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Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Frank Mentzer Follows Up With The Tavernkeeper

Frank Mentzer Facebooked me via personal messages earlier today about his upcoming Kickstarter and other recent events. It was a personal conversation, but one piece in particular was pointed out by Frank to be something I could share with The Tavern's Community. It is screen shotted for authenticity below:
"A common characteristic of most Old-School sites is adherence to one specific point in the Past, generally out-of-print game systems. Very cool. Nothing wrong with that, most systems have value to many. But of all the tabletop RPG fans, the OSR buys the fewest New Products. This is fine I want to give things away... strongly preferred in these circles of course. Culturally the OSR is unique and priceless, and I applaud it. But they have chosen to be irrelevant to the current market." -FM 
I'm withholding comment until I can spend more time thinking on this, but it may very well be relevant to the recent issues over at Dragonsfoot.

Here's the source:


As I said, the rest of the conversation is private so I've only shared the piece that Frank specifically mentioned I could quote.


120 comments:

  1. I'm curious what Jim Raggi would say about that.

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    1. Or Jeffrey Talanian. I've purchased a bunch of his AS&SH products.

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    2. Im curious about all three of those publishers numbers combined compared to Paizo, WoTC...

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    3. I think James mentioned that coming back from GenCon he had made the most money for the company ever.

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    4. All three, as well as they do, come no where close to Paizo or especially WotC. Look, I love these products too, but the reality is the OSR is a niche of a niche of a small and fragmented hobby.

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  2. I buy new OSR materials every month. Pdfs from drivethru, books on Lulu and many purchases on the out of print secondary market.

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    1. I have backed 6 OSR kickstarters this year, the cheapest of which was at $87; $85 at DTRPG on OSR or actual old TSR; over $100 on Amazon OSR products; and I have no idea about my other purchases from other places off the top of my head.
      "the OSR buys the fewest New Products" I find that hard to believe. Based on what DTRPG shows of the hottest titles right now, the #1 in OSR is The Forbidden Caverns of Archaia Kickstarter Package which is #38 overall.
      Surprisingly, I looked at the hottest D&D category; Wormskin issue 7 is #8, DCC core is #11, SWN is #13, and Veins of the Earth is # 14.
      I think Frank is wrong.

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    2. Applause! I buy when I can. This field preserve rich heritage that many ignore, focusing on the latest thing. We are lucky that a few reach out and invest their time to barely cover costs, offering new ideas. Support them!

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  3. It's a valid point. The OSR is a niche of a niche of a niche in the market. You have RPGs, then fantasy RPGs, then fantasy RPGs based on old school D&D. The #of players is relatively small, which means the #of GMs is even smaller. Pound for pound it holds its own, but if you truly want to make money, like living wage type money, in the industry it won't be in the OSR unless you maintain a constant flow of products and/or do most of the writing, art, and maps yourself.

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    1. I think this pretty much hits the nail on the head.

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    2. I'm not so sure that fantasy RPGs can be considered a "niche" of all RPGs.

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    3. "You have RPGs, then fantasy RPGs, then fantasy RPGs based on old school D&D."

      That doesn't really prove a point either way. I can also say, "You have RPGs, then fantasy RPGs, then 5th Edition D&D" or "You have RPGs, then fantasy RPGs, then Pathfinder." I guess those games are just niches within niches by your logic.

      Of course, the real question here is "How do 3rd-party 5E products sell when compared to OSR products?" I suppose looking at kickstarter numbers for 5E 3rd-party products vs. OSR products might be one way to look at it.

      It might also be interesting to see on what side of the 5E/OSR line most people interested in Mentzer and Greyhawk are spending their dollars, but I don't know any way to measure that.

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    4. In my unscientific Googling, the largest OSR Kickstarter I found was Dungeon Crawl Classics with $215,369. The largest third-party 5E Kickstarter I could find was Tome of Beasts at $191,431. The OSR wins my lazily researched contest.

      Anyone able to come up with bigger Kickstarters for either team?

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    5. "How do 3rd-party 5E products sell when compared to OSR products?"

      I'm super small-time, but here's a data point for you.

      One of my adventures, The Mines of Valdhum (http://bit.ly/2h1WuUt, http://bit.ly/2wUwJzk), I have up in both Labyrinth Lord and 5E versions. The LL version has been up for over five years, and the 5E version's been up for about three and a half.

      I've sold 68 copies of the OSR Labyrinth Lord version, and I have sold 667 copies of the 5E version.

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    6. Thanks! That's the kind of data I am looking for.

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    7. Bingo Pete. I support a lot of the OSR publications when they come out, but the guys doing it are still out there hustling their wares at many of the small conventions I frequent. Looking up the backers to the Top Secret kickstarter by TSR Games...I think its at less than 2000 at this writing. Traveller kickstarter was backed by roughly 2000 people - Dwimmermount had a little over 1000. While it was good to see all of those products backed and brought into publication, those numbers backing each are still low. We are a niche group and there is no problem with that for sure :)

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    8. I think what people miss, and it's easy to do if you're not careful, is that here online we tend to hang out in our own OSR echo chamber. All the sites I go to are very OSR friendly because it's what I'm interested in. We tend to forget that the online gaming community is only a small portion of the gaming community at large. Most gamers I know don't hang out in gaming forums online, and wouldn't know what the OSR is unless I've explained it to them. Similarly, most gamers I know are not aware of most Kickstarters and haven't backed single one. Many would not be able to tell you who Frank Mentzer is, and these guys have games for years.

      And yet, at my local bookstores, 5e sells, just like 4e was hot for awhile. This makes me think that gamers outside of the OSR echo chambers are more interested in buying and playing the new active, shiny game than they are hashing out which retroclone they prefer. And I would hazard a guess that they are the majority, which means they are the market, like it or not.

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    9. Comparing the "biggest OSR Kickstarter" to "the biggest 5e KS" is a very moot exercise.

