Friday, May 09, 2008

Jamie Mal is making sense again

Okay, as far as I know no one ever refers to James Maliszewski as "Jamie Mal". Sometimes I just feel the need to come up with stupid nicknames for people. I don't mean nothing by it. Anyway, here's a quote from over at his blog:

Honestly, I don't need yet another product that apes TSR's trade dress from 1980 or that use badly executed, amateurish black and white line art. And the "blueprint" style dungeon maps? You can keep those in the vault. As I noted elsewhere, I think the one area where modern games and game companies have it over their illustrious predecessors is in the field of graphic design and presentation. Most old school products simply look awful, even if their content has yet to be surpassed.

A marriage between old school content and new school presentation would make me very happy indeed and would go far to get old school products out of the nostalgia ghetto. Because let's face it: that's where most old school products exist. They're specifically geared to appeal to aging gamers who want to remember the good times of their youths. Now, there's nothing wrong with that. Indeed, I think nostalgia is a good and powerful feeling that, properly harnessed, will help the hobby immensely. But making products in 2008 with the production values of 1978 isn't what I'd call properly harnessing nostalgia. What it does is make old school products even easier to dismiss as irrelevant than it already is. Old school games face an uphill battle in gaining the hearts and minds of younger gamers as it is; why make it even harder by producing games and supplements that look terrible? The technology now exists for even hobbyists to make slick, well presented products without having to spend a fortune. Why not avail ourselves of that technology? Old school content kicks ass in so many ways.
Now, personally, I love all the nice folks who use old TSR trade dress on their products. It's a clear-cut sign that I'm in the target audience. To be honest, I probably would have never given Goodman Games and their Dungeon Crawl Classics line a shot without the old module cover design. Out of all the publishers slinging D20 hash, I was able to zero in on them because they took the time to send up a big ol' signal flare with covers that instantly invoked the heady days of the eighties.

But I believe this constant looking back is ultimately bad for the hobby. Ideally, we should be keeping on eye on where we've been and one eye on where we're going. Okay, maybe actually doing that would hurt, but I think you know what I mean. To put it another way, a few years back I didn't track down copies of the OD&D books because I wanted to join the Grumbling Greybeard Legion Who Likes The Way Things Used To Be. I signed on to this crazy retro movement* because there's lots of fun to be had with playstyles no longer fully supported by a lot of the mainstream publishers in the game industry.

Have you seen the Judges Guild modules released by Goodman Games? I bought several of them recently, because I didn't have the originals and, unlike some folks, I'm not afraid of 3.x stat blocks. I pretty much loathe 3.x statblocks, but I'm not prepared to turn my nose up at a good bit of fun just because a book is loaded down by 'em. Anyway, check out this cover:


I'm hardpressed to think of a cover design that so easily tells the story of adventuring in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. The cover literally depicts hexes full of adventure! That, my friends, is frickin' genius. More importantly, it's new and exciting and not just another ripoff of the cover of The Keep on the Borderlands. That's where we need to be going folks, blazing new trails of old school awesomeness. This trade dress thing so many of us do is symptomatic of stodginess.

But again, using the old trade dress makes it easy for me to find the stuff I want. If everyone starts doing their own cover design instead of relying on TSR's schemes, how will I find stuff I want among all the 4e third party stuff? Do we need a community logo, like the d20 logo was a signal to the 3.x crowd? I hate to even suggest a wizard with a pointy hat and a wand or a lizard man holding a halberd. What about a dragon in a dungeon? 3d6 showing a fairly average result?

I don't think Kenzer or Goodman or Troll Lords are going to be in a huge rush to adopt some new thing-a-ma-bob to clutter up their covers, but they aren't the publishers I need help with. It's the one-man shops run by amateurs and semi-pros.





*Note: I don't really think we have a 'movement'. That's way too grandiose a term for a bunch of people pretending to beat up orcs.

41 comments:

  1. Wow. That cover almost made me weep with nostalgia. That's awesome! :)

    Yep. Count me in the demographics too.

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  2. Joseph Goodman revealed the covers to the 4e DCCs on Ogrecave.
    http://www.ogrecave.com/news/goodman_dcc4e_preview.shtml

    Looks very different...

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  3. I will tell the Geilmans and Chris Solis about your compliment. They will appreciate it as the three of them came up with the design.

