Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Begun, the Clone War has?

So, I found out recently that the new Revised edition of Labyrinth Lord has a small handful of rule changes included. Leather armor, for example, is now AC8 instead of AC7.

I don't like this development. I don't like it at all.

Big deal, you say? Maybe so. I hope so.

But what worries me is that this might just be a sign of things to come, as simulacrum game makers more and more cave to the temptation to "improve" on their source material.

We've already seen this in Swords & Wizardry, which really bugged me with its creator's insistence on including what I can only describe as some very half-baked house rules in the main book. In fact, it bugged me so much that my copy was sold to the local Half-Price Books fairly quickly and hasn't been missed since. The worst offenders by far were consolidating all the saving throws into one and tacking-on an overly-complex 3E-style "challenge rating" system for monsters. Oh, and ascending AC. Don't even get me started on that bull.

Maybe this stuff works great in the author's own campaigns. Good for him. Maybe Daniel Proctor really gets a tangible benefit out of running his Moldvay-style game with AC8 leather armor. Again, fine, but that's not the point.

The point is a bunch of questions that have been running through my head all afternoon:

1. How serious are these authors about making games that are as faithful to the original works as humanly (and legally) possibly? Can they divorce their egos enough from the process to acknowledge that, yes, Gygax and company really did do it right the first time and the old designs don't need any of their help now, except as it relates to getting back into print? Or will the clones/simulacra increasingly become more and more "their own things" until they eventually have as little proper claim to the label as Castles & Crusades or the new Hackmaster?

2. What are we to make of changes that bring the so-called clones objectively further from their source material in later revised editions? Why did they start? Will they ever stop? If so, when?

3. If they don't stop or persist for some time, how soon until we're seeing multiple editions of the clone, each one increasingly more and more its own game?

Player: "So, what's the AC for studded leather?"

DM: "Depends. Which version of Labyrinth Lord are we playing again? 1.0? 1.5? 2.0? Even I can't keep them all straight sometimes..."

Player: "Uh, okay. Well, is Sleep second level this time or first?"

DM: *sigh*

Keep in mind, I'm not talking about minor lawsuit dodges like calling the displacer beast a phase tiger or leaving Bigby's name off his Hand spells. I'm talking about more fundamental, completely elective rules changes and additions such as the recent tweaks to LL or Mythmere's house rules in S&W.

More and more I'm thinking that I should just stick to out-of-print games for my play. At least they're a known quantity, if only because it's too late for any of them to turn around and change horses midstream.



  1. No need to worry about additional changes. The AC thing was a problem introduced by having more armor options. A number of people found the old way troublesome, so I changed two numbers in the AC list. Damned if I do, damned if I don't.

  2. Will, speaking as a guy who was also born in '78 and also digs the weird folklore, I gotta tell you I have NEVER played in or ran a by-the-book campaign. When I sit down with my gamer cohorts now, we literally negotiate rules changes. Sure, there may be a couple 2nd Edition PHBs on the table, but the game we're playing is typically an inbred, mutant cousin of AD&D.

    What I'm saying is that these ad libs you're seeing in LL and S&W are just the Nature of the Beast. D&D isn't a body of rules -- it's a 336HD Memetic Monster that gets reinterpreted by every mind it touches! Even the Great Old Grognards (hallowed be their names) recognize(d) this. No two tables run the same game. I think there was a push to formalize D&D with the advent of 1st Edition, and to some degree that effort was successful, but the same guy who was behind this trend also said:

    "The secret we should never let the gamemasters know is that they don't need any rules."

    We could argue whether the term "retro-clone" is a misnomer, and maybe you'd be right. But the clones do share a fundamental spirit with the originals -- they're all just PlayDo in the hands of the Referee (and his players, as in my case).

  3. This whole post is a piece of shite really. While I have some sympathy for your upset about S&W, as the changes made to be "legal" seem to be way more drastic than necessary, in the case of the Revised version of LL you're really talking about minor issues. And to suggest that this revision is only just the start of a whole series of changes is being pretty melodramatic.

