Archive for July 26th, 2011

26
Jul
11

Building Blocks of the Second Wave Retroclones

Matt Finch asked for “a laundry list of various things of note that have happened in the OOP fantasy RPG gaming scene”, and I realized that I hadn’t posted here about my notable entry to that list:

In the OSR it’s steamship time for takes on the Arnesonian progression from dungeon to stronghold, and the economic framework developed in the Adventurer Conqueror King System looks like it might be the go-to building block for this among second-wave retroclones, just as LotFP is for encumbrance. ckutalik’s Domain Game was developed in parallel, but he decided that “because the unified economic system inside ACKS is a really inspired piece of work,” he will publish the now-titled Hill Cantons: Borderlands under the ACKS compatibility license.

Unpacking this a little:

  • ‘Steamship time’ is Charles Fort’s for the way lots of people all seem to independently start working on the same stuff at the same time. Like many Fortean phenomena, I think it’s not so mystical. The OSR is old enough now that campaigns started to try out its ideas, like my White Sandbox and Alex’s Auran Empire, have now progressed to the point where they’re starting to need to deal with stronghold building rules and the like. And it’s not surprising that we’re all interested in doing that with our name-level characters since that’s clearly promised by the original D&D texts.
  •  ‘Economic framework’ you can read more about at the Autarch blog; it’s important so that the progression from dungeon to stronghold is organic and internally consistent. Even if Arneson knew the answer to questions like “why do the knights in castles expect that parties passing within two hexes of their castle will be able to pay 100-600 gold pieces if their fighting men don’t want to joust’, it wouldn’t help me when questions come up in play like “so if the knights in question are hill giants carrying 1,000 to 8,000 gp on their persons, why is there so much lucrative traffic on this wilderness river for them to shake down that much?” because that figure comes from AD&D. Since the Arnesonian and Gygaxian assumptions don’t always match, and B/E/C/M are all at odds with one another (let’s not even touch I), having someone sort it all out under one cover is a good answer to “why let us do any more of your imagining for you?”
  •   ‘Second-wave’ retroclones is a name I made up for those systems that a) are built on the work of the original wave, which used the OGL and reverse-engineered the d20 SRD to make it possible to publish stuff that emulated older editions and b) are now focused on supporting a specific style of play rather than a particular edition. I will repeat this term until it sticks.
  • The Domain Game was a really exciting project to handle lots of the same stuff ACKS does. We saw that he was looking for players for a PbP exploration of these ideas at a point when Autarch had already started down the same path, and I was so busy doing so that I regretfully decided not to join the game. I meant to reach out to ckutalik but to my shame kept forgetting until the spectre of two competing approaches already darkened his door.
  • Hill Cantons: Borderlands is the product that will result from the Domain Game, and because I am as excited about it as it’s possible to be, the fact that it will be compatible with ACKS cannot make me any more excited. “Compatible” here should be read as “this work is intended to be part of the same conversation as this other work”, the way that say Moldvay and Mentzer are compatible because they use the same toolbox to do takes on the same pre-existing ideas, but are different because they emphasize the things each presenter thought most important/had the best ideas how to handle.  In this case the difference is even more marked, because ACKS is designed as a complete system and HC:B is modular and designed for cherry-picking.
  • Compatibility licenses are an important way for the second-wavers to announce their unity as part of a new movement as well as their continuity with the old. In a comment to the annoucement of Lamentations of the Flame Princess’s compatibility license, I wrote:

 Creating a compatibility license has worked spectacularly to transform Adventurer Conqueror King and Hill Cantons: Borderlands from potential competitors over the same “domain game” turf into collaborators, each focusing on the part of this where we have the most unique vision and sharing the best ideas in areas which we agree. We would have wanted to try to do this anyway, but having the compatibility license + the open gaming license made it like duh, of course a declaration that these games work well together is the way to go.

In the post where I coined ‘second-wave retroclone’ (that sounds fancy, no?) I asked for help thinking of more second wavers. Having gotten some feedback on this, I now seek to predict which piece each of them is going to contribute to future waves built on our legacy:

  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Encumbrance.
  • DCC RPG: Some tool for glorious swinginess, of which it has too many and I am too close to see which will get picked up. Spell charts rock but, like class powers in 4E, are system-specific and creating them requires an amount of design that most folks will want to get paid to do.
  • ACKS: Economic framework, which is kind of a cop-out because it subsumes a lot of stuff but whatever, it’s all good.
  • Astonishing Sorcerers & Swordsmen of Hyborea: rules that inform the setting, and setting that informs the rules.

Let me pause here to note that a defining characteristic of the second-wavers seems to be problems with coming up with both a good name and a good acronym. I will talk Ghul into using our compatibility license just so we can say ASSH for ACKS. I will leave a dirty-sounding way to work LotFP:WFRPG in here as an exercise to the reader.

Now onto a subgenre of second-wavers which use the retroclone framework to shoot for a type of play modeled on a different genre:

  • Stars Without Number (modern space opera): Judging from a post-game conversation with jedo and foner, and reinforced by the way they’ve brought it back to fantasy in Red Tide, this has to be the use of tags to summarize characteristics of organizations.
  • Mystery Men (superheroes): ?
  • Terminal Space (classic space opera): ?

This list is by no means exclusive, and my predictions entail no money-back guarantee.

Since this post mostly makes a blah blah sound, I will pay the Joesky tax. However this is usable only in your game if you are contemplating publishing it under the OGL and are thinking about compatibility with ACKS, or if you are playing a Papers & Paychecks campaign in which you are simulating the travails of a retroclone publisher. See below the cut if so.

Continue reading ‘Building Blocks of the Second Wave Retroclones’




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