Monday, January 4, 2010

Spin Cycle meets Spin Doctor

This is in part to a reaction to Cimmerian's question here.

The average person who now plays D&D does it from the perspective of when they were rooted in the time stream of that exchange.  If one started in the era of AD&D then they gravitate to that era.  If they did so in the latter or earlier times, then there is a greater proclivity for those eras to manifest in their overall expression, with expression here being a perceived standard of tools of information and participation within these.

While OD&D was for the most part in its entire time stream dependent upon no further source for playing it other than creating and "stocking" maps and/or similar scenarios, the advent of Basic+ and AD&D by contrast added the dimension of pre-made adventures.   This in fact split the D&D constituency then into easily recognizable camps--I list them as the "Creationists" (those who create their own material); the "Middlings," who create their own stuff and use some printed matter to complement their designs, and the "Dependents," those solely dependent upon pre-made (published) material to run (and in many cases, even fathom) their own games and/or game worlds.  As I have tracked over time, the dependents were the majority, and in that, they were those that moved on to support whole-heartedly newer forms of the game, such as 3E.  In as much as their camp later fractionalized into different percentages based upon this tri-concept of consumption and demand, it ranks even higher in its curve as its base was soundly rooted in the third category to begin with.  These consumers were easy adherents for a set-in-stone rules system and also for the d20 movement.  "Buy and dispose" syndrome as I name it.

Though the creation of new material has its merits and desires for and by those who 1) have no time in their schedules to create, or 2) are not very creative, and thus in both cases benefit in no small way from published material, this however creates a need-based way of publishing material and in turn promulgates a direct market> to> game style which dominates the other two categories for expression (for their individual information assimilation).  Thus we see (until the latter explosion of blogs and forums dedicated to such exchanges, such as DRAGONSFOOT, etc.) a lack in the printed area of theoretical-based game ideas, notwithstanding those articles in the Dragon magazine which were for the most part game-specific-driven and thus confined themselves to a structure as already realized and promoted on both sides.

Where is this leading?  Well, going ALL THE WAY back, we find correspondences to this in many games by Avalon Hill and others of the Historical Simulation age predating D&D.  But D&D actually broke that category.  Solidly broke it.  From it spawns tons of new ideas and RPGs (EN Garde by GDW is the most prevalent example of this, as it does not stay within the defined limits of RPG one-on-one combat but indeed sheds the preset emulation of a mechanical simulacrum present in both Avalon Hill  Games and in TSR RPGs by taking the role-playing concept to new and different exploratory levels).

Now, in as much as we are in a niche industry, TSR promulgated the industry in different forms and to different mind-sets of people.  Traditionally industries market to the greatest area of sales and with TSR that was no different.  People for the most part who come from that era and who are now in our niche were of course propagated from the 2nd sector of my tri-concept and thus represent most of whom support such companies as PPP and others in this reformed niche.  The ongoing indication is that people are solidly rooted from the AD&D era (making sense of course as this is the height of appeal as it was the height of TSR's growth and marketing world wide of the game).  That in itself foretells a lot of expression as is being seen in today's re-examining the history of the game.  There is a tendency to over value the things that individuals invest in, of course.  If I make a decision to buy a pen, for example, then of course it must have been to use it, and that in itself is worthy of the time and expression and of my continued attachment to the pen; and for the most part I will have nothing bad to say about said pen, for woe-is-me for having made a bad decision in purchasing and then using such an instrument.  Compare this to the dependent followers of many of WotC's games and you might get the gist of such psychology which is partially re-rooting in the "OS Movement".  And do note that this "syndrome" was not started by WotC, but of course by TSR as it marketed into the boom of adventure crafting.

This industry is in a self-perpetuating state, IMO.  Emulations of the past do not point to a single golden age but to separate rooted eras of individual expression only. D&D was and still is (NOTE) an ongoing and burgeoning concept which, unfortunately, and later, got rooted in marketing and expanding sales. It fast became an object of desire and of need, replacing self-made-enchantment and immersive participation on primary creative levels.

The quiet sadness of it all to me is just this:  It was meant to expand minds and not to contract them, or worse, to set them spinning in a circle.


JB said...

Man, I share your "quiet sadness" and for the same reasons. I hope my latest project is going to open minds more than close 'em.

Timeshadows said...

It is refreshing to read this from one member of the Source Personnel. In less eloquent ways (and clearly, 0 authority,) I had said the same, 'back in the day', much to the annoyance of those I gamed with.

Best to you,

Jeremy Murphy said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Rob Kuntz said...

Politeness is the key to posting here. As I am stating my theory and summarizing my views politely I expect the same in return. Name calling and trolling posts such as the preceding one will always be deleted. If one disagrees withe my views, at least have the respect to post such disagreements in a professional manner. Thanks. -- RJK

James said...

