This blog started on 5 August 2016, making early August the time of the year to engage in stock-taking and irresponsible conjecture. …It is not early August right now? No! That’s LIES, and how dare you?
The State of the Blog
Over five years, Beyond Fomalhaut has turned from a fledgling blog (lots of posts, 55 and 42 total in its first two years!) to an accomplished and mature one (much fewer posts: 37 in year three, 33 in year four, and 29 in year five). It did not drop off of the face of the Earth, but it has obviously turned from an essayistic blog into a review blog (17 posts were reviews, and some of the others were various news items, previews, and updates). However, it remains a blog with an active publishing arm, which is fine as far as I am concerned. I have always preferred the practical, meat-and-potatoes side of gaming, and even considering the limitations of the ongoing Covid-19 nonsense, this year has delivered on that promise.
The 17 reviews posted on the blog represents a slight increase from last year. The average score on the five-point scale ended up as 3.1 (the total average over five years is 3.06, which means at least my scoring is consistent). Last year, I moved towards a “swingier” scoring approach, and I have stuck to this principle ever since. Fewer average ratings, and a few more high- or low-scoring supplements.
Here is the year’s breakdown, with the highlights:
- 5 with the Prestigious Monocled Bird of Excellence. This rating was not awarded this year. Wormskin, Anomalous Subsurface Environment, The Tome of Adventure Design, and Yoon-Suin maintain their lofty perch above the holloi-polloi.
- 5 was awarded to three supplements, making it the “best” year for this rating since the blog has launched. One award went to Visitor's Guide to the Rainy City, a zine describing the last metropolis of a flooded world and its strange denizens: its flawless execution, wealth of adventure hooks, and creativity make it a natural winner. The Palace of Unquiet Repose, a merciless sword & sorcery adventure about a desert-swallowed tomb-city created by divine hubris, is noted for its mighty energies and a consistently approachable style. Last but not least, Mike’s World: The Forsaken Wilderness is an extension of Keep on the Borderlands’ wilderness section – into a devastated land of colourful and deadly imagination. This is Geoffrey’s best work since Carcosa, and has none of the latter’s ghastly elements.
- 4 went to four products: Hideous Daylight, a creative wilderness adventure set in a magically warped, off-colour hunting preserve; Fire in the Hole, a well-realised humanoid lair; She Who is a Fortress in Dark Water, a grotesque marshland/dungeon adventure with a lot of individual flavour; and Tetutuphor: Norkers and Xvarts, one of the few actually worthy Caves of Chaos homages. It is interesting to note that three of these ratings were awarded to rather modestly produced materials that did not attempt to bedazzle readers with glitzy artwork and acrobatic experiments in graphic design. They were plain, useful, and well made – the kind of honest, imaginative work we can always use more of.
- 3 was awarded to four products as well. These were basically decent – from Hunters in Death (the kind of modular content you can just immediately add to a campaign – I did to mine) to the wild, unruly Crypt of the Lizard Wizard and its gonzo elements.
- 2 went to three adventures, which were either flawed, or just did not offer much of interest. Of these, Bridgetown is the greatest waste: solid idea, but lacking execution.
- 1 was awarded to three products. For your edification and amusement, these miscreants can be viewed at the pillory. I must single out our late contestant, The Pit, for its utter awfulness: if something can be done wrong, The Pit does it wrong; and this is all from a lavishly illustrated, slightly over-produced release!
There were multiple omissions and delays – including a few promises which have remained as such – and I will try to rectify some of them. It also happens that sometimes, you do not have much useful stuff to say. Sometimes, things are just good, and it is all in an obvious, straightforward way – to cite Anna Karenina, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
As for the junk… yes, there could have been more ones and twos. However, I do not set out to deliberately seek out these clunkers, and even when I meet them, some are bad in a way that is more depressing or boring than interesting enough to dissect. It also happens that you mistakenly buy something that’s a complete and obvious dud, but so insubstantial as to make a review a venture in uselessness. Yes, most Mörk Borg releases are written by people who have no idea about functional game writing. Yes, Troika supplements are mostly the same, but with an artsy veneer that draws oohs and aahs from the people whose life mission is to serve as a practical demonstration of the Veblen effect. No, it is not useful to review these products, and usually, there is nothing substantial to review anyway (see illustration).
|Three Dollars Americain. You Motherfucker.|
This year, EMDT’s release list grew by nine titles, although the numbers are slightly misleading, since they are component parts of a single, larger title (the two boxed sets account for five booklets). The remaining four include two Hungarian modules – The Forest of Gornate, a forest-based wilderness adventure with mini-dungeons that was inspired by (US) Steve Jackson’s seminal gamebook, Scorpion Swamp; and The Vaults of Volokarnos, a first-level introductory dungeon for Basic rules that eats through characters and henchmen like a busy little wood chipper. These two will see English release this year (Volokarnos will be in Echoes #09).
