planescape, which I don't know if you like or not but you can hardly deny was a setting written from artistic inspiration rather than simply as an attempt to move product. So, I don't think the distinction is as clear cut as you make out.

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  18. So, I don't think the distinction is as clear cut as you make out.

    Of course it's not clear cut; that's why we're talking about it. :) Allow me to clarify again: I don't think it's impossible to create good gaming products out of largely business-related concerns, but I definitely think it's harder. Given the choice, I'd rather my gaming products owe their existence to someone's campaign than to a sense that there's "a demand" for product X.

    For the record, I mostly do like Planescape, at least the early stuff. I found the later materials less good overall -- too much White Wolf-style metaplot and not as whimsical as the early stuff.

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  19. No force on earth can guarantee people always do their best.

    However, I think the principle:

    Do not put out a product you yourself would not use.

    Is applicable in most artforms.

    "Eat your own dogfood."

    That's the line, right there.

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  20. Dragonlance had "one dragon type per module" instead Against the Giants had "one giant type per module." I don't see much of a difference, frankly.

    The difference is that the TSR marketing department didn't tell Gary Gygax "We need more giants in adventures. Can you write a module with giants in it?"

    But how do you know that? At some point Gary Gygax must have decided to create a series of adventures showcasing different giant types - presumably because he thought it was a cool idea. And wasn't it partly Gygax's idea to repeat the trick with dragons?

    Now, obviously the implementation of the ideas was different, and most people prefer one to the other, but is that really the fault of some marketing employee who thought of a cool idea for an adventure series?

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  21. IIRC:

    In 1979, Gary saw how much royalties Mike Carr was getting for module B1 since it was included in the D&D Basic set. Gary spent a few weeks writing a module to replace it, so the royalties would come to him instead. No playtesters are listed in the module, and I doubt it was playtested.

    This module is arguably the single most popular and most-played D&D module of all time:

    B2: The Keep on the Borderlands

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  22. If it was playtested the DM might've realized you coulda fit all the notes on the map pages and B2 woulda been a lot better.

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  23. This is an interesting discussion so far. I definitely see both sides of the issue but I agree with James about something created solely for the purpose of money can easily be spotted. I know it's not a module but during the 2E run they started cranking out the softcover kit books like crazy. This isn't a rant against expansion, either. Some of the kits made a lot of sense and did help further define a character concept. When it gets to the point that you wonder if the fans are about to see the release of The Complete Torch Handbook, The Complete Brick Handbook, or The Complete Horse Saddle Handbook for use with Second Edition AD&D then it becomes pretty obvious that book was done purely for profit.

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  24. definite touchdown for Geoffrey.

    have a go at the extra point?

    based on your observation regarding B2 . . .
    is the hobbyist vs. professional distinction meaningless? why do people who love the Giants modules hate dragonlance? is the secret to creating the most popular module ever simply personal ambition stripped of any loyalty to either fellow gamers or the body corporate? is B2 really that good?

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  25. Of course it's not clear cut; that's why we're talking about it. :) Allow me to clarify again: I don't think it's impossible to create good gaming products out of largely business-related concerns, but I definitely think it's harder. Given the choice, I'd rather my gaming products owe their existence to someone's campaign than to a sense that there's "a demand" for product X.

    Mmm... I agree that it's possible for business concerns to get in the way of good design, like with 4e and its option books. I just disagree that the origin is the important part, rather than the execution. Like I said, many of the most characterful campaign settings had corporate origins.

    For the record, I mostly do like Planescape, at least the early stuff. I found the later materials less good overall -- too much White Wolf-style metaplot and not as whimsical as the early stuff.

    Agreed. The adventure modules were particularly bad. They were written by various different authors, of course. Would they have been any better if Planescape had originated as someone's homebrew brainchild? I doubt it. Planescape had a strong identity as it was, and that didn't save it.

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  26. "Eat your own dogfood."

    That's good motto.

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  27. But how do you know that? At some point Gary Gygax must have decided to create a series of adventures showcasing different giant types - presumably because he thought it was a cool idea. And wasn't it partly Gygax's idea to repeat the trick with dragons?

    If Gary had any hand in Dragonlance's creation, this is the first I've heard of it. So far as I am aware, the series was created while Gygax was out in California and not much involved in TSR.

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  28. Did Gary run B2 before he published it? Don't care.

    Did he run it after is all I care about.

    Personally, I never really cottoned to it.

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  29. I left out the key sentence of my last post, which is: If it weren't for the corporate restrictions placed on the designers, those settings wouldn't exist.

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  30. I think the turning point is a lot earlier than you suggest, and it is where companies started to assert that the only correct way to play their game was in the manner they proscribed. So Gary's diatribes against the amateurs* were where I consider things started turning.

    The ultimate example of this is the eventual production of campaign settings which not only defined the world that the characters adventured in but defined the roles that the characters could take in relation to that world. I do like Rob Donague's recent assertion that these came in two types: bookshelves and containers. Bookshelves are places where you can site adventures; containers are things which enclose adventures. With a bookshelf, such as World of Greyhawk, it's easier to insert stuff on the shelf. In a container, such as The Forgotten Realms it has to fit in with everything else, which meant that most use of the setting required an official imprimatur for it to be considered "valid." The ultimate result of this was character's actions reacting to the campaign rather than the campaign reacting to the character's actions.

