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Tuesday, 15 February 2005
Rules and folklore - C&C vs 3E isn't just about rules
One term that's cropped up recently in respect to C&C is "nostalgia."

I find this interesting. At the age of 38 or something like that (doing the math isn't worth it), I found myself, in preparation for my latest campaign, determined to replicate some of the feel of AD&D. I bought Necromancer products. I unconsciously created a world with more of a sword and sorcery feel. This was before I ran into C&C. I even started listening to some of the music that we used to listen to when I was younger, playing it in the background while I was writing campaign materials.

Is this all about nostalgia? At my age, am I looking back to easier times and trying to grasp some vestige of a lost past? There's an element of that, but I think the ultimate answer is "no." The entire "look-back" to older-era gaming wasn't about nostalgia, it was about quality gaming.

I'm not going to hash over a system war between 3E and C&C. That's already been done to death. In the context of nostalgia, though, it's the factor.

It's no coincidence that Necromancer Games uses "Third Edition Rules, First Edition Feel" as their trademark. There's a market for game products that play like older editions. Why? I think it's because there's a real and abiding difference between 3E and prior editions. Two differences, really - one is the scope of the rules, and the other is the flavor imparted by the rules.

3E is designed by a company that focuses on player-vs-player games. The Magic card game is their flagship product - a smash hit which cannot fail to drive the company's gaming philosophy.

WotC creates games that focus on the wish-fulfillment of "I wish I had super powers." No criticism is implied - other, older, RPGs have focused on the same aspect of wish fulfillment and have been great games. There's nothing wrong with it. But D&D originally focused on a different sort of heroism - a hero who isn't particularly unusual in terms of anything but his experience. I think this is the source of the grognard's disdain for weird races and unusual character classes. The grognard senses that the underlying folkloric dynamic - the structure of the story - has changed from the AD&D model of the experienced but relatively average shlep to a model in which the character gains inherent powers far beyond and far different from the norm.

A similar change happened in 2E, when the folkloric dynamic shifted from the average shlep to the child of destiny - characters weren't made, in 2E, to die in the mud.

To a certain degree, I think the system wars are about the genre of storytelling that underlies the rules, not just about the rules themselves. Necromancer Games "duplicates" the first edition feel by describing environments where the flavor is grittier, more filled with "needless" and random risk, and by emphasizing supernatural and incomprehensible risks over simple contests of power. The environments also describe the characters in a context that assumes they're average schleps, even if they're all half dragon shadowdancers. The modules, in other words, reshape the underlying dynamic of the story they tell, back into the same dynamic that was assumed in 1E.

This is why I don't think C&C is a nostalgia product. By using a particular ruleset, C&C suggests that adventures will follow a story pattern that's fundamentally different from the one suggested by the 3E rules. Yes, this mode of storytelling is one that was used by the older game. But this doesn't mean it's a nostalgia product. It means that it supports and reflects a different genre of literature than 3E. Although the distinction is smaller, it's like the distinction between science fiction and fantasy, the difference between pulp fiction and Tolkien, the difference between Superman and Anna Karenina. Some people prefer different folkloric dynamics: heroic tales that unfold along different lines.

Yes, C&C harks back to an earlier ruleset -- but this is not just about getting a simpler ruleset. It's about reflecting a different type of story altogether. The C&C rules are rules for a different mode of storytelling than the rules of 3E. Preferring one type of story over another isn't a matter of nostalgia, it's just a storytelling preference.

That's why I say C&C is a parallel evolution of D&D - it's a direction that could have been taken if the game designers had been fans of a different literary and folkloric form.

'nuff said: sorry for the long post.

Posted by mythmere at 9:50 AM CST
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Friday, 11 February 2005
The Cast of Characters
Well, the kids are off to school, and the dogs are draped across the floor; I've got a cup of coffee on the desk next to me, and some free time available. I read through the blogs I 've written, and I think I've now touched on most of the major themes: editing in the PHB, promoting the C&C game as a service to the RPG community, how permissive TLG should be in letting others make C&C products, etc.

