Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Nostalgia: OK (OSR) Boomer...

So I recently spoke with a young gamer who extolled the objective superiority of modern games, alleging that we oldsters only cling to the OSR out of nostalgia.  I reminded him that many older people like new games, and that many young people like older games, which effectively ended the debate.  This got me thinking though.  Is nostalgia really a dirty word, a doddering longing for the past that clouds our reason?  Sometimes.  We humans like our rose-colored glasses.  But for something as specific as gaming, I think not...   

We're born, blessed by genetics with certain innate predispositions, and thrust into the circumstances of our lives, where nature and nurture conspire to make us who we ultimately become.  Along the way we pick up interests; and if these survive the rigors of an ever-changing brain, they become lifelong passions.  To the extent that these are programmed, our nostalgia isn't a bad thing - it's merely inevitable.  Nostalgia, then, is what happens when we're lucky enough to accumulate interests and value them.


Our physical brains are still developing through young adulthood, with at least some of our personalities and preferences arising from this formative time.  This makes my abiding love of old-school D&D a bit of biological programming.  So?  To wax metaphysical, I have friends who ask how I can value love when I think it's just (their word, not mine) a chemical process in our brains.  To this I reply, so what?  Love is wonderful no matter where it comes from, physical or otherwise, and I can value it on that basis.  Love is what it is...

Ditto for gaming.  Sure, if I'd been born in 2006 I might be playing 5e and listening to (I honestly don't know what kids are listening to now) the latest thing.  Instead, I prepare my next adventure while listening to Ozzy era Black Sabbath.  It doesn't matter that it's the byproduct of my raising.  I like it.  Sue me for having a happy life and valuing my personal experiences.  It is what it is and I like it.  Anyway, I'm hard pressed to devalue nostalgia when it's really just us liking the thing(s) we've become through living.

So much for nostalgia.  Now let's play it forward.  Modern gaming enthusiasts are also being programmed by nature and nurture.  Sure, there are objective things we can say about 5e (quite a lot of them, obviously).  But we can say the same about the OSR, and our personal preferences come from the same place(s) regardless.  This ends nostalgia as a pejorative term.  It does nothing to diminish the objective facts about what we like, especially since the next generation is building their own future nostalgia - and we should all be so lucky!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Hatchets, Buried Here...

Well, we're back from our equivalent of Hell Week, only it was more like a hellish two damn months!  It all started back in February with a cough and a light fever that soon spread to Robyn and her father (who lives with us): Influenza Type-A, which wouldn't normally be that big of a deal except yours truly has a heart condition and Dad is 77.  He got the worst of things, developing ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome) and pneumonia; but even Robyn did a stint in the emergency room.  It really sucked...

Anyway, Dad ended up intubated (that's knocked out and chemically paralyzed with a breathing tube) for a week after coding and almost dying twice.  I'm in awe of Robyn's ability to hold it together like she did.  She's a superstar.  Anyway, six weeks in the ICU became another six in rehab, and we're happy to report that Dad's home and thriving in isolation from COVID-19!  Can't beat timing like that; but he's alive, and we'll take that any day.


So it was in this context that I read The Ten Foot Pole's less-than-stellar review of Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm.  I wrote a scathing rebuke from bed; and we all know how rational we are when we're throwing up.  Now to be clear, I stand by my words.  When your central complaint is based on objective falsehoods it doesn't look good.  But the review was right about the preview and area descriptions (I'll admit it), and even its rants conveyed useful information to the reader.  It was just a review, and I probably should have let it go.

Hear that Bryce?  I'll bury the hatchet.  You rock on with your bad self and eviscerate the Philistines.  I suppose it's a vital public service, not to mention fun.  Lord knows we all could use a bit more levity these days.  We have a nice little community here, and even its more extreme personalities have their own special charm.  Let's hope we can ride out this plague season and return to something like normalcy.  Anyway, we won't be back in business for another week or so; but we'll be dropping in and sending our best wishes for all...

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Our Review of a Bad Review...

So tenfootpole.org reviewed Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm and didn't like it.  Great!  There's no such thing as bad publicity.  In six years of game publishing you'll get a bad review or two along the way, and believe me, we certainly have.  I don't care about bad reviews as long as the information is factually accurate and useful to the reader, and this underscores the very real service reviewers provide.  I mean, people's money is on the line.  But as gatekeepers of all that's good and right, they occasionally forget that they too can put out a crappy product, and in this spirit, we offer our review of a certain bad review of our product...

The review starts off strong, meaning highly detailed, describing the setting and general atmosphere.  It's actually quite good, as it gives the reader a sense of what the module has to offer and how the adventure begins.  The reviewer likes the low-magic vibe and makes several useful comparisons to the Harn setting that might resonate with those already familiar with it, which really boosts the utility of the review, at least to begin with.

And then the review, and its value and usefulness, begins to drag.  The reviewer is clearly taken aback back the sudden shift in tone, as the underworld is a fantastic affair in contrast to the mundane surface.  His disappointment is legitimate if he really hoped for a low magic setting all the way through; but when has D&D ever been anything close to that?  The fact is, this shift is deliberate, for the surface world is ordinary while the underworld is a place of excitement and wonder.  He's entitled to his opinion, and he does inform the reader.