      DCC exists because of this KS. If fans had not contributed, it might not have happened in the way it did. You fund what you want to see live. That's a hobbyist kind of network thing with years of upfront investment in terms of time and hype.

      5e had 160,000 (IIRC) people sign up for the D&D Next playtest alone. Pathfinder sold 75,000 Humble Bundles recently. These games have as many players or people owning the books as OSR KS have made in total dollars.

      No 5e official product has been financed through KS. And if WotC did that, I wonder how high the number would go. But until that happens: apples and pears and oranges.

      I'm very happy with DCC's success and I am a Goodman Games' licensee. There's a lot more behind that success than you could simply slap "OSR" on it and claim it for the wider OSR scene.

      I like the OSR but as most everyone says, it's a niche in a niche in a largely irrelevant hobby.

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  4. Hmm, I think we're seeing the distinction between the DF/K&KA OSR and the DIY punk OSR. The former see no need for new products, whereas the latter produce premium shit faster than I can afford it.

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    1. I don't think that's the case. DF and KnK are both full of people who purchase OSR materials (and who produce them for sale, for that matter). Heck, KnK could even be considered the home of OSRIC, and the original purpose of OSRIC was to facilitate new products for 1e.

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    2. Yup, agree with Nat there is a difference, although OSRIC began with the older module that DF follows, being adventure/module based for 1e players.

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    3. The irony is that OSRIC is nothing but a total knockoff the original rules anyways. It is not new. Yes, they might have added some content but that does not make it a new game all unto itself. You do not need OSRIC if you have the original AD&D books.

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    4. Why reinvent the wheel??? You are missing the whole point of the conversation and the point that FM is bringing to a boil.

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    5. Jason, I should clarify that I don't necessarily agree with Frank, just that I think when he says the OSR is interested in a point in time and irrelevant to the market, his working definition of OSR is only the one part of it.

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    6. "Why reinvent the wheel???"

      To reduce C&D letters?

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    7. The point of OSRIC was to test the OGL to see if creating new material for older editions of the game would bring legal action from WotC.

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    8. Nat 20 is right. I'm a regular at the Alehouse, and most of us there are AD&D/OD&D players not overly interest in the DIY OSR. But a surprising number also play 5e, played 4e, and I personally ran a 3e campaign for 4+ years. We're happy with AD&D/OD&D, but with OSRIC, we're able to get new stuff for the old games, such as the adventures from XRP, which drop right AD&D game with virtually no changes (actually, I can't think of any, but there might be something that is escaping me.) But even at that, some of the guys there have written stuff the has shown up in the DIY/Maker/Punk OSR, such as Petty Gods. I'm also probably the exception to the rule of the Alehouse, because I have bought a lot of OSR stuff. 1,390 products in my library at RPGNow. A lot of that is free/pwyw, and TSR AD&D/OD&D/BX stuff, but I've supported a lot of OSR authors over the years, too. I've also support AS&SH, Operation Unfathomable, and sever other OSR kickstarters.

      But in the end, I do agree that the market is irrelevant. Not just the OSR segment, the whole RPG market is laughably tiny and irrelevant, and the OSR is a small sliver of that. We bitching about salad croutons vs. bread crumbs here.

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    9. May I humbly suggest...

      http://www.fireborngames.com/

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    10. Yeah, I've seen your stuff, Alex. I think I bought your first foray into old-school.

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  5. Well, the market stopped serving us; we simply found other ways to get our hands on material.

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  6. Frank is also doing pub over on the piazza if you want more info.

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  7. FM is very much correct when he states that the OSR is irrelevant to the current market. There are some companies who continue to push out some OSR material but is very tiny. The population of gamers who play OSR material is extremely tiny compared to the rest of the population. Sad but true but it is also the reality that I harped almost 20 years ago that gamers as a whole must evolve with the pace of the gaming market. Newer games and fresh faces is what makes this market thrive and this is not only rpgs, but board games, miniature games, card games, and so on.

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    1. I dunno, man. That follow the market logic leads us all the least common denominator of everything.

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    2. Except the OSR influenced 5e D&D. Some of the consultants they picked to help shape the newest rules came from the OSR and still produce and sell their quality work (and steal ENnies away from WotC) so it's only gaining relevance.

      I'm not saying Frank doesn't have a point. But the OSR is a many-headed hydra that defies blanket statements.

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    3. And in this context, if he's talking about the grognards who only play the original modules, he's right. While I know Dragonfoot isn't entirely that, it is home to a larger proportion of the mentality that "if it's not TSR, it's not really a game worth playing."

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  8. I think that the DIY publishers are catching up with the quality expected by the current market and the quality gap between large publishers and DIY is getting smaller. Four years ago I had never even thought about publishing a book, and now I can gather funding and outsource premium quality printers and artists... I'm a man in a shed basically, yet I can print a book that matches the book quality of say Paizo or Wizards. Content will be arguable but the hobby as never been in such a good position to have access to quality from unexpected sources.

    Not sure if I've gone off tangent here, it's late lol ;)

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    1. That tangent is front and center to this debate. The OSR is competing, successfully, in the RPG industry. Lines are blurring, money is being made, awards won, and quality rivals anything from TSR or WotC.

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  9. sounds like he wanted to peddle his stuff on their site and they're not like that. It sounds as if he's the one burning the bridge.

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  10. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  11. In related news, fans of Ska music have chosen to be irrelevant to the music publishing industy.

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  12. Heya Erik. I'm probably wrong, but I think it merits discussion. OSR culture, and OSR publishers, thrive when focused on that niche audience. They're a vital part of the Hobby, unique, rich in flavor. However, the OSR doesn't affect most major Publishers.

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    1. Hi Frank - 5e and Pathfinder are where the 'big' money is, but OSR is comparable to major non-D&D lines in terms of sales.

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    3. As far as FM's comment is concerned, BINGO. Totally true...

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    4. Mr. Mentzer,
      Please delineate "most major Publishers". Name three, why you named those three, and provide independently verifiable data points that back it. Otherwise, methinks you doth protest too much.