    Additionally, companies became more aware of the value of the IP of their product, and went to efforts to suppress the amateur use of it. [At least until the OGL, which brought amateur support back into the hobby for those adopting it.]

    [* I am using amateur here in it's original sense of someone doing something for the love of it, rather than its modern connentation that it is done poorly or without polish. Both professional and amateur have become rather loaded terms, reflecting the modern prejudice that if you don't pay for it, it has no value.]

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  31. Name one person who, if asked, would say that they got into RPGs for the money.

    Name.

    One.

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  32. I think the turning point is a lot earlier than you suggest, and it is where companies started to assert that the only correct way to play their game was in the manner they proscribed. So Gary's diatribes against the amateurs* were where I consider things started turning.

    This is a very good point. I believe Victor Raymond once pointed out to me the exact moment when Gary's tone changed in stuff like A&E. It was amazingly revelatory.

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  33. The earliest "corporate Gary" example I can find is his article, "View from the Telescope Wondering Which End Is Which" in The Dragon #11 (Dec. 1977). Therein he writes, "DUNGEONS & DRAGONS is an entity with excellent repute,
    and we stringently protect it. This is done from both paternal pride and profit motivation. Not surprisingly, we take the view that the
    creators and publishers know best how to develop the creation. To this end we have promoted and advertised the game."

    That's a far cry from the closing words of the 1974 rules: "[W]e urge you to refrain from writing for rule interpretations or the like unless you are absolutely at a loss, for everything herein is fantastic, and the best way is to decide how you would like it to be, and then make it just that way! On the other hand, we are not loath to answer your questions, but why have us do any more of your imagining for you? Write to us and tell about your additions, ideas, and what have you. We could always do with a bit of improvement in our refereeing."

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  34. The earliest "corporate Gary" example I can find is his article, "View from the Telescope Wondering Which End Is Which" in The Dragon #11 (Dec. 1977).

    As I recall, Gary wrote letters that were published in A&E from around '76 or so that say similar things, perhaps even more bluntly put than that.

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  35. "As I recall, Gary wrote letters that were published in A&E from around '76 or so that say similar things, perhaps even more bluntly put than that."

    I'm not surprised. Dave Hargrave wrote the following in the first Arduin Grimoire (published in Feb. 1977):

    'About three years ago [early 1974] fantasy role playing games began to become extremely popular among gamers of all types. At first it was something new and wonderful, and ideas and information flowed freely among the players.

    'About a year or so ago [early 1976] things began to change: the joyous game was becoming big business. And those non-amateur game designers took on all of the trappings of things that have profit as their main motivational force: greed, secretiveness, hunger to "control the market" and all of that other garbage.

    'Amateurs who tried to publish their ideas were being told to cease publication if their ideas even remotely resembled any those big business types had published. Yet those same people ripped the amateurs' ideas off quite freely, and with dismaying frequency.'

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  36. Isn't a 'fantasy heartbreaker' precisely a product that is both obviously produced from love of the game, and awful?

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  37. What about Star Wars d6? That was obviously done for commercial reasons, yet people seem to remember it fondly.

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  38. There have been good professional products in the history of the hobby, and there have been good amateur products. I prefer the latter, but both are potentially valid approaches.

    However, I am not interested in a product which is not rooted in actual play. There are too many people who do not play, writing products for people who do not play either. These groups should get themselves a new hobby: whatever they are trying to accomplish is better served by other media such as novels or computer games.

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  39. What I see as a distinction, when it comes to products, is whether it is an honest attempt to provide a good product at a fair price, or simply an attempt to make money for as little investment as possible. And I would apply that to every type of product out there. The bottom-line, satisfy-the-investors mindset provides us both with crappy gaming products, and with hardware that must be replaced on a regular basis. Vote with your wallet.

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  40. I recall reading that Gary was involved in the concept of a series of modules each featuring a different dragon type. I don't recall reading about him having much more input after that point.

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  41. @Geoffrey: "In 1979, Gary saw how much royalties Mike Carr was getting for module B1 since it was included in the D&D Basic set. Gary spent a few weeks writing a module to replace it, so the royalties would come to him instead. No playtesters are listed in the module, and I doubt it was playtested."

    Is there any evidence, even circumstantial, to corroborate this hypothesis? I have just checked a stack of TSR classics from G1-3 to Desert of Desolation, and none except The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun credit playtesters. Some early ones don't even credit the artists. While I don't agree with the practice (since playtester input is very valuable in development), it cannot allow us to draw the conclusion that these TSR modules lack testing.

    As for the period of development, writing the draft of an adventure is a matter of an afternoon or a day if someone is inspired and dedicated, and there could even have been multiple rounds of testing in a few days. TSR was full of enthusiastic gamers after all. Creating a manuscript from rough notes - that's more time-consuming without modern DTP software, but again, TSR was a company with typists and trained staff.

    Is there a probability B2 is untested? Yes. But I don't think it is a significant one, unless we find solid, solid evidence to the contrary.

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  42. Masks of Nyarlathotep is on the short list of absolutely classic RPG titles and it didn't arise from play. According to Larry DiTillio, he was commissioned to write it by Chaosium and had only recently been introduced to the CoC rules when he sat down to create the adventure.

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  43. @anarchist: "Isn't a 'fantasy heartbreaker' precisely a product that is both obviously produced from love of the game, and awful?"

