Wednesday, December 7, 2011

New Monster Books - How to Organize Them?

Yes, it's been quite a while since I've had a chance to sit and blog: I've been dividing all the available free time between writing the new levels for Rappan Athuk, pulling together the next issue of Knockspell (#7), and drawing monsters.

Yep, drawing monsters. And not just for Swords & Wizardry; I'm planning on doing an OSRIC book as well. However, I've discovered that I need to think through how to organize what I'm doing in terms of what goes where.

It all starts with the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book, and the fact that I wanted to fix a flaw in it -- there simply isn't enough art. It's an awesome book in terms of its written content, but in terms of its artistic appeal and the added "oomph" that monsters get by being illustrated, the book is lacking. A monster book needs a certain quantity of illustration, and the Swords & Wizardry Monster Book just doesn't reach that level now that I look at it with the mental distance of more than a year.

So I began with a very simple project: get more illustrations, put them into the original book with whatever edits to typos might be necessary, and voila -- here's an improved version of it for them that wants.

However, as I started on this, something else started nagging at me. It's something that has nagged at a very low level ever since the publication of the SWMB (Swords & Wizardry Monster Book). It has always been fairly clear that there's a large group of people who do not cross over from one set of game rules to another in search of resources like monsters. That's completely understandable -- after all, the entire out-of-print gaming community sticks with our games because we like those rules. The entire retro-clone concept is rooted in the fact that we want publications for OUR GAMES. So even though there's a large community of people who are omnivorous in terms of resources, picking here, choosing there, adapting as necessary ... there's also a large contingent of people who don't cross different rules even within the old-school systems.

Which means, to make a long story short, that a bunch of AD&D/OSRIC players aren't interested in looking at the SWMB, even though it contains tons of completely new monsters. And that problem is exacerbated by the fact that the SWMB, because it's a supplement essentially for OD&D, contains lots of AD&D monsters that are utterly repetitious from the OSRIC/AD&D standpoint.

And thus was born a Plan B. What if I filled out the SWMB with illustrations of the new monsters, and then used those same illustrations to make an OSRIC book that contained only the NEW monsters from SWMB that hadn't ever been done for OSRIC? It would be a nice, solid resource for OSRIC/AD&D since it would have the stats done correctly for OSRIC and it wouldn't contain repeat versions of AD&D monsters. The effort on the illustrations would serve double duty, which is nice since illustrating takes lots and lots and lots of time.

And yet, this left something of a problem since this plan would create a real mishmash of resources. Nothing in the two books would be new, for one thing, and both books would have total overlap with each other. And yet ... the other side of the coin ... if there was a lot of new material it would (sort of) force people who already own SWMB to buy an entire new book if it had new monsters, but still pay for the full page count. It's one thing to revise a book's appearance with some nicer art, but it's something else to do a version that contains interesting new monsters that didn't appear in the first printing. It has been long enough since the book's original release that this isn't a problem of screwing over the early adopters, but it's still a lesser version of that same problem.

Which leads to a possible Plan C, that I was thinking about last night, which would involve even more splitting. I could conceivably do (1) a "basic SWMB" containing those old AD&D monsters and sell it basically at cost, (2) a S&W book that would include the old-new monsters (not-cloned new monsters that already appeared in SWMB) in addition to some new ones, and (3) an OSRIC version of #2.

This way, people who already own SWMB could simply ignore book #1 -- they already have all of those monsters -- and people who were coming new to S&W would at least have cheap (free in the case of the pdf) access to those AD&D monsters that have been retrofitted to OD&D/S&W.

OSRIC players who don't have the SWMB get new monsters without any AD&D retreads.

People who already own SWMB could then evaluate the value of a book that contains new-old monsters that they've seen, plus some new monsters.

The final possibility would be to illustrate the existing SWMB and add no new-new monsters anywhere -- not to the SWMB, not to the OSRIC version. The OSRIC version would have only the old-new monsters. This is probably the best commercial option, since no one gets pissed, but it really offends my hobbyist psyche to come out with books that contain absolutely nothing new, even if the OSRIC version is completely new to OSRIC players who haven't looked at SWMB because it's not specifically for OSRIC.

