Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Winning the Battle, Losing the War (Part 1)

This is a post I’ve been considering for probably a week or two; time to start putting some words down.

First though, give me a chance to puff up my chest a bit: the last few days I’ve spent some time reading back over my own blogging the last couple years. Normally I do NOT go back and read much of my “old stuff” except to look for links to prior posts. That is, in fact, how I started my semi-self-love-fest: I was looking for links and some of my older posts caught my eye, and I just spent some free time reading some of these old musings, including the comments from readers (and my response to the same). And I have to say I was fairly impressed with my own brain…a lot of my stuff is pretty good, often thoughtful or well conceived, if not outright entertaining.

A lot of what I’ve written seems (in hindsight) a bit bone-headed, too…but not nearly as much as I suspected. Hell, even some of those blog posts from “Bear Week” were pretty neat (which I was NOT expecting). I guess I just want to say I’m PLEASED with the content here at Ye Old B/X Blackrazor. I would read my stuff…which is not surprising, seeing as how I blog for myself at least as much (if not more so) as for others. Such is the vanity of the hack-writer.

Now I realize I’ve fallen off on my one-time frenetic pace of posting and the reasons for this are several. First off, I have less free time (both at home and at work) than I once did. For another thing, one of the main reasons I started this thing was to have a place to vent (and discuss) my thoughts on various aspects of gaming…and since I’ve started doing this, I’ve opened myself up to new people (new friends) with whom I can discuss/vent my ideas…in person…and so some of my musings never make it into the blog-o-phere, because they’re already “talked out” with real people precluding the necessity of electronic expression. This includes musings about game design (and specifically musings about games I'M designing).

So those are the main reasons for my drop-off. Another thing that’s “dried up” for me is my need to talk about B/X and my discoveries when playing it…mainly because I’m not playing B/X, instead spending my gaming nights on play-testing my own game concepts. And there’s not a whole bunch to say about play-testing that doesn’t sound incredibly cryptic without having the rules readily available to the readers. Likewise, little “freebie” type posts (new B/X class adaptations) have stopped cropping up on the blog because, well, I’m not using ‘em and the ones that have been developed are now in the book.

[then of course there was my distraction with the NFL season, only recently concluded]

Having said all that, it’s fairly apparent that a LOT of OSR bloggers have dropped off their prior pace of posting. A lot of different things are responsible for this: burn-out has led some to leave the whole “blog thang” behind, others have gotten new jobs, or new (graduate) schools, or moved cross-country and have gotten into a permanent state of “transition” that has kept them out of the habit of firing up the ol’ blog. But maybe bloggers really do have a “shelf life” and a bunch of us are reaching the end of ours.

Alexis had a good post on this the other day. Actually, Alexis has had a lot of good posts on a lot of subjects the last few weeks. Not that he doesn’t usually…he’s a thoughtful and passionate writer. But there was certainly a time when I didn’t follow his work all that closely…I mean, I’m just not all that into how many copper mines are in Bulgaria and what their annual output is or whether or not there’s a tin trade route that is going to lend itself to a dwarven bronze-smelting center in Asia Minor.

This is just me being facetious, of course. Should I talk some smack about Alexis? I know he rubs some folks the wrong way, and some might find him a bit of a blow-hard. Personally, my approach to role-playing is a little less…um…”detail oriented,” which he would probably just call “lazy” (though he might call me out for putting words in his mouth).

Since both he and I have, I believe, put a lot of thought into our widely divergent approaches to role-playing it’s doubtful either of us would EVER change the mind of each other, but even with a vast difference of opinion and gaming paradigm, I have immense respect for the intensity he brings to The Game, and the fact that he invests so much importance in it despite being “just a game.” I happen to share this perspective: that something so innocuous as a sheaf of bound papers, some written concepts, and a handful of plastic dice can transcend the status of “a game” and actually be something of value to our society. Ridiculous idea of course…writing down “fight level 2” never put food into the mouth of a hungry child, and no D20 roll ever prevented a real life crime or tragedy or mass exploitation of a Third World nation. But even so, I DO believe in the power of community and the strength of shared ritual and urgency of exercising both peoples’ intelligent thought process and imagination…and the ability to put yourself (mentally) in the shoes of an elf or wizard can’t help but allow you to (eventually, through practice) see different perspectives of the world, perhaps leading you to a better understanding of (and empathy for) your fellow human beings.

