Being in the Main the Mouth of Olde House Rules

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Archworld (or How OD&D Was Made)...

Yesterday, we talked out manual type as the poor-man's typesetting, and while we rarely post any kind of next-day follow-up, we had to today.  I talked a little about local game designers who typed up their rules, photocopied and stapled them, and sold them in Ziploc baggies at the local hobby shop.  However, there's also a tradition of semi-professional companies exploiting manual typewriters in place of Letraset Dry-Erase font sheets and/or professional typesetting services, because it's both easier and cheaper to pull off...

But I've used Letraset in the printing lab at school and found it to be a tedious pain in the ass compared just typing a page.  I mean, if you already know how to type, it's a hell of a lot faster than rubbing out individual characters, especially for something as ambitious as the original D&D rulebooks.  Letraset for covers, maybe.  But not the insides.  And securing any commercial typesetting requires capital that goes beyond the merely amateur, which points to the fusion of amateur and professional elements in the early hobby.

The early gaming industry was a
fusion of amateur and professional elements...

But first, a primer on offset printing and how OD&D was physically made...

First, all text and illustrations are laid out on a board to be photographed using a big graphic arts camera (probably a Robertson back then).  The negatives of each page would then be used to "burn" metal printing plates (photosensitive bromides) that would be mounted on whatever press was used.  Now, here's the interesting part.  The plates were secured on a roller that ran through an ink trough, where the ink stuck only to its burnt image, and then through water that flushed clean any unprinted area.  Finally, paper was fed through the printer, with (properly oriented images) offset from the inked images to the paper.

A small offset press and an
example of photosensitive printing plates...

Black and white requires only a single plate, whereas four-color printing employs separate and overlapping plates for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black.  If you've ever looked over a box of Cheez-Its or something else, you'll see a bar with all four colors used as a tool to help the printer align the colors.  But OD&D was simple black and white... 

Even then, we aren't done.  A sizeable run had to be quality controlled and subjected to the bindery process.  Books are collated, stapled, and trimmed along the edges for a clean and professional appearance.  This is actually was kind of fun, and this equipment remains in use today even as photocopiers and printers dominate the inheritors of this craft.

But is this amateur?  I mean, there's money and professionalism at work here.  Yes, OD&D's artwork was delightfully (and some say horribly) amateur.  But everything else speaks to a melding of amateur and professional elements.  Other emerging companies took the same route, but split things up differently, with the Arduin and Archworld games providing two prominent examples (and for those in the know, Archworld was the spiritual inspiration for our own Pits & Perils, both in terms of visuals and mechanical approach...

Illustrations, manual type, and Letraset were
doubtless combined for Archworld's delightful interior...

Archworld was a wargame by Mike and Sheila Gilbert.  She wrote and he drew, and both developed the rules, which also draws parallels to our own games.  This delightful wargame with role-playing elements is something I'd kill to get a License to revive and would actually throw myself into securing the capital to make a good product possible.  But it was released by Fantasy Games Unlimited who, apparently, received their homebrew markups and sent them off for printing.  And these markups, complete with Mike's art, were manually typed and completely (and delightfully) self-made at home.  Talk about an amateur pedigree!

I'm really not sure why FGU lacked a consistent aesthetic, but it undoubtedly gave the authors freedom to do their own thing at home.  Especially since one of them was a damned fine artist and the other an equally fine writer and editor.  And in the earliest days of this budding hobby, things were never too far removed from their homebrew origin...

That's it.  We promise.  Vacation beckons (and I just kicked a flu).  See you next month!      

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Tale of the Type (and Why We Love It)...

In the 70s, there were no personal computers, so anyone who wanted to make nice-looking manuscripts at home needed a typewriter.  Luckily, these were commonplace in business and industry and represented something of a professional standard.  Only newspapers and book publishers had anything better, and even by the early 90s in the Air Force, typewriters were still in use in some quarters, although this would end soon enough...