    No; as per the original Ron Edwards essay, it is a product which is produced as a labour of love, but one rooted so deeply in the paradigm of an existing, more popular game it seeks to improve on (usually D&D or Vampire) that its innovations and new ideas are overshadowed and they die a quick death on the market.

    The other conotations come from a misuse of the term - it was not supposed to be derogatory.

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  44. What about Star Wars d6? That was obviously done for commercial reasons, yet people seem to remember it fondly.

    Good point. Also look how fondly people remember GI Joe and Transformers in this day and age and yet their primary purpose was to sell toys to kids.

    I think the key problem is you can only judge the material by its own merits, not its genesis. While that may affect things somewhat, some of the best art can come from some of the more base commercial craft.

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  45. As far as playtesting B2 goes, as it was included with the boxed set for beginners, the relevant playtesting would not be with Gary and some players, it would be with an unsteady DM and some completely neophyte players, ideally with hidden cameras. I understand that WotC has done some actual playtesting of this kind.

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  46. The "Star Wars D6s" of this world are going to get produced whether or not anyone reading this blog does anything about it. I worry not for their safety.

    I do, however worry that something that's -almost- awesome gets turned nonawesome because of commercial considerations. Which is a real problem that people can actually do something about by sticking to the dogfood rule.

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  47. I think this might be a case where people think in general categories that don't match their reaction to specific products; analagous to someone who "hates corporate sellout punk" but when they think about it actually likes Blink 182 and doesn't like Black Flag.

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  48. @Alex J--
    True, the correct person to playtest something would not be the same guy who wrote it. I see the advantage of testing something with a neophyte DM, but I think the primary value of playtesting is in finding the "logic holes"-- those confusing elements that only make sense to someone who "knows what he meant" because he's the one who wrote it and makes the on-the-fly corrections without noticing.

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  49. Lorraine Williams.

    Which modules did she write again?

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  50. I hate to sound pedantic, James, but the Giants and Drow series of modules did not arise out of Gygax's home campaign. Rather they were specifically written to fill the ever-growing demand for tournament modules in the (relatively) early days.

    Gygax himself once said that the players in his home campaign never ventured into the vast underground areas of the drow. They were too apprehensive.

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  51. @Jeffrey Fleming--
    Masks of Nyarlathotep is on the short list of absolutely classic RPG titles and it didn't arise from play.

    IIRC, his outline was expanded by Lynn Willis into the form we have it in. MoN is extremely problematic as a campaign, particularly on account of its deadliness, which probably is caused by the fact it wasn't playtested. (This is an unsupported assertion on my part, but I believe it to be correct.) In fact, many of the Pagan Publishing campaigns published, most of which underwent extensive playtesting, were created in reactions to this problem. The origin of Delta Green is a framework for substitute characters when you have a TPK.

    Robin Laws, probably our greatest living rules designer, says nothing is more important than playtesting. Any 'professional' scenario or campaign sufficiently playtested is indistinguishable from work that is amateur in origin, IMHO.

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  52. Playtesting is a big point of contention. The fact is the oldest game publications are less likely to have gone through extensive playtesting, clearly not to the same level as WoTC added to the process with 3e D&D.

    It's easy to blame the "story gamers" for this change, but to be honest I think people like EGG and others, if they playtested at all, it came from home campaigns and tournaments, and not from outside people. As we've learned in software engineering, outside people are needed to review User Interfaces and the like. I see the same thing being needed, since like a programmer, the author might be a little "too close" to the publication in question.

    But then if you do that too much the games might just become a numbers calculation.

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  53. @huth If you have some argument in mind, you'll have to actually state your point of view. You asked a question and I answered it. That's all that's happened so far.

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  54. @Joseph - I remember reading Gary talking about his players being frustrated by Obmi (Ombi? Do not have the modules at hand) and some other isolated events that took place while his home group was playing the giants stuff. The modules were produced to satisfy conventioneers, but the adventures were coming from actual play. (I'm sorry that I cannot cite the GG here - I think it was somewhere in the EnWorld threads... ugh)

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  55. Here are all his statements.

    http://blogofholding.com/?page_id=2744

    When he discusses the G and D series, this is what Gary Says.

    Col_Pladoh:
    Originally Posted by Gray Mouser
    Hey Gary, I have a question regarding the playtesting of the G and D series modules. Did you run these modules as part of your campaign or was it a separate set of adventures that didn't impact the Greyhawk campaign in any substantial way?

    Also, since Q1 was actually not of your original devising, how did you end the Giants-Drow series for those players who made it through the modules? Did they end up in the Abyss facing Lolth, face the Elder Elemental God (and be utterly destroyed, I am sure), hang out in the Drow's underworld wrecking havok, simply return to the upper world or something entirely different?

    Thanks in advance.

    Gray Mouser

    By the time I wrote the G and D series modules, the group of players I DMed for had altered considerably from that of the early 70s, although Ernie and Rob and Terry Kuntz were still there. The adventures in the two series were indeed a part of the overall campaign, and a number of the PCs involved belonged to TSR employees, including Tim Kask and James Ward. We played in the TSR building a good deal after regular working hours.

    The successful handling of the G and D series didn't really have any impact on the campaign, save to beef up the PCs. When the lads managed to penetrate all the way to the Vault of the Drow it was most disheartening to me. They took one look around and made haste to get away, so they never did much in the way of wreaking havoc down there, let alone run into Lolth or the Elder Elemental God.

