The Old School industry is letting us down

I just wrote a review of Monsters & Magic that’s been published over at UK Roleplayers. See it here.

http://www.ukroleplayers.com/reviews/monsters-magic/

Most of the other reviews I’ve read are more positive than I was, and actually, I’m struggling to find many negative reviews of ANY of the OSR stuff that’s getting released. Fandom is great, but why not more critical analysis, or just a good old stock taking position?

The OSR market is now incredibly diverse, or, if you prefer, fractured. It seems all you need is a couple of house rules and a word processor and you can call yourself a designer and publish your game. Ironically, back in the actual old school days, people just used to write out notes and fling them in a binder, and call it their ‘campaign’. Wonder if those guys (and I was one of them) would have had the balls to call themselves games designers? It would have been a nice accolade, but no, I don’t think we saw ourselves that way at all. It was just the way we organised our campaigns.

I come back to that word again, campaigns. It seems to have been usurped by the phrase Adventure Path in recent years, but I never saw a campaign as just a string of scenarios, it had to include setting stuff and some house rules too (to be fair to Paizo, that’s exactly what their APs do). I also never had much time for those who would only do rules, but never actually play the game, or run it. Armchair DMs. Boo.

So I’m slightly confused and head scratchy about the proliferation of OS games currently available. I’m not the only one, you only have to check a forum of your choice to see regular requests for which is best, or which is most popular, or which is most like A, B or X. The choice can be overwhelming. I keep coming back to the same solution though: just pick one at random and play. There’s so much common language between them that you could always drop in stuff from elsewhere, or even excise whole portions of what you don’t like. Just play a few sessions first, and then muck about with it.

In order to play, you need an adventure, and I think this is where new (to OS games) DMs get troubled. Some OS games have no specific adventures available for them. I think that’s criminal frankly. Lets face it, we’re talking about TSR type gaming here and the one thing they did was get scads of modules into the hands of groups. If you have an OS game, and it’s got a twist on the classic format, you have to put adventures out there for folk to see what it is you’re getting at. Huge props here have to go to Goodman Games for regularly publishing great quality modules for their DCC line.

Here’s a music analogy. If you want to be involved in music, at more than just a hobby level, would you A) learn to play an instrument and join a band or B) learn how to make an instrument

Why aren’t the OS publishers getting some good tunes out there instead of concentrating on yet another slight iteration on B/X? We could argue about styles all day long, and have a happy debate, but really, should we be so focused on the systems after all this time?

They already built a great guitar, don’t make another, just write a different song.

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7 Comments

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7 responses to “The Old School industry is letting us down

  1. You put the finger on something that has bothered me but not been able to clearly express. Hehe Guitarbuilders will be my new nickname for systems produced without supporting fluff and adventures.

    And I may note that my fiancĂ©s father do build guitars… :-)

  2. Ok a longer answer to this is simmering away, but for now you want critical reviews of adventures at least Bryce’s TenFootPole is yer man:

    http://tenfootpole.org/ironspike/

  3. John

    I couldn’t agree more. Why does anyone think this stuff matters? How could the variations between this iteration and that iteration of the same game possibly be important? Doesn’t everyone just houserule stuff at the table anyway? Imagine if all the effort put towards tedious, banal rules tinkering was instead spent making awesome adventures. We’d be swimming in creativity.

  4. I think that more than writing adventures, we’d be best served turning our attention to useful toolkits. Vornheim, the Santicore projects, and the Dungeon Alphabet come to mind here as prime examples.

    But just as you point out that people can grab one ruleset and mix/match to their heart’s content, the same is true of adventures. A LotFP adventure is pretty much crosscompatible with Labyrinth Lord or ACKS or what have you.

    If we want to see awesome creativity showing up, then helping people create is going to be a lot better than the prewritten modules.

    • John

      Toolkits are useful in their own way, but they’re no substitute for good adventures. New DMs need something to emulate, busy DMs need something to run, and creative DMs need something to pull apart for ideas. Lead by example, and whatnot.

  5. Rich

    (reading this over, it seems way too confrontational. It’s really not meant to be, it’s just that whole thing where text lacks the subtlety of speech. So please read it charitably!)

    Sorry mate, I’m not really sure I agree. I avidly buy pretty much every rulebook or setting or sourcebook or whatever, pretty much anything other than adventures.

    I mean, I have a handful of adventures. Most of the LotFP stuff, some of Matt Finch’s stuff, Anomolous Subsurface Environment and a ton of stuff in Knockspell and Fight On. Probably some more odds and sods. That’s enough. I have more than I’ll have time to run, and more than I really need to read to “get” how to put adventures together. Unless an adventure has a truly intriguing premise, or something new to say, I really don’t need it.

    To me this is simple: I can run (pretty much) any OSR adventure with (pretty much) any OSR rules system. And assuming that I’ll run a system I buy is also missing the point. I’ve generally ended up using Swords and Wizardry or LotFP when I’ve run games. Well, I say that, but people play classes from all over the place and I’m fairly sure there’s at least one rule from every system I’ve bought in there somewhere.

    Basically, there are still two main OSR systems as far as I can tell: LL and S&W. Then the tier-two games, which have a following but are less popular: LofFP, ACK, DCC, OSRIC*, Dark Dungeons maybe? Then there are the rest. Far as I can tell, about half the OSR types who are not playing an actual edition of D&D are running one of the big two, and probably a quarter are running something from tier two. Almost all of them (including the ones who would identify as running a “proper” edition of D&D) are stealing mechanics from other OSR games.

    All those tons and tons of LL and S&W adventures on RPGNow and Lulu are plenty.

    *Most of the people I’ve spoken to who game with OSRIC regard it as an optional set of rules to use with AD&D. That is, they seem to identify as AD&D players who have an OSRIC book on the table rather than as OSRIC players.

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