    While I was writing the new Badabaskor I was shown a couple of cover ideas by the three and I said we got to go with the Hex Cover. It is distinctive we can put good art inside the covers and doesn't ape any of the old stuff.

    Joesph Goodman had to be sold on the idea and we were able to win him over to the idea. I believe the alternatives were a full cover illustrations and another with a single huge hex in the middle.

    Rob Conley
    Author of the new Badabaskor.

    P.S. Again sorry about the huge 3.5 stat block but that the only way the product could be published. I did however set them all off in distinctive gray boxes so that they are easily ripped out.

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  4. Settembrini5:11 PM

    As af "frequent flyer" in that module, I can assure you of the stat-block usefulness. It´s as smooth as it gets!

    BTW, once you need a symbol to show a product is made for regular dungeoneering, the hobby is in trouble.

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  5. BTW, once you need a symbol to show a product is made for regular dungeoneering, the hobby is in trouble.

    I'm not quite freaking out yet. I could've used a symbol like that during the 2nd edition era too.

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  6. Biff The Younger1:09 PM

    You know, not entirely sure I agree. One advantage to the old style art is that it encouraged a kind of "anybody can do it" mentality. That is, you don't have to be a artistic genius, or really even competent, just get together, create something you like and have fun and that's all you need.

    One hurdle a bunch of people have with roleplaying is the idea that its a huge amount of work and requires special skills (which it can, certainly, but some of the most fun I have had with the game is those stupid first adventures we had) which means either that one must be an expert or really on buying modules and such from experts. The old style art showed me that D&D was just a bunch of guys getting together to have some not so serious fun.

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  7. And now "Jamie Mal" is looking at taking the next, obvious step:

    http://grognardia.blogspot.com/2008/05/seeking-advice.html

    - Brian

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  8. FWIW, I was called "Mal" in high school by my friends, but no one has ever called me "Jamie" until now.

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  9. Well, that "Anyone Could Draw This Stuff" thing is what keeps me drawing this stuff.

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  10. Could you expound a bit on the last paragraph? What sorta help do you need with self-publishers and the like. Are you being sarcastic here, or serious?

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  11. Vincennzo, I'm totally being serious. The whole point of the d20 logo was to signal to people that hey, this book is made for D&D freaks. Similarly, in an eariler day and age "compatible with any fantasy role playing-game" meant that hey, this book was made for D&D freaks. I want some easy way to pick out the new Old School stuff beyond ripping off old TSR module covers. Something like an icon of a head of a pig-orc on a pike tucked away in one corner of the cover.

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  12. Sorry, I have to totally disagree here. If there's one huge thing that turns me off as a DM it's those damn run-through-photoshop-filter books for current games bearing the D&D name. Can't stand it. For god's sake, as the DM I'm the only one who's going to look at the maps. ME! Not the players. I'm going to game with it, write on it, draw on it, modify it - super slick glossy paper and sepia-toned multi-color maps get in the way. The aesthetics of any given map beyond showing me which direction is north, room numbers and where the secret doors are is wholly superfluous. It isn't just about you darn kids with your hair and your clothes, although I know James would like to tar us all with that brush. There's a practicality to the way modules used to be laid out, and I don't need all the misguided "artistry" to a book to get in my way while I'm trying to run the game. Thanks, but no thanks.

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  13. I think it is possible to be modern yet still be old school. For example look at the maps in these

    http://www.goodmangames.com/downloads/Preview-Badabaskor.pdf

    http://www.ibiblio.org/mscorbit/beta/Campaign%20Map%201.jpg

    http://www.ibiblio.org/mscorbit/beta/woevillagelg.jpg

    http://www.ibiblio.org/mscorbit/beta/woe_area.jpg

    http://www.ibiblio.org/mscorbit/beta/Campaign_Map_Ghinor.jpg

    I don't think what is being talked here is making a WoTC/Paizo style book. But using today's technology and techinque to make something that is modern, old school, useful, and fun.

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  15. I agree with this, mostly because I really think that "old school" in adventure design is more about attitude than it is about rules sets, art styles, or map designs.

