Monday, December 28, 2009
If you want to order the core book online from a source other than Lulu, you can find it at FRP Games and Noble Knight Games. I'll also be sending off a shipment of Mutant Future to Noble Knight this week, so keep an eye out for that to turn up there soon.
That's all for now, more updates later!
Monday, December 7, 2009
This version is updated to the current revised edition, including all the great art by Steve Zieser! The electonic version is available as a free complementary no-art version and a version with art at a discounted price. These are currently available at the Goblinoid Games RPGnow store. A POD version is soon to follow at Lulu and at RPGnow when their POD service is up and running.
Friday, November 20, 2009
My wife had never played table top RPGs before, but she does enjoy games like Diablo. She struck up a conversation about gaming with a colleague of ours and it turned out he is an enthusiastic player of D&D 3.5 and other games (and he only lives like two blocks away), so we set up a session for last Saturday. I ran Labyrinth Lord with some components from the not yet released Advanced Edition Companion.
The group consisted of my wife, our new friend, and his girlfriend. His girlfriend had never played RPGs either. My wife told me ahead of time that she would play out of pity for me because I hadn't been able to play for so long and we needed bodies in the chair, and that she didn't anticipate liking it very much. I think this is probably common for people with spouses or significant others who are not gamers. Gaming is, after all, a pretty weird and geeky thing. Guys sitting around pretending to be elves or whatever, rolling dice and getting all excited about things that aren't real.
When we started playing there was definitely some awkwardness. Partly because I'm a bit rusty but also partly because it is a new group, mostly people who had never played before and the one person who is experienced is experienced mostly with later editions of D&D (but did play 2e). I was too busy during the week to create something new so I used The Tomb of Sigyfel.
My wife did make some attempts to roleplay her characters (they were each using two 1st level characters, because with the new group I anticipated deaths in the party) but I could tell she was feeling self conscious. Once the group got into the tomb though, there was an interesting shift in tension.
Suddenly the game became more accessible to the new players, I think. They were exploring the tomb slowly, methodically, checking for traps at every step. My wife independently reinvented the use of the 10' pole as she had her character use it to prod every step of the place (she is a natural, apparently!). She would throw torches into dark rooms before entering to see what was there. I was watching the birth and emergence of old-school play again before my very eyes. When they encountered some skeletons they made short work of them and I think it was at that point she was hooked.
We played fairly late, and when I got up the next morning my wife announced that she wanted to go to the hobby store to pick up some paints and other supplies to paint the miniatures I've had sitting around in a box for years (I didn't have any miniatures out so we used dice the night before). So it looks like I've created a monster! Not only did she unexpectedly enjoy herself, but now she wants to get into painting minis and wants to play again ASAP. It looks like she's started down the path of becoming a gamer girl.
I bet it's been 20 years since I played with people who were new to RPGs. That being the case it has been a long time since I actually tried to teach someone completely new to RPGs how to play, and it made me realize a few things. A lot of gamers talk about how "basic" D&D is, well, basic. It is actually about the same as the original three booklets of D&D from 1974, but since it was repackaged and sold as a "kids game" in the 80s it has the unshakable perception of being simplistic. What I realized as I was explaining how to play, what the numbers mean, etc. is that this is not a "basic" game. It can only be viewed as basic to people who have a frame of reference to more complex RPGs, but to people new to these games even a simpler game like Labyrinth Lord can be complex. I've never met or heard from anyone who started playing with the basic boxed set as a kid, any version, who actually read and understood the rules and played "correctly."
I'd never played with someone who is more into 3.5, either, which was interesting. He did just fine, but he commented that my play style is very different than his. I think what he meant is that he is used to more "story driven" play, with characters that have elaborate backgrounds, etc. This kind of play is not alien to me, because I've played that way before too. I was really into Vampire in the 90s, and even some of our early D&D games were played with more "story" type elements, I suppose. This session made me realize how I have come full circle in my play style. I enjoy the roleplaying aspect of early D&D, but not at the expense of "the game" if that makes sense. In my experience, games that are focused on "the story" value the immersion into character and plot more than "the game." As an example, in a story-based game I think people are much more likely to ignore dice results if they prefer a different outcome to a situation. There is a lot invested in characters in terms of development, so character death is not something that comes easily. It is less of a "threat" in the game. I prefer for a story, for lack of a better term, to emerge through play and the result of character choices, dice results, etc. The story is what happens when playing the game, the "game" is not just a smaller component of telling the story. If that makes sense.
In the end fun was had by all, and I know my wife is hooked. I also managed (I think) to remind a player of more recent games of how the game "used to be played" and it seems to me there is still something desirable in that style of play. When I went to the hobby shop for paints and brushes last Sunday I had a long conversation with one of the guys working there. He is probably about my age and played a lot of AD&D 1e back in the day, but his current group played 3.5 and switched to Pathfinder when 4e came out. We were discussing AD&D and he said he'd like to play it again if he hadn't gotten rid of all his books years ago. This got me thinking that despite how D&D has changed in tone, mechanics, and game play in more recent editions, many people look fondly on the old editions. They were just good fun. This is a testament I think not just to the idea that game "evolution" is mostly cultural, but it is also evidence that the more recent versions are not the same game. They may be good in their own right, they just don't deliver the same experience.
That's why I think that when we introduce people to the older editions or talk to people who no longer play the older editions, the best way to approach it is simply from the angle of them being different games. We should break away from the false dichotomy of new vs. old. You don't have to play only an older edition or only a newer edition any more than someone would choose to only play one RPG and never any others. The older editions are simply different, both mechanically and aesthetically. I think if approached in that way there is room for both new and old versions alike at peoples' game table.