What follows is the obligatory rant in keeping with his site's schtick.  Kobolds can't have furniture (apparently).  He's fine with dragons and wizards, but draws the line at furniture for some reason.  The cultists commit suicide, which he ridicules because, hey, that's never happened before, right?  I think he owes Heaven's Gate and Jim Jones an apology, which isn't to make light of these horrific tragedies.  It's an amusing, but useless, bit.

As the piece wears on, it becomes increasingly clear that the reviewer stopped paying attention after their initial disappointment at the shift in tone, for there are multiple factually incorrect statements about the adventure.  A certain NPC joins the party, but absolutely refuses to help, proof that the dungeon denies a party any advantage.  This is wrong.  The text clearly states that they help once the party earns their trust, and that the referee can adjudicate this as they see fit.  These gross errors of omission continue throughout...

The suicidal cultists die before revealing anything.  Can't a party get a break?  And how ridiculous.  I mean, fanatical devotees to darkness would never do that.  But he completely ignores that the kobolds will talk and have the same information.  After declaring the adventure a mere hack, he complains that a party only collects 10,000 cp and 5,000 sp, strongly implying that this is the sum total of all treasure from the dungeon when it's just the loot from one of many encounters.  The laziness here shatters credibility. 

It's clear the reviewer didn't pay attention.  He complains that the cult has no presence in the township when the introduction makes it clear that the dungeon just opened to the surface and the monsters below are only now going above.  This would be useful information about the nature of the adventure, but the reviewer would rather cherry pick and bitch.  He calls the adventure a hack, ignoring that many old-school adventures are.  I checked, and this was meant as an insult.  For someone playing since 1978, he doesn't understand that a dungeon is merely a sandbox that can be approached many ways.  So much for old-school... 

The review ends on a more useful note, making some genuine points about encounter descriptions and product previews.  We listened and expanded our preview on Drive-Thru RPG because we're big enough to take good advice.  But dear God, you have to wade through some rants and misleading falsehoods to get there, and the blatantly false assertions about the adventure's content and implications are enough to give the review an F; but this site borders on parody and thrives on schtick, so I'll give it a C for effort.  It's just too bad that potential buyers are badly mislead.  I can only hope that they're in on the joke.

Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm is available as a digital download.  You can check out our expanded preview and pick up the module here, assuming it's your cup of tea.  Have a great day! 

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Modules? It's an OSR Thing...

Today we proudly introduce our newest product line: It's an OSR Thing!  This will be a series of adventure modules for games in the old-school renaissance, beginning with Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm, available on Drive-Thru RPG.  Whether it's OD&D, AD&D, or any one of their great retro-clones, these scenarios aim to be as universal as possible (already a feature of the old-school movement) by sticking to D&D's System Reference Document, upon which all others derive.  Labyrinth Lord?  White Box?  B/X, BECMI?  There's nothing here a referee can't understand or make use of.  Call it the common language early gamers spoke back in the day, the Common Tongue for dungeon delvers everywhere...

What you get with each is a detailed adventure, easily inserted into an existing campaign setting, with seeds for future, offshoot scenarios and original content (monsters, magic items, the works) to extend the product's value and usefulness.  Each will be designed for lower, medium, or higher-level parties.  Beyond that, the referee will need to read the product and gauge their group, making adjustments to enemy size or strength (hit points) as needed, because with the wrong luck these scenarios are dangerous.  We think the referee is in the best position to know the needs of their group and how to challenge them!


Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm gets the show started with this conundrum: 

Years ago, a dragon was slain in the Shorlee hills, or so said the one surviving warrior who made it back, only to succumb to his wounds before the morning came.  But the attacks ended, so it must have been true.  Dead men tell no tales, and the lone warrior died before revealing the location of the beast’s lair.  Who knows what riches it held; who can guess what treasures lay unguarded for the taking?  There is an old saying in Shorlee: riches lie not for long, and who knows what dangers – and rewards – await those brave enough to go in search of them, for the site of the old lair is forgotten no longer.  Its long-sought depths await the plundering hand of adventurers seeking their glory – or inevitable doom…

If you played D&D in the late 70s through the 80s, those pre-packaged modules were ubiquitous - and pretty damned convenient.  Here were adventures you didn't have to make yourself.  How cool was that, although I always did prefer doing so.  But these scenarios were also instructional, not to mention inspirational.  I learned everything I needed to know about setting up a dungeon and nearby settlement from Keep on the Borderlands, the ultimate tutorial for new referees.  It was more than that though.  The monochrome cover of Steading of the Hill Giant Chief conveyed all the action (and terror) of a combat encounter, proving again that a picture is worth a thousand words - or a thousand games. 

D&D promised a pseudo-medieval, semi-silly storybook universe, and these early modules were a master class in how to make it happen.  Imagine all the promise of our pastime preserved in amber like a luckless Jurassic insect.  Modules are that.  It's felt good to step back into my 14-year-old self with the advice of my beloved and capable partner (and indispensable voice of reason), and to engage in the central act of the referee.  We stand on the shoulders of every DM who ever made a homebrew adventure, and hope that we can come at least half as close to re-capturing our hobby's spirit.  Lair of the Shorlee Wyrm is available as a digital download from Drive-Thru RPG.  We hope we got it right...