Wednesday, January 25, 2012

This is How You Do It

I mentioned the other day that James M. Ward recently made a reprint of Metamorphosis Alpha available through Lulu.com for the very reasonable price of $14.99. Well, I went ahead and ordered a copy, which I received yesterday -- talk about fast! -- and thought I'd share some brief thoughts about it. Here's a photograph of the cover of the book, which is a staple-bound 36-page booklet:
As you can see, it's a nice, bright cover that very faithfully reproduces the one that appeared on the original 1976 RPG. The interior looks just as good, as you'll see. Here's the inside cover:
There's a very small amount of pixelation in some of the artwork, but it's only really noticeable if you're looking hard for it and it's not present in all of the illustrations. The text, meanwhile, is quite clean and easy to read.
Having read a copy of the original, I'd say that the reprint is probably easier on the eyes (at least my aging ones) and a lot sturdier. Plus, it's cheap, so it can actually be used at the game table without fear that you're damaging some priceless heirloom.
The book contains everything from the 1976 edition, along with two pages of errata and a short campaign outline by creator James M. Ward himself. It's a really nice little package and well worth acquiring if you're interested in the early days of the hobby. It's also, in my opinion, a model for what more game companies should be doing. There's frankly no good reason why more old RPGs shouldn't be made available in print-on-demand form for folks uninterested in paying exorbitant prices just to be able to read these early games. That this version of Metamorphosis Alpha is inexpensive and attractive is another plus and a far cry from some of the PDF versions of older game materials we've seen in the past.

Seriously, why aren't more companies doing what Jim Ward is doing?

34 comments:

  1. "....all hands are in the air, and wave them from here to there, if you're an O.G., mack, or a wanna-be playa!"

    It looks so awesome, I just wanted to sing a little bit!

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  2. Scanners have come a very long way since, for instance, most of the TSR stuff was scanned. I have rescanned some of the stuff in my own collection because my scan is nicer than the PDF I purchased when it was available.

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  3. I'd love to see the original Gamma World do this!

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  4. I would pay for a reproduction of Barrier Peaks and Keep on the Borderlands just so i can read them. By the time i joined the hobby they were just stories people told me and i never got to see them for myself.

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    1. They're both relatively easy to find used online. I got mine on Amazon.

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  5. Maybe because of people who have "collector" copies of the originals don't want to see the value of their collection go down by the elimination of the rarity factor? Or maybe there's just not a lot of demand?

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    1. Maybe because of people who have "collector" copies of the originals don't want to see the value of their collection go down by the elimination of the rarity factor

      Not quite the same thing but I know when Magic: The Gathering reprinted some out-of-print cards in teh Chronicles expansion, the price of the older versions crashed. There are people who enjoy the older versions for geek pride but most peoplwe re buying to play, and easier-to-buy copies gave them that power.

      I would imagine RPGs are much the same - there's the occasional oddity in which people are investing, but most people just want to run the game in question. a functionally identical reprint would be accept to the vast majority of people searching for those books.

      That's before you factor in PDF copies, official or not, which further make buying an original hardcopy edition less required for a subset of gamers.

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  6. Got mine about an hour ago. Can't wait to check it out when I get home!

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  7. Myself and the DM of my OD&D 3 books only game have lamented this time after time. It's a hard sell to tell an 11 year old kid to have his dad buy him a copy on Ebay for $100. Much easier to say hey, can you order me a $15 POD book? It wasn't too bad when you could say buy the PDF for $5, but since they pulled the PDFs...

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  8. I'm a collector, but will never buy a book I wouldn't read and/or use for play at the game table. POD allows me a means to procure old stuff I never had the opportunity to buy when I was a kid with zero dollars to my name.

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  9. I really want to get this. In fact, I think I will - based in large part on your writeup. But it might be a challenge to get my group to play an MA adventure. They call their OD&D characters "farmers" and like things a bit more powered up. They might be more likely to play Gamma World 2nd edition or something similar. But I'll still buy it!

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  10. Given how trivially easy it is to find pirate copies, I completely agree that more companies and authors should do this. I think many people would rather pay $15 or some reasonable price knowing that the author gets royalties, rather than get the pirated copy.

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    1. Depending on the size of the file, even a legitimate PDF isn't much use to some people at the table. I'd print a 32 page booklet out (double sided booklet style, it'd only be 8 sheets of A4 paper) but when we get into hundreds of pages it's not really practical.

      Some people are fine with using electronic files at the table, especially if soem or all have iPads/Kindles/etc but speaking purely for myself I wouldn't run something without a hardcopy of some sort.

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  11. For some of the old TSR products, copyright is probably an issue. Ward owns the rights to MA, but I'm not sure how the rights for things like Boot Hill or Gamma World sort out. I'm guessing WotC has them.

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  12. Last year I ran a mini-campaign of MA using Mutant Future rules. I had the MA book from my youth (much thrashed), but just wanted to try MA (which came off more cartoony than original MA rules for some reason - maybe it was the Spider Goats).

    One good think about having the original MA is the great level maps and such. Never got to use many of the ideas there (ruined city on one level, the "tourist" levels) but there are some great hooks in all that stuff.

    Oh, also a few years ago I bought some supplement for the more recent MA, and although it looked great, it was full of horrible ideas. The starship had crashed on some alien infested metorite or something, and the ship was being invaded by aliens creatures. One was the rock monster from Galaxy Quest, which I found especially cheesy.

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  13. "but just wanted to try MA (which came off more cartoony than original MA rules for some reason - maybe it was the Spider Goats)..."

