Keeping the RSS Fires Burning

Demogorgon Dreams’s post OSR Blog Rennaissance sparked this blog post.

Beacon fire light on a mountaintop

Gondor Calling from the Return of the King

Google shutdown Reader on July 15, 2013. Even though I hopped over to feedly.com straight away, it took over a year to stop reflexively going to reader.google.com.

Google Reader was a publication consumer. Google+ looked to be both consume and produce publication, without exposing an open publication standard for others to consume. While Google+ thrashed to find its eventual grave, blogs continued chugging along, publishing content. They were the producers in the equation. Google+ provided enough ways to push content from producers into it’s closed ecosystem. Some of what we, the heavy users of Google+, see in the collapse is an absence of a Google provided consumer of blogs end point.

This past week, Google announced it will be shuttering Google+; a place in which the game community initially flocked to, and from which great game collaborations developed. As Google+ goes through it’s death throws, those remaining are looking for safe harbor.

Proprietary platforms have risks. They exist at the whim of their owner. This is doubly true if you aren’t paying for use of that platform—Hint: You’re attention and concentration is their payment.. For Google Reader, the platform leveraged an open standard (RSS and Atom feeds). Google+ did no such thing.

It is great to see that many game blogs survived the loss of Google Reader (a consumer of content) and the threat of Google+ (a somewhat self-contained consumer and producer of content). It appears to have reinvigorated blogging (a producer of content)—I am a bit nervous about so many great blogs over on Blogger. Were Google to shut down Blogger, we’d lose a tremendous amount of content. There is an export option, but that requires active involvement. Hopefully we’ll get a heads up and can plan a life raft if this apocalypse occurred..

As blogs resurge, they’ll continue exposing their RSS and Atom feeds for others to consume through a common and open publication standard. And the heirs to the shattered Google Reader kingdom will keep the RSS consumers fed (Feedly, The Old Reader, and Inoreader).

Personally, I’ve used Feedly for years. But the “Subscribe to an OPML file” feature of Inoreader is perhaps a killer feature; Allowing a centralized OPML file that groups of people could share—I recommend subscribing to Save vs. Total Party Kill’s OPML feed for lots of OSR blogs..

Inoreader provides a Save to Drive feature, allowing a quick snapshot of a blog post. Feedly defers to the IFTTT integration hub for such things.

As it stands, I’m testing Inoreader in parallel with Feedly. Thusfar, Inoreader’s edging out Feedly.

An Analogue

I see analogues to Google’s efforts in Wizards of the Coasts licencsing of D&D editions.

D&D 3E created an open system via the OGL. As Wizards of the Coast looked to pivot from 3E to 4E, they looked to tighten up the license. Paizo’s Pathfinder became a rallying cry for many D&D players, while numerous other systems popped up around the open game license. A healthy ecosystem of games developed because of an open standard.

And D&D 4E floundered in part because of its mangled license. It is hard to go from an open standard to a closed standard.

Wizards of the Coast recognized the thriving ecosystem built from their previous open standard. They chose to release D&D 5E under the OGL. And gaming has never been better.

A Late Aside

I’ve also been reassessing my dependence on WordPress. I pay a bit of money each year for them to manage the hassle. This is their business model, so I know they have an interest in improving my experience. Yet, I want more freedom.

My thought is that I want to have strong ownership in what I write as well as how that is distributed.

I’ve exported my content out of WordPress into a static site (see takeonrules.github.io) generated by Jekyll and hosted on Github). I now have extreme portability in all of my content, control of its presentation, and multi-site backups (thanks to Git).

Go visit Technical Grimoire for a tutorial on Jekyll and the related technologies.

I have yet to flip the switch as I’m weighing the value of comments. I’d need to use something like Disqus to provide comments for my static site. I’m not very thrilled about that. I’d prefer someone write up a response and contact me with a link to their response.

For now, I first write to takeonrules.github.io, then massage the output HTML into something for my WordPress site.