    Cheers,
    Gary

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  56. @huth If you have some argument in mind, you'll have to actually state your point of view. You asked a question and I answered it. That's all that's happened so far.

    My point shouldn't be too hard to guess...

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  57. @gdbackus: Obmi appeared in the original Castle Greyhawk, and was re-used in G3 (and later in the Gord the Rogue books). Gygax recounts the original appearance of Obmi in Dragon #287.

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  58. Re: Masks of Nyarlathotep.

    I can personally testify that it WAS playtested because Larry came to a one-off game con in Vancouver BC - it must has been 1983 - and I played in a test of the London chapter. Just because he wrote it on commission doesn't mean it was not playtested!

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  59. Correction - it would have 1982 because the con also hosted the premiere of the Star Trek RPG.

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  60. I'm not going to guess what you're thinking, huth. As far as I know we haven't yet made any conflicting statements or entered into any kind of disagreement at all. What am I supposed to say? If you've got something you want to get off your chest, I'm all ears.

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  61. Is World of Synnibarr a hobbyist product, or just a really badly-made professional one?

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  62. Well, I don't want to get into the whole "what does professional *mean*" debate.

    But I can say that I agree with the original post. There was something "hobbyish" or "amateurish" about the old-school modules; something about them that told you that real people had played through them before you. I miss that.

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  63. Revenant: That stuff is still around, though. It's being produced by hobbyists.

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  64. @James "Dragonlance had "one dragon type per module" instead Against the Giants had "one giant type per module." I don't see much of a difference, frankly.

    The difference is that the TSR marketing department didn't tell Gary Gygax "We need more giants in adventures. Can you write a module with giants in it?" "

    Yes, it was Gary who said: whe need adventures with dragons. It was Gary who laid the foundation for Operation Overlord (as the Dragonlance project was known at the time.)

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  65. Yes, it was Gary who said: whe need adventures with dragons. It was Gary who laid the foundation for Operation Overlord (as the Dragonlance project was known at the time.)

    If that's the case, I have no problem saying that I think it was a mistake -- but then I've never been shy about saying that Gary was as prone to bad decisions as anyone.

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  66. For me, "hobbyist" refers not esthetics so much as origin. That is, whence did game X or module Y come? Was it created to fill a slot in a production schedule or did it arise out of play? That's the big difference between, say, Gygax's Giants-Drow series and the Dragonlance modules.

    That pretty much nailed my thoughts on the matter right there. A key question for me: Are there playtester credits?

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  67. I suppose one simply needs to accept that Gary had an hobbyist AND a corporate mind. As Joseph pointed out, not all of the Giant-Drow series arised from Gary's campaign. And then, who can say whether Gary's campaign was actually just a "testing ground" for things to publish? The Dragonlance campaign, like it or not, was given Gary's "placet" from the start.

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  68. @Captain Jack

    I can personally testify that it WAS playtested... and I played in a test of the London chapter.

    I am happy to be wrong about this. Can you remember anything about the playtest? I ask because I thought the scene with Servitor of the Outer Gods was way over the top, and likely to result in a TPK and a restart to the campaign. Though that can be said about most of the chapters, which was at least part of my point.

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  69. I think it's ironic that, back in the day, 'professionals' were getting paid full-time by TSR to create products which by today's standards looks amateurish. While today there are many small press games (Delta Green and Hollow Earth Expedition, to name two of my personal favorites) that are published by enthusiasts with other full-time jobs, that look considerably more 'slick and professional' when compared to those early, monochrome AD&D modules.

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  70. Yes, it was Gary who said: whe need adventures with dragons. It was Gary who laid the foundation for Operation Overlord (as the Dragonlance project was known at the time.) -- Antonio

    I did a little research and might write a little more on this subject as a blog post, but just to address the above statement... I found a post by Gary that states just the opposite.
    Original Source

    Q.)Dragonlance. Your thoughts on the novels and other matters when you were with TSR way back then. Basically was it something that you approved etc.

    A.)I had no connection with the project, and I found the modules less than satisfactory for any RPG system as their outcome was too scripted.

    The novels were very successful and made a fair amount of profit for TSR. I found them lacking the sort of swashbuckling action that I enjoy in my fantasy reading. --Gary Gygax

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  71. I think you're conflating a few things here.

    If you want to talk about where things went off the rails, with D&D, it happened very early. While D&D started out as somebody's passion, I think it's fairly safe to say that by the time AD&D 1st Ed rolled around, it had, like so many other hobbies turned giant fad, become an opportunity for businessmen to turn a profit. So the G-D series vs. Dragonlance argument is a distinction without a difference. Truth is, neither series was published by people who, in the strictest sense of the word, were hobbyists. And nothing that's been published for D&D since has been either.

    By the time either series had come out, TSR was cranking stuff out as fast as it could. Some of it was created with care, and showed that the designers cared about it, others felt more like something to fill a release schedule. To me, that's as much an issue of uneven quality control as it is a semantic argument over the two.

    Today, I'd argue there aren't two many "professionals" left. The industry model, by and large, is freelance. Even WotC and Paizo use more freelance than in-house. I'd argue that most freelancers have passion for what they do, or they wouldn't bother. Obviously some are going to do better work than others, but again, that's a quality issue.

