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Saturday, November 9, 2013

Why The Distribution of "Swords & Wizardry Complete" Between Peers is Important for the Hobby


At current count, over 525 fellow gamers have asked me for emailed copies or downloaded Swords & Wizardry Complete from the DropBox link to the right of this post. 525+ copies in just over 5 days just from this blog alone.

Amazing.

Personally, I think the best thing +Matt Finch could have done was what he did Tuesday morning, when he announced that folks could and should email and share the file to their friends and fellow gamers. Peer marketing on some level, but genius on another. Would the distribution have been the same if the only place one could have downloaded a copy were at the Frog God's webstore? I doubt it.

The best folks for selling something, especially something that is "free", are the folks that are currently enjoying said something. You want to know "why Swords & Wizardry" or "why play OSR games", you need to go where folks are playing them, enjoying them, running them and writing about them.

Swords & Wizardry Core and Swords & Wizardry Whitebox are also free, but I'm not sure if peer to peer distribution of the PDFs is allowed. Maybe Matt will clarify, and if they are, I'll gladly add them to the download folder for those that are interested.

Labyrinth Lord, LotFP Weird Fantasy, OSRIC, Delving Deeper, Basic Fantasy RPG and others are available in free versions, but again, I'm not sure where they stand on peer to peer sharing. Imagine if you could visit a blog (this one and many others) or a forum and have a link that leads to a folder of free OSR RPGs and resources legally shared. No need to go all over the place to get the rules, but links in each product that lead back to the publisher's homepage for further products and the purchase of dead tree versions.

In a sense, crowdsharing becomes the distribution method of introduction to and expansion of the OSR.

Or maybe I've had just a tad too much Jack Daniel's Winter Jack this evening - God help my players in tonight's S&W Complete session ;)

17 comments:

  1. Might want to check with Stuart Marshall, but according to the OSRIC license:

    Subject to the other terms of this license, you may do the following:

    1) Distribute this document for free or for profit, provided that no change or addition is made other than adding your name as publisher if the product is distributed in print, other than by print on demand.

    http://www.knights-n-knaves.com/osric/s1.html

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  2. I paased the news around about the free rules and the sharing and quite a few people were interested. A few more people trying out OSR games is a good thing. Great photo, T. A little D&D&D never hurt anyone.

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  4. "Imagine if you could visit a blog (this one and many others) or a forum and have a link that leads to a folder of free OSR RPGs and resources legally shared."

    It would be just as easy for the blogger to post a page with a master list of links to the main host sites and link to that page from the sidebar.

    If you're talking about the convenience of a one-click download, I'm not sure it would be good for gaming if it was possible. One bulk download of files, maybe just adding to the cloggage on the hard drive, is a mass of games and supplements that won't necessarily ever get read, and are less likely to be read with the time and attention they would get if downloaded individually over a longer period.

    I'd go as far as to say that two big things this week have done major damage to the OSR, if we understand the OSR at least partly as a space for experimentation and variety, a respite, a kind of empty room in a dungeon to spike up and camp in, and then find a secret door out from.

    First is S&W Complete going free, and the peer sharing of it, especially at the Tavern - this is a step in the direction of monopoly, away from oligopoly or a more level competition among ideas. It means many people may never see how OSRIC did it, or LL etc. because why actually pay for a complete version?

    Second, Bundle of Holding. Even beyond the clogging up of hard drives and the distraction of having several products to skim instead of one to pore over and soak up - which is probably what got many of us into D&D etc. at the beginning - there's a danger that many people will now mentally tick the 'OSR' box, feeling that now they have the set to go on the figurative shelf, then look around for the next themed bulk download, moving on.

    We know the OSR is bigger than S&W Complete and this week's Bundle of Holding - massively bigger - but next month we might just forget, and some people may never know.

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    1. I disagree, especially that S&W Complete being distributed free will lead to a "monopoly" of the OSR. What is did is bring additional visibility to the OSR and I think it would be wise for other publishers to think outside the box.