    Over the last few decades the hobby really has become dominated by a certain style of play. Sometime just before 2nd edition AD&D appeared on the market folks began turning their noses up at any adventures that didn't come with a manufactured plot and a way for characters to "win" at the adventure. Even the old school Dungeon Crawl Classics adventures from Goodman that I've been exposed to seem to feel the need for this.

    Contrast this with the adventures that I continue to hold up as the exemplars of old school D&D "modules" - The Keep on the Borderlands, The Lost City, Against the Giants, The Isle of Dread, The Vault of the Drow, and even to a degree Temple of Elemental Evil (or at least The Village of Hommlet portion). Those adventures didn't actually program much in the way of a plot for the characters to walk through - the players generally build the plot themselves while sitting at the table. The "modules" are really just that - plug-in sites that are readily available to insert into just about any campaign with a minimum of tweaking. It's really up to the DM and the players to wrap a plot around the setting that shows up in those adventures.

    And that's what I'd like to see - it's not so much about the "dungeon crawling" as it is the design attitude. What's wrong with just giving me a place, populated with creatures and sprinkled with a few adventure hooks and rumors? THAT'S what I want to buy, and THAT'S what I think of when I think "old school".

    If some company wanted to put out adventures like that with a modern trade dress, not only would I be all over them but I suspect that a lot of younger gamers who got their start long after I did would also be all over them - but not if you dress them up like 70s modules in a way that implicitly tells the younger guys that they're not wanted (which is what I think the older art and trade dress tends to do personally - mark out an "exclusive club" for grognards, YMMV).

    I think those younger gamers tend to shy away from stuff like this because for decades everyone has talked about how awful the old "dungeon crawling" days were when adventures didn't have a plot and were designed so that you "just moved from room to room killing things and taking their stuff". But a modern version of this - done with modern writing sensibilities and art? I think it would appeal to a lot of DMs, even those who never played "The Keep on the Borderlands".

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  16. Having been an author of an update and helped with the cartography and layout of two others (Badabaskor, Dark Tower, Citadel of Fire).

    The oldest modules are often too terse. However you can get too wordy as well which is one of the reasons for the dislike of newer modules.

    For example

    A Badabaskor/Citadel style entry

    2018 The Water Hole
    2d6 hippogriffs (20%)

    What I did in a update

    2018 The Water Hole
    This a major watering hole for the eastern part of the Forsaken Desert. This area is noted for its numerous hippogriff. There is a 20% chance of encountering 2d6 hippogriffs drinking on any given day. These hippogriffs are descendents of the herd maintained by the Hippogriff Riders of the Bright Empire.

    Much of this comes from working on the Wilderlands of High Fantasy. The consensus what that the most evocative and useful entries were the one or two sentence relics and islands. That the lairs and citadel were too terse. While the village stats gave you some information it could also use the same treatments as relics and islands.

    Modules that did this already like Dark Tower had very little done to it other than a stat update and a better layout because it already

    The bottom level of Badabaskor was also largely untouched because the original level also used paragraph entries.

    We seen all kinds of examples of how adventures can be written. I think as a community we have a good idea of what works for what purpose. For old school by keeping to a paragraph style you make a more useful and fun product than the oldest modules without getting into all the verbiage of the latest edition.

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  17. but not if you dress them up like 70s modules in a way that implicitly tells the younger guys that they're not wanted (which is what I think the older art and trade dress tends to do personally - mark out an "exclusive club" for grognards, YMMV).

    I agree -- and I'm a huge fan of the old school stuff. But, in 2008, the old graphic design and presentation is just not going to cut it. It's not attractive except to the nostalgia market and I have no interest in producing nostalgia products. Nothing I write will ever compare to 30+ year-old memories of playing The Steading of the Hill Giant Chief, but I do think that I could produce a module with a similar style and approach but whose physical appearance puts G1 to shame. That's not an indictment of the genuinely old school stuff, but it's an acknowledgment that "neo-old school" stuff needs to do better than just ape the past and should instead take the best of the past and marry it to the best of the present.

    Can it be done? I have no idea. Ought it to be done? Absolutely. I think the hobby needs an injection of old school know-how right about now and I want to ensure that know-how gets a fair shake from today's gamers. That means having tom adapt, at least a little bit, to the areas where modern games really have improved over the past.

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  18. Non-TSR products emulating the TSR-look is not old school. In the old days, JG and others charted their own course. This new JG product is following the path of the old JG products.

