Monday, January 9, 2012
OSR is a SHAM!!
For the record I don't believe OSR is a sham its a wonderful movement that I dearly am glad for. But I see many people out there pounding their chests right now proclaiming victory in the name of all D&D ... solely on the basis of the OSR movement and for me that is record scratching ... "Whutcha talkin bout Willis" moment. By saying something like that though I'm trying to make a ... probably lame ... but I think somewhat relevant point. Why does this constant justification to exist need to be made by the OSR people. It seems to dominate much of the discourse in the OSR community and for the life of me I can't figure out why. To me the reasons OSR exist and will continue to exist are self evident. That said there is also this propensity to I think overblow the size and impact OSR is having, which I think undermines some credibility and diverts the discussion away from where it should be. Look people this blog is shitty ... lol ... I know it. It is a thought journal for me really, just a little place to toss out an idea or record something I'm thinking about, working on, doing with the game group.
I really have zero expectation that it will ever be all that interesting to very many people. But there are blogs out there where the authors/owners choose to really spend alot of time and effort on the content, and they start to have a stronger voice and develop a community around them. I think with that comes a little responsibility, especially in communities like the OSR community. I guess that is the nature of my long, rambling rant here. I sort of hope for the best from the OSR guys because I respect what they are trying to do.
To me the OSR movement was much more akin to say the Occupy movement as not. It was about OWNING ones own game. About returning to something that wasn't broken and didn't need to be fixed. It was a little bit about nostaliga, a little bit about small amateur game design, about blogging and podcasting and just having fun. OSR was a reaction to the grid ... I will say that again ... it was a reaction to the grid based 3.0-4e era versions of D&D (including Pathfinder).
The 5th edition frenzy today really has me a little non-plussed at some of the commentary form people regarding OSR. OSR is a movement towards 1st/basic edition D&D ... period. It is special and interesting and cool ... and really apparently full of itself. OSR is not singlehandedly responsible for the demise of 4e, and I don't care what anyone says OSR isn't the driving force behind new 5th ed. It does not have the vast numbers that people out there to warrant some of the rhetoric people are spouting right now. OSR defeated evil Hasbro ... huh? Ummm ... no. Sorry guys. Paizo has probably a 90% greater claim to that. Lets face it 3.0-4e era D&D just has some serious design flaws ... just because the OSR crowd has recognized that doesn't mean they are RESPONSIBLE for the demise of 4e ... lol. Yet some people are actually SAYING that ... it is silly.
To my knowledge the OSR community is a community of tens of thousands perhaps low hundreds of thousands ... VS ... what low millions for the 3.5/Pathfinder fans. So who is going to have more influence?
Beyond this ... and far, far more importantly in my mind. Individual self proclaimed OSR leaders are claiming some kind of design superiority based on their association with OSR?!?!? What??? To me I see the "indie" RPG scene as potentially a far better place to draw inspiration from as the game moves forward. If old school D&D was so vastly superior why were so many so willing to jump to new versions? Why did it take so long for OSR to begin? I personally think OSR came to be and thrived because of grid based D&D .. pretty much alone. Old School D&D is not a main stream cup of tea. The insane dungeon ecology of many of the Gygax era stuff is nostalgically fun, but very campy and even for a fantasy game ... so woefully unrealistic ... "why is the underground goblin empire next to the red dragon's lair ... under a lake of gray ooze ... with a Minotaur civilization living along its banks ... all in the area the size of a suburban mall."
That stuff was great fun when I was 12 back in the mid 80s but it isn't going to be fun for many adults these days. Its a great "he he" lets have some beers and relive 1984 for a night kinda experience, but it doesn't make for long standing, intellectually stimulating, deep RP kinda campaigns. I know D&D has mostly never been about that, but there has for a long time been at least an attempt at blending in some maturity and intellectually stimulating elements into the game. Some very challenging moral and ethical dilemmas, etc.
Much if not most, of OSR is campy "how do we use this ten foot pole to defeat the evil overlord" kinda stuff. Again, wonderful, delightful, hilarious, potentially dark and devious ... old school goodness. But it is just that. It is constrained by that era of game design, that style of game. Why constrain D&D? Why not instead look more to games like Burning Wheel, Apocalypse World, Dogs in the Vineyard. Of course not entirely and you couldn't really do that out loud ... game designers would have to be blending elements into the mix. I hope elements of basic/1st ed era return as well as elements from 2nd ed. I hope the preserve some of the good stuff from 3.0-4e era D&D as well. But I dearly hope that they look towards some of the really cutting edge RPGs in the indie/small press category as well. Above all I hope we can at least have a by the rules option to NOT USE THE GRID in 5th ed D&D.
