2013/07/27

OSR as a rudimentary science


So this that I am about to tell is fortunately an old story but it popped up out of my mind because recently I was emotionally involved in the situation. The account of what happened is as follows: the other day i realized i would probably never come to have and hold a copy o fan old ultra rare fantasy rpg that i have been after for some time.
The story goes like this: I wanted to bid on that item on ebay, but apparently someone was smarter and faster than me and got that copy before me as soon as the seller slightly lowered the price of the item.
Then I sent a private e-mail to one of the Acaeum members that I know owned a copy for sale. He said to me he no longer have that copy and that he sold it not long ago.Not only that, because in the past he managed to track down the original author of this game and he bought from him all the remaining copies and he re-selled them over the years.
Now, keep in mind that there are really 100 copies of this game floating around in the globe, not one more, because one hundred were printed back in 198_
So, to sum it up: no one currently has a copy to sell me, and you have to take into account that no one ever saw a copy of this old fantasy rpg of niche on ebay before some Acaeum member bought the few remaining copies and started re-selling them. He knows for sure that there are just more or less ten copies left and all of them were sold.
Now, I know a fellow collector who actually owns a copy (and he lives in my country) but he is not willing to sell his copy to me, let alone scanning it for me (he would totally ruin and destroy his copy if he tried to do so). So the only chance could be that I went to him with a good camera and took pictures of each single page.
You could utter at this point: why such craziness? Why bother?We are not talking about the last remaining copy of OD&D! It is certainly not worth spending all this suicidal effort to get a glimpse of this, which was in the end simply a collection of someone’s OD&D house rules back in the day
Imagine now that a malevolent genie removed all the extant copies of Rolemaster from existence, and that he cast a spell aimed at deleting from our brains all the memories of that game’s mechanics and rules, but that he left just two things behind :the proof that such a game once was available and –consequently- our awareness that some people chose to play that instead of D&D for reasons unknown to us.
Now, let’s assume it’s year 2050 A.D. People around the world have been scholarly studying the development of fantasy rpg history for quite some time.
We know, for instance, that Holmes (creator of D&D basic) was influenced by Warlock combat system before writing his work. We can presume that Arneson was influenced by Richard Snider (creator of “Powers & Perils”) because they both wrote together an old fantasy rpg named “Adventures in Fantasy”.
We still don’t know if Gygax thoroughly read “Chevalier” and borrowed ideas from it in 1976 when Ed Simbalist met him. All these examples to show that there have always been many relations and influences –many of which still to uncover- since the beginning of the hobby.
The above-mentioned scholars now realizes that they cannot have access anymore to this game called “Rolemaster” and feels at a loss. They only know that it was an alternative to the renowned “Dungeons & Dragons” which started it all.
Now, change the name of Rolemaster with the name of the game I was writing about in my story and you will end up pretty much with the situation I experienced in the last weeks, when I realized I was cut out from the chance of ever getting a physical copy of this piece of history.
So, what was inside this game remains a matter of perplexity. What was its content, why someone felt “compelled” to switch to it after having played the “original” fantasy game can only lead to speculations on my part.
Does this is tantamount to a damage to the OSR? 

I suspect only a few would respond in the affirmative to this question. Many would dismiss this as a false problem. We can simply ignore and skip this, such a fantasy rpg with such a tiny following simply had not an impact on fantasy rpg history considered as a whole, otherwise we would remember it and still have plenty of copies floating around.
So, no real damage was inflicted to the OSR. No need to worry.
As it is easy to guess, my personal position is of another kind.
I maintain that we should feel more or less as if we were studying the development of the English language-from its Anglo-saxon origin and suddenly discovered there is a terrible gap because many documents are lost and we cannot re-build the development of the language.
On the contrary, the discovery of an obscure fantasy rpg, especially one that was purposedly intended as an alternative to original dungeons & dragons should sound (in the ears of the truly devoted scholar, at least) more or less like the discovery of Nag hammadi papyrus books parchments.
All this led me to ponder about the current state of the OSR, where we are, especially what we really know until now, what is our corpus of knowledge?
The answer I saw appearing in front of me was flabbergasting. I visited the rpg encyclopedia to count the old-school fantasy role-playing games which have never received any kind of treatment on blogs and forums.