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    5. I agree with you Frank. There is a certain rigid conservatism I've noted as a distinct segment of the OSR. Rigid to the point of telling a fledgling publisher to not bother publishing new adventures because everybody writes their own content, and has for years. I also think you are entirely right when it comes to the solution; more new blood being introduced to old school games and gaming styles. If old crusty grognards like me and you don't want new content, lets build a whole new audience that does. It not only helps those of us who love giving back to our hobby, but it grows hobby gaming too. Neither of which are bad things.

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    6. Troll Lords publishes for 5e, Frog God for PF and 5e. They publish outside their house systems in order to fund their house systems. There is no secret to that.

      The OSR market is NOT the FLGS. It is NOT Amazon. It is OBS and Lulu. PDF and POD.

      I'll make about 30-50k in sales for OBS via the Tavern's Affiliate links on a yearly basis (I retain just less than 5% of that). 90% of my sales are OSR.

      So, one blog can account for 27 to 45k in yearly OSR sales and I'm not capturing more than a small percentage of those sales.

      There's a post in here somewhere...


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    7. Erik,

      Well until PoD does full-bleed inside covers and can have them detached, PoD isn't going to work for Fire Born Games. Nothing however stops someone from using PoD to print a personal copy of a Fire Born Games module for their personal use with the maps run into the booklet and the cover attached.

      I'd love to have a FLGS presence, but it takes an OSR hobby gaming community that cares enough to make their existence known at the FLGS and argue that X number of dollars can be added to the owner's revenue by carrying OSR products. I can't personally contact thousands of FLGSs across the U.S. and Canada, but if each OSR Grognard contacts just one you'll see more OSR product in your local FLGS.

      We have to be the change we want to see, as the saying goes!

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    8. @Will Arnold "Please delineate "most major Publishers". Name three, why you named those three, and provide independently verifiable data points that back it. Otherwise, methinks you doth protest too much."

      I think this is just a rhetoric trick. Very little is known about actual numbers, and I bet you know that unless you walked into the topic of "actual accurate numbers in the hobby gaming industry" just yesterday.

      Three major publishers are easily picked:
      * Wizards of the Coast
      * Paizo
      * Fantasy Flight Games

      If you walk into almost any small to medium game store you will see their products. Some Star Wars. Some 5e D&D. Some Pathfinder. And there are plenty of stores where you will find only that or 90% that.

      You can ignore this, but it does not make you more right. Everybody knows who the big ones are. You don't need to quote exact numbers to know that these three make the top tier, Chaosium or Monte Cook and a few others live somewhere in 2nd tier, and most everyone else you can find in a store is 3rd tier.

      But if you want to shut down discussion, you can of course insist. It remains a cheap rhetorical trick, nevertheless. Guess who doth protest too much?

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  13. Sometimes bridges need to be burnt (or destroyed) so that better bridges can be built.

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  14. I couldn't disagree more with the idea that the OSR is irrevelent to the current market. Without the OSR, D&D 5E would be very different animal than what it came to be. Rather than being a niche of a niche, the OSR became the inspiation and driver for the industry's biggest player.

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    1. SOme might argue that 5th edition was a result of poor sales of 4th and an increase in the piracy of their older materials. When I go to a gaming store I don't see Labyrinth Lord, or CAstles and Crusades, DCC, Swords and Wizardry or any other OSR out there, I see Pathfinder and TSR D&D.

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    2. P : you need to find a better store then. I have multiple stores within 45 minutes of my house that I can find LotFP, DCC, S&W, and other OSR publishers. Its a great thing for the hobby here :)

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    3. P Schnell, this is true. However OSR may try to point out that their products are mostly sold via digital or print on demand, and they may indeed sell a lot that way, but that is inherently cheaper than having publishing giants backing your Pathfinder or 5e product. THAT is what smells like money and success.

      Currently most OSR products just do not have the resources to push sales into your FLGS, and this is the direction FM and Co. want to move in.

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    4. The guys at my local FLGS have been selling RPGs for decades but they don't even recognize the term OSR. When Labyrinth Lord cane out they brought in a couple of copies of the two core rule books and described it to me as "some guy rewrote AD&D; take a look before the lawyers make it disappear."

      They haven't ever carried another OSR product. What they do carry is the current version of D&D, Pathfinder, a little third party Pathfinder stuff, and anything new that comes out for Star Wars.

      In some ways, what's worse, is that roleplaying and miniatures went from the biggest section of the store twenty years ago, to a small section in a store now dominated by board games.

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    5. It's not necessarily "the worse" (although it is surely the worse for RPGs).
      I remember quite clearly when, in hobby stores, boardgames (both "classic" things like Kingmaker and hex wargames) went from the biggest section of hobby stores to a smaller section, substituted by RPGs and miniatures...
      Things change with time. Let's thank the OSR and the web, that allow us to access our hobby even if the stores relegate it in a dark cellar, below a steep stairway, behind a door with "WATCH OUT FOR LEOPARDS" on it ;)

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  15. Hmmmm.
    Personal anecdote inbound!
    I am a diehard AD&D 1e fan; my campaign is still going after 38 years. But I own 2e, 3e, 4e, and 5e (just the very basics of 4e and 5e). I own a lot of stuff, like essentially all HERO 6e.
    No, I am not buying any modules or adventures for 5e. Even in the '70's and '80's I tended to get "other people's adventures" as gifts.
    But I don't know if being 'irrelevant to the market' is bad. RPGNow is A market, and OSR stuff does OK there. There is a lot of free stuff shared on blogs and in threads. A large group of aficionados sharing amongst themselves can drive great creativity and growth even if no one is funding a C-corporation with it.
    As Frank said in these comments the OSR might not affect major publishers.
    I don't think this matters to me. When TSR was poorly managed and collapsing my campaign was doing great and all of my friends' were, too. When WotC launched 3e and made a big impact... my campaign was still doing great.
    Etc.
    About a year ago my oldest said [paraphrase]
    'The best thing about TRGPs is that once you have the core rules you can have decades of fun for the price of pencils, graph paper, and snacks. And with the OSR often the rules are free.'
    Just anecdotes and personal opinion.

