Random Musings: OSR, Retro-Clones, Open Source Rolemaster?

I want to start by quoting two sources that really struck home:

“I still love RM but the customer base is just too small to make a living from unless you are Terry.”

“Going hand and hand with that is the fact that for better or for worse the OSR is a thing. For the past decade and a half there been a group of hobbyists actively publishing, promoting, and playing classic editions of Dungeons and Dragon and similar RPGs. This is result of everybody taking advantage of the freedom granted by the open content found in the d20 SRD to expand the quantity and variety of material that supports classic D&D.” SOURCE.

I don’t know if Nicholas or Terry read this blog regularly, but I consider myself first and foremost an RM and SW supporter. At my age, I don’t have time or energy for other systems. But I’m feeling frustrated—less for me than the opportunities I.C.E. might be missing by not opening up their IP. There is a renaissance occurring in old school game rules and RM is not riding that wave. I want to publish RM material and I want to publish SW material no matter the size of the market—I’m much less concerned about monetizing my work or earning a living, but being paid or compensated IS affirmative feedback on your efforts.

Ironically, it seems that the bulk of Rolemaster system products are the result of collating house rules in various Companions or relying on third party authors rather than any centralized approached to core product development. In other words, Rolemaster has always been a polished form of crowdsourced content. Maybe RMU pulls these previous efforts back into a cohesive thread, but…will there be corresponding game and support material and modules to carry the new rule set? If not, that’s a big problem in today’s gaming environment.

Here at RolemasterBlog we are going to put out 50 small adventure/encounter/NPC/layout “squirts” in 50 days. Would these be more appealing, sell more, or pull more attention if they could be labelled as supporting “Rolemaster”? Terry and SW are slightly different—previous attempts at third party authors resulted in some good modules but not necessarily Shadow World modules. Terry wants to control content and protect his IP. I get that.

But just imagine the alternative. I apologize for sounding a bit morbid, but none of us are getting younger. Check out the ages for the active members of RM Forums. Most of us are late 30’s, 40’s or 50’s. Where is Rolemaster in 10 years if the fan base continues to slowly decline and new product output continues at the same current level. It’s called a death spiral–see the chart at the top. This is the Business/Industry Lifecycle curve: I use it extensively in my work as a mental model for analyzing businesses.  Of note is the inflection point that occurs after business/industry maturity. You either reinvent, reinvest or re-imagine or you become irrelevant or non-competitive. Certainly the whole RPG industry is tackling this with varying degrees of success.  I believe that that the answer is not in traditional strategies: marketing, research or new product development. It’s embracing the free flow of information, open sourcing, crowd funding new content, organic development and creative development seeding.

How can you develop new young writing and creative talent without a growing or stable fan base? In my mind, open sourcing Rolemaster, leveraging online creative communities and allowing new media channels to incubate and screen quality content is the only mid to long term strategy for Rolemaster to prosper.

5 Replies to “Random Musings: OSR, Retro-Clones, Open Source Rolemaster?”

  1. I think there’s a couple of things at work, honestly. One is that RM has always to an extent been viewed as a plug-in for existing systems and another is that it’s tenuously linked to a setting that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea (I’ve never cared for SW, honestly). Another is the solid failure of the RM system to really expand beyond a limited fantasy niche. Any of the products dealing with different settings (sourcebooks and what have you) had defects ranging from minor to severe (firearms come first to my mind, but there were others as well).

    Would open source fix this? I don’t honestly know. I’ve solved the firearms problem to my satisfaction for my games, and have also overhauled professions and some other stuff to suit non-fantasy settings. But I’ve also tried to keep the system open and accessible to new players, and that’s always been an issue for RM as well.

    1. I would say that yes open source does solve that. Imagine you published your firearms rules to something like OneBookShelf and it is clearly labelled as a compatible plugin for Rolemaster.

      Possibly three other people produce three other solutions to the same problem (a RM2 style individual attack tables version and a HARP single table option for example).

      Along comes Joe, he is looking to play a modern day Dirty Harry game. What games have decent .44 Magnum rules? Well there are three results in his search and they all point to the same system. Yes they are competing against a myriad of other systems but now you have three more roads that can being in potential players.

      Imagine you enjoy creating professions. You start by creating a Greek Hoplite and then think I will do a Spartan warrior next and then before you know it you have detailed every faction from Troy to Sparta. Every one of them could be published for free or for a couple of dollars if that is what you want. For the GM off the street that wanted to run a game set in the Trojan war there is suddenly a wealth of professions that fit the bill. How far down the production cycle do you think a Greek source book is for RMU?

      I bought HARP because I wanted HARP SF and I cannot imagine RMU Spacemaster being completed in my lifetime. That is only half a joke as if RMU is not successful at launch will there be a RMU Spacemaster?

      Open Source gives you parallel development with every GM potentially producing good quality products at the same time rather than waiting for the linear approach of everything having to go through Nicholas for approval.

      1. The sad thing is most RM2 source books were weakest in their rules sets and not the background matter.

        As for me, my modern stuff is integrated with a number of setting/genre options by design.

  2. There is a third option between Open Source and closed IP, which I think I’ve mentioned before somewhere, maybe here, maybe on the forums, and that’s OneBookShelf’s Community Content Program. This allows authors to create supplements using a company’s IP without buying a license or making it Open Source. Wizards are in it, as are Mongoose, Margaret Weis and Monte Cook, so you have some big players. Heck, Wizards has an entire site dedicated to it!

    There are young players out there too, and these could be targeted in order to ensure the customer base grows. Hero Kids is a great starter system, and Playground Adventures produce some absolutely gorgeous supplements for Hero Kids and Pathfinder. You’d need some easy to understand version of RM to do that though, aimed at children.

  3. Yes! This has been my stance for several years now. The energy and creativity in the OSR drew me back into D&D even though Rolemaster is my preferred game. Whilst I’ve done my own noodling about with RM and appreciate the efforts on this blog, it just can’t compare with the sheer amount of ideas flowing and bouncing off each other in the OSR. Whilst I don’t think RM will ever have the level of fan base to compete, opening up the IP will only lead to interest and creativity being injected into the RM community.

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