I also hope that the OSR people can stop proclaiming victory over WoTC as theirs alone. The Paizo/3.5 guys have done a bigger part in terms of just not giving WoTC cash for a bad game and making due with what it was they like about D&D ... just like the OSR guys have. What about the third column of D&D dissent ... the guys like me ... who just stopped playing all together? I stopped giving WoTC money and I didn't have a chance and/or the inclination to get whole hog into OSR and tried as I might 3.0-Pathfinder D&D was just never for me. I did my 4e time and then left. So where does that leave the guys who still love D&D but feel dispossessed? Hopefully WoTC is looking to bring us back into the fold as well and if so I hope they aren't going to just stamp a brand on OSRs ass or Pathfinder-ize D&D (they couldn't we all know we won't see a simple return to OGL, I'm just saying ...). No 5th ed is a move in a new direction and we all need to keep things in perspective and watch the epeen and chest thumping.
D&D has been a sick old cancer ridden man with a bad heart and cataracts ... for a long time. Its time to pass the torch, not time to jump up and down about his demise. But micro-celebrities in the blog-o-sphere are going to likely do alot of "I told you so" high five crap. It is inevitable. I think all of us have been saying we see 4e on the way out for a long time. I could thump my chest a bit saying I predicted this over a year ago ... but that would be bogus because I follow many blogs, talk to a wide range of people in different towns, at cons, etc. etc. about gaming and just absorb what others are saying. Such is the nature of a constantly plugged in world. I'm looking at this as a moment when there is some opportunity to bridge some rifts and heal some wounds and I hope that the overall OSR community, the players of pathfinder, 3.0/3.5 ed guys, etc. will try to exert positive influence if indeed WoTC is going to be listening.
Again hope against hope I do that this is the ticket we've all been waiting for and so that is how I'm going to leave my mind on 5th ed for now. I would be shocked if we see the game out before next fall at the earliest and I wouldn't be half surprised to see it come in the spring or summer of 2013 (a Gencon 2013 launch would make sense).
Addendum to the original post (just because its too big to fit in the comments section):
I don't disagree about demographics mattering and I don't disagree with the point about amount spent vs. people who play. Though even there don't go too far with discounting numbers. You can be certain that Hasbro pays attention to the numbers not just who is spending right now. They are looking at market share, number of customers, etc. those guys might not be buying books but maybe they will chip in with some buddies for a group DDI account, maybe they'll buy some D&D special edition dice or whatnot, etc. Maybe they won't buy books but maybe they will buy a video game. So WoTC does make decisions as probably does Paizo based on numbers ... not just on who is spending today or next month. I don't want to over state that though nor suggest that how many people playing something vs. how many people buying it ... clearly I fully concede by far how many people are buying is the most important of the two. Obviously and if I overstated I was wrong.
A age old anecdote about the RPG industry that I've heard for years and heard industry folks at GAMA say in a tongue in cheek fashion "the average RPG consumer spends 0.00 per year on actually RPG materials." RPG fans have historically been cheap, pirates who are content to plunder their rules, or share a players handbook between five people.
One of my main points actually and I'm sorry I expressed it poorly, is that Pathfinder is selling alot more product than OSR, again if you don't give OSR the huge boost by including all small press/indie RPGs with OSR. I believe that the amount spent on Pathfinder alone is more than all of OSR, and I'd be surprised if that wasn't by a wide margin. Again we are not lumping small press RPGs or Indie RPGs with OSR. They are not part of OSR. Mouseguard, Dogs in the Vineyard, Fiasco, Dresden Files are not OSR. So all that activity while having impact probably on WoTCs sales (maybe I don't know what kind of crossover there is). Again NO CLUE if that is the case just posing a theory.
If that isn't the case though and someone can link something to disprove that statement ... then indeed my logic is flawed ... otherwise it still holds water.
Another thing I will admit, I say it constantly on this "blog" of mine. I'm not a pro/elite blogger. I sit, I type, I don't even edit. Its a one shot, spur of the moment thought journal for me basically. Just a way to put an idea out there and see what people think if anyone even responds. Its mostly just a cathartic exercise for me. I have a masters degree in public administration, I've taken some business and economics courses but I am by no means a stock analyst or economist.
My main reason for saying these things and/or posing the theory is I keep asking myself what are OSR people spending their money on? My experience with OSR is alot of free or very cheaply priced product with a few exceptions. My experience with OSR is also alot of second hand purchases. OSR people tend to spend alot on ebay, alot on old 1st ed. modules, etc. That = zero benefit or effect upon WoTC or Paizo. I will theorize again that the Paizo guys, are outspending both the OSR and the 4e fans these days. That was the main point.
