Tuesday, May 20, 2008

RPGs = Breakfast Cereals?

Ever notice just how freakin' many breakfast cereals there are? Go into your supermarket some time when you're not in a rush and just start counting how many specifically different kinds of cereal there are. Be sure to count the different types of the same brand (so note the "oat's and honey" as separate from the "cinnamon raisin"). I'll bet you the total will come up, depending on the size of your supermarket, as somewhere near a hundred different kinds.

And that's just cereal. For breakfast. You know, put in bowl, pour on milk, eat, spill all over your nice work shirt, finish up, change your work shirt, leave house, get to work late? That kind of cereal?

John H. Kim's RPG Encyclopedia Page lists 1101 RPG's, and I know there are more out there (the site doesn't have, for example, Basic Fantasy Role-Play aka BFRP, or OSRIC). This list doesn't even include some of the small, one-dude-on-the-web entries that can be found on his Free RPGs on the Web page, which lists over 500 different games. I'm sure there's some cross-populating between the two lists, but even assuming that 80% of the free games can be found on the first list (which is unlikely, i'm sure it's closer to 50% or less), that's 1,200 RPGs to choose from, Probably closer to 1,300 or 1,400 (since the encyclopedia states it covers "published RPGs", which might exclude your little home-grown single-web-page freebie RPGs floating around out there).

I've been reading off and on this big-ass thread on the Knights & Knaves Alehouse Forum about the need for the "old school publishing community" to have a "lingua franca" or universal referencing system they can all make use of for writing and publishing "new old school materials". Now I'm not trying to take a crap here on James M. and the idea he proposed on Grognardia, but I'm just not seeing it. You're talking about people who will freely and proudly declare that the only RPG they have tried and liked is something published 30+ years and 1,100+ RPGs ago, and you think they're all going to settle on one universal system document of a game (or games, we're still unclear on all this) that you can still easily find used in print, or downloadable as a cheap PDF, a game all of them probably already own because after all, if you're going to be looking for a universal "system document" in order to write material for old school RPGs, chances are you already own the originals.

You know, the funniest part of all of this is, with the advent of D&D 3.X and the Open Gaming License, it didn't take long for someone to develop and publish a System Resource Document for the d20 System. And this document became the "lingua franca", or at least the basic building blocks, of all the d20 / OGL material published over the last eight years. Using this SRD, anyone was able to sit down and write OGL material for the system, and everything worked out more or less all right. It's just a little bit ironic that for all the crap that gets flung at the "3tards", the 3E community was able to put this together and use it very successfully. But of course, that's the beauty of a rules engine that's essentially simple, very modular, and widely distributed and available.

So in the end, I look at this big "universal old school document" concept, and I think to myself, when you look at a hundred different kinds of breakfast cereal in the supermarket and you still don't see anything you like, or 1,100 other RPGs and you don't see anything else you want to play, how on earth is this discontented, grouchy, niche-within-a-niche community ever going to produce something that's going to do the job better than what's already currently available?

Me? I avoid the breakfast cereal in the morning and move straight to the coffee and bagel, thank you very much...


James Maliszewski said...

the 3E community was able to put this together

But the 3e community didn't put it together; WotC did. I'm not sure it's a fair comparison to hold up a project by a multi-million dollar corporation to promote its own brand to the halting efforts of some amateurs who love particular editions of OOP games. That's not to say that there aren't good lessons to be learned from the response to the 3e OGL and SRD, because there are, but the situation there isn't completely applicable to the one in the old school community.

Badelaire said...

Well, yes you are right that the SRD itself is WotC. The link I provided is someone's personal work, however, and since it's grown beyond just the 3E canon material, I think it's taken on something of a life of its own.

And let's be fair. Enough work-hours have been spent re-inventing the wheel for multiple different clones and heartbreakers of D&D that if someone was going to create a "SRD" document for old D&D, it's either been done before, in one fashion or another as people's preferences for editions lean, or it never will.

trollsmyth said...

It's an interesting intellectual challenge.