Celebrating 17 Years of the Open Gaming License

The Open Game License (OGL) fascinates me. It is something I very much appreciate. I have released content on my blog as open game content.

There are several moving aspects of the open gaming license over these last 17 years of open gaming. These are un-cited opinions based on observations and intuition.

First, it opened the 3rd edition rules of Dungeons and Dragons to legal and safe tinkering, derivation, and expansion. An industry sprung up to create supplements for 3E. It also empowered people to create gaming content that was shareable; In a legal manner as well as in proximity or alignment to existing rules systems.

Second, it provided the framework to legally rebuild older variants of Dungeons and Dragons. First in the form of OSRIC, then the ensuing explosion of clones, modern simulacra (in no particular order), and adjacent games:

  • Labyrinth Lord
  • Basic Fantasy
  • Sword & Wizardry
  • Lamentations of the Flame Princess
  • Blueholme
  • Mazes & Perils
  • Castles & Crusades
  • Whitehack
  • Delving Deeper
  • Adventurer Conquerer King
  • Dungeon Crawl Classics
  • The Hero’s Journey
  • The Black Hack
  • Microlite ’74
  • Beyond the Wall
  • And I’m sure more

Third, it was through the OGL that Pathfinder came into existence. Pathfinder is the spiritual and mechanical descendant of the most popular modern rules of D&D at the time. The rules and community had of the very popular rules had a safe harbour as D&D 4E experimented with a new paradigm and a non-OGL license.

Fourth, I look to WotC’s releasing 5E D&D under the OGL as a sign that the OGL is all-around better for them than not. Wizards of the Coast took this a step further and through the DM’s Guild have released their flag-ship RPG campaign world, the Forgotten Realms, for experimentation.

In the middle of these four points we see great developments. Old D&D adventures, long out of print, available again in PDF. You can use a simulacrum or the original rules to play these adventures.

We are also seeing old adventures (B1 – In Search of the Unknown and B2 – Keep on the Borderlands) being re-released by Goodman Games under both 1E and 5E rules in a single volume.

The open game license appears to have created a framework for iteration and experimentation all while ensuring that gaming and the DIY nature of gaming remains viable.

The Now 400 Pound Gorilla Has Awoken

…and he’s looking to put on a few hundred pounds.

Today, Wizards of the Coasts announced that they are working on the 5th Edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  They are going to be conducting ongoing open playtests for the next iteration.

“The goals we have set for ourselves are by no means trivial or easy. By involving you in this process, we can build a set of D&D rules that incorporate the wants and desires of D&D gamers around the world. We want to create a flexible game, rich with options for players and DMs to embrace or reject as they see fit, a game that brings D&D fans together rather than serves as one more category to splinter us apart.” — Mike Mearls

Superficially, this mirrors Paizos’ open playtest for their Pathfinder RPG.  The Pathfinder RPG exists, in part, as a response to 4th Edition’s bungled third-party licensing process.  The Pathfinder RPG is solidly rooted in the 3rd Edition of D&D — Thank you Open Gaming License (OGL).  It was further developed, and modified, through an extensive open playtest.  And by some accounts, Pathfinder sales were tied in 2010 and eventually outstripped D&D sales in 2011.

D&D was once the 800 pound gorilla shed much of it’s weight by not providing a clear path from 3rd Edition to 4th Edition, both for players and for vendors.

So today, D&D is again the nerdy kid looking in at the cool kids with their open playtesting, dreaming what every geek dreams…to be invited to the game table.

I have abandoned 4E, because frankly, it doesn’t do it for me.  The classes are far too similar.  The game is so very well balanced that it is boring.  Every combat had so much going on and was so meaningful, which, ultimately reminds me of one of the great lines in the Incredibles:

Helen: Everyone’s special, Dash.
Dash: [muttering] Which is another way of saying no one is.

Personally, I want to see D&D succeed.  D&D is more than a game, it is an icon.  I can say to people “I play role-playing games” and they give me a blank stare.  I can say “I play games like D&D” and they understand.