Clearly and obviously demographics matter. The baby boomers have far more disposable wealth than any other population cohort right now. Working professionals of all generations have more to spend on games, etc. so if someone can market a product do you want to market them to people with money? Or 18-25 year olds who tend to not have anywhere near as much discretionary income? Business 101 does apply I don't disagree. If we really got into the issue, it would require proprietary info from Hasbro and Paizo and some sort of "industry" wide numbers for OSR. But again ... how many OSR people are there? I see some blogs, I see some podcasts. I see no local brick and mortar stores in my area (or many places at least in the Western US) that heavily cater to OSR. I do see those stores catering to Paizo folks and still selling D&D. I see D&D and Pathfinder for sale at Barnes and Noble, en mass on Amazon. I don't see as much OSR stuff though. That is my point. I see many people proclaiming how big OSR is and now how large their purchasing power is. Yet I don't see any data to support that? I do agree if you lump OSR in with ALL the small press RPG activity it is substantital but that is disingenious as the Indie-Small Press RPG scene is not about OSR really at all. Its about Cubicle 7, Evil Hat, IPR, Drive Through RPG, etc. certainly some OSR stuff is traded on those sites and on lulu. Again though unless each OSR fan is spending hundreds each year on PDFs ... they are in my opinion not even going to be close to the spending levels of Paizo fans. Who are buying their publications and now miniatures, etc. etc. in large quantities all over the place.
For example The Warstore, Miniature Market, just to name a few carry Paizo products. I don't see really any OSR products there though. So this big OSR puff up about how OSR is doing all things for the industry, controlling the hearts and minds of the most important fans, apparently selling vast untold millions in product. I'm just not seeing it? Where? Who is making these piles of cash? Perhaps ebay ... on the after market sales of 1st ed modules. If we lumped that in, perhaps we could call OSR a significant factor in terms of percentage of RPG sales.
I'm not saying OSR is insignificant, far from it, clearly intellectually OSR has been very, very important. When you have the likes of Mike Mearls talking about OSR as well as other noted and/or influentail game designers you can't discount that. OSR has made its mark. If in no other way than by simply proving that people can just return to the classic systems that weren't broken and didn't need to be fixed. People can use the OGL to publish new materials, people can buy 1st ed stuff and simply convert it, etc. etc
I get this and applaud it. I'm just saying if there is a flaw in my logic about the size of the OSR customer base ... then show me the data? I can't find it. OSR in my opinion based on what I readily admit to be anecdotal data mixed with making assumptions based on some other sources (for example look at the amazon sales figures for the sales of WoTC vs. Paizo core books, etc.).
My point isn't to troll or be argumentative my point is that I think things are getting blown out of perspective from the OSR community. There is oddly ... how or why I don't understand ... alot of ego there. From the little I've seen in the blogosphere and OSR podcasts even before this 5th ed announcement I hear much chest pounding and really arrogant "we are all important" kinda rhetoric. This week with the 5th ed announcement that kinda thing seemed to really get blown out of proportion.
To be fair I haven't been watching the Paizo boards or equivalent pathfinder blogs, etc. so perhaps its just as bad there. At least in the case of pathfinder I could see some justification for smugness. Even then though it really would be unjustified. I think the failure of 4e came more from mismanagement and market forces than anything else. D&D has been a property somewhat adrift for a few years now. After the initial launch of D&D and say the first 18 months or so of release ... things just started sliding down hill. Was that because of OSR or Pathfinder? No. That was the fault of WoTC alone. So taking credit for slaying the dragon in a case where it basically swallowed its own tongue .. is a little unjustified. That was my main point.
The larger issue is ... it is out of this kind of environment that WoTC hopes to "re-unite" people and win the hearts and minds of its very fractured customer base? How the hell are they going to do that and if they somehow manage to pull it off, it is something that not just the RPG industry should make note of but its something that academics and business leaders outside of the industry should watch closely ... it would really be a comeback for the ages. This wouldn't be an outright first, for other similar examples one can look to: Harley Davidson, Apple, don't laugh ... seriously ... Martha Stewart, Ford, Best Buy, etc. Those are examples of businesses with fragmented, actually hostile customer bases ... which managed to navigate the mine field and find a way to come back from it. Do I predict a great comeback of D&D ... sadly ... probably not. But it is possible if the right people do the right things in unison and they finally get and stay focused on the customers.