That leaves two more. Baklin, Jewel of the Seas is a city guide that got delayed and delayed, and ended up much larger than ever imagined. I knew I was trouble when I noticed I was nearly at my expected page count… before delving into the Undercity, which would end up adding roughly the same amount of material. So Baklin may count as two, perhaps even three supplements. It ended up big, and I think it ended up chock full of fun adventure hooks and play-relevant background material. The way I see it, Baklin is best used as an adventure hub: a place you can start out from and return to over the span of a campaign, and one that also holds its own in intrigue and action. You really do not have to use all of it all the time (obviously, not even we did), but anywhere you actually end up going in town, there will be something interesting waiting for you.
As for the zine zines, there was one of them, which is not much (even if it was a larger than average issue). This is a situation I would like to rectify in the future, and now that the larger game projects I was working on are completed, it will be time to return to smaller publications. The next Echoes issue will come out in late September or so, and I hope a third one can appear near the end of the year, or barring that, early 2022. On the other hand… yes, that’s two whole damn boxed sets in a single year! Boxed sets are a particular source of happiness; perhaps even more than Xyntillan (my first hardcover), they represent the kind of aspirations small-press RPG publishers have. In 2016, even the idea of releasing a fanzine seemed like a pipe dream, and a hardcover, let alone a boxed set, was clearly a fantasy. This year, it so happened that I first published a boxed set; then a hardcover in a boxed set with maps and extras combo. Damn right that makes me happy.
One of the boxes, written by two friends, is Casemates & Companies (Kazamaták és Kompániák, abbr. “KéK”), a Hungarian B/X-inspired system with a players’ and GM’s book, an intro adventure, ref sheets, character sheets, and dice. Hungary never had a proper B/X variant, and now we have one. This is a game that collects a handful of sensible house rules, rulings, and best practice that have emerged in community discussion, and all that makes it a strong contender for my favourite B/X take. The feature that sells it (to me) is its heavy focus on the titular “Companies”: recruiting and managing henchmen is something that has fallen by the wayside in gaming, but which is a lot of fun at the table. Moreover, KéK’s henchmen help to recreate the enormous parties OD&D had assumed, and calibrated its rules and procedures around. Bring a bunch of guys into the dungeon, and see who comes out rich and kicking – that’s the way.
The Helvéczia RPG, of course, is the other one. It took two years to go from the 2013 Hungarian boxed set to the first English draft, and six years from that point to the eventual release. While a lot of that was spent in procrastination due to burnout and other interests, the English release is a proper second edition that cleans up the game’s original inconsistencies and minor issues. I believe Helvéczia does something that other RPGs have not managed to pull off right – marrying European folklore and an old pulp tradition to more modern swashbuckling stories and the D&D game framework – and that the boxed set (pardon me, the hardcover in the boxed set, booyah!) looks good doing it. Helvéczia was meant to be played, and it will be supported with future adventures – some are simply waiting to be translated, while a second regional supplement exists in an early draft (this one may be in the Hungarian first). And of course, my good friend Istvan Boldog-Bernard (who co-authored KéK, and wrote In the Shadow of the City-God) has made a promise about the Catalonia supplement, and as Helvéczia proves, these diabolical pacts are to be honoured!
|The hall of mirrors gets deeper|
When I came back to the online old-school community in 2016 after a few wilderness years, my mind was set on publishing two large projects: Castle Xyntillan, and Helvéczia. I did not know when that would happen, and I sure did not think they would be published by my own enterprise (with a lot of help from my printer, illustrators, and for Xyntillan, Rob Conley as my cartographer). In the end, it happened, and it has been a great journey. Long, too! Now that it is over and done with, it is time to set sights on new vistas.