If this new design direction works to incorporate all flavors of the game…Great.  If it also aids in translating older adventures to the newer format…Great.  If it truly is a modular game that allows me to drop in sub-systems I’m interested in…Great.

And most importantly if it is not released via the OGL or comparable license…It can wither on the vine…because the OGL is what brings everyone to the table.  It is, in my opinion, why Pathfinder and 3E are and were wildly successful.  Having forsaken the OGL, it is why the once 800 pound gorilla has been on starvation rations and looks hungry as hell.

V is for Versions

I’ve been playing and collecting role-playing games since 1987.  And during that time I’ve been part of:

  1. Two versions of Star Frontiers
  2. Three versions of ShadowRun
  3. Three versions of Rolemaster
  4. Three, four or five versions, depending on how you count them, of Dungeons and Dragons
  5. Two versions of Monte Cook‘s Arcana Unearthed
  6. Three versions of Star Wars

Typically, I have embraced these version changes for a variety of reasons.  The first, and probably the most common reason, is that a new version holds the promise of improvements over the previous version.  After all, if the game companies continue to play their own games a better understanding of the system model should emerge.  And if they listen to their customers, an even better understanding can emerge.

Another reason for embracing these versions is that when a new version is released the previous version is commercially put out to pasture.  Any commercial support and future developments are done on the latest version of the game; No new source books, no new adventures, no “sanctioned tweaking” of the rules.

Inevitably, transitioning versions will always leave some people at the curb. Look at the number of computer users still running Windows XP, 98 or, god forbid, Windows ME.  Transition is hard, especially when, from most people’s perspective, things still work.  A new role-playing version doesn’t invalidate the previous version; The dice will still roll for the older version and the hard-copy books remain intact.

In cases of large change Edition Wars erupt; The hold-outs and the adopters bicker over the merits and failings of the editions.  This has been evident the transition from 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons to 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons, where the changes between the rules set were quite noticeable.

The Dungeons and Dragons community fragmented with the introduction of the 4th Edition.  I believe the primary reason is that Wizards of the Coast did not release the game under the Open Gaming License, instead using their much more limiting 4th Edition Game System License.  The result was that all 3rd party publishers had to evaluate whether they wanted to play by these new and very limiting rules?  The market spoke, and the 3rd party support for 4th Edition is almost nil, especially when compared to the vast, and continuing, 3rd party support for 3rd Edition. As a result of the Open Gaming License, the core elements of the 3rd Edition of Dungeons and Dragons is very much alive in the successful Pathfinder RPGBased on interviews with retailers, distributors, and manufactures, it appears that Pathfinder RPG is holding it’s own against 4th Edition.

Dungeons and Dragons is the 800 pound gorilla, and in 3rd Edition, the 800 pound gorilla had a tribe of many smaller gorillas.  Now, the once 800 pound gorilla has shed a few pounds, and must share the forest with a 600 pound gorilla.

Ultimately, I believe the game changers for this whole version mess has been the Internet and the Open Gaming License.  Prior to the Internet, information concerning games was rather difficult to get (especially if you were 15 years old).  Now gamers can get lots of information about changes, as well as vent about version fatigue.  More importantly, they can establish communities around their “favorite system.” These communities, morning the loss of support for their favorite editions, can take on the mantle of support, often times in a limited manner, of the system they hold dear (Birthright.net, Alternity.net, StarFrontiersMan.com, and Fight On Magazine! just to name a few) .

Couple the Internet with the Open Gaming License, and suddenly a version of the game need not die. A handful or legion, not quite sure, of intrepid souls have, from the Standard Reference Document and Open Gaming License, managed to rebuild much of the 1st Edition and 2nd Edition (list of Retro Clones) of the Dungeons and Dragons rules-set.  They can’t call it Dungeons and Dragons, as that is the proprietary name.  However, there are Fighters, Illusionists, Dwarves, Elves, Armor Class, Hit Points, 1st level Spells, Saving Throws, etc.