So Swords & Wizardry, one of way too many "retroclone" games that are literally exact copies of the rules of some old edition of D&D, have decided to make a new printing. And for this printing, they hired Stacy Dellorfano (the inventor of the woman-run Contessa gaming Cons) and a team of also all women to do the cover and the art.
And naturally, certain people are in hysterics about it.
Me, I'm laughing. How can I not be?
First, it's a retroclone, long long after the age of retroclones. Who really cares? For those of you not well-versed in the OSR, S&W and the other "retroclones" were was was being pushed in the very early period of the OSR. In some ways, they were well-meaning ways of getting the old-edition rules LEGALLY (on pdf without filesharing, and in print) in a period where they were very hard to obtain. In other ways, they were part of this whole weird OSR-Taliban thing, of a group of people who were the most influential in the early OSR declaring that "old school" was a certain way, and no other, and that only certain products were truly 'old-school', and only a certain style of play. They were on this insane Purity-quest. People like me were shut out for 'not being old-school' even though I had actually been a D&D gamer in the old-school period, and some of the High Mullahs of the OSR at the time had not (or worse, in one particularly bad case, had spent much of their gaming career playing and writing for White Wolf and hating on D&D).
Second, I think that the new cover and art style is at least a hell of a lot more creative than the pseudo-nostalgia that S&W banked on for its history thus far.
Here it is:
That is compared to earlier covers, whose main appeal was "It Looks OOOOOLD!!":
BUT, the (fake, constructed) Nostalgia-worship of the OSR has been on the way out for a long long time. Arrows of Indra and Dark Albion have been part of the wave of OSR products that moved away from that "clonemania" and toward sometimes radical old-school innovation. Stylistically, too.
The main cause of controversy in the case of S&W is that now this is going to be happening (artistically, at least) with one of the flagships of the (incredibly boring) "Clonemania" period of the OSR.
I know certain other OSR-luminaries are having hissy fits about this. Though obviously not me, since I was one of the people who had been singled out by that old Establishment as "not a true old-schooler". So as far as I'm concerned, this couldn't have happened to a nicer bunch.
And Kudos to Stacy, Gennifer, and the rest of their team. At least those whose names I recognize on Stacy's team are real actual gamers, not professional activists masquerading as such, and have already contributed a lot to the hobby. So no problem there. It is a bit of a pity, though, that they're kind of being used. S&W is not really important anymore, so the only way it could generate this much buzz is by something like this.
Let me be clear: the women involved are not "fake gamers", they are totally qualified, the art looks great to me.
Seriously, who could really have an objection to this art, looking at it honestly? How is this not great RPG art??
Nothing about Stacy or her team's WORK is the "gimmick", it's only the way they are being used that's the gimmick. S&W knows that its day is basically done. It serves no more purpose as a product. Yes, way back when, it was hard to get the original editions. Today it is not. They are available again.
So to get one last burst of cash out of a now-senseless product, another pseudo-nostalgia cover wasn't going to cut it. Frog God decided to go this radical other way. And hey, maybe that's getting some good out of what's otherwise a lemon, so fine.
But here's where things get tricky. This decision means there's going to be TWO types of gamers having a hissy fit about this book. And naturally the Regressive Left is going to do everything they can to confuse those two.
The first is going to be the relatively very tiny group of gamers that have real fundamental issues about 'girls'. The extreme misogynists, the people who say they literally do not want women playing RPGs. But the truth is, there's like maybe four of these guys. The vast majority of old-school gamers don't want RPGs to stop being RPGs or old-school to stop being old-school to accommodate demands from feminists or anyone else, but absolutely love having women who want to actually play OSR games with OSR mechanics and OSR style of play (and a lot of us have a lot of women in our games and have brought women to the OSR, for that matter).
Only a very tiny amount actually want to put out a "no girls allowed sign". Even so, anti-OSR (or anti-D&D, or anti-regular-RPG) people will try to pretend that's ALL of us.
