Saturday, March 23, 2013

Me, the OSR, Kickstarter, Dwimmermount, and Me

I'm feeling rather at loose ends now that the saga of Dwimmermount seems to be coming to a close. Whatever merit the actual product has will be overshadowed by the drama that ensues when a prominent RPG designer/blogpope goes dark for months and keeps mum while his fans wait for him to make good on a massive Kickstarter project. I feel sympathy for the guy and I'm mystified because he's been a consummate pro in my limited dealings with him. I actually owe him my professional so-called career in RPGs. If he hadn't put a good word in for me at Atlas Games in 2003, then Northern Crown might never have happened. I gotta laugh at the way he's been demonized on the blogs as some kind of Ponzi scheme mastermind. Whatever happened, I'm guessing it was unforeseen, although how he dealt with the resulting mess didn't help his rep. Glad to see that a resolution of sorts is in the cards and I hope he gets back on his horse soon.

If he ever returns to his blog, he's going to find a changed landscape out here. As a driver of big-scale published works, the OSR is done now. Its output has evolved from ballsy is-this-even-legal appropriations of 1st Edition to easy pastiches of the least valuable artifacts of the early days, like rambling megadungeons and superficial re-skinnings of 1e that try to approximate other genres like sf. I think we'll see more OSR blogs go quiet in the coming months. It won't mean that people are turning away from playing older editions of D&D (or clones of same), but that it's not novel or remarkable enough any more to elicit much excitement or debate. Nothing's more toxic to a revolutionary movement than winning.

If I've learned anything from watching the Dwimmermount saga unfold, it's that if I will never do a Kickstarter unless it's truly the only way to get my work into a form that lots of other people can enjoy for a reasonable price. I don't need my game obsession reduced to a dreary obligation -- it's why everything on this blog is free.


  1. Hi Doug, I too have respect for James, and followed his blog long before I noticed anybody else's. You have an succinct way of putting things, which I appreciate. I'm not sure the OSR is done completely. It's certainly a different landscape. It seemed to me that as soon as WotC released all those PDFs as a marketing move to capture the interest from OSR folk, that many of them jumped back on board. But a renaissance is just that, and it doesn't last forever. Myself, I will always appreciate homemade things--more personal anyway: either my own stuff or other people's. I just downloaded your incredible maps and adventure. Thanks for sharing them. If you produce enough material over time, you could do what Dyson Logos has done and make them into a POD book on Lulu.

  2. I'll try not to take the characterization of "rambling megadungeons" as the "least valuable artifacts of the early days" personally, especially since mine is due to be published within 5 months. :-)

    And, for the record, there *were* no true megadungeons published in the early days. Even the vaunted classics like Tegel Manor and Dark Tower don't come close. (See

    1. Shoot, you're right about the megadungeons. I had "Ruins of Undermountain" in mind and having just Googled it, I can't believe that came out in the 90s. It was so large that it apparently stretches backward in time to establish itself in my memory as a much earlier product.

      Fortunately my disdain for megadungeons seems to be the exception rather than the rule around here. Best of luck on Adventures Dark and Deep!

  3. The OSR is evolving. Life and Old School Gaming move on. It happened before with TARGA a few years back, it's happening now and it will happen again. It's like "growth spurts" when you were a teen ;)

    OSR blogs have been going quiet for the past few years and new ones take their place. It's just the nature of things. The OSR isn't going anywhere even if it is changing, and even if the changes aren't all to your liking or mine.

    It is what it is...

  4. The OSR is changing, certainly, but I'm not too sure this is the end.

    There's less blogging and more G+. It's bad that G+ is more ephemeral than blogs, but G+ hangouts mean more people are actually playing more often. The big OSR mags like Fight On! are dead, but a lot of people are writting and reading indie zines.

    I'm optimistic about changes overall, and I'll keep with it as long as I'm having fun.

  5. Hey, long live the OSR, don't get me wrong. I have no doubt that lots of people will keep playing old-school RPGs and a few clever people will even find new things to say about them. I just feel that the market for retro clones is collapsing fast and as Paul says, the action is tilting toward actually playing them, which can't be a bad thing.

  6. As long as you have an almost completed (written, edited, layed out) version of your work, a Kickstarter to fund art and publish it would work out well for you.

    The trap I see many kickstarters falling into involves adding content and product that is undeveloped onto stretch goals.

    The Cairn RPG (which I backed) is a prime example.

    Its a cutesie, family style, storytelling RPG, based around tiny animals (with RPG classes) in a world after humans. It started with a couple (3 or 4) playable races. But as stretch goals were met, races were added, and other incentives until it went from a quaint, every once in a while type of game to a full blown game with a serious rules set. It is only (!) 3 months past due, but they brought on a REAL gaming project manager to force deadlines and production.

    A kickstarter is a great way to get your product in front of people (especially one as nice as yours) as long as you don't let success ruin the project.

    Have other completed projects ready to add to the finished mix if you want to add stretch goals, or print on better paper, add color or something that doesn't add development time to the work.

  7. Interesting stuff. Especially since I'm thinking about starting a kickstarter project for my OSR adventure.

    "Nothing's more toxic to a revolutionary movement than winning." Yeah, that is sometimes the case. All part of the evolutionary process, though.


    1. Best of luck on the project, Venger, hope to hear more about it.