Tuesday, March 23, 2010

No Such Thing as Too Many

The growing awareness of Goodman Games' upcoming (in 2011) Dungeon Crawl Classic Roleplaying Game has once again generated the chorus of "there are too many clones," etc. that we hear every time someone decides to produce a new old school fantasy game. My own position on the matter remains the same, namely:

1. The more old school games that are available, from a variety of publishers, the less likely it is for any one of them to become the old school game, either in theory or in practice. Speaking for myself, I prefer diffusion to centralization, as it's a good safeguard against repeating the mistakes of the hobby's past. Likewise, the more games available, the more cross-pollination of ideas we'll see and that too is an unqualified good in my opinion.

2. However, my position is predicated on the assumption that these clones are all roughly compatible with one another, sharing similar mechanical roots, so that cross-pollination is encouraged, if not actually facilitated. I prefer that new clones make their rules available for free, as Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, OSRIC, and James Raggi have done for this very reason, but it's not essential. At the same time, when a publisher introduces a proprietary "old school" RPG, my skepticism is heightened. That's why I tend to view games like HackMaster and Castles & Crusades differently than the aforementioned games, even though I find a lot to like in both of them. I suspect I'll feel similarly about the DCC RPG, but it's too early to tell.

The old school movement is a gloriously chaotic mess of creativity. That chaos fosters creativity and impedes the centralization of authority in any one game or publisher -- both positive outcomes in my view. So, the more, the merrier, I say.


  1. Can't we get a Rules Compendium retro-clone? That's all I ask really.

  2. Rach,

    Try http://darkdungeonsblog.wordpress.com/

  3. I think you are wrong. Too many games peddling more or less the same play experience is simply going to turn off new players.

    I have no problem with having many old-school-style games covering different sorts of settings and genres; that's fine. But even having two D&Ds in the 80s was one too many, IMO, and having 5 or 6 today is plain stupid.

  4. How does more choice turn off new players? That's interestingly counterintuitive.

  5. Luckily for me, I am not a brand manager or an industry wonk, so having numerous different games out there, all different but sharing some sensibilities, seems like fun to me... if only because as the player we will have more choices.
    I really don't see the downside for anyone other than WOTC who probably don't want the competition for gamer's dollars.
    It will never be the "boomtime" for RPGs of the late 70s/early 80s again... and I don't think thats a bad thing.

  6. As I posted yesterday it's more about grabbing that mythical ODD buck than it is about pushing QUALITY content.

    Goodman games has a solid reputation in the D20 community. I've used their products quite a few times. The concern that I have is that more and more publishers churn out product you'll get the same glut with ODD material as you had with D20. So many many many (I can't count how many elf books there are out there) products out there just throwing themselves at you eventually one gets burnt out on it all.

    Competition and variety is good. I firmly support people wanting to get their feet wet with a new product line. It's the BUYERS who must be wary as I've seen it time and again where people just make absolutely horrible products and since there is nothing else out there cry foul when their products are shown to be garbage (Yes Jim Ward, I'm looking at FFE products here).

    More is better. Use that sceptical nature and make sure that you pour your money into the RIGHT publisher that fits your game style and purge those that are just hopping on the money train.

    /gets the blow torches and pitchforks
    //forgot the kerosene
    ///settles for napalm

  7. "As long as they're compatible"...

    The problem is knowing if they are, or with which systems they're compatible (and which they aren't). I'd sort of prefer one B/X/ODD clone to take the lead and one 1E AD&D to do so. It'd be a lot easier to know the format and what to expect if that were the case.

    One of the things I find confounding is that some of the retro-clones were designed primarily as a legal means to create and sell old school-compatible work, but some are actually designed as working game systems. OSRIC, IIRC, was originally made not to be an actual gaming system, but as a framework to produce 1E-compatible modules and supplements. I wish Goodman Games had picked one of the existing clones and used them, so that we can easily predict what the format and compatibility will be.

  8. Too many games peddling more or less the same play experience is simply going to turn off new players.

    Please provide proof that this has ever been an issue with any industry.

    Too many cell phone companies? Too many choices for auto insurance?

    Variety and diversity is what pushes growth and innovation. The best products will rise to the top and keep creativity from stagnating. And I'm sure each will have it's own take on setting, monsters, mechanics, etc.

    James is 300% right on this one--the more the merrier.

  9. Nagora, your point would stand if all these games were produced by the same company. But we're talking about a vibrant and diverse marketplace here, made up of a number of publishers of various sizes. The retro-clone idea is a hot new thing, so a lot of different interests are going to try their hand at it- some will succeed, some will fail and consumers will decide which is which. It's Smith's capitalism at its finest, frankly.

