Pondering Trends in RPGs, and an update or three

While there is still a strong and vocal contingent out there who support the "toolbox" approach to rpg's, championing the idea that the best games are setting-free and flexible enough to do whatever you like with them, it seems to me of late that the pendulum is starting to swing back the other way. That is to say, people are looking at games--especially fantasy games--and saying, "I'm sure it's a good system and all, but what do I need with another generic fantasy game?"  These people (and there are a growing number of them, it seems) are starting to look for packaged settings again.

I started thinking about this recently from observations I've seen on blogs and message boards. When I first put out Spellcraft & Swordplay it sold like hotcakes and got a ton of positive reviews, including ones from such luminary blogs in the old school community as Grognardia.  Unfortunately, graduate school happened, and the increased workload forced me to put Elf Lair Games on hiatus. By the time I came back, S&S had faded from the public consciousness and the (let's be honest) glut of old school fantasy games on the market has made it next to impossible to generate any new buzz about it. Sales have been pretty slow as a result.

I'm turning to support materials as a result--let's face it: to be a living game, every game has to have support. Thus, I'm hoping to get our first adventure module out the door soon--"The God in the Dark"--which will be usable with just about any old school game, and will also serve to introduce the forthcoming "Wasted Lands Roleplaying Game," which will be a flagship game for ELG that packages a pulp Howardian/Lovecraftian setting with the O.R.C.S. rules system. For this game I plan to pull elements from my Age of Conan hacks as well as from my original "Wasted Lands" blog postings (removing references to demihuman races in the process) and see what happens.

I still have what I hope will be an epic trilogy of adventures planned, surrounding the machinations of a vampire queen and the surrounding communities, which may end up as a mini-setting for S&S if all goes well. We'll see what happens there.

I'm also working on Twelve Parsecs and have been debating whether to include a packaged setting with it.  I think toolkit games are still okay in the science fantasy/space opera field, as that hasn't yet been overly saturated.  Still, it looks like that's the next target to see saturation so I'm of two minds. I think I may take a page from James Maliszewski's Thousand Suns RPG and include what he calls a "Meta-setting," which is sort of the best of both worlds.

I don't know.  Just some things to think about. As of 3:00 this afternoon I'm off work for 11 days, and at least 8 of those will actually be free days during which I am gearing up to try and get a lot of creative work done. Wish me (and Elf Lair Games) luck in the new year!


  1. Best of luck with the creative free time -- and in the New Year ahead! We just downloaded the free core rules to check things out and give it a play-test.

  2. It was so funny seeing this segue into TP and the reference to James M. Before I even scrolled down that far, I was thinking "Thousand Suns" really has one of the better solutions to the setting dilemma. So thumbs up on that. I generally stay away from games with a very heavy setting, I don't want it all spoonfed to me. But I love a little inspiration, and the ability to bolt on my own setting if I choose to.

    Happy Holidays, Jason (and Tim)! Oh, and btw, the HC for S&S is just top notch. I was pleasantly surprised that it was digest sized and it's definitely the finest ELG release yet.

  3. I'd prefer to see 'Parsecs' setting free, or if you do include a setting make it separate from the rules - i.e. the rules will still work just fine if I switch settings. SciFi especially still lends itself to generic rules because there are so many possibilities.

    I think S&S's issue right now comes down to the glut of OSR RPGs, and Elf Lair's hiatus. I believe releasing 'Wasted Lands' should answer for that. It'll allow you to directly state this is a Pulp Swords & Sorcery type world without running into potential licensing issues.

    I believe the market's there. Tapping into it...will be the challenge.

    Oh, I received my print copies of S&S and Monstrous Mayhem today. Excellent quality and a nice surprise.

    Happy Holidays!

  4. I don't think I'd come to the same conclusion about included settings. I do think that the lack of support materials has made a difference. Not, I should add, to me, because I buy very few of the things, but adventures and whatnot do seem to be the engine that drives sales once the initial interest in the game subsides.

    And, yeah, there are now too damn many OSR games. I don't begrudge anybody the right to publish their house-rules, but I have gotten a bit tired of being selling their house-rules as "new OSR games". I don't think that's the case with S&S at all, but maybe you need to some horrific art in it to see if that helps sales? ;)


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