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Thursday, 6 October 2016

The All-Woman Swords & Wizardry Printing, And Why I'm Laughing

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.

(compare! S&W):


(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.

Hmm. Funny.

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.


RPGPundit

Currently Smoking: Lorenzetti Solitario Egg + H&H's Chestnut



28 comments:

  1. I like the cover image, I just don't think it conveys what the book actually is. Apart from that, how much of the rules or content can really change? There seems to be some really cool art in there.

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    1. My issue with the Cover, not the interior art, is that they didn't wan this to be a "Pink"edition of S&W, but the cover is basically a pink flaming vagina. That is STILL more appealing to previous covers, though.

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    2. None of the rules changed.

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  2. Ease up there, hoss. This fight makes you look like you're tilting at windmills, creating enemies where none exist.

    Did you have any place where one can go to read the actual attacks by this purported OSR-Taliba, or just a lot of vague assertions that you're being attacked by nameless fuddy-duddies? Because that portion of this post makes you look like a paranoid maniac.

    Look, I get it. Really, I do. I'm a big fan of how you safeguarded the hobby from SJW entryists back before that was even a recognized thing. You took a lot of heat from a lot of corners back in the day, and came out of that fire stronger than ever.

    But not every objection to a thing you like is a personal affront to you. Nor is every objection to a specific change is an objection to all change. The OSR itself was a change in the direction the hobby had taken for years, and not just a regression, but a new way of doing old things.

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    1. I don't keep some kind of 'grievances list' of links to things, I don't get how people expect this sort of shit. I guess maybe its because they don't spend as much time writing and reading and fighting in the hobby as I do.

      But I can tell you for a fact that when the OSR started out, I was already a big advocate of Old-school, only to have certain people who were names in that early-OSR tell me I wasn't really old-school, how I ran games wasn't old-school, and my game wasn't old-school.

      I had the last laugh, of course, since now my games are the vanguard of Old-school, I was the old-school guy picked for the 5e project, and one of their favorite clone-games has something they believe to look like a vagina on the cover.

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  3. So you're just tap dancing on JMal's social media grave here? I mean, help a brother out here, Pundit. You're declaring victory in a fight that no one can see and that you can't really show anyone. I was there for the fight against the storytellers, man. It was amazing to behold, one Pundit standing strong against wave after wave of attacks. You couldn't get away from it.

    This, though? Crickets. There's just nothing out there on this one. It's like your whole identity is wrapped up in being persecuted, and now that nobody really cares, you've got to manufacture more persecution. Move on already, man. Just keep pimping your stuff, and leave the fights of the past back in the past already.

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    1. I think you're trying to distract from what's happening in the here and now.
      In any case, I've noticed (and I guess I shouldn't be surprised over the fact) that people on "my" side aren't too keen on when I criticize my own movement. I don't find that all that healthy. I'm glad that you admired my fight against the storygaming people and other Swine, but a movement that can't criticize itself is not healthy.

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    2. I think he's asking you to produce a link, quote, or some shred of evidence. So far, pundit, you haven't, with regards to this fresh OSR indignity.

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    3. Evidence for which thing? People in certain parts of the OSR freaking out about S&W being "hijacked"? Check out the blogosphere and the thread on theRPGsite about it.
      My ongoing fight with the Appendix N crowd? Check out my G+.

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  4. For an irrelevant game S&W product outsells the products you think of as relevant and has lot of support. I like S&WC as a cleaner version of 1E but I'm not old school since I'm a dirty GURPS player.

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    1. Does it? Apparently even with all the hype and free-publicity generated by both virtue-signalling and outrage, this S&W kickstarter didn't manage to raise as much as the last one did at the same time period.

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  5. There is clearly still a place for the retroclones. As Kenny Johnson mentioned, they do tweak or tidy up the rules of old school D&D in places. Compare Swords & Wizardry or Delving Deeper to Original D&D: the retroclones are more coherent and easier to play out of the box; Original D&D is a puzzle to be solved by the referee and players, and requires many rulings and interpretations in order to work at the table. Even if every man, woman, and child were gifted at birth with a print copy + .pdf bundle of Original D&D + supplements, there would still be a use for Swords & Wizardry or Delving Deeper.

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    1. Of course there is a place for retroclones, but this particular puzzle has been solved and the solution is freely available in many formats.

      Releasing a new edition of S&W is like releasing a new edition of the spoon.

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    2. And yet, there are many who would gladly buy a new edition of the spoon.

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  6. I agree that the new art looks great.

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  7. The new cover seems weird to me. I don't know what's supposed to be happening there and what it has to do with S&W but I'd still take that over the old ones.

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  8. I love the art (And I am a reasonably successful professional artist and game director, so Nyah, Nyah you whiners). I love OSR products, as they take my back to my RPG roots in the 1970's. I strongly disagree with the validity of the criticism of OSR products.

    We should have ALL RPGs, new and old to play with. There is a certain elegance to the old school products that appeals to me.

