Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Companion's Companion

AKA How Far Must the Madness Go?

A while back I despaired at the same complaint I hear from a lot of returning D&D vets, namely, "why can’t I get an old copy of the B/X books anymore?"

Now my despair is a little different from theirs, after all I have copies of the old books (actually I have two copies of B/X, plus a hard print of Labyrinth Lord). But I despair at anyone being able to fully use my B/X Companion book as intended without some of this out-of-print material.

The fact of the matter is, the Companion is NOT “fully compatible” with Labyrinth Lord, OR Swords & Wizardry, OR TSR’s BECMI/RC books. Why not? ‘Cause it’s an original work and those are (in many ways) original works with their own quirks and idiosyncrasies.

Not that it WON’T work with minor adjustments (don’t want to scare off any potential customers!) but the book makes no claim to absolute compatibility. It clearly states that it is a “supplement” to existing fantasy role-playing games (like Labyrinth Lord). It is not itself a “clone” of anything per se…certainly not a clone of Mentzer’s D&D Companion, nor LL’s Advanced Edition Companion.

So do I need to write my own basic B/X rule set?

Doc suggested I do this a few months back, but it just seems so…ugh, burdensome. Ignoring the fact that there are serviceable systems already being published, ignoring the mammoth art-work drive I would need, ignoring the fine tooth irritation of combing through Moldvay and Cook/Marsh to make sure I wasn’t infringing on any copyrighted material…ignoring all THAT

…well, we’re still talking about writing and editing and laying out a book well over 64 pages.

And that’s something I definitely do NOT want to do. Oh, I suppose I could break it up into a B/X Player’s Guide and a B/X Dragon Master’s Guide, each being 64 pages, themselves. But I think I’d miss a lot of the charm from those earlier, original books (how to duplicate the last adventure of Black Dougal, poor guy!).

Not to mention that I doubt I could stay absolutely honest to the original writers. Loyal as I am, writing this blog over the last 14 months has given me a lot of insight into the workings of The Game…what I like, what I dislike, and (oh, boy) what I’d change if I had the opportunity.

And then what would we have? Another “fantasy heart-breaker?” ANOTHER “retro-clone?” I don’t think we need another one (though I sure wish Goblinoid would correct the damage listings for Bear in their book)…the ones we have work JUST FINE.

Still one can’t help wishing. You know that Mark Wahlberg movie, Rock Star? Where the kid grows up emulating his musical idol and then one day gets picked to replace him, singing the songs he previously only covered and hanging with dudes who rode the posters on his wall? Sometimes, in the deepest depths of delusion, I wonder if that could ever happen to me…if maybe someone who actually owned the D&D label were to see my book and say, “hey, maybe we should re-issue those original books as a side product, and we’ll make this dude’s book the official #3.” And I’ll be able to slap the D&D name itself across the front and help reintroduce REAL “D&D role-playing” to a new generation.

No, it’s not a dream I have…or a hope…or even a prayer. Just a “happy thought.” Unfortunately, I’m pretty sure the best I could hope for is a certain company offering me a few thousand dollars for the whole book, just to eliminate any possible (not even potential!) thought of competition. At least, that’s what Microsoft would do.

Oh, yeah…and then they’d make sure NONE of it saw light of day.

Welp, I’m not desperate enough for money right now to sell my artistic soul (even though I could use a couple-ten thousand…hey, who couldn’t?) so even if such an offer came, I’d probably turn it down.

And if they offered me a job to work at their company? To actually get a paycheck as a designer, writer, developer? Would I sell out for that?

Hard to say…but pretty doubtful (I probably earn more with my current day job).

So since the best I can hope for from Those Guys is apathy (we won’t talk about what the worst might be), the question remains do I need to write my own, truly compatible basic game system to go with the B/X Companion? A companion to my Companion? A Companion’s Companion?

Do I need to? No.

Do I want to? Um…no, actually.

Would it be fun? Eh…actually, I don’t think it would be. Certainly I don’t think it would be as fun as PLAYING the game, which I’m sure is what many more people are interested in. Hell, it’s what I’M interested in.

So for now, I’m going to banish despair from my blog, and simply accept where we are in the hobby at this particular moment in time. It looks like I just got the quote I was looking for from the printing company I was hoping for and tomorrow we’re going to see if they can do a test copy (assuming I can get the new .pdf assembled in the correct order…a couple-three minor, minor changes were needed). If THAT works out, we’ll be sending the print run for the weekend with anticipation of getting a “box-o-books” early next week.

