Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Interesting Article About the Future of S&S Fiction

Here's an interesting LiveJournal post from Douglas Cohen, assistant editor to Realms of Fantasy magazine. He talks about the genre of Sword & Sorcery fantasy, and notes that while there has been a resurgence in the older works being republished, he hasn't seen, at least in the last 20-25 years, anything really new or ground-breaking come into the genre. He goes to some length to note that a resurgence of interest does not equal a "Renaissance" in the sub-genre, despite what some fans of the genre have been saying.

I think some of this can parallel the whole "Old School Gaming Renaissance" discussion. While I think there is good material being produced now, and thus doesn't entirely fall into the same problem as Cohen puts S&S fiction in, it should be important to note that for it to really "count", new material needs to be carrying things forward, into new directions but with the same spirit. Because of this, I tend to (and I'm sure I'll get squawked at for this) rate a game like Castles & Crusades higher up on the "Renaissance-Worthy" scale as opposed to something like OSRIC, which is, in my mind, little more than a retyping of the old 1E material, and thus, nothing really new. And the same can be applied to Labyrinth Lord and the other retro-clones - if all you're doing is "cloning" an old game, are you really doing something new, or just putting it in a prettier package?

One thing that I think does merit a lot of praise is Fight On!, and I'm not just saying that because I've got an article published in the latest issue. It's because it's all new material, and it's not just one little adventure published somewhere on the web, or a little-seen netbook of spells floating around - it's a whole new initiative.

So to conclude, don't think I'm belittling the efforts of the Old School Renaissance folks, but rather offering the aforementioned LJ posting and my comments as a caution that a Renaissance isn't just a resurgence of interest - it's a rebirth and renewal of old ideas melding with new creations.

9 comments:

Jeff Rients said...

In terms of directly moving the ball forward, I would agree that C&C and things like Mutant Future, Encounter Critical, and Mazes & Minotaurs do more than restatements of older material.

However, I think you sell the retro-clones short. Just getting the older versions back into print is worth something in my book. And Labyrinth Lord does a great job of integrating the Basic & Expert rules into one handy-dandy book. Most importantly of all, the OGL nature of the clones serve as springboards for self-publishers.

Badelaire said...

Eh, LL isn't bad, I myself prefer BFRP if I was to go that route, but I won't quibble over it.

My big problem with things like OSRIC and LL etc., is that if you put any real effort into it at all, you can get the older materials in PDF for for just a few bucks, and there's plenty of old copies of the print books floating around eBay and the like. Coupled with the fact that I feel a large percentage of the people looking at this stuff already have the original material (raises hand).

But you are right about the OGL. It gives people a chance to put out new material that's not "Advanced Dungeons & Dragons First Edition", it's "OSRIC", etc.. Of course then you run into the tarpit of people arguing over which retro-clone is the "True Old School", fighting over what system a publisher should use, blah blah blah, we need a Rosetta Stone, blah blah blah...

Did anything ever come from that whole "standardization" debate? I confess I just sorta tuned things out at that point - my head was starting to spin.

Herb said...

if you put any real effort into it at all, you can get the older materials in PDF for for just a few bucks, and there's plenty of old copies of the print books floating around eBay and the like.

If you're getting a friend into Conan, which is easier: sending him to B&N or Amazon to get the new Del Rays or sending him to eBay to find the old Aces (disregarding the editorial issues for now)?

Hey, you could have him download a PDF for $5.

Right now BFRP, which covers B/X costs less in hardcopy at Lulu than the PDFs of B/X at Drive-thru RPG. It's more than price competitive with used books from the 80s on eBay. In PDF it is free.

That's the difference between them and eBay or PDFs of the old. It's easier and cheaper under the most common comparisons.

That's why for my new aimed at never played before people campaign I choose BFRP over RC. It's essentially covering the same ground (a bit differently) but if the players get interested I think it's a stronger second step when they go to buy their books instead of borrowing mine.

Badelaire said...

Heh - I loan him one of my many copies of Conan works I've got on my shelf, so he doesn't have to drop a dime :-P

But I get your point - under the right conditions, it's easier to get the new stuff than the old stuff - as long as you don't mind that it's not the "real deal". There is something special about the look and feel of a gently used copy of an old RPG book that I am still a sucker for.

