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Monday, 28 February 2005
Little News Items Presented in an Offhand Manner
It's been a few days, and nothing has really sprung to mind for a new blog entry that I haven't already covered. We had a lot of big news all at once about the March roll-out of lots of product, and after that there hasn't been much.

Websites have been extremely active talking about C&C, which is good.

Serleran has started a blog to describe the strange eons in which C&C was conceived and developed by the Castle & Crusade Society. Serleran, for those who don't know, did the monster conversions for M&T and is one of the major contributors to the game.

The Trolls are busy packaging books and sending them out, not saying much. This doesn't surprise me, since you do revisions and read proofs after something goes to the printer - and they've got a LOT of stuff at the printer. Busy trolls, making good stuff like Santa's elves.

Special thanks to Kravell for his help in spreading the word about the game, and a hearty welcome to Treebore, who finally made his debut on the Troll Lords message boards.

I think there's kind of a hush as everyone waits for M&T to come out, although momentum is definitely building on the internet as more and more people hear about the game. Amazon has reordered, and we know from the net that several local gaming stores have contacted the Trolls directly for copies of the CCPHB.

Nobody knows where Assault on Blacktooth Ridge stands - it's at the printer and has been for a long time. The Trolls haven't had time to provide an update. We'll probably hear any time now, but I suspect we'll see it about the Ides of March.

All the news is good, even if none of it is exactly headline quality. Everyone is waiting for March...

Posted by mythmere at 8:25 PM CST
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Wednesday, 23 February 2005
Guessing at Troll Psychology
Now Playing: Castles & Crusades!
If anyone missed the first (and at this point only) entry on the prior blog entry, there is big mojo good news.

Castle Zagyg, unless it's a typo (not unheard of in Troll-screed), is slated for a late March release.

Whoa, Nellie. The bull is out of the gate. Castle Zagyg, as pretty much any reader of this modest blog knows, is probably the most anticipated product in the old-school D&D community. It is the original dungeon.

And it is written for Castles & Crusades.

I had been wondering why TLG said that their CZ previews would be released biweekly, when the production date was set for GenCon. That's a lot of free supplements. Now I understand.

I believe I've got an inkling of something else, too. We've seen a minor split of opinion between Steve and Davis in recent days, with Steve focusing on new product - a limited-rules pdf, maintaining production of the CCPHB, etc. Davis, on the other hand, seems to have supported a program that's less draining on cash flow - a pdf of the CCPHB while the company conserves its supply of the print product.

Davis is on the net more than Steve, and is seeing the community's ambivalent reaction to typos and other production-value matters in the PHB. We supporters of the game are hammering on the quality content and the price point, but it would be nicer if we could do that without having to prepare readers for typos.

Now I understand that the Trolls had a major product far closer to roll-out than anyone realized. Both Steve and Davis's opinions were stemming from their inside knowledge that CZ was going to ship well before GenCon.

The release of CZ means a high up-front cost - the print run is probably much larger than the run for the PHB, because it will be bought by lots of d20 or 1/2E grognards who might not buy C&C. Big money for another "I'm all in" product.

Davis is watching another "bet the company" release going out two months after the first one. "let's go with the PHB pdf and let our cash flow develop enough to fund the second print run safely," he thinks.

Steve, on the other hand, sees market momentum - TLG has hit the sweet spot on timing. Just as the first product's wave it at the high point, the second major product is coming out. How do you ride the wave? Make damn sure that there's a PHB next to Castle Zagyg on the shelf. For that, you need a print product, and supplies are running out. "We must," he thinks to himself, "make sure that we hit this wave the right way. When you've got the demand, you've got to have product available."

Davis notes that coming out with a second CCPHB printing, with associated costs, may mean that they can't even afford to go to McDonalds to argue about it - at least until the money starts coming back. A second printing means that the "bet the company" aspect of C&C increases proportionately.

What should they do?

Posted by mythmere at 9:18 AM CST
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Friday, 18 February 2005
Current roll-out status of C&C products
Now Playing: Castles & Crusades, of course!
From what I can tell, this is where things stand for C&C products...

Assault on Blacktooth Ridge: At printer now - late
Feb deliveries?

Monsters & Treasures: Mid March, 05

pdf version of PHB first printing: no date yet (but by the end of March, perhaps?)

pdf basic set: no date (not even sure if this isn't superceded by the fact that the PHB will be on pdf) - Late March to early April according to the message boards.

Goodman Games C&C module???

Castle Keeper's Guide: August '05

PHB second printing: August '05

Castle Zagyg (Yggsburg): August '05

Posted by mythmere at 1:35 PM CST
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Thursday, 17 February 2005
Free pdf Rules
Now Playing: Castles & Crusades
The news is out that the Trolls plan to release a limited ruleset as a pdf. We don't know much more about it than this - I don't think they've got much more than agreement between Steve and Davis to begin the project.

Clearly this project is intended to bring brand-new players into the game. If you have to pay for it, you're targeting someone who wants to try out the game, but isn't willing to drop $20 on a PHB and $24 on M&T. Fair enough. If you can get an intro game for $5 or $8 to try it out, you might do so.

However, if the goal is to bring brand-new players into the game, there's an even better way to do it, in my opinion. Produce a free pdf that you WANT people to steal, copy, distribute, print, leave around in their offices, and mail to friends.

If TLG were to produce a pdf that's got rules, say, only for fighters, and goes up only to third level, it's not going to hurt sales of the game no matter how widely it's distributed. Anyone who tries it and likes it will buy the game; it's just too limited to do anything else. Why is this different from a for-sale pdf?

Middle schoolers. There are kids everywhere on the net, and they have a lot of discretionary income. But they don't have credit cards. They can't download a pdf unless it's free. Now, this is an exponentially larger market than adults who are willing to pay $8 (this is for the sake of comparison - I have no idea what the price will be) for a limited-version game.

Don't get me wrong - with no monsters in the PHB, the $8 vs. $44 price point distinction is big. And with a lot of buzz on the net, it's going to haul in lots of people.

But I wouldn't rule out the idea of a free, totally bare-bones version of the game that's targeted at those who can't use credit cards on the net.

Intro to game 1 page
Intro page on fighter 1 page (with 1st-3rd lv class abilities) 1 page
Description of attributes, modifiers and skill checks 1 page
Description of combat 1 page
Description of saving throws 1 page
Equipment list 1 page
Quick adventure (including how to CK) 6 pages.
5 iconic monsters 1-2 pages
Chits for dice substitute 1 page.
OGL 1 page

This is a 15 to 20 page project; it provides no risk to future sales, and the most beautiful thing about it is that the more people who see it the better.

You mustn't be afraid that it will lose you sales if people see a limited product. Rely on the quality of the game. Gateway products work - see how many people started gaming with the Moldvay Basic set, which only had 3 levels.

And if you're looking for a gateway product, go all the way. Make it free.

Posted by mythmere at 10:35 AM CST
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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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