Friday, July 24, 2009

Is the OSR spread too thin?

Something has been bubbling in the back of my brain for a while now, relating to the OSR and what we've got to work with. The success that certain games have enjoyed on Lulu.com, and most recently in the Ennie awards, has brought it to the fore.

That is, I wonder if there's room in them thar hills for as many games as we currently enjoy. Would we perhaps be better served if we only had one game to carry the flag, rather than the surfeit of choices that we now have?

Personally, I prefer to just go with the originals (in my case, AD&D, but I have nothing against those who are playing with the LBBs, or the various incarnations of Basic), but I can-- grudgingly-- understand the attraction of a game that is being currently supported with new products. Rules sets, expansions, modules, settings, etc. I accept it. I would be willing to move to a new game that felt like the version of AD&D I play.

But functionally, is there really enough of a difference between Swords & Wizardry (2 versions!), Labyrinth Lord, Spellcraft & Swordplay, Epées & Sorcellerie (there's talk of an English edition), Microlite74, and doubtless one or two I've forgotten, to justify them all? OSRIC, perhaps, because AD&D was indeed a different game than 0E, but it hasn't really captured the OSR's imagination as it might have (for a variety of reasons, including, if I may say, a hundred dollar hardback on lulu. Are you nuts?) But even there, one could put out a supplement that changed an 0E emulator into a 1E emulator in one nice neat package. Still no need for a completely different game, different branding, and diluted effort.

I don't have any particular dog in the race, because I don't use any of the rules in question, and I buy supplements and adventure modules for them all (and convert them for my own AD&D game). But criminy! Are we not shooting ourselves in the foot by having so many games all essentially saying the same thing? Is there really so much that S&W left unsaid that required LL to be published? Or vice-versa? Couldn't six pages of house-rules have done the job?

Please understand, I am not trying to knock any rule set, author, or publisher. I am trying to point out that we can still let a thousand flowers bloom if there was a single OSR game out there, and people felt like they had the freedom to simply fold, staple, and mutilate it to match their heart's content. That's what folks did back in the so-called Golden Age. Thus was born Arduin, just to take one example, and umpteen articles in Dragon magazine. DMs would pick and choose, and change what they chose, according to what they wanted and needed. And it worked!

My ideal model would be to have a single stripped-down rules set that was 100% open game content under the OGL. A version akin to the three LBB's stripped-down, but still "supported" so there would be a unifying branding that could attract new (or old) players. Want to play where elves are a character race that can't switch between M-U and fighter? Someone will have a supplement for that. Maybe several someones. Want a skills system? Ditto. Cavaliers a-la Unearthed Arcana? Ditto. Monster books, adventures, and campaign settings? Ditto, ditto, ditto.

But the difference would be that we wouldn't have the artificial barricades between a half-dozen games, which amount to a distinction without a difference. If we of the OSR poured all our effort into a single brand, yet caused that single brand to embrace all the various versions and visions of the game, I think we would be much more successful, at least in a commercial sense, and possibly in a sub-sub-cultural sense as well.

Hell, I've run into this myself with my CotMA project. I considered branding it as a S&W product, or a LL product, or OSRIC, but then I realized that doing so would probably put off at least some of the people who play a different game. Not that the mechanics would be even an iota different, but there is that branding, and that means you've taken a side, and that turns off folks who've taken a different side.

It could be that this will happen naturally, as a result of a sort of commercial survival of the fittest. Eventually one title or brand will prove itself to be the survivor, and the OSR will gravitate around it. But it's also possible that the OSR will continue to fragment itself, dilute its brand identity (and therefore its ability to get into brick-and-mortar distribution chains, let alone non-gaming venues), and be relegated to the footnote of a footnote.

Personally, I'd like to see a different outcome. Thoughts?

Vote Early, Vote Often

As you have probably heard by now, Swords and Wizardry is up for an Ennie award for "Best Free Product". Mythmere Games and Goblinoid Games are also up for a fan award "Best Publisher". Go out there and show your support!

You can vote here: http://www.ennie-awards.com/voting/ballot.asp

(Just kidding about the "vote often" thing.)