As recounted last year, we spent the first lockdown period of the Bat Plague with a campaign called The Four Dooms of Thisium; an accursed city damned by the very gods to fourfold destruction… unless… Well, the Thisium campaign is something that would work well as a low-level, very open-ended Basic/Expert adventure series (we capped things at level 6, but a first level party may advance to levels 7-9, and that includes a whole lot of character deaths), or it can be taken apart and used as a mini-sandbox for the popular “Fucking Around Around Thisium” kind of game. Normally, Thisium would be well on the way, but I unexpectedly got a second group to playtest the campaign, which is still ongoing (probably 2/3 or 3/4 finished; they are a very different bunch from my trigger-happy, hyperviolent first testing team). Delays will naturally result from this. Thisium will be a very different beast from Xyntillan – less interwoven, broad instead of deep, a bit more unruly – but I think it will be fun to play and run, as a whole or in pieces.
Two projects are a bit more distant. First, I am working on the second edition of Sword and Magic, my fantasy game (on which I wrote more in 2018). Sword and Magic helped kick off widespread interest in old-school gaming in Hungary in 2008, and a second edition has been long overdue. This is a huge undertaking that will be published as two hardcovers, and need some supplemental material for launch (many of them were published in various Echoes issues) – and will take away some focus from English endeavours. It is not getting a translation, since there are so many general old-school systems out there that another one would just be noise, even if I have a favourable opinion about the virtues of my own. It is, also, not an OSR game in the way the term is increasingly understood; that is, it is not rooted in the B/X tradition (its style and scope is firmly connected to first edition AD&D, and Judges Guild’s philosophy), and its rules are based on a radically rewritten, streamlined version of the d20 System. Sword and Magic is one of the strange chimeras of the early, pre-label old-school movement, not concerned with exact duplication, but connected to old game styles in the way of, say, Encounter Critical or AS&SH.
|Cold Climate Encounter Charts, Take Two|
What I would like to bring to the international audience, though, is Gamemaster’s Guidelines, a comprehensive guidebook to running old-school campaigns. This is not really a rulebook (although there will be a few guidelines for simple domain management, mining, mass combat, and similar concerns), but a kind of reference work that shall help the novice old-school GM get his bearings, and it may also make old hands think. There will also be a bunch of random charts, a comprehensive encounter system, treasure tables, and so on. It is my attempt at doing something similar to the AD&D DMG (although not the same thing, since the DMG already exists). Obviously, it is a ways away, and the Hungarian version comes first, but once it is done, it will not be too hard to translate it.
The third project is something that would have been impossible before Helvéczia. I have long struggled with the idea of publishing a Fomalhaut supplement – the whole idea of presenting the weirdo sword&sorcery / sword&planet setting in a practical format was a problem without a practical solution. (At one time, it could have been a Swords & Wizardry supplement, but when the opportunity arose, I had to choose between writing the supplement and getting my PhD. Perhaps foolishly, I opted for the PhD.) Fomalhaut, a Wilderlands homage, does not make sense without a bunch of hex maps; and that’s hex maps with player and GM versions – lots and lots and lots of map sheets. This is something the modern OSR simply does not do, but a good printer can handle. And I have a good printer. So Helvéczia is a boxed set with nine map sheets… and I got the idea that Fomalhaut could be a boxed set with fifteen or nineteen (there are two map regions out of the nine total that are kinda-sorta blank slates), and a handful of zine type booklets, including a players’ primer, guidelines and stuff for the GM, then hex keys for maybe three regions (which is where all our adventuring was concentrated), and a starting module or two. Now, this is still vague, pie in the sky brainstorming, but it is something that could conceivably exist, and in the future, it just might. There are really no promises, and remember how long Xyntillan and Helvéczia took. But with small steps, one can cover a whole lot of distance.
|Me and the OSR: A Love Story|
The State of the Old School
In the last few years, the community calling itself the OSR has gone through a major upheaval. Something that was for a long time a nominally united thing has splintered into disparate groups with different aesthetics, design ethe, politics (hoo boy!), and communication platforms. It will not be put together again. People can pretend that the big tent is still there, but if you actually look, the canopy is gone, and the tentpole is missing too. Some of the zoo is still around (look ma! that lion is devouring a zebra!), but whatever show is on is more incidental than carefully planned.