    The fact is, back when I started playing D&D in the early 80s, freely mixing Basic and Advanced products, I thought nothing of playing B2 with 1e - or in other words B2's leather armour of AC 7, with 1e's leather armour of AC 8 - and not bothering to do any conversion. The players certainly didn't care and it's no different here.

    This really is making a mountain out of a mole hill and smacks of the Pharisee, rules lawyer attitude that crept in with 1e, even though very few people probably ever played the game strictly BtB.

    And that last paragraph:

    More and more I'm thinking that I should just stick to out-of-print games for my play. At least they're a known quantity, if only because it's too late for any of them to turn around and change horses midstream. utterly ridiculous, talk about throwing the baby out with the bath water. Shame to overlook all the good the clones have and are doing, simply because you're either too uptight about the rules (and thus missed the spirit of the game), or too lazy to convert AC by shifting a number one to the left. Sad stuff indeed.

  4. I wouldn't bat an eye at a campaign with houserules that change the Ac of leather or threw out the awesome-but-completely-arbitrary saving throw charts. ACs that go up to infinity to annoy me a bit, but I'd hardly call that a dealbreaker either. Especially when S&W goes out of its way to use both AC types.

    Should I care if various published rulesets also possess these differences? I don't really think so. If you want to argue that Gygax or Holmes or Moldvay got everything right, I say "Rock,rock on!" but that still doesn't make those games sacred texts.

  5. In addition to these comments I would say that Dan of Earth really doesn't put his ego before his works and I find that the worst statement in the entire post and it really does a disservice to Dan. I have never known him to be anything but helpful and willing to listen to the input of others.

    Minor changes suggested by the people who buy the games does not ring of self service or ego at all. I really don't believe that there is room enough for big egos in the OSR as it is.

  6. In addition to these comments I would say that Dan of Earth really doesn't put his ego before his works and I find that the worst statement in the entire post and it really does a disservice to Dan.

    Ancientvaults is right, this is the most shameful point of this whole post. Will, if you took the time to get to know Dan, you'd find that he's probably the most humble personality in our little niche. And your suggestions in point 1 of your post makes me think you have no understanding of why he (or any of the other clone authors) bothered to produce the clones in the first place.

    What I'd like to see is bloggers expending their creative energy giving criticism where it is both needed and helpful, in the area of product reviews. Module authors and OS publishers are crying out for those. Petty snarking over unimportant issues does no-one any good and simply makes the anti-OSR brigade clap their hands in glee, as they find more "proof" that the movement is doomed to fail.

  7. Speaking as a guy who was actually playing D&D in 1978 (the year of your birth), revisions, updates, and modifications are just part of the lay of the land. It seems to be a universal thing in the RPG universe so why would the OSR be any different? And just to clarify, there was no "right" and no mythical "first time." The game has always been a dynamic thing and nothing is canonical or sacred. If you can't handle a minor change like this now, you would have been freaking when the 0e supplements came out back in the 70s?. I understand your dismay, but not the rant.

  8. "I would say that Dan of Earth really doesn't put his ego before his works and I find that the worst statement in the entire post and it really does a disservice to Dan."

    That's great. But if you'll notice, that statement isn't addressed to him specifically. It's a general concern I have about the potential for both current and future clone game designers to fall into the trap of repeatedly fixing what's not broken.

    If you want to defend your friend from some attack, that's fine, but stop to think first whether there might be a a reason I didn't call him out by name in that paragraph.

    "Will, speaking as a guy who was also born in '78 and also digs the weird folklore, I gotta tell you I have NEVER played in or ran a by-the-book campaign."

    The issue isn't how anyone plays (or has played). I thought I made this abundantly clear. I have nothing against anyone's house rules or even published rules options in formats like Fight On!, Knockspell, blogs and websites, etc. I buy these magazines myself for just that purpose.

    The issue is that I personally feel that having the core rulebooks themselves be "static" documents is of great value to a game and its community as a whole. In this way, they can serve as a lingua franca of sorts; a baseline from which a common understanding of the game and its mechanics is formed in the minds of enthusiasts across space and time.