Plus, we do need escape. But that's a whole post in and of itself.

So Alexis and I are on the same page in that regard (that this Game of ours has value and should be approached as such), even if we disagree on a lot of other things (including perhaps the reason for that value). If I’m intellectually lazy a lot of the time it’s because I’ve often found the burden of intense logical construction to be tedious when one can make a mental leap based on feeling/intuition.  That’s not an EXCUSE for intellectual laziness, just an admission. Having played in Alexis’s on-line game, I can honestly say that his detail-specific approach is just as conducive to an excellent gaming experience, if you’re willing to "let it in." Plus, I think he’s a (darkly) humorous guy.

BUT this post wasn’t really meant to be about Alexis. What this post IS about, is the re-release of the Moldvay and Cook/Marsh-edited edition of Dungeons & Dragons…what is commonly referred to as “B/X”…and what that means to the OSR.

#1 with a bullet!
The OSR has attempted to defy categorization ever since the term was coined (whether or not it’s been successful can be debated). Is it an actual movement? A state of mind? A method of play? A particular edition (or several editions) or cut-off year that determines the OSR gamer? Is it a Renaissance? Is it a Revolution? Does it matter? Does it have purpose?

I’ve been called a member of the OSR and my blog is usually identified with the OSR. As someone who has (self-published) some B/X compatible products and written a number of posts on the B/X game, I suppose I self-identify with the OSR…at least inasmuch as B/X is identified with “Old School” gaming (not everyone would give OS “cred” to anything published post-1980). While I don’t have a strong opinion on labels one way or another, I do have an interest in the OSR as a movement…and its survival.

At least, I’m interested in its survival if it’s positive thing.

So here’s the deal: now that WotC/Hasbro has made available to the general consumer public the two most popular editions of the Dungeons & Dragons lines (namely, B/X and 1st Edition AD&D), what does that do to an OSR movement that went from ranting about the state of affairs, to joining with like-minded individuals, to publishing their own books and adventures based on the discontinued lines?

I know, I know…some people hold OD&D, or Holmes D&D, or Mentzer’s BECMI/RC up as their “standard favorite” edition of choice. But I believe if you did an actual poll (Hell…I did do a poll…I need to get that data collated one o these days!), you’d find that 1st edition AD&D (which codified the original LBBs and supplements) and B/X (with its retro-clone resurgence) are the editions being played the most.

Labyrinth Lord especially has enjoyed a phenomenal following due to A) the ease and simplicity of the B/X rules, and B) the lack of published or PDF versions OF those rules. I know I had some resistance to folks playing B/X at my table, instead wanting something that was still IN PRINT and available especially in an electronic version. To this end, we made more than a few “Labyrinth Lord” concessions…and I know I’ve purchased multiple copies of the LL print edition for distribution (as a gift to younger players). And because of the wide dissemination of LL (and its OSR-version of the OGL) there have been plenty of supplements and adventures written for the game. Even Mr. Maliszewski eventually ended up using LL (over Swords & Wizardry, the OD&D-clone) for his long-running Dwimmermount Campaign because of its ease of use, simplification of D&D, and yet attention to the D&D-isms most of us have used and presumed over the years. The Advanced Edition Companion for LL simply allowed B/X players to adapt AD&D-isms (like the mix-and-match of class-race) to those simple B/X rules.

Now, B/X in its original form is available as a downloadable PDF for $4.99 (per book). The Tom Moldvay edited Basic set was released first and stayed in the #1 spot until the recent release of the Expert set, which has supplanted it. Thee Basic set remains in the #2 position.

[to be continued]


  1. My darkly humourous book, "Pete's Garage," will be available in about two weeks. You can talk some smack about that.