Saturday, January 6, 2018

Growing the OSR if you want: part 2

So, based on the various realizations I talked about in the last post, what are the things I'm trying to do in 2018 that will boost the signal of the OSR and provide more material for us to use? As I mentioned in the last post, these two goals are highly linked, because a rising tide lifts all boats. More signal tends to create more material.

My plan basically has three parts to it, addressing a mix of the issues with each point. (Those points being a missing generation, different communication patterns in that missing generation, the community-building power of face-to-face contact whether by video, hangout, tabletops, or conventions, and then lastly that rising tide lifting all boats.)

Part 1 of the plan was to create a website that pulls together and links the various media sources of the OSR: blogs, youtube, facebook, G+, podcasts, and others. Those aren't currently shown in the same place anywhere as an OSR smorgasbord because social media doesn't link them in any useful way. That website is now up and running as Old School Gamer Radio ( As of today, we are still adding content and fine-tuning the functionality, but it's looking good for becoming the type of resource that will do what it's supposed to do.

Part 2 of the plan was to create an OSR youtube channel that does a few different things. First is simply to create that face-to-face feeling of community. I have been "interviewing" lots of people from the OSR, ranging from DIY stars like Matt Jackson up to publishers like Jim Raggi and bloggers like Tenkar. I'm including artists, cartographers, and a wide range of people. I have gotten LOTS of comments that these videos offer a much greater sense of connection to the community than a blog format (that's not a criticism of blogs, which are better at content, just the fact that video offers something more powerful at a different primary goal). The youtube channel is Uncle Matt's D&D Studio, and since it's been established longer than the actual Old School Gamer Radio site, it has pretty good depth of content already.

Part 3 of the plan was to get an actual example of old-school play into the mainstream of that "lost generation," since old school gaming tends to require "show," not "tell." So I am running an online Swords & Wizardry game called Swords of Jordoba, pointing out that it's the original version of D&D, and airing the episodes on the channel. The first episode is mission and marching order, so it might not be as engaging as the second episode, which is where the actual dungeoneering begins. Watching online games is a much more common pastime in the youtube generation than it is for us older farts. The game itself is still in an evolving technological phase, and I'm calling both of those episodes "pilots," but it should be up to full quality very shortly.

Funding is an issue for these projects, although this post is a summary, not a plea for cash. For those interested, the patreon for the website (still a very disorganized patreon presentation with no rewards or other whistles and bells) is at patreon/mattfinch, and the better-looking one for the Swords of Jordoba game is at patreon/Jordoba. Contributions are welcome, of course, but both these projects are still in formative stages.

Next post on this topic will be about what those who enjoy the project of growing the OSR can do to move that goal forward.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Growing OSR if you want

First off, the reason I say "If you want" in the title is because growing a hobby is a separate hobby, not a moral imperative for anyone in the hobby. Ultimately the whole point of the OSR is to improve the resources of a group playing at the table, not to grow for no reason.
So I'm talking here to the specific niche of the OSR that's got an independent goal and enjoyment in increasing the scope of the OSR as opposed to being an OSR player, which is the ultimate point of the whole thing.

