Monday, January 11, 2010

The OTHER Companion

FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a fairly competitive person.

That’s just my nature, folks, and I recognize it. Back in my 20s, I was told that I’m not a sore loser so much as a “poor winner.” I don’t talk smack, but I have been known to gloat when I don’t take a moment to pause and check myself.

War games (Warhammer 40,000) and sports (fencing) have actually helped IMPROVE my behavior in this regard, and NOT simply because there’s always someone bigger and badder that’ll humble a guy. Friendly matches of real competition give one the chance to actually talk to your opponent later, giving pointers to each other and turning the whole game into a teaching/learning experience. You’ll just have to take my word for it, but I am much nicer now than I was when I was younger.

Still, I don’t like to lose.

My B/X Companion, which has been written but not yet published, is not the first “Companion” set to have been created by some passionate fan of Dungeons & Dragons. Hell, it’s not even the 2nd…and perhaps not even the 3rd or 4th! Mentzer, of course got the official nod from TSR back in 1983 but some people (like myself) consider it less than satisfactory…even though BECMI itself is fairly good (I’d rate it a notch higher than 2nd edition AD&D, which puts it on par perhaps with 3.5/Pathfinder (my rating system for D&D editions is a whole different post for another time).

Labyrinth Lord, my favorite retro-clone, is in the process of putting out their Advanced Edition Companion, which many folks are awaiting eagerly. Since LL blows the top off level limits (human classes are not limited to level 36), I don’t anticipate AEC addressing high level campaigns…rather, my understanding is that the AEC is an integration of AD&D tropes into B/X play, doing for Supplements I-IV what B/X did for the Little Brown Books. In other words: providing new classes, adding race as a new switch, adding the Greyhawk/Blackmoor monsters and magic items, etc. For me, that’s more of a conversion book than an actual game set.

Then there’s Barrataria games.

I’m not all that familiar with Barrataria, though based on their web design, I’d assume they’re out of California. I don’t own any of their stuff, and I haven’t read any reviews of it, either, but they appear to be into B/X D&D through the Basic Fantasy RPG (another B/X retro-clone if I understand correctly). Well, they ALSO have a Companion…theirs is called the Companion Expansion and is available both for sale and as a free .pdf download (though the latter is without artwork). It seems like every time I have posted a comment to another blog about my Companion, or someone else comments about Ol’ JB’s upcoming product, some eager beaver is quick to show up on the comment thread and exclaim that Barrataria has already put out a Companion game set.

Well, yeah, they have…sort of.

It is unfortunate that I am as lazy as I am (I did almost 0 work on my game this weekend, instead making boxes, watching football, cleaning the house and yard, fixing doors, running errands, and hanging out with old friends I’ve been neglecting…oh, yeah, and blogging). If I’d sat down and worked the thing as soon as I got the idea, I might have been done with my Companion in August and been able to release the thing in October or November. Maybe.

Instead, I took my time and/or got distracted and Barrataria put out their Companion…I’m not sure if theirs counts as #2 or #3 or if there’s someone else’s I’m missing from the count. And while I wasn’t able to download the thing before, I took the time to do so this morning (the beagles got me up at the crack of dark as usual) and reviewed the whole thing before going into work.

My first reaction: damn.

I’d just like to say for the record that when I started my project, I didn’t know there were any other “Companion” projects in the works. I did some searches on the internet and found nothing, certainly not Barrataria…and at the time Goblinoid hadn’t even announced their work (Labyrinth Lord was still pretty new). If I HAD seen others were working on the same thing, I probably would not have even bothered to start…which would have been a pity, as the experience of writing something to completion has been immensely satisfying and…well, maybe a little bit of a growth opportunity for Yours Truly.

So anyway, my first reaction to Barrataria’s CE was: damn. As in: Damn, their fonts look a helluva’ lot more authentic than mine. Damn, they have some great lay-out. Damn, they really did do a good job with the succinct, B/X style descriptions of magic items. Damn, their cover art looks great and I’ll bet the interior stuff in the full pay version probably looks good. And damn, why don’t I have my own game company and partners and artists churning this stuff out?

This weekend was a bit of a low one for me, and not just because the ‘Hawks were out of the play-offs or the whole Pete Carroll thing. No, lately I’ve been semi-overwhelmed by the whole D&D thing (I’ve been so immersed, sometimes it feels like I’m losing perspective on everything around me), as well as feeling those “2nd guess yourself” blues, AND wondering if and when I’ll be able to get a decent cover artist for my game. Oh...and trying to decipher the ins-and-outs of ISBN numbers was no picnic, either.

And just WAITING…waiting for the art to come in so that I can put it in the book, waiting for the feedback to come back from the couple people I’ve solicited for input, waiting for my wife to return to talk strategy on the box thing (she got back Sunday night). “Waiting” is one of my least favorite things to do, at least when I am forced to do it. Especially when I see so many other great Old School products coming out all over the place.

So reading Barrataria’s Companion Expansion this morning was just about the lowest point of a low ebb over the last three days. Especially because I don't much like what they’d done.

I mean the style is nice, the lay-out and fonts are great, the art is cool. But Barrataria has NOT put out a "Companion Rules Set." All they’d done is put out a document (over 100 pages in length!) that adds a few new classes, recycled AD&D spells and magic items, and pretty much any monster from the Monster Manual that wasn’t listed as Property Identity.

That’s it…just a list of extras. Oh, my book has “goodies,” too…new spells, monsters, treasure. But it’s also a game book, designed to be Book #3 of the B/X edition. Frankly, I see Barrataria’s book as a missed opportunity.

