Saturday, August 28, 2010

Diesel's TSR Collection at ArmadilloCon

If you're in the Austin area and a fan of old school D&D, run, do not walk, to ArmadilloCon at the Renaissance Hotel this Sunday morning or early afternoon. Diesel has his collection of art from his TSR days on display in the art show.

When he told me he was bringing this at GenCon, I thought it was just going to be some of the stuff he did, which would be cool enough. But he's got stuff from a wide range of artists, including Elmore, Otus, and others. He's even got the beholder piece that would become the cover to Greyhawk book of the original brown books (apparently rescued from the trash!). It's an amazing and very cool collection, some it of never released commercially.

The art show is only open from 10 AM to Noon on Sunday, so be sure to get there in those hours to see it. It's a really cool slice of the hobby's history.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Proving Grounds of a Million Mad Overlords

A bit over a year ago (Friday, July 17, to be exact) I complained about the lack of outreach to potentially new gamers. Apparently, I should also start complaining about not having a million bucks because oh what a difference a year makes. Old conventional wisdom: box sets are impractical and led TSR to financial ruin. New conventional wisdom: box sets are teh awesome! It's like everybody and their grandmother has a box set coming out now. Troll Lord Games has something like a dozen of the things now, including rules, campaign settings, and adventure construction sets. The two biggies right now are, of course, the D&D Essentials starter set and Lamentations of the Flame Princess Weird Fantasy Roleplaying. Both of these are ostensibly aimed at new players. This is undercut somewhat in Flame Princess by the cost of the box and the game-store and online-order focus of Raggi’s distribution model, which seems more aimed at existing gamers, and the nostalgia-based design of Essentials. In spite of these issues, both boxes have contents clearly designed to get the neophyte up to speed. They both have a choose-your-own-adventure style introductory adventure (Flame Princess actually has two), they both sport simplified rules, and they both include an additional DM-run adventure as an example of how these games can be played.

Of course, I'm going to give the advantage to the OSR. Granted, it's a very slim advantage; the Essentials box is inexpensive, designed to grab the attention of lapsed gamers more likely to introduce the game to their children, and it'll show up in places where non- and lapsed gamers are likely to stumble across it. It's an exceptional piece of marketing, and is likely to sell 100 times more units than Flame Princess. And I, for one, hope this is a pessimistic prediction.

Still, I think the OSR has an inherent advantage in the simplicity and flexibility of its games. For instance, check out this character sheet that Robert gave out at the Old School game he ran at GenCon. In spite of the fact that over half the table didn't play these games regularly, we had no problem generating characters, even though there wasn't a single rulebook at the table. That's right, we did it all based on the character sheet and these other handouts. Now it is true, all of us were familiar with gaming. We were, after all, all attendees at GenCon. Still, making characters was a snap.

You can see this in Flame Princess as well. The last two pages of the rules book is an annotated copy of the character sheet, making it easy to understand what goes where and what rules apply to which parts. Even better, like with Roger’s character sheets, everything you really need is right there on it: skill rolls, to-hit numbers, even a quick and elegant way to figure encumbrance. If nothing else, the OSR is all about quick and easy.

It's going to be interesting to see where these developments take us. The starter set is, to the best of my knowledge, the only box set in WotC's Essentials line. Raggi still isn't sure if the next printing of his weird fantasy role-playing game is going to be in a box (which he prefers) or in strictly book form. 2011 should prove to be another very interesting year for RPGs in general, and the OSR in particular. And that's not even considering what Frog God Games might get up to.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Oddysey and Trollsmyth try that Newfangled Podcasting Thing

At GenCon, Oddysey and I decided to podcast our thoughts about some of the stuff we saw.  Attempts to do this at the con fell flat, but we managed to do it via Skype a few days after returning to our respective homes.  We talk about the Paizo and WotC booths, Pathfinder and D&D Essentials, shopping, catgirls, and other fascinating topics.  The full podcast is just over a half-hour long.

In something like the order they came up in, here are some links to things we mentioned:
Roger’s awesome character sheets at Roles, Rules, and Rolls (Not “Rolls, Rules, and Rulings.”  Sorry, Roger.)

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Everything New is Old Again

Have you seen the box for D&D's new starter set? Check it out:

Oops! That's from the old Mentzer set. How could I have mixed those two up? Here's the box for the new 4E Essentials Starter Set:

I got to see this at GenCon, inside a large display showcasing Elmore's art. As we were looking at it, a guy came up behind me and said, "Now that's what D&D is supposed to look like!"

The similarities are glaringly obvious. It's not just the same Elmore art, and the exact same shade of red, and the exact same dimensions. It's also the exact same font and ampersand for the name. This box doesn't just harkin back to the Mentzer box; it is almost exactly identical, with only a little change in the text and the company logo at the bottom.

I think Oddyssey nailed it when she suggested that the target audience for this box is clearly lapsed gamers. Middle-aged parents are going to see this and it will evoke immediate memories of all-night summer marathon sessions and biking over to a friend's house to spend a rainy Saturday slaying orcs and exploring ruined temples. The similarities are more than skin deep. Check out these details. Rumor says that the pre-gen characters have Elmore art. And I don't think I've seen die-cut counters in an RPG box since Star Frontiers!

But the pièce de résistance is the suggested retail price: $19.99. Well within impulse-buy range. This is easily something Mom or Dad might buy for somebody's birthday. Heck, this is something Mom or Dad might buy for the child of some other parents birthday.

Quite frankly, this is the most exciting and imaginative thing I have seen out of Wizard's marketing since the OGL. It's a certain thing this box will be showing up in Borders and Barnes & Noble bookstores across the country. If they can take this to the next level by selling it in Wal-Mart stores, who knows how far this could go? Wizards has a really good chance to hit this one completely out of the ballpark. This could completely change the game.

A rising tide lifts all boats; bringing in lapsed gamers can only be good for the OSR. Some of the folks who buy this set and bring it home are going to be disappointed that Mentzer's rules are not inside. There's already been much discussion on the differences between the most basic aspects of 4e and older versions of D&D; no need to hash that all out again. Folks who don't like what they see in this box may go looking for "the real thing." That means now is not the time for the OSR to rest on its laurels. I don't think we'll get most of the people who buy this box, but I also don't think it's unreasonable to expect a new influx of interested and excited ex-gamers looking for a little bit of the fun of those glorious days of yesteryear. It's going to be up to us to make certain that they can find Labyrinth Lord and Swords & Wizardry and all the rest. Keep an eye out for questions popping up on message boards. Be sure to provide links on your blogs. And we really need to do something to make sure the OSR has a serious presence at GenCon next year.

Between this and the other boxed sets we've seen so far I think we can clearly declare 2010 to be the Year of the Boxed Set. Now is not the time to squander the gifts that have been laid before us.