Saturday, January 2, 2010

Reverse Engineering D&D's Original Vision. -- Editorial

One might say today what with the numerous ways that one can play the D&D game that its base understanding and thus vision derived from 1972-1976 has been flattened to an all inclusive view of "that's what it is for us now."

Let's Track This Beasty--

1)  RPG is invented!  There are no books.  No modules.  Everything has to be created.  TSR Rules sells up to 10,000 copies of D&D and there are no adventures then, only what people (DMs) are creating--megadungeons, etc.

2)  Geomorphs are envisioned. Booklets of Monsters and Treasures. (Still keeping with the support approach to the original vision of self-created material, but with some published boosters to aid with that). A book of monsters is conceived! (Ever wonder why the Monster Manual preceded the PHB and DMG?)  Examine the mindset here.  It is rapidly shifting with a sudden realization curve taking effect, sometime after the release of "Palace of the Vampire Queen."  Judges Guild starts its rumblings, following suit.  More realization.  The sounds of cash registers ringing?  The hearty throngs coming to the voided well of creativity and moaning?  Their silent appeal being met?

3)  And then there were ALL. Diversity is good...  Now there are pre-made adventures, flying off the presses like pancakes.  Role Aids breeches the scene.  More for everyone...  Tourney adventures... AD&D and the RPGA.  And the band played on... (just a little out of step and out of tune)

4)  The visionaries leave the band...  TSR's marketing kicks in, doubling output.  Here, you editors, you write this.  We'll slap a fun picture on it and market it to death.  Random House will never know the truth....

5)  TSR markets itself into 30,000,000 dollars of debt while on its "publishing this and that merry-go-round".  WotC buys the band's songs and promises to re-release the album!

6)  WotC reinvents the wheel.  The songs are remixed and the band members are not invited to help, for how could they?  They are from the OLD 8-track and cassette age and this is the NEW CD/DVD mindset leading the way into the cash-cow future.  Very similar to the later TSR mindset, but with more bucks.

7) We'll do d20!  Dancey is blessed for the OGL.  Not to be outdone by Dancey's nefarious wizardry of D&D cause and effect, WOTC makes the new D&D an overnight success and before the BOOM goes BUST!!! sells to HASBRO.  In between, the too many uncreative types, now lead down the path of uncreativity by hundreds of releases perfectly sculpted for their perfect game, are inundated with thousands of dollars of choices and less to do with them!  Buy.  Dispose,  Buy.  Dispose.

8)  4th Edition.  Old School attrition.   Does the band play on?  One shall see.  Looks like a lot of adventures to me.... hmm.

9) Now that the original vision has been reverse engineered, now that everyone knows what "IT" was all about, let us tune in for the next event, such as, how to reverse engineer what was going on before it all went bust, and furthermore, how can this all make sense to the people who are still drawing maps and designing their "stuff" from the old days?  And what about those who actually itch to pick up a pen or pencil, and god forbid, draw or create something! Well, they are wearing head-sets now, so not all is lost...


Chris Creel said...

To say the least, this is a great summery of the current state of our hobby and I thank you for it.

Aaron E. Steele said...

Perhaps a bit too simplified.

I am looking forward to seeing where the D&D community goes from here.

Will the retro-gaming community continue to gain traction, and adherants?

Rob Kuntz said...

TSR's ultimate failure was to put "gain" or quantity before quality. WotC's too. Gaining adherents does not always equate to retaining them, as only a solid philosophical ground based upon good design principles will sustain any growth. Simple, good business ethics. Avoiding such models equals a short term investiture only, and with all of the horrors attendant to it as witnessed by TSR.
Smoke and mirrors are not only wielded by big companies, so I have noted in my many years of doing business.

I am looking forward to seeing what the D&D community (especially the self-named "Old School 'Movement'") does not do. So far there are some disturbing similarities to the d20 movement.

irbyz said...

> Perhaps a bit too simplified.

Mhmm... a lot to squeeze into one post, thanks, but not an APA or fanzine in sight and those /were/ important - more so than PotVQ, say, for all it's "first" status - in spreading the message and general networking, especially before the marketing machine got into top gear. :)

JB said... much school for thought and blogging!
: )

irbyz said...

> I am looking forward to seeing what the D&D community (especially the self-named "Old School 'Movement'") does not do. So far there are some disturbing similarities to the d20 movement.

The old adage of history repeating itself even if one is wary of that: agreed, certainly worth keeping tabs on.

Agreed, too, with "Gaining adherents does not always equate to retaining them", of course: WotC did a pretty good job of tending the ground for the MMORPG explosion yet did pitifully little to keep a foot in both camps despite ~30 years of advance warning (and then when they belatedly did so, ended up managing to alienate many traditionalists).

Rob Kuntz said...

