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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A Post about the Future

Every so often one still comes across some post bemoaning the death of the OSR. They’ve slowed to a trickle by the end of this year, but every once in awhile some guy gets all weepy about the Grognardia archives or something.  Consider the Dyvers list, which shows that there are still hundreds of blogs out there. Sure, several of them may be “going dark”, but for every gaming blog that has died, there are dozens of others still going strong.

I think that people confusingly correlated the publication of clones to the community as a whole when they proclaimed the OSR is dead.

There IS a decline in the publication of new clones & “OSR Heartbreakers”. A big part of this is that there are already LOTS of good OSR Clones and OSR Retro systems out there already to choose from. I would not go so far as to say that the market is saturated, but between Basic Fantasy RPG, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Swords & Wizardry, Lamentations of the Flame Princes, Blueholme, ACKS, BBRPG, DCC and several other acronyms I’m forgetting, chances are most gamers are going to find what they like without having to go out of their way to write a new system. Add to that that Wizards finally reprinted darn near every edition that the OSR draws from, and you’ve got choices gallore! And I’m pretty sure that Pathfinder and the plethora of d20 stuff has the 3e crowd sufficiently covered until the end of days.

There has been some backlash caused by a number of kickstarter debacles, including games that funded but were never delivered and established gaming companies using it essentially as a pre-order system (which was NOT its original intent), but that doesn’t mean that there are suddenly less people out there gaming. Just less people taking a chance on developing new systems for which there is shrinking demand, simply because people don’t have time to run all the games they have, much less try out new ones.

So, where does the community go from here? Obviously, modules for existing systems will be where the bulk of creative energy will be directed. Most of these will not be so ambitious as to need kickstarter, but you’ll find some good ones out there hosted on blogs or at DriveThruRPG. Interestingly enough, 4e will be the final frontier for the OSR, as long as we’re talking about retro-clones. As Wizards drops support for the red-headed step-child of D&D, I predict that in 2014 we’re likely going to see some reimaginings of the 4e system.

Plus, all of the above assumes that gaming is limited to the D&D sphere, which it most certainly is not.

The Dungeons & Dragons Movie (and Why the “Rights” Dispute is Stupid)

Why is it significant that there are now talks about Warner Brothers making a Dungeons & Dragons movie? And now Hasbro is claiming that they have a deal with Universal.

First, I’d like to put forward the incredibly heathen idea that the first Dungeons & Dragons movie is not as terrible as most people say it was. When I saw it in theaters ages ago, it was just me, my mom (I was 16), and some fatbeard. While it was not remarkable or amazing, it was fairly entertaining, I enjoyed it well enough. After the movie, the fatbeard went on about how horrible it was and how they got everything from D&D wrong and such. Now, given further retrospect, I know one thing to be true and another highly likely to be true: Dungeons & Dragons was one of the better movies Marlon Wayans has been in and if the Dungeons & Dragons movie had be called “Final Fantasy” and Final Fantasy: Spirits Within had been called anything else, there would be a lot less butthurt nerds in the world.

Okay, that’s out of the way.

D&D is the Kleenex of the RPG world, at least as far as non-gamers or casual gamers are concerned. To the non-gaming world, playing any sort of tabletop roleplaying game that isn’t LARP fodder is “Playing D&D”. However, the OSR movement has made this true among gamers as well. “Playing D&D” can mean playing Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC, Basic Fantasy Roleplaying, Castles & Crusades, Swords & Wizardry, Blueholme, or Lamentations of the Flame Princess, or, god forbid, actual, literal, published by the company that also gave us Littlest Pet Shop, Dungeons & Dragons! And really, those Retro-Clones pretty much are Dungeons & Dragons, with the name replaced and a handful of writers’ favorite homebrew mechanics and pet rules codified. For awhile, I was really confused about what Pathfinder was, but oh, hey, turns out it’s Dungeons & Dragons.

So, why bother with fighting over the Dungeons & Dragons name & licence for a movie? Clearly the gaming community has moved beyond caring whether the trademark name is slapped across something. They already know what’s up. Anyone could make a Dungeons & Dragons movie pretty much the same way anyone can make a Dungeons & Dragons retro-clone: strip out the names and product identity. Everything else can be done with a wink and a nod. Don’t call your movie Dungeons & Dragons and don’t base it on published books and settings. Fill it with dangers, monsters, magic, and, of course, dragons. Give your wizards Vancian magic and familiar spells (“Magic missile!”). It’s cool. We’ll know it’s Dungeons & Dragons.  But you can stick a copy of the OGL in the credits if you must.