Thursday, May 17, 2012

Appendix O

One of the final sections of Dungeon Crawl Classics Role Playing Game is entitled "Appendix O: OSR Resources," whose last paragraph says the following:
To the many and varied OSR publishers, I offer one comment. As Grognardia marks its fourth anniversary in 2012, the OSR has re-published a plethora of variants on the core D&D concepts. The target customer is offered no shortage of retro-clones, adventures centered on goblin raiders, excursions into the underdeep, and genre-based campaign settings. I started work on the volume you hold in your hand because I believe the time has come to break the chains of D&D convention and step back one era further, to the original inspiration of Appendix N, beyond the confines of genre assumptions. DCC RPG offers a free license to third party publishers who wish to publish compatible material. Even if you choose not to take advantage of this license, I ask you to consider moving past the boundaries of “TSR mimicry.” The time has come to offer our shared customer something both new and old-school.
What Joseph Goodman says above is a sentiment I regularly hear in various quarters. I don't exactly disagree with what he says, but I do think, based on experience, that it's a little naive. Firstly, here's an awful truth RPG designers don't want to hear: a significant majority of gamers only care about D&D. It was the first RPG and, nearly 40 years later, it's still the most popular (I consider Pathfinder to be D&D for the purposes of this discussion). Whether they play LBB-only OD&D or multi-splatbook, computer-assisted 4e, D&D -- and, more importantly, its broad conventions -- is what people think of when they think of "roleplaying games." Heck, that's as true of video games as it is of tabletop ones, so I don't expect there's a huge demand for games that challenge the prevailing paradigm. That's not to say no one wants something different; I simply don't think there's anything wrong with sticking with and preferring an approach that's deeply, deeply ingrained in the hobby.

Secondly, I think people misunderstand nostalgia. These people throw the term around dismissively -- "Oh, you only like that out of nostalgia." Now, even if that criticism were true, so what? People can and do like things for all kinds of reasons. Ultimately, all that matters is that they like them. If someone likes D&D and its conventions (or anything else) because it reminds him of early days in the hobby, what's so wrong with that? Underlying the critique of nostalgia is the notion that we should only like things for "serious" reasons, which is to say, reasons that others can not only understand but agree with. It's an odd criticism in my opinion, since I suspect most of us like all sorts of things for no reason other than that we like them. When I say I like the taste of a certain food or the way a certain piece of music makes me feel, I have no expectation that anyone else will agree with me. At the same time, I'm not deluded in using words such as "like" or "feel" to describe what I'm experiencing.

Thirdly, and lastly, I think the word "new" gets overused, mostly by the jaded. By that I mean that the cry for "the new" is often a function of what one has experienced. Sure, for many gamers who've been playing for three decades, "goblin raiders" or "excursions into the underdeep" may be old hat, but not everyone has been playing for that long. For a lot of younger and/or less experienced folks, The Keep on the Borderlands or The Village of Hommlet is new. And, for us older and more experienced players, seeing a new spin on these old adventures can be just as fun. This isn't intended as a rebuke to anyone seeking something different, but I do think the cult of the new is frequently selfish and myopic.

I suspect this post has gotten a bit away from me. I really appreciate what Joseph Goodman did with DCC RPG. I think it's a fantastic game and a big part of its fantastic-ness is that he made a game that appealed to him. That's why I find the paragraph I quoted above a little grating. I'm sure there are some folks involved in the OSR who've written stuff not out of personal interest but because they thought it's what others wanted them to write, but their numbers are probably very, very small. There's not enough fame or fortune in this to not follow your heart and do what it commands of you. My advice to anyone who feels that there's "too much" of X and "too little" of Y in the OSR is to go ahead and make it themselves. That's why Joseph Goodman did, to great success, and that's what nearly everyone else in this corner of the hobby is doing, so why not you too?


  1. I very much agree with that paragraph about the new. For example, though I was heavily into D&D all through the 90s, that was pretty much all Second Edition. I didn't know anything about OD&D or B/X, for example, until some time next year. And while I naturally came to a playstyle which is sort of old school on my own back then, much of the OSR and its ideas has been new to me, not retro.

  2. Couldn't agree more James.  I find the oft-repeated criticism that the OSR isn't bringing enough "new" to the hobby pretty strange.  The OSR is about re-exploring the hobby's past.  Its more a response to (and to an extent a rebuke of) the new than an invention of it.  I don't really understand the requirement some seem to have that the OSR needs to validate itself by producing some "new cool thing."  The whole "movement" such as it is is founded upon the idea that the old ways worked pretty damned well...