Everyone likes to be an armchair general, and I've used many of the early entries in this blog as open letters to the Trolls - "I think you should do this, I think you should do that..." As it happens, I've been paid more than $200 an hour to give that sort of advice (before my anxiety disorder retired me), so I'm confident that I'm a pretty good armchair general. Nevertheless, it's always easier to run things from the armchair than from the desk, when the phones are ringing, the fax machine is printing binary code instead of letters, and Steve just knocked over your coffee cup.

So I wanted to take a few moments to reflect, not upon the tasks ahead, but upon the achievements that have been made, the quality of the game, and our cast of characters.

Jonman99: Jonman99 might seem a strange choice for first mention. He's not one of the Trolls, he didn't help develop the game, and he hasn't run a game yet. But he's our first representative of a very important group of gamers - middle schoolers. Jonman99 is 13 years old. In his first post on TLG, he lied about his age, adding 2 years so that he wouldn't be made fun of. After a few more posts, he realized that the other posters on the board were treating him just like anyone else, and edited his original post. I don't know where Jonman99 is, or how he heard about the game (armchair general says: it would be a good idea for the Trolls to find out how a 13 year old heard about the game). It says good things about the C&C community that we're not snide or condescending to the younger players. Younger players are the future not only of the C&C game, but of gaming in general. Jon's presence on the boards is a good sign for C&C! Welcome to the club, Jonman99!

Gideon Thorne (aka Pete): Pete has been all over the place promoting the game, more than any other single individual, I think.

Akrasia: Akrasia is second only to Pete in terms of being one of the game's web promoters. Between writing the review on (clearly the work of a genius, as Akrasia isn't slow to point out), and consistent appearances on several boards to champion the game, Akrasia is one of the big players in the "buzz" game. We've got a good source of house rules in Akrasia, too: I've already posted the staff-based magic house rule, and from what I've heard, Akrasia has lots more interesting arrows in the quiver.

Breakdaddy: from the immediate environs of the Trolls themselves, Breakdaddy's playing a ground game - he's building the game one player at a time, face-to-face. He also shows up a lot on the ENworld boards.

Treebore: I don't know much about Treebore, but he or she is another of the game's strong promoters; answering internet questions both on ENworld and on the NG boards.

Julian Grimm: under a couple of names, Julian alternately runs the Ravens Keep board and posts on TLG. Special thanks are due to those who are building "castles" in the net as staging grounds for the crusade. Julian (aka Psychotic Sea Otter) has plans for an ezine, and posts frequently on TLG. While Ravens Keep is still pretty small, it's a good message board - since Julian's more rules & content focused, the board likely won't take off in a big way until M&T comes out. It's hard to write content without standardized formats, and those won't be available until M&T. I suspect there's going to be a creative explosion out of Ravens Keep once Julian's got the tools he needs. I'm hoping that my own site will be what Julian's is aiming for: a center for resources.

iamtim: Tim is quietly building a great wiki entry for C&C. He's not an aggressive promoter, but so far his board has more resources on it than anyone else's - including some essays which are very good. If website building were competitive instead of cooperative, I'd be nervous about the wiki - I think it's got the capacity to be the major archive for web-based C&C resources.

Dragonsfoot forum: is Fiffergrund the moderator? The C&C society board on Dragonsfoot is the most active non-TLG message board for C&C, and I suspect its momentum is going to keep it that way. It's the gathering point for a particular sort of fan - grognards. Grognards will always be the largest group of C&C gamers, I imagine. I hope that C&C will catch on with younger gamers - if it does, Dragonsfoot will probably become even more of a citadel of grumpiness than it is now. For the time being, Dragonsfoot represents C&C's mainstream players: mid to late 30's male gamers who began playing between '79 and '84. Well done, DF moderators! DF is the largest crusader castle in the net.

