Saturday, April 25, 2009

The Future of POD

Quite a while back I was discussing various challenges I think the OSR faces in terms of reaching a wider audience.

To quote myself...

"Print on demand technology makes it easy to create books, and if there becomes a cheaper and more effective way to get these books into distribution then I think all bets are off on what might happen."

It looks like we might see something like this sooner than I thought. Apparently RPGnow will be starting a program later this year where customers can buy POD books from their website. This alone isn't much of an innovation, but RPGnow will also start a distribution plan and will be selling direct to retailers.

The details of the program have yet to be revealed, but this looks like a very easy and inexpensive way to reach stores. The challenge with most other distribution plans to date is that a publisher must of course buy a print run and have it shipped to the distribution warehouse.

So you have the upfront investment in the print run and shipping costs, and the risk that your stock will not sell. The big question will be what is the fee structure? I imagine that whatever the fee structure is, it will be at least as good or close to other distribution plans out there. What a lot of people don't realize is that through distribution there are so many people inbetween the publisher and the customer that the publisher makes a very small amount. From that small amount one has to buy another print run, pay for more shipping, etc. For a small publisher selling a small volume, this is a big deal.

So, this is an interesting development. It doesn't solve the issue some people will have, which is that many retro-clone books are not priced to get into distribution, so those won't be able to go this way, though they could still sell direct from RPGnow. Another thing that will be interesting to see is whether the POD price structure is competetive with Lulu. Lulu never has had a good price structure, and part of this is that, contrary to what many people think, Lulu themselves don't print anything. Lulu itself is a middle man, and Lightning Source does the printing. So Lulu marks up the actual printing costs so that they can get a decent cut in addition to charging a fee for selling on their website. But again, the reason Lulu can get away with this is that for most of us the only solution is to buy a larger print run at a better price from someone else...but this can be difficult to afford.

Times are changing, and it will interesting to see how publishing evolves.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Ninjas & Superspies was my second love

I was 8 years old when a neighborhood friend brought over the red boxed set of basic Dungeons & Dragons. That summer I think we must have played every day. We had no idea what we were doing, and my main character "Reese" (named after the guy in the first Terminator who goes back in time...) had a +150 long sword that he kicked much ass with. One time he even punched Orcus to death with +50 gauntlets.



+150 whatevers?


See, we mixed the basic game with AD&D, not knowing they were different games, as many people did when they got started. After a time though, smashing much face with ungodly powerful weapons became stale. Our characters even went forward in time to get machine guns and chewing gum (and motorcycles), then went back to "the past" and blew the hell out of some dragons, then lobbed a grenade or two for good measure.

Which got me thinking.

If we can play this kind of game with fantasy people, why not modern people? So I promptly started designing my own game. I think I was 10 by that time. It was a total rip off of D&D **cough** except there were machine guns, grenades, everything my 10 year old brain could think of, including stats for all of the GI Joe characters. We played that for a while, but something just wasn't right. I wanted more; I wanted more games.

Then I heard about a game called Ninjas & Superspies. To top it off, there was apparently a fully compatible game made from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! My birthday was coming up, and I lived in the middle of nowhere so I got permission to make long distance phone calls to the nearest bigger city, and proceeded to call all the bookstores in the yellowpages.

I was starting to get depressed when they all said they didn't have these games. I was even confused when I called a bookstore called "Evangelical" and some older woman was quite snotty that I'd ask whether they carried roleplaying games (I didn't know a thing about different religions).

But then I found it. A bookstore called Merlyn's, and yes indeed they had these books.

This game had it all! Ninjas! Superspies! Cyborgs! Jawbone telephones! Enough SDC to take a bazooka blast!!

Er...well, it was cool for a while. I guess it was believable that you could get stabbed a million times by a dagger, but after a while (and we played this for years) I just couldn't wrap my mind around being invincible from anything short of missiles.

The tragedy of it is that these games really do rock. N&S is chock full of cool stuff. I absolutely love their system for designing spy organizations. For its day this was innovative stuff.

Anyway, all of these memories came flooding back to me when I saw that Palladium is now going to be selling a substantial number of their titles, even OOP titles, through RPGnow. I know there are various conflicting sides who claim this or that against Palladium, and I have no idea if any of it is true. All I do care about are those irreplaceable memories of kung-fu kicking with my 3 foot tall mutant rhino, or robbing banks with my rogue cyborg. We mixed N&S and TMNT, so that we could use all the cool martial arts from N&S.

Ahhhhh, the good ol' days!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Evolution of the Old-School Renaissance

One of the things about the OSR right now is that it's changing rapidly. I have this sense that there is a momentum building, and to use a tired old saying, it's like a snowball rolling down hill. Except unlike a snowball, I'm not sure if we can predict with certainty what it's going to look like after it's achieved a peak.

I've talked about how I view the history of the OSR before. What's interesting to me is how much things have changed in the last year. Since I was away and too busy to look in on things extensively for about the last year, I'm startled at what I'm finding now that I do have time to read up on the current state of things. I'm startled not just because things do seem to be achieving something resembling what many of us had hoped, and quickly, but I'm also concerned at some of the other trends that are emerging.

