Over on Tenkar's Tavern, Erik Tenker shares this interesting bit from a conversation he had with Frank Mentzer.
A common characteristic of most Old-School sites is adherence to one specific point in the Past, generally out-of-print game systems. Very cool. Nothing wrong with that, most systems have value to many. But of all the tabletop RPG fans, the OSR buys the fewest New Products. This is fine I want to give things away... strongly preferred in these circles of course. Culturally the OSR is unique and priceless, and I applaud it. But they have chosen to be irrelevant to the current market.I am sure there are lot of people in this industry that would agree with Mr. Mentzer especially the last sentence. I am not one of them. Why? For several reasons.
The first thing that people need to keep in mind about what the Old School Renaissance is the reason why it exists. It is the interaction of several things. First a continuing interest in the classic editions of Dungeons and Dragons from the 1974 Boxed set to the ADnD 2nd Edition. Second the ability to leverage open content to support these classic editions with new works that can be shared or sold commercially. Third, a radical reduction in the cost of creating, and distributing written works and graphics (like maps).
These three facts are the foundation of everything that we see in the OSR today.
Of the three it is the use of open content that caused the diversity of the OSR to explode. Once Matt Finch, Stuart Marshall, and Chris Gonnerman demonstrated how the d20 SRD could be used to create near clones of classic D&D in the form of OSRIC and Basic Fantasy. The gates were flung open for anybody to realize their particular vision of what classic DnD can be.
Just as important this use of open content wasn't limited to specific editions of classic DnD. It also enabled the creation of hybrids or the adaptions of classic DnD mechanics to new genres. Freed from the artificial constraints on creativity imposed by intellectual property the use of open content flowered into full bloom in the publishing world of the OSR. Resulting in the bewildering range of works we see being shared and published.
What drives all this are the whims of the individuals involved. So in a sense Mr. Mentzer is right that there is a choice involved. A choice that for some doesn't take into account what is marketable but rather what one individual or a small group thinks ought to be published. And let the market be damned!
But note my use of some, because it not true for all. Many OSR publishers, including myself do take a hard look at what we think people and the market want. People like Kevin Crawford, James Raggi, have put a lot of hours in publishing works that are not only have great content but a great presentation. And from conversations I had with both, they put considerable thought into how to make this happen. In short they each have a business plan for realizing their vision. And they both adjust things as circumstances change. There are others like Frog God Games, and Goodman Games. Some are individuals like my friend Tim Shorts at Gothridge Manor.
Doesn't sound much different than what traditional publishers do.
Keep in mind that the freedom of open content doesn't just mean that you get to realize your vision. It means that everybody gets to realize their vision. For some that means preservation. Places like Knights and Knaves, Aceaum, Piazza, Ruins of Mirkhill, ODnD Discussion Forum, and Dragonsfoot are devoted to preserving specific editions of classic DnD.
And while some criticism of these sites have merit, the one I find unfair is that they are backwards or resistant to new things. It easy to make material for these groups. You just have to target the exact editions they are interested in. Not something close, not some hybrid, but the exact edition as close as you legally can with whatever quirks and nuances it possesses. And if you are not willing or unable to do that then they are not your audience.
Last there been some recent drama associated with one of these sites in particular and Mr. Mentzer. It sad that it occurred but I am not interested in who is right or wrong. I will say that if you ever want to "win" an argument in the OSR the best reply is always to write your idea up, do the work to make it usable by others and release either to share or for sale.