: )


  1. No you don't need to write your own B/X rules. No GG doesn't need to change bear damage in the LL rules, just pencil in your preferred amount. Just as most of us old farts happily mixed OD&D, Basic and AD&D back in our younger years, so too now with the clones added to the mix. It's all easily compatible, usually on the fly, as will your Companion be. If newbies and younger gamers find this confusing, we're simply not doing a good enough job explaining it.

    And although the anti-clone brigade is pretty small these days, it's nice to see yet another testimony of folks having trouble getting hold of affordable and reasonably priced original books, which makes one less stone in the already meagre and very shaky anti-clone foundation.

  2. OCR the text and tables of BX. Lay them out again. Insert all the images. Proofread them several times. In fact, ask a few trusted folks to do it. Release the source files into the wild anonymously so people can take them to Kinko's or Staples or upload them to Lulu to get their own copies made.

    Problem solved, and to Hell with Wizbro.

  3. Heck, I was just wondering how to preserve the books I already have - deacidify to stop the yellowing, etc.

  4. Or rather, recently wondering.

  5. @ David: I can't decide if your comments mean you are for or against retro-clones. But I agree that it isn't necessary for ME to do one.
    : )

    @ Restless: You're much more punk rock than me. I don't even pirate movies off the internet!

    @ JonH: I've kept them in a three-ring binder for years (they're on their 2nd binder) probably helped that I didn't use 'em much between 1985 and 1998 or so.

  6. I can't decide if your comments mean you are for or against retro-clones.

    Very much pro-clones JB. One of the arguments often raised against the clones in order to suggest they're unnecessary is that there is a multitude of cheap original copies lying around in great abundance. While that may be true for some folks, a growing percentage of us are having to fork out collector's prices for the originals - not a good thing when trying to bring newbies into the old school gaming scene.

  7. "Punk rock" certainly hasn't ever been applied to me before!

    But seriously, it's the best way to keep the actual game alive, short of winning the Powerball Lotto and buying WoTC and associated IP from Hasbro.

  8. @ David:

    Oh, I agree, took me many years to even find a second copy of B/X. I point most people to Labyrinth Lord these days.
    : )

  9. Sadly, B/X didn’t even get to be a legal PDF when Wizards was selling PDFs of OOP stuff. Even when fans offered to do all the work for free and just asked Wizards to OK the project and collect the royalties.

    I wouldn’t mind a Blackrazor B/X clone, but I’m not convinced your Companion really needs it either. If you’re not really interested in doing it, don’t.

    What I think would be good is to do a small document on the issues that might come up in using it with LL. Just point at the things that a DM will need to make a call on. (You don’t even need to give them solutions, just point ’em out.)

  10. But seriously, it's the best way to keep the actual game alive

    @Restless - On the subject of piracy, while I'm not pure and noble like JB here, I don't agree it's the best way to keep the game alive. Not everyone bothers chasing down pirated files. The clones on the other hand are now being distributed in bricks and mortar gaming stores, and in the case of LL and OSRIC are so close to the originals that there's no doubt you're playing the same game. So while piracy is sometimes the only practical way of getting hold of an out-of-print item, in the case of the various D&D versions, retro-clones are doing a far better job of keeping the game alive and even growing, than the small collection of poor quality pirated scans floating around the Net.

    @JB - Rob Fisher is right, you don't NEED to do a B/X clone, it's done and called LL. His suggestion of a conversion document is perfect for those who feel they need such a thing. The majority of us will happily convert on the fly as we do the usual and house rule our games anyway.

  11. I do not think we need another B/X clone, how exactly would yours differ from LL anyways, just revert the handful of changes they made back to the original? A one page document would cover that. The changes are mostly trivial from how I understand it, with the Cleric spell progression being the most drastic, but I am open to being correct on this point.

    Now I would be interested in hearing about what you would fix/house rule if you were to produce another Fantasy Heartbreaker. Such things are endlessly facinating.

    Now RQ2, that is a game that needs and deserves a faithful clone. Too bad it is not your cup of tea.

  12. Now RQ2, that is a game that needs and deserves a faithful clone.

    @Harvicus - if you're not already a member there, you should check out the RQ2 Gringle's Pawnshop forum where the first steps are already being taken to produce that clone:

  13. Thanks David, that is most excellent news!