Thursday, November 19, 2009
Saturday, October 24, 2009
To me there are really two issues in this discussion. The first, whether a megadungeon can be published, I think can be answered with "yes." The followup question is whether it would be a product people would want to buy. I would envision the "best" format being maps with some keyed rooms, but with a lot of tables for random encounters, random placing of weird phenomenon, generation of treasure and other situations or encounters idiosyncratic to a dungeon level or even subsection. It would very much be a campaign book rather than a ready to go dungeon. In many ways I think writing such a book would actually be harder than a fully fleshed out dungeon, but would the payoff be there? Do people even want it?
This leads to the other issue in this discussion, which is the (non-sexual) fetishism of Greyhawk and Gary Gygax in general. If we take a step back for a second I think what people really want is a megadungeon published by Gary, or maybe even one of the other TSR guys, but not by anyone else. If anyone else publishes one, then by definition it will not be the "real thing." The only authority that will be accepted by a certain crowd is the product penned by an exclusive, very small collection of people.
I do agree that just for fun, and from a historical perspective, it would be cool to see Gary's actual notes and hand drawn maps published. Do I think there is any deep insight waiting in those note that will revolutionize the way we play? No, I actually think that's a silly idea and more of an idea that comes from the phenomenon of fandom than anything else. It is interesting how the people who played in Gary's regular home game do not seem to pine away for those materials to be published as much as other people do. I only played in one short session Gary ran in his Greyhawk dungeon. He had a three-ring folder with his maps in it, and paper with room keys and other notes. It looked just like any other gamer's way of doing things to me. I did catch a glimpse of some of the maps, which looked just like other gamer's hand drawn maps. There is no deep method of play waiting there guys. It is the same stuff everyone already does.
So in the end what people really want is to share the actual experience of playing with Gary, but people won't get that from his notes even if they were published. I might be a heretic for saying this, but it seems to me Gary would scoff at all the fetishizing going on because it hearkens back to what he talked about before about how so many people looked to him and other folks at TSR for "official" ways of doing things. The truth is that those guys at TSR were just gamers like everyone else, and the way things are done at your own game table is just as creative and works just as well. When enough people would write or call to ask for a way of doing something, they might crank out an "official" system of doing it, but that system would not likely be the way they did it at home. At home, they played like everyone else did. The idea that you can take Gary's home game notes and use them to play "the way the game is supposed to be played" if only they would publish them is not only untrue but tragically misguided. We already have so much that Gary published. We already have the tools to play the way he intended, with countless archived message board posts to guide us in addition to all the material from the old rule books and modules.
That's as close as anyone will ever get to Gary now, and even though the psychology of fandom seems to pine away for more I think it would be far more productive to write the things you want yourself instead if wishing they existed.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The Advanced Edition Companion is still underway, just running slower on it than I had planned. Editing is still underway but were plugging away at things. I'm starting to make requests for art.
The print run for Labyrinth Lord is underway. We're still on schedule for distribution in November. I will have some copies of LL and Mutant Future on hand for direct sale to retailers. The Mutant Future print run is behind because I had to get a new cover proof. The error was on the printer's side of things, but nonetheless it cost us a few weeks.
There are some upcoming announcements about foreign editions of Labyrinth Lord. We're not yet ready for saying anything official but keep an eye out.
Saturday, October 10, 2009
They have been releasing more new products recently. For those of you out there who have been itching for more Mutant Future support, here it is!
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Friday, September 25, 2009
My part happens at about 9 minutes and 10 seconds in, as it was #4 at the time.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
Check out the picture of the battered (and battled!) Labyrinth Lord book posted on my forums here. Notice the battered LL book next to pristine Moldvay/Cook books? I don't know about you, but I'd rather abuse a fresh copy of Labyrinth Lord. They'll always be available!
Monday, September 14, 2009
I've tried very hard in the past to succinctly answer this question on various forums. Probably over at DF too, but I've decided I'm done trying, which is why I didn't make a post there.
You know what the real problem is? Sure, occasionally someone new to "the scene" is genuinely confused and wants to know what's up. But more often than not the person asking knows full well what the point of the retro-clones is but refuses to accept that as an answer. The question is only asked to try to twist everything into a knot. I could (yet again) outline exactly why I wrote Labyrinth Lord, the goals behind it, the whys and hows, but the problem is that when I've done that in the past it is just ignored. It's not the answer they're looking for. It's not that the truth is so hard to grasp, its that they reject the answer. They have already decided that there is no point to the retro-clones, so you're lured once again into what actually amounts to people being upset that retro-clones might be taking attention away from out of print games.
Is there a point to the retro-clones? Yeah. If you're receptive to the answer, you already know it.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Monday, August 31, 2009
Coming in September 2009!
Labyrinth Lord: Revised Edition is a new printing of the classic Labyrinth Lord rules, which fixes known errata. In addition, a new cover and all new interior art has been added courtesy of the very talented Steve Zieser! This edition of Labyrinth Lord will be appearing in game stores in November, but will be available for online sales in September via Lulu and from Goblinoid Games direct to retailers. The paperback version ($21.95) will be in distribution, and a hard cover ($31.95) will be available exclusively online.
Like the previous edition, a free complementary electronic book will be made available in addition to a rich text file. The free electronic book will be without art, but a heavily discounted full art version will be available for $4.95 at Your Games Now and RPGnow. We’re taking this approach because Goblinoid Games is the first publisher of a neo-retro game to buy all of the interior and cover art, and to continue hiring freelancers we have to charge for the updated and improved edition.
The free complementary edition will have the same pagination as the art version and print version, making it a useful free tool so all players can get the rules, with the same pagination to ease reference, free for online and at-the-table play.
The electronic version will go on sale concurrently with the POD version at Lulu.
Friday, August 28, 2009
There is a growing perception that Lulu in particular is a bad service or that it provides shoddy products. The fact is that after hundreds of copies of Labyrinth Lord, I've only seen reports of two copies printed poorly. That's an error rate of well under 1% folks. When RPGnow goes live with their POD service, they will likely use the same printers as Lulu. The quality of the printing is pretty damn good, and this should not be confused with the sometimes maddening customer service with Lulu, who is actually just a middle man for the printers in the first place.
