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Friday, February 25, 2011

The Heirs to Old School AD&D?

Buckle up this one could get bumpy. I was thinking on the way to work the other day about succession and the natural order of things as it pertains to the editions of Dungeons and Dragons. By this I mean who are the heirs to the older version of Advanced Dungeons and Dragons? Just where does this cut off?

Before this can be answered consider the players of Basic or 1st Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. Largely these consist of players that are now in the 40’s and 50’s and the group that actually created these versions might be a bit older. In some cases some of them are no longer with us (Gary Gygax and Dave Arnseon come to mind). As time goes by there are less and less players that experienced these older versions of the game when these were the game that was actually shipping. Looking at it even in its last form 2nd edition AD&D is now 11 years old. Since then a lot has changed in the RPG industry and in just that relatively short timeframe.

Because of this the pool of people who were actually there at the dawn of the modern RPG age is ever smaller. And as each year passes, grows smaller still. Those older gamers that experienced RPGs without many/any preconceived notions are a likewise shrinking base. As I noted in my previous post about the “war” between 4th Edition AD&D and Pathfinder it’s near impossible to not be influenced either as a player or designer by modern RPGs. This is a natural thing to when you think about it as computer RPGs were in turn inspired by pen and paper RPGs. This started in the early 80s with games like Adventure on the Atari 2600 and have kept advancing. (Of course this begs the question of what is a RPG in the computer sense these days, as console gaming is where the major advancements are, but that’s something else entirely.) Some of the old school gamers were playing when the Altair was a “modern” computer!
Being 38 now, I experienced AD&D differently then the older school of gamers and had some notions of RPGs on the computer while learning about AD&D. Right from the very start of the modern PC age, computers like the Apple II had games that were RPG like. The difference between then and now is that concepts were there, but the execution compared to today was light years apart. Also being that I started late in terms of the older gamer group (I was 8 in 1981 when I got the Moldvay Basic set for Christmas) I fit into a gap: certainly not an old-schooler, but on the leading edge of those that grew up in the middle of the later wave of 1st edition AD&D products like the much maligned Unearthed Arcana, Wilderness Survival Guide, were part and parcel of our forays into 1st Edition AD&D. So with perspective I can remember playing Basic, Advanced and switching to 2nd edition all when they were new, or at least the current version of the game and in the case of 1st it alays existed in a form outside of the Core Books.  My notions will seem old school to anyone who grew up with games post 3rd edition D&D and downright radical to the purist, sort of like “middle child syndrome”.

So with this said is it possible that the 2nd Edition players like myself will be the last heirs to original origins of the game? Its entirely possible as we represent the last generation of gamers before the “Great Schism”, i.e the release of 3rd Edition D&D, which makes the 1st/2nd edition split look like a squabble over nomenclature (in reality it’s just that).  As time moves on there is going to be even less gamers like myself as if you look at it 2nd edition had about a 11 year run as the current edition of the game from 1989-2000. There are some gamers that their first introduction was through 2nd Edition and had never even played or seen anything early. It’s entirely possible that they never saw or played the Rules Cyclopedia, Mentzer’s B/E/C/M/I or Holmes or Moldvay for that matter. That’s also to say nothing about the influences that shaped the early generation of gamers (see below).

So when you take a step back and look at it the “Hybrid Players” like myself are truly the last roots to the older school movement. I know that will not sit well with some folsk and 1st editon purists will say that they are. I disagree. Like it or not that later wave was the last that grew up playing 1st edition AD&D. We were the last ones to grow up with Basic, 1st and what is diversely called 1.5. We mixed these versions and never thought anything wrong with doing so; I know I never saw a problem with it, neither did my gaming group at the time.  Sure there will be some players that will continue with 1st edition to the very end that never played anything but either Basic or 1st Edition, but those players are probably not even in the majority anymore. If I had to guess as there is no hard facts on this the bulk of “Old School” is probably these “Hybrid Players” those that were exposed to many different version of the game. I remain unconvinced that there are massive numbers of 1st or even 2nd edition players for that matter, at least those that are active today. Back in the day? Sure. Now? Not really.

So that brings me back to the basic premise and title to this post: Who are the heirs to old school? In a sense anyone who played or at least only plays something prior to 2000 could be considered old school. But even then the differention gets tricky: for instance on occasion my group plays d20 Star Wars, which is another beast entirely. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. So I’m not entirely sure that which edition of the game solely defines Old School or not. Surely age will have something to do with it, as I doubt someone could be called “Old School” if are as of today 8 years old ,and just started playing 1st Edition AD&D. Surely source materials and inspiration will have something to do with it. Some will argue that its the OSR (Old School Renaissance that has taken up the mantle).

