Friday, January 20, 2012

Hot Buttered Writing

I’m down at the Baranof on a snowy Thursday night, drinking, and doubting that anyone is going to be showing up. Not surprising due to the snow (not to mention I really didn’t make much of an effort to organize anything…been too busy the last couple days). But that’s fine…it gives me a chance to do some writing, which I’ve been missing for awhile.

It’s 9:03pm…I don’t know when this post will go up since I have no access to the internet at the moment (a bunch of closed WiFi networks surrounding me…once upon a time they were open, and I never needed to ask the local businesses for passwords. Now, they’re all closed for the evening). However, this is just a “warm-up” missive anyway (as I finish my drink)…after this I’ll be getting down to some other stuff.

I’ve had the opportunity to consider the whole AD&D re-print thing (yes, I first read about it early this morning, just wanted a bit of time to digest). I’m honestly not sure what my feelings on the matter are. But here are my thoughts for those who care:

- I played AD&D for a looong time. Even after 2nd edition I continued to play 1st edition. Even in college (early to mid-90s) on the few occasions we played D&D at all. Later on, too, in the 21st century I had the opportunity to play and run AD&D 1st edition with like-minded folks who, like myself, got fed up with some of the aspects of 3rd edition. Call AD&D my “first love” when it comes to the on-again-off-again romance of D&D.

- Having said that, I’ve played no edition but B/X since 2009, and for good reason. If AD&D was my first love, it’s one of those neurotic types that are really bad for you, that keeps dragging you back into bad habits rather than helping you grow and progress as a self-actualized human being. I’ve had one or two of those in my life (um, with regard to girlfriends, that is). This is something I think most of us grow out of, and you don’t feel all that bad letting it go.

- Having said THAT, does that mean I’d never play AD&D again? Umm…I honestly don’t know. I retain my old AD&D books, both for reference and for nostalgia and “just in case” (so I don’t have to buy them on eBay should the whimsy strike me). Would I like them to be in better condition? Yeah…thumbing through one or two recently, I was surprised and a bit horrified to find that somehow they were missing chunks of pages.

- Is it worth the money to pick up new copies of the original books with (presumably) great new cover art? Probably not. UNLESS WotC/Hasbro is going to allow some AD&D-version of the OGL (in which case, it might be good to have references for writing AD&D modules or something).

- Or not. I actually have no interest in writing adventures for AD&D. I just don’t like the system all that much compared to B/X.

- Is it ETHICALLY worth it to purchase the new books? (*sigh*) Probably not. I happen to agree with a lot of what Sword & Shield has to say on the subject. Not only that, but I’ve written before that the only way to get a point across to WotC/Hasbro is to VOTE WITH YOUR WALLET. That is, don’t buy their shit. Don’t buy it and then complain about it. Don’t buy it and wish it were better. Simply close your wallet and put your money into something you really want to support. I don’t want to support WotC’s craziness, but they don’t give a shit if they’re making money…it’s a business, folks, not a goddamn labor of love (as much of the OSR stuff is). Close your wallet and support something that cares about more than its f’ing profit-margin.

- WHY is WotC doing this exactly? I’m guessing they want a cash infusion and feel they can milk the nostalgia of folks that once played the game. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the Red Box 4th Edition with the Elmore cover art probably suckered a lot of people…and surprised Hasbro with the response. Unless I see evidence otherwise, I’m going to guess this is simply a canny business move, something like “well, we got a lot of positive feedback (ca$h) simply using the recycled look, but hardback books have more profit in them than box sets and there’s this huge nostalgic following of people who played (and still play) AD&D and who would TOTALLY buy new copies of the old books…at Barnes & Nobles or Amazon or whatever…simply to have a fresh copy, rather than a stinky eBay wreck. AND so long as we don’t support the line, we don’t have to worry about it wrecking our 5th Edition plans…if anything, it might get people’s mouths watering for MORE “D&D” and drive them right into the waiting sales department of our 5E Marketing team. A win-win situation: fire & forget, ca$h infusion, Pavlov dog-bell salivation. Let’s do it!”

- Does that sound cynical?

- And here’s the real kick in the ass, people. I LIKE that WotC is doing this. I won’t buy their books, for reasons of both principle and practicality, but if they were to, say, re-print the B/X boxed sets that I got for my 9th/10th birthdays as a kid, I would TOTALLY pick them up, EVEN THOUGH the same cynical thoughts would be in my head. But that’s not the “kick in the ass” (that’s just my admission of hypocracy)…the KICK is this: they will NEVER re-issue B/X, because if they release any version of “basic D&D” it will be the Frank Mentzer BECMI version. Why? Because most folks consider them identical, with Mentzer’s version simply being an update and reorganization. Such is not the case (and the last couple days I’ve been getting into heated discussions on the issue at an unnamed Classic D&D on-line forum), for reasons I have explained on this blog over the last several years…but just because *I* can distinguish the difference doesn’t mean anyone at Hasbro can…all they will see is “basic D&D” and the fact that BECMI sold the most copies of any basic D&D set of all time (probably due to it reaching the height of its popularity and coinciding its release with a certain Saturday Morning cartoon). So even though I’d sell out myself to get a fresh box or two of B/X, I probably will never get the opportunity.

- AND (last thought), if *I* am such a flawed individual that I would compromise my principles on the matter, I can only imagine that WotC/Hasbro is going to make a killing on their AD&D reissue. It seems a bit ironic (disgusting?) that money from the sales will go to building a Gygax Memorial, even as they donate that money from whoring out his works in base fashion.

No, you don’t think so. Okay, that’s your opinion. Me, I’m going to go get another hot buttered rum, and then work on an RPG project or two. Cheers.