There are more and more people self publishing these days, and sometimes they make mistakes in creating their files for Lulu. This is largely from inexperience, but it's also sometimes because people get into a rush to have the product out there, for a number of reasons. When such a product has a shoddy appearance, some of these people blame Lulu, saying things like the printing doesn't turn out the proper color, is too dark, etc. Some people blame the website interface.
Attention Publishers: When you shrug the responsibility off on the printer, blaming them for things you could have prevented, you are unfairly blaming the source, and therefore creating the idea that POD is crap. When you do this, you are shooting yourself in the foot, because POD technology is becoming the lifeblood of this kind of small press publishing. Do not convince customers that POD is bad, especially because it's not, but also because when you do so you are destroying a market.
The bottom line is that a service like Lulu that is self service puts the entire burden on you, the publisher, to learn the interface and learn what needs to be done to set up your cover properly or your body text file properly. There is no one to inspect quality, which means you, the publisher, need to inspect quality.
That means you need to order a proof copy before you release it to the public.
Inconvenient, yes, but if you want to be responsible, it has to be done.
If properly done, you can get high quality products from POD. There is nothing odd about the way it works, nothing inherent that will produce dark covers, or off colors, or move your text around; none of these things will happen if you do the job right and understand how things work.
I want to provide a couple of useful tips, some of which I've learned the hard way. I get such a low error rate with Labyrinth Lord because I bit the bullet and ordered proof copies. I also took the time to learn how to properly construct print-ready files.
1) Read the directions very carefully regarding the dimensions of your cover. If doing a one piece cover, be sure you calculate spine width correctly.
2) When setting up your trim edges, be sure to extend whatever color is on the cover all the way through the trim edges. Why? Because there will be slight variation in where they cut the cover, and if you don't have color on the whole thing you may end up with a white line on one or more edges. This is true for case wrap hard covers as well. They may or may nor fold the cover over the board in exactly the place where you think they will.
3) Work with high resolution, high quality images. You need to have images that are at least 300 dpi. Scaling them up to 300 dpi will not work, it will only result in fuzzy images, unless you are working with vector art.
4) Use the gamut warning on whatever software you are using to design your covers. The Lulu FAQ says (or at least it did last time I checked) that your cover should be designed with RGB colors. This is not true. They tell people that because it is easier for most people to do RGB. The truth is that the printer prints with CMYK even if they can read RGB. Not all RGB colors translate into CMYK, meaning that when it is converted the color will shift. It could end up darker, or it could end up an "off" shade of color from what you intended. Always construct your cover in CMYK, or at least work with colors that are within the CMYK gamut.
4) Understand that computer screen resolution and brightness does not necessarily reflect what your cover will actually look like when printed. This is true no matter what print method you use. If your screen is set too light or too dark, that affects your perceptions. How many colors is your monitor set to display? It doesn't display only in CMYK, either.
The biggest tip here is to be sure you have created a print ready PDF with high quality software. If you use Adobe products you are in very good shape. Take the time to learn how to use it. If you use other software then I'm afraid it is hit or miss, and you'll have to do some investigating to find high quality freeware PDF creators. They are out there. However, PDFs created with other software may have problems with some printers, and not necessarily consistently. Remember that some PDF software is designed for onscreen viewing of documents, not for creating high resolution print ready documents for publishing.
The bottom line is that POD technology is an incredible resource for small press publishing. Even when you order a short run for distribution, it is POD technology, and then you better get it right or your whole run is wasted. Many of us small press publishers will have some titles in distribution, and some lower volume titles only available through POD. These are our tools, our life blood. Do not create the impression that POD printing sucks just to cover mistakes. Do not give POD technology a bad name when it doesn't deserve it.
This also turns to a trust issue. Customers get tired of buying a book only to have the next "fixed" version up two days later (or even two minutes later). This is such a big problem with some publishers that I confess I won't touch anything some of them put up for POD, knowing it is going to be shoddy or the product will go through revision after revision as a result of rushing it or not constructing the files correctly. It's one thing to update a PDF only product, because that is a simple matter of downloading the update, but when you're customers waste the money on a physical product this hurts them and it hurts the image of the delivery mechanism. We all have to do a good job of making sure that when a POD title becomes available, we have taken all steps necessary to ensure a quality product. Mistakes do occur, but typos are an entirely different subject than having gross printing errors on the cover. There should never be those kind of errors in a finished product.
Respect the tools, and use them correctly to do the job right and we can continue to build the POD market. Use the the tools haphazardly and you destroy a method of distribution that is extremely important.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
It is very humbling to get this recognition. I know that these kinds of retro games won't score higher because they aren't considered "innovative," but nonetheless I think this further demonstrates that this style of game is appreciated, as some people may recall that Labyrinth Lord was a runner up last year. I thank the folks behind the Indie RPG Awards, and as Arnold would say, "Awl bae back!"
Monday, August 17, 2009
I was perusing the used movies for sale at my local Blockbuster last week, and came across some copies of Gamerz. There were only two left, so I picked up one for myself and an extra one to give away. I think this is a great gamer movie, so if you're interested in getting a free used copy, check out this contest! I'll ship it anywhere in the world, but be aware it has the US region code.
To enter the contest, submit in this thread a room description for one (1) room in a 1st level of a dungeon. The description must be no longer than 300 words (not counting stat blocks, which must be for Labyrinth Lord). In one week from today, Aug. 24th, submissions will close. Then I will set up a vote thread and the community will have 3 days to vote for the winner. I'll send the winner the DVD.
