An Admiration, A Bemusement, A Confusion, and A Regret – All about writing games

I really wish I could have come up with a good synonym for Regret that started with a D. That would have given the title a lot more symmetry… But that wish for a D-word is not the regret I’ll end up writing about today. I’m writing about me and gaming. So, today’s a little personal, but I hope it’s still interesting for others.

First, I want to say a word of admiration. I’ve been immersed in Barbarians of Lemuria and Dogs of War for the last week or so. These two games are built around the same engine and are written by Simon Washbourne. These are excellent games. They are everything I want in a game. BoL and DoW are both very rules-lite, but despite that the system is robust, with a lot of detail packed into few words on few pages. The game is well-written, as well edited as most of the big publishers (which may not be a compliment, but it’s meant as one), and very imaginative.

Barbarians of Lemuria is meant to emulate the Swords and Sorcery genre – Conan and company – and it does so very well. It has the seeds though of being able to be used for so much more. The Dogs of War game takes the basics of BoL and turns them into the RPG of 80’s men’s action novels (and GI Joe – seriously.) Mr. Washbourne has created great games with compact but comprehensive rules, exciting options and interesting pre-established settings (if you’re so inclined.) All in just about 100 pages per game.

I intend to be running BoL very soon. Quite frankly, what Mr. Washbourne has done is create the game I always wanted… but we’ll get back to that in a little bit. I just wanted to say a few words of appreciation for a job very well done and tell anyone who hasn’t seen these games to check them out. You won’t regret it.

My Bemusement comes because of the craziness created by the OGL. Recently, I was looking into the OGL (and some other licenses) because I was interested in how it interacts with certain games… but I want to admit to something. I consider myself an intelligent human being. But to anyone producing OGL content – you are clearly much smarter and much more daring than I. The OGL terrifies me. Nothing is very clear about what is and isn’t allowed, some games include it (even though I don’t know why they do) and some games don’t (even though it seems they should), the various penalties and issues for breaking it are byzantine and bewildering. Overall, I just want to admit that as much as I enjoy creating… well, that’s just something I don’t feel comfortable messing with.

My Confusion stems from a similar source – mostly the OSR. First, I want to admit that my experience with the OSR is fairly limited (and since members of the Old School community can’t agree on what is part of it anyway, who knows?) But I went and took a look at Labyrinth Lord and I admit to a certain confusion: mostly about the nature of retro-clones. While I think it is admirable to have the old rules for original and 1st Edition D&D available to future generations of players – what I don’t understand is this: I own all the original books that LL builds off of, and as far as I can tell, almost no difference exists between LL and the material it’s taken from – so why are people creating products, putting their names on them and selling them? And how are they getting away with it? I don’t want to come off too harshly here – I think it’s great what some OSR people are doing – and Fight On! is a great example (just one of many) of people keeping a hobby alive. I probably need to look at work like Microlite and Swords and Wizardry, but it all seems very much to be someone else’s work, polished and repackaged and called something new. Hell, maybe I’m missing the point – that’s certainly possible – I don’t sleep much anymore. But like I said – confused.

(Aside: Before I get to the regret I just wanted to say, I have some friends who might point out (if they read this) that ‘bemused’ means ‘confused.’ The words are synonyms. I get that – I just think bemused carries a tone of, well, whimsy along with the confusion – and that’s why I wanted to use it. Let’s just press on…)

The Regret is where this gets personal. It’s a deep realization brought on by exploring some options over the course of this summer. I love gaming. Without a doubt, gaming has brought me more joy than any other hobby I can imagine undertaking. I love playing, I love GMing, I love going to conventions. More than anything though, I love working with games. I’m tinkering with games when I’m falling asleep at night and thinking about home brew content when I wake up. I obsessively create game worlds, I create NPCs every time I go out in public. I have boxes and crates and closets filled with notebooks filled with ideas. As I’ve mentioned before, back in 2004 I even self-published a little game of my own – sold enough to cover production costs – but I’ve never been happy enough with the results of that experiment to share them since then. It’s actually become more of a source of shame than an accomplishment. When I was younger, I got rejected by Dragon and Dungeon (back in the TSR years — and I’m not terribly surprised by those rejections, they were good for me back then) and I’ve never really tried to write for either since Wizards took over.

I’m a fairly happy guy. I’m working on a Master’s in Rhetoric and Composition. I’ve been a middle school teacher and a corporate manager (wage-slave!). I own a house and have a wonderful girlfriend and two cats… but we’re getting a little too personal now… Anyway, the point is, I’ve come to a place in my life where I realized that – I’m never going to be a game designer. I’m never going to be a game writer. I’m never going to fulfill that teenage dream of working for TSR (especially since they don’t exist anymore…) Ultimately, I’m just reaching the point where the desire to share gaming with a larger community than just the gamers I (occasionally) have around me is upsetting enough that it taints my enjoyment of the whole hobby.

