Thursday, March 03, 2011


Gameblog reader FASERIP asked that I expand a little on my thoughts on a post over on Doc Rotwang!'s blog o' righteousness.  He recently wrote a little piece called "D&D is Dead." that I recommend everybody read.  Rotwang's point, if I'm reading him right, is that he's personally reached the point where there's no clear connection between WotC's trademark for whatever it is that they do and whatever it is Doc Rotwang likes to do with that crappy ol' game from 1974 and its direct descendants.  I feel much the same way.  D&D as a brand legally belongs to Wizards but I just don't have interest in a vast swath of what they are up to.  The Essentials boxed set intrigues me just a hair, but that may just be the box art over-riding my good judgement.  The new Gamma World looks like a ton o' fun, and I've seen plenty of good reviews, but the old Gamma World and Mutant Future integrate nicely with the older versions of D&D.

Anyway, here's my comment from Doc R!'s post:
I'm on the same wave lately. I've seriously been considering full on dropping all direct references to D&D, coming up with a name for my own houserules and refering to the general concept of the game as Ampersand or something like that.
This thinking is why I recently swapped out the old TSR art triptych at the top of my blog for a new approach.  I think the new graphic needs improvement, but its good enough for now.  I think the next version will be wider and less tall and maybe only feature the Big Purple d30 and IG-666.  But anyway, the point of the change was that I don't need to be ripping off pics that WotC probably owns in the rights to, especially when I'm publicly doubting that we need those guys anymore.  Let 'em have the Dungeons and the Dragons and all the stuff they are entitled to as the owner of those rights.

Please understand that I'm not calling down a pox on WotC's house, or urging everyone to shun them.  My simple point is that I'm doing this thing over here and they're doing that thing over there.  Joesky the Dungeonbrawler makes much the same point in his own lovable style in this post, though he's both more agressive and much more humorous than I am feeling right now.

But ceding "D&D" leaves a big ol' hole in discourse about the versions of the game I care about.  I want a handy catch-all term for Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry and Jim Raggi's game and Brave Halfling's game and all the myriad other versions, whether published or not, that cleave closer to the original vision of the game.  Because I'm not going to pick one over the other and hold it up as the standard bearer.  That's why I was kicking around the idea of a new term that's shorter than The Game As We Know It In All Its Myriad Incarnations.  "Ampersand" seemed like a non-threatening, non-specific callback.

Thomas Denmark over at Original Edition Fantasy was thinking along similar lines yesterday.  He suggests we all adapt to OSR logo that Chad Thorson of Maximum Rock & Roleplaying developed:

I'm not 100% sure what Chad or Thomas meant for the letters OSR to stand for.  Maybe it was Old School Revival or Old School Renaissance or even Old School Revolution. 

Personally, I think it would be useful if we used OSR to mean Old School Rules.  If you want to tell newbies and strangers that you play D&D, that works well.  But for purposes of hobby discourse like in all these here nerd blogs, I say let the nice folks at Wizards of the Coast have their trademarked terms.  We don't need them if enough of us can agree on a catch-all alternative.  And by continuing to use "D&D" to describe what we do, we're both muddying the waters and offering free advertisement for a game most of us don't play.

There's at least one big objection to this scheme.  In my mind ass I type this piece I can hear  a certain Prussian screaming "Fool! You're locking yourself up in the ghetto!" and "Idiot! You're making your opinions irrelevant!"  We're already irrelevant.  Pulling the PDFs was WotC firing us as customers.  As far as I can tell they've got a different demographic they want to sell to rather than greying weirdoes who remember life before 1999.  That's okay.  They have the right to make whatever they want and call it D&D.  That's why we need an alternative.

I have been rightly chastized for posting such incendiary content without following the joesky rule of including gameable material.  So without further ado, four potions.

Potion El Fantastico - Gain all the powers of Mr. Fantastic style stretching for d6+6 turns.  At its simplest, this allows one to melee people up to 6" away.  But obviously there are a crapload of other uses.

Potion of Satanic Tracks - Even sipping a single drop of this potion causes the imbiber to leave cloven hoofprints of black char wherever they step.  One drop lasts d4 turns.  Downing the whole thing results in 3d4 turns of hoofprints, which smoulder and reek of sulphur.  If the PCs can't figure out a good use for this then they aren't trying hard enough.