    And seriously, which gives you more of a “I could do it myself” feel? The old JG stuff or the old TSR stuff? (^_^)

    Oh, sure, I enjoy the homages, but it does get old after a while.

    But that doesn't mean I think new products should emulate the mistakes of many modern products. Go look at the covers of the JG stuff, the old ICE stuff, etc., etc. You’ll find plenty of good “old school” inspiration beyond the old TSR stuff. (I think some of the old ICE books are still the best looking and most effective RPG covers I’ve ever seen.)

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  19. Biff the Younger10:43 AM

    I'm not saying there is no room for art in RPG. I don't think there is anything wrong with turning RPGing to high art if that is what your into. What I am saying is that, while that is all fine and good, I like the old stupid adventures. I like playing with an absolutely anacronistic barbarian named Fred. The old illustrations said, hey, no need to take things seriously, this is beer and pretzels, not Shakesphere. Throw something together and have fun. That is not to say that people shouldn't try to make the D&D equivalent to Shakesphere, if that's your thing, by all means, go at it. For me, I like the game, if the kids don't want to play, I'll play with a bunch of old farts like myself. Its a game to me, not a religion, I have zero need to evangelize.

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  20. For the challenge is how can I successfully market it so people will buy it. I am not interested in competing with or aping Wizard of the Coast.

    I like a lot of the old school stuff not only because I started with it because for campaign settings I think it is a effective way of presenting a lot of information. Hence I can make a product that offers good value. With good production values and the old format I can appeal to two segments of the market thus broadening my audience.

    This of course is different then doing stuff just for your group and/or friends.

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  21. Biff the Younger11:39 AM

    From a marketing perspective, I am almost certain you are right, eye candy sells, no doubt about it.

    My argument is more from an aesthetic point of view, the old crappy illustrations (though I would argue that some of them, while crude, did have a certain charm), emphasized the homemade aspect of the game, which I feel is in disrepute now (well, except among the readers of this and similar blogs).

    But, yes, good production values help sales, so yes, you should use them if that is your goal. My disagreement is with the idea that the old style illustrations serve no purpose and should be done away with and that they hurt the hobby as a whole.

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  22. I want some easy way to pick out the new Old School stuff beyond ripping off old TSR module covers. Something like an icon of a head of a pig-orc on a pike tucked away in one corner of the cover.

    Thanks for answering my question. Course, an icon of that sort isn't very useful unless everyone adopts it as a standard practice. I suppose that's why some companies have begun aping old-skool trade dress. It's basically the same thing.

    The comments after mine are pretty interesting. Way back, I was a big fan of what I guess we now call "Adventure Paths". It was my dream to someday write and get something like that published.

    But then, I realized that they're almost always horribly rail-roady, even if they aren't implicitly meant to be that way. It's as if there's this implied directive to complete every encounter as written in the product. Nothing is scarier than when the adventure "implodes" because the party insists on doing something the "plot" doesn't support.

    These days though, I'm swinging around to thinking that D&D should ditch the concept of plot entirely. It's too much trouble, and in my experience most groups don't convene frequently enough to support that style of play. The players literally can't remember enough of what's going on to maintain any sort of coherency outside of the immediate moment.

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  23. My argument is more from an aesthetic point of view, the old crappy illustrations (though I would argue that some of them, while crude, did have a certain charm), emphasized the homemade aspect of the game, which I feel is in disrepute now (well, except among the readers of this and similar blogs).

    I find this interesting, because the crappy illustrations have kind of been blanks for me, but really cool art (say, much of Shadowrun 1st edition) has made me say, "Awesome! I want to play that." and then go play games. That said, other than using rules I like, my games have always been exceedingly DIY, and I've literally never run a published adventure of any kind (because every one I ever read was actually insufficiently challenging for the folks I played with -- they're better at thinking of outs than the module writers seem to be).

    Oldschool art just looks old to me. I mean, the covers of my 1st edition AD&D core books are kind of charming, but the covers to Dragonlance and Oriental Adventures are actually enticing, and the Durwyn Talon art inside Adventure! is strict coolness.