And I second BFRP. The next time I decide to play a "Classic D&D" type campaign (as opposed to using C&C), I'll go with BFRP. It just feels tidier, and well...I *do* have access to color laser printing...

Brian Murphy said...

I would agree that S&S is not in any sort of resurgence. I think it's because publishing companies are only publishing multi-volume "fat" fantasy these days, for the simple fact that it seems to sell (hook a reader on book 1, and you've got him through book 7 or 10 or whatever). S&S by its episodic nature lends itself to short stories or slim, single novels.

Badelaire said...

So true. I look at the fantasy/sci-fi novels on my shelf, and you can instantly tell the difference between the old and the new just by the thicknesses of the books. Most of what I have from the early 80's on back is roughly 150-300 pages in length, but a lot of the more modern stuff is enormous - easily twice that page count for a lot of the books, and going up from there.

I'm sure there are a large number of factors not only to the length of the book series (like Wheel of Time, Midkemia, Belgariad, etc.), as well as the size of the books themselves. For one, I think editors are letting "star authors" run wild with their stories and not reining them in - Robert Jordan's books were breaking the 1K page mark on numerous volumes once they became instant NYT bestsellers. Now, because it's the norm, even first time novelists are putting out mega-books, and it fosters sloppy writing, confusing plots, and general over-padding compared to the tightly-woven books of the previous generations.

Herb said...

I think it's because publishing companies are only publishing multi-volume "fat" fantasy these days, for the simple fact that it seems to sell

And

I look at the fantasy/sci-fi novels on my shelf, and you can instantly tell the difference between the old and the new just by the thicknesses of the books. Most of what I have from the early 80's on back is roughly 150-300 pages in length, but a lot of the more modern stuff is enormous -

You've just identified a big reason why I've spent more time hunting down old Robert Vardmen and Lin Carter novels than buying modern fantasy.

Hell, I know short fiction is dying but I probably get more usage out of each issue of Black Gate (which comes out way too rarely) than I would the equal cost in novels. Finding the time to really invest in a 1000 page novel can be a chore.

If you need to write long, write short...the Vardman series I'm reading right now is six books but they all sit around 220 pages. Which is probably why he writes an okay S&S yarn with a kinda epic plot...each book is mostly just a series of adventures and complications getting from point A to B of the big plot. The big plot is fairly simple and even now, almost done with book four we only have four major players (POV characters) and four consistent minor characters divided into three groups (one bad guys and two good guys). I can go a couple of days without reading and not be lost (which killed me on Magician which I was enjoying until I sat it down one weekend).

Badelaire said...

Spot on. I'm currently reading Leigh Brackett's Eric John Stark: Outlaw of Mars, which will be followed up by the three volume Skaith series in short order. Great stories and jam-packed with great detail, but all four novels put together are probably shorter page-wise than one of Jordan or Goodkind's mega-novels.

As you can guess, I like Brackett more (much, much more) than either of those two.

And also, from a purely practical point of view, I like a paperback that is really a "pocket novel" - not something with the size and weight of a sidewalk brick. Easy to put in my back pocket, easy to read on the subway or while doing laundry - it's just plain more convenient and easier to read than a paperback that's as thick as it is wide.

Kellri said...

I think the original intent of OSRIC and other 'restatements' was to make publishing compatible material a legal possibility while providing the rules themselves FREE to the public in pdf. If you want to teach new players it's a lot easier to give them a free booklet than tell them to go and buy a book from e-bay or RPGNow. Of course, I love my DMG, PHB and MM and no one is looking to replace that. Still, I play with newbie Koreans and it sure helps to be able to give them the rules without breaking the bank.

The OSRIC v2 'mission' IMO, has been broadened somewhat to include an overall cleanup and succinct iteration of the original. Nothing has been changed - but rather explained more clearly for the 21st century.

The upcoming OSRIC v2 will have everything you'll need in one book...an AD&D Rules Cyclopedia if you will. The full color & b/w artwork is without compare outside of the 1st edition hardbacks.