Thursday, August 21, 2008

"Currently Supported Games"

Fair warning; this is going to honk off a lot of my fellow old-school gamers.

I play AD&D. That's 1E to all you johnnies-come-lately with your fancy "editions".

I've got a group of players who have been playing this version of the game for more than a year and a half now. Only one had ever played before, and had long since moved on to newer versions. I've never asked, but I assume it was the same reason most people move from one version to the next. Not that it's necessarily "better" (although TSR/WotC is certainly within their commercial rights to try to convince its customers of that), or merely because it's the latest thing (is there an antonym of atavism?), but ultimately because it's the version that is "currently supported."

I think a lot of gamers fall into this trap. They refuse to play a game that is not being "supported" by a publisher. No more PH, DMG, or MM. No more modules or campaign settings. No magazine articles. It's almost as if a lack of new "official" material renders a game somehow obsolete.

I find that a quite remarkable attitude, and one that runs counter to any sort of common sense. Yet it is at the heart of the entire "retro clone" movement. Games like OSRIC, Basic Fantasy, Labyrinth Lord, Encounter Critical, etc. Each and every one of them is no doubt fine in and of themselves, but I must wonder at why they exist in the first place.

Who says to themselves, "I think I'll run an OSRIC game"? (And I don't mean to pick on OSRIC in particular; it happens to be the first one that came to mind; these points can be made relating to all of the retro-clones, inversely proportional to how much they stray from the game they purport to be a clone of.) Given the choice, why not just run an AD&D game?

In OSRIC's case, it was conceived as a way to allow publishers to put out AD&D-compatible material. But, of course, that is completely unnecessary. Mayfair Games was putting out AD&D-compatible material for years. More recently, Pied Piper Publishing has come out with adventure modules which are completely AD&D-compatible, and did so without the need for OSRIC. You don't need OSRIC to play AD&D, you just need, well, AD&D.

Is it the case that the rulebooks themselves are unavailable or prohibitively expensive? Certainly not, given both the after-sale and pdf markets. You can pick up a Player's Handbook for around $5 (which I should point out is cheaper than they were when they were first published!). I've got half a dozen myself, most of which I picked up within the last two or three years, for my players. The pdf versions, I am told, are similarly inexpensive. So, while "inexpensive" is certainly not the same as "free", in this case it's certainly not a show-stopper for anyone other than Barack Obama's brother.

It may perhaps be the fact that no new rules are being produced. This, as might be expected, is also a non-issue. Throughout the many years of Dragon magazine, literally thousands of rules suggestions, alternatives, expansions, etc. were published. With the advent of the Internet, thousands more have come on the scene. These are not "official" rules, I will grant. However, I would also point out that the game as originally published is complete as far as it goes. Anything else is gravy for the Dungeon Master, and "more rules" are hardly necessary to play. They are, however, amply available for the DM who wants to avail himself of them.

It is true, however, that many of the retro-clones are less clones and more new games in a retro style. In such cases, I can absolutely see wanting to try them out, and possibly even adapt them for the long term. However, I must wonder if any of them really needs to be a full-blown game. Could not the vaunted spider-goat have appeared in an unofficial supplement for Gamma World or Metamorphosis: Alpha? Could not some of the rules adaptations of Labyrinth Lord have been published as a series of optional rules for the Basic/Expert rules?

I suppose it comes down to the fundamental question. Do we need games to be "currently supproted" in order to play them? I tend to think not. Are there reasons I've missed? I'm genuinely curious.

8 comments:

Matthew James Stanham said...

I think they are useful for getting the younger generations of players interested. I don't think there is anything irksome about saying simulacra are not strictly necessary. I think that most people involved in simulacrum games know that going in.

They are facilitators, though. They clearly state what you can do with the OGL and what you cannot in terms of reproduction (whether they are correct or not remains to be proven one way or the other).

Jeff Rients said...

I agree with you to the extent that I could run any old version of AD&D without a retroclone giving me permission to do so. However, I think you are missing two key points here.

1) Encounter Critical, Mutant Future, and Mazes & Minotaurs are brand new games. They've got their own things to say. Mutant Future may be a Gamma World knockoff to you, but I see it as a great new toy full of nifty ideas and crazy new energy. I'm not prepared to write off a good game just because a beloved old school system already covered that territory.

2) OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord have gotten people writing and publishing new material. Even if the rules themselves are redundant, that's got to be worth something.

Joseph said...

Encounter Critical, Mutant Future, and Mazes & Minotaurs are brand new games. They've got their own things to say. Mutant Future may be a Gamma World knockoff to you, but I see it as a great new toy full of nifty ideas and crazy new energy.

But are they saying anything new and nifty that needs to be said in a brand-new game? Are there innovative new game mechanics that have never been seen before? Energy and enthusiasm, yes; but do their nifty ideas need a brand-new game to contain them? Or would they have been just as nifty if they had been presented as a new setting for Gamma World? Doing so might have even kicked off a renaissance for GW or MA.

I love spidergoats as well as the next guy, but how many times do we need to get explanations for the "standard six" ability scores? I would much rather see folks building on and adding to the old material, rather than re-doing it ad infinitum.

PatrickWR said...

Some of my most enjoyable gaming experiences have come while playing "dead" games. Once a game has a handful of published books available on the second-hand market, that's really all that's needed for most GMs to take take the game and run with it.