Anyway, those are the thoughts kicking around in my head at the moment while I'm not working on Rappan Athuk. I haven't reached any decision yet...


  1. I'm always glad to see OSRIC content! I hear you about offending your hobbyist psyche, but for folks who don't want to do S&W, it is new to them.

    I'm a 1E guy; I've started using S&W because it is certainly close enough. But it's still like buying a "u-bake" pizza. There is work required on your part to finish it. It's not hard work. Anyone who can turn on an oven can do it. But if I'm going to buy a pizza, I would rather bring it home hot.

  2. Just for clarity - talking about using S&W supplemental material with OSRIC, not the S&W ruleset itself, above. I didn't write that post very clearly.

  3. A couple of points,

    I think that the SWMB works better because it doesn't have a lot of illustrations.

    There is how I look at cross product appeal for D&D.

    a)There are the gamers who like a specific edition.

    b)There are the gamers who are willing to use D&D material regardless of edition.

    c) B is a subset of A but... every edition has a group of B. So it is a large group when you consider all older editions of D&D.

    d) cross-edition product don't appeal to A

    So your best course is to commit a product to a specific editions. You will get all of Group A for that edition and all of Group B for the other editions. A total larger than just Group B alone.

    Making a OSRIC book out of the original creations of the SWMB is the way I would go. If that all you want to do.

    However the appeal of the SWMB is not just the list of monsters. It is in the minimalist format AND the fact that the monster stats are in a statblock.

    The OSRIC book present their monsters in a modified original MM format. So a product like the SW MB but using the Stat Block format for AD&D/OSRIC would offer value even though it duplicated entries found in the OSRIC book itself.

  4. Plan C would be the best for me, since I'm not playing a clone game and I already own all the AD&D monster books (at least the 1st edition era ones). A separate book of new monsters, with illustrations, would be a very tempting purchase . . . but a bigger book crammed with new stuff and re-treads for a higher price tag would be a much harder sell.

    Just one data point from all of one non-core customer. :)

  5. Speaking for myself, I'd like a comprehensive, illustrated monster book for S&W.

    I purchased the pdf of the first monster book, but have been putting off getting a print copy, until you put the new version out. :)

  6. Yeah I'm all for getting an illustrated S&W MB with the old stuff plus the new stuff in an all new shiny package. Like you said, it's been long enough that the early adopters shouldn't be too pissed.

    While playing S&W one of the appeal of the MB to me has always been that it also contained the S&W core book monsters. You got all the monster you want in one resource. No need to flip through multiple books. For OSRIC, could you check with Stuart and maybe add your entries to Monsters of Myth (and thus make one freakingly awesome 1E Monster Book)?

  7. I'm enthused about an OSRIC version, even though I DM OD&D + Supplements, solely due to my past whining about # Appearing and Treasure Types!

    You should take it even further and include Morale scores and Hoard Class.

  8. I'll second what James said. +1 for comprehensively illustrated.

    Also, a nice cut-and-paste license located with the monster entry would be nice for open content so that you don't have to think at all when using it.

    I've also been really impressed by what I have heard about the design of Isle of the Unknown. Sort of like a site-based monster manual. It's another take on the monster manual type of book that made me sit back and say, "hmm that's new".

    In fact, this cross-marketing of products in the OSR is really interesting. Example: Anomalous Subsurface Environment is a setting masquerading as a megadungeon. Isle of the Unknown is a monster manual masquerading as a module.

  9. I only discovered S&W about a month ago, and I've fell in love with the system since. Do you need any help with the illustrations? I'm an aspiring art student looking to build of a portfolio, and volunteering to gain some experience would be amazing. I don't have any portfolio that I can post right now and say, 'Look. Here is how proficient I am.' If you're curious at all, my email is, maybe we can get in touch. And even if not, keep up the fantastic work. :)