As a rule, I try to avoid using the Society of Torch, Pole and Rope as a platform from which to throw rocks. I like to think of this blog as a place to celebrate creativity rather than chastise stupidity. There are plenty of other sites more than willing to indulge in the latter. Nevertheless, sometimes something so asinine occurs that I can’t help but break my own rule.
Today saw the conclusion of the One Page Dungeon Contest. This contest asked the gaming community at large to submit their best ideas for adventure locales in a game-system neutral format. The response to the call for entries was an unforeseen 112 entries, all of which will be offered as a free .pdf in the coming months. The winners of the contest were awarded a few generous, albeit not grandiose, prizes, and their endeavors will receive a great deal of exposure to gamers around the world.
Back in February of this year, Fight On! magazine offered the Erol Otis Art Challenge, which invited artists of all calibers to submit their best variations on a theme to be judge by the esteemed Erol Otis himself. While I don’t know for certain how many entries were received for this contest, if the amount of winners are any indication, the entry pool must have been quite deep. The winners, runner-up, and honorable mentions of this contest will all receive some much deserved limelight in the pages of Fight On!, if not other places, over the coming year.
Fight On! also just announced the “Weird Enclaves and Black Pits” competition. Whereas the Erol Otis Art Challenge was looking for artists in the visual medium, “WEaBP” is searching for wordsmiths to submit fantasy fiction for a planned anthology. Again, prizes are small but the opportunity for exposure is the much greater reward.
Wizards of the Coast has also announced a new contest: the “Sell Your Sole Competition” in which they’re asking the gaming community to design a shoe. Yes, that’s correct. A shoe. (Rather than attempt to make fun of this, I’ll merely direct you to the Swords & Wizardry forum where I first became aware of this and where people are doing a much better job of mining the contest for laughs.)
My mind boggles at this, although it really shouldn’t. I spent just enough time in the corporate world to know that these “wouldn’t it be fun if?” ideas regularly make appearances. Especially when the company has just partnered with an apparel manufacturer and is looking for to generate “cross-company synergy to appeal to a target demographic.”
This contest comes at a time when WotC/Hasbro has already burned off a lot of goodwill in the gaming community due to their decision to pull their .pdfs from sale and their inability to get their digital D&D initiative fully functional. Although the company divisions involved don’t overlap, you’d think that they might be somewhat aware of the PR connotations that this decision for contest whimsy might engender amongst their consumer base. They should really be making at least a superficial gesture to make it appear as if they’re getting their house in order and a “Here’s a grand, kid, plus a free pair of kicks” competition that is a thinly-veiled scheme to get some cheap design work done for them isn’t going to help matters.
I have difficulty envisioning that this contest will lead to the emergence of the next INSERT YOUR FAVORITE RPG ARTIST HERE. Conversely, this is exactly what I expect will come out of the One Page Dungeon Contest, the Erol Otis Art Challenge, and the WEaBP competitions. Sometimes a little bit of encouragement is all it takes to get a previously reluctant but talented individual to get serious about writing or illustrating for the role-playing community. This is not idle speculation because this is exactly what happened to me.
Last year, Grognardia ran a series of contests called the “Grognard’s Challenge”. It was this series enticed me to submit some of my own creations for consideration. Surprisingly, two of my entries ended up winning. The success of my first entry led me to believe that somebody out there might be interested in some more of my ideas and this blog was the result of that speculation. This blog served as the birthplace for the Dungeon Alphabet, which was then brought to the attention of Goodman Games. The result of that was that I’ll soon have a professional rpg design credit to my name. While the Alphabet was still being written, I started submitting articles to Fight On! and Knockspell, and I’m pleased to be a contributor to those fine publications. There are a few more irons roasting in my fire at the moment, all of which can be attributed back to some minor success in the Grognard’s Challenge.
I’m not suggesting that I’m destined for any greatness in the role-playing publication world, nor am I saying that what happened to me will happen to everyone. What I am saying is that it is the little things like the “Sell Your Sole” competition (a most ironic title in my opinion) that suggest to me a growing divide between WotC and their target audience. If I had any vested interest in WotC and their current game line, I’d be a very angry man. Luckily, I have no dog in this fight and, if anything, I’m a beneficiary of this growing schism between what the gamers want and what Hasbro wants them to want.
Like the tiny shoots of grass that grow in cracked cement, destined to become great trees, the OSR and the smaller rpg companies have taken root in this growing divide. Rather than attempt to steer the audience in the direction they wish to go, they encourage the consumer base to define the market and to serve as a nurturing ground from which to harvest new ideas, new writers, and new artists. The role-playing community is seeing some new faces and new diversity, all of which is to the benefit of the community as a whole. These small contests are helping to uncover new talent and to give them the exposure and encouragement they need to flourish, and for that I’m extremely grateful.
So keep the contests and competitions coming. To all of the individuals, small groups, and companies that sponsor and support these opportunities for new talent to emerge, I thank you. To WotC/Hasbro, I’d like to say “good work.” Your ongoing efforts are much appreciated down here in the topsoil, even if we’re not going to be wearing your D&D sneakers.