But that is only one part of it. Some people have picked up their stuff and moved on, and may eventually come up with something good independent of old-school gaming. However, when we survey the remains of the great circus, we see more serious issues. During the big tent years, the OSR followed a “more the merrier” philosophy, and expanded into every conceivable niche. It became its own little gaming ecosystem where you could theoretically play “anything” and “any way” without leaving the tent. This did lead to a lot of really cool stuff, but it led to a loss of focus, too. A game style that can be anything ultimately does not mean anything. It has no point to make and no strong features to distinguish it and give it a peculiar charm, a creative edge.
Nothing embodies this deplorable state of affairs more than the loss of common knowledge that originally defined the pre-OSR old-school community. Old-school gaming at its core is a movement about rediscovering historical playstyles and putting them to practical use. It does not always create 1:1 replicas (for instance, relatively few people attempt to reconstruct OD&D psionics), and its purposes are selective. The prehistory of gaming provides several approaches to play, not all useful for our interests. A great many people had played TRV OD&D in ways which prefigure 1990s principles, or had long-running campaigns which had drifted in that direction. Yet 1990s roleplaying, even 1990s AD&D (D&D being virtually extinct in that period), is not what we are after. (For more on these traps, see T. Foster’s thread from twelve years ago. We should have listened more carefully!)
By the late 2000s – when Trent posted his warning, and the “OSR” acronym was making its first rounds – old-school traditions had been fairly thoroughly discovered, analysed, and codified. (While versatile, the ideas behind old-school gaming are not particularly deep. It is a game, not a theory vehicle.) People who had shared this corner of the hobby had also shared a common wisdom about how things ought to work, and could also create house rules or far-flung game worlds while using this common wisdom as a point of reference. It was a period of enlightenment, of philosopher kings duking it out on meticulously mowed lawns, and mighty forces of creation writ large on the pages of Fight On! and Knockspell. (Also, pig-headed flame wars about trivial nonsense.)
|Times Well Spent: Listening to a Future President...|
With the rapid expansion of the scene, however, a lot of this knowledge and precision of thought was lost, while being taken for granted. To many people, the “OSR” had supplied rules, tools, and a sort of ideology about gaming (through the various primers), but not the complexity and scope of the original tradition. Without this background, the advantages of the old-school approach become muddled or lost. Function disappears and empty form remains. A lot of the late or post-OSR content I see retains features like procedural generation, random encounters, and maybe even meme-level “strict time records” because they are “supposed to” be there, but they do not actually serve any useful purpose. These vestigial remnants are echoes of a structured playstyle that made sense in its original context. It is as if the "OSR" came and went, and the people left behind it picked up the pieces and tried putting them together, but it is now something else. In the worst cases, supposed old-school adventures recreate the worst practices of game design that the original old-school movement was reacting against: railroading and illusionism, lengthy exposition leading nowhere, or things which obviously make no sense at an actual game table.
Instead, a lot of time is wasted on trivial distractions. Much of the “OSR” became absolutely obsessed by form (how we ought to present information, what a “good layout” looks like, etc.), but uses these supposedly hyper-efficient presentation styles and layout magic for trivial stuff like dungeons with five rooms, lightweight content that restates the obvious, and “experimental” games which are not rooted in play, do not serve play, and would actually damage the quality of play if they were used at someone’s table (mercifully, they aren’t). A good thing they look fancy, eh. Slightly better, but still off course, we see attempts at creating orthodoxies through the strict worship of specific rulesets, or rather some of their central features (e.g. the “gameplay loop” of Basic D&D, or the “strict time records” of AD&D). These attempts come from good intentions, but paradoxically, they tend to simplify and thus, diminish the games they champion. As more of a "culture of play" guy, sometimes I can't help but smile when people start LARPing as the hardest of the hardcore.
Where then is excellence and incline? Surely not in this sour grapes bitching! That’s right. What I suggest as a practical solution is a return to the original mission of old-school gaming: a rediscovery of gaming’s roots and original traditions, and the application of thereof to contemporary games. A re-reading and newfound appreciation of Scripture, and a new exploration of the complex traditions of play that had developed at the dawn of the hobby. We can even call it “Old School Refocus” or “Old School Reaction” (sorry, that’s my own biases speaking). Do not just read and work from newly made “OSR” materials: go back to the source, become immersed and inspired, and see it in its complexity, even some of its contradictions. To cite a concrete example, none of the core OSR games I know give you a vision of the larger campaign the way Gary’s Dungeon Masters Guide did, or the way Judges Guild’s materials show you through practical example. The TSR classics of the late 1970s and very early 1980s are still some of the finest adventures ever created (although they become a lot spottier down the line).