Potion of Selfish Healing - Cures a whopping 5d6 hit points of damage, but all other healing potions within 3" are rendered inert.

Potion of Omniscient Metamind Swapping - Forces the player of the imbibing PC and the DM to swap roles for the rest of the night.  I.e. you get up and go sit behind the screen and run the rest of the session, the DM plays your dude.  Good luck.


  1. That's why we need an alternative.

    No, we don't.

    D&D is D&D is D&D. It's a game and more than a game. It's a brand and it's more than that.

    And by continuing to use "D&D" to describe what we do, we're both muddying the waters and offering free advertisement for a game most of us don't play.

    Really? I guess I don't see it that way, just as I don't see myself saying that I'll be saying "the alternative facial tissue that I will call something else so I don't have to use the recognized name of Kleenex, even though smart people will know I'm not 'advertising' Kleenex, I just want to use a simple frakkin' phrase." when I want to hock a loogey.

    I'm kinda surprised to read this here, but maybe we're all a little bored these days? It feels like there's another "who are the grognards and what do they play" cycle. I think we all need to grab a few minis, get to painting or go write more table books and play some D AND D! :)

    And where's your Joe-sky tax, buddy? ;)

  2. Anonymous10:11 AM

    I'm with the Wiz. I've been calling it D&D for 25+ years and even if I wanted to do otherwise, I suspect I'd be calling it D&D for another 25 if I'm alive to do it. Call it what you want, I suppose, but it'll always be D&D to me.

  3. The thing is, I think that d&d could probably stand the test as a genericized trademark. If it's not it's certainly a tipping point case and personally I believe that we should keep using it as the colloquial description of fantasy role playing game and carry on the fight to make it so.
    Make them call it Dungeons and Dragons Brand Roleplaying Game and let us call it d&d.

  4. Todd, that's an interesting idea that I had not considered but it also turns an amicable parting of ways into a messy divorce.

  5. i like the logo but I'm of a similar opinion to those above - D&D is the Coke/Kleenex/Xerox of role-playing and trying not to use those letters feels a little weird.

    Plus I'm one of the "daywalkers" who plays New D&D and D&D Classic both, so this probably shouldn't be surprising.

  6. Yes, Jeff, you have already lit a fire under my ass:

    I would have commented on the original post but that system over there just locked up every time I clicked a button on it.

    I have been working on an idea that I think this works hand in hand with, avoids trade marks and legal hassles and provides gamers with an umbrella to gather under during these uncertain 'industry' times.

    This may be the best idea for the hobby I have ever seen.

    I look forward to reading more of your thoughts on this.

  7. Anonymous10:53 AM

    D&D is dead! Long Live D&D!

    I am not sure one cvan ever escape the brand name.

    Player 1: "It's Old School Rules"
    Player 2: "Rules for what?
    Player 1: "D&D.... D'oh!"

    Telling someone you are into "Fantasy Role Playing" and they'll be imaging you have a rather interesting home life.

    As for OSR logos, some may use them and some won't. It becomes a divisive tool, I think. It already means different things to different people in itself. No more "OSR Wars" please.

    I think the D&D brand has gone down its own path, for good or ill. The "classic" D&D game that grognards play is alive and well. We know what we're playing, no matter what you may call it.

    I would be happy to see where else you take this.

  8. Anonymous11:05 AM

    "I want a handy catch-all term for Labyrinth Lord and OSRIC and Swords & Wizardry and Jim Raggi's game and Brave Halfling's game and all the myriad other versions, whether published or not, that cleave closer to the original vision of the game."

    David Hargrave used a felicitous term in the Forward to 1977's Arduin Grimoire:

    "The Joyous Game"

  9. Lately I've been thinking mischievously of OSR as "Original Style Roleplaying".

    Free-form, genre-independent, and flexible without referring directly to any specific game or brand.

    Though of course the style of the new logo does refer, fairly pointedly, to a company if not a specific brand...

    word verification: Ramsh

    Egyptian god of mashed potatoes, not widely recognized as a member of the pantheon prior to the reign of Pharaoh Mufar ibn O'Reilly.