    This is, for me, really hella important.

    For games like OSRIC and LL, every time the clone deviates unnecessarily from the original, that detracts from the ability to use the two interchangeably, which in turn only works to undermine the very raison d'etre (lots of French in this post for some reason) of a simulacrum/clone game.

    And that way lies, well, not madness, but at best lameness.

  9. First you mention Labyrinth Lord being revised bothering you and then you mention publisher's egos. It is rather hard not to see this pointed directly at Dan. And while Dan is not a friend or pal of mine, I have seen him treat people fairly and he has always been a stand up guy. I really think that your response is a poor attempt at trying to look innocent.

    Please remove my blog from your blogroll and I will do the same with yours from mine.

  10. Well, as I outlined on the forums, I do not think this is a big deal. However, I do have some sympathy for the point of view that it is another step away from Labyrinth Lord as a direct clone of its source material, and I can see why that might be a worry in terms of being evidence of a larger trend away from the original incarnation of the game.

    Will we see more and more changes to Labyrinth Lord over time, each supposedly improving the game in some minor way? Well, it is hard to deny that this appears to be the current history of the game, so there is no real reason not to expect this in the future.

    Is this a problem? Maybe. To some extent this is probably why there are two versions of Swords & Wizardry, one closer to the source material than the other. Should Goblinoid Games follow a similar path? I have to admit, the fact that previous fully illustrated versions of the game are no longer available from the places they once were rankles a bit. Unlike OSRIC, which anybody can offer, it seems Labyrinth Lord can only be offered by Goblinoid Games (not 100% sure of this).

    Will there come a time when somebody needs to produce a new clone of B/X because Labyrinth Lord has strayed too far from the source material? I think that this is unlikely, but I suppose that it is not entirely impossible. On the plus side, they can use the open game content of Labyrinth Lord to significantly reduce the labour involved.

  11. This comment has been removed by the author.

  12. That's classy David.

    @ rainswept - The tone of my comment matched the calibre of the post.

    A low blow (and an incredibly inaccurate public statement) is often best reacted to with a strong reply. If you think this is ungentlemanly or it offends your genteel sensibilities, I'm sorry, but you may have noticed that I didn't stoop to using an actual swear word.

    Maybe you should set an example. I don't know of any bloggers cashing cheques from you, or from publishers. That means our hobby isn't your pyramid, Pharoah.

    Thanks for the moralising. And finished off with a nice dose of sarcasm too - that's classy rainswept. ;)

    Maybe you should find out just a little bit more about the person you are publically attacking before making such statements. While I have publically stated many times that I am not the creative type and certainly not a talented writer (as you have alluded to above), and therefore no, you won't have seen anything published by me, I have and do however work behind the scenes on numerous projects and published products, mainly in the area of proofreading and editing. And so indirectly, yes, I do contribute to publishers "cashing cheques" (as if that's some sort of indication of a person's value and worth).

    Also, a quick scan of the forums and OSR blogs will also show that 99.9% of my comments are both encouraging and uplifting. That being the case, you should ask yourself then, why has David made such a strong statment in this case? Knowing the bigger picture can prevent one looking like a self-righteous prick (yeah, I couldn't resist the urge to chuck in another shocker just for you).

    My original comment here attacked Will's ideas. You came on and made a personal attack. And you call me classy? Nice one bro.

  13. Don't make me start moderating comments, you two.

    rainswept is fundamentally correct, however. This is a blog that you can choose to come and read if you're curious what game-relatied thoughts are running through my head. It's not always going to be relating to my doubts and fears about the current direction of the hobby, but it's not going to always be " encouraging and uplifting", either. Each entry is going to be what it is, no less and no more.

    I feel no personal obligation to anyone who might wish me to maintain a certain tone throughout.

  14. I feel no personal obligation to anyone who might wish me to maintain a certain tone throughout.

    And no-one would want you to Will.

    Don't make me start moderating comments, you two.

