Friday, January 7, 2011

Rehashing is the new expression of house rules

There has been some talk lately about whether we are seeing too much "rehashing". Part of this (at least as far as I can tell) came with the announcement by Goodman Games about their upcoming Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG.

I think that's because we are inundated with so much more now than in 2006-2007, it's easy to forget the history of all this. The first two "true clone" efforts (as I define it here), OSRIC and Labyrinth Lord, were attempts not to rehash but to keep these two rule sets in print. This is an important thing to keep in mind, because at the time this was a completely new phenomenon. They were not created to put a new spin on anything, they were created to fill a niche that 3 and 4 years ago desperately needed to be filled. When these two rules sets were released people were still waiting to see if myself, Stuart Marshall, and to a lesser extent Matt Finch (who had by then basically left the OSRIC project) would be the canaries in the coal mine, whether we'd be sued into oblivion. When that didn't happen, we've seen a proliferation of systems with more in development.

There's nothing wrong with that. It's only natural now that people have the tools that they can take the work previously done and alter it to suit their idiosyncratic needs. This is the new way of expressing house rules. Why? Because why add your house rules to an existing system, when you can cut and paste a full rules set pretty quickly, rewriting bits here and there? You can make the rules "your own" in a sense. All of that is great. It's what open gaming is all about, and I am proud to have contributed to helping make that happen.

However, the part a lot of people haven't figured out yet (and the thing that IMHO is causing the angst) is that each time a new house rule rules set emerges no one is under any obligation to care.

I think people are feeling OSR fatigue. Their arms are getting tired from all the high-fiving, but it doesn't have to be that way. I'm not saying these efforts should be ignored, but not every effort needs to be so aggressively "supported" by the community. People don't need to feel obligated to buy everything. Open gaming has revolutionized how people approach their home games. We're going to see so many of these tweaked games from here on out that trying to keep track of them much less buy them all will be futile.

As for Dungeon Crawl Classics, I wish him all the best in the effort. I really, truly do. Just as the old-school rules are being rehashed, so have the d20 rules for a very long time. Everything from True 20 to Castles & Crusades and many in-between keep rehashing, simplifying d20, giving it a twist here or there. Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Will another rehash of d20 stand out? Who knows? But Goodman Games has the same right as all of the OSR publishers who want to put their own stamp on the rules.

This is all really about the fact that for the first time in the 30+ year history of RPGs the gamers have the tools (easy POD and electronic publishing) and freely available source material (OGL, all the SRDs and open content rule sets) to express themselves. Let them! We just need to let go of the idea that we have to pay attention to all of it. We just can't. Let it take on the life of its own that it inevitably will, and create the kind of stuff you want to see. You can only create what you're passionate about.


Matthew James Stanham said...

I think there is also a "fantasy heart breaker" element here as well, with companies seeking to market their own game system alongside their own adventures and supplements. It is useful for retail to be able to promote a complete line of products, I suspect, and Dungeon Crawl Classics certainly has a strong brand identity. In a sense it is the exact thing WotC was committed to avoiding in 2000, which is to say the fragmentation of the market. Of course, diversity of choice is good for the consumer!

Anonymous said...

I was talking to another OSR publisher the other day who was contemplating releasing his own in-house game. Here is an edited version of my (long-winded) reply to him:

I have my doubts about the suggestion for your company to develop its own game. Yes people within the OSR scene will buy it – because some people will buy pretty much every new rule set released – but will they play it? And if they don’t play it, why would they bother buying future products aimed mainly at that particular game?

While I’m in no way part of the “too many clones” crowd, I do think many of the new games will be played pretty much only by the author’s gaming group and, if he’s lucky, a handful of others. Maybe I’m being cynical here, but I strongly suspect this is the case.

It seems to me that these days most people who play old school D&D play either Original D&D (including LL+OEC, S&W: WB), Basic D&D (including LL, etc.) or AD&D (along with LL+AEC, OSRIC, S&W Core, etc.), or in other words most folks believe they are playing one of the three types of TSR D&D.

The truth is 99.9% of them are no doubt simply playing D&D + house rules. My point here being that the first generation of clones have simply been tools for folks to keep playing the older versions of D&D that they love.