But then again this gets even trickier: My first reads were books like the Sword of Shanara, the Hobbit rather then the Old Schoolers: Jack Vance's Dying Earth, Conan, Flash Gordon and the pulp stuff. Likewise art: I was exposed to different art along the way and again far different from what inspired the older generation.

Again this all goes back, where the point really gets made is the year 2000 with the dawn of 3rd Edition. As much as those that don’t like 2nd Edition don’t want to admit it, 2nd Edition really is the last of Old School. But much like anything even the later run added more that was like 3rd Edition the Player Options series comes to mind (not that I nor my group ever used it, then or now). So in a way 2nd Edition mirrored late 1st Edition with additions to the game that some people didn’t use.

So as I look back at this post I’m not sure I have any clearer of answer then when I started. The only thing I think we can agree on is that the real demarcation line isn’t 1989 when 2nd Edition launched it is 2000 with the start of 3rd Edition. The rest of it all tends to be a lot of static. And also looking at it the heirs to the old school movement are going to fall to us “Hybrid Players”, those like me. Those that were actually there for the early editions of the game that while not the original players, were close. Being younger also means that these players (just through the cruelties of aging) are going to likely be here longer. When us  ”Hybrid Players” have passed then the link to the older games are likewise going to be gone.

It’s an interesting position when one takes a step back and looks at it. All anyone can do is look at an event with their own biases and filters and that’s what I’ve done here. There is surely some overlap in each of the epochs I glossed over, but the fact remains that those that were on the tail end of 1st edition will be the last link to the old games and the wild and wholly 80’s of RPGs.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dogs of War Online is back in action!

For those that may not know I was largely absent from my website for the Dogs of War this was in no small part due to some of the issues that I went through last year. Suffice of to say 2010 was no the best of years under any circumstances but 2011 is starting off much better.
So with that out of the way I've dusted off the site, cleared out a ton of spambots and installed a few new bits of behind the scenes code to help it from getting so infested with spam registrants.

Last October released M4cR1II3n and crew his awesome take on the 8th edition rules for the 8th Edition Dogs of War rules. So if you are looking for a great rule set for the Dogs of War going forward look no further.

In related news I'm actually starting to formulate a strategy for my own Dogs of War force. What I'm actually going to assemble is a Warband of Nippon for my Dogs of War army! I've been a big fan of the Nippon forces since back in the 3rd Edition Warhammer days and always liked the look of them. Plus Iv'e never really seen a good assembled force or really many at all. Its always been a shame that GW never released an actual army for them. But no matter, between the old range being available (somewhat) on eBay and these guys Curteys Miniatures I think I'm going to be OK for the kind of force I want to assemble.

While the GW range was/is nice for Dogs of War its never really held my interest. Plus add to the fact that in order to get them now its either crazy prices off of the GW UK website or crazy prices off of eBay. Not willing to do either really. As I mentioned thats where these Mounted Samurai from Curtey's come into play: 12 metal minis for $47? yes please, GW should take note.

So with all that as I noted above I'm formulating a plan as most of my Warhammer stuff is packed up in anticipation for a move to a new house. So what I'm doing is seeking out all of the parts that I'm looking for before I start my force. This will be a novel idea for me as I usally acquire minis as I'm painting. Starting off I'm going with the Nippon Rocket Crew from Games Workshop back in the 3rd edition days. and thanks to a few chaps over on Chaos Dwarfs Online I think I'm set with that part. I will be getting the Rocket Launcher and 3 out of the 4 crewmen which is fine with me. Fine because when I run these guys as Dogs of War I plan on using it as a "Count As" Halfling Hot Pot, when used as a "Count As" Empire force I'll use it as a undersized Hellstrom Rocket Battery.

My buddy Baggronor also has informed me that he has some 3rd Edition Games Workshop Ninjas as well. After all, even renegade warband of Nippon Mercs is going to have some ninjas squirreled away inside of it.

Other ideas include: a mounted Giesha for a wizard along the lines of the PC game Shogun: Total War; a band of mercenary dwarfs, a converted unit or from (Curtey's line) of crossbowmen from Cathay. I don't see the Nipponese Samurai or their retainers using crossbows but a mercenary force? Sure in the right hands. This opens up possibilities of a renamed Marksmen or Miglirano renamed as well. Other ideas are a giant, but not as a Eastern giant per say, rather painted up like normal. The reason for this is I want to tie into the Old World as well. This as yet unnamed force has been fighting all over the continent and is made up of various parts. At its core is the Nippon forces yes, but other elements as well. It will be wirds painting the giant in such a manner will make him appear unusual because his supporting troops will look so different.

That's it for now. Drop me a line if you have a read on any of the old 3rd edition Oriental line from Games Workshop.