    And I will say that while one can admire the passion of "hobbyists", it's a bit unfair to slag "professionals" as not caring about their work. Remember, hobbyists gave us Delta Green, One Roll Engine, and Thousand Suns...however, it can also be said that hobbyists gave us "World of Synnibarr" and "FATAL".

    Re. Masks of Nyarlathotep

    I'd suggest that a deadly game of Call of Cthulhu isn't a bug...it's a feature.

    I'm running the campaign currently (second time). It's balanced to the extent any Call of Cthulhu game is...that meaning if the players are cautious and make sure to bug out before the Big Bad shows up, they may have a chance of surviving and not going insane, but creative character deaths are bound to happen.

    I've seen one shots end in TPKs. I've personally run the same one shot for more than one group, and see one game end in a TPK, and another where the players got through more or less intact.

    The thing that makes Masks particularly deadly is its length, and the sheer attrition to sanity in particular. Call of Cthulhu itself really isn't oriented to run long campaigns. That's a problem with the system, not necessarily Masks in particular.

    The biggest problem Masks, and indeed, most Call of Cthulhu games face is a conceit on the part of the original designers of Call of Cthulhu. The conceit is that the characters in a Call of Cthulhu game will willingly and knowingly head toward their doom without ever thinking twice about just how incredibly dangerous that journey will be.

    Most C of C games just assume that the PCs will pursue a course likely to lead to their deaths and insanity, without really asking, let alone answering, the question "Why are we doing this?."

    >The origin of Delta Green is a framework for substitute characters when you have a TPK.

    Not really. After listening to an interview with the designers of the original Delta Green, I'd say this is at best partly correct. It is primarily about two things:

    A. Fully developing a modern setting for Call of Cthulhu, which Chaosium never really did (about 4/5 of all Chaosium stuff released up to 1993 when Delta Green was published was for the 1920s).

    B. Creating a setting that attempted to explain exactly why characters would do what they do, risk mortal peril to take on the unthinkable, knowing full well it was going to end badly.

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  72. I’ll be the first to say the hobby would be fine without the industry. I’ll argue that a good product needs playtesting. When it comes to spending my money, though, it is all about what I’m buying; not its inspiration, development, or production values. That said, past experience with the company’s or author’s previous works plays a pretty big role.

    At this point, I don’t really intend to buy any more RPG products, so something really has to grab my attention. The thing that surprises me is that there actually have been some products I found worth buying the past few years.

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  73. @Robert

    What were those products?

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  74. "Professional" is supposed to be a good term along the same lines as "amateur" -- ie, someone who for love and respect of the art, does a good job. The amateur includes a friendly love of whoever picks it up to have fun with him, and the professional includes a fiduciary obligation to give the purchaser his money's worth, with a good product that doesn't shame his profession.

    Now, obviously the traditional "hack" is not a very workable word to express some guy just collecting a paycheck while not bothering to be professional, because there are too many variant meanings being used in our own and allied hobbies.

    So... "soulless paycheck collector", "fraudulent black hole of antivaluable gaming materials", and "bottomless wallet moneyeater" might perhaps be used as better descriptors.

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  75. The biggest problem Masks, and indeed, most Call of Cthulhu games face is a conceit on the part of the original designers of Call of Cthulhu. The conceit is that the characters in a Call of Cthulhu game will willingly and knowingly head toward their doom without ever thinking twice about just how incredibly dangerous that journey will be.

    Most C of C games just assume that the PCs will pursue a course likely to lead to their deaths and insanity, without really asking, let alone answering, the question "Why are we doing this?."


    I think Ken Hite's recent LJ post on CoC - http://princeofcairo.livejournal.com/168462.html - neatly addresses this point. There's a parallel with old-fashioned D&D as I understand it: why would the PCs head out to the Cavern of Catastrophe when it's called, for heaven's sake, the Cavern of Catastrophe? Because they're adventurers, and gold is gold.

    And the players want to pretend to be adventurers.

    Why would the Investigators chase after that accursed tome, knowing their sanity and their lives are at stake? Because they're heroes, and they treasure humanity more than their own lives.

    And the players want to pretend to be heroes.

    CoC character heroism is a genre assumption, just like D&D character amorality (and later heroism).

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  76. The first commercial decision in role-playing might have been the decision to have dwarves, elves and hobbits.

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  77. CoC character heroism is a genre assumption, just like D&D character amorality (and later heroism).

    Now that I think about it, this might offer one way of reframing James's pro/hobby and home-campaign/thought-experiment oppositions. Indeed you could argue that James's blog has been making this one point most strongly, over and over again:

    The amount of shared local knowledge of genre in RPGs has decreased over the years. So rules, adventures, and campaign settings have had to bear the burden of explaining things like 'what is fantasy roleplaying?' or, say, 'Why play a mopey superpowered immortal?' (Is the real inspiration for Vampire: the Masquerade...Elric?)

    RPG designers are terrible, in general, at teaching roleplaying. Most GM advice is unhelpful and most examples of play are much much worse. And the question of 'What kind of game is this ruleset supposed to generate?' is incredibly difficult to answer - especially given RPGs' freighted relationship to 'story.'

    'Why try to stop Nyarlathotep?' is hard to answer in rules terms. You're probably gonna fail. The answer, I think, is '(1) it's fun (2) that's what heroes do,' but 'hero' is a matter for the genre. A moral matter.