      Notice the links at the side of this post, for Free OSR RPGs and Free RPG Resources? Know how many times they get "clicked"? Not fuckin' often.

      Is putting the S&W Complete PDF in the hands of many gamers that are actively deciding to download it a bad thing for the hobby and the OSR? I don't see that, at all.

      As for the Bundle of Holding causing folks to tick off the "OSR Box" on their scorecard and ignoring the rest of the OSR - these would be the same folks that NEVER would have looked at the OSR in the first place.

      We need more people playing in the OSR sandbox - the fuckin' grognards like myself are getting old, and I'd like to see this hobby and style of gaming outlive me, not die with me and some other idiots yelling at the kids to "get off my damn lawn!"

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    2. "What is did is bring additional visibility to the OSR ..."

      We don't know that. Readers of the Tavern and people who know what S&W is are likely to have been interested in the OSR already. Now people who were looking on may have taken the plunge and found their system, and because it's a full and art-filled product also a disincentive to look around.

      "Not fuckin' often."

      "... many gamers that are actively deciding to download it ..."

      We can't easily help the preferences we have, and the decisions we make that seem like good ideas in the short-run, but don't work out so well for us in the long-run. You and I might like a big whiskey, but we know that too big, too many and too often aren't necessarily good for our livers. And fast food is very popular too.

      The people who recognise the potential consequences could do worse than pass the wisdom on, ignored or not.

      "... these would be the same folks that NEVER would have looked at the OSR in the first place."

      The current number of downloads at BoH is only 904. That's really not so many and could be mostly, if not almost all, current converts, especially given how many people among those mentioning it at blogs are suggesting they have or will buy it even though they already own some of the products. Remember, Cyclopeatron had 250 or so bloggers on his list. If each of those had just three unique non-blogging readers, there's 1,000 people. James Maliszewski has almost 1,500 followers alone and Zak 1,200.

      "We need more people playing in the OSR sandbox - the fuckin' grognards like myself are getting old, and I'd like to see this hobby and style of gaming outlive me, not die with me and some other idiots yelling at the kids to "get off my damn lawn!""

      Me too. I'd say the best way to make sure of that is to avoid helping any one work or set of supposedly key works gaining a large advantage over others - not putting the eggs in one basket; hedging bets and biding time - playing a long game.

      For example, rather than each suggest our preferred system, or follow the crowd by re-reposting, or encourage bandwagons or gotta-catch-'em-all burnout, we could highlight that fact that the systems are often closely linked, even entwined - that's a fundamental feature - and that a vast ecosystem of ideas is thriving among the early sentinels; encourage our players to look around, maybe choose the ruleset they want to use for their character and run a couple side-by-side - easily done in the OSR - or help the, set up and run their own campaigns, even with unconventional ideas, in parallel to keep things lively and keep everyone on their toes.

      We've learnt in the past few years that D&D is only a little about a brand, and a lot about space for interpretation - not least in the early rules - as well as surprise and weirdness, the areas just off the edge of the map.

      Variety is the spice, a few trees don't make a wood etc.

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    3. "It means many people may never see how OSRIC did it, or LL etc. because why actually pay for a complete version?"

      OSRIC and LL are both already free as well. So are S&W Core & WB. And dozens of other clones. Since when has a clone being free ever kept people from finding other clones? I think history has proven that the exact opposite is true!

      As for the BoH, gamers who like to buy stuff, buy stuff! That's not going to change. Gamers who like OSR stuff and also like to buy stuff, aren't going to stop at the BoH, unless buying into it was just a whim in the first place and most of their $$$ will be going to Pathfinder, or whatever.

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    4. @Porky - I've got over 8300 followers on G+ - I suspect nearly all gamers and I really don't care what game they play as long as they have fun doing it.

      The OSR is a mix and match of numerous rulesets. Is it somehow insidious that my preferred ruleset is S&W Complete? Am I going to drag over 8300 gamers off of the S&W cliff to never look at another OSR game again?