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  16. I would respectfully disagree with Frank (whom I think a great deal of). I would suggest the OSR has had an impact on design, aesthetics, and play-style largely disproportionate to its size.

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    1. That's wholly moot when the context is putting out a new commercial product.

      That said, I'm not saying he's right. Just that cultural impact is not the same as sales.

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    2. Evan, I don't disagree in the abstract, but I think it's worth pointing out that WotC's latest book Tomb of Annihilation is very clearly a product of the cultural impact Greg describes. They're banking on the appeal of the OSR style of play, at least for one $50 hardback.

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    3. I would not say OSR, I would say simply nostalgic. Rehashing old stuff has a big history at the Wizards since 3e. Ravenloft rehash, Greyhawk rehash, White Plume mountain rehash... this clearly predates the OSR.

      I think the OSR overestimates itself in impact. What might really drive sales is an aging population of gamers. And they like nostalgia. That doesn't make them part of the OSR. Maybe they can be reached as a market, but WotC clearly seems to know they exist and caters to them now. (Especially after 4e.)

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  17. I think there's a misunderstanding - most people on the old school preservation/continuity sites are different from the OSR, which does focus on making & buying new stuff. Most people on K&KA or DF are not OSR as far as I can see, and don't buy new product, but there is a significant group of OSR fans who do buy.

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  18. I think he may be referring to the print market where I'd be surprised if the OSR sells much of anything, compared to the likes of Pathfinder or D&D.

    Digital is obviously another story.

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  19. I strongly disagree with Frank's statement about OSR folks buying new products. I am speaking from my personal experience for myself and those I know in the OSR and we are fucking consumers of games, old and new. Sure, we favor the older games or new games based on the old games, but there is no shortage of games on my shelves and my friends shelves that are newer games and games that defy classification. I think, if anything, OSR folks are open to trying new games, cause we love to hack stuff, cherry pick and Frankenstein the shit out of games.

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    1. I definitely buy tons of OSR stuff, including new games like White Star -
      it's generally lower risk than going to a whole new system.

      I do thinking dual-statting for 5e plus (eg) S&W or LL (or another BX/BECMI clone) is a good approach.

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    2. LOL I guess you did not hear the whole hoopla that took place a few years ago at GaryCon when memebers of a certain OSR site(not DF, mind you) who rabidly complained incessantly about the inclusion of other games most specifically Pathfinder to their list of games being hosted at GC.

      The con coordinators made it very plain and clear that GC will not be exclusive to just one game or one genre and that everyone is invited to come.

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  20. It is important to keep in mind that the statement "I buy a lot of OSR stuff" (and I do) is not actually a rebuttal to Frank's statement. The overall market share of OSR materials in the industry is something that I would be quite curious to see. That is where answers lay.

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    1. My observation based on the sales figure publically and private told to me is that as a whole the OSR equals that of a single 2nd tier RPG publishers with an active publishing scheldule like Mongoose, Green Ronin, Steve Jackson Games, Evil Hat, Cubicle 7, etc. Maybe two of them because of outliers like Goodman Games, Frog Gods, Gobliniod Games, Kevin Crawford, and Loftp.

      A major difference between the OSR and a another publisher is the diversity of individuals publishing and pervasiveness of the use of open content. The OSR isn't dependent on a single organization or company. If Green Ronin goes under that kills support for the AGE system, the same with Savage Worlds or Aventures in Middle Earth/the One Ring. The exception being Evil Hat and Fate.



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    2. Knowing some numbers, and having a fair idea of some other, I must contradict you, @Rob Conley.
      The entire OSR market barely manages to get to the level of one and a half, maybe two of Cubicle7 top tier games.
      This probably held true for Mongoose too, before the change of Traveller.

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    3. "Maybe two of them because of outliers like Goodman Games, Frog Gods, Gobliniod Games, Kevin Crawford, and Loftp"

      How many 2nd tier RPG publishers would it take to rival a top tier publisher?

      Regardless, I don't see how something in that ballpark can be viewed as irrelevant.

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    4. In a (cruel) sentence: because a second tier publisher (C7, Modiphius, Pelgrane, Onyx Path...) creates enough revenue to wage many people AND to pay many freelancers on top of that.
      A third tier (Frog Gods, Goblinoid...) is made of people with a day job because it doesn't generate enough revenue to produce wages.
      And that, I want to stress it, is not meant to demean their work in any way - I am personally a great fan of the batraceous divinity and of Barrel Rider Games - it is just the state of things.

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    5. @Jake Parker, Paizo and Wizard are in a class of their own.

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    6. @Wild Boar Games. I think you need to take a look on the OBS site and see how many OSR publishers there are, and how many of them have Platinum, Gold, Electrum, Silver, and Copper sellers.

      When I tally it up compared to what I see for Mongoose, and the rest. It seems to equal one of them. Any one company under the OSR sell peanuts compared to the other 2nd Tiers but there are hundreds of folks selling peanuts here.

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    7. My understanding is that sites like ICv2 talk about self-reported sales, and WotC and Paizo are something like 80-90% of that. The market there was something like $25-40M.

      I just looked up some "top Kickstarters for RPGs" sites, and found someone that tracked KS with roughly 1,000+ backers. So the big ones.

      The numbers surprised the hell out of me. Here are 148 kickstarters, with 302,000 backers (certainly not unique individuals; think of it as number of transactions). Total spend? $25M over 2012-2017, or about $4M per year. In 2016 alone, it was nearly $8M.

      Row Labels Sum of Raised Sum of Backers Count of Product
      2012 2636982 25756 14
      2013 3708067 45584 20
      2014 3212778 38301 21
      2015 4355310 53477 28
      2016 7905418 95099 39
      2017 3155389 44129 26
      Grand Total 24973944 302346 148

      This suggests that the Kickstarter cash is on the order of up to 20% additional funds, or 1/6 of the overall market.