The problem with listing names is that I'm sure to forget people. I haven't written about Serleran, Jackal, EpochRPG, or any of the other major players in the creation of the game - partly because I came late to the party and missed all the development phase. To all those I haven't mentioned - a hearty thanks! [edit: there are a LOT more people I could have mentioned in this blog - it would be pages long if I kept going...]

Finally, the Trolls. Steve likes strange songs, and he's the one with the bad luck to have ended up on my email address book. As a result, he's the designated Mythmere-handler. Poor guy.

Obviously, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the Trolls. I find it very interesting that they possess the PATIENCE to have wrangled a bunch of old-school gamers into an agreement about a rule set. It tells me one thing: they don't just love games, they love gamers, too. That's what I want in the guys who publish the game I play. Keep up the good work!

Posted by mythmere at 11:12 AM CST
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Thursday, 10 February 2005
In favor of broad licensing of C&C
Thanks for the comments, everyone! Sometimes you wonder if you're just talking into cyberspace... I'm glad to hear that people are interested in reading a C&C blog like this one.

There's good news out there - the Trolls have signed some sort of agreement with Goodman Games, allowing Goodman to publish C&C material. It's probably a dual-statted product, or a pdf conversion of an older Goodman product. We won't know for sure until the official announcement.

This brings us to an interesting question. Troll Lords have stated that they aren't interested in working with many other publishers - GG is one of the ones they like. How permissive should TLG be in allowing other people to publish C&C material?

Basically, the entire C&C game mechanism is Open Game Content; you couldn't reprint the actual book (because lots of flavor text is not OGC), but you can write and publish anything you want using the rules. TLG's control over the material lies in the fact that you can't SAY that it's for Castles & Crusades without their permission. Any mention of compatibility with C&C in a third party product is illegal without permission. The result? TLG has complete control over any commercial publication using C&C rules - if you can't say it's for C&C, you can't connect with potential buyers.

This is why Goodman Games needs to sign an agreement with TLG. TLG could demand whatever it wants from another publisher - a share of profits, a flat fee, or nothing at all.

In my mind, it is to TLG's benefit to require nothing at all - at least for the forseeable future (and making sure not to grant blanket rights - don't say that a particular publisher has the right to say that products are for C&C, just that they can do it for particular, named products).

The Castles & Crusades game will grow more quickly the more products (especially free ones) are out in the market. The more the game grows, the more products TLG will sell, in the long term.

We'll never see the details of the Goodman/TLG agreement - terms will stay confidential. If it were me, I'd have given Goodman the right to use the C&C name on conversions of all GG's existing d20 modules (listed by name). In return, I'd have asked something like the following: (1) they must be converted and posted as pdf by a certain date. (2) Goodman must advertise these products in places like ENworld or Dragon Magazine (with content approval by TLG), spending a particuar amount of money on the ads. (3) Goodman must prepare a NEW dual-statted module for d20/C&C, or for C&C alone, with guidelines on how it's promoted.

This is a win/win for both companies: Goodman gets to sell converted modules at no licensing cost, except a dollar commitment to advertise its own product. TLG gets a free ride on the advertising, and can point new players to a raft of ready-made modules for C&C.

Of course, depending on TLG's cash flow situation, it might be more important to bring in some cash up front, since TLG needs to make sure that it's able to print enough copies of the core books to ride this wave - that takes money. Goodman might be willing to pay some cash up front (or a share of revenue) in order to avoid promising exact advertising dollars.

Whatever the exact terms of the agreement, it is positive for C&C that the capital costs required to hit this market with lots of support product is being divided up among more than one company. The more support product, the better the game will ultimately sell. Let's see more such deals!

(Time to get Necromancer Games on the phone...)

Posted by mythmere at 12:26 PM CST
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Monday, 7 February 2005
Out of curiosity - are people reading this blog?
Unlike the other pages of my website, I can't put a counter on this blog. If anyone's reading it, I'd really appreciate a comment or two, so I can tell if it's worthwhile.