  3. I was hoping you'd post about this paragraph. I found it very curious. Folks should just bash on and do their thing, it's up to readers and players to measure the newness or appropriateness.

    I admire JG for wanting to make a game devoted to a specific body of literature. It's really quite cool. But, in my opinion, this paragraph reads the wrong way and should have been dropped.

  4. Bhoritz BollemansMay 17, 2012 at 1:44 PM

    Not only is the "new is better argument" certainly overused and IMHO overused, but I have had a few discussions on forums (I know, I shouldn't) with peoples of the narrative crew thinking that new mechanisms or paradigms were rendering older ones obsolete.
    It is something that I find completely stupid. RPG is not a science where you build up better machines. New stories don't make older ones irrelevant.

  5. Only one aspect of the OSR is re-exploring the hobby's past. Stuff like Carcosa is new and refreshing yet still has the feel of an OSR setting. But "OSR" has as many interpretations as it has constituents.

  6. Geoffrey McKinneyMay 17, 2012 at 1:55 PM

    'My advice to anyone who feels that there's "too much" of X and "too little" of Y in the OSR is to go ahead and make it themselves.'

    I agree with what Joseph Goodman is saying. I have tried to do precisely what he suggests with my own Carcosa and Isle of the Unknown, and I hope to continue doing it with the line of short modules written by other authors that I plan to start publishing this summer under the name of Psychedelic Fantasies.

    I figure that plenty of other people already have the "goblins, regenerating trolls, magic missiles, +1 swords, dwarves, elves, etc." type of fantasy covered. I'm aiming to publish stuff outside of those fantasy conventions, yet at least 99% compatible with any version of D&D ever published by TSR (and retro-clones as well).

  7. What I find funny about "
    the time has come to break the chains of D&D convention" is that has been happening since the early days of D&D for anyone who has cared to wander off the path. RuneQuest, Warhammer, Talislanta, Palladium, Tunnels and Trolls, etc. There are plenty of old games that explored new areas. There are tons of new games now that break out of the mold.

    But James's advice is good. Write what you want to play. Also, check out what others write. Maybe you'll find something "new" you like.

  8. As usual, James, you make a good point.  -BUT-  In my opinion DCC is a really great work in the RPG world.  I read that book for a solid week after I got it.  Goodman, it seems to me, has seriously raised the bar in not just the Old School movement, but also in the whole RPG market.  One of the reasons DCC does that is because its creators were unafraid to NOT emulate the past in some areas and boldly improve the game in many others, even if it means slaughtering a herd or two of sacred cows.  And this was all done with a ruleset that feels more "D&D" to me than the genuine article in places.

  9. I don't read the paragraph provided from DCC as advocating anything different from what James has advocated on his blog any number of times.  Correct me if I'm wrong, but hasn't James repeatedly "asked" for the OSR to move beyond mere stylistic mimicry of old-school TSR?  From what I gather the DCC is trying to do just this, AND deeply informed by the pulp well-springs with which James has prodded us all to become more familiar.  I guess I need clarification for what is really bothering James.  I don't see it.

    I don't own DCC, but like James states, I admire that Goodman created his own thing based on an appreciation for a certain literary tradition / style.

  10. The DCC RPG is an outstanding job by Joesph Goodman and his crew. However in the end the what ignited the OSR and still drives it today is that gamers like to play classic editions of D&D. Not something like them but the original rules themselves. To criticize this is about as pointless as criticizing Chess Clubs for focusing on Chess. The only fly in ointment I see is the expectations that people have about the"Old School" in the Old School Renaissance label.  It is perhaps unfortunate that this  is what is used to apply to what is a group of classic edition D&D gamers. Such is the way of memes.

  11. I really appreciate what Joseph Goodman did with DCC RPG. I think it's a
    fantastic game and a big part of its fantastic-ness is that he made a
    game that appealed to him. That's why I find the paragraph I
    quoted above a little grating. I'm sure there are some folks involved in
    the OSR who've written stuff not out of personal interest but because
    they thought it's what others wanted them to write, but their numbers
    are probably very, very small.


    The things that I have really loved in the OSR, even the things I don't use, have been "this is what I want to play" stuff: Carcosa, pretty much all of LotFP stuff, and my current love (because it embodies a lot of what I have been aiming to do)
    Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque are all about what the author wanted.

    If we all just write what we want I suspect we'll find more both in D&D fantasy and new that fits with it than an effort to be either traditional or new every will.

  12. It's not the mimicry of TSR part that bothered me. Rather, it was placing "retro-clones, adventures centered on goblin raiders, excursions into the underdeep, and genre-based campaign settings" on the same level as using the fonts and color schemes TSR did.