      This means "not-Paizo + WotC" roughly equal, I think, to Paizo, which is (b/c of 5e's ridiculously awesome sales) likely about 2/3 of WotC.

      That ain't chump change, and it ignores the likely hundreds of tiny kickstarters (like my own) and self-published low cost to produce vendors out there.

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    8. This helps some, but people keep talking about "market" as if there is a master spreadsheet with every first sale every RPG publisher makes print or digital. It doesn't exist to my knowledge. Therefore, the only ones of us that can speak to the "market" are publishers like Rob, Benoist, Tim, and Greg, unless we have some WotC or Paizo people who would like to put numbers out. Otherwise, I think we're making much ado about nothing, or at least a poor statement by someone who should know better.

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    9. Rob - I know OBS, as I sell there too :)
      You keep citing Mongoose (which is, alas, barely a third tier compamy these days). You are probably right in that aspect: all the OSR production probably earns as much as Traveller.
      As a practical example, look at OBS, look at WotC and Paizo there, consider that in the top 5 bestselling there's usually at least 2, if not 3, "big guys" and one "medium guy" - and consider that 90% of the small producers don't have international distribution OR even a FLGS presence...
      Now let's take Douglas' numbers.Let's take the most "productive" year, 2016, and round it up to 8.000.000.
      As far as I know, WotC gets more than half that *only* for movie rights.
      So - see, there IS a difference. There IS a market.
      Obviously, OSR is beneficial for Paizo and TSR, and probably for another couple of big guys too, otherwise they would find a way to kill it... But in the end, commercially speaking, we sell peanuts, they sell plantations.

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    10. Didn't I hear that WotC was down to like 10-15 people working on the 5e line of products? If they are the top company in the industry to even call RPGs a "Market" is ridiculous. If the biggest company can support 15 full time employees (and I imagine barely making a living wage) we are arguing over nothing. The last statistics I saw was that the entire RPG market is $35m. https://icv2.com/articles/news/view/35150/hobby-games-market-nearly-1-2-billion
      That is top line sales. Profit margins for publishers in general (not game specific) seem to end up in the 9-15% range from a quick google. So at a best case scenario there is about $5.2 million in the entire RPG market. That might sound like a lot but divide that by just 500 people and it averages to about $10k per person.
      Anyway, I'm no economist so my numbers might be off. Please show me where I'm wrong so I can quit my day job selling software!

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    11. Eric - those numbers are more or less correct, but with the following specifications:
      - WotC employs @ a dozen people full time for D&D only (not considering other RPG lines, miniatures, Magic, etc.); and that's over and above the freelancers, who get paid anyway.
      - icv2 only takes FLGS and kickstarters in consideration, when compiling its statistics (so, no sales from OBS, as an example).

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    12. @Wild Boar - does it include Kickstarters? For some reason I was under the impression that it did not. If it does, then that $35-40M is probably not horrid.

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    13. It says it does - it also says, honestly, that the numbers are not data, but "projections" (that is, icv2 hypothesis :) )

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    14. I dug into it as well; they added the KS figures in 2016 or thereabouts, and the last time I really looked into this was before that. So thus my confusion: they went out and added the KS data, which may be why 2016 was such a jump. Not sure if they revised their old data upwards; that doesn't really matter however.

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    15. They did revise their data.
      Both this fact (the revision) and the fact they started factoring KS in are stated in the link you provided :)

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    16. Does anyone know where to find OBS sales or an approximation? Now, I'm really interested in the market dynamics. Even if the OBS revenue is as much as the FLGS/KS money this is still not really a market. At those numbers the entire RPG industry could sustain maybe 150-175 people at the US median income level. Talk about a small pond...

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  21. I agree with him to the extent it's OSR circles that believe D&D peaked in 1979. They are irrelevant to the current market. But the OSR circles that are developing game material that is mineable or can be played regardless of system, are thriving and very relevant.

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  22. I find this statement to be inaccurate and I told Frank as much. Dragonsfoot isn't representative of the OSR at large. There were purist elements resistant to any form of "new things" to old games there for a long time.

    Likewise DF doesn't represent K&K or the RPGSite or other forums, and yet all forums together represent a tiny percentage of what actually draws funds in terms of the "OSR". The meat of the OSR today is on social media and brews on blogs and groups therein.

    Furthermore, I see plenty of gamers who like old games and would like to support new things for them. The challenge is the word of mouth and the media coverage. Word of mouth works great inside OSR circles, not outside of them, and big media outlets perceive old games as pure nostalgia. They understand very little of the current appeal of old school gaming, with a few notable exceptions.

    Lastly, there are many old school gamers who would pay for quality content for their games. They just have no idea it exists, don't know what "OSR" even means, because they do not belong to our social media circles, don't go on forums and don't follow the insiders of the Hobby. There are tons of people like this out there, and from experience, it's a challenge to reach them beyond our platforms.

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    1. Dang, I posted something similar before I read this. Now I wish I hadn't because this sums it up much better. I know lots and lots of gamers who don't even frequent RPG forums online.

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    2. Benoist,

      As is frequently the case, I find myself agreeing with both Frank and you. Your arguments are not mutually exclusive it turns out. Frank is responding to the folks at DF and, as you say, those OSR folks who have no idea new product exists. Combined these elements reduce the impact the OSR has on the publishing world. Especially for large publishers.

      I think the three of are agreed that growing hobby gaming and the OST element in particular with the introduction of new blood is the best way to increase the OSR impact on hobby gaming in general, but you bring up another salient point. How do we get the word out?

      I know that for an IT Professional, husband and father, with a publishing business on the side, getting the word out is difficult at the best of times, impossible at the worst. We have product languishing in my basement that I would love to see sitting on shelves in game stores across the U.S. and Canada, but my pleas to those who DO know about us to get the FLGS to carry our products have resulted in exactly zero inquiries. Does it then require us to bring more people into the "grow Hobby Gaming" movement to be able to succeed?