As some people know and others don't, I have a set of resolutions to make 2018 the year of the OSR. Given the age of the OSR (ten years or more) it might seem like that's an odd objective. There's no particular reason to expect that there'd be any sort of development that's fundamental to the hobby in this year. We've had major watershed events like Gary's death and the release of 4e and 5e, but there's nothing like that, at least nothing visible right now, that's expected to happen this year from the outside. So why pick 2018?
Basically, it's an "out of nowhere" goal that I'm basing almost entirely on some of the observations I made in 2017 about ways the OSR can improve, rather than any sort of sense that we've got any critical problems. The OSR is chugging along nicely, although one of the themes of the last couple of years has been with it's interaction with the newly old-schoolish nature of the commercial edition of D&D.
The observations that I've made (and many of you will say "duh) are the following:
1) we are largely missing a middle generation, although the 30 year olds are extremely active. (see, e.g., Questing Beast).
2) That middle generation doesn't connect with the internet in the same way as our "older" generation. They follow twitter, they look things up on youtube, and in consequence our flagship communication vehicles of blogs and G+ tend to be areas they don't access due to spending time in other media.
3) Regardless of the above, we tend to have less face-to-face visual contact with each other. While for many people that's actually more comfortable than direct contact, I think the rising popularity of conventions indicates that we are all made happier by feeling more personally a part of a community.
4) In our hobby, based on looking at phases over the last ten or twelve years, I think it's clear that in all respects a rising tide lifts all boats. The more DIY content that's shared, the more people feel comfortable sharing their own. Similarly, the more that we have community events, the more that people feel a part of a community. Again, being part of a community is irrelevant to many, since they're focused only on game-benefits, the emails and comments I've gotten since starting the oldschool gamer radio website and my Uncle Matt's D&D Studio youtube channel have contained a huge number of comments that the contacts (especially the interviews) make people happier, and the reason for it is feeling more of a community spirit and/or a sense of less isolation in the hobby.

Next blog post I'm aiming at the idea of a general "what can we do, and what are the ways of springboarding off these observations. Those who have been following my videos already have a strong sense of what I'm trying to do, but I know from long experience that the assumption people hang on your every word is utterly incorrect. But it's the completely understandable viewpoint of a blogger from behind the blog-master screen.
So, more later.

Monday, October 2, 2017

OSR October Spring

I had an idea about how to "reboot" tension in the OSR G+ community, and then I scaled it back to just me and what I was going to do. Since I made some notes on the idea in general, here's what they are. Also, link to the video where I discuss it is below:

The idea was to do two things: a personal set of objectives for communication, and a set of objectives for content.

The communication objectives were (are):
1) Reward content with comments
2) Give only constructive criticism, and only if asked for.
3) Avoid jumping into any disputes.

The content objectives followed one rule: don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Post what you're working on already, not something designed specifically for posting, and don't worry about whether it's perfect.

The ideas I had for that were:
picture of gaming in progress
terrain picture
piece of art/sketch, good or not
a piece of art you like (Here I mean sharing a cool piece not your own)
a selfie of you and your favorite D&D thing. I have to dig out the plush bulette

Game Content: Not polished, but including as possibilities:
magic item
adventure hook
DM tip
player tip

Community content:
Mention and link to some favorite posters (not a top-ten type list, though)
positive review on a favored piece of work, even if from the far past
collaborate on written content with a sketch-person.

Overall focus is on fun value, not production value.

Just my thoughts. :)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

In the corner pocket...

I think it shows how tired people are of political wrangling that the absolute most-active post on my facebook page is about cargo shorts. If you're going to wrangle, make it about Wranglers. Fashion criticism of yours truly brought to you in Technicolor by my much-more-stylish spouse.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Fun Old-School Discussion with Moe Tousignant

Starting on July 7, I had an interesting discussion about the structure of a couple of retro-clones with Moe Tousignant, who is something of a games expert, running lots and lots of game nights in Canada, and thus extremely familiar with the general structure of games, how they work, and what makes some fun while others are less well-designed for fun.

Moe had started reading the Swords & Wizardry pdf, and had the following comment on facebook as he was reading:

"I'm finding it hard to see what makes this any different from the other games of its type. Every OSR game reads very similar," and then, later: "Found some bits I did like, multi-classing and dual classing seemed to be handled well. Alignment seems to be based on Mike Michael Moorcock vs. Tolkien (or wherever D&D got their alignment system). I dig the few extra abilities Fighters get. At least I'm finally starting to see some differences."