: )

POST SCRIPT (9:51pm…just sipping my second drinky):

It occurs to me that the things I’ve written (in this post and in others regarding game design) may incite resentment and anger in other game designers. I realize, for example, that there are people that like skill systems A LOT and could not conceive of writing an RPG that didn’t include one. There are designers that simply build on what they already know or have experienced in games, rather than puzzling out the reason why something was an initial choice of design in the first place. They don’t CARE, and what they DO care about is that the game works and is fun and if they play-test it and it meets those requirements than who am I to piss all over their efforts?

I could rant against people being crazy or ignorant or simply selfish and/or obtuse…despite being nice, intelligent people who probably make more money than me…but even if they were guilty of those things, who am I to judge? I’m self-centered and selfish and ignorant in my own ways as well. And the games I design may be just as insipid and retarded and downright stupid in their own way…moreso, because I waste a ton of time considering things that may need no consideration and spending hours of my short mortal life crafting something that will only make me a small handful of money…not even enough to pay my mortgage.

Look, I can’t turn it off, folks. I’m going to say things that sometimes sound (or are) hurtful, because I have very strong opinions on things I care about…this silly hobby for one…and my opinion may be diametrically opposed to your own. But I do want to say, just for the record, that I really, REALLY appreciate the effort and creativity that 99% of game designers put into their work. Frankly, I’m in awe every time I walk into Gary’s Games, something I try to do several times a week, even when nothing new has come in to the store. The sheer amount of creativity and artistry on display is overwhelming to consider…the hours and hours that hundreds (thousands?) of people have put into these immensely imaginative works for such a very, very little money. Now THAT will blow your mind…it blows mine.

AND it makes me even more resentful of WotC/Hasbro and their “easy road” of brandification and recycling ideas just to PREY on consumers in pursuit of profit. Wow…how can that NOT make you angry? Pathfinder may be a dumb game (in my opinion), but at least they’re putting out original work.

Okay. That’s enough ranting. Later, 'gators.


  1. You are allowed to have an opinion, even, yes, a STRONG opinion. It's okay, we don't mind. And if anyone does mind, you can tell them to fuck off.

  2. I second that notion...

    Regarding Pathfinder's original work/WotC redoing the same:
    I think there's a lot of baggage that comes with the owning of all the old IP: How can WotC, as a company, rationalize to not use it? Many customers expect them even to re-do the old ones... that's pretty crippling for new creativity.

  3. "WHY is WotC doing this exactly? I’m guessing they want a cash infusion" not sure if you've read the announcement, but they're selling them to raise funds for the Gygax Memorial fund...

    Now, if they were to sell them and keep the money, I'd think it was a bit of a bum deal, but right now, there's no suggestion that's what's happening.

    Personally, the authors of later editions of D&D aren't known to me, but, to suggest that they didn't try their best to make a good game is a bit unfair, you can criticise Hasbro and WoTC for perhaps not employing the best, or not funding it sufficiently (you'll have to provide evidence that it wasn't funded well, and name names for who you think would have been the "best" to get away with that).

    I really think that it's harsh on Mearls/Slavicsek etc, they did their best, they did what they thought would be good, but it turned out that a lot of people don't like the taste of sure lots of people liked the taste of New Coke, but ultimately, it's regarded as a failure...

    I'm not a fan of 4e, and I think 3e also lost the plot with complexity...but then, there is a lot of complaint about 2e, and really, it's just a cleanup (in several ways) of 1e, which was a cleanup of OD&D...

    Think what you'd change, if TSR employed you tomorrow to do D&D 5e, would everybody like those changes, would you get castigated in some quarters? Probably...would that make you a bad person? No...

    So, at the end of the day, you get to keep the version of the game you like, it's a bit unreasonable to expect any company to continue to support their oldest products (but, equally, I feel it's unreasonable to abandon support AND prevent anybody else supporting your products, but I can't see that actually happening).

    It's probably best to see versions of D&D as different games, basically incompatible, but with a discernable lineage.

    WoTC gave us the OGL, which is possibly the biggest thing to happen to RPGs since Gygax & Arneson invented D&D...nothing is ever black and white...

  4. @Kevin

    Now, if they were to sell them and keep the money, I'd think it was a bit of a bum deal

    I must admit, I don't understand this line of reasoning at all. WotC is a company, they own this copyright and trademark, why shouldn't they sell the product?

    I can understand people being frustrated that they would not publish some of their properties (in order to not compete with 4E). But to get angry that they are releasing them? What? And as a bonus they are donating some of the proceeds to charity in order to (presumably) garner goodwill among enthusiasts of older games. Selling these books happens to be both in their best interest of people that want the "real" branded D&D products.

    Gary et al could have decided to give away their ideas and brand, but they chose to monetize them instead. We need to live with that, good or bad.

    "Milking nostalgia" is a really negative way of saying providing supply for demand. That's how companies contribute to society. We're not talking about a cartel industry here (though legislation like SOPA might slowly change that), so you can always buy another product or abstain altogether.

  5. Incidentally, I'm with JB. Please make a hardcover B/X Moldvay/Cook/Marsh available. Print on demand and non-limited would be ideal. Overhead minimal! As much as we in the OSR may like Erol Otus, this simply will not compete with the new and shiny D&D for most customers.

  6. I appreciate your thoughts on the matter, and especially your honesty in considering it from all angles.

  7. @Brendan

    I was referring to their Intent to donate the monies raised to the Gygax memorial, not generally reselling older editions of books...

    It's interesting that Catalyst Games have no problem with selling books (including PoD) for older Shadowrun editions...

    To me, the WotC decision to pull legitimate sales of older editions was a big error of judgement...

  8. @Kevin

    Totally agree regarding pulling the legit selling of older edition PDFs.

    Many other RPG publishers don't seem to have problems with such sales either. White Wolf is another big example. They sell lots of old PDFs on RPGNow.