      We've put our heads together with Frank before and come up with some good solutions. Maybe we should do so again? Maybe his new endeavor is focused on that very issue? We shall see.

      Hit me up elsewhere if you want to discuss.

      -Alex

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  23. Not to be disagreeable, but I wouldn't write off OSR just yet. As a consumer I spend roughly 50/50 on OSR RPG items and newer genre RPG items. I probably don't represent the typical buyer; I get that. But I would never want to see a day where newly crafted OSR materials like Castle of Mad Arch Mage and other new classics cease to be! Just my two cents.

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    1. I don't think Frank is writing off the OSR. He's not relying on it entirely as other publishers do, but there wouldn't be a BECMI version of Empyrea if he were writing off the OSR. I think he's banking on it to some extent.

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  24. Looks at funding of Barrowmaze... lookws at funding of Barrowmaze II... looks at the complete Barrowmaze.. looks at that massive yet delayed Tome I shall not name... looks at numerous other projects including former 3.5 publishers getting into OSR...

    Sure man... I'll get off the lawn too.

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  25. I am amazed at the amount of ego pervasive throughout the OSR for such a niche group. Plus, the OSR is continually in flux of what is included by creating ever expanding concentric circles attempting to stay ahead of the wave of relevancy.

    The high water point for the OSR was between the release of 4e and Pathfinder's peak. I remember considering the OSR because of these very poor alternatives. This changed with the release of 5e and WoTC's embrace of all versions of D&D.

    Amazingly, WoTC has chosen the correct path and has started to crowd out the OSR turning it into social media club of blogs and forums. To me, it is all D&D. The retroclones have no distinct identity. They are now unnecessary publishing models when labels like 0e, 1e, 2e, B/X are more than sufficient. Games like DCC, LoFP, C&C, AS&SoH do have distinct identities. I can like and support without considering myself a part of the OSR. if the OSR label helps increase sales then great but is not a necessary requirement.

    As a case example, consider Frog God Games. Does anyone actually believe this company could survive selling S&W only? In fact, it is questionable if it is Pathfinder only. Together, it is ok but their path to meaningful growth is in 5e.





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  26. I know for me at least I like writing OSR game material because it is fun. But I have been paid more for one book at Eden Studios for a non-d20 book based on an obscure media tie-in than I have for all my other OSR books combined in the same time frame.

    We might punch WAY above our weight, but we are still dwarfed by even the third tier publishers out there.

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  27. Frank's only mistake was that he didn't make people laugh before telling them a hard truth. The hard truth is most of our beloved OSR publishers hold down day jobs to cover their passion, and the people at WOTC just have jobs. Saying that takes away nothing from the quality or validity of the OSR, but Frank is right in looking at sales, marketing, etc..

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    1. This is often true of all game publishers though. The Game Publishing business is, as the old joke goes, a good way to make a small fortune by starting out with a large one.

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  28. Frank is antagonistic and right. The only part where he is wrong is when he thinks that players are waiting for a new fantasy setting while they would much prefer he oversee a Greyhawk revamp for WotC.

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  29. Ouch again.... Probably not the most diplomatic observation.

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  30. I suspect Frank is right: old school gaming has become fairly influential, but it is not a huge slice of the RPG market.

    The reason he brings up, that "giving away" is "strongly preferred in these circles", is of course part of the appeal. Old school gaming is as much a reaction to gaming industry publishing models as it is to rules changes. It is a hobbyist backlash against game supplements which no longer served the needs of gamers; rather, it often produced overwritten, overproduced materials written by people who didn't game, for people who didn't game. It was often the domain of failed novellists, self-hating ex-gamers, and freelancers being paid on a per word basis under "work for hire" conditions at starvation rates. Many of us believed - and as a matter of fact still do - that this business model was unethical and its products were bound to disappoint.

    There is a reason a bad sort of "professionalism" is being contrasted with something more immediate, personal, and honest. Of course, old school gaming has not been completely successful at realising this ideal, just like farmers' markets aren't completely successful at providing an honest alternative to the food industry giants. But they are at least expressing a need, and pulling things in a good direction.

    The old school scene as it works is enabled by the Internet and the new publishing models it brings with it - PDFs, print on demand, crowdfunding, strong word of mouth in creative communities while bypassing the main distribution channels that had dominated the game industry. This environment is what has allowed old school communities to organise and gather the critical mass needed to create a sharing community, then small markets to sell their products, and then for some to enter the mainstream gaming market (LotFP and Goodman Games are good examples of little guys who have grown up). It is a development process (I am not sure it is all growth, since parts of it seem to be shrinking, but it is certainly a change).

    However, I also think old school gaming is at a crossroads, and this is partly brought about by its successes. It is hard to watch high-profile Kickstarters, glossy hardbacks and the hucksterism coming with it without some anxiety about the same old, same old creeping back in after we spent so much effort distancing ourselves from it. Unlike Frank, I think "giving it away" has actually lost ground over the years, and free stuff gets less interest than it used to. People increasingly judge a book by its cover, not its contents. Our little corner of gaming has transformed from a creation-oriented to a consumption-oriented scene, and it shows. People can be accused of refusing to grow - some thruth there, too - but sometimes, the little guys are right. I have a hunch that Frank, who owned a bakery business selling honest bread, has known that feeling.

    What I mean to say is, most of us are happy this thing has grown up and found its place and business legs, but some of us will be going right back to our crappy homemade booklets and self-illustrated fanzines. (Personally, I have two projects which will need to be a little higher-profile due to their scope and nature, but what I actually want to do the most is a fanzine.) Our model doesn't work as a business, certainly not a full time one, and it probably doesn't help expand the hobby as much as other alternatives (God bless 'em). But we are okay with that. It is a small place but it is ours.

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  31. Once WoTC republished original D&D and AD&D, one of the original reasons for OSR rules being created (less and less access to the original rules, and none in digital form) went away.

