Thursday, 24 July 2014

I went into the shop to have a look at 5e...

... I turned the box over in my hands, read the blurb, looked at the art and... decided that there was no reason for me to buy *this* version of D&D. I am with Newt on this one; I have more than enough versions of D&D in my cupboards, on my bookshelves and on my harddrives to not really need another version, official or not. Indeed, if I was to buy another D&D, it'd likely be another OSR game, or a hardcopy of one of the games I only own as a .pdf. I am not saying that 5e is no good. Hell, I'm not even saying that it isn't a version that I would like. I've skimmed through the .pdf of the Basic Rules and there isn't anything that screams, "play me, and put away your TSR D&Ds, your clones, and your OSR games". In my first draft of this post that was a huge list of classic and OSR rulesets, but I figured that I'd only leave out some deserving clone or OSR game, such is the genuine renaissance of gaming based on the simplicities of HD, AC, Class and Level. Indeed, there is so wit, wisdom, vim, and vigour among the hobbyists producing D&Dish material that 'official D&D' is largely redundant to someone like me who doesn't, for example, engage in 'organised play'.

Honestly, if Kevin Crawford would just tone down the creativity a bit (next up; a sandbox 'Cthulhu' OSR horror game?!) and embrace vanilla fantasy we'd be sorted. If he'd rebuild the classic D&D classes (in pseudo-Medieval costume) using the SWN/SotD engine, importing all his campaign construction and management options - domains, mass combat, factions, trade, etc. - spread out across Red Tide/An Echo, Resounding and various SWN products, combing them all into one big 'rules cyclopedia', well then I would have my 'permanent D&D'.

So I ended up spending about half the money I'd earmarked for a boxed set of D&D on Dead Names: Lost Races and Forgotten Ruins and Scarlet Heroes instead. Kevin Crawford, a one-man-band of OSR awesomeness, epitomises the best of the OSR (whether he calls himself part of the OSR or not). There isn't a bad product in the entire Sine Nomine line, but they're not just setting books, or collections new classes, spells, monsters, and useful tables. Almost every product is the distillation of a particular gaming philosophy, one that emphasizes player choice and agency in the context of a long-running campaign in a living world (or worlds, for Stars Without Number). If you are at all interested in sandbox play, read something written by Kevin Crawford. Stars Without Number has a free edition. So yes, they're packed with tables for campaign construction and adventure design, yes, the setting ideas are interesting, and put new spins on D&Dish games (Spears of the Dawn has some great African-inspired magic using classes), and yes, they are all cleanly written with non-nonsense procedures that achieve in game what other games seem to require GMs maintain spreadsheets. But they are also motivated by an idea; an idea of what a roleplaying game should be, and why playing a roleplaying game has unique qualities that set it apart from other forms of gaming.

So, even if I do end up buying 5e - and you know that I will submit in the end - you can be sure that I'll still have a whole bunch of Kevin Crawford's books loaded on my tablet as a reminder of what this game is all about. 

And of how productive one man can be! I would struggle to believe that Kevin Crawford wasn't some kind of collective identity for a whole bunch of writers, if there wasn't a singular vision running through all his books.

[God, that's a bit gushing isn't it? Still, click 'Publish'...]


  1. Re: my wish for a vanilla fantasy game...

    "[20:14] <+KevinCrawford> To take those in order, I've been working on an SWN-powered fantasy game for a year or so now. As Dan implies, I'm not bringing it out until it actually does something _new_, or at least something that other OSR games don't already cover in spades. Right now, the target is a kind of hyper-refined sandbox fantasy game designed to leverage GM effort."


  2. A most generous and kindly post, but it's things like this that keep me up late slaving over the pasteboard. I do want to do justice to a proper high fantasy game, but I want to make sure that I'm able to carry it off the way I want it to be. And that means working out a lot of details beforehand, usually in the form of a game. For Silent Legions, for example, the question is "How do you let a GM make investigative/horror adventures that fit in a sandbox and can be made as quickly as a side-dungeon?"

    I think the key is in structuring the prep so as to get the maximum use out of the minimum of work. The GM starts with a regional map. He plants various points of interests- towns, societies, desolate places, and so forth- and for each of these POIs he supplies a specific Antagonist, Friend, Thing, Crime, or whatever list of elements I settle on. Then he creates one or more adventure templates using the tools in the book, leaving the various elements blank. When the PCs take an interest in a POI, he then takes 5 minutes to fill in the template with the features of the POI, smooths over the cracks, and runs it. I think it'll work, though it'll take some tools and techniques to help paper over cracks in the joining.