It's undeniable that the Sleeping Beast that is Old-School is waking up. People who are further and further from the grognard circle (which I count myself in, even if I'm a bit younger than many) are mentioning retro-clones in their blogs, people are trying them out, and in general we are seeing a shifting attitude about games and gaming. I think one of the major bugbears we are starting to defeat is the idea that out of print games are obsolete. I don't think many people realize how important this hurdle is. Companies spend a lot of money and time conditioning customers to believe that games are subject to evolution, and that you must buy the current edition or you'll be left behind. That conditioning it not easy to break down, but I think it is happening now.

Another positive thing that's happening is that more and more people are writing, creating art, and sharing it with people. We're seeing a major growth spurt in the number of people interested in old-school. We were all were very afraid about a year and two years ago that there just wasn't going to be much interest or a market...and part of that was because the people who we thought would be a receptive market were not. Many of the people who played AD&D or other OOP versions of D&D simply were not interested in any new fangled material. But now what's happening is that new people are becoming interested, and people who had left previous editions behind years ago are coming back to them now. In short, we're all finally starting to see that a new market is emerging. Granted, it isn't that big yet, but it is a hell of a lot bigger than it was at the start. Again, that snowball is rolling down hill.

However, there are some disturbing trends too. I just can't get over how, despite how optimistic things look for the OSR, we're seeing a change in tone. I don't know if it is just due to general depression because of the economy, but we've got a really snarky tone out there. There is definitely a pessimistic, aggressive component to discourse.

I have to admit that it's starting to look like I was wrong about something. It happens once or twice from time to time. There were naysayers early on who said that the various retro-clones cropping up would splinter the community. I thought that was nonsense, that everyone would stick together, and that system didn't matter. I thought that people might pick a favored system, but that there would be no competitiveness about it.

Well, from what's emerging, I think I was off a bit here. I think we're seeing the early stages of splintering. I think we're going to see more of it, and I think it's going to get ugly over the next year. I predict if things keep on the current course, the climate of the OSR will have broken down into mini-wars not unlike what emerged between OSRIC vs. Castles & Crusades proponents.

I've always felt that the most honest approach to all of this is to stay humble. After all, the foundation of what many of us are building on are restatements, mechanical emulators, of other peoples' hard work. We're like tribute bands. The moment any one of us decides our "brand" should be "the one" is the moment we've strayed. When it becomes more important to have our egos stroked and cultivate microcelebrity status, we've strayed. Most people will have a kneejerk reaction to this statement, maybe thinking this isn't a danger or "it couldn't happen to me," but yes, it could. Do I think we are there yet? Not quite yet, but like I said, give things a year at their current course, and the emerging world that is the OSR will have a very different climate. I'm not just talking about people who promote or produce retro-clone systems, I'm talking about anyone who has a blog, produces material, etc.

What can we do about it? I think that if we want to organize the community, and it's possible we either can't or maybe many people are not interested, we have to do it in an inclusive way. We can't do it under one "brand" name, or it loses its inclusiveness. The Old-School Renaissance group store at Lulu was named just that, not "The Labyrinth Lord Collective," or anything like that. Besides, the OSR isn't just about retro-clones. It's about a way of gaming, and a way of producing RPG material. It doesn't matter if you write a module that doesn't align itself with a particular clone game, its the content and feel that matter. It's not just about fantasy games, either. Old-school gaming includes all genres.

Even if you don't agree with what I'm saying in terms of where things might be headed, I at least appeal to people to consider it. Stop, take a look around, evaluate it. Maybe this thing we're all into is taking on a life of its own, and we can't direct it somewhere else. We'll see.

Friday, April 17, 2009

4C System: an underated retro-clone

Some of you may or may not be aware that some time ago...damn...a year or more now? Phil Reed offered to "clone" the most "marvelous" superhero RPG of all time, for a supporter fee. So he started a fund and reached his projected fund in no time, wrote the game, and released it to the public domain.

I'm sure most old-schoolers are familiar with the original game, but I think overall the 4C system has kind of fallen under the radar. You can download it here:

4C System download

You can also buy a hard copy at cost from Lulu.

There is a small amount of publisher support for the system as well...

Support at RPGnow

The reason I bring this up is that the Old-School Renaissance must not be focused solely on fantasy games. There are many other great old-school games out there, and the 4C System is just one example. It is a simple, fun game which I would like to support also. I think it is ripe for customizing into other other non-superhero genre games as well. I see no reason we couldn't have a FASERIP Fantasy, Sci-Fi, etc.

Anyway, just a heads up to anyone who missed this. I started a section on my forums where people can discuss this game. It's funny (ironic) that the community paid Phil Reed a few thousand dollars, if memory serves, to produce this game...and it has pretty much stagnated.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Settled in

Well, I'm pretty much settled in now that I'm back in the with some luck I'll get back to working on things that have been on the backburner...and believe it or not I'm starting to reply to emails!!