    So maybe the hobby 'went off the rails' (I disagree, but whatever) when its emphasis shifted toward games and players which didn't/couldn't draw on a shared language.

    Note that the opposite is true for, say, personal computing: it sprang from a desire for universal outreach, for barrier-breaking. But the RPG industry hasn't been great at emphasizing, analyzing, and sharing the intrinsic fun of RPG play - which is part of why D&D is now more like a skirmish combat game than a 'fantasy storytelling with dice' machine.

    '5-foot step' is easy to explain without recourse to genre matters. 'XP=gold' kinda...isn't.

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  78. There are extremely few "Professionals" that are not also "Hobbiests". This dichotomy you see is really a myth.

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  80. @Desert Rat

    (I'd suggest that a deadly game of Call of Cthulhu isn't a bug...it's a feature. The thing that makes Masks particularly deadly is its length, and the sheer attrition to sanity in particular. Call of Cthulhu itself really isn't oriented to run long campaigns. That's a problem with the system, not necessarily Masks in particular)

    I agree with you that CoC is better as a deadly game, and that the length of Masks makes this problematic, but there are other campaigns (those by Herber such as Fungi from Yuggoth come to mind, though of course it is much shorter) that are much less of a character grind than MoN. In such a campaign, there can be a great deal of fatigue on the part of the players when turnover is this high, and while this can be tolerated by the genre purists, the vast majority of players won’t qualify as this category. Player skill, as expressed in the idea of avoiding the big bad guy, can mitigate this. But given the number of opportunities to make the wrong choice, TPK or near TPKs (which often have the same effect) can make a game break, because at a certain point players are going to be unwilling to die a third, fourth or fifth time, just to make it all the way to the end. Add to this the problematic nature of inserting characters into an ongoing game after such events, means that were I to run MoN these days, I would certainly cut such scenes like the London bit with the Servitor out of the campaign altogether. This does not make MoN any less brilliant, but it does acknowledge that MoN is hard to run as intended, which makes it difficult for me to acknowledge it as an exemplar of a well play-tested campaign. Your other point, about the weakness of the CoC system as basis for a long term campaign, I would love to contest, but perhaps not here and now.

    (>The origin of Delta Green is a framework for substitute characters when you have a TPK. - Not really.)

    Fair enough. Many of the descriptions of the origins of Delta Green I have read in the past mention providing a rationale for inserting replacement characters into a game, which I believe to be equally important to the points you mention, so perhaps I should say one of the origins, but not the origin, hm?

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  81. In my experience the WotC D&D products tended to be pretty bad. Dark Elf labyrinth the plan of which looks like a spider (Oh, come on now - think about why that is wrong) or "Fire Giant Ninjas" and other similar crap.

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  82. @phf

    You know that the Lolth's spider ship in Q1 was in the shape of a spider too. Plus there is infamous E.G.G. shaped walls in Expedition to the Barrier Peaks.

    The trouble is I see too much short hand of "old = hobbiest = good" and "new = bad = corporate".

    There was plenty of garbage back in the "good old days" and plenty of really good things out today that get ignored just because of X or Y name on it.

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  83. re: Masks of Nyarlathotep

    I realize being playtested is not the same as evolving from campaign played materials.

    What did we play? As I recall we chose one of the red herrings and missed the main investigation and the TPK. We spend most of our time investigating a painter making disturbing art.

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  84. I'm a hobbyist when I happily share something I've made for free. I'm a professional if I expect someone to pay for it and not regret it later. I'm a hack when I stop caring the moment I get your money. The amazing thing is how few hacks I've run into, probably because there's so little money to be made at this.
    When I was shopping Northern Crown around, back in the days of the d20 gold rush, a certain publisher told me, "If we're going to make a killing on this, we have to do it fast, before the d20 market gets glutted. I have hacks who can write this stuff faster than you can believe. We'll just throw in some orcs and trolls to make it more familiar."
    I said no.

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  85. Great follow up points since my last post...but I do disagree with something in Wally's comment (and I guess, by extension, Ken Hite's blog post). Specifically, this:


    (There's a parallel with old-fashioned D&D as I understand it: why would the PCs head out to the Cavern of Catastrophe when it's called, for heaven's sake, the Cavern of Catastrophe? Because they're adventurers, and gold is gold.)

    Well, in D&D, the reward is gold, and other cool stuff...not to mention, once those PCs gain a few levels, they become pretty close to unkillable as a group with all that gold and cool stuff.

    In Call of Cthulhu, the reward is insanity or death at the hands of something so big and inimical that it kills PCs with no more difficulty than a fly swatter squashing a fly. If the PCs are really lucky, they'll get insanity along with that horrible death.

    My point is that the only reward for Call of Cthulhu is that the horrible ending winds up a great horror story. The risk/reward calculation is horribly out of skew for a lot of power gamers.

    In some ways, this actually makes a Call of Cthulhu character, squishy and fallible as they are, more heroic than the biggest 20th level spell splinger or sword twirler in D&D, but it takes a certain kind of player to find the experience fun.

    >>I'm a hobbyist when I happily share something >>I've made for free. I'm a professional if I >>expect someone to pay for it and not regret >>it later. I'm a hack when I stop caring the >>moment I get your money.

    This is a better definition than anything in the original post. Let's face it, there were a lot of hacks out there at one time, but not so much any more, in my opinion.