  10. Jeff, you read me right: post-OGL D&D-ness has no, repeat, no relevance to whatever it is that I'm doing with D&D and its descendants. Furthermore, WotC can do whatever the hell they want to with the brand name because I just don't care anymore.

    I still call the old stuff D&D, because it was right there on the cover; that's what the stuff I want to play is called. The new stuff called Dungeons & Dragons is not what I want to play. I can't change what products WotC chooses to label with the "D&D" brand name, so I let go of the brand name as something dear to me. I'm in love with the GAME, not the NAME.

    Granted, I swing more towards something called Castles & Crusades and Swords & Wizardry these days, but thanks to the OGL, what are those games if not, basically, house-ruled versions of D&D anyway?

    I agree that the words Dungeons & Dragons are powerful conjuring words. Say them to someone and they evoke a definition (sometimes correct, often not) in your interlocutor's mind. This will never change.

    However, I no longer trust WotC to define the words for me. Let them do whatever they want to with the words; you can bet that I certainly will.

  11. Although, I empathize with the general sentiment of the blog post, I don't think the waters are all that muddy. In fact, I think any confusion one might encounter (har har) with newer gamers should be approached as an opportunity to explain some of the differences, as long as one can do so with steady hands a calm voice and without getting a nosebleed.


  13. "Would you like to play The Joyous Game called Carcosa?"

  14. I like Ampersand a lot. :)

    I hope we can at least agree on this. It brings a smile to my face every time I think about it. It's punctuation. It can't be trade marked or copy righted.It is indicative of the titles of many old and new games (the 'bridge' between the keywords and can act as a bridge between all those currently involved in the OSR and those yet to come) and just 'feels' right.

    I'm digging this. :)

  15. @AD&D G - here's a towel.

    None of this can happen until the Joe-sky tax is paid.

  16. Joyous game...
    Hell, it's good. I like it.

    BTW - another rather silly idea: OSR - Old School Rocks!

  17. See, I agree with the whole D&D is generic mentality and when talking with friends over a cold one that's one thing.

    But with the numbers going against WotC lately I feel a real crackdown coming soon online. Everytime you mention the product you are violating their trade mark.

    And yes, I think they are desperate enough to start this. The Ampersand just protects us when we wish to discuss the subject instead of having to resort to these other methods like I have seen online-' Compatible with the worlds oldest fantasty rpg and 1st edition'.


    Just say 'For use with Ampersand'.


  18. Anonymous1:11 PM

    I started with Basic in 1979 and have played up through 3.5 (and 3.75 if that's what you call Pathfinder). It took a long time for me to try 3rd Edition, and I refuse to involve myself with anything released beyond that. I feel that WoTC has forgotten where the D&D brand came from, and, while they have tried to make it theirs, all it has done to me is cause a bad case of "brand burnout". As far as how we refer to the game of D&D, I'm not so sure that it matters all that much outside the community. We who play the game know what the score is. WoTC, on the other hand, has lost touch with its foundation and become just another business, one who's end is coming. Whether its from competition, such as Paizo, or simple financial failure, they will be unable to sustain the D&D brand to the satisfaction of their Bean-counting Overseers. The execs will demand more and more profit, and WoTC will try to create it by making ever "newer" versions that they will expect people to buy, but it's a house of cards. Eventually WoTC will either fold or be sold to the highest bidder. What would be nice is if someone who knows what D&D really is all about is able to regain control of the brand at that time. Be it Paizo (although they seem lately to be following in WoTC footsteps with volumes of stuff), or someone else. Until that happens, we can differentiate ourselves in whatever way we see fit. It is unfortunate that WoTC has no desire to expose those who want to learn the game to some or all of its history. So here is a little message to WoTC: When we forget our past, we are doomed to repeat it, and your "past" used to be a little company in Wisconsin called TSR.

  19. Thanks Jeff, but I think you are being sentimental over nothing. Let's not be anthropomorphizing the brand holder in order to spare their feelings. They are a corporation. It is an entirely one sided relationship and I am sure they do not consider the matter as a parting or a divorce amicable or otherwise. They are simply the holder of a brand that has become the defacto generic term for an class of products and/or activity, namely fantasy RPG. If they could trademark and make you pay them every time a baby said mama I am sure they would do so. I'm sure that the Frisbee company did not become depressed and cry when people started using the term for other flying disc toys - they simply took the legal actions available to them and changed their business marketing accordingly.
    We are not being mean about this, we are merely going about our business.