  10. You may hate me for this but I've just started running B2 - The Lost City using 4e. None of the players have every tried, to my knowledge, old school D&D gaming and even with the massive rules change the spirit is still there. Up until now they've been playing 4e in the new school heroic scale but are already wanting to run parties of just Halfings, secretly evil characters, hiring henchman to 'detect' traps and gold is the new reward of choice.

    Maybe the system and therefore quantity of systems isn't important.

  11. Joseph Goodman did playtests of the DCCRPG at Gary Con, and I had the pleasure of playing in one. My impression is that it'll be more compatible with d20-based systems like Microlite d20, bridging the gap between D&D's mechanical roots and their more convoluted and rationalized later flowerings. For me the most enjoyable aspect of the system was random generation of character background (which, being zero-level characters, was all we had; Joe said class/race would develop out of that through advancement) and starting equipment. The OSR has often celebrated the awesomeness of having a PC who is defined by rolling a longsword or a voodoo doll instead of choosing feats/powers/etc., but this is the first system I've seen to make that a default part of character generation.

    I also think it's cool to see an old-school game built to support a specific line of modules. we have plenty of generic fantasy games, but one designed to enable specific adventure exemplars showing how it's meant to be played is cool. And if the playtest adventure is any indication that style is a dungeon as puzzle deathtrap, rather than megadungeon as sandbox. Both are important parts of the Old Ways (Jim Ward's game at Gary Con being the former, and Rob Kuntz's being the latter), but I think that the sandbox approach has gotten much more attention and welcome Goodman's focusing attention on the joys of touching the wrong thing and being promptly killed as a result.
    - Tavis

  12. I don't see what the issue is. All I see is a bunch of people with similar shared history contributing more of what they enjoy to each other.
    Bringing more people into the fold is important, sure, but at the end of the day just knowing that people are sharing their creativity with one another is way more important to me than some vast movement to reclaim something perceived as "lost".
    There is too much focus on market share and badmouthing diversity in this community. Take some time to really think about what is taking place and I guarantee it will make you smile.
    You can flame me all you want for sounding like an rpg hippie, but here are the facts as I see them:
    I'm a fan of early TSR and Chaosium style gaming. There is more creative output in both of those "Old School" communities in the last two/three years than I remember there being in the last two decades. The more the merrier IMO.

  13. I really enjoy that "gloriously chaotic mess of creativity". It reminds me a lot of the pulp rags from the 30's. Each publication had it's own theme, but you are usually treated to wildly different stories left and right - even from a single source. Many of the yarns can so-so, but you'll never know when you'll hit pay-dirt, and its usually well worth it. Economics seem to be a major factor with both.

  14. Chevski, I think you are reading too much into those comments.

    Most weren't saying there were too many clones. They were saying they (personally) didn't NEED another clone.

    Splitting hairs? Probably.

    Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG looks like it could be a lot of fun.

  15. Yeah, I have no need for another game, but I've got no trouble with it being out there.

  16. Ditto Paladin and Aos. I got everything I need for my 1st edition gaming, but more power to people who need/want these things. I don't have a copy of Gamma World, so Mutant Future came in handy when I wanted to do a bit of that. Didn't feel the same though, but maybe that is just me.

    I also don't need a vibrant old school community. It's great for this blogging, and discussion, but few of my current players are there at my table because they prefer an old school experience. They liked the cut of my DM jib, and are playing 1st edition because that is what I am offering.

    I liked D&D in part because it always seemed fun to be into something "underground." "More the Merrier" is only on my radar when it comes to money, chicks or beer.

  17. Hot damn to the Compendium clone, says I.

  18. I like it. More interest in the scene fundamentally feels good, even if I don't buy the specific product. Just the fact that that Roslof artwork got commissioned and I got to see it brightened my day.

    That said, I think the "too many games" critics are coming from a good and honest place with rational points. It's the anti-intellectuals crying "elitist!" that start to make my blood boil.

  19. > James is 300% right on this one--the more the merrier.

    So long as they're all D&D/variants?
    That's what this blog entry's saying, anyhow, as currently written; and presuming everything that's out of print to be "dead"...?

  20. Actually there are a couple problems in marketing when there gets to be too much of a good thing.

    1st, there is brand dilution.

    Its hard to get any sames (or play in the case of an RPG) momentum if there is no clear market leader and alternatives. I don't think this applies here as the total number of old school games is still pretty small compared to the possible player base. In addition we have several clear market leaders in the free (Basic Fantasy, Labyrinth Lord, Swords and Wizardry) and pay only categories (Castles and Crusades and maybe Hackmaster)

    2, There is a problem called tyranny of choice.