Any new clone (post-S&W), with perhaps the exception of a 2e clone (and I don’t think there’s any real following or community behind that effort as yet), is generally just one of the original three shades of TSR D&D that has been house ruled to some degree...

Anonymous said...


And given that pretty much everyone house rules their game anyway, the chances of any of these newer clones achieving a decent following and market share seems to me to be pretty slim – unless of course they have something drastic, some specific focus, that makes them different. Some have tried to achieve this, although personally I don’t believe they have succeeded, but instead have only created yet another D&D + house rules clone.

And even those games that are different, that do have something that sets them apart from being just another D&D + house rules clone, seem to only attract a small, if passionate crowd – primarily because people want to play D&D, people like playing D&D. They may casually flirt with other games, but their love, their passion is D&D.

So in that case, what value would there be in your company publishing its own in-house game? If you’re going to continue to publish D&D compatible materials, why create yet another game to do so? If people are mainly going to use the originals and/or LL/S&W/OSRIC, what hope would your company have of securing a decent size following?

The big three already have their own established (and growing) followings, so in my mind it seems good business sense to hop on their bandwagon (they’ve already done all the hard work of writing rules and establishing a following).

I suspect if any of the original clones deviated too much from the original game of D&D, the fans would dump them – because it’s D&D most of us want to play, not some other game.

Robert Fisher said...

Amen, Dan. I’ve been thinking pretty much the same things, but you said them better than I would have.

Although—personally—I find LL, OEC, and AEC are a bit more than just clones. The way you’ve organized and re-expressed these games adds value as well. I wouldn’t call them “just rehashes”.

And thanks again for taking that risk, doing that work, and filling the need.

Johnathan Bingham said...

Dan, I agree. There probably is some element of fatigue but it seems there is a lot of misconception out there. I see a lot of folks asking why there is a Labyrinth Lord, or OSRIC, or Swords and Wizardry when the games they are based on still play fine. Folks don't seem to understand the point you mentioned about the clones being a publishing vehicle for new content to be published that is compatible with the original systems and not to replace the older system with house rules. I think the confusion stems mostly from what is going on with Swords and Wizardry with the White Box, Core Rules , and now complete versions which are being published by several different folks.

On the whole, I think there will be a slow down in mere cloning. We've got many of the major areas of the fantasy arena coverd now. Now (hopefully) we'll see clever new bits being published that support both the original games and the clones. As for the house rules heartburn, I don't understand why folks are dismissive. Houserules have been part of the game since there was a game. People like to make the game their own. That's the best part of the OSR and hobbyist gaming. I want to see a different spin on things. I may not use it, but it is interesting for me to see what other folks are doing with their games.

Dan said...

I've been saying there are too many rulesets and not enough adventures for a while now. The one BIG advantage Goodman has is that you know there will be a lot of adventures made for his system. Barring absolutely no sales, I wouldn't be surprised if he doesn't put out a new adventure every month.

Anonymous said...

'not enough adventures'

There are, it's just that people want new versions of old stuff - more location-based adventures.
The OSR itself has produced enough 'stuff' in the last few years to last a lifetime. I like trying out people's new twists on design but I'm under no illusions that it is really 'new'or 'better'.

DCC2005 said...

The biggest problem with the whole OSR market is that the original goal of OSRIC has been pushed aside. That goal was to provide a platform for publication of adventures and other new material for an out of print ruleset, AD&D. Once the focus shifted to complete games, the initial point of it all was lost.

Now its all about why some new set of rules, which as Dan points out are the core system Gygax wrote with houserules bolted on, is old school done right, or old school done in a new way, or some other slogan. Hell, even LL has now houseruled B/X by giving clerics spells at first level and setting leather to AC 8. True clone indeed.

As if any of you clowns could ever hope to improve on Gygax's work.

Dan of Earth said...

@DCC2005: It may come as a surprise to you but despite the rhetoric it was always the plan with OSRIC to produce a complete game that people would play. However, the climate at the time would have been hostile to that idea so the whole, "Wait a second guys, this is only for adventures..." was pushed very hard. And it worked, too, you see that mantra reproduced all the time.