Monday, February 14, 2011

The Word of Hashut #11 is finally out

Release of Issue #11 of the Word of Hashut

Well it was another overly long production cycle, but Issue #11 of the Word of Hashut is finally out: Word of Hashut #11 As I note in my editorial inside the issue the Word of Hashut will be undergoing a diet in the future in order to manage to get it out on time. In short it’s about time or more precisely the lack there-of.

So for those that aren’t regulars of Chaos Dwarfs Online here’s the heads up that the latest issue is now indeed out.

I will point out however that issue #12 is slated for release in late March, but with going on vacation I don’t that is going to be likely. So its probably up to the Summer issue in June to get back on track but with moving (hopefully) you know the drill...  

Saturday, February 12, 2011

4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons vs. Pathfinder and why history is repeating itself

Taking a break from Warhammer for the moment I thought I'd delve into the schism that is now brewing in new school D&D, but from an outsiders perspective. You see I say outsider, because I'm not on either "side", mainly because in this fight no one is on "mine", nor do I have much vested interest in who wins.

Damn Cool cover if you ask me!
The reason why I don't really care who "wins" is that the impact of either game means relatively nothing to me as I don't play either game. Pathfinder is the logical extension of D&D 3.0/3.5 once Wizards of the Coast went in a alternative direction with 4th Dungeons & Dragons. Pathfinder took the cast offs who weren't going to 4th edition and provided them extended 3.0/3.5 (more or less, debating it is largely semantics). The fact that Paizo Publishing could do so via the OGL is nothing if not ironic. By all accounts Pathfinder is doing well and taking it to Wizards of the Coast in terms of sales. For many of us long time gamers, Dungeons & Dragons ceased being relevant to us with the release of 3rd edition, for some older folks it was 2nd edition. In my case I bought the Core Books for 3rd edition, played a bit and found it "meh". Then 3.5 got released right after that.  It felt like a video game on paper as time goes by it became like World of Warcraft more and more.

The other part that seals it for me is the very idea of "character build" with the word "optimal" often in there. Sorry, but any pen and paper game that uses those phrases is either going to attract MMORPG / WoW players or its going to emulate that paradigm, whether by design or accident. Its too difficult and near impossible these days to untangle the concepts of a video game and the pen and paper games of today. 3.0/3.5 started it, and 4.0 finished it off. Those that dismiss it out of hand are a tad hyper defensive about it. Now this is not to say that you couldn't do this in older editions of the game, but that wasn't the focus. All too often characters are planned out with an eye to you guessed it: a specific build. When you take a step back from it and look at it, if 3.0-4.0 D&D didn't set out to emulate computer RPGs and MMORPGs it did anyways. I don't think that's an accident either. I've yet to see a compelling argument that 4th edition isn't World of Warcraft. And oh yeah your characters end up looking something like this:
I think he/she needs a few more pieces of equipment there...
In short later editions are about the "build", and the predetermined structure he will follow to achieve that path.  In todays role-playing it has become about what you can "build" rather then what you play or act out. Sure there are some that will also role-play but it seems that takes a back seat. To me that's a shame.

Now, lest anyone think I'm a stubborn "old school gamer", hardly. I've played up to 3.0 and 3.5 Dungeons and Dragons and quite like d20 Star Wars, much more so then the old d6 version of the game from West End Games. I have no axe to grind against WoW or anything like it, Hell if I had more time in my life I'd probably be playing a ton of it. I don't hang out at the Knights and Knaves Alehouse and disagree with many on Dragonsfoot. I'm also of the mind set that if you want to play an edition of the game then do so, play what system you want. I truly believe that, unfortunately not everyone else does. And with that said its important to note that history is repeating itself with the Dungeons & Dragons vs. Pathfinder split: its basically the rift from 1st edition to 2nd edition AD&D of the late 80's early 90s magnified. For those not in the know Gary Gygax left TSR in 1985 after Lorraine Williams assumed control and wrested the company from Gary. Now there is no 2nd edition player that I know of that would take her over Gary (I wont go into details on her here,  but Gary's account can be found all over the web). The problem for us 2nd Edition players is the fact that she was in control of Dungeons & Dragons when 2nd Edition got released. Sort of being judged by the company you keep rather then your own merits. Again I would have preferred Gary's 2nd edition game as was alluded to in Dragon Magazine before his ouster, but alas that was not to be; not that I dislike what we got instead from Zeb Cook. To cut a long story short as it been hashed out and beaten to death many times: the fan base fractured and split setting the stage for edition adherents much akin to religion. Some could argue that this happened even before this, that's not the point. The rift was the biggest that the game had seen thus far and there it was. Basically what happened was over politics rather then differences in the editions; because when you look at it there is not much difference between 1st and 2nd Edition D&D.