    If I were in charge of publishing a new edition of AD&D, I'd use Tony DiTerlizzi, Ethen Beavers, Michael Avon Oeming, and a selection of the better Magic artists (say, Todd Lockwood, Rebecca Guay, Zoltan and Boros, and a few others).

    Note that somewhat more "modern" production values does not equate to eschewing wacky gaming, either. I mean, have you seen the cover of Gamma World, 3rd edition? I bought the game on the strength of that cover alone.

    ("Modern" in quotes, because GW3 is ooooold now.)

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  24. Can it be done? I have no idea.

    My entire run in the gaming industry (1991-2001) was 100% 80s-style design married to whatever graphic design the publisher in question could muster. So, it has been done in every thing I ever wrote for the industry (Among the Clans, Uresia, etc).

    My editors always knew that "building upward from the 80s" (and, by implication, avoiding the trends of the 90s) was my core design philosophy, and I was never shy about discussing it in public or in private ... but it wasn't exactly advertised on the books, and even if there _had_ been a symbol for it, I doubt the publishers would have been interested in including it on titles I wrote ...

    These days, I mostly build upward from that foundation, so by now I figure I'm writing in an alternate 2008 where the 90s never happened :)

    Anyway, I'm not the only designer who focuses on 1980s-rooted design principles; I'm just one of many.

    So yah, it can be done, is done regularly, has been done for years, will continue to be done.

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  25. I guess what I'm saying is ... I think in a roundabout way that Jeff has made a sound observation: that design philosophy is rarely apparent in the presentation unless those responsible for the presentation decide it will be ... whether that be by imitating TSR trade-dress, marking a book with a symbol, or something a little more "encoded" like hiring Erol Otus to do a piece.

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  26. The 'old school aesthetic' is an interesting construct. After looking over the covers of AA1-4 by Expeditious Retreat, a friend of mine recently remarked "The art is shit, isn't it?", and I knew exactly what he meant. It wasn't what he expected, primarily because he (like me) was first introduced to RPGs in the early nineties. My response was "It's purposefully like that", which necessitated further explanation.

    I was not impressed by the first cover for Labyrinth Lord and, although I like the second cover a lot, I prefer the artistic style of the 'alternative' cover. That said, another of my friends (again from my childhood gaming group) on seeing the first cover remarked "Wow! That is so old school." For what it's worth, he plays a lot of World of Warcraft.

    I don't think I need draw further attention to the subjectivity of art (though I have anyway), but I think that it goes to the heart of the matter. The 'old school aesthetic' or '70s TSR Dress' has been rightly identified as a construct intended to signify differentiation from mainstream/modern, 90s and, indeed, indie RPGs, capitalising on the nostalgia value it has for many gamers.

    Does this mean that all newly developed 'old school' products should be presented in this manner? I would suggest not, but nor would I write them off as 'TSR 70s Dress'. They are just one currently dominant expression of the 'old school' movement. For an alternative aesthetic we need look no further than Castles & Crusades.

    If and when we see more lines develop, I expect to see a greater degree of aesthetic diversity.

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  27. [...] capitalising on the nostalgia value it has for many gamers.

    It's also worth remembering that some of us that champion old-school gaming do not do so for nostalgic reasons. I'm personally anti-nostalgia on a level that can only be called vehement, but I'm an old-school designer, an old-school GM and an old-school player.

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  28. Quite so. I would not suggest that nostalgia need be a factor at all with regards to promoting the advantages of 'old school' play and I know that the nostalgia card has been played many times to explain away the preferences of gamers for 'old school' style play over 'new school'.

    To that extent, I can understand the rejection of nostalgia as a valid reaction to 'old school' products, but nostalgia is not something that should be rejected; it is something that should be understood and its desires met.

    The point, though, was that the 'old school aesthetic' is constructed as a visual evocation of 'old school' and as a mark of identity, not that it is underhandedly capitalising on nostalgia.

    To be clear, I have no great love for 'old school aesthetics', but I recognise their importance as a signifier. In my opinion, we should not seek to deplore, but build off such endeavours.

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  29. “Oldschool art just looks old to me. I mean, the covers of my 1st edition AD&D core books are kind of charming, but the covers to Dragonlance and Oriental Adventures are actually enticing, and the Durwyn Talon art inside Adventure! is strict coolness.”