As I see it, the complex body of original texts still has the power to enlighten and inspire, and they are very easy to obtain these days. If you can’t afford the bonkers eBay prices, I can only recommend the various troves, which have done a lot for the benefit of gamers, and place even ultra-rare materials at your fingertips. Print them, use them, do not worry about “damaging an ultra-rare”. Read the Original Dungeons & Dragons booklets with open eyes to understand and appreciate how well the original game hangs together as a “game” game – and how much variety it can accommodate. Read the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide for Gary’s TRV vision of campaign-based play. Read Bob Bledsaw’s idiosyncratic campaign materials and marvel at their off-the-wall creativity and giant ambitions. Use the Ready Ref Sheets in actual play, run a campaign in a corner of Wilderlands of High Fantasy, introduce your players to Thieves of Fortress Badabaskor or Portals of Torsh. Read Caverns of Thracia (of course), but read The Dungeoneer’s Compendium and Dark Tower, too. Take a good look at tuff like Arduin (which I admit I appreciate more than actually like) and the Gamelords Thieves Guild materials. The list goes on. There are classics… and there are forgotten gems off the beaten path too. Seek them out or die trying. There is no other way. Fight on!
|Times Well Spent: Try the Veal!|
Boy, every year these 'state of the blog' posts get bigger and better!ReplyDelete
Here's hoping that we see that Fomalhaut boxed set before I burn out and quit gaming in disgust after writing one too many long-ass play reports for my ne'er-do-well players! (so, if that could come out next week that'd be great).
Funny that Sword & Magic is getting another edition - I am testing out that little 20-page english booklet with a few of my home players. We had one session last week, and another tonight. I'll report back and let you know how it goes.
I am honoured, and am interested in hearing more! I do think the rules work decently even in that condensed edition - they had undergone years of testing even in that release - but the real value of the game was always in the surrounding support material. So take the PDF for what it is - a rules hack that's missing a lot of its proper context.Delete
Great post Melan. Maybe a refocus to the Renaissance spirit of the movement. In the spirit of rediscovering and studying the Greats, did you ever read or consider the Pelinore materials? (Helpfully collected by Kellri- https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B8l15nXmXT3BRFgwZ2ViNUNYSWs/view?resourcekey=0-cqQW3CA1sy4jneQsDxV40AReplyDelete
Thanks! I have heard great things about Pelinore, and have downloaded but not yet read Kellri's edition. Much of the UK's early D&D/AD&D scene still remains a mystery to me; clearly, there was a strong fanzine culture in place, and for a while, White Dwarf seemed to be going very strong. Will have to check it out.Delete
Nice one! I'm looking foward to the new boxset idea, but I can't lie that what I'm really excited about is the GM guide one. I liked a lot the GM part of Helvéczia, very interesting stuff in there.ReplyDelete
Thank you. The GM chapters in Helvéczia are a condensed and genre-focused version of the 2008 GM's guide, which is fairly strongly focused on running sword&sorcery-style D&D. Well, we will see how it goes!Delete
I think I agree with your OSR take. Aside from the splintered factions of fancy art woke and BrOSR, the focus should be using best old-school practices in our current games.ReplyDelete
Also, where's the Cha'alt review?
The Cha'alt books are safe at my home while I'm working from the weekend house. It will take some time to get through them, but I'll give them an honest review when I'm done. No promises on the time, though.Delete
Fair enough, hoss.Delete
Nice post Melan, and a level-headed call-to-arms. It does feel like the hobby was overrun in the past decade, trying to assimilate too many new players & DMs to the culture and hard-won wisdom of the previous decades. Thanks.ReplyDelete
It is a challenge, but it can be done. I have found through personal experience that gamers who had no personal connection to old-school gaming can find its principles and style enjoyable - and sometimes they are easier to convince to give it a try than a lot of veterans.Delete
It is always going to be a minority taste, but it is substantially different from the mainstream 5e model to be attractive to people who are looking for something different - more "hardcore", less rules-intensive, based on a different kind of fantasy.
...and my point is that we need to accept and even cultivate those differences, since that's what makes us distinct. .)