If we assume that there are reasons to prefer older versions of D&D to the later editions beyond "change scares me" and the joy of being a rebel, (and I firmly believe there are) then it should be possible to describe these benefits. Once the benefits are identified, we should be able to pinpoint the attributes of Old School systems which promote the benefits of Old School gaming, as well as recognize those attributes, if any, which hinder Old School gaming.

This goes beyond "Strength bonuses to hit and damage are the devil!" The truth is, looking across the Old School blogosphere, we're all houseruling the living tar out of these games. The pages of Philotomy and Robert Fisher are, in part, large collections of houserules. And we've always been using AD&D stuff in our BECMI games. So a handful of mechanical differences are not the issue, in spite of a few grouchy voices who will always insist otherwise.

And there are some things that bridge all the editions, things like AC and HP and XP and levels. How these are determined shifts with each edition, but that's not the point. The point is, these attributes are universal across all Old School systems, and can described in terms that are true for each of them.

As to the benefit of creating an Old School trunk from which the various editions branch, I'll leave that to the deep thinkers of the grognard community. I think, in the end, it probably doesn't matter; projects like Fight On! will create a nomenclature that allows them to express themselves without stepping on other peoples' toes and IPs. It'd be nice to have an agreed-upon standard everyone in the Old School community could agree upon, but a bloody economic melee might yield a stronger, more robust product. It might, in the end, actually look like a game that's very different from the old games of the past. But if it's got that Old School feel and play to it, well, if it's coffee that gets you moving in the morning, then coffee is breakfast.

- Brian

Greyharp said...

Ignoring the fact that from what I've seen on various forums, most people who love and play OD&D enjoy a whole range of other games too, you seem to be missing the point of the discussion.

One part of it revolves around the creation of an OD&D clone, whether based on the SRD or independent of it. Both Basic and Advanced D&D have that, which gives people the freedom to produce works that are legal and legit. What is important here is "why" people want this to happen.

Sure, you can legally purchase the original rules in one way or another, but that's an entirely different thing from having the ability to legally produce compatible material. To be able to do the latter is a powerful motivator and one that gives a sense of ownership of the rules themselves, which in turn can help keep that part of the gaming community fresh.

A large part of the other side of the discussion, has nothing to do with creating some sort of narrow control over all things "old school" and more to do with doing away with some of the persistent misconceptions of what the older D&D versions actually are (see the LotFP blog post). It is also about growing old school gaming in order to keep it a living, growing thing.


Badelaire said...

Quote:Ignoring the fact that from what I've seen on various forums, most people who love and play OD&D enjoy a whole range of other games too, you seem to be missing the point of the discussion.

From what I've seen on various forums, there are plenty of people who think 90% of the RPGs out there aren't even "role-playing games" because they don't fit into some arbitrary definition of what an "RPG" should be, usually based on a belief that any game published after 1980-whatever (exact date in constant debate) just sets your PC on a set of rails and pushes them along.

Regardless, yes, some of these people play other RPGs. But D&D is where the drama is. It's what these guys actually get worked up about. Like you just stated, this crowd "loves" D&D, and "enjoys" other games.

Make whatever changes you want to BRP or GURPS or the like, but touch D&D and suddenly the gloves come off and everyone turns into a bunch of screaming infants. You'd think Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman stole their wife, shot their dog, and burned their house down. They're the people who "hate" Castles and Crusades. Who "hate" Dragonlance. Who "hate" White Wolf. Who regularly throw around "3tard" and "4on" and use terms like "Kids these days...".

So I'm sorry, but my sympathy for this crowd's endeavor to launch some Great Second Age of Old School Gaming is rather slim.

I like the old games just fine - I own them and play them and am happy with them. But I still see no reason for yet another "clone" or iteration of the rules. If you want to publish new content for the old games, you have OSRIC and LL and I don't see how a third document will somehow facilitate an explosion of New-Old material.

And if there is some point beyond this that I keep missing, I guess I'll just keep missing it. I wish James the best in his endeavors - I'm not going to wish failure on anyone for trying to do their own thing - but I have my reservations. Like I said in my last response on his board, you can mark me down as "Pessimistic but willing to be pleasantly surprised".