    What the OSR rules sets and the compliance with the OGL did create was a way for small 3PP to release compatible products under a ruleset safe under the OGL. That has allowed a small amount of publishing to happen and forums and internet discussion has kept the rest going. Finally, improvements in the main VTT have allowed far flung OSR players to actually get together and play.

    I personally am less excited by OSR since 5e came out, especially with the advent of DMS Guild which gives a safe marketing platform to publish OSR style modules written in the modern and currently most popular ruleset.

    Obscure teams/people writing 5e content draw as many or more backers on Kickstarter compared to OSR products from much better known people (there are exceptions but that is a general rule). Take away real outliers like 7th Sea and board games on Kickstarter swamp RPG in term of total cash raised (Not uncommon for popular board games to take in over $1M and that is super rare for RPG, I think only 7 Seas achieved that).

    OSR has people buying the product, but if I were trying to make a living or at least some return on it, I would sell 5e over OSR just because the market is bigger and if I beat the competition and get attention the potential is much larger.

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  32. Couple observations based on the comments section more than Mentzer's comment:
    OSR may hold more influence on the industry than it financially "should" because we are a group of fans hardcore devoted to a 40 year old game. Most companies would sacrifice their mothers to Demogorgon for that kind of customer loyalty, so of COURSE they're looking to OSR and saying "what did they do right to get those results?"
    All the discussions above that equate OSR to x% of a y tier publisher are missing one big point. That y tier publisher is a publisher. OSR is a market segment. Each publisher in there gets a fragment of that x%. If you instead compare market segment to market segment you'd have to compare the OSR to all 3rd string publishers as a whole. It's hardly unreasonable for a publisher to want to position themselves in that much larger segment even if at heart their product really belongs in the OSR.

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  33. This : the trend on kickstarter is towards 5E. I am still holding off, but I wonder when I will need to get into 5E to get interesting content because it is no longer published in systems I currently have.
    Sadly good content can't be divorced from a specific system without resulting in unwieldy page flipping.

    Consequently FM will need to target the 5E market to earn a decent living as that is (probably) the largest market currently.

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  34. I love and buy OSR products. I also love and buy D&D 5e and other more 'modern' products.

    In terms of market share, probably the best metric on this is the Orr Report:

    http://blog.roll20.net/post/163190312610/the-orr-group-industry-report-q2-2017

    Depending on how you interpret this data, D&D 5e is roughly 5 to 10 times bigger than all the OSR D&D flavors combined. There is some selection bias (in that these are online games) which skews the result a bit.

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  35. ET: "The OSR market is NOT the FLGS. It is NOT Amazon. It is OBS and Lulu, PDF and POD.

    imho this illustrates my main point: that these sub-branches of our beloved Tabletop Hobby CAN be viable, MUST be supported and better advertised (many don't know where to look, what has more Good Ideas, etc), but will NOT receive that attention from the Industry as it currently exists.

    The Empyrea project includes outreach and information for all, to help spread the word and help stabilize this side of our gaming world. Yet financially I have to aim at a broader market to capitalize the efforts so I can afford to try to help the Hobby as a whole, especially 'folks with day jobs'.

    It's a quandary, as some see only part of the picture, and misinterpret. But Loxley (my new company) will keep reaching toward a goal of All Of Us, not just newschool or oldschool or other (richly valid) subdivisions.

    I fight against Division, and Haters.
    I fully support the OSR, and OGL variants, and that whole spectrum of Individual creativity vs Corporate.

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    1. I will never argue against anybody who trying to help others get their material in wider distribution. But are you making the point that as it stands the OSR is not viable with PoD, PDF, Lulu and OBS? I want to be sure I reading your response right.

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    2. Heya Rob. Lots of great offerings over the years, wtg.
      The existing economics of the field provide a bare subsistence for Creators like you (usually with Day Jobs). It works, sorta. I want to improve comms, offer better (free) PR, and compile a better overview of the tremendous resources that lurk out there. I'm not rich, so to do that I have to aim broader to conjure up the ability. I'm not 'abandoning' the OSR with Empyrea, I hope to use this as a welcoming platform and info distribution point to try to enhance the visibility of this great but disorganized subgroup. And in the process, when some try to oppose unity and Community with "Your Game Sucks, 1974 is best" (or whichever intolerant attitude is espoused, thereby denigrating the opinions of others) -- then as a proud rank 'n' file member of Hobby Gaming, I object. I object Strongly. Stop this self-centered destructive non-cooperative attitude and learn to live Together.

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    3. Appreciate the compliments on my work.

      In response, what you want to do and what you are doing is great. Encouraging and helping the OSR community always needs more advocates.

      What a lot of people struggle with is understanding the cultural impact of the low barrier to publication and pervasive use of open content. In a nutshell freedom is messy. With more people being able to participate you will have both assholes and angels.

      In addition the combination means that there are more options for who a person can distribute their material. There are people who are content and able to make a profit at releasing one or two works a year. There are people who release material one or twice in the past decade. And of course three are those are a machine at releasing material.

      Before this the only option at the professional level is to invest considerable capital into print runs. Granted it wasn't that hard as many were able to accomplish this. But for somebody who has an idea and has only his hobby time to spare it was a big barrier. That no longer the case.

      To me the current situation is exactly what I would expect when there no serious impediment to releasing one's work for a favorite edition of classic D&D. A hard working few that operate no different than the rest of the industry, with the vast majority trailing down to the guy who has released only one OSR product.

      And that is silver lining in all this. The OSR has grown considerably so it far easier today to get away from assholes and find the angels that are willing to help.

      The only thing I caution people about projects like yours, that it is highly unlikely that anything will change the fundamental nature of the OSR. As many people as you will be able to help into wider distribution or increase awareness about there be a dozen more who start to use Lulu, OBS, PoD and PDFs.

      What good about your effort is that offers a needed option and is one more voice at letting people know about what is available. And that always a good thing in my book.


