Tuesday, January 20, 2009

not the revolution I signed on for

Just so you know, Dan Proctor is friggin' awesome. Not only is he directly responsible for Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future, but while many of us were talking about a centralized old school storefront he actually went out and did it. There's still work to be done on his new Old School Renaissance project. More publishers need to sign on (though he's already got some great folks) and at some point it needs to migrate to a site where products sold outside Lulu can be listed. But Dan took the big first step that the rest of us were dragging our feet on.

As with any group that features beardy old men, a few naysayers were probably inevitable. The folks demanding that OSR protect the children/society at large/your mom from Carcosa I can write off as a tempest in a teapot. We don't need some anonymous internet wussboy screaming hysterics to protect us from the evils of a book. I can respect that a lot of people on the internet wish to operate under a pseudonym for various reasons, but when that reason is to call for the censorship of a book I smell the whiff of moral cowardice. And as always, I believe that the way to counter bad speech is with good speech. You think Carcosa is bad and want to be rid of it? Write something better.

Again, I think too many words have already been written denouncing and defending what is ultimately an edge case not requiring anyone to alter policies over. The idea that Carcosa will open a floodgate of questionable material is laughable. What I find much more sinister is the suggestion being floated by a few that OSR needs a steering committee to separate the true old school wheat from the chaff. To be blunt, there's no fucking way I'm on board with that.

Part of my participation in this crazy old school thing involves going back and rereading what authorities like Gygax, Arneson, Moldvay and many others have to say about our hobby. The overwhelming lesson I learn again and again "this is how I do it, but do what you think is best for your game". A committee to inform us what is and isn't old school undermines the very referee autonomy that makes running these games so damn interesting.

Furthermore, and please understand that I mean this in the nicest way possible, I don't trust any of you bastards to tell me what 'old school' means! Nor should anyone trust my personal definition. As far as new products are concerned, I think everyone who wants to come to the table should be welcome. For example, I don't normally think of second edition AD&D as an old school system. But if someone wants to write an adventure for 2nd ed I want them to get just as much encouragement and support as I got when I threw together my OD&D module. I might not find that 2nd ed scenario suitable to my tastes, but who cares what I think?

We don't need an inner cabal of grognards granting or withholding their blood-soaked insignia from various products. All we really need is more and better reviews. That's an obvious addition to a future iteration of Old School Renaissance, a decent review system.

Finally, I'll close with this cool little graphic:

I scanned this pic from the inside front cover of The Tomb Complex of Nereshanbo, a really neat-o dungeon for Empire of the Petal Throne. I like EPT and that picture of Professor Barker is awesome, especially the smoking cigar. But you know what this seal of approval means to me? Absolutely nothing. Why the hell should I care whether this adventure meets with the M.A.R. Barker's approval? All that matters is whether I can use it in my campaign or not.


  1. 100% right. If people actually had the audacity to put an "old school seal of approval" on their products as anything but a tongue in cheek joke, I would absolutely refrain from buying or discussing or publicizing their work. That kind of B.S. is not what we are here for - a return to the hobby roots of the game. I'd rather read Carcosa - even with the parts that make me think "well, I guess I'm not using Carcosan sorcery in my games" - than a dozen bland OSRIC compatible modules. I love gonzo weird stuff and I want more of it to put in my games. I have a huge stack of standard AD&D modules released by TSR, I don't need more of them. And if someone happens to release a work of the flawed imaginative quality of Arduin and it's compatible with 2e plus Players Option, well, that's old school no matter who approves.

    (The above shouldn't be construed to mean that every OSRIC compatible module I've bought was bland. I liked "Pod Caverns of the Sinister Shroom." But I do think that their prevalence is a sign of the side of the old school renaissance I'm not a super-fan of.)

  2. Someday maybe someone should write a primer on the idea or concept of old school (and if there is one, just point it my way) as I have no clue what separates you from me except basic people crap like: you're way smarter than I am, you're a dude, you have a degree (I think), you've played a ton more games than I have and you only have one kiddo.

    I don't get the concept but I don't follow the typical formula for gaming either. Not many non-comic book, non-computer, non-sci-fi, non-fantasy geek 2nd gen female gamers around.