    >>The amazing thing is how few hacks I've run >>into, probably because there's so little >>money to be made at this.

    This is really why I think James' original post is mostly a false dichotomy in this day and age. Nobody is getting rich writing RPG books these days. The glory days of the late 70's and early 80's are gone, and it should be abundantly clear that they aren't going to return. So who is left?

    Mostly, it's going to be guys (and gals) who love the hobby, who have an idea, who want to share that idea, and feel they should at least occasionally be compensated for it. Now truth be told, some of those folks can't design or write their ways out of paper bags...it doesn't mean they didn't go out with the best of intentions, however.

    >>When I was shopping Northern Crown around, >>back in the days of the d20 gold rush, a >>certain publisher told me, "If we're going to >>make a killing on this, we have to do it >>fast, before the d20 market gets glutted. I >>have hacks who can write this stuff faster >>than you can believe. We'll just throw in >>some orcs and trolls to make it more familiar.

    This is a publisher that really needs to find a new line of work, although, with as many companies that have been shaken out of the industry after the initial d20 boomlet, there's a good chance they already have.

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  86. @Mundi King
    Yes I had read that post by Gary, but perhaps the sense is that he was not involved in the actual WRITING of the modules. All the other Dragonlance designers seem to agree on the fact that the original mandate for Dragonlance was to write something which showcased all the dragon types in the MM (and IIRC some preview articles in Dragon Magazine also wrote something to the same effect.)
    It would also seem strange that Gary had no voice into what was produced by TSR at the time. He might not have liked it as a hobbyist, but he would surely recognise its value to other people (and as a source of revenue for TSR, as he also declares about the novels.)

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  87. If Gary had any hand in Dragonlance's creation, this is the first I've heard of it. So far as I am aware, the series was created while Gygax was out in California and not much involved in TSR.

    Yes, it was Gary who said: whe need adventures with dragons. It was Gary who laid the foundation for Operation Overlord (as the Dragonlance project was known at the time.) -- Antonio

    I did a little research and might write a little more on this subject as a blog post, but just to address the above statement... I found a post by Gary that states just the opposite.


    To be honest, whether Gary was involved in the idea for Dragonlance or not doesn't really matter (the only reason I said it was that I have some vague memory of reading Tracy Hickman saying he got taken on by TSR, and told Gary wanted someone to do the Giants treatment for dragons, but I don't have a source, so this could very well be wrong).

    The point I was making is that someone had the idea to do a series of modules with giants in, and someone had the idea to do similar with dragons. As they're essentially the same idea what matters isn't whether one person was a hobbyist or one person works in marketing, but rather how each idea was implemented - unless anyone is arguing that a series of modules featuring different giants is by definition a good idea, but a series of modules featuring different dragons is by definition a bad one.

    The point is, the fact that one series was implemented better than another isn't because of the original origin of each idea.

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  88. Desert Rat sez:

    The biggest problem Masks, and indeed, most Call of Cthulhu games face is a conceit on the part of the original designers of Call of Cthulhu. The conceit is that the characters in a Call of Cthulhu game will willingly and knowingly head toward their doom without ever thinking twice about just how incredibly dangerous that journey will be.

    ...then later...

    My point is that the only reward for Call of Cthulhu is that the horrible ending winds up a great horror story. The risk/reward calculation is horribly out of skew for a lot of power gamers.

    In some ways, this actually makes a Call of Cthulhu character, squishy and fallible as they are, more heroic than the biggest 20th level spell splinger or sword twirler in D&D, but it takes a certain kind of player to find the experience fun.


    I think the fact that CoC investigators are more heroic (noble, self-sacrificing, other-serving) than D&D PCs is the basic point of Hite's post, and indeed of CoC itself. This probably isn't the moment to rehearse old arguments about the childishness of 'gold is a measure of experience,' but CoC and its far more self-conscious/self-aware reimagining 'Trail of Cthulhu' are built around a much more supple idea of character/player psychology than D&D.

    Which is why 'power gamer' is such an important term here. 'Power gamer' is directly linked, I believe, to 'power fantasy': all that character optimization and munchkinism and carrying on about skill level, it's all wrapped up in a system of measurable achievement. Many players play RPGs so they can experience versions of real-life situations (moral choices, physical endeavours, social encounters) where it's perfectly clear whether or not they're doing well - something that's usually not true in real life.

    CoC treats survival and effort as the best you can hope for. D&D valorizes accumulation.

    I don't think CoC assumes that the characters will prance toward their doom naively...at every step they have to choose to go on. Understanding that choice (ever see 'The Matrix: Reloaded'?) is one of the underlying tasks of the game. Indeed, of any comparatively sophisticated story.

    And I would note that for 'power gamers,' absolutely nothing is risked in CoC. The only 'risk' is that they will, by their own METAGAME standards, 'lose' by not being crowned with laurels (or drowned in a pile of gold coins). The 'win' is participation: being able to see the situation through to its end, to go through the experience.

    Shorter me: D&D tells you you've 'had an experience' by giving you 'experience points.' CoC assumes you can figure it out for yourself, by thinking as your character does.

    The 'risk/reward calculation' you refer to is a metagame consideration. If you're playing the game, you're playing the world; and the world of CoC is an adult one.

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  89. Always remember, when talking with Wally, that he is the guy who said this:

    "...dungeon crawls are dead simple, and the stories are totally familiar.