Ill chime in with a contrarian view (of nothing else itll keep the conversation interesting haha): the old-school is dead and buried, and thabkfully the OSR killed it.ReplyDelete
pre-3e dnd isnt scripture, nor was there THAT much more to glean from the text that doesnt already permeate modern post-OSR content. Whats left, now that the idea of a relatively lethal, procedural, modular, lightweight, sandboxy is pretty much de rigeur is to dove into the usability side of things (layout, etc) that you seemed to have partially implied is a bit of a blind alley that is taking the scene off-course.
Qiluite honestly, i think we need to go DEEPER, maybe starting with interrogating the advice and stated goals of pre-3e and foguring out what is useful and what should be discarded. A good example of this was emmy allens post on dice fudging, which really turns on the head what is expected in how the game itself is assumed to work and (agree or disagree on the thesis itself) is fantastic bit of theorycrafting that has been mossing the past couple years in our small corner of the web.
Always food for thought melan, heres to more a active scene going forward (or backward! haha)
"pre-3e dnd isn't scripture...."Delete
Agreed. 2e was also quite bad. So was all the Dragonlance stuff. ;)
No worries, these posts are meant to invite discussion and disagreement! .)Delete
I understand your position (I think), but where I disagree with you is in seeing the discovery process more pessimistically.
In my observation, many of the worthwhile ideas that were obtained from the old games have subsequently faded again. We have found archaeological treasures (sure, plentiful junk as well), but we haven't been their best custodians.
We could say there are three tiers to the excavation:
- the rules: these are well known and available in accessibble, faithfully reproduced editions (no small feat!);
- the content where we apply the rules - adventures and similar supplements. This is a mixed bag; a lot of things that should be "common wisdom" aren't, while common, elementary mistakes turn up frequently. But some people are doing it quite well, too, so that's nice.
- the context of the rules and materials: this is the fuzzy knowledge on actually using the rules and support materials well - the design intent, the broader context of putting together a game, and so on. Spirit of the game stuff. This was always more debatable, harder to grasp, and it turned out to be esier to forget, too. We are not doing very well here.
So on that final point, we seem to be in general agreement.
(Yes, layout / presentation are nice, but the issue becomes a distraction when it becomes such a strong focus of creative efforts. There is nothing altogether wrong with standard book layout, and it is also possible to make things over-engineered.)
Old-School Reaction is a great term. :)ReplyDelete
I came back to gaming some two years ago and dove right into OSR. I never liked the original rulesets, though, so instead I've been running DCC with OSR modules and procedures. I also played in a friend's ASE campaing run in some mashup of brown-books OD&D, Chainmail and pre-D&D wargaming.
But right now I'm at a point where I think maybe it's time to stop fooling around and just play the old game. Old-School Reaction indeed. I will probably dislike it and home-rule it heavily but at least I'll have the personal experience.
I'll be running a sandbox campaign with OSE in Erillion, using your modules and some of the classics, both old and OSR. So this is a thank you for this blog and your products.
BTW, I now consider Helvéczia the best written OSR ruleset (another proof that old D&D is clunky and outdated and you're better off playing new games). Shame we won't get to see your Sword & Magic. But at least I can be excited about your upcoming DMG!
Keep up the great work Melan, you've been a great inspiration.
How do feel about "red-pill gaming"?Delete
Using a standard version of D&D as a springboard for your eventual house rules is a time-honoured tradition! As an example of how far it can be taken, we can bring up Kevin Crawford's games; Stars Without Number, Wolves of God, and so on. There are things D&D cannot do, or does not do well (I have an idea for a science-fantasy campaign that calls for a D6 System variant like Mini-Six, and would be a bad fit for D&D), but for a lot of projects, you can start from its baseline, and work outwards from there. Helvéczia developed this way: it was originally envisioned as a slightly house-ruled D&D campaign, but as I jotted down about four pages of ideas to work from, it quickly became its own thing through the application of setting logic.Delete
Just a big thank you and congratulations from a fellow Hungarian. I remember, a few years back I played at your table at a KaTa convention. I was coming from - as many do - from a 5e direction, and I had never heard of the OSR or anything old school, though I had casually read Sword & Magic and knew your name meant a lot. That game was a gamechanger, I felt this is how this hobby should be enjoyed. I have since been a humble player and appreciator of your work. Thanks again and Fight On!ReplyDelete
Longest campaign you’ve ever run?ReplyDelete
Measured in game sessions, my longest AD&D campaign ran from 1993 to 1995, and that was a lot of gaming. In term of years, our first Fomalhaut campaign ran from 2007 to 2010, almost four years, probably once every 2.5 weeks. Both campaigns ended at 12th to 14th level.Delete
hogy jön a szerepjátékhoz Carlson Tucker?ReplyDelete
Tucker egyértelműen old-school.Delete
Interesting stuff, Melan.ReplyDelete
In your opinion, what are some particular examples of "strict time records" harming a ruleset or a module?