  3. Anonymous10:43 PM


  4. @ Loq:

    Do a Google search for "Old School Gaming Primer". Matt Finch, one of the retro-RPG clone guys (I forget which one(s) he was a part of) wrote it.

    Of course, what you'll be getting is, natch, one guy's view on a definition of "old school gaming", one at least I personally don't agree with (not that I matter either, but just goes to show it's not a document that agrees with everyone to begin with).

    I've mentioned this a couple of times here and there and I'll say it again: as long as people are all stressing out about the "OSR" movement growing and expanding and all that poop, while at the same time panicking that it'll go "too mainstream" or "sell out", the whole concept is just going to be a serpent eating it's own tail and it'll follow gaming's history of 30-odd years ago - ideas will grow and change and people will start saying "no" more until the serpent swallows itself completely and OSR companies start making deals with video game companies.

  5. Loquacious,

    Here ya go: http://www.lulu.com/content/3019374

    And it's free!

  6. Count me in as another one who doesn't understand the whole "old-school" gamer thing, even though I am probably an old-school gamer. I guess I can understand the idea of returning to the "hobby roots of the game", but I see old school as more of a reaction to the commercialization and commodification of the game, as opposed to anything else. I suppose I'm old school, because I can't justify paying the obscene amounts of money they want today, for an endless stream of rules tweaks and upgrades. I also don't necessarily play games just because they're "old"... I'm sure UNKNOWN ARMIES wouldn't be called old school, and it's one of my favorite games. I just don't get... who cares whether a game is new school, or old school, or whatever. They're GAMES. We play them for FUN. If you're starting to psychoanalyze the sociological impact of ames on the gaming community, you shouldn't be playing any more.

  7. Amen^2.

    Badger King (which is a great name of whatever sort...), I'd say that the whole idea of FUN is a large part of what's at the core of oldskooliness---a return to the pure fun of the game, when the rules really were only guidelines and anything was possible; it's more an attitude toward playing these games than anything else. Maybe the "old" in the "skool" is what causes contention sometimes. I mean, personally, I think you can quite easily play 4e with an oldskool mindset. But that's just me... :)

  8. Hear, hear!

    Jeff, this is the kind of post that keeps me coming back. Good stuff!

  9. Anonymous3:54 AM

    Good stuff, Jeff. I like the near-Hicksian rage contained in this post and it made me smile, whilst also nodding my head vigorously in agreement. I believe fervently that nobody has a right to tell anyone else how to play or how to enjoy their games. I posted a short rambling about the old school renaissance and my ogoing Traveller campaign, which may (or may not) be of some interest to you:


  10. Anonymous4:07 AM

    I agree, Jeff. General chatter over the net will point to what's hot and what's not. This whole issue highlights that there's still system snobbery among certain sections of Grognardia, now venturing destructively into Simulacrum. There aren't enough of us old school gamers to be divided so. Grognards of the world unite! You have nothing to lose but your hp!

    Incidentally, 2E is definitely old school in my book. Any game that has "Save vs. Petrifaction or Polymorph" is definitely old school!

    ~ Jesse
    (Visiting from Dragonsfoot)

  11. Regarding the Professor Barker "Seal of Approval" I entirely see your point, but with Tékumel there are bound to be people who want to know whether an item fits the "official" view of the world as well as being interesting in its own right. I'm certainly not going to say they shouldn't, even though I'm more of a magpie when it comes to introducing things into my EPT games. For that reason I'd say it does have some legitimate value to a section of its readership.

    You're entirely right about the censorship issue, without a doubt. I think we're all grown up enough to be able to read something and make up our own minds about its worth. All I really need is a decent description, since I can't leaf through these books in a shop, and inevitably the on-line community will voice opinions and I can take those into account.

    The surest way to kill off any interest in "old school" gaming (and I don't even pretend to have a definition for precisely what that is) is to introduce such regulation. Bring on the mad, eccentric pamphlets of yore!

  12. Spot on, Jeff. The day there's a steering committee is the day I wash my hands of the whole mess. In the best memories of Arduin, Judges' Guild, and every crazy-ass module that found its way to print across the addition, no one needs to be steering anything. Working together is one thing. Working together to codify this and exclude people is another entirely.

  13. Control restricts. Freedom nurtures. Do you think the old school resurgence would have had the dynamism and output it has had in the last two years if there was a steering committee of approval?