I think that’s why I enjoy working with conventions. I like being involved in a gaming endeavor that reaches beyond just my little corner of the world. I certainly hope that Madicon is a big success this year and that people really come out and support it. But ultimately – I’m just coming to realize that what’s been bothering me is that I’m just not – I don’t know – equipped, capable, forceful (?) enough to create at a distributable level. And it’s a regret, and a frustration, that have been simmering for a long time now. I apologize for inflicting it on you (my readers) and honestly, getting it off my chest hasn’t really made me feel any better… but at least I’ve admitted it.

So thank heaven for people like Simon Washbourne. He keeps the dream alive and it’s great to see such excellent work. And despite my confusion, A+ to everyone publishing for the old-school – I may not understand what, or how, you guys (and gals) are doing it, but good for you for doing it. I wish I was with you.

Does anyone else out there feel this way? Anybody have any stories they’d like to share? Hell, I’m happy to open a “gaming confessional.” I guess the most important question is: what now?

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6 responses

  1. Don’t you find this blog is an answer to what you are feeling?

    Sooner or later, no matter the hobby, there comes a time when you reach your limit, in whatever form that limit might manifest. One of the normal reactions to that is to feel dissatisfaction and to let it be directed at the hobby or other hobbyists. Clearly, you are trying not to fall prey to growing dissatisfied with yours, and are seeking to find a creative outlet for the energy – giving something back, as it were. Not everyone tries that, so: good for you!

    It might help to start measuring success and level of involvement by the number of ideas you spark, and the amount of experience you share, rather than by the effect of publishing a game.

    It might also help to remind yourself that never is a long time.

  2. No, you’re right. This blog was my attempt to connect with a larger gaming community. One that — honestly — I didn’t realize was as interesting and thriving as it is.

    And as I mentioned, my work with conventions has been another big part of my gaming world…

    But I still fight that urge, to try and create something more permanent, something that I can put out into the world to be of value (or disdain) from my fellow gamers. I’m honestly just not sure even where or how to start… and that’s been bugging me more lately.

    Also, this summer has been an absolute wasteland when it comes to gaming. Since the end of the two 4E games I was involved with — nothing. Mostly due to a complete lack of a local RPG scene…

  3. Well, I’ve come to basically the same conclusion. Though I’m not motivated by a desire to make something permanent; I’d just like to not starve to death while doing something I usually enjoy. Hell, I even worked for FFG for a little. I think every GM who’s worth anything wants to get some gaming-related career, but it’s not possible most of the time. Supply far outpaces demand.

    I have to contest there being no local RPG scene though. I’ve run a 3.5 game the entire summer, while playing in another 3.5 game, and a little Call of Cthulhu on the side. Besides those games, there’s another 3.5 game running at Lost Shade, a Pathfinder game somewhere that Twiggy has been telling me about, and a 4th Ed game that a bunch of the 40k regulars are in.

  4. @Paul

    It’s interesting that you mention the local scene…

    I admit, I’m a little picky when it comes to putting together a group, but a lot of those groups are fairly established (including the group you play with)… I know one or two others, but I guess what I mean is — there aren’t a lot of ways to just pick up new players.

    All in all, you may have a group — but as far as I’ve been able to tell — especially if you judge by events like our local con or any form of organized play — we have a practically non-existent gaming scene.

  5. @morrisonmp

    Ya know, we’ve been hanging out with the same people for what, seven years? And in all that time, we’ve never played in a game that either of us ran. We were both in that one game Moog ran, but that was a fiasco and six years ago.

    My gaming group isn’t very ridged. I usually just grab people from the general pool of players, or people call me and ask for a spot. Granted, my buddy Matt is in basically all my games, but the other 3-5 people are hardly fixed. If you want to play in something, call me. Granted, the next thing I’m going to run will probably be a Traitor Marine game built out of Deathwatch, which is probably not very appealing to you, but there will be something else later I’m sure.

    I think we have a lot of similar ideas; we just have different styles of using them. Just look at this blog; I end up agreeing with you on more than 50% of the topics. I know my games involve more tragedy and murder than yours, but we oughta get together on something gaming-related, for the sake of “the local gaming scene.”

    Boy, do I sound like a supervillain.

  6. […] by morrisonmp in Ryllia. Tags: announcements, rpg trackback A little bit ago, I published a post about feeling very insecure about the weight of writing in this community. I also wrote earlier […]

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