If we get enough submissions and people are willing, we'll compile these into a free PDF, so people can use it as a resource for determining the contents randomly of a room.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
So, all of this is leading to how to organize the planes of existence. I want to get away from the complexity, but also sort of bloated cosmology that was in 1e. If you are familiar with the second issue of the Scribe of Orcus, I outlined the basics of one possible scheme for the planes, which I will probably adopt for AEC. I made a two-dimensional representation of the planes that will likely appear in AEC in some form. Here is the rough draft for those curious:
Monday, August 10, 2009
Old-school D&D characters are adventurers
New-school D&D characters are "heroes"
Friday, August 7, 2009
The thing about novels compared to games is that an author can have his characters do all sorts of things and not have to worry about fitting the actions into a framework of game rules. A powerful character can be stabbed in the heart with a dagger and die if the story requires it. That sort of thing.
So when I looked at the Drizzt stats I expected to see a ranger, albeit a drow ranger. For the most part that's what we got, and his basic stats were nothing special. Then as I read further I got to this part that really gave me the shits:
"So accurate are his wicked cuts, that if Drizzt's 'to hit' roll exceeds the minimum required for a hit by more than 5, he scores double weapon damage and has a base 10%, plus or minus 3% per level difference between him and his opponent, chance of killing the foe instantly."
AGGGGHHH!! Why did they do this? They invented a special critical hit system exclusive to Drizzt!!! My nerd rage knows no bounds!
Yeah. See, for those of you who never read the novels Drizzt appears in, he kicks so much ass it almost becomes comical, especially in the Dark Elf Trilogy. Drizzt wields two scimitars simultaneously, and dances around sticking one scimitar here, another scimitar there, artfully slicing here dicing there dancing over there flashing the blade to one side then to the other side then upside down in a circle up the ribcage to the brain while standing on his head picking his nose...
...all while balancing his checkbook at the same time.
He's the Ultimate Master of the Blade, have no doubt about that. His sword prowess is described in such detail over and over again in the books that I guess I can't blame the writers for needing to somehow justify it when presenting Drizzt in actual game terms. The problem though is that I wanted to play out little arena battles between my favorite character and Drizzt, but he had that damn special critical hit ability. Without that my character would stomp him like the sissy elf he is.
Sometimes I think the best policy is what happens in the novel, stays in the novel.
What I want to talk about in this post, though, isn't whether zee game is zee zame. We all know it isn't, so I'll leave that dead horse covered with a throw blanket for the time being (just don't mind the flies and smell, because I'll probably expose it again sometime later!). Instead I want to talk about new editions of games in general. There still seems to be people who get flustered when anyone claims a new edition of D&D comes out in order to make more money from the brand. It's the obvious truth, but what I'm curious about is whether D&D as a brand is very different in this regard compared to other classic brands that have been around for a long time. Let's take a look at a few.
Basic Roleplaying: Chaosium has been publishing this since the very early 80s. This system has been used for a number of genres and licensed properties. The interesting thing about this system is that even though new editions came out, such as for Call of Cthulhu or Elric/Stormbringer, the core rules were largely identical. The main differences could be found in the way some of the subsystems worked, such as demon summoning in the various versions of Elric/Stormbringer. The long and the short of it is you can pick up any adventure from any period of time and run it with BRP, no matter what version, will little tweaking.
So, Basic Roleplaying is not a good example of milking the brand. It has remained nearly unchanged for almost 30 years.
Palladium System: I think readers know what I'll say about this one before reading past this sentence. The sheer stubbornness of Palladium in refusing to revise their games is legendary. Sure, they have tweaked things over the years, but largely the system has remained zee zame through the various versions for the genres they publish. That's not to say they don't publish certain slightly updated or revised books to make more money, it's just that one could basically use older versions in about as seamless a fashion as is possible for the Palladium System.
So, this isn't a good example of the edition turnover business plan either. Think of all the new rehashed supplements they could sell if they did do this!
Tunnels & Trolls: This is another good example of a system staying mostly how it was created. There are different editions of this game, mostly with a few tweaks or add-ons but no big revisions.
Again, not a good example of re-releasing a brand as a new game.
GURPS: This is a rare case where I think the fans wanted a new edition before the game company wanted to release one! This system, at the core, remained unchanged since it came out in the mid 80s. It had considerable material tacked onto it for many years, until it was sort of a mess to straighten out, until a new edition came out just a few years ago. The new edition does have some compatibility hiccups with 3rd edition revised, but largely zee game is zee zame.
I think these are good examples because they are properties that have remained with the same publisher for all these years. Some of the other brands out there have gone between a number of publishers, and are not a good comparison because often a brand may be sold or licensed, and a new system tacked on. They belong to a different discussion.
So if we take a look around at other games, what should we conclude? Well, even if you look at some of the modern games you'll see that many of them don't go through radical edition revisions. Some do. I think White Wolf has done this, though I haven't kept up on what their system looks like now. I know they had a habit that really pissed me off at the beginning, where they would release a paperback 1st edition then turn around and release a revised one in harback after just a few months. It got so consistent that I stopped buying the first book and waited for the second. That practice was probably even worse than revising after a few years, because it made customers buy two core books in a very short time. Regardless, the different editions they released were very much the same game, just with tweaks here and there.
I think if we look at the various RPGs out there we can draw the conclusion that the way D&D is handled is unlike the way most other RPGs are handled, at least since WotC has taken stewardship of the brand. One of the inherent differences we're dealing with here is the attitude towards the customers. I think that a very real concern with GURPS and Palladium, for instance, is that any major changes to the core rules would alienate many customers. This is a very different approach than the way D&D is treated, because for some reason people don't view D&D the same way as they view other RPGs. With D&D people seem to see the shift to 3e and then to 4e as a process of inevitable evolution toward a "perfect" or "better evolved" D&D. I think the fact that this mentality is so deeply rooted in the fans who joyfully go from edition to edition when told to do so is a testament to effective marketing and rhetoric. As a strategy, WotC relies on this as a core group of people who will follow them through editions, and is not worried about the portion they will alienate because they hope to pick up fresh people, often younger people, by appealing to the current cultural tastes of that group.
