Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Purely a Throwback

This blog post is just a minor rant about the latest edition/printing of Swords & Wizardry kickstarter.  There's an undercurrent of what I'd call "anti-OSR agenda" which I think the Progressive Gaming Coalition should be made aware of.

We’re starting to run low on our stock of the 2nd printing, and it’s time to print some more. We didn’t just want to do an exact reprint, and the history of the changes here date back a while ago to when we were talking with designer Stacy Dellorfano about the fact that many OSR games have a physical appearance and presentation that really targets the 40 year old guys who’ve been gaming since forever, and doesn’t have nearly as much appeal to younger or female gamers of the generations following that first wave of players from the 1980s. In point of fact, old-school games, with their light-rules aspect and emphasis on a game master’s “common sense” interpretation of situations, are actually a really good tool for anyone who feels like rules-lawyers may be spoiling the game by trying to be over-authoritative or even overbearing with a GM. But if the appearance and presentation make the game look like it’s purely a throwback and not a modern tool for good gaming, then there’s a real obstacle to the game’s push into the mainstream gaming community.

Yeah, why target your actual demographic when you can try to appeal to a wide array of people who have very little interest in your product?

I'll let readers decide for themselves if a pure throwback cover depicts what's really involved with game play or if it's just expected window-dressing.  Truth in advertising is not my main point here.  No, my main point is where Swords & Wizardry equates old school gaming and the sword and sorcery genre itself as a kind of primordial relic for less evolved cavemen engaging in bad/wrong fun.
Furthermore, that we throwbacks might be an obstacle to "the mainstream gaming community."  A community that seems ready to leave us behind.

As a result of this analysis, we engaged Stacy as a designer to produce an edition that’s no less appealing to older male gamers, while being MORE appealing to younger and to female gamers. Stacy put together a team, all women, to address this dual objective. We think her team has done an awesome job, and when you see the design results, we think you’ll agree.

There's been more than a little outcry regarding the cover artwork alone.  It evidently is less appealing to older male gamers.  However, I've no idea if it's more appealing to younger or female gamers.

Again, why cater to your fanbase when you could go for an entirely different kind of fan - gamers who may only be mildly interested in old school fantasy roleplaying?  Why give your audience what it wants when you could alienate them instead?

I just can't understand why Frog God Games is bending their knee to a small but vocal sub-set of gamers who would love nothing more than taking excessive gore, demons and devils, sexuality and eroticism (especially of female flesh), "toxic masculinity," and adult situations out of the game - out of the RPG hobby, if they could!  And why not throw out "white male privilege" while we're at it?

Unfortunately, we think there may be some controversy about the fact that the design team here is made up entirely of women. We’ve already heard a couple of comments that generally turn on the idea of “Why restrict the project to women designers? Shouldn’t the objective be to pull the best talent whether male or female? What a gimmick.” We’d like to address that out front, rather than have it turn into a back-channel controversy in the halls of the internet. The missing piece of information is this: there are so many different directions that a project can take that there’s no such thing as “the best talent.” Given our goal of making the game more accessible, we hired – through Stacy – talent that coordinates with the goal. We asked Stacy to put together an all-woman team not as a societal goal, but because she had the chops to assemble the kind of team we wanted. This isn’t a “pink” edition of the rules. It’s the more-accessible next printing that we are targeting toward the mainstream market. It has always been our goal to get the open-ended rules of 1974-78 gaming into the mainstream, and this is our objective here. We think that Stacy’s team has hit this goal out of the ballpark, and we think you’ll agree.

I have no problem with a design team made up entirely of women, just as I don't have a problem with an all-female cast in a movie or clubs that only have women members.  But I do take issue with notions that this edition will be "more accessible" or "mainstream."  For an RPG book on adventuring in the lands of Georgia O'Keeffe?  Yeah, sure... maybe.  But an RPG like Swords & Wizardry?  Come on!

That cover and this attempt at making the decision less controversial have nothing to do with rules circa 1974 - 78.  Nothing to do with old school fantasy.  Nothing to do with the mainstream RPG community or market.

So what is it?  In my view, it's a sad attempt at divorcing S&W from the OSR niche and the gaming culture we all know and love.  If Frog God Games wanted S&W to be more "inclusive," they could have done an homage to Taarna from Heavy Metal or Red Sonja.  Of course, in the eyes of the outrage brigade, those icons of sword and sorcery females would have been too exploitative.

So, even though I'm a fan of the prior printings/editions of Swords & Wizardry, I've got to say shame on Frog God Games for coming out with this and not listening to their fans who're appalled by the results.  And I have to say that I'm also quite disappointed with +Erik Tenkar for not condemning this aesthetic repudiation of the OSR.

Thank the Gods there are old school sword and sorcery creators within and without the O5R who have not forgotten why we fight, why we bleed, and why we die!

Venger As'Nas Satanis
High Priest of Kort'thalis Publishing

p.s.  If you're looking for no holds barred roleplaying, check out the right-hand sidebar.

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