Thursday, 26 June 2008

Further Notes

Just to expand briefly on what I wrote yesterday; I think the best way to sum up what I was trying to say is this. I don't really like the d20 system, and I'm certainly no fan of 3rd edition D&D, but there is no doubt that it has been used to do some really creative things - from Iron Heroes to Jade Dragons and Hungry Ghosts to Nyambe, African Adventures. But the thing is, we have things that are even better than the d20 system: we have OSRIC, Labyrinth Lord and Basic Fantasy. These rulesets can surely be used to create products that are equally if not even more interesting and innovative than anything that the d20 market has to offer, if only we get off our backsides and do so, rather than forever referring to what has gone before.

In the comments to my previous post, the point was raised that "modern gamers" are probably hard wired not to appreciate systems like OSRIC because they are so used to a completely different set of role playing sensibilities. I think that's overstated, because we don't know what the popularity of forward-thinking OSRIC products would be given that nobody has tried making one. But even if it's just for the sake of our own hobby and our own entertainment (as self-confessed "old schoolers" or "retro gamers" or whatever label you prefer) I think it's important that we use these tools that we have to try out new things -because the alternative is stagnation.

What do I mean by "trying out new things"? Off the top of my head, here's an example: I once tried to create a setting for pre-colonization, aboriginal Australia, which mixed native legends with the Cthulu mythos. It was going to be a kind of stone-age Call of Cthulu affair of Bunyip, Star Spawn and Rainbow Snakes. To make it I was using a mixture of 1st and 2nd edition AD&D rules and had no ambitions for it as a distributable product. But this was before I knew about OSRIC; nowadays I would have used that. And if I'd been properly satisfied with what I had, I would have been able to publish it as an OSRIC-compatible OGL product. That's an amazing advance, and one I think more people should be taking advantage of.

I'm not saying my idea was particularly good or interesting or worthy of publication. But at least it would have been something different for old schoolers to play. And surely that would have been a good thing, no?


  1. I do agree that this would be a great direction for the old school retro-clone systems to go Noisms. It would certainly breathe more life into them and the entire old school movement. Unfortunately I guess a lot of us get bogged down in trying to fight the endless battle of old school Dungeons & Dragons proper against whatever flavour of 'official' D&D happens to be current and vainly trying to bring back the olden days when 'our' version of the game was the 'official' version instead of looking towards where old school ideologies and systems could move into new territory, thereby possibly hooking new players more easily and then turning around to show them the root of the whole thing...original editions of D&D.

    And you may be right, perhaps my thought that the majority of new schoolers will simply reject an OD&D system out of hand due to it's mechanics is overstated, but I do think that much of what underpins and defines the OD&D as a system (esp. randomness, Roleplaying as opposed to roll-playing encounters, and being more of a generic figure as opposed to a least at the beginning) is a real turn-off for new RPGers and flies in the face of their basic expectations.

    That being said, seeing the retro-clone rulesets being used as the core for completely new games/settings/whatever just as D20 was would be fantastic.

    I think in some ways the new 'Mutant Future' game by Goblinoid games using Labyrinth Lord is a step towards this...sort of. Before anyone jumps in here, yes I know that it is in many ways an homage to 'Gamma World', but I think it is still a step in this 'new worlds' direction that you mention. It at least shows that the system itself can be used to create worlds other than D&D.

    I am by no means a game producer of any stripe...I have no experience and have not even been able to design an adventure module at this point, but it really gets the juices flowing to think of designing a new game world of my own using the core of a ruleset like Labyrinth Lord.

    Food for thought.

  2. Thanks Terry. I agree that the biggest hurdles for new players to overcome are the ones you describe - namely randomness and starting off as a weakling. And I wouldn't like to dilute those qualities because they're some of my favourite aspects of older D&D. But as I said, we'll never know unless we try. I definitely agree that Mutant Future is a step in the right direction, even if it is an homage to Gamma World.

    I'm not a game producer of any stripe either, I should point out! But that shouldn't stop either you or me. Right now this whole Old School Revival is in its infancy and there's nothing to stop you giving it a go. I'm certainly jotting down some ideas for a new Labyrinth Lord setting.

  3. "Bah," I say, to the claim that modern gamers are hardwired to dislike OD&D and older games. I'm in the middle of running a 4e game, and my current group -- all introduced to roleplaying via 3rd edition D&D -- includes one player who otherwise exclusively plays 2nd edition AD&D (and has declared 4e "fun, but inferior"), two players who don't particularly care about system because one is there to hang out and the other cares more about her character's personality and history than her stats.

    And me, of course, who got a 1st edition Dungeon Master's Guide along with my 4e books, because I kept hearing cool things about it. I have not been disappointed.

    On the other hand, we also have a player who dislikes 4e because it doesn't provide enough rules for non-combat situations and character traits, and another who is primarily interested in character power and system crunch. I could convince them to play, and they'd probably have fun, but they're never going to have the same "my life will not be complete until I have played this game" feeling about OD&D that I do.

    My group is probably unusual. There are, certainly, people at school who I would never invite to a retro game. But I doubt we're unique. Show us young whippersnappers the cool things about old school gaming. That enthusiasm is infectious.

    That said, while I'm fully in favor of new and weird and different in old school gaming (more toys!) I don't think getting new gamers into old school gaming should be the goal of such products. It should be "something different for old schoolers to play," new fun for people who like old games and are dissatisfied with the products of the modern industry's major players. Openness to modern gamers is good, but we don't need to be catered to.

    And at the risk of making this comment even more long and rambly: dude! Australian Cthulu! Kangaroos Man Was Not Meant to Know! I seriously need to work some aboriginal Australian myth into my next D&D game, it's got that whole epic wonder thing going to it.

  4. Odyssey: I agree that this shouldn't be about pandering to so-called "modern gamers". I just think that if people create innovative products using retro-clone systems then they might be pleasantly surprised to find that "modern gamers" want to play them.

    Mostly, though, yeah - it should first and foremost be about new things for old-school players to play. The problem is that there seems to be a fair amount of inbuilt hostility among some sections of the "old school" to anything new. I get the feeling that if I was to write up and publish a Labyrinth Lord Aboriginal Cthulu setting, it would be looked upon as, gasp! heresy.

  5. RE: New ideas based on old rules.

    Tell you what, Noisms*, if you work on an Oz sourcebook** (or whatever catches your fancy) perhaps I'll put together some notes for Dark Hollow, my own folkways heartbreaker based on Appalachian Werd setting based on tall tales, bilues and old time ballads, and Manly Wade Wellman.

    *That's not a loose anagram for Simon, is it?,

    **Did you think Scarecrow meets Honey Ant Dreaming too? Follow the Yellow Dust Songline? Er, probably just me then.

  6. You've got yourself a deal, Max. Love the Weird Appalachian idea. I think we need a deadline, though, because otherwise I'll never do it.

    (Re: Simon; no, my real name's Dave. The reason I chose "Noisms" was that once I was trying to come up with a one word definition of my own personal philosophy and that seemed like it: no '-isms'. Beliefs and opinions are good, but usually once something turns into an -ism it's an ideology and that's often bad. Except Magic Realism; that's the exception that proves the rule. Or something.)