All that is fine and good, and although it sounds like it I'm really not complaining about the way a corporation tries to make as much as possible from a brand. What I really am whining about is the consequence of this conditioning and how it has affected the gaming world. The problem that has emerged is that people view RPGs as things that should constantly be "updated" in the same way you would update your computer hardware. People are looking for "innovations" in game design, and view those of us who stick with older games as evolutionarily stagnant. Now, I'm not saying that some rules aren't clunky or poorly designed, but I do reject the notion of innovation for the sake of innovation. I reject the idea that we must keep tinkering with a game so that it stays "up to date," whatever that means.
It is telling that if hard pressed no one can really explain what being "up to date" really is when it comes to p-n-p RPGs, and part of the reason is that it is an empty concept that is thrown around because it sounds like it has substance. Additionally, (and this is probably controversial) much of this idea of "innovation" is an illusion, because most of what is possible with pencils and paper has been done, and most things now that come out is just a variation or brought in from other mediums like video games. The real innovation happened when the concept of RPGs emerged. Some of the supposed innovations coming from the Forge, for instance, are only different takes on what the proportion of story to rules should be, and how much either gamer party should be able to influence those. There really isn't anything truly "innovative" anymore. How much can you really upgrade a piece of paper?
Monday, August 3, 2009
Friday, July 31, 2009
I started using the term not long after I released Labyrinth Lord, and according to the all-knowing source of modern information (Wikipedia of course) I am responsible for coining the term (was going to post a link but it won't load). So, you can send the nasty letters to me for getting the madness started in the first place.
As the term "retro-clone" started catching on, it wasn't long before people started calling Castles & Crusades a retro-clone. For people new to this discussion, I've tried to talk about what I think a "true" retro-clone is here and here. At first it didn't bother me too much, because at that time, in 2007, there was still a decent amount of "CLONES aRe teh IlLEEgAL!!z!" so I thought if people started to place them in the wider context of other OGL games like C&C it might help usher in their acceptance.
Also, at that time there just weren't very many clones anyway, so it was easier to classify them. There was only OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord for the "true" clones, then BFRPG as a sort of near-clone. Today, only two years later, the entire landscape has changed and it looks like the future will only bring on more change. Interestingly though, in 2009 just as in 2007 there still are only two games that I would call "true" clones. When I set up my threefold model of neo-retro classification it was before I'd had a chance to look some of the other games over more carefully, so here is the model as it would look today (there are now other OGL spinoffs of these, but I am not familiar with them).
Now what we are seeing are games released based on the OGC content of the retro-clones and near-clones. Many of these games hybridize to one degree or another the older style of games with 3e, or take them in different directions altogether. I predict there will be dozens and dozens of these games released over the next 5 years or so. All of these games are being called "retro-clones" out in the wild (that is, forums) even though according to MY model that the world should be paying attention to most of them would be near-clones (I hope you sense my sarcasm, I'm not actually that self-important!). Compound that with the fact that some of these games will claim to be cloning 0e, or Original Edition D&D, or delivering the feel of one version, or another version, etc. and the whole concept of what constitutes a clone has changed. By my usage a "true" retro-clone is a game that attempts to emulate as closely as legally possible the rules of a particular game.
I think in retrospect we can now say that the term retro-clone was doomed from the start. It saddens me to announce its demise at only the age of 2, but that's life.
May fast wings take you to everlasting peace
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
"The tack I've taken with Swords & Wizardry is more along the lines I would have taken with OSRIC if I'd had all the benefits of hindsight. And Swords & Wizardry, unlike the other clones, has an outside agenda of promoting the idea that hobbyist gaming is about taking a basic, open-ended rules framework and then building the custom van at the gaming table itself."
I don't think it is accurate to create this dichotomy of pro-tinkering vs. anti-tinkering. I always assumed by default that all games, and especially old-school games like the retro-clones, promote hobbyist customizing. It's always been in the nature of gamers to do this. I would suggest that there is no way to specifically "promote" this in a game other than to support open gaming by making the material open game content. We shouldn't confuse a product that is more polished as not promoting tinkering. BFRPG, then Labyrinth Lord, and then Swords & Wizardry made their text open game content, in that way supporting open gaming and open development. I think the only clone one might perceive as discouraging tinkering is OSRIC. Part of the reason the whole thing was not made open game content is because some of the contributors to the project are afraid people will change 1e and publish 1e variants.
Friday, July 24, 2009
As always, thanks for all the support everyone!
Friday, July 17, 2009
Beyond that issue though, there are some very good advantages to POD products. As a small publisher who creates products for a narrow niche market, I generally don't want the financial risk of a print run. I will make an exception for the Labyrinth Lord core book and some other books that go into distribution, but only with certain print numbers because I have a feel for how well they sell. For some products, though, POD is the only way to go. In addition, Goblinoid Games is not my main job. It's my hobby. Many people don't realize that it is the same for many small publishers, even though they probably wouldn't phrase it that way. I don't want the hassle of fulfilling orders. I can do it for the short term, for special short print runs or sales, but in general I just don't have time to fulfill orders daily indefinitely, so POD is a godsend in that regard. I can upload products, and they deal with fulfilling the order.
I think this is where much of the "industry" will end up in coming years, with a few exceptions of the big companies or the old well established brands. Nonetheless I am going to go into traditional distribution to see how things go, but only in a very calculated way so that if things don't go well I'm not hurt very much.
Anyway, the point is, yes you can be a "real" publisher even if you only offer print products as POD titles. The stigma of POD, to the extent it exists, must and will disappear. It has to simply because we have no choice. It's where things are going.
Wednesday, July 15, 2009
The PDF price war is definitely getting worse. People want PDFs for nothing, essentially, and many people will argue that PDFs aren't worth anything on one hand, yet complain if a PDF isn't available along with a print book. So clearly, it's not that PDFs aren't wanted, and they must be useful. I think another thing that has emerged is a POD price war. As James rightly points out, game consumers want prices that are very low in relation to cost of production and all other costs to get a book into the store. Now with POD, we have people offering POD products often at cost of printing or barely over it. Thus we are already starting to see complaints in the pricing of POD products where someone can simply go to Lulu, use their cost calculator to see that a book costs 5.68 to print and the publisher is charging 15 bucks. My GOD they are making money hand over fist!! They're gouging us! Right?