I happened to be in that sort of mood, so I jumped on the thread with some thoughts. Granted, I created something of a wall of text, but I came up with the following: 

Hi Moe, you're absolutely right that the system itself is extraordinarily similar to other OSR games, just because as a retro-clone it tries to reproduce a system that was very similar to the other D&D versions that came out prior to 3d edition. All the retro-clones are highly similar, and then you see the sudden massive shift in the 3E-based Pathfinder retro-clone-method. S&W is to some degree an outlier because OD&D (the S&W source system) had more areas that were basically gaps left for the table to rule, which is why the S&W book has lots of areas where "there's no rule here, but here are some of the historical ways that people ruled it." Initiative is the biggest one of these gaps -- there wasn't an initiative system in OD&D until one of the later supplements. What I tried to do with the book was to (a) codify and combine supplements, (b) present the system in a way that's more readable for people who learned to read an RPG book using the organizational presentation used in AD&D and beyond, (c) provide a pathway for people to begin an introductory game from what is at a more advanced level a welter of potentially-confusing options and gaps, and (d) offer those alternative versions of tested house-rules for when people essentially understand the game and want to try out the various other options. So if you're looking for what's unique in S&W as opposed to other OSR systems, it's actually the *gaps* that are the unique features, not so much the places where there's a firm rule. That's where OD&D really differed from the post-OD&D systems.

Most other retro-clones also have interesting design-backgrounds and author intents. Labyrinth Lord, which is a clone of Moldvay Basic D&D, tries to reproduce an approach that was (at the time) quite the opposite of OD&D -- namely, an emphasis on a more elegant rule-system that was internally very complete. Still open-ended and designed on a concept of a high level of DM fiat, but without the need to house-rule any fundamental portions of the rules (such as initiative). The rules of Moldvay basic, as reproduced by Labyrinth Lord, have a much more defined outer boundary than OD&D, and it was that outer reach where the house-ruling and the high-creativity are supposed to kick in, based on a firm foundation of a well-defined, elegant, clear system. In OD&D, the house-ruling and high creativity are required at the very fundamental level of the essential rules, which is nowadays probably considered bad game design. My "default introductory path" through the rules, in S&W, was intended to help people jump the gap over the vagueness of the basic rules, and then return to that creative-point once the basic functioning of the game is well established and people can be comfortable with the idea of options that strike right to the core of the game's basic rules.

It's these relatively subtle nuances that distinguish the clones from each other. As playable systems, resources for one retro-clone are almost entirely usable with another clone rule-set. As approaches to the "feel" of a game, though, they are quite distinct and nuanced. For those who aren't stalwart aficionados of the old games, a discussion of retro-clones sounds as bizarre as a wine-tasting discussion (or beer, as the case might be :) ). And frankly, those distinctions aren't really important at that level of subtlety to almost anyone. The "old school" experience generally has to do with the open-endedness of the rules, and all of them have that common quality.  

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Kickstarter News: City of Bard's Gate Headed for Stretch Goals
If you like fantasy cities, you're probably already watching this Kickstarter, but the news of the day is that it has funded at the $70,000 level and is now headed into stretch goal territory with 60 hours left to go. It's hard to say how many of the goals it will hit, but Frog God Kickstarters tend to have a massive surge within the final 48 hours or so. At least another $10,000 will flow into this project before it finishes.

The cloth map is incredible, and the book is going to be massive in the tradition of Frog God releasing one or two giant, epic books per year. This will indeed be an epic book, in full color, and while it's perfectly usable as a stand-alone city in any campaign, it's also tied in to over a decade's worth of Necromancer Games and Frog God Games adventures. Basically, it's the "City State" of the Lost Lands world setting.

Very much worth taking a look.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Spawning of Haskins!

Chris Haskins of Frog God Games, Nord Games, and Tabletop Library is officially a dad! The baby is a healthy boy, and all of us are waiting impatiently for him to eventually join a gaming table in the footsteps of his illustrious and very tall father.

So here's to wishing Chris a good night's sleep at some point in the next couple of years, if he's lucky.

I am putting Chris's affiliate number into this link, so if you want to buy anything from Tabletop Library today (or at any point), go through this link (not the one on the side over there), and Chris will get an extra share of the amount of your purchases. ALSO: if it's the 4th or 5th of July when you read this, remember to put in the code HAPPY-4TH so you get the 25% discount for 4th of July.

I'd say it might give Mr. Haskins an extra bit of beer money, but it's all baby-formula money for a little while, Chris!