  13. I had a daydream of psychedelic fantasy back in the late 90s, but lacking in experience (Are You Experienced?) with any kind of psychedelia aside from half-listening to Sgt. Pepper's growing up. Of course, *now* that I'm older and have gained a few levels (ah that experience), my understanding of the scope of "psychedelic" is a lot broader. I will be *very* curious to see what you make!

  14. I agree, and I think given the kinds of permanence in media we have nowadays, past works in movies, t.v., music (note the post-punk/80s revival bands like The Killers, Franz Ferdinand, etc.), and games are just as new as a current audience. People are now mining the past to see influences of what we are seeing now and see if they can take that past into a different direction. There will always be aping, for sure, but there's always people who will take a deep look at what they like and where it comes from and then create something new from that.

    This seems to be a "thing" and I find it fascinating.

  15. Just so long as Joseph realizes that he has also now joined the ranks of those who have  "re-published a plethora of variants on the core D&D concepts". I do scratch my head at the mimicry comment. Arguably, Joseph is the one who started that trend on a large scale with his DCC adventures for 3rd edition.

  16. Now I understand.  Thanks for the clarification.

  17. I've been pretty critical of Goodman and their hype surrounding DCC RPG. Look I know you need to spread the word about your product, but I felt that Goodman was very "vain" about their product long before the book hit the street. Compare this to what I would consider the quiet and humble arrival of ACKS.
    I'm sorry, but I have to ask: when it comes to Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Lamentations of the Flame Princess, Delving Deeper, Dark Dungeons, Adventures Dark and Deep, Myth & Magic, DCC RPG, ACKS, and any of the other retro-clones or "second generation" retro-clones or whatever the heck you want to call them...does anyone really, deep down, think that these are anything but published house rules?
    AND I DON'T SAY THAT TO BE DISPARAGING, not in the least. I enjoy checking out all of the variations of D&D that come out. But come on, that’s what they are: variations on D&D. Period. If they have ANYTHING resembling D&D DNA, they are, at a basic level, published house rules. BUT THAT’S OK! Goodman may think that his game isn’t a retro-clone, but come on. Let’s get real. His game owes a lot to D&D.
    So, I am as confused and irritated as you are when Goodman makes these kinds of remarks.
    As for nostalgia, I’ve written before on my blog about “good” and “bad” nostalgia, with the former enriching your current life while the latter serves to lock you into an obsession with your past. Too many people just think of the negative connotation of nostalgia.
    Oh, and I am one of those gamers for whom the old modules are “new.” I’ve been gaming for over 20 years but I never ran/played B1: In Search of the Unknown until this month (I’m running it right now for my current Labyrinth Lord campaign).
    For all my criticisms of DCC RPG, I am glad it’s become one of the latest version of D&D to join the growing list of clones. But let’s call ‘em like we see ‘em, folks. Let’s all keep encouraging each other to make of the game what we will, and stop worrying about “making it new” or some other such vainglorious declaration. Such things smack of the old “everyone else is doing it wrong” mentality, if you ask me.

  18. What is Goodman saying?  As I read it, it's something like this:

    "D&D is inspired by pulp fantasy.
    All fantasy RPGaming should be inspired by pulp fantasy.
    My game adheres more closely to the genre assumptions of pulp fantasy-- more closely than those retro-clone who gets their genre assumptions second-hand from D&D and even more closely than D&D itself. "

  19. I read it as pure self-interest on Mr. Goodman's part but that's business.

  20. The takeaway:
    " My advice to anyone who feels that there's "too much" of X and "too little" of Y in the OSR is to go ahead and make it themselves. That's why Joseph Goodman did, to great success, and that's what nearly everyone else in this corner of the hobby is doing, so why not you too?"

  21. "My advice to anyone who feels that there's "too much" of X and "too little" of Y in the OSR is to go ahead and make it themselves. That's why Joseph Goodman did, to great success, and that's what nearly everyone else in this corner of the hobby is doing, so why not you too? "

    I absolutely agree.  Anyone can type up their rules, format their document, make it into a PDF, and put it up on the internet.  Quality will vary, of course, but it's not meant for everyone else.  It's for the individual who wrote it (and perhaps their gaming group).  The technology to easily make and distribute a game wasn't available to the average gamer in the beginning of this hobby, but now it is.  Go nuts.

  22.  Accusing someone of nostalgia is saying they're not being objective. 

    I'm prepared to argue that TSR D&D is objectively better than WotC D&D. 