Now, let me explain, that’s NOT exactly what I was thinking on my drive into work. What I WAS thinking is, “I should probably address the fact that there’s already a Companion book on the market for my blog readers, and how should I do that?” But then I decided to take a quick look at MY book…something I haven’t actually done in at least a week or so, because I wanted to get a little space/distance from it, so that my eyes would be semi-fresh when I read it again (in case I saw changes/edits that need to be made).

Wow...I truly love This Thing I've Wrought.

Once again, I am not just pleased with how it turned out, but amazed that it came out of my brain. I don’t know if anyone but me (and some of my die-hard fans) is going to enjoy it, but my goodness, it is worth it for me, at least. I am enjoying it right now, just looking at it, even without any art!

My Companion is a rule set…just like the Basic Set and Expert Set. It doesn’t have any wandering monster charts, and certainly it does retread some previously covered area, and yes my book also apes some AD&D monsters and magic items. But I can’t help but think: damn. Damn, I achieved the goal that I set out to achieve, namely writing a Book 3 that wouldn’t look totally out-of-place sitting next to Moldvay and Cook/Marsh on the shelf. No, it’s not perfect…but it’s good enough. I am totally satisfied.

Next goal: getting it into a publishable form, so that I can get it out to people. In my not-so-humble opinion, it’s too good not to share!

Ugh! All you folks who have graciously offered your artistic contributions, please get me your stuff as you can! From what I’ve seen so far, your work is all vastly superior to my own…but if I have to, I WILL use my own artwork. Today is January 11th, and I’d like to have all the pieces ready for assembly by February 1st (call it a “soft” deadline), which means we’ve got three weeks! I’ve already lost the race to be the 1st Companion (or even the “1st alternate Companion”) but I’d be happy with “coolest Companion,” and right now my book is definitely in the running for that title!
: )

Woo-hoo! I am officially out of my low-ebb funk!

[oh, and Note to Barrataria: if my comments regarding your game seem less than charitable, well, I’m sorry my opinion hurts your feelings. Congrats on putting out your product first; it looks very nice, and I like that you stuck with both the 36th level limits AND the max spells/level limit, things that Labyrinth Lord did NOT do, which is irritating. Both your magic items and monster descriptions are excellent, B/X style pieces, which I fully appreciate. The think is good work...I just like mine better]


  1. I'm a huge fan of BECMI and cant really think of anything major I would like to see changed in it, but I still think writing an entire ruleset expansion book is an impressive feat.
    *applause!* :)

    Besides, having more than one means we can all pick and choose what we want from each version. :)


  2. I'm a happy to pick and choose type too. Glad you didn't lose heart over this. Your passion for the project suggests a job well done. Can't wait to see the finished product.

  3. Here is a repost of what I said on my blog about the various similar clones and supplements coming out of the OSR:

    For me, I like a variety of ideas on my favorite game, whether it comes from the 0e or the 1e spectrum of play. So I read through and utilize bits from most of the clones, as well as the supplements and magazines. If Raggi publishes the LotFP rpg, I'll read it and possibly use it for inspiration in my LL campaign. What I won't do is roll my eyes and say, "ANOTHER one?!" The quality and love put into the available clones (as well as the wealth of ideas) are seriously not that off-putting. :)

    Like those mentioned here, I believe that most old-school gamers pick and choose from a variety of sources. I think Barrataria did a fantastic job, just as I think the authors of the "major" clones did a fantastic job. I read them as a gamer and a fan and I know that I'll do the same with your companion book (I check here periodically for progress reports).

    When I read that you were bummed that the "other" companion was released and looked good, my stomach sank a bit. My hope is that your spirit of competition is not driven by hard feelings but rather a passion to make your product the best it can be.

    Take care and I look forward to reading your work.

  4. @ Blake: in all honesty, I am driven ONLY by my passion for the game and not by any "spirit of competition." My "bummer" feeling was my perfectionist tendency saying, "oh, there's is out first...AND it looks better (at least the font does."

    @ All: folks, I fully expect people to pick and choose bits and pieces from everything. Some sticklers (like myself) are "tradition-minded" and when playing one game we play ONLY that game, but I don't fault people for taking a more eclectic approach. I say as much in the Forward to my book: when in doubt as to which rules to use with it, choose the set you like the best or that feels the most fun!

    That being said, MY Companion was written for the game style I enjoy...straight B/X play. In my opinion, that's its best use, but (as I also say in the Forward), once you buy it, it is YOUR book, to do whatever you want with it! I know people will anyway!
    : )

  5. All this does is make me want to see it more.

    I've downloaded the barrataria one, and that sure looks like fun, but... what I WANT is what you're selling us on here.

    My favorite edition is, in retrospect, probably RC. Which is a little funny, since it is far and away the one I played the least. Anyway, I have B/X again after years and years, and well, the notion of a C that would match my B/X better than --CMI did? That brings a smile to my face. Keep at it.

  6. @ DrCM: Strangely enough, when I started getting back into D&D (after a 10 year hiatus or so), it was BECMI that brought me...its completeness, its simplicity.

    And once I had my fling (and subsequent disenchantment) with D20, the RC and BECMI was still a saving grace, still a simple thing of beauty.

    But now I believe that BECMI is a poor substitute for B/X. IMO

  7. I don't think they are dissimilar enough to be incompatiable. But, I lean a little towards you're one rule set approach. I like to have as few reference books as possible as well as being able to point at a book and tell my players, "you will be playing with these rules."

    I'll likely house rule the unholy heck out of them, but its still more convenient than some of the Mister Suitcase 3.x players I've seen.