That New Swords & Wizardry Thing…

Okay, some quick thinks on the new Swords & Wizardry thing, which appears to be an even bigger “debacle”::fingerquotes:: than I imagined. How much of the debacle is people (one person) strawmanning? I don’t really know.

So, Frog God Games is kickstarting a new printing of Swords & Wizardry. They put Stacy Dellorfano in charge of the art direction and all of the art is done by women. The stated reason for doing this is “the fact that many OSR games have a physical appearance and presentation that really targets the 40 year old guys who’ve been gaming since forever, and doesn’t have nearly as much appeal to younger or female gamers of the generations following that first wave of players from the 1980s.” So, they put a grimdark exploding elk skull with butterflies on the cover.

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Problems with the compositional elements aside*, my take is that it’s an odd, possibly bad, choice at best given that stated goal, especially when the previous cover was done by the guy known for the covers of ‘fun for the whole family’ toystore editions of Dungeons & Dragons.

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While some people don’t like the art, period, others are, like me, simply confused as to why this was chosen for the cover.(I really like a lot of what I’ve seen of Kaos Nest’s work as an illustrator, but she’s not someone that would come to mind for a “more-accessible next printing that [Frog God Games] are targeting toward the mainstream market.”) What I haven’t seen is any wailing or gnashing of teeth about the OSRness of the new printing. It’s not an attack on innovation, or even an attack on “not even innovative” innovation; it’s a befuddlement at a single befuddling art direction decision. Then again, there’s really only one guy saying that it is, so it’s probably best to not worry about it.

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Seriously, though, S&W is the last big-named OSR system that springs to mind when I hear ‘we need a more mainstream accessible product that will have wider demographic appeal’.

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*generally you don’t want any sort of detailed or dynamic elements where there will be text if you can help it. Changing the transparent yellow to a bright red and the red to a yellow would be a step in the right direction as far as composition goes, but that doesn’t address the issue I took with it.

Disclosure: I don’t play or own any Swords & Wizardry products; aside from Blueholme (and DCC 4th printing, if it ever ships), I don’t own any OSR products. I guess I’m not even really OSR! I just thought it was a really weird choice for a cover given what the stated intentions were.

Update: Okay, so I found one guy who’s on about this as an attack on the OSR rather than just as a bad art/design choice, but his beef is the quip about “40 year old guys” in conjunction with the art as part of a virtue signaling on FGG’s part to dump on their core fanbase.

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10 responses to “That New Swords & Wizardry Thing…

  1. “This is an odd choice that I don’t care for,” is pretty much the harshest criticism of the cover I’ve come across. Of course, I don’t spend a lot of time rooting around looking for reasons to be offended by the opinions of others, so take that for what it’s worth.

    I’ll say this for Frog God Games, they found a way to make a cover that would guarantee a lot of free word of mouth advertising on social media.

    • In that regard, it’s pretty brilliant. I only noticed it and thought “huh, that’s weird” because it came up on Black Gate and Tenkar’s Tavern before it had turned into “We’re having a discussion about this discussion we’re having”.

      This post is my final thought on it, baring some new shocking twist (such as someone besides Pundy saying it’s being attacked for not being OSR or because women are working on it), and is mostly an excuse for me to throw up that Flame Princess image on wordpress.

    • Also, something I hadn’t really thought about or noticed before is Basic’s “For 3 or More Adults, Ages 10 and Up”. It’s “a big kids game ;D”.

  2. Oh. It is a skull. And there’s butterflies. I thought it was an animal that exploded and those were guts flying everywhere. When I first looked at it, I thought: “how’s that going to appeal to women?” And the moved on

      • Innovation can be a good thing. But does every product have to be innovative? No. But it helps.

        Is the OSR innovative? Yes and no.

        Yet Swords & Wizardry’s main contribution was to make something cohesive out of the early D&D rules. I do think that innovation was needed–especially if the OSR wanted newer players, who might scratch their heads trying to figure out the rules in the little brown books, to start playing these games as and alternative to mainstream D&D.

      • The best innovations from OSR are akin to the innovations of Holmes and Moldvay – taking something that was fun but messy and putting it into a more accessible format. Not just in terms of art but of layout and user-friendliness.

        I may have never played OSRIC, but having a handful of pages I printed out made rolling up a character for the 1e AD&D game I was in a heck of a lot easier.

  3. I’m going to sidestep the drama and hotbutton topics and move right to the meat of the problem. It’s an extremely weak cover: it has no cohesion nor focus. It doesn’t give you any concrete elements that are contained in the product as identification of identity. You don’t even directly register that it is a skull in the picture. Additionally I’d like to point out from a commercial art tangent that women don’t generally buy into skulls, so I’m really confused as to the target here. I’m not trying to be ugly here or play partisan politics, just pointing out a few points.

    To sum it up: it’s bad commercial art. Since you are trying to attract, then convince people and sell to people, this product it fails on several levels. It’s not about old gamers or new gamers, it’s not about guys or girls – it’s about identification and sales. This cover was a bad choice on many levels. I’m sure a professional commercial/graphic artist can give you the correct terms as to why.

    Now I admit I come from the time of old school gamers, since I was introduced to RPG initially with the brown box D&D, so I have some bias here from the time when most RPGs were produced by garage companies. Gygax assembled those first games on the dining room table using family members for labor. I still have a soft spot for small garage made games with runs that had runs under a thousand copies (and then ten years to sell out to a second edition, if any).

    At that time, I worked for a game company that mostly was about historical miniature rules and military board games, I saw the genesis of RPGs from its inception in the mid 70s. But despite all of that, basic commercial art rules have not changed. Your cover is an important part of your identity, with few exceptions. Those sappy D&D covers were direct and you understood the genre immediately, despite the fact that they didn’t quality as fine art. If you liked it, you picked it up, if you didn’t you moved on.

    These days many people seem to have a problem attention deficit disorder, so an obscure puzzle cover is a wrong move. Most folks are not going to try to figure out what’s going in the subscript on or why the butterflies are there, to make you want to buy the product. You got five seconds tops to close the deal, if not they shuffle off to the next stimulation. The bottom line is – people vote with their wallets and use snap judgment, so use common sense and some basic commercial rules for a commercial product.

    Postscript: I have suddenly realized what button this cover illustration pushes. It’s the deer skull decal that rural lifestyle adherents have on the back window of their beat up pickup trucks. Is that the demographic you were targeting?

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