I remember spending my allowance on a used typewriter in 1978.  My mother kept me in ribbons and white-out because (ostensibly) it was educational, although mostly, I used it to write adventures, campaign notes, and the homebrew monster magazines I made with my brother (who never became a gamer).  Back then, typewriters were analogous to Microsoft Word today, and I was very proud of what I did with mine.

Now, OD&D is praised/reviled as amateurish, and the artwork certainly was.  But the cover and interior fonts would have most likely required metal type, and the books were doubtless printed on a AB Dick printer or a similar offset process, and even its bindery (stapling and trimming) would have required professional equipment beyond most...


As an aside, I studied printing and graphics arts at the local community college and even earned an associate's degree, working at several print shops until I met Robyn and joined the service, so I think have a fair understanding of what OD&D must have entailed, although I'd welcome talking shop with anyone in the direct know about this. 

So OD&D was semi-amateur at best.  But what about Joe (or Jane) amateur who wanted to publish their own stuff?  Answer: they used typewriters.  Now, I can only speak for my own experiences, but there was the equivalent of a small press publishing thing happening, where people (enthusiastic amateurs with great ideas) typed up their own games, stapled them along one side, and sold them in big Ziploc baggies for a few bucks at the most...  

And these creations made their way into my local hobby shop until professional products soaked up all the demand.  Again, I can only speak for my own experience, but this left an indelible impression and guides what Olde House Rules does today! 


Now, as someone who's used typewriters extensively, here's my advice for anyone wishing to recreate this sort of thing (for what it's worth, cause' I'm learning still):

(1) Boldface was possible by retyping over the same words several times, although this didn't always get the best results.  Instead, all capitals were used.

(2) Right justification of a sort was possible, but only by counting each character and making sure each line ended in roughly the same place.  This was a colossal pain in the ass, and I can't emphasize this enough, right justification was rarely, if ever, attempted.

(3) Underlining was possible by backspacing and using the line key, but many publishers drew this in themselves, which is a nice flourish for added realism...

(4) Finally, Adler is a nice, rough font.  However, it doesn't have the (!) character and always displays this invisibly unless you use something else, like Sears Tower, etc.  My Underwood is a cleaner font, but doesn't have the (!) or (+) characters, usually defaulting to Times New Roman.  So instead, switch to Sears Tower to preserve a uniform look.  Sears Tower is probably rougher than Adler, but dammit people, this one has all the relevant stuff! 

Oh, and Adler types (1) as a Roman numeral (I), so maybe replace it with a lowercase L to preserve some semblance of readability (hard-won knowledge, folks).

And that's the tale of the type (and why we love it).  Robyn and I are going on vacation this coming weekend and won't be back until June, so be safe and take care, everyone...

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

The Diceless Dungeons Are Here!

Inside every old-school game is a diceless system waiting to get out, and so we're proud to announce the release of our digital version of Diceless Dungeons!  Because diceless gaming is just about as old-school as you're gonna get.  After all, decision-making, exploration, and role-playing are the foundations of old-school adventure, and anyone who's spent an entire session debating how best to proceed knows what we mean...

Seriously, how many of us have gone an entire session without so much as rolling die one, or with minimal dice in favor of negotiation and role-playing? 

So Diceless Dungeons exploits the no-brainer stuff, because you never know what's hiding around the next corner, and this is just low-hanging fruit.  But Diceless dungeons does other things meant to preserve an old-school feel in a gaming genre otherwise known for it's more modern leanings.  Ultimately, we wanted something pure that would feel more like childhood play, only with an objective mechanical foundation to hold it all together:

(1) Simple (but detailed) rules for character creation that include the mysterious sorcerer's apprentice and a challenging, but straightforward, magic system.

We kinda think our rulebook
channels Tunnels & Trolls in some respects...

(2) A combat system that preserves the feeling of risk and uncertainty while possessing an objective mooring to guard against supposed unfairness by the referee.

(3) Monsters and powerful magic to be won (and wielded) and a non-typical advancement system that makes it easy for replacement characters to jump in!

(4) A narrative system of gameplay that makes everything a tactical choice with combat, in particular, becoming a chance for players to manage personal resources while preserving a traditional division of labor between the party and, or course, their referee.  

