Thursday, June 14, 2012

I Have No Time and I Must Blog!

I have a large number of posts on the back burner. Somewhere around 20. The game that started as Codex, stalled out, restarted, then became its own game. As a responsible creator, when that happened I had to hunt it down and kill it.  Lots of reasearch has been done, lots of lessons have been learned by watching others (in the OSR and in business in general).  With everything I have learned, and figured out, and seen someone else come up with design on a good game continues to progress at a snails pace. As an aside, I swear that B/X Blackrazor has bugged my brain, as that guy comes up with the same ideas as I do at exactly the same times.  Since we don't live too far from one anoher and don't know each other and have no frinds in common, I suspect it is something in the Greenwood water. Luckly for both of us we implement differently.  The thing that really slows me down is that a lot of my ideas require graphics to convey and I just don't have a lot of time to put them together. And those I think are the best ones.  There are many insights I have to share and many ideas that I have developed and I will endeavor to get them all here soon. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

A Sudden and Unexpected Endgame

Recently I have been reading The Hobbit.  The situation of this reading is causing me to look at each sentence, and what is really said.  I am constantly amazed at how much I forget and how much I miss.  It is a dense book.

What occurred to me is how a large hoard like the one Smaug sits on is seriously a game changer.  Most referees would rule that even after you discover one; or kill or remove the guardian of a hoard you have to get it back to home base before you collect the experience.  Now, what happens if you turn the dungeon that you are in into home base? This is pretty much what happens with the lonely mountain.  Thorin and Company don't have to transport the treasure anywhere once the battle of the five armies is over, and given the description of Thorin and the other dwarves as they join that battle, it seems like they have leveled up a bit as their eyes are glowing red!  

The thought here is that it no matter what the circumstance, the endgame can show up quite suddenly as dice are involved and players are clever.  Wise use of a hoard might be what allows a party to truly convert a dungeon into a legitimate home base.  Interestingly a megadungeon that can never be settled helps to prevent this.  And while something is statistically unlikely, it does not mean that it can't happen ever, or that it can't happen many times in a row.  A party could get lucky for example and find a +3 Sword in their possession after a lucky lucky victory.  How you handle that may determine what kind of DM you are.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Here's What Happened - Part 1: New Ways to Play

D&D is pretty hard to classify. Even experts on D&D can often disagree on exactly what it is. This makes it something that is very difficult to study. As James at Grognardia and the so called OSR at large has demonstrated much of the study of the game comes through examination of rules changes and additions through its history, with very little examination of actual play. Observing actual play of D&D is a lot like studying sub-atomic particles- it takes a lot of resources to find a game that can be observed and when observed you may not see what you are looking for or not know what sort of environment you will find when you do observe. And does observing the game change it? Possibly.

So a while ago James asked “What Happened?” The question he is asking here is: Why did D&D go from a game sold in the mainstream to a game that was not? In 1983 D&D was available in grocery store toy/game aisles, department stores, and books stores. By 1985 it was pretty much only available in book stores or specialty shops (comic/game stores). I posted in the comments for the post at Grognardia that there is not a single factor that was a “smoking gun” but rather several things working in concert. In addition all these things and how they combined were obscured by the "satanic panic" of the time. The panic obscured what was going on not because it killed the sales but because of the opposite: it blew them through the roof. This record level of sales due to hype obscured the impact that business and design decisions had on game sales. The degree of the success of the game based on its own marketing and its own quality was forever obscured. Even after the smoke cleared, it was impossible to say why after the panic sales were trending downward when before they had been on a healthy trend upwards.

We can’t know for certain what happened. However there are some places we can look that might allow us to figure out why D&D came out in a decline on the other side of the panic. There are two industries that happened concurrently with the development of RPGs, and it can be surmised that all three are something that occurs as a society computerizes. Both of these other industries share two key socio-economic traits with RPGs. One is that both were connected with a social fad and another is that both had steady economic growth to a peak and then a long decline after a fad phase. The first is interactive fiction which is almost as old as D&D itself and walks hand in hand with D&D and RPGs in general and always has. It breaks into two branches- the text and the electronic. The other was “arcade video games” which were not as influenced by content and concept but do share a similar fad and economic pattern.

Interactive fiction started with computers. “The Colossal Cave Adventure” was developed in tandem with the march of computerization and the appearance of D&D. It was expanded upon and also called “Adventure.” It was followed by “Dungeon” an early version of “Zork.” These games emulated the exploratory sandbox and puzzle aspects found in D&D. “Colossal Cave Adventure” was developed between 1975 and 1976 and improved upon in 1977 and had many variants. “Zork” was developed between 1977 and 1979, with the “Dungeon” variant appearing in 1977. While the text based variation on interactive fiction known as “Choose Your Own Adventure” did have its start as an idea around 1970, it did not find a publisher until 1975, and did not break into the critical success it had until 1979. All of these things are happening at the same time that D&D and RPGs are ascendant but before the advent of the panic.

The arcade video game industry developed largely independent of D&D. In all its faddishness it shares two traits with electronic interactive fiction and “Choose Your Own Adventure.” Additionally these two traits are shared by Dungeons and Dragons. These two traits I believe are the key to why all of these pastimes experienced a slow decline and their connection to Dungeons and Dragons will become readily apparent as we examine what happened to interactive fiction.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The 1e Re-release is a Census

News that the 5th edition is in the pipe has arrived. On its heels is the news that Wizards of the Coast is releasing 1e with original interior art and new covers in a special direct to game store printing with a charitable donation to the EGG memorial fund for each copy bought.

There can be no doubt that this is absolutely directed at the OSR. Here are the reasons why:

1. There is a huge connection between the OSR and the GGMF. A quick surf around the OSR blogs will show that the GGMF is the generally the favored charity of the OSR. This can be seen in the 2011 GenCon announcement for the GGMF:
The Gygax Memorial Fund will be hanging out at the Old School Renaissance Group, booth 1541 in the exhibit hall. Gail Gygax, Gary's widow, will be there, and she will also be presenting the 2011 ENnie Awards on Friday night.

2. The sale of these things is being listed as a hobby channel exclusive.
Given this I am led to think they are tracking these sales with care. Number sold will not be simply the number sold into distribution, but the number sold to each game store.

3. Given that there is a donation attached to the sale it behooves Wizards to track sales more carefully.

4. The audience are people who would buy a 1e book. This indicates that it is someone who probably is not into the latest iteration of the game or at least would enjoy an older version of it.

5. The audience are people that actually keep up with what Wizards does, but still don't keep up with the current iteration of the game or at least enjoy an older version of it.

6. The audience is made up of people who want to patronize games stores.

I would wager this fits 90% of the OSR population.

For a long time we have had the ear of The Mearls, and at least the attention of Monte Cook. However we have not had the attention of sales and marketing. I think that this is an attempt to measure the probable size of the OSR. Its a census. The designers and developers will respect us because (generally) the OSR is kinda fun. But sales and marketing are only going to respect hard numbers that without a doubt translate to sales. The nature of this release is one that can be written off as a charity if it turns out that we are 1000 dudes with really loud keyboards. But if sales indicate that this segment is in the 10s of thousands, Wizards is going to rethink some things, I guarantee it.

I think we might be a whole lot bigger than we think we are, both in voice and in number.