  20. Sorry, Jeff, but all you achieve by distancing yourself from the name of the game is further insulating yourself from the world at large. The OSR's already a tiny niche, and now you're talking about removing that niche's ties to the thing that spawned it and that - like it or not - continues to bring new members into the OSR fold.

    The "OSR" tag is pretty, but it only has meaning to those who know what it means. It has no meaning for the people who aren't yet aware of the OSR, and makes it that much harder for old-school players - and new folks who are just learning about the Old Ways - to tap into all the great stuff that's going on.

    Furthermore, for those who do manage to make the connection, it may be misconstrued to mean that we don't play well with others, if you know what I mean. I guess I just don't see the point in creating more walls between those who play The Game That Is and the OSR.

    Sure, if you want to do that, it's your call. But I say that what we do is D&D as much as (and if not moreso than) what WoTC is doing with the name. Regardless of what we call the game, these retroclones are not - and were never intended to be - games of their own. They're D&D as we see it, or would like to see it. And if we pretend otherwise, and continue down a road of alienation, separation, and insulation, we are the Grumpy Old Men so many people say we are.

    For me, I play D&D - be it in the form of the original game, of my house-ruled system, or of one of the outstanding retroclones. I embrace the fact that it's D&D, even if it's not the same D&D that is currently being marketed by the brand owner. If the OSR (at least that portion of it that's born from D&D) wants to pretend it's something else, I guess I'm not really part of the OSR.

  21. The only response that I can possibly find that would properly address that can be found here.

    No, really. Sadly, if Hasbro is that down on the brand, they'll can it. They're not coming to sue you for speaking the words D&D.

  22. Haha, I knew where you were going with this just by reading the title of your post. :)

    I understand you would like a catch-all phrase, but I end up calling the game by whatever I am playing.

    Wanna play D&D?

    Wanna play Labyrinth Lord?

    I will have your characters murdered in their sleep in a game of Swords & Wizardry!

    The only one I wouldn't do that with is LotFP. Too long.

  23. I like “old school rules”.

    I don’t know why but for me there is something about saying that I’m playing “Labyrinth Lord” instead of “classic D&D” or otherwise “qualified D&D” that appeals to me.

    Maybe it has to do with all the misconceptions about the old game. Maybe it has to do with all the confusion Wizards has created (and keeps creating) around “D&D”. Maybe because I really think that people like Dan are adding value beyond merely cloning TSR products.

    In any case, I’d certainly be tempted to take up something like “Ampersand”.

    Oddly enough, I don’t feel the same way about “classic Traveller”, but that is a different situation.

  24. Christopher B: “The OSR's already a tiny niche, and now you're talking about removing that niche's ties to the thing that spawned it and that - like it or not - continues to bring new members into the OSR fold.

    Well, I can—of course—only speak for myself, but that doesn’t match my experience. D&D is not bringing anyone into my group anymore. We are doing it ourselves. And my group isn’t even an “OSR” group. We play lots of games. Some in-print and some out-of-print. I have a hard time believing a strictly OSR group gets more help recruiting from D&D than we do.

  25. @Robert: Perhaps I need to clarify my point: I know for a fact (based on having read as much on blogs, on discussion boards, and in e-mails from readers) that people unaware of the OSR - both old-school gamers and modern D&D players - have found their way into the OSR fold while looking around the Web for D&D references. If we were to separate ourselves from the name of the game, and instead use some silly reference (sorry, Jeff) like "Ampersand" or "OSR" these people would have had a much harder time finding us - and may not have even done so at all. It's that name that connects us to people outside our little cult - what possible good comes from attempting to sever that tie?

  26. Jeff, I like your idea for calling it "Old School Rules". It sounds like less of a movement than Old School Renaissance. Movements should be kept in the bathroom and not in a game.

    Originally I posted it because of the way people were reacting to the term OSR. It was like a vampire recoiling from a crucifix. It wasn't really supposed to be pro-movement though. To me OSR is just a generic term to describe the style of gaming I prefer and not something I feel I have to rally around.