The point of all of this is that the Dungeons & Dragons vs. Pathfinder split is basically the same story as it was in 1989: "same circus, different clowns" as I like to say. I wonder that if as a line of pen and paper games Dungeons & Dragons is reaching its end of its rope. Certainly its past its apex. Now the Old School Renaissance would have you believe that the older games and their retro clones are gaining momentum, in a small sense: maybe. By "small" I mean that its never going to be mass market again, the older systems that is, nor the retro clones. And add to that the overall market has been shrinking since it's heyday in the 80's. That's not expanding that's just diving up into ever smaller less in common sects if you will. Instead  of unity it's an ever fracturing base that gets smaller and smaller as each edition goes by, especially as advances in computer/console games continue to apply further outside pressure. 4th edition shares a lot from 2nd in the sense that its shaping up to be another demarcation line in the sand.

I'm also tempted to say that Pathfinder is going to win this. I think when you look at it, really look at it without bias it's apparent that Piazo has the momentum. Wizards has the "name" of D&D but no momentum. As more time goes by Pathfinder is gathering more steam, more momentum. The investment path of Pathfinder is such that people can use a lot of the existing material from 3.0 onwards. When Wizards releases 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons I have a sneaking suspicion that its going to be nothing like 4th creating further problems for their dwindling fan base. Because the fans are going to be repurchasing their books. Makes the "repurchasing" books from 1st looks like small potatoes in comparison.

Its interesting to not that the very concept of "Edition Wars"is largely a Dungeons and Dragons thing. Take Warhammer for instance, sure there are people that aren't happy with 8th edition Warhammer by by and large the community moves to new editions. Dungeons and Dragon? Not so much.

Bait and Switch for old schoolers????
In closing the game used to be about what TSR/Wizards/Hasbro did, they were the "800 lb gorilla" in the room, now they seem to be screwing up like QuarkXPress in the early 00's. Question is will Pathfinder take its place like InDesign did to Quark? Tnen you add the mess that is essentials? How is this thing making things easier? That's right it isn't.

So once again its "1989, my thoughts were short my hair was long..." oh wait this isn't a Kid Rock song. Rather we appear to be at a once every 20-year event in the industry where the D&D market fragments. And unlike 20 years ago the rift is going to be, far, far bigger. Last time it was about Gary getting ousted, this time its going to be (already is) about two companies going at it and its fans seem to be drawing sides. At least 20 years ago the two editions were still close enough that they required only minimal rework. I've often maintained that 2nd Edition AD&D was really 1.5 in the sense that it just cleaned up 1st; nothing too radical was released, that wasn't until 3rd that the game really changed.

As a (somewhat) interested observer I'll be watching to see how it unfolds. I say somewhat because neither makes a product I'm looking to buy. I'm not alone either and it will be interesting to see what Wizards does, because I have a feeling they are going start having less and less customers, this year might be the tipping point. And if they have a 5th edition that diverges even further from the 3.5 break point its going to get ugly for wizards.


Friday, February 11, 2011

Nasty Skulkers = Sneaky Gits?

Nasty Skulkers ? Pretty cool name and nice new minis for the Orc and Goblin range, right? Well, yes and no. Yes to the cool new mini part, no to this being good for Chaos Dwarf players. Orc and goblin players should be embarrassed as they now have even more choices for their hordes. us Dawi Zharr  are still on the outside looking in. Normally the closest thing we have to an army book is the Orc and Goblin one because we have a number of units in there that we are able to use. So it is natural for us Chaos Dwarf players to take a peak and see what we can use. Enter the nasty Skulkers. Goblins who attack the flanks, backstab and retreat, sound like a certain Dawi Zharr unit by any chance?

Look at Nasty Skulkers and its obvious for us that Sneaky Gits come to mind and therein lies the problem. The reason why this is an issue is the fact that the two are so closely aligned in look and feel, that I wonder if it is a legitimate question that the did the Orcs and Goblins get one of our cooler units? Its legitamate to ask as we haven’t had a list in years so why wouldn’t GW pillage their own works for “new” ideas? The answer is there is nothing to stop them from doing so.

Now from the financial side, no matter how cool the minis are there is no way you are going assemble a Sneaky Git unit from these guys; its just not going to happen from the cost perspective. For a unit of Sneaky Gits you’d need 20 minimum and that means by at least 7 packs of these guys and $15 for 3: $105 for a unit, not very cost effective no mater the look of the minis; I like the look of them, but not that much.

In any event its another nice option for us Chaos Dwarf players and perhaps those that are not confident in their converting/green stuff skills. If the Chaos Dwarfs do get remade I wonder on the cross-over potential otherwise. I’d say low due to the fact that GW has been keeping armies as separate entities since 6th edition and I don’t see this changing.