In particular, i focused my attention on the lack of information and on the lack of a common-shared knowledge about a particular fantasy rpg of the past.
Whenever i realized an absence of information to be gathered on the world wide web about a particular old-school game, that game could be part of my list.

I was impressed to see how many osr fantasy games are still virtually unknown (the case where you can't find any information on the web apart from its title and a very vague description usually amounting to two or three line of text).

From the point of view of a youngster who feels attracted to this hobby and is eager to gather information about old games he never saw personally because they were published much before his birth- and who is consequently taking his first steps in this hobby, thinking the internet will be able to help him...there is a disappointing end waiting.

This is why i say OSR (nowadays, in 2013) is a rudimentary science, it is much less than a fragmentary corpus of knowledge.

This i call penury.

Do anyone is concerned with the poverty of our knowledge in the hobby we state we love and are involved in?

Nowadays, in 2013, after almost 40 years from the first fantasy rpg, the situation is as follows: no way of finding those info on the web, no way of LEARNING.

The process of learning is hampered.

Let's see:




 No information at all anywhere. They just revel in mocking this, but i can tell you there's more than meets the eye.

 Little info. Thanks to a blogger it is now available again, but what you can download is just a portion of the rule system.


 No information at all.

Unbelievable, almost no info at all. Just a pair of posts on Zenopus archive.



 No information anywhere.


 No information anywhere.

 No information anywhere.


 No information anywhere.



 No information anywhere apart from an interview on ToT and recently on my blog as well.


 No information anywhere.

 Kabal and Nimolee: no information anywhere for both of them. Again, for the former they are used to mocking it but the same thing i wrote for Sof applies here as well; for the latter, unbelievably no info despite the fact this was (as Warlock) a direct alternative to OD&D back in the day.



No info at all. People usually tend to think that this game is just folkore/historical and not fantasy but this is wrong. It's just another old fantasy-mythological rpg we know nothing about.


 No info anywhere.


 Little info on some forums.


 No info anywhere. Exactly the same that i said about Warlock applies here.

 Until recently, no info anywhere. Thanks to Thoul's paradise blog, now we have a sufficient knowledge of this game (an alternative to AD&D).



 AFAIK, just one post on the www, some cursory chatting on rpg.net forums if i recall correctly. Unbelievably, because it was a direct (and much praised) alternative to AD&D.

Again, no info anywhere until recently. Thank you Thoul's paradise one more time.


For at least 14 osr fantasy games (see above) there is a complete lack of knowledge (Bifrost, What price glory,, Daemon, Spawn of fashan, Nimolee,Mega fantasy rpg,Phantasy conclave, Castle perilous, Element masters,Vikings & Valkyrs, Archaeron game system, Kabal, Sword’s path:glory,Melanda.
In other cases a partial knowledge (Arduin, Chivalry & sorcery, Rolemaster, Powers & Perils, Fantasy wargaming, swordbearer, Lands of adventure, and others). 
Zorin greystarr, Arcanum, fantasy wargaming, High fantasy recently and not-so-recently received some kind of written treatment.
So you understand why i say that OSR is not a science in this era? It is not tantamount to a science?
Fantasy role-playing games history is still an uncharted territory.
 

15 comments:

Tony said...

Things aren't quite so dire for these games.

Warlock - The most recent version of the Complete Warlock rule book is available in PDF format to anyone who joins the Warlock Yahoo group.

Arcanum - A fan purchased the rights to all text and art from The Arcanum (all three editions) and is currently running a kickstarter to get the book re-edited and back in print. Also, much of the material in the game is from the "Compleat" RPG supplement series (Compleat Alchemist, Adventurer and Spellcaster) which gets some discussion online.

As for the other titles, yes, there is a dearth of available information.

Tony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Zak S said...

DAEMON looks awesome

Ed H said...

I own High Fantasy. Bought it at a big hobby store in the Chicago area back in about '02. It's a later edition than the original I owned back in the 80s, but I don't think much if anything changed. It's got very strange rules, as RPGs go.

I'd be very surprised if copies of the Arcanum aren't still out there somewhere. It's not super rare like some of the items on this list. Hell, you can find the author on Facebook and ask him about it if you like. And yes, a new edition of the Atlantis RPG of which Arcanum is one part is in the works via Kickstarter.

