September 2, 1997: RushFame and adoration (in lieu of pay) in the RPG hobby.
Name another hobby, besides RPGs, where a company would release a stock offer that contains the sentence "we are not in this business to make money." Where people will suffer a loss 5 years out of 5 but be considered a success because people know them. Or, name a publishing industry where having one published sourcebook entitles you to go to small Conventions for free as a guest star.
The roots of this hobby are in gamers, in people who are more interested in ideas than money. We strive to publish, to promote, as a sort of quasibiological attempt to propagate our ideas. We work for the rush of exaltation when we see our names in print, the kick of having people (even just 1 or 2) pay to buy the works we wrote. We work for fame and adoration, and occasionally grouse about the money. Web sites spring up out of a love for the hobby. Indeed, when someone does make it big or try for money, they are shunned and ridiculed.
As a ridiculous anecdote, we were surprised to find out, at GenCon, that two people at the earlier GAMA show had actually bothered to impersonate us, the folks of RPGnet! Are we that much "players" that we are worth such effort? They made off with two copies of every Archon product, alas, which raises two points. First, always ask for IDs and only accept people named Sandy and Emma :)
Second, is there something wrong with this picture? Is there something inherently unstable about the drive for fame? Are people so addicted to the rush of brief success that normal business practices are abandoned, morals are discarded?
Well, yes. It's a screwy hobby but one filled with love. It's all the paradoxes one could fill a column with, so I'll spare you the details. Perhaps we'll grow up in time, without losing our sense of imagination. We'll accept that for now we're in a ghetto, and each of us will hope for the next big break, the next big star. What will it be?
Looking at the industry as a whole, the bigger products were ones that created new niches. Magic:TG was a whole new idea, Vampire was a pirated idea done right, and even old D&D was unique when it came out. Call of Cthulhu has remained viable because of its small and unique niche. Deadlands brought open a new world and their products have been flying off shelves. So there seems to be a big advantage to not following the pack.
So, the "driving for fame" category, we have a host of releases. One bid for fame is surely GenCon's surprise hit, Guardians of Order's "Big Eyes, Small Mouth". This is about the best anime-genre game I've seen in a while. While it doesn't have the license power of R. Talsorian's "Bubble Gum Crisis", it's just such a great capture of anime. You can do mecha, teen angst, romantic superhero comedy, and just about everything else I remember from the dim past when I was in Japan. Then again, you probably won't go bad with either product.
I found those a nice break from the post-apocalypse/fantasy/gothic cycles that seem to sweep the hobby. I won't bring up the dozens of "reinvented D&D" games that were released. In getting that edge, that rush to be the top, an original idea really is a good start. That's why I think "Big Eyes, Small Mouth" sold out at GenCon-- it broke new ground. AEG's Five Rings RPG is also one of the more different releases. It's not post-apocalyptic, fantasy, or gothic. Puzzle puzzle puzzle.
Meanwhile, for those who do want a post-A fix, there's Clockworks Asylum (a future where everyone has gone mad, including the players) and Myrmidon's sequel to Witchcraft, "Armageddon" (alas, their old URL no longer responds, and I haven't found their new one yet.) So clearly we're having no shortage of end-of-millennium books. Here we have a trend, and people trying to capitalize on it. Worth a try, but I remain skeptical about the mass market possibilities.
Of course, if you aren't thinking "year 2000 disaster", you must be thinking... conspiracies! So there is Reality Cheque's "Control" (which I'm biased about, since I freelance for them, so I'll shut up now), the ever-excellent earlier release from Pagan Pub of "Delta Green" (that's a great book), and probably a few I'm forgetting... or perhaps I'm just not allowed to tell you. These might piggyback onto X-Files fame, and they're good works. But do they have that certain special something? Decide with your dollars, I reckon.
To wrap up, we have a new News Directory here at RPGnet, Mitchell J. Gross. This will help reduce my workload a bit, just in time for me to take over "MetaGame", the publication of the Interactive Literature Foundation. I'm not doing this for the minimal money, though. I'm just in it for the rush.
Until next time,