Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Requiem for Necromancer Games (?)

It looks like the Tome of Horrors Complete is probably going to be the last product to leave Necromancer Games. That's a conjecture from a phone call I had last night with Bill Webb; we were talking about Clark Peterson's decision to create a new company outside of Necromancer Games, and the absence of mention of Necromancer was very telling, even though Bill didn't outright say that the company was ceasing activity beyond selling the old pdfs. The lack of mention, though, echoed pretty loudly.

This is one of those posts where it's clear that I'm a "comeback" old school gamer rather than someone who stuck with original or first edition D&D all the way through to the present day. This post will likely be of considerable interest to anyone who returned to old school gaming after a brush with 3e, but not so much, if at all, to the true diehards.

The reason I'm pretty sure this will be of interest to the comeback gamers is that almost by definition we were having problems with the way 3e was presented/played, etc, caused by the feeling that something was missing - what brought us back to the original rules in the first place. During the era of 3e, anyone who felt like the new style was missing something came together under the aegis of Necromancer Games.

Necromancer's motto was "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel," and although many of us have (again, by definition) decided that one might as well go with first edition rules as well, the Necromancer Games products offered a true alternative to the standard 3e approach if you were still playing 3e. Game balance was downplayed in Necro products, themes were often darker, and the "world" seen in the modules was far quirkier and less standardized - more swords & sorcery - than the world seen through the lens of the WotC modules. As such, Necromancer Games probably started several of us on the pathway back to the older rules themselves, and it definitely stood as a beacon (or perhaps a dark monolith) pointing the way somewhere else.

For a long time, Necromancer Games has been quiescent, following a blowup involving one of the two owners, Clark Peterson, at the time of the 4e release. Clark announced that Necromancer would make 4e modules, and was a strong apologist for the 4e rules, only to back off rapidly when he saw just what WotC expected third-party publishers to give up in exchange for the right to publish under the 4e regime. For a long time (measured in game company years, which are like dog years) Necromancer disappeared from the scene.

The first reappearance from the still silence was Bill Webb, developer and author of most of the Necromancer Games material (Clark was generally billed as the overall "producer," with Bill more in the creation side of things). Most of the people reading this blog are probably aware that Bill's Frog God Games is the producer of the Swords & Wizardry Complete Rulebook and several Swords & Wizardry modules. Bill is actually one of the diehards who basically stuck with the original editions for his home gaming table, and the Necromancer 3e products he was involved with were translations of material produced originally for 1e.

Now, Clark Peterson is apparently returning to the publishing scene, announcing that he's going to be producing pdf modules for Pathfinder. It's not going to be a joint effort with Bill Webb; Clark's publishing business will be independent, which means that at this point, there's nobody really left in the Necromancer Games shop any more. Both the principals are devoting their efforts to other ventures.

For those of us who survived on Necromancer Games products before realizing that we actually needed to get back to basics, it's sort of the end of an era. I don't know for a fact that either Bill or Clark considers Necromancer Games to be truly dead, but that's the way it looks.

These are my conclusions only - Bill didn't specifically say that this was the case, and I imagine that there would still conceivably be a new project originated under that "recording label," as it were, but I don't see it happening. My opinion.


  1. James from the Gazette (at work): Yeah, with one exception, Necromancer Modules, were the only ones I purchased, during my 3.x years. I still have my complete Rappan Athuk set, sitting on my shelf. I used it as the "tent pole" for a long-running game. Killed my wife's character, in RA! Good Times. :)

  2. Yeah, when I started gaming again in late 2006 with D&D 3.5 and felt overwhelmed by attacks of opportunity and all that (even if it comes easy to me now), it was Necromancer Games' products that brought me back to the old school of D&D. Crucible of Freya and Vault of Larin Karr for the win!

  3. My first game after a 10+ year hiatus was The Wizard's Amulet...followed by Crucible of Freya.

  4. I guess the question is, will Frog God Games or Clark's new company have access to older Necromancer Games material? As I'm probably sure you know, a S&W version of Rappan Athuk or many other products would kick all sorts of ass....

  5. Mike, I suppose that this development might make it infinitesimally more likely that there could be a RA:S&W or Abysthor or something, but I have to say I think the chance of it is still close to zero. I'd be in favor of it, but for whatever reasons, those dungeons are still not planned for anything like that.

    Maybe that could change, especially with this latest development, but I really don't want to get anyone's hopes up - it's not something that I expect to see.

  6. I'd agree that Necro is likely dead (RIP) with regard to future releases, barring some future "official" re-release of 3E, and even that's iffy, they were petering out long before 4E was announced. They nonetheless had a remarkable run as a 3pp.

  7. I'd not really be interested in re-release... but Tomb of Abysthor is a huge exception. It is really one of the best dungeon modules out there. While RA got the attention, I believe it was Abysthor that deserved most of it.

  8. I agree. I have Rappan Athuk, but ran ToA more often. Shame that they are gone, tho.

  9. Necromancer games is really what got me interested in gaming again after a 10 year hiatus. I am a bit saddened that they have been absent, but I have been pleased with Frog God Games output. S&W Rappan Athuck would rock ;)!