Your experience that the "dependents" were the majority, is what I find of interest. Back in the early 80's, way, way, down south in Alabama, my experience was entirely different. Every DM I knew or played with, including myself, all designed our own stuff, by and large. I may have been an extreme example, using a published module 1 time, during a five year long campaign. But, the practices of my friends and acquaintances were comparable. We tended to use modules when we were first learning, but after that, it was a rare thing. Regarding the people I knew and met, back in the 80's, I can't recall ever meeting a DM who did significantly otherwise.

Rob Kuntz said...

Thanks James.

Well, sales figures don't lie. TSR gutted the market with adventure releases in the millions and they weren't sitting on shelves. I do sometimes wonder at the breakdown of figures for those just collecting everything AND using these for farming information from. But can that represent more than at least 50%? Certainly folks were not eating these for breakfast. :)

In espying the past I also compare two future trends--that of the various 3E+ movements and the new OSM adventures. It is a model that has been in existence for years,of course, and one that I even contributed to now and then, so my criticalness is not so much aimed at the model itself, just what it became through abuse within the sales pattern exemplified by TSR.

Outside of the fact that there are those as yourself and myself who play these games and create them from scratch, there still exists a high demand for adventures. My only hope is that companies now in charge of these offerings, and thus the fate of their many DMs and their players in the long term arrangement, put forth their best effort and do not thereby duplicate the results which lead to the fractionalization of our industry to begin with.

I will be posting more on this from time to time; and I don't expect every one will enjoy, or agree with, what I have to say. My investment in this industry is from the beginning, so take that as the reason for my concern and no more.

James said...

I did see it during the 3e days, just not back in the 80's. Could partly just be prejudiced perception on my part. My own neck of the woods may have been a bit atypical as well. Collecting is certainly a factor. One of my favorite possessions is my World of Greyhawk boxed set. I love Greyhawk, but, I've never ran it. I was just a teenager when I bought it and instead of wanting to run it, I was inspired to create my own campaign world. But, I spent hours, reading and re-reading the material and studying those gorgeous maps.

I think the Old School publishing thing is coming from an entirely different place. Everyone is creating, sharing, and there's this great, cross-fertilization of ideas going on. I used some purchased OSR material in a game I ran for my family, the other day. Partly because I really like the way all the bloggers, self-publishers, etc., are putting out all this information, both for purchase and for free and I like taking part in the community aspects of the scene. One of the main purposes of my own blog, is to support and promote the OSR and what we're doing with it. Ah, that reminds me. My wife gave me the Original Bottle City for Christmas. Thanks for publishing that. Love the maps!

Rob Kuntz said...

Thanks James. If you liked Bottle City you'll love Castle El Raja Key for sure.

As to the rest, my main point is this: We owe it to the people we are bringing aboard this new wave, movement, or OSR, whatever folks want to call it, we owe it to sculpt them in the best possible manner. TSR started that with great product and vision. At a point the vision weakened. We now look back and historically root ourselves to separate points in that history and we call it this or that. One thing cannot be put aside, unmade or counterfeited: this is a game of imagination and has no creative limits. Where TSR failed was to start repeating the idea of fantasy as a dry cycle. Sure we find gems amongst the treasure, but for the most part it's green fields, castles, undead and the ever used topes of the past. TSR used to have a trade phrase: "Products For Your Imagination." The Greyhawk boxed set was one of those products as you've noted. How can fantasy expand if we are ever repeating the same cycle? Products at this point, in my hearty opinion, must be pushed to the limits of their design potentials lest we become rooted as unmovable trees in a self-proclaimed land of regurgitated fantasy. Yeah, it's pretty, Sure there's fun; but what boundaries are being pushed if we merely emulate the past? Ooh, like D1-3, OOh! Sure they were good. But what now? Did Vance and Howard and Leiber only emulate the past? Did they merely regurgitate stories of Atlantis and Brass and others that preceded them, or did they push the envelope? And in so doing they did not become fixed like so many would like to believe they did. They would have rejected the idea of fixity in story lines and were always pushing the limits of their writing, pushing beyond what had been done. True fantasists do not embrace a fixed point in time, but embrace matter that has gone back to the Odyssey and has come forward in many different ways and means. It has not ended, for if it does, the wheel will stop spinning and the cycle will finish. This is a great opportunity for the new and creative folk to step forward and raise the bar of design and push the envelope of fantasy, not merely to repeat a lone cycle from its history.

My two cents worth.

Tom said...

