Welcome to the Flaming Faggot

Callovia is called "the boundless empire" yet you have managed to find its northern border - a notorious roadhouse deep within the Madrasan Marches on the edge of the wilds of Llanvirnesse. The sign above the door reads "Flaming Faggot," which would suggest a cozy, homey inn with fresh biscuits served at teatime if not for the severed troll heads mounted on pikes at the gate.

As you cross the threshold the raucous din quiets momentarily as all eyes dart to the door and calloused hands drop instinctively to well-worn sword hilts. The threat, instantly assessed, is dismissed and roadhouse patrons go about their business hardly missing a beat.

Grim, hard-eyed men huddle around tables in close conversation thick with conspiracy; caravan guards gamble away their earnings; Caemric rangers sit close to the fireplace cooking the damp of the Black Annis from their clothes as they warm their innards with Red Dragon Ale; minstrels play and buxom wenches dance for the pleasure of men who pay them little attention - until they need a companion to warm their bed.

As you approach the bar, a huge, bald barman with a greatsword slung across his back slides a mug of freshly-pulled ale towards you, its frothy head dripping over the rim.

"Pull up a seat, lad," he says, "and let me tell you a tale of high adventure."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Do We Really Need a Rosetta Clone?

This is something I've been thinking about quite a bit the past few weeks, ever since reading this post on Uhluht'c Awakens, commenting on John Adams' announcement that Delving Deeper will become part of the Labyrinth Lord extended family.

The announcement appears to have been met with widespread approval and I've read plenty of suggestions that the OSR needs a 'Rosetta Clone' but, honestly, I don't see the point.  The main thrust of the arguments in favour of One Clone to Rule Them All seems to be that all subsequent old school supplements and adventures will speak the same language and be fully compatible.

Why is this important?  Every older edition of D&D and its retroclones already speaks the same language.  I don't recall anyone ever having any difficulty with using a B/X adventure in their AD&D game.  Heck, even when I was running Castles & Crusades I could use old D&D products and adventures 'out of the box' and compared to that, the mechanical differences between any two retroclones are minuscule.  Are people really finding cross-compatibility between existing games so insurmountable that we need to consolidate our games into a single rule set? Really?

The very idea of consolidating our hobby into a single rule set makes me shudder in dread.  Such a thing is utterly antithetical to my concept of the old school movement.  To me, the OSR is a return to the way we played during golden age of gaming, when new games burst onto the market like a popped zit.  I've seen a lot people sneer at the profusion of old school games that are currently being published, dismissing them as 'somebody's D&D house rules.'  Yeah, so what?  Most roleplaying games ever published started out as someone's house rules and many of them were someone's D&D house rules.  In the early days of the hobby, due to the vagueness of the original D&D books, everyone's house rules diverged from the source - many of them morphing into entirely different games.  I love that.  I love that we're seeing it happen again, and I love that today, thanks to the internet and the ease of home publishing, we can share it and revel in the glorious orgy of creative output within the old school community.

This is not to say that I think its useful to have multiple clones that contribute nothing new - and here I wonder if Delving Deeper may be nothing more than a version of Swords and Wizardry that is owned by Brave Halfling.  I haven't been following this game's development so I may be way off base here, but ultimately, as far as D&D retroclones are concerned, I would like to see one hi-fidelity clone for each of OD&D, Basic D&D, and AD&D, that reproduce these rules as closely as possible.  From there, though, folks should go nuts with their house-rule-derived games based on these touchstone publishing tools. Viva la difference!


I worry that the push for a Rosetta Clone will result in Labyrinth Lord coming to dominate the OSR in the same way that the D20 system dominated roleplaying for nearly decade.  Those were the bad old days as far as the health of the hobby was concerned, and I have no desire to see a return to it, even if only in our own small community.  This is particularly worrisome as folks start to publish games that diverge from the retroclones.  Attempting to shoe-horn a concept into an existing rule set can very quickly ruin the concept (anyone for some D20 Call of Cthulhu?).  Instead, rules should be developed to support the concept.  This is why TSR produced a whole suite of largely incompatible roleplaying games (Boot Hill, Gamma World, Top Secret, Gang Busters, etc.) instead of trying to fit them all into the D&D mechanics.