      I post about things that interest me. When I was running ACKS, I posted about ACKS. OSRIC / AD&D, DCC, S&W - if I'm running it I'll post about it.

      I'm talking about using peer to peer sharing to get LL, OSRIC, LotFP and all of the other FREE OSR rulesets into the hands of gamers in a manner that doesn't entail them needing to hunt them down at various places.

      Making it as easy to get a copy of them as it is to grab a copy of S&W Complete.

      Making access to the rulesets easier for the average gamer, no matter their ruleset of choice.

      In my S&W game, I'm drawing rules from ACKS and DCC and using adventures for LL, S&W, DCC, 3.5 and OSRIC. Are you suggesting that OSR gamers need instructions on how to do so? Or that if I post about S&W, LL is going to shrivel up and wither away?

      Everyone has a preference. Such is life.



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    5. @ James - I expanded on that in the second comment:

      "... because it's a full and art-filled product also a disincentive to look around."

      S&W Complete is good-looking, up there with mainstream releases. If it was worth the guys putting the art in the book, that polish has an appeal. If someone getting into old school gaming downloads a copy of S&W Complete and now has a beautiful, full OSR ruleset, they might well not look around for others. Even the suggestion in the name 'Complete' could close down exploration.

      The point about BoH is not so much that it's about buying stuff, as buying stuff cheap. This might be the one major purchase for a large group of people, an end rather than a beginning, in the sense of the tick-box I mentioned. I think the OSR is at that stage now, a brand to know, or to say you know - or just to 'have'.

      @ Erik - It's not insidious you like S&W complete, but if you have so many followers, what you say you like can make a difference, subtle or otherwise. The bigger the influence we each have, the more we can make happen, but unexpectedly too of course. It would be tragic in the classical sense if our fiery passions for the games ended up burning them.

      Off-tangent just a bit, I wonder whether S&W or any of the other clones, or even the more second-generation products, could actually survive alone? How much is the attraction of these games in the links to the others, and to the wider community in love with the essence? It could be that if any one of them became a dominant ruleset it would be hastening its own end.

      "Are you suggesting that OSR gamers need instructions on how to do so?"

      It depends what you mean by OSR gamer. If people like us who've seen the slow emergence and wild growth over the past few years, not a chance. If someone who lands a copy of S&W Complete today, or downloads the BoH bundle to see what the fuss is about, possibly, but not quite instructions, just a note that part of the magic is in the common roots, that the beauty and value is in the many interpretations - not just reworking, but seeing how others have reworked. It seems D&D for many people has always felt a little incomplete, as if a rule for this or that is missing, or is explained poorly or unclear, and that may be part of the reason for the expansion of RPGs over the 40 years since, and for the breadth of the OSR, and for retroclones like S&W itself.

      One thing that could mitigate some of the risk is S&W Complete carrying images and links for the other major materials or milestones in development, maybe as a timeline, or maybe even inviting the other big players to contribute a short section, a set of appendices highlighting differences of focus and philosophy, even samples or quickstarts - an Appendix C&C, Appendix LL etc. They could each do the same for S&W too. Opening it up, recognising that whatever we play, we're essentially playing the same game and have an interest in that game as a whole thriving.

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  5. We used to have that at the OSR Conservation Project or whatever it was called. I put Flying Swordsmen up there (and there's a torrent of all the stuff that was on the OCP still out there in file-sharing land) because I wanted it distributed in whatever way it can get distributed.

    I also sent a copy to 1KM1KT but I don't think they ever added it. Maybe it was too big of a file, with all the color pictures.

    I've noticed it on a few other "free RPG" websites, and I'm happy about that. Tracking download numbers is the only reason to have it available in one space only. I'm not so interested in the numbers, just hoping people who want to add some kung fu to their D&D will find it and like it.

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  6. I feel that making S&W Complete free simply lets that ruleset join the many other free rulesets already out there, one more wonderful bit of free ideas to mine, more DNA for the free gaming gene pool.