    When there are too many choices its to hard to choose just one or two Happily this problem is minor here as well. OSR products are well categorized and somewhat interchangeable.

    The only real challenge we face is building a player base. In that case, more is always better.

  21. I wish Goodman Games had picked one of the existing clones and used them, so that we can easily predict what the format and compatibility will be.

    I do as well, especially given that they've already licensed OSRIC translations of DCC modules, but I'm not the least bit surprised they've chosen to create their own system. Whether it's open and how much of it is compatible with the old school clones will determine a lot about its acceptance among grognards.

  22. You can flame me all you want for sounding like an rpg hippie, but here are the facts as I see them:
    I'm a fan of early TSR and Chaosium style gaming. There is more creative output in both of those "Old School" communities in the last two/three years than I remember there being in the last two decades. The more the merrier IMO

    If this position makes you a hippie, then so am I -- and that would be absurd.

  23. Most weren't saying there were too many clones. They were saying they (personally) didn't NEED another clone.

    Obviously, I have no beef with such persons and my post was directed more toward the notion that there are "too many clones" in absolute terms. I simply don't think that's true.

  24. So long as they're all D&D/variants?

    If we ever reach the time when there are multiple competing retro-clones of Gamma World or Traveller, then I might modify my position, but, as it stands, most people who argue about there being too many clones are talking about D&D clones and not any other sort.

    (That said, there are currently multiple RuneQuest/BRP clones available, but I think everything I said here applies there as well)

  25. I can see both sides of the argument. Too many 1e/Basic clones does make it feel like 3e with its 1001 D20 game systems. Other side of the argument: I understand how one might not want to use an existing clone. If one clone calls cavalier 'knight' instead, or uses proficiency rules, and you don't like that. Than you want a system you relate more too. Which clone is closest to one's own homebrew rules?

    I think as long as you can run your fav clone game in another's adventures, and use another's monsters book, than it's fine.

    Maybe the next clone book will be conversion rules between them all.

  26. James M said:
    I do as well, especially given that they've already licensed OSRIC translations of DCC modules

    That actually isn't true. Goodman released sort of "generic" 1e compatible conversions, sort of like PPP does, but he won't touch OSRIC as a brand at all. Just a random bit of info. ;-)

    Anyway, other issues aside, I think it is pretty clear that Goodman wants to capture an audience that values the "idea" of old-school, but that actually wants a version of D20 light. I say all the power to him, and I hope he does well. It was probably the wrong time earlier to do it since there have been so many games like this, but maybe if he can sell it in a different way he'll do better. His main competition is C&C as far as I can tell, and I think it is probably utterly irrelevant in terms of taking "market share" so no need for people to get upset that there are too many games.

  27. James, you didn't mention BFRP. It's been out since 2006 I believe. Version two is available now and it's beautiful.
    And it's free. And the Lulu POD copies are at cost and inexpensive.


  28. This is copied from my earlier post about the DCC ad, and I think it has relevance here:

    I'm really surprised at the poo-pooing here about this product which, BTW, most of us no nothing about it.

    AFAICT, those who did play it at GaryCon (and old-school con BTW) seem to enjoy the game.

    Holding judgment based upon an ad is pretty stupid.

    ALL OSR RPGs need to be examined on their own merits and people will make personal choices on what they like.

    Statements like:

    File under "Castles & Crusades, Hackmaster, utterly pointless."

    don't help the OSR movement. IF anything, it detracts from it, and it's based solely on personal opinion and conjecture.

    What's the worst that could happen? Maybe it's (GASP!)a good game?

    And if it's bad? So what? It hurts nobody but Goodman Games.

    There are plenty of OSR-type games out there, so if one doesn't make it...oh well.

    Let's judge it by it's content not by it "cover", as it were.

    In other words "the more the merrier!"

  29. There is a problem with too many games that attempt to remain "compatible". It means that most of these games will be sticking to similar core mechanics, limited somewhat the differences between them. I think having more games is great if there's variety of rules and approaches, but if compatibility is truly the goal, having too many games does become an exercise in redundancy, though I suppose that depends on the degree of compatibility. Are we talking about being able to use the same character stat blocks with little modification or simply the big-picture stuff? The more complete and fine-grained the compatibility the less inherent variation (except in setting, which is, to a degree, relatively rules independent).

  30. The too many games issue is moot then the Open Game License give the freedom to everyone to create new retro-clones as they see fit with nobody but the market telling them no.

    With that being said in the long term the retro-clones will shake out in tier of popularity. The more popular will be those in distribution and take advantage of the wider market. So while there may a dozen retro-clone there will be only a few visible ones.