Universal systems, like GURPS can work very well, but you have to remember that GURPS was designed as a universal system from the outset.  D&D was not, nor is any retroclone based on D&D.  Yet we're already seeing other old school games, like Mutant Future that use the Labyrinth Lord rules.  I certainly can't fault Goblinoid Games for producing a game based on their own retroclone rule set, but I'd hate for everyone else to start doing it, too.

Consider this, then, a sober second thought about the need, and even the advisability, of jumping on the Rosetta Clone bandwagon.  We might just end up killing the spirit of creativity and individuality upon which the OSR was founded.

11 comments:

Greg Gorgonmilk said...

Don't sweat it, FF. Grognards are notorious for never being able to completely agree on anything. I imagine that a lot of OSRgonauts work along similar lines as myself, and I'm using LL the same way I use any other game -- kitbashing the hell out of it with stuff from Arduin, Holmes, back issues of Dragon, and random bits that my brain vomits up.

Anonymous said...

You're right, but I really don't think Delving Deeper will be a problem. I kind of feel like we are choking on retro-clones, though. Hopefully this is the last one that will attempt to replicate the older D&D rules closely, and we will start seeing more heavily modified/specialized versions, or even more NEW games designed with old school attitudes in mind.

A Paladin In Citadel said...

LL is a good system, but what I would really like is something that comes with customizability built into the system. I'm not into a rosetta clone either.

Shane Mangus said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shane Mangus said...

As you know, Sean, we have the same views on this. You echoed my own feeling on the subject. I had hopes that Delving Deeper was going to present something a bit different. I wanted Brave Halfling to create a product that would help distance itself from the other retro-clones we have right now. Especially with the 'Rosetta Stone' comment, I am afraid DD is going to be more of the same-old-same-old. Which, I suppose, is their goal. But honestly, this approach has grown a little stale for me of late... It comes off as if the only reason DD is being produced is for brand recognition. Why else would they produce a game that is basically Sword & Wizardry White Box mixed with some Labyrinth Lord? Why is there a need for a game called Delving Deeper if all you intend to do is come out with a reiteration of rules that are already being published? Is brand recognition enough of a good reason to publish yet another retro-clone? I'm not sure. Brave Halfling has produced a lot of good old-school products for S&W and Labyrinth Lord. Which is a wonderful thing. I wish Brave Halfling all the best, and hope they sell many copies of their game. Unless I see something new brought to the table I am afraid I might have to pass on buying Delving Deeper...

migellito said...

Definitely food for thought. I think the real energy and excitement of the osr is driven by its baroque ordered chaos.

ze bulette said...

More food for thought: TSR at one time was marketing OD&D, B/X, and AD&D all at the same time.

Sean Robson said...

Anonymous said...
Hopefully this is the last one that will attempt to replicate the older D&D rules closely, and we will start seeing more heavily modified/specialized versions, or even more NEW games designed with old school attitudes in mind.

This is exactly what I'm hoping for, too: new takes on the old games, and new games in the old school spirit.

Sean Robson said...

@Paladin: Good point. I've got nothing against LL, but it's a bit too tight for a compulsive rules tinkerer like me.

Sean Robson said...

Shane Mangus said...
Brave Halfling has produced a lot of good old-school products for S&W and Labyrinth Lord. Which is a wonderful thing. I wish Brave Halfling all the best, and hope they sell many copies of their game. Unless I see something new brought to the table I am afraid I might have to pass on buying Delving Deeper...

Ditto. I bear Brave Halfling much good will, but I'm not terribly interested in DD - the art looks great, though.

Sean Robson said...

@ze bulette: Excellent observation. I don't recall anyone complaining about too many versions of D&D back then - there was something for everyone and there was no need for a Rosetta Stone.