    Your post seems to imply some objectivity to illustrations that just doesn’t exist. Heck, it isn’t even objective for a single person over time. When I was a kid, I hated Erol Otus’ work. Today, I love it.

    We can discuss layout, readability, usability, even composition; but when it comes to the illustrations themselves, the fact is that tastes differ. So, there’s little point in, e.g., me saying that I like Frazetta more than Elmore.

    Look at the things all the 1e covers got right, though. Full-bleed art without frames that detract from it. (Frames aren’t always bad—like the hex motif above—but full-bleed often works much better.) A very clear game logo. A very clear title. Many had cover art that depict what’s game is about. Many had lots of interesting details to inspire you once you picked it up.

    Those elements are just as modern today as they were then.

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  30. So, there’s little point in, e.g., me saying that I like Frazetta more than Elmore.

    It does inspire me to realize that I have no idea if I prefer Frazetta or Elmore :) I'm not sure if I can even fit the question into my head. It's like trying to decide if I prefer lasagna or rockabilly. :)

    Those elements are just as modern today as they were then.

    Yeah. Another set of things that gets conflated in these discussions is graphic design and production values. In many ways, the industry's access to (and even awareness of) the core skills of graphic design began to atrophy dangerously in the late 80s and early 90s with the rise of desktop publishing -- a wound that still hasn't half healed (and here I'm not talking about style, just basic craft skills which require human judgment and can't be wholly automated) ...

    Average production values have soared relative to the 80s, insofar as mid-range and even smaller publishers now regularly produce full-color glossy material (for the simple reason that the investment more consistently pays off) but while production values can be had for money alone, the skill to exploit the broader canvas to good effect can only come in human form ... all the software and printing processes can provide is a set of power tools, and you can look at the shelf of any game shop today and see - in the covers and pages of the output of even the highest-end RPG publishers - what happens when you give a bandsaw to an apprentice craftsman ...

    I can only think of a single RPG book in recent years where (IMO) the graphic design was fully matched with the production values. I'd name names, but the tragedy of the book is that the writing was so dry, unenticing, and divorced from the thrills of the gaming table that the beauty of the book feels more like tragedy than triumph :(

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  31. In many ways, the industry’s access to (and even awareness of) the core skills of graphic design began to atrophy dangerously in the late 80s and early 90s with the rise of desktop publishing—a wound that still hasn’t half healed (and here I’m not talking about style, just basic craft skills which require human judgment and can't be wholly automated)

    The problems caused by desktop publishing are widespread. The Mac and LaserWriter (and other developments that came from it) made the tools more widespread, but people weren’t taught to use those tools. Or even made aware that there was anything to learn about using them.

    And there are many aspects that those tools could and should have automated. In fact, it should have been more about automating those aspects that could be more than simply giving everyone the tools the pros had without the education about how to use those tools.

    ...but that’s quite a tangent... (^_^)

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  32. Anonymous8:13 AM

    Serious thread derailment - Jeff, were you channeling Ice T when you said "I don't mean nothin' by it?" In particular I'm thinking of an episode of Nightline he was on with Ted Koppel many years ago, along with a distinguished African-American professor from Harvard and a ridiculous fellow from the Village Voice.

    ON the subject of the thread, I like improved design values for the marketplace, but with Fight On! we're explicitly keeping things pretty lo-fi. Part of the idea of it, as a fanzine, is that 'you can do it too' - we want people to read it and feel that way. Part of my dream for the magazine - I don't know how this will ever be realized, but I would feel totally great if it happened - would be for some new smart, talented 14-16 year olds to read it and send in their homemade dungeons, maps, worlds, art, whatever. If you guys ever meet smart kids making fantasy stuff up, have them send it to Fight On!

    - Calithena

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  33. I suppose if I take a step back, what it comes down to for me is the Cub Scout motto: “Do your best!”

    I don’t really care about your production values or graphic design or layout or typography or whether you choose the same style of illustration I would. (Although I’m happy to argue about those things all day. (^_^))

    I care about two things: The content and that you did your best.

    If it’s low-fi, hand-drawn amateur art, clumsy layout, bad “keming”, wooden writing, etc....no big deal, as long as you made it the best that you could.

    All this stuff we’ve been talking about—that’s really just gravy.

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  34. I care about two things: The content and that you did your best.