    Sorry, meant "...but just wanted to try MF (Mutant Future)..."

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  14. Seriously, why aren't more companies doing what Jim Ward is doing?

    Among other reasons: digital restoration costs.

    Consider that merely proofreading, say, I6 -- even at my mid-low freelance rate -- would surely cost more than $100 per iteration. 100 equally short modules at that rate? $10,000 just for a single error-checking pass. That sounds like a drop in the bucket for Hasbro, sure, but then start adding on:

    checking completeness
    scanning
    OCR business
    judging/QAing scans
    compressing
    uploading
    HOSTING
    archiving
    publicizing
    store maintenance
    etc.

    AND OF COURSE the biggest pain in the ass: turning all these ancient documents into searchable, lightweight, handy PDFs for digital use. (Because you wouldn't go to all this trouble and not do straight-up digital sales, and ugly heavy scans are unacceptable to the sort of folks who'd pay for this sort of thing...)

    Yes, WotC should do this. But we should be under no illusion that the ever-embattled D&D RPG (vs. books) group could simply snap its fingers and have Hasbro make it happen.

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    1. Yeah, the big issue is that increasingly people are expecting certian things from PDFs and print on demand. As searchable, copy-and-pastable, bookmarked PDFs become standard, the work required to get a retro-product up to scratch becomes challenging. With a print-on-demand, if I'm paying for a book I will expect it to be in decent nick rather than just being a straight scan-and-print.

      White Wolf are struggling even with some 90s product where the electronic files are either lost or in formats no longer useful in 2012.

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    2. This. And there's also the small matter of decent scans of almost all TSR D&D materials already being available. (Indeed there's a *superb* PDF of the LBBs already out there, which bundles straight-up scans with minimally-invasive resettings of the text in much more easily printable files. The usual places have it.) They're all illegal, but it's not like it makes that much difference at this point -- if the copyright holders released official versions, many many interested parties would flock to pay for 'em, as the 1e rerelease shows.

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    3. I believe you are overestimating the costs, Wally, or at least, treating them as "costs" when in most cases they just end up getting absorbed by the host/seller (typically OneBookShelf/DrivethruRPG) on a per-sale basis.

      It's not "free" by any means -- no digital publishing is -- but it wouldn't be back-breakingly expensive, up front.

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  15. Dan Proctor did it for STARSHIPS & SPACEMEN :-D

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  16. FTW!! I am absolutely getting this!

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  17. Yeah, I'm going to have to have one too. I've wanted a copy of this game since like 1979.

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  18. Thanks for linking this, James! Ordered one a few days ago and plan to have Mr. Ward autograph it in June in Texas at NTRPGCon.

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  19. Can anyone point me to other good reproductions like this one? There's much from my youth I'd like to see.

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    1. The above-mentioned Starships & Spacemen

      Fantasy Games Unlimited is still around, though I can't load the webpage right now (not sure why).

      Villains & Vigilantes is back, too.

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  20. I received mine yesterday, and immediately thought the cover art looked washed out and fuzzy compared to the original (I used to own one). I attributed it to the scan. Now, however, I see that James' copy has a much better cover. My copy is also more closely cropped than his (the lizard coming out of the skull is cut in half), and the yellow in the lightning bolt is more green than yellow, with some yellow blotches. I'm thinking I got a poor cover printing. The pdf looks better. The inside looks fine, though I can see the pixellation on the illustrations he mentioned (which I also see in the pdf). The pages are glossy, unlike the original. Is that standard for Lulu?

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  21. There is a great adventure 'The House On The Hill' that also has tables to randomly generate other 'Houses'. I've run this at a con for brand new rpgers.

    https://www.createspace.com/3458160

    DriveThru also has pdf templates and an example adventure built from the tables.

    Also there is a free adventure at http://boardgamegeek.com/filepage/51124/dire-straits called 'Dire Straits' I've run it a couple of times.

    Oh and the forums. http://www.metamorphosisalpha.net/phpBBv3/viewforum.php?f=4&sid=ac5daad2163bb404dc5eec2ab9e1c7b9

    I'm kinda a MA1e fan.

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  22. "Given how trivially easy it is to find pirate copies, I completely agree that more companies and authors should do this. I think many people would rather pay $15 or some reasonable price knowing that the author gets royalties, rather than get the pirated copy."

    +1

    Also, perhaps I'm just too much an old man, but making the books available via Lulu (or wherever) as PoD, creates an object with real value. Selling an electronic (replication costs = 0) at a similar price as you might for a physical product puts me off. I have to print my .pdfs in order to actually use them at the table (or read them in bed), and paying, in effect, MORE than I would for a bound book in order to have a black and white home laserjet print in a ring binder doesn't feel like good value to me. Especially so for 'vintage' stuff from which all expected profit was realised 20+ years ago, for which e-distribution is an unexpected bonus, and for which the creators likely receive nothing (unlike the copyright holders, who made their money, or didn't, according to the print business model of 1986).

    I'm not saying that I want all RPG .pdfs to be 0.63p (as with Design Mechanisms RuneQuest stuff!). I want writers, artists, and publishers to be rewarded for producing good stuff. Just give me the £15 (or whatever) Lulu option!

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  23. I ordered a copy of the new version. I still have mu copy of the original. makes me happy every time I see it.

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  24. Ah, balls! Ordered my copy on the first day, I did! And still not a lick, nor a whiff of factory-fresh books, nosirree!

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  25. Thanks for the tip, James... just ordered mine! This will be a nice supplement to my Gamma World (1e) campaign.

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