My latest discovery is the Dragonsfoot forum for C&C. It's pretty active, unlike Ravens Keep, which has a fairly small membership. For those who can't get enough C&C discussion, Dragonsfoot is a good place to go to find kindred spirits.

My own game went extremely well Saturday night. With the basic rules under my players' belts (and my own) after two sessions, this one started to really hit the mark. I'll post the recap on TLG, probably tomorrow.

Posted by mythmere at 2:52 PM CST
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Thursday, 3 February 2005
Some History from Gary Gygax
Now Playing: Castles & Crusades
The following is the text of a message-board conversation I had with Gary Gygax on ENworld. What's particularly interesting here (other than the pure fun of early D&D history) is the comparison to the Troll Lords' situation right now.

Originally Posted by Mythmere1
"Actually, I do have a question. In the early days just after publishing the first hardback (I don't know if it was the MM or the PH - they were both out when I started playing, but not the DMG), how chaotic was it? "

"The first hardbound AD&D book was the MM published in 1977.

Things at the office were hectic but not chaotic. We were all crowded into an old house, a game shop taking up much of the ground floor, shipping in the former kitchen, inventory on the front porch and in the basement, and the offices upstairs on the first floor."

"There must have been a severe shortage of cash to get out the hardbacks and the little 1-3 level monsters and treasure books, while also funding Dragon. How did you manage that? Was new money coming in, or were you publishing new books with the proceeds of the published ones. At what point did you realize that the country was going to buy everything that you could afford to print, and how did you react to the realization that D&D was going to be a craze of nationwide magnitude? Fear? Excitement? Repeated glances at checkbook? Frenzied bouts of authorial effort? Did it affect quality control on any of the books or products in your opinion?"

"At that time I was the actual CEO of TSR, and money was tight because we had to reprint D&D works and produce new material at the same time, even as we paid employees. Sales were good, so cash flow was key. We borrowed some short-term cash to produce smaller products, and raised funds by offering lifetime subs to the DARGON and also to new game products. While the zine was then a cash drain, the goodwill and advertising/promition were more than a counter-balance.

It was in 1976 that we recognized that the game was going to be a growing one, and planned accordingly. I kept long term debt to about the amount of revenue the company generated in a month, and so the operation was very profitable. Not many customers were slow in paying, as they wanted to keep getting restocks and new product, so cash flow was good.

The main thing that affected quality control was lack of personnel and the need to get product into the pipeline or face outraged consumers. In all, I believe we did a very fine job all things considered."


Posted by mythmere at 9:10 AM CST
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Wednesday, 2 February 2005
My Crusade - the statement of mission - Let's Roll
It may be quixotic of me, but I'm absolutely determined that this game's going to succeed and flourish. I want my kids to enjoy the kind of game I enjoyed when I was eleven. I have a year before my oldest son turns that age - he's autistic and there's no way he can absorb the 3E ruleset. I'm going to see to it that C&C is firmly established when he's ready for it - with net support, well-edited rules, a large following (preferably with market penetration into his age group), and lots of product. That's my mission statement.

I plan to produce a few little pdfs myself in the service of this goal - which is the reason I haven't signed the NDA. I don't want to be constrained in what I publish while the CKG is still in production.

I urge any and all other fans of C&C to join the crusade not only as a fun game, but as a contribution to the FRPG hobby as a whole. It's worth it to spend a little time promoting the game we enjoyed as children (well, it's a bit more streamlined, but it's essentially the same). The only place where the heart of that original game still beats nowadays is in Castles & Crusades. The motto of the Trolls is "Alea Jacta Est." The motto of my own crusade is a bit more aggressive. I say, "Let's roll."

Posted by mythmere at 11:05 AM CST
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Proofing the PHB
Now Playing: C&C, of course...
I've spent the last 2.5 hours reading through the PHB and writing up some errata for the Trolls to use in the second printing. It runs to two and a half pages - this is the reason why the more grammatically oriented gamers are having problems with the First Printing. Now, it appears that the PHB is going to go to a second printing. The Trolls won't do it until the 1st printing sells out, but that looks pretty darn likely.