To me, "currently supported" means only that I might have the chance to buy some new material months or years down the road. There's no sense of urgency, though, because the game is always in the hands of the players themselves. No amount of support can change that.

Herb said...

Is it the case that the rulebooks themselves are unavailable or prohibitively expensive? Certainly not, given both the after-sale and pdf markets.

While that is certainly true I think you are missing one benefit:

Ease of obtaining a printed version. It's much more appealing to new people to just give them a Lulu link to buy a copy than to say "search for this on eBay". Also, if you're dealing with 100% new to the hobby people someone is going to wind up with 4th edition books or the "great deal on all these used books" which happened to be a recently dumped 3rd edition.

Also, outside of OSRIC and LL, all the retro games do have new takes on D&D. That's a tradition as old as the hobby with games both famous and successful (Palladium), somewhat famous but not successful (Ygarth), and the unfamous (the actually printed game a HS friend played when he went to UT Austin...I have a copy somewhere). A free pdf is an easier sell than a $5 one. Plus, as much as EGG's writing back in the day thrilled me I'm not sure I want to give it to others.

My new game was a hard fought contest in my mind between AD&D1, AD&D2 (the only version before AD&D4 I never ran or played), RC, and BFRP. It was hard to give up the D&D name but I finally went with BFRP for the reasons above. One of the goals of this campaign is to get completely new to RPGs players and between edition confusion and the ability to easily get the old books I went with the new.

Or consider your point about Dragon having new rules: you and I might have extensive collections but new people don't and have a hard time obtaining them (buying 20 year old magazines on PDF for more than cover price isn't appealing).

More importantly I think linking the retro games with the currently supported idea. Currently supported seems to imply commercial support by the producing company. The retro-movement seems to be much more a return to the semi-pro stuff of the late 70s/early 80s.

Also, currently supported seems very much a D&D artifact, such as the recently dumped 3.x collection phenomena. Torg, Dragonquest, T&T, Traveller for much of the past decade, Runequest for roughly the same period, Palladium for all intents, and many others have active player bases where latest edition isn't an issue. In fact Runequest's latest incarnation was heavily rejected by the existing base.

As for the legal front I get your point about Mayfair games. However I would point out that IP is a much nastier legal world today than it was 20 years ago. Also, the D&D IP is held by a company with much more money and a much more active and skilled legal department. For amateur and semi-pro publishers who would go broke just responding to the C&D letter the cover of the OGL is a pretty nice woobie.

Joseph said...

Ease of obtaining a printed version. It's much more appealing to new people to just give them a Lulu link to buy a copy than to say "search for this on eBay".

True, which is why I just saved my own players the trouble and picked up a passle of Players Handbooks at my FLGS for about $4 each. Remember, the players don't need the full set of rulebooks. Most new DMs are going to come from the ranks of players...

Also, the D&D IP is held by a company with much more money and a much more active and skilled legal department. For amateur and semi-pro publishers who would go broke just responding to the C&D letter the cover of the OGL is a pretty nice woobie.

Heh... I thought my daughter invented that term "woobie". :-)

But you put your finger on the solution right there-- the OGL pretty much opens up 1E, 2E, OD&D, and the Basic/Expert/etc. versions. Just look at Pied Piper; and Googman Games that's exactly what they're doing.

Herb said...

True, which is why I just saved my own players the trouble and picked up a passle of Players Handbooks at my FLGS for about $4 each. Remember, the players don't need the full set of rulebooks. Most new DMs are going to come from the ranks of players...

My FLG doesn't do used. I do have two copies at the house but it's easier for me to point them than hit eBay. And let's be honest, you can bit torrent them at this point and print out the relevant parts. Players don't need a complete PHB and for new players it would be a detriment. I actually told them not to get the book until after a couple of games.

But I'm hoping when they do one or two will get the itch to sit in my chair...this campaign is to a large degree about creating new long term gamers and for that a "currently supported" game has advantages.

the OGL pretty much opens up 1E, 2E, OD&D, and the Basic/Expert/etc. versions. Just look at Pied Piper; and Googman Games that's exactly what they're doing.

So has Kenzer Co, but they're headed by a lawyer specializing in IP.

And the OGL pretty much opens up the terminology and some specific parts of all editions, but it only explicitly opens up 3rd. While the differences might be minor doing the derivation explicitly and using that derivation instead of direct OGL to hard non-3.x editions isn't pointless. It provides a stronger legal defense at much lower cost then having a lawyer vet each item.

Is it paranoid? Maybe, but not completely ill advised.

Will said...

I have, sometimes, thought about my "Labyrinth Lord" game, actually. ;)

"I must wonder at why they exist in the first place."

Because, at least in the case of LL, the rulebook I purchased isn't just the 81 B/X edition of D&D. It's better-written and better laid-out, for starters. It's also complete in one book, and that book is sturdier and more attractive that my old B/X booklets. It also has the only material that was "missing" from B/X: High-level spells. And it's free in PDF form to my players.

"Do we need games to be 'currently supproted' in order to play them?"

I don't. But soon a new player with no stake in classis D&D or the "retrogaming" movement will be able to find a shiny new copy of LL on the shelves on his local game store, page through it, and maybe give it a try. Is that not cool?