Friday, February 19, 2010

Footnotes to OD&D

The other day, Rob Conley posted a link to another site in which it's revealed that Goodman Games is working on a "Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG." Very few details are given beyond stating that the game will be "a streamlined, deadly, 1st Edition D&D throwback with some D&D 3.5e influences," which sounds similar to Troll Lord's Castles & Crusades (though, to be fair, I don't believe I've ever heard anyone describe C&C as "deadly"). More details are supposed to be forthcoming next week, so I'll keep my eyes peeled for them.

It's interesting to note that, with the end of the D20 System Trademark License and WotC's abandonment of open gaming with D&D IV, there's been an explosion of new fantasy RPGs, most of them claiming an old school heritage to one degree or another. I don't think this is a bad thing, as I've noted before, although I do think anyone who's writing and producing their own fantasy RPG needs to realize that the odds against theirs seizing the vacant throne of D&D is extremely small.

I can't say with any certainty whether, from a business perspective, the OGL and D20 STL were bad for WotC, but I don't think, contrary to Gygax's opinions on the matter, that they were bad for D&D. Before the v.3.5 fiasco, most game companies were paying fealty to D&D in the form of products that supported it and shored up its claims to being the fantasy RPG. Now, everyone and their brother is putting out their own games, many of them clearly derivative of D&D in form, content, or both, in the process weakening the claims of any one of them, including WotC's current version, being the "true" heir to the world's first RPG.

In a very real sense, every RPG, even those specifically written as a rejection of Dungeons & Dragons, are its heirs. To paraphrase Alfred North Whitehead, the entire history of our hobby consists of a series of footnotes to OD&D. It's all just a matter of emphasizing this aspect of the game or downplaying that one, adding and subtracting to the basic template laid down by Gygax and Arneson between 1970 and 1974. In that sense, yet another fantasy RPG is no less worthy of one's consideration than any other new RPG. Granted, fantasy RPGs are a very crowded field but then that's true of roleplaying games generally and has been for as long as I can remember.

The desire to make one's own game -- to do it "right" -- is probably the oldest of all old school impulses; it's also the noblest. It's the same impulse that drove Gary to add dragons and giants to his medieval miniatures battles and Dave to zoom in on a single hero rather than an entire unit of soldiers. That's why I'll never believe there are "too many" RPGs, even if I often have zero interest in many (most?) of them. So, good luck to Goodman Games -- and anyone else who decides to publish their own RPG. Doing so is in the best traditions of our hobby.


  1. I remember in the 80's lots of people I knew were coming up with their own little game systems and rules sets to apply to a particular thing that wasn't represented by games at the time. I did my own rules for a Road Warrior setting. A good friend of mine came up with a great system to use for adventures in the Escape from New York setting. Most of the systems I saw were heavily D&D and Runequest inspired - somewhat combinations of the two.

    My little Mad Max game? I pretty much ripped-off the original Bushido and some other sources.

    In the early days we came up with stuff because it wasn't really represented by existing games (even through there were a lot of systems by 1981), or at least we didn't know about them.

    I think a huge drive for the old school community right now, and new school as well to some degree, is that it is full of very literary types, many of whom have a dream of having their writing and material published. Maybe a touch of fame. Most of us want some of that, right? Nothing wrong with that.

    And fortunatly for the writers, lots of folks in the OSR will buy stuff to read that they might never really use. I loved Judges Guild back in the day (with a passion, really), but I only every used a third of the stuff I had in games. I just loved reading the material. It inspired me for other stuff.

    I don't really buy any new, self-published stuff. Not because I don't find them interesting. It's just that there is so much good stuff out there that is free. I've actually gotten good use out of The Old School Encounter refernce, and also have ran a couple Mutant Future sessions. Who knows though, when summer comes around and I don't feel like starting a novel, I may just go through a phase and start snapping up some of the stuff out there. I'll probably start with the Dungeon Alphabet.

  2. I always had the impulse to brew my own house-rules, even back in the day, but I never thoughts I'd just be one of so many who did so. It is certainly one of its charms, the power to make the game your own.

  3. My older brother and I wrote our first RPG when I was 8, a version of basic D&D in space, complete with four classes. It was a mish mash of Star Wars and Star Trek. I remember we wrote one monster for each letter of the alphabet.

    Latter I wrote mini RPG to use with GI Joe figures to smooth battles between friends and a RPG for the Wasteland Computer Game. By then I had a computer so it was typed and I would love to find a print out of it.

    In 7th grade I wrote an RPG based on the Lord of the Rings for an English Class Book Report Project, and we actually played it in class.

    By college a buddy and me had put 70 pages of material together for our universal system and played it exclusively for 3 years. This system grew directly out of a Masque of the Red Death D&D campaign when we discovered firearms were not deadly enough after we reached 2nd level.

    I've never felt the need to publish my 70 page masterpiece. I think it is a great system, but have no desire to copy edit the whole thing or deal with the fact that we lifted spell names and spell trees (but not the magic system) straight from the Gurps magic book to save time.

    But in the end everyone of those games was a footnote on OD&D some more direct than others.

  4. Kinda interested in seeing the new Goodman Game. For me, their DCC were some of the first Old School style modules I had seen at a store in a very long time.

  5. Interesting. One does get the idea that WOTC couldn't leave well enough alone during the 3e period and had to fiddle and release 3.5, thus, as you observe, blowing much of the support publishers had given the game after the anticipation of 3e in 2000.

    It will be interesting to see the verdict of history as to whether the Open License and the idea of "free" was a better business model or the GSL, given that so many com[panies are no releasing their own competing rpgs.