(5)  And, finally, all of this is delivered with the look and feel of an amateur digest rulebook from the early 1970s.  Oh, and there's also an optional dice mechanic offered for the faint of heart and all those diceless skeptics out there (one called himself die-curious)!

The aims of this 42-page rulebook are summed up in its closing words:

"More than anything else, this is a game of 
imaginative play.  There is enough freedom to make anything 
possible balanced with just enough structure to hold it all 
together, and a willingness to negotiate and improvise will unlock everything it 
has to offer.  Thrilling adventure awaits, with or without dice..."

Also worth pointing out is that this game emphasizes human adventurers in a low-magic world seeking fame and riches underground.  There are no demi-humans on offer, although creative types will surely add them, and we might too at some future date!  Oh, and we're working on its softcover (and digest-sized) counterpart we hope to get out in the weeks ahead, pending a proof from Lulu, cause' it's always that, right?  Until then, the digital version beckons...

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Real Roots of Role-Playing...

With the release of "Dave Arneson's True Genius" by Rob Kuntz, we have a book asserting that Arneson did something special.  Well, no disagreement here!  In fact, that's probably an understatement.  Arneson pretty obviously did something incredible and for which our entire hobby is rightly indebted.  Glad to see that recognized...

Now, a disclaimer:  I haven't read this book yet, so I can't fairly comment on the substance of its arguments and won't try.  But the back cover does summarize his thesis:  

(1) D&D was not descended from Chainmail, as many have asserted.

(2) Arneson did something previously unheard of in 2,000 years of game design.

OK, so to the first point, I concur.  OD&D is credited to Gygax & Arneson, but that's not even the important part.  Gygax heard of Arneson's Blackmoor campaign, and the two men joined forces to create the game.  This is just a matter of fact, and there's no reason to think that Gygax was on the cusp of inventing the role-playing concept on his own...

Yes, D&D imports plenty from Chainmail, going as far as to suggest that combat be resolved using Chainmail's rules, but this borrowing was probably inevitable.

Now, to the second point, I'm not a systems/design wonk by any stretch of the imagination and can't speak to what Arneson may (or may not have) introduced to the hobby and won't even try until I read the book and the proper context of this particular claim...

These creative youngsters get it...

On the other hand, here's my thesis, for what it's worth:

Dave Arneson tapped into something abiding in humanity since before recorded history.  

Wow, OK.  Here's my context.  When I was a child back in the early 70s, we engaged in all manner of imaginary play, pretending to be the Six Million Dollar Man, Superman, and just about every other superhero badass popular at the time.  Indeed, my backyard was a LARP edition of Marvel Super Heroes, circa 1974!  We were, dare I say it, engaged in a structured form of role-playing.  We didn't roll dice, but we did follow rules.

Superman could fly.  But the Six Million Dollar Man could not.  And woe to anyone who tried to flip the script and change these around!  We imposed narrative rules, and any deviations were duly coordinated and informally approved in advance.  And talking to others over the last fifty years has yielded similar stories about play and its assumptions...

Blackmoor (and Wesely's Braunstein) added a referee player in charge of the setting and supporting characters and rules to simulate the abilities of the main characters.  Now we can create our own characters and (as an added bonus) never know if an attempted action will be successful.  But while this was both innovative and without precedent, it was also pretty much just a structured form of childhood play, which is better still. 

What possesses grown men (and women) to paint toy soldiers and move them around on a tabletop diorama?  I mean, this probably isn't gonna get anyone laid (and we're not sure we wanna hear about when it might have), but it speaks to a love of something...

And that's the love of imaginary play!  I look forward to reading Kuntz's book, and probably reviewing it here.  Who knows?  Dave Arneson might, in fact, have introduced something previously unheard of in the annals of design.  But it seems to me that, in addition to whatever else he may or may not have done, Arneson also added random numbers and structure to the play we're enjoyed for millennia, and that's cool, although Wesely's pivotal Braunstein (and wargaming in general) had already begun this...

Play is play is play.  And from where we're sitting, imaginary play is a fun thing indeed!