Monday, June 1, 2009

Distribution and the Old School Edition

or, "Why You Won't See the Old School Edition in Stores Any Time Soon."

The Old School Renaissance is a great and amazing thing. I've been a booster for it, and involved with it since shortly after OSRIC first came out. I was involved with the development of ZeFRS, a lesser-known retro clone of the old TSR Conan rules (done with the blessing of its original creator, Dave "Zeb" Cook.)

I love Labyrinth Lord, Swords & Wizardry, and OSRIC. This is a movement of which I am proud to be a part and with which I'm thrilled to be associated.

That being said, as a burgeoning RPG publisher, I have to tread with great care. Being associated with a movement like this is a great thing--it's something to be proud of. And yet, a publisher involved with such a movement needs to ensure his product has legs beyond the movement if he wishes to expand his venture, like I want to with Elf Lair Games.

I think that, while the Old School Movement has been great for those of us who want to bring back those old games, there's also more that can be done to bring new gamers, younger gamers, into the fold. This is why I do not identify S&S as a retro clone. It is why I incorporated so-called "new school" streamlining to my rules system, allowing for ability checks and background skills that allow for customization and flexibility in character design. It's why I have consistently moved more towards a unified resolution mechanic: 2d6 plus modifiers vs. TN 11. Hell, arguably even our combat system can be broken down to that by changing the weapon vs. armor type table to show modifiers instead of final results (but that would too closely resemble the old AD&D weapon vs. armor table, which is gloriously unpopular--it's far faster just to say, "this is your TN after base modifiers are accounted for.")

In any case, while the Old School Edition is fun, it was mostly a "gift" to our fans in the Renaissance. When we move into distribution, we have to take care not to irrevocably tie ourselves to the movement as "just an old school publisher--I mean, just look at their games!" Because trends in the industry change, and we have to be malleable enough to change with them.

Now, I am an old school publisher. Not only do I not deny it, I'm damn proud of it. However, I also like to think that Elf Lair is more than an old school publisher, that we can have a broader appeal. Our sales on Lulu have been staggering, and it's those sheer numbers that convinced me to pursue distribution. But the Old School books are not our best sellers. Indeed, of the four editions we have up (including the e-book) they're at the bottom of the list.

Not to mention, the Old School Edition is surprisingly expensive to produce.

I'm not saying--or at least, shouldn't be saying--that you will never see the Old School Edition on shelves. I've looked into (and continue to seek) options for doing another, larger boxed set run. But it won't be our first release, or probably even in our first few. We have three other games on the docket--two fantasy games and a sci-fi game that are all powered by O.R.C.S. There's also one or two adventure modules in preparation. Only after we've secured our own niche and identity on game store shelves will we revisit the idea of distributing the Old School Edition of S&S. I'll leave it up on Lulu, though, for those who dig it, and it's available now on Amazon (though you need to search by the individual names of the booklets or by my name due to my stupidity in product IDing).

So that's where we stand with that. I hope that makes sense, and I sincerely hope that our fans within the old school movement don't think I'm snubbing them. I'm really not--I'm just working on balancing old school with general appeal. I also think (and hope) that fans of the Old School Edition will dig the new cover art for the final, "deluxe," expanded edition of S&S that will hopefully see a place on store shelves.


  1. Jason, just a comment from someone who follows "at a close distance". In other words, I'm familiar with the Old School movement and products associated with it. I bought your S&S "Revised Old School Edition" little brown books and love them. I'm planning to pick up any-day-now the "Spellcraft & Swordplay Revised Edition (Softcover)" and MM 6x9s, because I love that format. I would have picked up the boxd, but totally missed it.

    So I know the products have dealt with Lulu, BUT... your blog postings over the past few weeks are totally confusing to me. I'm not talking about your considerations of how you're going to go into retail, but rather the labels and qualifiers for all these different versions, names that all sound the same unless I have another browser window open to your Lulu page so that I can decipher what editions you're talking about!

    Not so much this post today, I think I know that you're saying that the brown books won't be retail soon. But Friday's post: original pocket edition vs "old school" pamphlets vs 9x6 versions vs "Basic" vs "Deluxe"... it leaves this 43 year old somewhat confused about what he wants to purchase now versus just waiting until it all gets sorted out later. Just sayin'!

  2. ...which is actually part of the problem. With Lulu we offered the game in as many different formats as possible to appeal to as many different tastes as possible. When we go into retail, there's only going to be one format.

    BUT, content-wise, all the formats on Lulu contain exactly the same text.

  3. You're correct, though: I should assume less overt familiarity with our product. I'll keep that in mind in the future. Thanks!

  4. As much as I love my new Old School booklets, I agree with you on your approach.

    Going that route, though, I recommend you add a few more pages on being a Referee and campaigning and such - even if it's extremely light advice (such as that in S&W Core, for instance).


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