    As far as it being an all girl team, good for them! Would we quibble with an all-male team? How about an all-Vegan team (Wait, maybe that. LOL)

    This, like many of the hapless Social Warrior flailings (On both sides of the political fence) is a tempest in a teapot.

    I'll buy it because I like and play Frog God Products. It will not keep me from playing all my other "newer style" games.

    Knock it out of the Park, Ladies!

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  9. I love the art (And I am a reasonably successful professional artist and game director, so Nyah, Nyah you whiners). I love OSR products, as they take my back to my RPG roots in the 1970's. I strongly disagree with the validity of the criticism of OSR products.

    We should have ALL RPGs, new and old to play with. There is a certain elegance to the old school products that appeals to me.

    As far as it being an all girl team, good for them! Would we quibble with an all-male team? How about an all-Vegan team (Wait, maybe that. LOL)

    This, like many of the hapless Social Warrior flailings (On both sides of the political fence) is a tempest in a teapot.

    I'll buy it because I like and play Frog God Products. It will not keep me from playing all my other "newer style" games.

    Knock it out of the Park, Ladies!

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  10. I don't think, like Pundit says, anybody really gives a damn about the girls behind the project. Most of the criticism is really only around the cover.

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  12. This is your most convoluted straw man yet! Kudos!

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  13. There is a third group you neglected to mention: people who aren't sexist, don't have a dog in the "more OSR than thou" fight . . . but are thoroughly tired and annoyed about every fucking thing being turned into some kind of triumphalist "striking a blow against the Patriarchy" piece of PC bullshit.

    This product reminds me of the recent Ghostbusters remake -- you know, the one that was referred to endlessly in the film's own promotion as the "all-female Ghostbusters." And if you thought it was going to suck (which, inevitably, it did) you were a horrible misogynist patriarchal cishet doo-doo head.

    How is choosing artists on the basis of their vaginas different from excluding artists because of their skin color? This "all girl Swords & Wizardry" is a pure gimmick (and sexist, to boot). When you have to resort to this kind of stupid gimmick, it's a huge sign that your product is creatively bankrupt and you're banking into a leftward PC death spiral, sacrificing everything for greater and greater liberal virtue-signalling as your company augers in.

    Now everyone will call me a sexist because everything women do must always be the most wonderful thing ever, and so brave!

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    1. You know what's not sexist? A mixed group of people who are hired because they have the necessary skills to get a job done. There is no reason in this day and age to have an all female anything, any more than an all male, all transgender what have you. I am in favor of unisex bathrooms, and not getting judged or called anything but my name, because I am a male with long hair. No mullets though, because the eighties died twenty six years ago.

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    2. There's definitely an element of truth to this. It doesn't feel like being on the social vanguard, it just seems silly.
      I just watched this stupid SNL "popstar" movie, where a clueless rap singer releases a music video of very sanctimonious preaching about how awful it is gay people aren't allowed to marry, which ends up being totally patronizing to gay people, and everyone is like "he's singing about this like it's still a thing but gay people can get married everywhere now".

      This does seem out of touch in pretty much the same way.
      And again, it comes down to trying to make some money off a product that isn't really relevant anymore, in a very gimmicky way.

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  14. I don't see how S&W is 'not relevant'. IIRC it's available in customisable Word format. I've seen several interesting hacks of it. Sure OD&D is now available, but S&W is 1) free (in some versions anyway), 2) streamlined and 3) easy to hack. If I wanted to run an OSR game, I'd certainly give S&W a look (though LotfP and Basic Fantasy also appeal).

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  15. For me, even though it's pretty much a stolen game, S&W Whitebox is still relevant, because it is a streamlined version of OD&D/the LBBs. It uses a single saving throw, has ascending AC, uses d20 and d6 exclusively, has low attribute bonuses and unified weapon damage.

    What I hate about OSRIC, S&W, and LL is how protective their creators are about them. Make no mistake, these games are stolen. I am very aware that it is a legal 'interpretation' of the original rules, but if you steal somebody's game, at least release it 100% free, not just with some dumb publishing licence.

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    1. I second the first paragraph of this. I personally prefer White Box to Complete, but I can't really complain about new art being added to a new printing. Having an all-female art team might be a gimmick, but I doubt it'll have any negative impact on the quality of the product.

      As for the question of the rules being "100% free", I think they've already done a good job as it is; all three versions of S&W are now freely available from the publisher, since they met one of their stretch goals a little while back. I understand their being protective of the work they did cleaning up and fixing bits of the underlying system, and I think the requirements for claiming publicly that a product is "S&W compatible" (as opposed to just OSR Compatible, like most things) are just a means of keeping a minimum amount of quality control. But from my point of view, it would be simpler to just label a product as "OSR compatible", since that'll make it about 99.9% compatible with S&W as well.

      (Disclaimer: I haven't published any RPG products yet, so my perspective might be ill-informed or flat-out wrong from an 'industry' point of view.)

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