    And that's twice as much as I care about :)

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  35. Biff the Younger11:13 AM

    Yeah, that is kind of the thing, I don't want to do my best. My best is for feeding the family. My gaming is for fun.

    I like to do a bit of art on the side, and, yes, I do my best there. I try to create something new and I want to be best I can be at it. And there is no reason that one can't bring that roleplaying. But it is not the one true approach. When it comes to gaming, I want to whack orcs with a big sword and not worry about whether my technique is correct or how accurately I am modeling reality, or whatever else.

    That is an over simplification, of course, I don't really want just roll a bunch of dice and nothing else. But when it comes down to very bottom of it, I am in search of the "Awesome, dude, I killed a dragon!" moment (or the "Damn, the dragon turned me into crispy bacon" moment)

    The thing is the question isn't really about whether the art is good or bad, the question is does the art support what you are trying to accomplish. Its kind of like music in movies. You can have great music, but if it doesn't fit in with what the movie is trying to do, it bad music for that movie. And vice versa. For instance, I hate rap music and would never buy it myself. But if one is doing, say, a movie about urban gangs, Mozart isn't going to work (or, it could work, but the movie would have to be something different than a simple urban action movie). I hate rape music but I love it in a certain kind of movie.

    Sometimes, 'bad' art is perfect for a particular endeavor. For instance, a children's books with illustrations by actual children, though far less sophisticated, may be far more powerful than, say, a reproduction of the ceiling of the Sistine chapel.

    Roleplaying is unique in that the reader is not only allowed to take it and make it his own, he is expected to.

    Professional illustration says 'I am the expert, and this is how it is'. 99% of the time, that is exactly what you want to say. Why should I buy something from you if I can easily do it myself? I want you to be the expert. If I am looking at stereo instructions, I want the writer to know a lot more about stereos instructions than I do and slick illustrations imply that he does.

    However, with the old school style D&D, the feeling that feels right to me is "Hey, here is something awesome we made and you can do it too" It has that teenagerish feel of excitement and possibility that is very appealing to me. I like the idea that a bunch of guys in a basement, saying "This is wicked cool", made this, rather than a bunch of guys in suits in an office somewhere. I think the old style illustrations gave that impression much better than slick production values do.

    Now, of course, I am talking of one particular thing here. Old style illustrations are not 'better' and would be totally inappropriate f or most purposes.

    For instance, whatever the value of "Vampire the Masquerade" may be as a game, its production values were just perfect for what they were trying to accomplish. Old school D&D art would not work at all for it.

    On the other side, it could be argued that "Empire of the Petal Throne" could be much improved with slicker art. That setting was pretty slick and using slick art to emphasize that wouldn't be out the the question. Though I personally loved that artwork there, but that's me.

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  36. However, with the old school style D&D, the feeling that feels right to me is "Hey, here is something awesome we made and you can do it too" It has that teenagerish feel of excitement and possibility that is very appealing to me. I like the idea that a bunch of guys in a basement, saying "This is wicked cool", made this, rather than a bunch of guys in suits in an office somewhere. I think the old style illustrations gave that impression much better than slick production values do.

    This is a good distillation of your point, and makes it easy to understand where you're coming from. So thanks. :)

    For me, if it looks and feels like a bunch of guys in a basement made it, I don't want to buy it. The first roleplaying game I ever ran was me running my grade school friends through Zoids adventures (!) prompted entirely by the box art, since I still have no idea what backstory, if any, existed for Zoids. I want game products that do things I can't or wouldn't think of just knocking off and doing myself, whether that's the nifty verb-noun magic system of Ars Magica or the crisp* art of Timothy Bradstreet showing me a pseudo-futuristic gunfight in the pages of Shadowrun.

    Even though I get what the oldschool trade dress is trying to declare, and I laugh at the over the top versions on the Hackmaster covers, I don't really want any more of that on my shelves.**


    *But progressively stiffer and stiffer in his modern Punisher covers, sadly.

    **Random thought: Porny Avalanche Press covers = a billion times less likely to see shelf time than even the most oldschool of oldschool. Ugh. Why?

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  37. Biff the Younger12:45 PM

    Re: Porny Avalanche Covers

    I like 'em.

