Thursday, January 19, 2012

Signs & Portents

So by now you’ve all heard that WotC’s re-releasing the trio of core 1E books for D&D. There are of course caveats to the release (limited release, available in North America only, new covers, quality and quantity yet to be determined, etc.), but on the whole this seems to be a good thing. Maybe it’s merely a publicity stunt by WotC to try and generate some goodwill amongst older gamers or a test run to see if there’s a market for similar releases in the months ahead. Frankly, I’m not privy to any inside information, so this is speculation at best.

Others more versed is such matters have undoubtedly already addressed some of the issues I’m about to mull over, but I’ve been head-down trying to catch up on projects and haven’t had much time to wander the blogosphere and the forums to see so for myself. Please forgive me if you’ve seen this hashed to pieces already.

Having mulled over this news for most of the day, I’m wondering what this means in the long term for the OSR and the retro-clones. If this is indeed a limited run, never to be repeated again, the re-issue won’t have much of an effect other than generating more interest in the “obsolete” forms of gaming we’ve all been harping on for years now. That, I think we can all agree, would be a good thing.

However, what if this is a sign that WotC is dedicating themselves to finally getting their ducks in a row and cleaning up the mess they made for themselves with the release of 4E? I’m not edition bashing, but I think we can all agree that the release of 4E was a bit of a fustercluck whose long term effect was to fracture the consumer base. The wide differences between 3.5 and 4E systems made it difficult to use material across editions, thus impacting sales. And as much as we like to harp on the fact that Paizo is now at least equal to WotC in the market, can anyone dispute that Paizo’s success was not predicated by WotC fumbling the D&D ball?

Unless you’ve been marooned on a deserted island for the last few weeks (and if that’s the case, why are you reading this blog and not out drinking your bodyweight in booze and chasing people with lax moral standards?), you know that WotC’s plan for D&D Next is to end the edition wars once and for all and bring us all back under the D&D tent. Obviously, there’s been debate as to the feasibility of this goal. I’m not going to go on record to say that WotC can’t do it, but it’s going to be a hell of a task to do so.

Continuing in this vein (and remember this is mere speculation), what happens if the 1E books sell like hotcakes at a lumberjack competition? Wouldn’t the next logical step be to see if more out-of-print editions have a place in the market? Is the OD&D bookcase set we’ve been asking for, one to put in the game closet next to Monopoly and Trivia Pursuit, an inevitability? Again, this is a good thing.

Unfortunately, if this is indeed the future of things to come, it’s going to have an impact on the OSR publishers out there, especially those individuals currently responsible for the retro clones available. The success of Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, and OSRIC is based on the fact that the rules they are reproducing are out of print and increasingly difficult to acquire. There’s already a percentage of the player base that shuns the retro clones on the grounds of “Why play this when I already have the ‘real’ books?” Admittedly, the intent of the retro publishers is to keep these types of games available in a market that had no official support, to provide a means for amateur and not-so-amateur designers to create material for the games they love, and to keep this form of gaming alive. However, I think it’s going to be hard going for these same publishers if WotC steps back into the marketplace and re-introduces the real thing. Those of us active in the OSR might continue to support the old school retro clones, but when push comes to shove, the average gamer is going to pick up Basic D&D over Labyrinth Lord. It’ll be a shame if the OSR did win the war as some posts have claimed in recent months, only to succumb to its own victory.

Now assuming that WotC continues with an OGL with their releases, the 3rd party market will survive. We must remember that the original plan for the OGL was so that 3rd party publishers would take up the slack and produce adventure modules for D&D that are notoriously small sellers and don’t constitute a large part of the overall profit pie. WotC could continue to concentrate on the big sellers and let the little guys nibble on the crumbs. As we know, this isn’t the way things worked out, but this might still end up being the case for the publishers currently supporting the OSR. I’m not crying that the sky is falling, but I doubt anybody with a stake in the old school market isn’t at least considering this possibility today. I sure there’s been a few closed door conferences going on over at Paizo HQ in recent days as well.

I might be reading too much into this announcement entirely and completely outside the realm of reality. Nevertheless, I think there are interesting times ahead for us all in the months to come and I’ll be watching future developments very closely. The reprints of 1E have certainly lit a fire under my own ass in regard to getting Stonehell completed and out the door on the off-chance we’re in for a very severe sea change in the hobby and the industry that supports it.


Dan said...

I think it will be great for adventure publishers. They will likely see a spike in sales in April and May. The only OSR game that will have impacted sales is probably going to be OSRIC. The other games are just too different. Now, if WotC republished 0e, that would cause a lot more changes to the OSR. In any case, I don't think most publishers are doing this as anything other than a vanity project. LoftP and Goblinoid Games are probably the only two that generate enough money to actually get by.

rainswept said...
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ADD Grognard said...

I think it is important to remember that the strength in the Open movement is that we are not tied to a canon that can be wiped away easily.

This is the evolutionary step that has been building for sometime.

There will, I think, be a continued interest in the standard OSR releases because of their clarity and the ability to be house ruled and added onto. And many are free.

But I think the greater victory is in the OSS or Old School Style. These are games that are never meant to be clones but that evoke the spirit of the older play style. Not rigid or rules heavy but able to be slimmed (or increased if the player group so desire) to fit like a glove and leave one at the end of a session with only one question on the players lips...'when do we get to do this again!'.

The work I have been doing is clearly not a D&D clone even though my heart will always belong to AD&D1e I feel that it is better to try to bring that 'lightning in a bottle' effect to the work and not try to be a slavish copy. To explore areas we only glimpsed when we played in the 80's and to bring a modern context for players of all ages and editions to enjoy.

I for one do not trust the current stewards of the D&D realm and it would take a lot to get me to. I have moved ever closer to Pathfinder and finally went all in with the release of the Box set. I'm looking forward to creating material that is compatible with it and most rules lite 3.x systems(M74 being another).