  23. I honestly don't think he is attacking the retroclone/traditional OSR games, but rather suggesting the abandonment of the tropes of D&D as being unnecessarily confining.

  24. I think James M is saying that preferences related to role-playing games are a matter of taste, and therefore love out of nostalgia is no less objective than a love of realism or genre emulation or anything else. 

  25. I think John Goodman himself believes that people want the established conventions of 'D&D fantasy'. Otherwise his game probably wouldn't have had dwarves, elves and halflings.

  26. You really missed the point, he's talking about going back to the true roots that were listed as influences for the games we loved so much, not trying something new for the sake of trying something new. Get over it man. 

  27. To me this Appendix O isn't a jab at the OSR.  To me, it is a call to arms to fellow publishers to provide top quality products for our little niche of gamers.  Moving past the "boundaries of TSR mimicry" does not mean we can't return to within those boundaries at will.  It is important to continue to play the games of the past, but also to grow.  This growth doens't have to move in the same direction as popular culture.  Perhaps this growth is laterally.  Fully exploring the wonderful fiction that inspired the creation of the Gold and Silver Ages.  As for me, I'm going to play the crap out of DCC...except I will most definitely be using "adventures centered on goblin raiders, excursions into the underdeep, and genre-based campaign settings."

  28. I agree - back in the day I never played Moldvay or Mentzer D&D, it was 1e AD&D + White Dwarf magazine. So the main play style of the OSR has been a new thing for me too.

  29. I didn't read Joseph Goodman's as "out with the old, in with the new". I think he means that the old TSR stuff is all there, it exists, so there's no need to rehash it. I do agree a bit with Goodman in regard to some OSR products. As you say, The Keep on the Borderlands is indeed new to a lot of inexperienced players and as such, there's no need for an Basic Fantasy adventure called "The Chaotic Caves". There's many, many adventures with goblin raiders and mushroom caves and drow colonies, and people looking for those things can play those.

    That said, I think there already is a sort of an "OSR 2.0" going on. All TSR editions of the game are cloned, and now people start to do new things with the rules. Lamentations of the Flame Princess is a step in the right direction, and all of its supplements are excellent examples of things we haven't seen before. Adventurer, Conquerer, King may look like a retro-clone, but its focus on domainbuilding and rulership go beyond wat BECMI offers. And Jack's Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque is on a level of its own.

    To me, all of those are examples of doing something "new".

  30. I wish someone would put together a questionnaire online that would narrow down the system or "flavor" of DnD you would like to play.  There are so many little bits and pieces from all these versions I enjoy.  I love B/X for its elegance, I love race as a class, I like the CMD and increased HD from Pathfinder, the Vancian Magic from 1E, the domain building from ACK.  I want DnD Me.  So many awesome games so little time :( 

  31. It does?! That's somewhat hilarious, then.  You can't get much more Tolkien-via-D&D than the Elf-Dwarf-Halfling triptych.

  32. I find JG's view quite strange - mainly because he appears to be taking issue with style, not substance.  A number of the classic modules are thematically strong, but have objective problems in their design.
    A good example of this that doesn't involve significant spoilers is B4.  The module is atmospheric and engaging for the beginner, but it's B/X and characters will die.  How are new characters going to be introduced?  The module set-up is rather unhelpful to the novice referee in this regard.
    There are some bloggers working on revised copies of TSR modules at the moment.  The community (especially new players joining the OSR) would greatly benefit from more, not less, attention to this kind of "TSR mimicry".

  33. Ironically enough, that's exactly why I don't find the DCC RPG interesting.

    Since the beginning, there have been games that tried to re-invent the D&D wheel. Runequest, Talislanta, Arduin, Palladium Fantasy, Synnibar and so on.  Some were very well done, some not so much, but all were labors of love and were interesting just because of that.

    But at the end of the day, I just plain like D&D and that's what I'm interested in. So part of me wishes all that effort would have gone into some closer to D&D. But then again, it wouldn't have been as much a labor of love.

  34. True, a lot of the modules (especially for D&D) were almost more frameworks.

    B4 could easily have been a whole boxed set. So could X2 Castle Amber, where so much of the adventure actually takes place in Averoigne, but only is given the sketchiest of details.

    But at the time, I'm not sure really detailed things were even thought of.

  35. The Earthlight AcademyMay 19, 2012 at 11:46 PM

    I'm not sure why anyone would be worked up over this comment. I think JG is issuing a call to arms, so to speak, much like this post is too. The OSR has the potential to be just another fad in gaming if the material doesn't go in a new direction. It's not enough to repeat the successes of the past.