No. So I'd add to what James says about consumers feeling entitled to low PDF prices by stating that people are now feeling entitled to low priced POD books. We are in this shape for probably one main reason. That reason is the people who price their POD books for nothing have a cost of $0 to produce the book, because they either write it themselves, had volunteer writers, did the art themselves, or had volunteer artists. They just want to sell as many of the books as they can cheap, as a vanity press, without the worries of recovering production costs. People see these very low prices and wonder why a product of similar page count can't be so cheap, too. more than that, people are now starting to expect that the POD books be priced for nothing much like PDF books.
Ok, so assuming a publisher hires out this work, why should a POD book be priced at, say, 3 or 4 times the amount Lulu charges to print it? Well, if you go back and look at the price breakdown James gives for how much it costs to produce a book, then also figure that sales volume is very, very low for these POD books, these specialty hobby products must be sold at these rates to cover production costs within a reasonable amount of time.
James mentioned that these days a company really is lucky to sell 500 copies of a book in distribution. Even that is optimistic. Many small publishers are looking more at 200 copies. Mind, this is in distribution, not at Lulu. Sales at Lulu generally will be much lower, though in a few cases lately we are seeing more sales in a shorter time. I don't think that is sustainable.
I want to give a cost breakdown of a theoretical book, using a typical model many small publishers are using. Let's say that I'm sending a 140 page book into distribution, with an MSRP of $20. Here are the costs only of getting it there per unit. These are very close approximates, working backwards.
Retailer buys it from the distributor for about $10
Distributor buys it from the consolidator for about $8
Consolidator takes 18% of the $8, plus a shipping fee, paying the publisher around $6.30
The publisher may be able to get printing done for about $3.30 per unit, and we should add maybe 50 cents per unit for shipping, just as a rough estimate, to bring total "profit" per unit to around $2.50 per unit.
Ok, so what has happened here? We've made enough on our print run to cover the initial investment, but we haven't made enough to recover that investment. In other words, if you think of the money for the print run as a "loan" we make enough to reinvest it in another print run, with a little left over to pay off that investment, but not enough to expand. This is all assuming your production cost was zero. Virtually nobody who bothers to get their book into distribution will have a development cost of zero, so out of those "profits" you better be able to recover cost of development, which for a small print run is at a bare minimum double the cost of your print run, and likely more. If you also consider that many of these print runs will not sell the same number on the second printing, or third, etc. you can see how you might be luckily to just break even in the end, unless you get really really lucky and have a product that turns into a modest hit.
Add all this together, and it is still no surprise that even many of the well known small press publishers are essentially hobby publishers. Almost no one makes a living at this, and they all do it for the "fun." In the end James is right that consumers don't need publishers. I also think he's right that the situation can't change, because for it to change one thing that would have to happen is that consumers would have to be both willing and able to pay higher retail prices.
I will add, though, that the only reason hobby publishers can keep publishing is because they are at least breaking even. If the current trend of valuing PDF and POD books at nothing continues, then the only people who will be able to keep publishing are those who have all volunteer writers and artists. Whether that is good or bad I suppose each person can decide for herself/himself, but it definitely will mean less new material out there.
Sunday, July 12, 2009
So, if you shop online, you might consider Noble Knight Games as an online retailer of choice, especially for products that aren't listed at Lulu.
Saturday, July 11, 2009
I don't believe that all of that those things are possible only in older versions of D&D. The truth of the matter is that a lot of that stuff is still in the game. 4e is no more or less deadly than any edition of D&D, because at the end of the day the DM determines how deadly the game is.
And I think that's the root of it. All too often I see "problems" with 4e placed on the players and DMs. Players are precious snowflakes who want everything handed to them on a silver platter. DMs are wimps who feed players a steady stream of disposable enemies. Real, bad ass men flip a coin to see if their character is dead or alive.
I think the OSR catches so much flack because, for those of us who have been in the hobby for a few decades, we saw this all before when White Wolf launched Vampire. It's the same thing, just with the added attempt to co-opt the "true" nature of D&D. Back then, it was role vs. roll. Today, it's new vs. old, and it's just as tiresome, time wasting, and banal as ever.
I can't agree with this, even though I do agree that the OSR as it is right now is a reaction to current versions of D&D. Vampire, or at least some people who played it, definitely were reacting to D&D, to make a game experience much more like acting or a play, rather than a game. The difference here is that we (meaning many of us involved in publishing or playing "retro" games) are not trying to create a "new" experience, but get back to the experience D&D used to be before the advent of 3rd edition and 4th edition. I beg to differ that "the game remains the same." Many of us fee that the people co-opting D&D are the current publishers, making D&D into a very different game that has lost all resemblance to what it was. If we're guilty of anything it's of having greater loyalty to the game instead of the brand.
There are many, many fine qualities to older versions of D&D. They're more freeform. It's faster and easier to crank out a character. Combat zips by. When you pull away a lot of the rules, it can be liberating.
However, the Puritanical drive some OSRers have to bemoan what other, lesser games dare do at their tables is counter to everything that RPGs are about. Quoting Gygax chapter and verse to figure out the right way to play, stuff like that, is the antithesis to the creativity, freedom, and intellectual curiosity RPGs, at their best, can and should encourage.
So yeah, old games are cool. The gaming Taliban? Not so cool. Let's enjoy retro games without getting all bitchy about new ones.