    "They’re ‘boys playing in the woods’ stories, which appeal naturally to those prolonging their shared adolescence. They demand nothing.

    "Nearly every old-school campaign chronicle I read these days is like a heedlessly unironic Peter Pan story without the moral content, a geek-triumphalist Lord of the Flies narrated by Jack. (I can’t help thinking of these folks as Robin Williams in Hook, finding his inner child by throwing food and ‘never growing up.’) Even Maliszewski’s campaign recaps at Grognardia come off as children’s stories – there’s nothing to distinguish them from the slow-moving bits of Harry Potter, and if you assume that he knows it then it’s easy to see why he and his buddies obsessively return to the ‘but mass-produced juvenile midcentury sci-fantasy pulp is so daringly amoral…’ defense"

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  90. James, I hope you don't mind if I post a single response to Zak's quote of my old comment. I promise to be civil.

    "They’re ‘boys playing in the woods’ stories, which appeal naturally to those prolonging their shared adolescence. They demand nothing. (etc."


    Yes - that comment represents a lapse of civility, taste, and indeed prose skill on my part. I am annoyed at having to reread it, since it drowns what I still consider a reasonable point (all the OSR campaign writeups I'd read at that point really did strike me with their essentially juvenile-escapist content; this isn't just an OSR thing, of course, but the 'let's get back to the kind of fun we had back in the day' vibe is a point of pride and shared understanding among many or most OSR folks, and that is slightly weird) in some jerkdom.

    Not the only time I've been a jerk online. Judging from Zak's responses to his own blog commenters (not me), I'm sure he can relate.

    Well: I gotta be more measured online. Same as most everyone.

    But COME ON, dude.

    I'm not the first guy to point out the pretty large differences between the built-in moral assumptions of different kinds of RPGs; nor the first to point out that 'one of the best ways to honour the past is to try to carefully recreate it, down to specific font choices' and 'let's go kill (OR AVOID!) monsters and take their stuff as an act of thoughtful cultural preservation' are somewhat goofy notions. And those might not be detailed characterizations of (let's call it) the OSR vibe, but years on I'm still not convinced they're that far off.

    So there you have it. I apologize for painting with such a broad brush, but sometimes, when you wanna produce a quick likeness, well...

    (Sidebar: I'd never actually read any of Zak's campaign writeups then. Still haven't, though his ConstantCon writeup about the vampires was hilarious.)

    DERAIL OVER! Thanks for letting me respond, James.

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  92. Tellya what: you offer an alternative take on nostalgia/escapism/juvenilia in 'old-school' gaming, elsewhere obviously, and I'll happily respond using whatever brush you'd like. (Note that, as I understand it from your blog and such, your sense of 'DIY' D&D overlaps only partly with the rough community-sense of the 'OSR.')

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  93. Alternatively, let's call it a wash and try again some other time, when the stars come right or I'm not half-mad worrying about lead paint in our toddler's play areas.

    Catpcha: ADORK!!!! Awesome.

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  94. What does "hobbyist" mean to you and do you see it as antithetical to "professional"?

    A hobbyist produces something because he loves it and wants to share his passion, not because he thinks it will make much money. Honestly, I think this is the dominant mindset of anyone writing in RPGs these days. Someone primarily interested in making a decent profit, but who didn't love many aspects of the games, would have moved on to greener pastures. Gaming is a niche market; few people can make a full-time career out of it.

    That said, I see "hobbyist" productons as ones where some "rough edges" and clumsy details have been left in place. These games and supplements are made by enthusiasts, for enthusiasts. As an example, their writing may require that the reader already understand the basic assumptions of D&D before it makes sense.

    Do you care if a RPG product is just someone's thought experiment and has little or no connection to actual play or is that not an issue for you?

    I expect to modify scenarios before I run them and also expect rules to have some weak areas and potential "exploits". In my experience, most such errors are easily addressed. The people who endlessly rail about rule problems typically aren't the ones using the rules, they're using other rule systems and want to publically justify their decision. Every set of rules and every scenario has potential problems: That's why we have GMs.

    Despite that, I expect rules and scenarios to function effectively in actual play, something that doesn't happen when they are written without actual play in mind. A skilled writer can estimate the impact of a new class or a nasty monster, but he can't be sure until someone actually tries to play them.

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  95. I make a living as a games designer, but I do it because I love it, not to get rich (I'd have got a proper job a long time ago if I only cared about that)

    So am I a noble hobbyist or an evil professional? ;-)

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  96. "The point I was making is that someone had the idea to do a series of modules with giants in, and someone had the idea to do similar with dragons. As they're essentially the same idea what matters isn't whether one person was a hobbyist or one person works in marketing, but rather how each idea was implemented - unless anyone is arguing that a series of modules featuring different giants is by definition a good idea, but a series of modules featuring different dragons is by definition a bad one."

    The idea for Dragonlance arose entirely within R&D. The first proposal to TSR management was for a three-module series, similar in scope to D1-3 and with the intention of restoring some awe and terror to dragons, much as Ravenloft did with vampires. No one in Marketing said, "give us a series about dragons." Quite the opposite; people in R&D went to Marketing and said, "we're excited about this idea, and we think our fans will love it, too." Only then did Marketing and management come back with "we think you're right--so right that we're willing to bankroll making this a much bigger project than your proposal."

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