      Finally I will say the OSR started out as a black swan event, so I will gladly be proven wrong by you or anybody else who figure the right combination to extend the reach of the OSR (and other open content RPGs like 3PP 5e) into the realm of FLGS, and other traditional publishing venues.

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  36. This discussion has become, yet again, another echo chamber of OSR supporters. I fully support the OSR, both in spirit and monetarily, but to pretend that it has a significant impact to the RPG market at large is suspect.

    "At my FLGS!" anecdotes have nothing to do with reality. Once you get off the internet and messageboards and actually go outside, most gamers have never heard of "OSR" games. It's either D&D or Pathfinder, maybe a peripheral Mongoose release. That's it. To think otherwise is just a waste of time. Going to small conventions with the same people who you see at other small conventions has nothing to do with Gencon and/or Origins.

    The OSR-aware can pretty much be numbered in the thousands, vs. D&D aware in the millions. Why do people posting here and other places pretend that's not the case?

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    1. I for one am well aware of the issue. Which is why when advising anybody trying to make a go at publishing their material that the OSR helps but ultimately not a substitute for everything a personal has to do for other RPGs in the industry. You have to get out there at the convention, spread the word, work towards being able to afford print runs, find out what it takes for distribution and above all do this with a plan thought out beforehand.

      However there are some FLGS with OSR material. For example in Cleveland Ohio there is Weird Realms which has a large rack full of OSR offerings. Several OSR publisher have products in distribution. But most of the activity in the OSR is handled as Frank puts through OBS, Lulu, PoD, and PDF.

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  37. "They have CHOSEN to be irrelevant to the current market."

    And some think this is a negative?

    These splendid Creators managed to avoid corporate domination and mass-market bowdlerization (applause to Raggi) and you really think that's BAD? I said the exact opposite. (Read all of the o.p., not just the last line.)

    These Creators made it, and Independently! But they need MORE support from Us (the real Hobby, not the suits & corps).

    I say again, ignore (or scorn) those who are intolerant and trolling us with their sacramental sentiments about "One True Game" and Why Your Game Sucks. (You have opinions, great. So stop dissing others when they express theirs. Learn tact.)

    Go ahead, rag on me or words or websites. We all need to vent.
    But after you're done,
    Support the WHOLE hobby, not just your back yard.

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    1. I started publishing Labyrinth Lord adventures because I was familiar with the nuances of the system and we were playing regularly. It was a logical step. I never really considered the market aspects.

      My group has become interested in 5e. We are going to be playing it. I strongly suspect this will lead me to publish adventures for it. I'll probably start with a conversion of one of my existing adventures (most likely the Shrine of St. Aleena). It will be interesting to see what the difference in sales will be.

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    2. I think Pete has it for much of the self-creating crowd: play what you like, write what you play, once you've got the wherewithal to turn that into product, you can do it in one system or many. If you do it well, it's a nice sideline. If you get lucky or are Just That Good and lightning strikes, you get to write what you play what you like as a job.

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  38. As a fan of the OSR, I love to see see OSR inspired products. Stars without Number, Whitestar, Jeff Talanian's Hyperboria, and of course Raggi's LofFP. These are all games I own and love. I am, however, going to side with Frank. Even though the games I mentioned have a market, it is a VERY small piece of the pie. The die-hard OSRers do focus on a certain rule set and a specific time in game history. Nothing wrong with that, however there is no uniqueness to most products. How many times can you repackage Holmes, BX, Red Box as a different game? How many OSR products will I toss money at, before I realize I just bought another clone of OD&D or BX. James Raggi has an OSR product, but his supplements are a totally different vibe, and while people cringe at the work of Zac S, it adds something new. James Sphan has an OSR game that goes off into a different direction with the common rules, and Kevin Crawford combined two OSR engines to create something pretty awe inspiring. In order for a market to thrive, there needs to be diversity, there needs to be a break in the mold. The OSR is a wonderful thing, I just feel it has become bloated with people who jump on board with a "I'm doing this because it's cool" attitude and not looking at it as a design and philosophical media.

    I hope that came out right, I don't mean to be negative or mean.

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  39. This may be a controversial comment, but I'm looking forward to a new BECMI-compatible release from Frank Mentzer. :)

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  40. I dump a lot of money on OSR products. I think the challenge here is as others point out, is that this is a niche to the power of about 10. However, quality stands out, i have paid big money for small books because I want to reward the creators vision and balls to give it a whirl, not to mention the sheer old school goodness is just amazing, really creative imaginative, practical products. Controversy and bagging people in this small space is so counter-productive it pains me....

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  41. Having never given Paizo or WotC any of my money for tabletop RPG stuff, I know better than to expect a medal. It warms my heart to see so many independent creators making so many wonderful alternatives to Pathfinder or 5E. We sure never had THIS many options when I was that kid who first became aware of 1E AD&D in 1978.

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  42. Speaking purely for myself, the OSR has been a very good market segment to me. In the past two years, I've had gross sales of about a half million dollars worth of Sine Nomine books. That's not mansion money on the post-tax net, but it is an extremely comfortable location-independent living for a single creator.

    And that, I think, is the key. The OSR as a market segment can absolutely provide a comfortable living to more creators than it does now, but those creators have to be able to take a project from inception to print with minimal outside involvement. My per-book profits are huge compared to the royalties I'd get from a publisher. They have to be, because in the last year I've sold 12,000 copies of one title or another, and if I were with a conventional fiction publisher they'd burn my rolodex card if I moved less than 20,000 on one title in a year. I can make a very comfortable living on 12,000 copies sold, but that living gets a whole lot less comfortable if I have to pay authors and layout designers on every product I issue.

    And by the same token, those creators have to _produce_. One swallow does not make a summer and one hit product does not make a living. They have to be able to hit their project deadlines and constantly create new, compelling products that draw new buyers and keep existing fans coming back for more. They can move tremendous amounts of back catalog this way, but only if they _have_ a back catalog. You know what a hit OSR product means? It means the customers are willing to see what else you've got.

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