I actually do agree with a lot of those, though I think the last bit is harsher than it needed to be. There are really two issues here. Definitely it is the case that there are probably half a dozen or a dozen jerks out there who may or may not worship the old AD&D manuals like a saint-kissed bible. Those few people are sometimes very vocal. The other issue, though, is that people are just going to have to understand, especially people responsible for creating games, that many people don't approve of the design direction. Sometimes people are unkind in their criticism, and make it personal, and that's unfortunate. On the other hand, I don't think we should err by being too polite to point out that we don't like the design of a game, it's aesthetics, or its cultural and corporate origin. I don't think anyone can in honesty disagree with the idea that recently the primary reason for a new edition is to earn new revenue from the brand. In so doing, many fans who prefer the old game will bitch about it. That's life.
I'm editing this to add that at the same time, I think it's great that some people enjoy 3rd edition and 4th edition. It would be sad indeed for those people not to have some game that appeals to them. Personally, even though I don't like D&D post 2nd edition, I do not in any way wish failure on the current version. I don't like it, but I don't wish ruin on those who designed it!
Friday, July 10, 2009
I've gotten several emails inquiring about what happened, and I just wanted to make a brief public statement to put peoples' fears to rest. John contacted me prior to his announcement, and explained his situation. He and I are on on great terms, and his decision is based entirely on the reasons he cites in his announcement. As I told John, life is too short to feel trapped in things that bring you no joy, so he has my full support and understanding regarding his decision. I wish him the very best and much happiness and success in his new course!
Tuesday, July 7, 2009
The stats make a lot of sense really. The searches begin in 2007, obviously, because that is when LL was first released. It looks like there was a sort of flat trend in searches until April 2008, but with major highs and lows, until May 2008 when we start to see a steady rise. That is about the time of the Labyrinth Lord distribution drive, and after that searches have been on a definite rise, but again with highs and lows, but lows haven't been nearly so drastic.
I don't want to read too much into this, but at least as reflected in Google searches there seems to be an ever steady increase lately in interest in Labyrinth Lord. I can say that sales, especially hard copy sales through Lulu, have been steady since May 2008, with a tendency to rise over the last 3 months or so.
Friday, July 3, 2009
Yes yes, I'm getting to something RPG relevant, I promise! Ohhhh, the chocolate sprinkles! Labyrinth Lord and Mutant Future are a lot like that. I see LL as the vanilla, and MF as the chocolate. Alone they rock pretty hard, but mixed together and suddenly you have AC/DC meets Queen, and you better look out.
One of the challenges of such a delightfully unholy union is achieving something resembling balance. I addressed this in the Mutants & Mazes section of Mutant Future, and I think it worked out pretty well. The thing about "balance" in relation to these games is that it is a subjective thing. There is no hard and fast formula for it, like there are with other games that use for example a point buy system, or something like that.
The philosophy I used when approaching the M&M section was that mutant players in an LL game need to be able to have powers that increase with increased levels. In a straight up MF game, players start out powerful, so many components of a character are not as relevent to level advancement. So to achieve this incremental progress the powers had to be treated in many ways like spells for spell casting characters. Mutants become a class unto themselves, with the defining element being that they are mutants, just like the defining element for spell casters is that they can cast spells.
The result is something that I think works very well. A mutant can rub elbows with a thief, a cleric, a magic user, and still fight pretty effectively and whip out some mutational effect every so often (depending on the effect, every round, or twice a day, one a week, etc.). But....what if you want to be a mutant human thief, or a black-hearted simulacrum sorcerer?
Then the approach is going to have to be different. The mutant powers, for the sake of "balance," must be greatly reduced. Being a mutant or a biological android shifts to be a little more cosmetic. First, I suggest casting aside the idea that every race should be designed as its own class. If you want to create a variety of mutant/android races to use in your game, this is not only going to make it tedious from the design perspective but you will inevitably introduce a mess of different experience progression charts etc. In the end, it is cleaner and more efficient to treat the mutants as humans by separating race and class.
Whoa, hold on! Separate race and class in Labyrinth Lord. Sure! The tools are already there. If you want some help, I wrote a very straight-forward article on how to do this that can be found here.
Don't get me wrong, you certainly could design an awesome simulacrum sorcerer using the Elf class as a guide, with it's own unique spell progression and a few mutant powers. It would be cool. There is a place for those sorts of classes too. But I also think offering a flexible set of mutant "races" that can choose any class or a few restricted classes is an easy, great way to add diversity without having to wrestle with whether XP is balanced for each race.
Ok, so how to do this? First, use what you already have as an example. Look at the sorts of special abilities the demi-humans have, and shoot for a similar thing with a mutant race. Let's create one together.
I love the idea of a vat-born character becoming a sinister weaver of magic, so lets create one version of a biological android that can be a magic-user among other things. Here is one possibilitity:
Simulacrum variant race
Requirements: INT 9, DEX 9
Ability Modifiers: INT +1, CON -1
Prime Requisite: As class chosen
Classes Available/Level Limit: Fighter/5, Thief/7, Magic-User/10
The khorlans were designed to be the intellectual slaves of the Elder Race. Their initial purpose was to serve as scientists to develop ever increasingly destructive weapons for the Armageddon that eventual ripped the world apart. Khorlans are unable to reproduce on their own, and their communities are often centered around the remains of highly guarded functioning vat-machines, so that new arrivals may be brought into the community and educated. The ability to work with abstract scientific formulas has transferred easily to the concepts involved in working magic. Khorlans may be fighters, thieves, and magic-users. They were designed to look different from humans, and completely lack all pigment, having white hair, pearly white skin, and black eyes with no visible iris (i.e. bizarre appearance). In addition, they have the mutation neural telepathy, which was used to communicate with their highly mutated and alien masters. Khorlans receive the following saving throw bonuses, +1 versus spells, and +2 versus energy attacks.
Now of course I whipped this together fairly quickly and it hasn't been playtested, but this is just one example of how races might be created when combining LL and MF. When doing it this way, characters will advance in levels, to-hit, and saving throws exactly as the class chosen.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Idol of the Orcs
By James C. Boney
A band of unusually organized orcs has taken to raiding farms and waylaying travelers near the local town. The characters must seek out the orc lair and rid the area of this menace, but things are not entirely as they seem. A sinister voice whispers instructions from the darkness; what demonic force lies at the heart of the labyrinthine orc lair?