    Old School Rules has a more benign sound to it.

  27. By the way, I don't know if you could run into trouble using it though. It's altered for the original TSR logo, so I wouldn't want anyone getting in trouble for using it.

  28. And just a side thought, for those who might not have seen this yet:

    I think we grow stronger by the day.

  29. I posted a response to the whole OSR branding to-do over on my blog. Took up too much space to write as a comment.

    Feel free to stop by and tell me what a misguided jerk I am. :)

  30. Seems to me the issue of what to call la cosa nostra really only matters when it comes to commercially marketing products. Since there is a growing cottage industry involved here, this leaves "D&D" decidedly out of the running.

    OSR is already the primary handle being used by most old-school bloggers to identify their sympathies and targeted market, so the initials may as well be kept and stamped on product.

    For the record, I prefer that "R" stand for "Rules" since it gets right to the heart of all the arguments, identifying not just the old-school contention with current D&D (Wizards owns the name, guys), but also with each other.

  31. A Heads Up. "Ampersand" is an editorial column written by one of the WoTC staff on their website, so if you plan on distancing yourself from WoTC, "Ampersand" won't take you far.

  32. Those are some pretty awesome edited-in potion options. I will absolutely, 100% be dropping the Potion of Selfish Healing into my game at some point. Hahaha.

  33. Ampersand. Nice. You have me thinking of a graphic Jeff. I have been playing the Pathfinder rules for a couple years now and I still have a hard time not saying D&D. OSR is cool too, but I don't know if I am old school, or just old.

  34. OSR = Old School Rules?


    Please don't bring 'rules' into it.

    Nobody here is playing by any unified set of rules, and even if they do, it isn't long until they start house-ruling.

    Stick with 'roleplaying', it is what we are all participating in.


  35. I don't really know if I can jump in here to fight for any particular side since I enjoy both old school games and new school ones, just for different reasons, but I will say that I really like that Logo and I'll probably throw it up on my site because it is cool. ;P

  36. "A Heads Up. "Ampersand" is an editorial column written by one of the WoTC staff..."




    This is fun. See. Not even at a table right now and having fun. Damn I love this community :)

  37. "Ampersand" is what Bill Slavicsek, Director of Roleplaying Design and Development at Wizards of the Coast, calls his DDI column. You might want to try something else based on the topic of your post and old school leanings...just sayin.

  38. There are six business on the first Google search page in my town all called "American Eagle (something)." Isn't it wonderful that they don't sue each other over the name? Why not just write a board game and call it "Dungeons and Dragons Tabletop Game" and see what happens?

    (Under a corporation first to protect your ass(ets) of course)

  39. Screw the poignant bits, that last potion is one of the most intriguing thoughts I've seen in a while as far as gaming goes. I would have no problem whatsoever dropping that into a treasure chest.

  40. I really like the idea of OSR standing for Old School Roleplaying. It's a blanket term that can encompass not just D&D but my favored old school systems like BRP and its derivatives (Pendragon, Cthulhu, Runequest, etc.).

  41. You do make a fair point, Christopher B.

    I could argue that we don’t really know that “D&D” was the only way they were going to find us, but I’ll concede that for the moment.

    (Even since the 3.0e days, I’ve wondered how many old players thought to google D&D, found the Wizards site, were turned off by 3e, and never bothered to look deep enough to find us. But I’m digressing...)

    Still, I’ve come to believe it really isn’t that important anymore. It’s time to make the break cleaner and clearer and rebuild. Maybe we miss some opportunities, but we’ll just have to work a bit harder to create new ones.

    Even so, I don’t think we’d actually eliminate all references to D&D. We just want to be clear that there is a fork. We can’t rename the other branch, so we’re left with renaming ours. And we can still acknowledge our common ancestry.

  42. OSR = Old School Revolt. Power to the Grognards! :)

    word verification: tente. A very fancy portable temporary outdoor shelter.

  43. I think I tend to agree with ChicagoWiz. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson created D&D. I play D&D. Insofar as 4th Edition has nothing to do with the D&D that Gygax and Arneson created or that I play (which I would tend to agree with), I'm not ready to give up calling D&D by the name D&D because the trademark holder decided to slap it on something else.