Mage is a rarity. Owned that back in the day too. It was kind of cool. The author has made it (combined with its companion game, Warrior) available on the internet as a PDF; I bought a copy but I can't find the URL now. It wasn't the same. Wish I could find a new copy.

If you do GenCon, go there and hit the Auction Room hard. Also places like Crazy Egor's. Lots of hidden gems in there. If not, find somebody who does. A friend of mine scored a copy of GDW's _En Garde_ there. Hella rare and ancient! :D

KABAL is wafting about torrent sites in PDF form. So are many other ancient texts. If you feel the need to pirate for the sake of Science, look around.

I remember seeing that "MEGA" thing in the local RPG shop. It looked like shit. Maybe it has some archaeological value but ugh.

I'm almost sure I've seen Castle Perilous in the wild too. Not 100% sure though.

Element Masters... god.... I remember seeing that reviewed in someplace like Different Worlds or something when it came out! the review was not kind, I think.

Anyways, these haven't disappeared. You just have to search for them in the real world. (Or in the torrent world.)

Catacomb librarian said...

@Ed: yes, Kabal is somewhere out there on torrent sites, i forgot.

I do have the review of Element masters in DF issue, i'm planning to post it on the blog soon. The third edition of the game is called "Gatewar", by the way. There is also a web site up and running for gatewar if you make a search.

@Zak:yes Daemon look awesome, i was lucky enough to find a copy on ebay some time ago. That game isn't even listed in Heroic worlds. Remember the logo for the obscure rpg appreciation day? guess where it came from now ;)

Roger the GS said...

I think most OSR contributors think that if they want to make a better fantasy game than D&D, they'll write their own. It would be interesting to look at some of these, though. I played Arcanum in college.

Catacomb librarian said...

Luckily, after many efforts in collecting, i now own a copy of all the games listed in this post.

There are others which i'm still after, such as Darkus Thel,Chevalier,Legacy, FRP made easy, Real wonders and tremendous gambits for instance.
But i'll shed some light on each of the games cited in this post in the future.

@Tony: true, you can get a pdf copy of Warlock on their yahoo group, but you know very well that that is just half of the story since you can't obtain "Warlock Tower" (the supplement) in the same way, alas.

Catacomb librarian said...

and i forgot to mention Ysgarth, "The dark eye" (english edition of Das Schwarze Auge),Thieves guild, and Mythworld.

frothsof said...

Man, I want copies of this stuff.

Sean McLachlan said...

Wow! I hadn't heard of some of these. I had the complete "Compleat" RPG supplement series. Bard Games was based in CT and I went to one of their minicons held at a hobby shop in Greenwich, where I won a copy of the Compleat Alchemist. I loved the whole series and incorporated them into my own (unpublished) variant D&D. I still have those books buried in a box somewhere.
As I mentioned in a previous comment, I bought of copy of Castle Perilous at the Compleat Strategist in NYC. I never played it and can't remember much about it except that you had to act out things like bridling a horse or climbing a cliff in order to have your character do them. An interesting if somewhat unwieldy way to run a game!

Oakes Spalding said...

What about the reviews on RPGnet, RPGgeek, etc.?

Reverance Pavane said...

I may have a copy of High Fantasy and it's adventure somewhere if you need a copy.

Lemunda's Brother said...

I had a copy of the Mega Roleplaying System in about 1989. It was a skill based game from Norway, although as far as I know it was published in English. Characters were based on a character concept and assigned skills by the GM accordingly. Combat was slow and difficult to run and broken because essentially whoever had the longer weapon got a huge bonus and would always win.

le chav said...

There is a description of MEGA there, in the french RPG database.

Bobjester said...

I have one book out of three for Sword's Path: Glory, and it is just a book full of weapons tables. About 60+ pages of weapons tables, and tedious rules.

The other two books in the series were (IIRC) about creating characters and magic/spells. They were also full of tedious rules, and much more of a combat simulation game than the abstract combat that D&D is.

I like the Arcanum trilogy as a setting, and its fairly rules light. Its been awhile since I read 'em though, so ymmv.

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