This adventure is suitable for characters of 1st-3rd level and is intended for use with the LABYRINTH LORD fantasy role-playing game, but is easily used with all older editions of the world’s most popular fantasy RPG.
Buy it as a PDF here!
Buy in print here!
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Fortunately for some game groups (like James Raggi's) gamers do sometimes get some great food at the gaming table. So in the interest of throwing out one idea that's a little different, try making Indian food ahead of time. I direct you to my wife's blog.
She is from India, so most of these recipes are "authentic," but most are adapted to ingredients commonly found in the US. You will also find a few other things there, some influenced by me and some not, that are Americanized. All of these recipes are vegetarian.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
The current compatibility logo remains available for the time being. However, this standard Labyrinth Lord dress is now available by request to publishers using the free Labyrinth Lord trademark license. It's purely optional, because some publishers may prefer their own branding, but we make this available in a continued effort to create a unified push to get more people playing old school games. Keep an eye out for further changes over the coming months!
Oh one last thing, we are releasing a module of our own within the next few weeks, called "Idol of the Orcs," by James C. Boney. It is an introductory module for characters of levels 1-3.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
One thing I'm looking for right now is a person who is a fan of Labyrinth Lord to take the reins of a major community project. This role would be largely administrative, and is especially suited for someone who is active at conventions or understands how conventions work. I may need more than one person, too.
I've had chats with various people about the state of Goblinoid Games, and things have definitely gotten to the point that I need to start designating responsibilities elsewhere simply because I can't handle everything myself. I've taken things nearly as far as I can all by myself, and I particularly need dedicated community supporters to give me a hand to launch us to the next phase. So far Goblinoid Games is just getting to the point where we can take on paid freelance projects (by reinvesting 100% of sales), so at this time help with these things would be strictly on a volunteer basis (though free swag, free PDFs, and/or other free or reduced price product is certainly doable).
Saturday, June 6, 2009
"Labyrinth Lord is pretty much a single product with nothing new on the horizon. Why would I pick it up now when there's just oodles of stuff coming out of every quarter supporting Swords and Wizardry?"
"Labyrinth Lord looks, at first blush, to be a little dead on the vine."
"It's just that I'd like to see a Labyrinth Lord companion or something like that hit the shelves."
Before I comment on these quotes, I want to make it clear I'm not picking on the author in any way. I don't interpret the author as trying to be mean. In truth I've gotten a sense lately that Labyrinth Lord is viewed as sort of the stepchild of the retro-clone games. I think part of the reason for this is that there are many new people to the "Old-School Renaissance" scene, so they don't have any context. A year ago there was a great deal of buzz around Labyrinth Lord, and there continues to be in circles that don't include the usual blogs associated with the OSR. It's true that it has not enjoyed as much recent discussion as it used to, which I attribute to several reasons.
One reason is that interest in OD&D surged after Gary Gygax died. It wasn't long after that when Swords & Wizardry was released, so a lot of the energy emerging for OD&D went to S&W. Combine that with the emergent popularity of James Maliszewski's blog (he plays and talks about S&W a lot), and S&W is effectively constantly advertised to a fairly large portion of the audience interested in old-school games, and many of those people became interested specifically because of an interest in OD&D.
So I think there are a variety of reasons why Labyrinth Lord might be viewed as less popular. I was out of the country much of last year and the first part of this year, very busy, and wasn't able to maintain the constant presence and pot-stirring needed to keep interest fresh, much less work on many LL projects.
But, no worries, things are picking up. Now to address some factual mistakes. Labyrinth Lord has enjoyed a great deal of professional support from Brave Halfling Publishing, and will continue to do so. We are constantly working to improve the look of Labyrinth Lord, and you will see some big changes starting soon, climaxing this fall. In addition to BHP, Prime Requisite Games is putting out beautiful material in support of Labyrinth Lord. Goblinoid Games currently publishes the Scribe of Orcus, which contains support for Labyrinth Lord. We've released other support materials, including the Monster Listing, Original Edition Characters, and the Tomb of Sigyfel. Not to mention a German edition of Labyrinth Lord.
In addition, another companion book (besides Original Edition Characters) is in playtest, called Advanced Edition Characters. We have two modules on the way, already received from freelancers and ready for editing. Brave Halfling Publishing has an aggressive release schedule as well. Things are going full speed ahead for 2009/2010, with another "secret" project about 70% written that should see release before the end of 2009. Through one route or another Labyrinth Lord will go back into commercial distribution, probably in the fall, to move forward with our intentions of establishing it in the "real world."
Now, personally, I believe there is always room for great games, which is why I do not perceive Labyrinth Lord to be in competition with Swords & Wizardry. Nonetheless, I'd like to answer the question above, "Why should I pick up Labyrinth Lord...?"
Depending on your interests, here's why:
1) Labyrinth Lord has wide penetration in terms of name recognition, to an audience even outside the typical forums and bloggers. It was in distribution briefly (our agent went out of business) which slowed us down, but we'll get back out there soon.
2) Labyrinth Lord emulates the Moldvay rules, as many people know. So if you are a fan of that rules set, core Labyrinth Lord is for you.
3) Labyrinth Lord + Original Edition Characters (a player's handbook) actually gives you the "feel" and rules emulation of Oe much more accurately than any other retro-clone out there to date.
4) Labyrinth Lord + Advanced Edition Characters (coming out later this summer) will provide the game feel of "advanced" games for people who prefer that style of play.
So in short, you should take a look at Labyrinth Lord because it is currently the most flexible, widely appealing retro-clone out there. It enjoys great support from multiple publishers, which will only increase over the coming months and years. It will be aggressively pushed beyond the internet, thus increasing its use to a wider audience. We have more plans ahead for community building.