  14. So..... Old School is Feng Shui?

    If so, I am in. That's a seriously fun game/style of play.

  15. That seal is AWESOME!

    I totally need to commission something cool and crusty like that!

  16. I gotta say, I am not seeing what all the fuss is about here. The very idea of an "Old School" storefront implies some sort of control is already in place [e.g. that the products claim to be "old school"].

    Some folks are saying they would rather the definition was narrowed in some way to exclude products that don't meet their own definition of "old school". Hardly surprising, and no big deal.

    All the hyperbole that surrounds this debate (from both sides) is by the by (and pretty tiresome). The question was put "are there going to be any controls?" I am still not sure what the answer was, but it seems to me that it can be discussed more rationally than this.

  17. Hardly surprising, and no big deal.

    I'll agree on the former, the latter not so much.

  18. I just do not see it as important that some folks have different definitions of "old school" and prefer exclusiveness to inclusiveness. It seems pointless to give them so much space for discussion.

    Either an "old School" storefront is open to all without limitation, or it has some sort of criteria for what is appropriate and can be included. If such criteria are open for debate, let there be a debate. If there is to be no debate, then why are we even bothering discussing it?

  19. Either an "old School" storefront is open to all without limitation, or it has some sort of criteria for what is appropriate and can be included. If such criteria are open for debate, let there be a debate. If there is to be no debate, then why are we even bothering discussing it?

    IMO, my question is if a debate is needed. I think whether or not a product is old-school or useful enough can be derived simply by how many people download or use it.
    This is a situation that in my mind debate won't be as productive compared to natural consensus through use.

    The proof in these puddings will be in the tasting

  20. I agree completely. Who needs a steering committee? If this were about a single company trying to produce consistent products, that would be one thing, but this is about people playing the games that they love and introducing new people to those games. The free-form nature of old school gaming is what has always kept me interested in it and anyone trying to tell people what is or isn't old school makes no sense. I'm thrilled to see that people are interested in the roots of the game that I love so much, but I truly think that people could better spend their time creating new material rather than censoring someone else's work.
    As one of my old GMs used to regularly say,"I just want to play."

  21. Well said, Jeff! This reminds me of the Comics code authority. Marvel, DC aproves some "code" to get a competitor out (EC Comics) out of the business. Cretivity in american comics suffers for years. Very sad.

  22. Anonymous8:18 PM

    From what I understand, the comic code was more of a way of keeping the government from regulating what could appear in comics. They decided to regulate it themselves when it looked apparent that if they didn't, laws would be passed forcing it on them.

    In a sense it worked, When the mores changed, they simply omitted the seal and published what they pleased. Saved a bunch people challenging antiquated laws.

    But in reference to the original article, I propose a standards board for noncomformity. To many people are nonconformists in incorrect ways, and its about time we all got together and determined what true nonconformity is.

  23. Re Carcosa:

    I dunno about anyone else, but I think seeing hyperbolic bitching about how an RPG book is dangerous and/or offensive is decidedly nostalgic (and, for once, in a good way) :)

  24. (and I now TOTALLY need to doll up a Hank Riley seal of approval ... I mean, I always see Hank as being hip-wader deep in that kind of attitude, but I now acknolwedge the necessity of an actual emblem for it)

  25. I have to giggle at all the outrage and hurt feelings over Carcosa. Shouting into the internet just seems bloody futile, and controversy just tends to generate sales (after all, I bought my copy just to see what all the fuss was about*). I'm not sure what these people hope to accomplish.

    The Morality Police couldn't prevent me from playing D&D the way I saw fit back in the 80's, and I was just a snotty 8 year old kid back then.

    How in hell are the Morality Police of today going to prevent me from playing D&D as I see fit now that I'm, like, an adult who goes to work and pays taxes and stuff?

    *and I'm glad I did because Carcosa ended up being my favorite RPG release of 2008!

  26. (and I now TOTALLY need to doll up a Hank Riley seal of approval ... I mean, I always see Hank as being hip-wader deep in that kind of attitude, but I now acknolwedge the necessity of an actual emblem for it)

    Oh, hell yeah. And it would have to be WAY more serious than Barker's, incoporating things like alchemical symbols and a stylized atom.