    For me, a large part of RPGing is wish fulfillment. I wish I had large breasted women in skimpy outfits around me, ergo, I like them in my games. Its is certainly wrong to look at women in real life as sex objects, but I really don't think the imaginary women in my head mind.

    I can certainly understand why other people don't like them and they may not be good for the hobby as a whole, but as I stated before, I play these games because I like them, not as part of a movement or anything like that.

    As far as the rest of the post goes, you sound like you would be a fun guy to game with. I do like those things you mention. The thing is that is not the ONLY thing I enjoy.

    My problem with the original article is the idea that 'this was broken, so lets fix it'. My idea is that the original illustrations weren't broken, intentionally or not, they served a purpose. Redoing old school with slick production values doesn't fix a mistake, it creates something with a different feel. That new feel might be more to your taste, heck, I might well enjoy it when in the right frame of mind, but its not just the same but better.

    To use the illustration in the post as an example, to me it gives a kind of 'action adventure movie with a strong game element' feel. That does appeal to me and I would like to play that. But it does not look like Fred the Barbarian would be welcome there. Not a problem, a steady diet of playing nothing but Fred would probably get old anyhow, so I will put away for now. But the thing is that I would like to play Fred sometimes too.

    Its not that I am saying you shouldn't enjoy your style, I am not even saying I wouldn't enjoy your style, I am saying that some of us enjoy a different style sometimes and its not just because we don't know any better and its not just nostalgia.

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  38. But it does not look like Fred the Barbarian would be welcome there. Not a problem, a steady diet of playing nothing but Fred would probably get old anyhow, so I will put away for now. But the thing is that I would like to play Fred sometimes too.

    I guess what I really mean is that the super oldschool art doesn't give me that "Fred can play here" feel either. It just gives me a "low production value" feel. I think of slightly-newer-yet-still-not-recent art that has done a good job at some point of gearing me up for that kind of play, Jim Holloway's Paranoia covers always did the best job (and, of course, he was also responsible for some of the quirktastic Gamma World second edition covers as well).

    But my DMG and players guide? Never made me want to play any kind of game, at all. They just give me this underlying feeling of "These look like good, creative kids -- I'll buy this ashcan edition to help give them that push into the bigtime, where they can afford a real artist and layout team."

    The single most effective "I must play this game" cover in my lifetime was the Elmore cover for GW third edition. "It's a guy in battle armor on a giant...badger thing!"

    Note that I am a big fan of covers that show what the game is about. I've always been a little iffy about the core book covers for World of Darkness stuff, because they're just...green marble, or something (that said, the new ones are also kind of ugly). I liked the original Clanbook series because most of the covers clearly said, "This book is about dudes like this!"*

    *Except Clanbook Lasombra, which had some skinhead tool with a black hand stamped on his forehead on the cover, then was a book about a bunch of conspiratorial connivers who model their organization on a corrupted inversion of the Catholic church. I never got this one.**

    **Or maybe it was both the Sabbat Clanbooks, since the Tzimisce one, which is about creepy, Transylvanian lords who manipulate flesh and bone, has a hottie in cargo pants on the cover.

    (Oh, and as a final caveat, the Avalanche porny covers are a giant lose for me because they're just traced porn. Anyone can go download the same stuff anywhere. If you're selling me FRPG hot chick wish fulfillment, make it fit the genre better. More Adam Hughes stuff, less porn tracing.)

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  39. Nitpick: I'm pretty sure the cover to Gamma World's third edition was by Keith Parkinson, not Larry Elmore.

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  40. Ah. I tend to confuse them, and didn't have my copy handy to check. Thanks for the catch.

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  41. Anonymous2:16 PM

    Jeff wrote:

    "Do we need a community logo, like the d20 logo was a signal to the 3.x crowd?"

    That's my understanding of what OSRIC was supposed to be. You really don't need OSRIC to publish "old school" compatable documents. It's just as easy to do what Mayfair and a host of other companies did back in the 80's and make "generic" games "for use with most fantasy role playing games."

    What putting "OSRIC" on your product does is allows you to get the protection of the OGL while getting around the OGL's prohibition on claiming compatability.

    The key is to get enough people to understand that "OSRIC" = 1e without WotC bringing down the hammer (which hasn't happened after 2+ years in circulation).

    Labyrinth Lord works under the same idea.

    Chris (rogatny) Tichenor

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