Friday, June 5, 2009

Supplements and Sorcery

James over at Grognardia talks about there being, perhaps, too many supplements coming out now from the Old School and the possible negative effects of this. Specifically, that the market - such as it is - will be "flooded with a glut of product" that will only be read, never used in play.

Of course, he's right. Coming from the 2nd edition background that I do, I can't ever forget some of the worst symptoms of a dying TSR. Hell, no matter how hard I try, I can never forget about elfish prosthetic limbs, nor rangers that turn into trees and grow third arms out of their chests, or any of a hundred really bad ideas enshrined as "options" in the Complete Handbook series of supplements. Of course, this bred the most despicable attitude I can think of in D&D: that of player entitlement - the thought that if the player wants something, he should be allowed to have it and that the DM is nothing more than a rules reciter and wish fulfiller. Maybe that's a little extreme, but not overly in my experience.

There's a great deal of good that can be said for a game that can be played entirely out of one book. That's what made Gamma World 1e and 2e so fabulous. Not to mention the Rules Cyclopedia (maybe that one's cheating since it's half a dozen books under one binding, but still). That's what makes Swords and Wizardry and Labyrinth Lord so great. One book, some dice, some friends, and a lot of imagination. No official supplements, add ins, or do-majiggers.

But then again, there's a problem with it too. If your game only has one book and no continuing publications (a magazine, some modules, a supplement here and there), then like it or not, true or not, a good portion of the fan base is going to look at it and call it a dead system and walk away. Except for Fight On! magazine (if you even know about it), Labyrinth Lord is pretty much a single product with nothing new on the horizon. Why would I pick it up now wen there's just oodles of stuff coming out of every quarter supporting Swords and Wizardry? Hell, as James himself said, there's practically a metric buttload of stuff I can use to fiddle with and slap a great game together, or ignore entirely if I want, but the community around that game is live and vibrant as evidenced by the published material. Labyrinth Lord looks, at first blush, to be a little dead on the vine.

Don't get me wrong, I really like LL and have a copy next to my chair for nightly perusal along with a whole passel of other gaming books. It's just that I'd like to see a Labyrinth Lord companion or something like that hit the shelves. I know, I know, shut up and or put up.

The horrific glut of supplements over the course of 2nd edition did one thing really really well. It imagined the shit out of AD&D. Hundreds of ideas just thrown at the wall to see what would stick. Every time somebody had a brain fart that read along the lines of "wouldn't it be cool if . . .", it ended up in a book that sold for $20 each to thousands. Yeah, maybe the dross to gems ratio was a little out of rational whack, but one must admit that amidst all the bunk, there were some pretty damn cool ideas out there! And the great thing is, no two people will ever agree on just what was cool and what was crap!

Take it to the current day. We've got little digest supplements and adventures and everybody's little brain farts being thrown into print via the internet or Lulu or whatever format for OSRIC and Swords and Wizardry and whatever other system clone is out there and there's a real hunger to see more, to put money into the hands of the creators. That's nothing but a good thing in my book, even if you find that 50%, or even 90%, of it is junk. You don't have to use the junk. You don't even have to use the gems. It just warms the subcockle region of my heart to actually be excited over some of these things again.

The Old School is viable again, and it's because people are throwing their ideas on paper and throwing it against the wall to see what sticks. It gives me real hope that one day, I'll be walking through a book store or, better yet, a toy store and see one of these books on the shelf for sale and a kid begging his mother for the $15 to buy it.

Screw purity. Screw the fear that piles and piles of junk might obscure the great tidbits. Put it out there and imagine the hell out of D&D again.

9 comments:

  1. Brave Halfling Publishing has put out quite a bit for Labyrinth Lord, along with many other retro-clones, plus Goblinoid Games puts out The Scribe of Orcus. In fact, a fifth volume just came out. I am sure there are others.

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  2. James himself seems to have lately begun work on product production of his own, and that makes his comments a little ironic.

    I'll read any shit I can get my hands on (for free) that reminds me of "Grass Roots" stuff like Judges Guild and Arduin from back in the day. Like a couple of folk replied in James post, I like to read things for distinctions and ideas, but hardly use anything. I have several copies of Footprints in the bathroom, and although I enjoy looking through them, there is nothing I have seen so far I want to use in a game.

    So keep the stuff comin'. Just don't ask me to pay for it, cause why buy the cow when you can easily find it for free.

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  3. Labyrinth Lord is pretty much a single product with nothing new on the horizon. Why would I pick it up now wen there's just oodles of stuff coming out of every quarter supporting Swords and Wizardry?

    As mentioned above, Brave Halfling Publishing has put out a lot of LL material, and will continue to in the future. Labyrinth Lord is not all alone. As for material I've released, have you checked out Original Edition Characters? Another companion book, Advanced Edition Characters, is in playtest. I've got two LL modules submitted and ready for editing and layout. I have another fun project about half written that should see the light of day by late fall or early winter. So no, Labyrinth Lord hasn't "died on the vine." About a year ago the buzz around LL was about equal to current buzz around S&W. But, S&W is newer, and there is a resurgence of interest in OD&D (even though LL core rules+Original Edition Characters is actually closer to Oe). Actually I'm glad to have read your perspective on this, it tells me I need to work harder to make LL seen. One problem is that I was busy out of the country much of last year and the first quarter of this year, so things slowed down.

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  4. Should've done your homework on this one Not-Grog, LL has a thriving, creative community, plus support from more than one publisher. The fact that it recently released a German translation of the game is just one example of why LL is in no way "dead on the vine", and there are many others. I don't know what horizon you're looking at, but the sun is rising on the one I can see.

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  5. I stand corrected in terms of Labyrinth Lord. You'll forgive me, I hope, for drive by posting while trying to avoid the "efficiency experts'" axe at the office.

    However, my point was not to label LL dead, but to talk about the desirability of continued supplements and publications only.

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  6. "The horrific glut of supplements over the course of 2nd edition did one thing really really well. It imagined the shit out of AD&D."

    Gosh, does this backhanded compliment apply to the glut of 3.5 supplements as well? Just sayin...

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  7. "Gosh, does this backhanded compliment apply to the glut of 3.5 supplements as well? Just sayin..."

    Absolutely.

    I'm a great fan of seeing new product in print on a regular basis, but I draw the line at publishing crap just to get something new on the shelves. That's a description of 90% of WOTC current titles IMO.

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  8. "Of course, this bred the most despicable attitude I can think of in D&D: that of player entitlement - the thought that if the player wants something, he should be allowed to have it and that the DM is nothing more than a rules reciter and wish fulfiller."

    I call this the "Pussy DM" syndrome. Nobody had applied a torque wrench to the DM's private parts if he didn't let the precious player have his Ranger with the kung-fu grip. I still play 2E and was very happy for the billions of splat books, as I had the fortitude to pick out what I did and did not want to use in my campaign, and stand ground against players whinings and bleatings. More DMs should grow a pair and stand up for campaign integrity.

    That being said, I obviously come down on the side of "The more, the merrier". I love seeing other DM's ideas and material, even if I never use it, it jolts the imagination.

    I notice a lot of Jame's ideas seem like idle speculation and not deep, detailed analysis, almost like he's "What if?ing stuff more than anything else. A glut of product? Bring it on, man!

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  9. One problem with glut is literally space to store; the benefit of the pdf environment has reduced this problem in the home, but not where it matters, which is to say in your head. I have a lot of unread RPG supplements in my possession, but even the ones I have read I may not necessarily be able to recall...

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