No clone game has 100% fidelity for legal reasons, we could cherry pick things from each clone. OSRIC is guilty of this too. I say that as someone who contributed to it and I'm glad I did. This isn't about one clone versus others. There is a discontent among a few 1e players, particularly at the Alehouse (I assume DCC that you must post there under some other handle) that think OSRIC hasn't enjoyed the popularity it should. I could write a whole essay on why I think that's the case, but I'll keep it to myself unless people in general really want to know my opinion. No one has asked so why stir the pot.

velaran said...

Yep. 'Clone' all you want; somebody'll be interested in your tinkering. Of course, few will be so impressed with your slightly-different take on D&D that they'll purchase it. You'd be better off trying to come up with your own, honestly.(Or in a fit of genius, re-engineer the concepts like Tunnels and Trolls or BRP!). There'll always be room for Dungeons and Dweomers, LotFP, Stars Without Number, Terminal Space, etc...

I'd agree that the 3 prime rulesets: LL(which is somehow all of D&D at once! ;-)), S&W, and OSRIC need more supplements, especially interesting campaign settings and awesome adventures!

@Dan Of Earth-Once again, thanks for your efforts in bringing Old School back!(Along with cohorts Chris Gonnerman, Stuart Marshall, Matt Finch, and all the rest.)

Dan said...


You give Gygax too much credit. He had a great idea, and the foundation he built was awesome. He was no God of Gaming, though. I wish people would drop that crap.

Will Mistretta said...

"I could write a whole essay on why I think that's the case, but I'll keep it to myself unless people in general really want to know my opinion."

I do.

DCC2005 said...

@Dan on Earth: I really don't care how "popular" OSRIC or any other clones are. (I say "popular" because we're talking about a tiny sliver of a pathetically tiny market.) As for the Knights and Knaves Alehouse, I got banned for voicing opinions contrary to the party line a long time ago and haven't been back. So don't paint me in the corner as some OSRIC shill, please.

@Dan: I said these guys couldn't improve on what Gygax did. That doesn't mean I think he's a god. Disagreement with you doesn't mean I'm taking the ridiculous hyperbolic stance you are attributing to me.

Dan of Earth said...

@DCC2005: Fair enough, my apologies in that regard.

But for the record, Labyrinth Lord is most certainly not an attempt to improve on Gygax's work. I am only very humbly trying to keep an old rule system in print. Nothing more, nothing less.

Anonymous said...

I'd agree that the 3 prime rulesets: LL(which is somehow all of D&D at once! ;-)), S&W, and OSRIC need more supplements, especially interesting campaign settings and awesome adventures!

Here's the problem - the same publisher I was talking to above told me a year or so ago that if he relied on the sales of modules to keep his business afloat, he'd fail. People were more interested in buying rules and rules supplements than adventures. The money was in the rules. And the cold hard truth is that he needs to make money to be able to continue publishing.

Hopefully this was just a phase the scene was going through and perhaps now, after a glut of rules, people are sated and ready for adventures. James Raggi seems to have succeeded on that score if the multitude of reviews of his modules are anything to go by.

Matt Finch said...

It's still the case that rules make more sales than any single module, by quite a long shot. However, the per unit profit on a module is also higher. I haven't really analyzed it in this way, but I would say that the PROFIT on a module is probably about maybe 50% of what you'd make on a set of rules.

This is probably just due to the competition between modules. I have been putting together a list of all the "OSR" stuff out there, and realized that the number of modules - overwhelmingly for OSRIC, is actually huge. I didn't expect the numbers, and I didn't expect OSRIC to be making such a big showing.

So ... I don't think the story on this is all the way told. I think that we're heading to a point where modules become more profitable.

But keep in mind, too, that the publishers ultimately are about either modules and sourcebooks. I sincerely do not think that any retro-clone publisher wants to become a purveyor of "mainly" rules. All of us did this to ultimately see more modules and sourcebooks out there, and to write them.

So the profit motive is less of a factor than one might think - although the "don't lose money" motive is extremely strong - the money out there isn't big enough to justify risking our family budgets. So there is a money-based impetus (don't lose money) but it's not the overriding factor that "make lots of money" would be. The desire to produce good gaming resources (as opposed to rules) is still the most powerful impetus.

I don't know if that's a very useful post, but I wanted to give an answer to the statement that modules make less money than rules. The quick answer is that this is still true, but will not ultimately restrict publishers from producing modules.