Unfortunately it is too easy to follow in the path of mediocrity than it is to create something unique and original. Take a look at TIMESHADOW'S blog where she has not only created her own world, but is sculpting and play-testing the rules for it. She would have fit right in with the designers and players in Lake Geneva. This type of activity, such as Gene Palmer's blog, and others, are now the examples of what the magazines and conventions used to be to us back in the day, meeting places to share ideas and creative input, to play what we had created and to get input. It allows us to share NOT ONLY a commonality of interests, but should, as it did in the past, spur us to creative heights by such interaction. Too often do I instead see a lowest common denominator coming forth as a point in time, transfixing games and game design in some glue of immobility, with righteous rebuttals against criticism already written and waiting in the wings to fend off critique. Be it known that back in the day, in the likes of Europa, Panzerfaust, International Wargamer, the General, and other fan or semi-pro magazines, that the editorials were often scathing as were the reviews. This was the territory designers had to live in; the conventions and visits to other gaming groups were the chances to prove your stuff, then and there, and the critiques were often useful as well as enlightening, but never padded with niceties like in our politically correct and "don't hurt one's feelings" society of today. TIMESHADOWS has it down pat. Take it all and objectively look at the results and from there make decisions of what to cut or buff up. If only more designers, or would-be designers even, would take that route and bear the brunt of review (something sorely lacking in our industry and which I hope to improve in my own way, more on that later) with and open mind, then we would be a better community all around for it. Unfortunately, games and their supplements fly off the presses these days like hot dogs being served at a ball game. Beware the ones offering extra relish.... ;)

Tom said...

I really like this entry, I always wondered what the early game community thought about the changes to the game. I myself always thought. *Once the concept is out of the creators hands, It's no longer the SAME concept*. I found a great article from 1982 Thunderstruck where Mr. Gygax mentions that he was being approached by big companies with lots of money for his game company and I love his quote. "I love my job..I'm doing what I like to do, even though I work very hard at it. To me it's more satisfying than having a stack of money and doing nothing". He put creativity and love of what he was doing over profit, which not many can say they would do the same. I highly respect that comment. I'm really enjoying finding out more about D&D's past and the community which grew around it. You download and read the full PDF Article I mention at my BLOG.

irbyz said...

> If only more designers, or would-be designers even, would take that route and bear the brunt of review (something sorely lacking in our industry and which I hope to improve in my own way, more on that later) with and open mind, then we would be a better community all around for it.

For all the improved communications nowadays, there's probably less of a critical outlook than "BITD": it's all too easy to dodge that when the hobby is as fragmented as it is and there's a general flood of information hour-to-hour rather than month-to-month (awaiting grilling in the 'zines or sharing ideas there).

@Delve; yep, that's a pretty decent interview with Gary. Always good to know people are still actually trawling through rather than just shelving those 'zines. :)

Mr.Castle said...

"I am looking forward to seeing what the D&D community (especially the self-named "Old School 'Movement'") does not do. So far there are some disturbing similarities to the d20 movement."

Can you explain these two points a little more?

Rob Kuntz said...

The OGL allows everyone and their mother to create RPG material. This in itself is directly linked to the d20 comparison. Refering to my most recent post here... will see what I am driving at.

When WotC reinvented the wheel there was much to-do about it. It was if they had reassembled the Holy Grail. There are marked similarities with the OSM. Note that 'Movement' IMO may be interpreted also as a politically derived event and historically is in most cases.

Rediscovering the wheel as opposed to reinventing it: Overall I rejected the remaking of the wheel by WotC (but not the OGL) for the wheel had not been lost or broken; so too this rediscovery as the wheel in either case ha remained rolling.

Now, if we mean by movement, the promulgation of a gaming style, then which one is that? There seems to be a proliferation of adventures again (and in noting my corresponding post), I see this proliferation taking place in TSR's day when the original vision of the game had become less immersive and was well on its way to promoting
different realms of adherents who differed from the base that had supported the original vision. Not bad in itself, just that the production wheel grew and grew to support and promote this market within a market and thus disfranchised many of the creative types (designers as well as DMs).

"We"(and I do use the collective "WE" sparingly, as this "Movement" is not a consortium notwithstanding good cheer form whatever sector, but can be distinctly marked by profit and gain, thus distancing each part from a combined politik and into separate causes in each and every case)-- "We" are ONCE AGAIN at the crossroads of change. As it was with TSR which eventually mis-stepped, what are the responsbilities to the original vision? Promoting this or that retro-clone and then slapping down tons of adventures does not go back to the very root of the matter as then conceived and at first promoted. My concern is that this will promote the same market situation, the same lack of creativity that TSR later promoted and at the expense, once again, of the original vision of the open-ended game. This should be a major concern for all, in fact, if we are to learn from history in this case.

Couple that with no review or quality standards in our industry and the OGL, as EGG said (and I paraphrase) works against itself, just as it did with the d20 license.