I don't understand the idol worship surrounding the scripture (OD&D booklets and obscure 1976 Judges Guild references) either. It's a bit like splitting wood with a stone axe for the sake of being "authentic" and "open to possibilities", while you have chainsaws, sawmills, steel axes and serrated blades aplenty at your disposal. Flipping through the 1st ed. DMG (something I haven't done in at least a decade), I still see it as what it is: a haphazard jumble of things that happened to cross Gygax's mind at the moment, often with little or no relevance to gameplay. Show me a living man (person, whatever) who used the unarmed or aerial combat rules, or the gemstone table (for what?) exactly as they were written, for instance, or used them at all. Melan's Gamemastering guidelines for Sword & Magic are head & shoulders above the high & holy DMG, if you are interested in pedestrian details like how to design and run and actual working adventure.ReplyDelete
Perhaps you don't understand it because there simply is no idol worship...just D&D practitioners who can see past the window dressing at the underlying quality. There is a mindset that develops from a certain style of play that is a mental key that unlocks the utility of the 1e DMG and other earlier works. It then goes from a "haphazard jumble" to a pile of gold. Eye of the beholder!Delete
Does one deride classic art because it is appears less modern too? Context!
Almost all the "chainsaws & sawmills" that have come after have been cheap knock-offs. Plastic shells designed for consumerism and mass consumption. The rawness of the original works is rooted in a deep strength that evolved organically for the necessities of play. Not so with everything that came after---they are usually the product of one or two people's mind in a novice attempt to "do it better" without having gone through the crucible of community trial-and-error and the pain of true invention. It takes some effort to see that, but once you've tuned in, nothing else resonates. Afterward, all the later editions appear hollow and flattering to players in an unbalanced way.
This is really myopic. This is the same kind of blanket dismissal which is lazily targeted at old-school games in general, and just as misguided. Sometimes the problem is not with the texts, but the reader.Delete
As it goes, though, these materials have not simply an energy that's great to absorb, but a point of view which is unique and invigorating:
- The OD&D booklets are an editing mess, but treated seriously, OD&D is a remarkably tight game with rock-solid gameplay.
- The Judges Guild supplements are crudely produced, but have both a vision of campaign-building that's expansive yet very practical, and an oracular quality which turns small snippets into deep inspiration.
- The AD&D DMG, of course, is no textbook for memorisation, but a worldview to see the game - your game! - as a complex campaign, integrating a range of subsytems to build your own experience. It is also chock full of useful stuff. Yes, some experimental stuff that didn't work out in hindsight, too. It was willing to take creative risks. (I think trvekeve has recently used those aerial combat rules in his grand Dragonlance campaign. I used the gem table, more recently for Hoard of Delusion, but also for Erillion and Thisium, round 1. It gets used.)
Your comment, to be short and to the point, is bollocks.
Glad you made the Dragonlance reference Melan, led me to Google around and find his blog with the DL recaps. I’d been thinking about running a more “sandbox” DL campaign myself, with the large amount of interesting material from the modules (which is simply disregarded at the conclusion of each novel in favor of a railroad). Trvekeve is a great resource, fight on!Delete
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Hi Melan! I tried to reach to you by your contact form in the EMDT page, but I don't know if I did it right. I'm interested in talking with you about some issues respecting your games (all good things, I hope!). If you are interested you can respond me in email@example.comReplyDelete
Thanks for everything!
