Tuesday, July 13, 2010
From The Desktop: My Final Stance on the OSR Debate
As many might well remember, this whole recent debate started with me distancing myself in a public statement from the OSR Movement, here.
No less than 30 minutes later, James Raggi posted this here.
The interrelated issue was this. It is an honor issue with some of us TSR alumni, meaning, we stand by defending to the core our traditions which we are steeped in from being swept away, or minimalized, or compared to others with such broad categorizations. Jim Raggi's reactions are here and here to Tim Kask's rebuttal and my supporting views.
For the record, here are my final thoughts on what I believe I have experienced about the OSR, its publications and its present and future. And I say this not as the very first publisher to have released a product in 2006 to start this whole ball rolling, but as one who just continued rolling the ball that had been started so long ago, and in that matter, once again with the help of myself in 1973/74. That is to say, that my observations are based on inforned inquiry that no other can equal by comparison as the inquiry starts at two milestone points and has contined to this very moment.
I am not part of the OSR, I never was and will never be. For that natter, when OSRIC was first to be released the fellows in charge of that came to me and wanted me to participate with that. I cordially delcined. The whole issue of OSRIC's potential and merits were discussed in many threads on Dragonsfoot; some saw it as a good thing, others saw it as not needed. I was among those who saw it as not needed. And do note, if there was anyone best positioned to produce a D&D clone then it was myself. But further note: I have not done so to date. Many asked why, and even more wanted me to do so, but I wouldn't. I have explained my reasons to Allan Grohe and to others, and they are not as simple as "Well, we have the books already," as many might assume. But here are the reasons as I know them and as they have grown and come better into focus through watching the "Clone Wars" (joke intended) rise over a short space of 4 years.
Very simply the reasons are: I did not want to relive the past and I do not want to relive the past now. I am a professional game designer. I want to design new things; and I have gone on record more than once in stating that here and elsewhere. This has perhaps to do with my exposure to so many games and designs in my life, including RPGs. Within that context I want these designs to reach out as examples for all as to what they can aspire to, just as Empire of the Petal Throne or D&D did through their publication. This is my aspiration and no other. I feel that if one strives for the best that the money will come, so one need not worry about that. Setting such examples also raises the bar of the industry and brings in new players and in the case of RPGs, new DMs as well. Bringing them in, again, and as I've stated so many times here and elsewhere, does not mean keeping them engrossed and participating--only good product and a sustained comittment to grow those who enter into to the hobby accomplishes that.
I do not feel that the OSR overall and as a group of companies is striving for that in whole. And here is my main reason for that: There are too many clones of the rules. IMO as a designer on one hand, as a publisher on the other, and as a player on yet another, there are puzzles, consequences and obstacles galore with this now real development. I could make a long list of the salient ones, but I am not here to lambast or to consult, but here's a big one out of the bunch from my "designer's" side: all of the time spent with designing these iterations could have instead been given to producing a really rock-hard innovative product that captured the attention of the industry at large (like D&D and EPT did) or even could have earned a CRA at Origins, perhaps; it might have produced such a resulting wave of exposure to have grown the industry in a proportion it had never seen to date. Instead, time and effort was given over to various iterations which are fine as is, but really accomplish the same thing while directing attetion over and over again to a circluar motion. This is a great disappointment to me, but when I thought about it, not unforseen. Some of us got the idea, but unfortunately most did not. Up and coming designers were empowered to create afresh, but instead imitated time and again. This is fine if that is what you want to do, but even D&D finally had its weaknesses and they began to show when compared to many other product lines (such as Chaosium's). Its strength was in the overall bones of the matter, but its life is, and has always been, what you add to those bones. And independant companies and designers cannot nurture that strength to life without products which innovate and at the same time set examples for new waves of people to come who will be in part our indsutry's future game designers.
IMO, most everyone is playing it safe. Was D&D safe when first projected as a product idea? Heavans no. It was out there. People lambasted it, marginalized it and said it would never for too long occupy a serious gamer's shelf. We heard it all. Reduplicating it ad infinitum is a fine send up, but what really is telling is how much innovative flesh is added to it and through that how much punch such products deliver in a market now becoming saturated with sameness. IOW, is this a short term "Can I do the same"? proposition or a long term, "I see what I have to do"? Unfortunately, my gut feeeling says the former, though time will tell.
As for the rest, it has taken its course. It is not about US and THEM, it is as I said at JtL's Blog: it is about the ideology of "I". As for being (in or part or with or through) the OSR by default, I reject that for creative and philosophical reasons.
(inserted transcript edited at request of original poster)
As a further step to point to the ridiculousness of this postulate, I recently phoned an old group of gamers I have been geographically removed from for years. They still play AD&D with some house rules like many do. After chit-chatting about old times, I got down to the crux of the matter: In his estimation, I asked my friend, over the years how many players were still playing and how many had they brought into their games (and board games as well, as they are gamers, not just RPGers). The groups varied from 4-7 over the years with 5 being a good average. They estimated that in their years of play (and this is an isolated area of Wisconsin) that they had had as many as ten new players exposed to the game and out of those 2 still represented new full time players and some inactive and/or part time, possible players. I asked him (I will call him B.) if they had ever heard of the OSR? My friend said exactly this: "What?" I explained; and he admitted that they had been doing just fine without it, but wished it luck.
And that's what I'm doing...