I thinks what's happening with the whole *Old School Revival* is that due to the internet, these materials are becomings accessable to those who barely knew anything about it. Which led to the exchange of PDF's or just being able to purchase it. The clones make it a lot cheaper to purchase than buying a vintage white box set that sell for $300 or more at times and they are not always in the best of condition. I do believe that there will be some low quality work put out as there was also in the past, but they have to start from somewhere right?. Something good may come of it, time will tell. It's not like a lot of us are going to hold their breath and wait for Mattel to rerelease the early versions of the game anytime soon. So that leaves it in the hands of the fans at the moment. I myself am a big fan of Holmes Basic set and I am currently writing an expansion for other fans to use. It is an interesting time in fantasy rpg's in some manner. It's getting more people motivated and off their duffs to start writing and start using their immaginations. Which leads me to the last part of this entry. More people are going back to the start for inspiration and hunting down old pulp-sci-fi, fantasy books and discussing them. A new fan base is developing and combining with the old one. Which I think its pretty neat,to get fans of all ages sitting around the table together.

Rob Kuntz said...

Hey Delve. Whereas I agree with you on the point or cloning the game itself (especially as WotC pulled all the PDFs of OD&D and others from such sites like RPGNOW), that is not what I was speaking of.

> I do believe that there will be some low quality work put out as there was also in the past, but they have to start from somewhere right?

Hmm. This is my point,really. If the "chaff" as Cimmerian refers to it in his own post (referenced earlier) continues, won't we in fact be faced with a
similar circumstance that plagued (and brought low) many retail stores and distributors who vested in the same chaff (or low quality product) in the d20 movement? Our review system for the industry has not changed and is mostly fan driven, leaving retailers and purchasers little up-front information on products before purchasing same.

At the same time I see this "accepted mediocrity level" as a downer, for this is exactly what TSR and WotC did and which drove purchasers away over time. This does not address long term investment and sides with a failed and reduplicated pattern of the past which proves over and over again to bring in consumers only to lose them in the long run and in so doing earn the label of mediocrity if not worse while doing so.

To me the strength of D&D's vision as we created it then is worthy of much more.

Tom said...

Ok, I get where you are coming from now. So what you mean is in some manner due to there not being a how can I put this. Quality control in a way, the companies should have been more selective at what they published, than just producing material just for the sake of making money. If they felt something didn't qualify or live up to the companies standards then it shouldn't have been printed. From what I gather, the begnning of TSR was run by the game designers, writers and artists. The quote I read from Mr. Gygax was that it meant much more to the company at the time than to just make a game and sell out to the highest bidder. Once it got swamped by the corporate "money grab" mind set, the creative vision of the original designers and the direction the game was lost. Kinda like what happened to mainstream music in some manner. It's more about the sale than the quality. But unfortunately it;s due to the change in business ethics.

Since you knew Mr.Gygax did he ever mention what direction he wanted the game to take? Or was he contempt with the game as being complete?. From what I read AD&D was created to have a more structured set of rules for conventions and gatherings because the OD&D was very open that most people weren't playing the same rules. Or was that just due to people's interpretations to the rules? I know that's off topic but it's not everyday I've had the opportunity to ask questions to one of the original game designers.

Rob Kuntz said...

Hey Delve.

The move to get everyone on the same page rules-wise was pushed mostly by a need to protect IP and the game itself as TSR then perceived it. Notwithstanding the fact that the mechanics could not be protected from duplication or use (T&T and Mayfair proved that, as did others). But TSR wanted to stop a future perceived erosion of their market by solidly placing a here-and-now rule of rules on the market, and which had variable results. The RPGA was an arm of that philosophy, as was GENCON and The Dragon Magazine. Thus the move to codify the main parts of the rules through AD&D was mostly market-driven, though there were some good rules added to the game along the way, of course.

The move from a designer-run company to corporate entity was inevitable given TSR's fantastic growth period that propelled it to a multi-million dollar company in 3-4 years. As much as Gary resisted some of the directives, after a while he found himself powerless to do much (c.f., the DRAGONLANCE marketing episode which put Greyhawk on the skids, etc) except for some distinct occasions which occurred later, but at that point it was too late for the company.

Cimmerian said...

This discussion you've begun Rob is well timed. Browsing through the blogdom last night in search of answers & looking for a feel of what to expect this year, it appears that more than a few in the community have set a quantity of release goals for the year. In other words instead of having a number of planned projects come to completion it seems that "7" is the goal irregardless of content! If these goals are close to being achieved there will be no shortage of material in the market. This coincides greatly with one of your last comments about fan based reviews.

"Our review system for the industry has not changed and is mostly fan driven, leaving retailers and purchasers little up-front information on products before purchasing same. " - Rob

Being a low-brow'd ape I read right past that & apparently needed to walk around on that one for a bit to realize how true & relevant that statement is. I am not of the "inner circle of the OSM*," so I find myself peering in and reading between the lines in the comments of new release posts on the various web sites. Like an investigator, I go about discerning any hidden messages I can surmise from the 'glad-reviews.' Sure, there are some authors I trust. There are more I would like to trust.

The community does need a critical reviewer(s).

*Old School Movement