As far as I can tell, though, the Trolls' schedule doesn't contain any room for the kind of close read and edit which is ABSOLUTELY REQUIRED for the second printing. This game is already suffering somewhat from a perception of low production values - which is a real shame given the quality of the stitching, cover, price point, art, and of the game itself. The Trolls have put forth considerable expense and effort into production quality, and it's a real shame to have the grammar, style and organization of the text creating a negative impression about the best FRPG that's been published since the original D&D.

Therefore, I'm going to try to ease the Trolls' burden a bit by proofing and editing the PHB for the second printing. I'll continue if the Trolls are finding it helpful.

Posted by mythmere at 10:56 AM CST
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Tuesday, 1 February 2005

Now Playing: Castles & Crusades!
I spent the morning getting kids to the dentist, buying groceries, and sending some DDM minis to complete a trade on maxminis, so I haven't had much of a chance to get my C&C fix today. I did talk briefly with Steve Chenault, and I was pleased to hear that they've already had the chance to use this website with some retailers as a sales point.

I need to do some work on my own campaign, too. The players are in the middle of a tournament and fair, and they're planning to take a quick plane shift to a planar metropolis, drop off a captured Rakshasa in exchange for a ransom, then bop through a portal back into their material plane. The portal will put them down in a dungeon. So, depending on how fast they move, I've got the remainder of the fair, a planar metropolis, a dungeon, and then the city at the top of the dungeon all to develop by Saturday night. No, wait. I don't think we're gaming this weekend. Okay, that gives me another week.

I think I'll use the time between now and the end of the kids' school to write up the stats for my "Greater Ogre." I wanted something that would work well with the Fomorian giant DDM mini, so I whipped up a quick "really big, really stupid, really tough" giant.

Posted by mythmere at 2:25 PM CST
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Monday, 31 January 2005
Finally doing some work on the Website
Well, I've finally gotten down to business and started to convert the Wondrous Resource into a resource for Castles & Crusades rather than D&D.

The first entry is about the game, which is marvelous, and a slight rant about market focus. I mean, a blog's not a blog if it doesn't have some ranting, is it?

The game's the best fantasy RPG on the market. Fast paced and easy to teach. I love it, and I'm a fan. At the moment, I'm very interested in the question of how to grow the game, because I think it recaptures the heroic feel of the original Dungeons & Dragons that I played as a kid (that's AD&D, in my case, not OD&D).

Now, on to the slight rant, which isn't appropriate to the Troll Lords' board. What the heck is Troll Lords' market focus?? I mean, they've got TWO fantasy RPG's that they're promoting: Lejendary Adventures and C&C. Now, I understand that the Trolls have a personal and business relationship with Gary Gygax, whom I admire over any other figure in gaming. But C&C already seems to be gaining enough momentum since the release of the PH this month to SWAMP interest in LA. And you can't market and grow an RPG by offering it as one of two alternatives. "Hey, if you think C&C sucks, how about you try LA instead?" That's pretty weak. They should bite the bullet and drop support for LA, throwing all their resources behind C&C. After all: Alea Jacta Est, isn't it?

I know Mr. Gygax tends to go his own way, and his grumpiness in business dealings is almost a "Lejend" in itself. It might hurt the Trolls relationship with him to ditch support for his game. But if he could be persuaded to throw in his lot with C&C, and become one of the founding fathers of C&C instead of a competitor, wouldn't that be a tremendous boon to the game? I bought "Insidiae" because I somehow missed the fact that E.G.G. wasn't the author. I was really disappointed to discover that his name was just a marketing tool - I'd absolutely read anything he had to say about making adventures, and I'd love to see him produce some C&C material. Love it.

Somebody forward this to Mr. Gygax. I'd like to see him reassume the mantle of FRPGing's grumpy grandfather - and C&C is the place to do it, not LA.

Posted by mythmere at 1:06 PM CST
Updated: Monday, 31 January 2005 1:47 PM CST
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