Sent you an e-mail!Delete
Preach it brother! The OSR has been given life and raw materials, now it must be given purpose and form ONCE AGAIN. Under the benevolent rule of the Holy Synod, the Hourglass will be turned round, and the Garden of Eden will be opened once more.ReplyDelete
Incidentally, a thought occurs; Perhaps it makes sense to see the OSR as an evolutionary process, each cycle or era introducing mutations, with some of them being adopted and others being rejected. Variants that become too dissimilar 'split off' from the main branch, dead ends are eventually cast off, with the main ine introducing tiny segments into its DNA. The Layout Apocalypse eventually results in a dead end, but the bulk of OSR publications does incorporate some of its teachings, it is the same for the Brycean Utility Era and the upcoming Prince-ean Craftsmanship Epoch, which is to supercede the Artpunk Interregnum. Mutation, with the bulk being discarded, but a tiny fraction making it into the DNA of the whole.ReplyDelete
That is sure one way of looking at it, and optimistic. Last year, I wrote about a similar "amicable divorce". Well... that did not turn out entirely amicable. But beyond the sound and fury, some degree of mutual learning will surely be happening. Which is why the next Echöes Fröm Fömälhäüt will be printed in relaxing, black-on-yellow tones, and be set entirely in the font of nördic warrior kings: the JSL Blackletter.Delete
Mvrk Bvrk; Trve Vdition By Varg when?Delete
Do you foresee The Four Dooms of Thisium being in the smaller zine format or a big hardcover like CX?ReplyDelete
It will be a larger, A4 format. The raw manuscript (my typed play notes, which will need some expansion) is 77 pages in the zine format, and that would be way too much that way. Thinner by far than Xyntillan, however.Delete
I'm optimistic for old-school gaming as a smaller, but un-ignorable contrast to the watered-down version most will prefer.ReplyDelete
"By their fruits ye shall know them" is the iron law. However, it's also true that each generation wants to think it discovered what it adopts. So cultivating some quality younger talent that's already there with work to show, for the next high tide, is important. Otherwise someone young without talent will elevate, while promising to hit it with their ax.
If groups of old-school gamers can distinguish themselves on the basis of both the playstyle and quality, the games will remain attractive, and continue to bring in new blood. Nostalgia or a simple interest in the past can help, but it will only draw, not retain people. That's where a dedication to solid craft comes in.Delete
I derive a great deal of value from reading and pondering old school texts just as one derives more nutrients from natural foods... the processed corporate Pablum contains no savor, no texture. All piquant notes are washed out, all color is bleached away. What remains contains no challenge and little possibility. Paleo-rpgs are still exciting, and still disclose possibilities. OD&D still is or at least can be a wargame.ReplyDelete
"Listening to a Future President"... from your lips to God's ears, brother.
So if a textbook (and the DMG is still a textbook, not a literary work) is poorly edited, incoherent and just isn't very useful for its intended purpose, then it's the reader's fault. Well that's a revelation.ReplyDelete
I played plenty of 1st ed. AD&D (not much else around at early '90s Hungary), but I learned practically nothing about how to put together a decent setting or adventure from the hallowed pages of the DMG, a tome supposed to teach me freaking DUNGEON MASTERING, in case you missed the title. Everything I learned was from the school of hard knocks (i.e. actual gameplay, lots of trial and error), and the few pages dedicated to story arcs and artsy-fartsy-suchlike from games like Shadowrun or even - gasp - Vampire. In the original sacred texts, you can roll up that the next kingdom is a "magocracy", but get nothing about the implications that must have on a society or anything surrounding it, you need to figure it out for yourself. Hell, you can roll up the types of whores walking the streets! Fascinating stuff when you are 14... erm, not really, not even then.
Regarding evil corporate bubblegum products: the communal nature of roleplaying requires no small amount of personal effort. Each and every gaming session is its own work of art, a consensual hallucination of the GM and players, something special to that moment and place, a thing unique with its virtues, warts and all. Thus you cannot really play anything, not even an evil corporate bubblegum product, "out of the box". Most of the content will be, inevitably, from your group - I never got all the hollering about how those fat capitalist bastards will rape your creative self and turn you to little bland capitalist bastards if you use their stuff. And - brace yourself for even more heresy - no notes scribbled on graph paper from any 14 years old genius matched Spelljammer or Dark Sun.
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Disagree across the board. It took me 35 years to really appreciate the 1e DMG. Perhaps you'll come back to it someday too.Delete
And yes, if you pick up a textbook on Non-linear Control Systems it will look "poorly edited, incoherent and un-useful too". But truly, that is all on you. It says "Advanced" right on the cover.
Look at at those mountains! Beautiful!ReplyDelete