    As i write my own rules, I'm looking at a wide variety of the OSR for inspiration. Freebies just give more grist for the mill.

    I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that free would be a bad thing. Games engines just want to be free.

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  7. I feel that making S&W Complete free simply lets that ruleset join the many other free rulesets already out there, one more wonderful bit of free ideas to mine, more DNA for the free gaming gene pool.

    As i write my own rules, I'm looking at a wide variety of the OSR for inspiration. Freebies just give more grist for the mill.

    I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that free would be a bad thing. Games engines just want to be free.

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  8. I feel that making S&W Complete free simply lets that ruleset join the many other free rulesets already out there, one more wonderful bit of free ideas to mine, more DNA for the free gaming gene pool.

    As i write my own rules, I'm looking at a wide variety of the OSR for inspiration. Freebies just give more grist for the mill.

    I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that free would be a bad thing. Games engines just want to be free.

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  9. My kids have just started gaming. Mainly because my neighbour's kids got interested in all the painted miniatures I have on the book shelves. Half a dozen new gamers! The youngest is 4, the eldest is 10. So, out came Hero Quest (board game) and an introduction to dungeon crawling with an ever-evolving rule set. I started them on the funny shaped dice today. Oh, and they all wanted a pet dog. My neighbour brought over a beer and we broke out the muffins. He used to play D&D with his brother when he was a kid and recognised the Moldvay Basic and Expert boxes on the shelf. After the game, they went back over the fence with some old Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in hand.

    Swords & Wizardry Complete is fantastic. It was made with love and care. With my extensive gaming experience, I recognise that it's a true gem of a book. I have a copy on my shelf, next to a variety of other old school tomes. I also have lots of 'free.pdf' games and modules on my hard drive. I suspect most reading this will have a modest collection also. None of that is as important as actually playing the game and you can't have a game without players. It's people that make the magic happen. Inspire the next generation of players. The best way to do that? Keep the flame burning. Pass the torch.

    God bless your players, Tenkar.

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  10. Being an avid collector of role-playing games, I find your list of links quite handy.

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  11. Porky: I am curious to know what would be the ideal model then. If distributing S&W Complete and having a bundle of holding is bad for the hobby, what does the "best case scenario" look like? I would like to compare them before assuming I understand the thinking underlying your points.

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    1. I'm not sure I can describe an ideal model or best-case scenario, but I can say I think the current situation is actually a pretty good one as a starting point. There are so many forum posters, bloggers and social media users in general, with the easy availability of online platforms allowing anyone to add their voice and direct attention to options unknown to others, helping to prevent strong trends carrying us off or dominations that might prove to be irreversible. I'd say we thrive best with many minor centres, with lists of sources and lots of linking, and weird ideas thrown out there, keeping our eyes open for new inspirations and to all the possibilities.

      I'd say there's a natural danger over time of slowdown, and clumping, of slipping into an orbit and a long-term decay. There's an argument could be made, for example, that a major focal point in any community, Grognardia say, can stifle debate even as it debates, and present a single set of truths around which others cluster, squeezing out alternative interpretations, maybe concealing unintentionally patterns and facts that don't quite fit, even discouraging innovation away from unconsciously prescribed paths. We need to be wary of our own limitations, keep the fire of our early passions and our first days alive. Many of us are fans of Frog God for example, enough that we probably wouldn't want them to become another WotC, or produce S&W's equivalent of D&D's 3.5 or fourth.

      A key element of the dynamism we've seen in the past few years seems to be a willingness to challenge ideas, and maybe most importantly our own long-entrenched assumptions - possibly entrenched by others, and maybe others trying to sell something - as well as more than a little intransigence - quite possibly a core quality of the OSR - even a dash of iconoclasm, but all of this is only as far as it makes space for variety and experimentation, keeping past paths open, but also finding complementary and new - at the very least for new contexts in which to know the existing.

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