The second group, which will only help in confusing the issue (because the Regressive Left will also claim they are doing it out of 'sexism') are what I call the "OSR Taliban". That's the old-guard of the OSR who wanted the OSR to be about something it no longer is. These were the people S&W was originally made for: people who wanted the OSR to be a slavish copy of old TSR stuff, as part of a ridiculous quest for "purity" of some kind of imagined "ur-D&D" and "true style of play" of how it was "meant" to be done in the old days. These are people who have attacked innovation in the OSR.
Their vision for the OSR was an endless string of clone rulebooks that didn't vary at all from the TSR material they were copying, of adventures that fit very strictly into acting (and, important to the current issue, looking) exactly like the old TSR modules (too much creativity, or anything that went against their idea of the proper style of play, would be rejected), and endless endless Talmudic discussion about "What Gary really meant" in some obscure comment or statement in a rulebook, remembered conversation or crumpled-grocery-list.
Remember up a few paragraphs ago, when I asked "who could have an objection to this art"?
There's your answer: four actual real no-girls-club sexists, and a bunch of OSR-Taliban for whom a change in ART signifies a major blow in their ongoing fall from power and influence over the OSR as a movement. It's one more way that the OSR becomes more about creating innovative new expressions of the old-school framework (while staying within the old-school rules), rather than about seeking the mythical purity for fake-nostalgia's sake.
Frog God, in wanting to take a no-longer-relevant game (the OSR has moved on to better things) and give it one last lease on profitability, has stuck a stake right into the hearts of these grognard mummies. It's one of "their" clones! And it's not showing the appropriate level of veneration for TSR-style artwork! It doesn't matter that you didn't change the rules at all, just changing the art is to them a sin against the Cult of Gygax. That's why all the usual suspects have already been complaining about it.
Never mind that from what we've seen of the art, it is quite cool (as I said), but it is in NO way controversial to the modern OSR. In fact, and again it's very nice, but sorry Stacy and Gennifer and company, it's not even innovative. Not by the standards of what the vanguard of the OSR has been producing the last few years.
In fact, it looks like a lot of other OSR products already out there! Zak Smith's stuff and a lot of what is found in LotFP products is already equally or more artistically innovative (in fact, the cover and internal art of the new S&W looks like it could totally be an LotFP publication!).
In terms of creativity in presentation and layout, Dominique Crouzet's work on Dark Albion is more spectacular.
(vs. Dark Albion):
(or even vs. Arrows of Indra, published several years earlier):
So it's not that there's actually anything to get offended or even surprised about this art. It's just that you're taking away the OSR-Taliban's "Purity" in what was one of their own products.
So again, I find myself having to laugh. This time, at the pretense that the work on S&W is somehow "groundbreaking" for any reason other than having an all-woman group of artists. It's not ahead of the artistic vanguard of the modern, third-wave, OSR. In fact, it's not even matched to the vanguard (that would be stuff like Yoon-Suin or Blue Medusa).
So it does seem kind of funny: Stacy was challenged to make a product that would supposedly make the OSR more appealing to women in ways it wasn't until now, and what they came up with was a product that:
Looks like Lamentations of the Flame Princess
is Laid Out and Styled like Dark Albion or Arrows of Indra (among others).
Has rules that are WAY less innovative than either.
So the new S&W is silly as a project. But that's no reason to despise it. Now as to the people who do, there is a teensy bit of overlap between the two groups I mentioned. Some members of the OSR-Taliban may also be radical misogynists. But MOST of them aren't actually primarily upset about it being women who are doing the change, they're just upset about the change itself. They have already been spending the last while before the S&W thing was ever announced complaining about the "commercialization" of what they derogatorially called the "product-driven" OSR (because now that they've run out of books to Clone, suddenly products are a 'bad thing' to them, as they know that commercialization will move the OSR more and more into the vanguard of the gaming scene and further away from their dreams of Gygaxian Purity).
For some of them (the OSR as a whole being of a more politically conservative bent than the rest of the hobby) the idea that this is 'feminism' may add insult to their injury, but in the end, the problem has nothing to do with "no girls allowed" and everything to do bitterness over their visions of Ur-D&D and their control over the OSR having slipped away from them.
Either way, I'm laughing all the way to the vanguard of the hobby. You're all still living in Pundit's world.
Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + H&H's Chestnut