  31. I believe that the OS market needs to be much larger in terms of sales to support this many clones.

    Each clone that fails will look like a good reason not to support the others, so it's not just a simple question of the more the merrier and Darwin will pick the best one. I remember what happened to the comics market when Marvel flooded it with titles. The whole market collapsed.

    But, I guess it's not my problem. I'd LIKE to see a stable market place where people could put out high-quality product that I can use and be financially rewarded for their work, but I don't need it by any means. And if the average product sells 40 copies because of market fragmentation and cannibalisation, that's just as well for me.

  32. I posted it in the other thread, but I'll re-iterate here.

    In response to calling games like HackMaster and Castles & Crusades fundamentally different (and not or less) important to the OSR movement, I was accused of wanting to "argue over the 'one true box'?"

    And I say: What's to argue? I was under the impression that all of the various D&D versions released prior to Gygax's ouster from TSR collectively constituted the "one true game" and that the OSR movement was about primarily popularizing and promoting their continued use.

    If that's not so, and anyone has the right to represent their own, brand new games as "old school D&D" with no dissent from that viewpoint tolerated? Well, that's a problem. It's called a completely incoherent movement without the necessary foundation of a single guiding principal or goal.

    Would you try to steer the culture of, say, the Robert E. Howard Foundation toward recognition of every Conan pastiche novel and comic book under the sun, past and present, as equivalent in status to REH's original stories, to the point of wanting to wage rhetorical war on the community's "snobs" who objected? I sure hope not. Because if that endeavor succeeds, there effectively is no Robert E. Howard Foundation anymore.

    It's not rocket science.

  33. I don't think so.

    It does sound like you're arguing over what is the "one TRUE game".

    Burn the heretics! BURN THEM ALL!!!!


    It's getting harder and harder to get some of the original rule books. So why not have OSRIC, LL, or S&W be able to fill that gap?

    Or Games like C&C, Hackmaster, or the new DCC to use a ruleset that is SIMILAR to the "old school" type of ruleset?

    IS that so bad?

  34. "It's getting harder and harder to get some of the original rule books. So why not have OSRIC, LL, or S&W be able to fill that gap?

    Or Games like C&C, Hackmaster, or the new DCC to use a ruleset that is SIMILAR to the 'old school' type of ruleset?"

    Maybe because these are two fundamentally different types of games (classic D&D clones and brand new games that often resemble classic D&D only superficially)?

    Maybe one of these types of games is a whole lot more relevant to maintaining any kind of meaningful OSR movement than the other?

    Maybe brand new RPG games (even if they're in the fantasy genre and even if they try to cash-in on classic D&D with some of their advertising or artwork), already have plenty of their own homes online at places like RPG.Net and other blog networks?

  35. And here we go again.
    Can some other posters, or maybe even James himself chime in and clarify if OLD SCHOOL is a philosophy on HOW TO PLAY the game or about WHAT GAME TO PLAY?

    I was always under the impression that OLD SCHOOL is a certain kind of way to play the game.

    Lets take Keep on the Borderlands and Tomb of Horrors for example.

    I can use both modules without change or only minimal changes for the TSR products and most clones.
    With some small changes I can also use Hackmaster (as far as I know they have some version of the modules for their system anyway) and C&C.

    With some more changes I am able to use D&D 3rd and the D20 based clones.

    With a lot of change I can even use 4th edition.

    Or, If I want to, I can run these modules with Barbarians of Lemuria or Burning Wheel or Tunnels & Trolls or Chaosiums Basic Fantasy Roleplaying (and related systems like Runequest, CoC, Stormbringer etc.).

  36. > I was always under the impression that OLD SCHOOL is a certain kind of way to play the game.

    Per http://www.lulu.com/items/volume_63/3019000/3019374/1/print/3019374.pdf , y'mean (although the comments on http://www.gnomestew.com/reviews/review-of-the-a-quick-primer-for-old-school-gaming for one are an interesting counter-read in that context).
    Well IMHO agreed in general about being more a broadbrush "way to play" than fussing overly about "is it a retro clone, but must be 'roughly compatible' with any others (or the 'originals'?)".

  37. James: You're a godsend, as usual.

    Pond: This is EXACTLY the thesis I've held since I first came to Grognardia.

    I am a little concerned about having so many attempts to do the same thing, that is to say clone B/X and 1e. Come to think of it aside Mutant Future I haven't really seen any retro-clones that aren't D&D. I think there might be a MSH one but that could be my memory playing tricks on me. I'd love to get a retroclone of Chill, or Star Frontiers, or Traveller.