He Meant Well

GameHoleCon (yes, that’s the name) was this past weekend.  Had a great time running Classic Traveller, Empire of the Petal Throne, and Original D&D (well, S&W White Box if you wanted to be precise).  Towards the end of the convention, I noted the convention deal being offered by the rep for Castles & Crusades.  I had bought the C&C White Box some years back, and hadn’t really kept track of it.  But I thought “hey, that’s cheap enough for me to think about buying!”

So I picked up a copy of the C&C Player’s Handbook, and the sales representative started talking to me.  In retrospect, I feel I should have asked if I could record what he was saying.  But I was tired, and so I let him go on, and decided to just listen.

He started by telling me that the game books were soon going to have new covers, and that the interiors used to be plain black-and-white, but now had a cream vellum like background, which was definitely a BIG improvement.  He went on to talk about how there were a lot of published adventures “so you can get started right away” and “you didn’t have to make anything up.” There was an adventure “path” (Pathfinder influenced sales talk) that had about a dozen adventures, and the one about to be published was going to be “as big as all of the others put together.”

He never thought to ask what my gaming background was, which I thought was interesting.

I continued listening, and picked up one of the other books from the C&C line.  Oh, yes, that was an expansion to the core rules.  It would “allow” me to use new material not in the core rules, and even let me come up with my own stuff, if I were that bold.  What I started listening for was language in his sales pitch that assumed I was essentially a passive consumer, rather than an active creator, of game material, and there was a lot of it.  It quickly became clear that his pitch was aimed at gamers used to Pathfinder or D&D 3.5 or 4th Edition.  That’s not inherently bad, but it did tend to metaphorically ruff my fur backwards.  However, it was a little odd to hear it about a game that was supposedly “Old School” – the sale rep was rather proud of that, pointing out that James Ward was writing for them, and that Wil Wheaton had endorsed it as the “spiritual successor” to AD&D.

As an aside, there’s an argument to be had here about when exactly there was a shift from the crazy gonzo DIY of Original D&D to the “you must play it this way” of later editions, but I’m not going to go into that now.  On the moment, I was more fascinated listening to the sales rep continue to assume I was excited by how he was describing the game.  He told me that if I had any questions, they had a very active set of forums online, “and some of the actual creators of the games and adventures would sometimes show up!”

We talked awhile longer, and I ended up buying the three core rule books.  I thanked him for sharing his insights and information, and went back to our OSR club booth, right around the corner.  I kept thinking, though, then and afterwards, about the very clear gulf between what the Old School Renaissance meant to me, and how it was used as part of his sales pitch.  I’m sure he meant well, but there was no way we were going to agree.

6 thoughts on “He Meant Well

  1. Eh, how old do you want your school? One of Mr. Gygax's chief goals for AD&D was to radically reign in and tamp down the 'crazy gonzo DIY' – ness of OD&D. He said as much many times, in print, hell in the DMG itself. From what I understand C&C is basically 1st edition with the weirder bits sanded down, so if first edition is "O" enough for you then that's yer OSR right there. If you want more of a mid-70's "O" than a circa-1979 "O" in your SR then C&C's approach is going to seem like a positively nanny-state level of control. New school, old school, we like the cool school! Yay….TEAM!

  2. I like C&C… I really do and I use it as my go-to game. I also like S&W and a lot of the OSR stuff in-between. Unfortunately, in an attempt to grab a bigger market share and effectively seeking 'converts' from the 3.x / Pathfinder crowd, some of their approach just rubs me the wrong way. At least, the C&C crowd aren't all like that. ­čśë

  3. They're trying to make sales. I totally get that. They think the route to corporate survival is developing a consumer base that will buy all the products as they come out. I hope that works for them.

    But ultimately, what makes a game Old School or not is what you, the 'consumer'/gamer DO with it. Gonzo it up all you want. Once you start running it, it's your game, not theirs.

    I, too, bought the C&C White Box. Not a bad little game, at that. But I refuse to buy the hardcovers; just seems like overkill for a hobbyist like me.

  4. Yeah, I get all that. What I found more interesting was how his sales pitch had some BIG assumptions about who I was as a customer. By implication, it says a lot about who "the customer" might be like – but also just how much of a gulf there is between the *philosophy* of the Old School Renaissance and that of today's games.

  5. Pretty much. I think there ought to be room for multiple approaches, as well as reviews of games with an eye towards just how Old School they actually are in their philosophy.

  6. Will, I get that. I've gotten it for a pretty long time, now. I just might be a little too subtle in my original post: it was the unthinking assumptions about who I was and what I might be thinking that I was fascinated (and yes, a little repelled) by.

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