    Recently I've been referring to it as "1974-2008 gameplay". But I'm migrating increasingly towards a nice, simple "classic D&D" or "classic D&D gameplay".

  44. Christopher B said: The "OSR" tag is pretty, but it only has meaning to those who know what it means.

    That's partly true, and it is even more true for a moniker such as Ampersand. I really like Ampersand, but others have already pointed out that its use by WotC might prohibit us from using it.

    I say "partly" because OSR - just like any other TLA - can be infused with meaning. "Old School Rules" is as brilliant as "Old Style Roleplaying", though personally I'd prefer the first one as it refers to a certain rules set, and less to a mind set.
    There will be people who claim that they were right after all, and that the whole OSR (as in the old meaning, "Old School Renaissamce") is in fact all about D&D, but I don't care for that.

    Jeff, you are also right about the Prussian, who seems to be against all symbols. He was against the green "Go Play" arrow as well.

    In the end of the day I agree with Jeff that a logo to pull all the diverse modules and supplements under one umbrella would be very helpful for everyone - writers, publishers and gamers.

    The OSR logo has a distinct look, it has a secret meaning for players who lived through the TSR era, it doesn't look "old" (like all the headers using the old, curvy D&D typefont).

    Btw, James Maliszewski already uses the OSR logo on the cover to Petty Gods.

  45. What old-schoolers play is D&D. What WotC puts out is D&D, even if it bears next to no resemblance to what the old-schoolers are up to.

    I think of it this way: there's the modern baseball that they're playing in MLB; there's the Civil War era baseball with straight sticks, no gloves, & cheers of "huzzah!" that small groups of re-enactors around the country play. They're both baseball, & neither has any reason not to use the name, even if the similarities are only superficial.

  46. I just think it's time to protect ourselves a little better. Ask the guys at Crystal Keep if they felt that coming. I have read several posts over the last few months about cease and desist letters going out.

    For anyone who thinks they aren't paying attention to us check out that Red Box cover...

    Anyway, I still think Ampersand is funny...we gotta lighten up guys...we'll become like the disgruntled 4e fans I have ran across (shivers)

    Actual sig from forum post:

    "heinsoo died for the sins of D&D players who never know when they actually have a good game on their hands"

  47. I'm with Booberry, the potions are awesome!

  48. I like this game from the 70s called Dungeons & Dragons. Some suits managed to get the rights to the game away from the creator, and then they sold it to some other suits, and they sold it to a big Toy Company. The Toy campany is making some kinda-sorta similar game using the name "Dungeons & Dragons" but I think it's pretty different. I think if they don't sell enough copies of it they'll make some other game or toys or cola with the Brand Name. I guess that's how Trademark law goes, but it's also kind of dumb since I don't care about D&D Cola... I just like this game from the 70s.

  49. Oh yeah, I also like the OSR = Old School Rules, Old School Roleplaying etc. I also like dropping the O and just using the SR logo because that's my initials. :D

  50. I don't think you could ask for anything better then OSR( except for calling it D&D) as it works on so many levels; Old School Revival; Old School Rules; Old Old School Returns; Old School Revolution; Old Schools revenge >:-)

    As to what WOTC calls it, I'm not sure, but I bet it's get's their panties twisted anytime OSR is mentioned in one of their board meetings! LoL!

  51. I play my homebrew, LL, BRP(Majority CoC), and T&T mostly, with some Gamma World/Mutant Future and Street Fighter: The Storytelling Game and various one-shots thrown in. No straight 'D&D' to speak of. But when I'm describing the games I play to most people, D&D will almost always come up; it's not only useful shorthand, but all RPGs owe a historical debt to it. I don't think another term/phrase can replace it. As for OSR, I prefer the 'R' to stand for Revolution(Now and Ongoing)! :-D

  52. Somebody give me an Asprin and a Kleenex.

  53. Ampersand makes me think of Nethack, which, other than being old school, doesn't conjure the image of P&P rpgs for me at all.

  54. Anonymous3:10 PM

    Coming a little late to this party, heh, but after reading your post and the comments I find it kinda interesting that I gathered players for my current game by saying, "I want to run some original D&D using Swords & Wizardry Complete... you guys down?"