    OK, perhaps I came on a bit strong or seemed harsh. I’ll attempt to respond to rainswept (and yourself) in a more reasonable manner.

    The OSR is a tiny niche. The main bulk of its followers largely middle-aged and not getting any younger. Many of us would like to see it not only stay alive, but grow. Indeed, we believe it deserves to grow, which involves bringing new blood into the fold. At the moment that is mostly happening in two ways, firstly through direct introduction – a DM introducing younger players to the older games and clones, and secondly through the internet. I suspect the latter is currently the more effective of the two numerically.

    Many of those new to OS D&D who turn up on forums say they found out about the OSR through blogs. This puts the blog writer in a powerful and important position, and perhaps an inordinate one. A skilled writer can have a great deal of influence upon people and their opinions, just look at James Maliszewski of Grognardia for an example. The simple fact is, people will make judgements and form opinions based on the writings of a trusted and respected blog author. This can be a positive thing, but it can of course also be quite negative and damaging.

    When someone decides that their opinions and thoughts are important enough to post publically on the net, they are, whether consciously or not, inviting a response, whether that be praise and agreement, discussion, or criticism. And in the case of a blog author, it’s easy, if they don’t want comments, they can simply turn off that function. When a blog author decides to post an entry that is criticism, it is not unreasonable to expect responses that are strong, whether in agreement or in dispute. That’s the nature of the beast, write a piece full of praise and the fanboys applaud, write a critical piece and opinions are divided, sides are mobilised.

    Now back to the OS niche. People are discovering the older games and clones for the first time, often through blogs. We are not seeing growth in the thousands, probably not in the hundreds, but there is definitely an increase in interest, fuelled by the blogosphere. Given the powerful influence blogs can have, any piece that criticises the OSR could potentially rob the movement of new followers and since we’re not talking big numbers here, each individual who decides the OS crowd and the clone movement is not for them, because of some criticism they read on a blog, criticism that may not only be inaccurate, but downright misleading, is a tragedy for the aging, tiny niche.

    Will Mistretta offered up a strong opinion, possibly in the knowledge that his words could influence others, possibly not. In the opening post of this blog he said “Never let it be said that there was a bandwagon I wouldn't jump on”, so I’m guessing he was well prepared for debate. He certainly elicited some strong responses here from various people, people who have always shown themselves to be pretty regular, steady guys on the forums, which should say something about the nature of this blog entry. I offered up a strongly worded comment because I felt Will’s post was both unfair and misleading, with the potential to damage a cause I feel strongly about. Will has handled criticism extremely well, as his responses here have shown. He has remained cool in the face of outrage and has either ignored the barbs, or responded in a dispassionate manner. He is obviously a man who doesn’t need others to stand up for him in his defence (sorry to talk about you as if you weren’t in the room Will). :)

  15. rainswept said:

    "You don't want Will to play in your side of the sandbox? That's silly, bat... and nothing you have any right to ask."

    Really? I am not allowed to request being removed because I am not comfortable with my blog being associeted with his? It wasn't like a demand, just a request. If I don't have a right to say that, then you have no right to tell me that I don't have a right to request my blog being removed and not associated with his. Rainswept: get real.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. Rainswept: There is no need to apologize and no harm done at all. You are correct, blogs are like a virtual front yard, however, if you invite trouble to your front yard, you should be able to face the consequences.

    In the oldschool movement I think that we are really too small for fighting and bickering, but I did take umbrage at seeing what appeared to be a thinly veiled attack on someone who, while not a friend of mine, has been nothing but a positive force in the OSR.

  18. Good post, Will.

    I'm just glad B/X is still cheap, so I don't have a reason to run the new, improved version.

  19. Will you mention bashing on Hackmaster.. which while quite farcical, was pretty much a direct port of 1e with elements of 2e.

    In fact I believe the license they had for the product said they really couldn't change anything, just add goofy elements.

  20. Me, I never liked Hackmaster. The humor sucked, the new rules were overcomplicated and uninspired, and the way the monster books were marketed was nothing short of shameful. I don't think it deserved any of the success it had.