Feb 2 2010

Failure to launch 2.0

After that FRUP sat in an unvisited directory on my hard-drive for most of the next ten years, until I started to have thoughts about putting Magnum Opus Press—my current publishing business—together. I went back to the files and was surprised to find that they were still pretty funny.

They were dated, sure. One and a half editions of D&D had come and gone in the meanwhile, TSR had been swallowed by Wizards of the Coast, which had been swallowed in turn by Hasbro. The jokes, which had been very focused on AD&D2 and TSR, would need to be rewritten. In fact there was a huge section about elves that was entirely based about the upper management of TSR, which in retrospect wasn’t very funny at the time but ten years later was dead and stinking on the page.

But there was something there, the nucleus of a game that could be funny to read, and funny to play as well. Something worth saving. It’d need a lot of updating and polish, revisions to bring it into the late 2000s, jokes about indie gaming and Twilight. A fair amount of work. Plus, of course, I still had no mechanics.

So I set about assembling a superteam of RPG creatives. On keyboards Rebecca Borgstrom, creator of Nobilis. On lead vocals Gareth Hanrahan, star creative on Mongoose’s Paranoia and Traveller lines. And on lead guitar Jonny Nexus, author of the Ennie Award-nominated novel Game Night. Behind the mixing desk and contributing the occasional drum riff, bass lick and amen break, yours truly.

And for some reason it never got off the ground. Rebecca put together a set of mechanics of astonishing, crystalline beauty and intricacy, so intricate that I couldn’t get my head around what they were trying to model, let alone how to use them to do it. I still contend that she is the Einstein of our craft, but back in the 1920s when he was writing pretty much nobody understood Einstein either, and they certainly didn’t know how to put his ideas into practice. All we could do was stand back, going, “E=MC2d10, you say? Right… right….”

Perhaps I’m just an idiot.

Gareth and Jonny divided up the existing texts and worked out what still needed to be written—most of the tricky bits, pretty much—and then the project sat on the runway, lacking the oomph to get it airborne. I’ve wondered if perhaps we lacked the necessary vitriol in our hearts to get us up to launch speed. After all, it’s difficult to hate D&D these days. It just is. Back in the 90s AD&D2 was a dreadful RPG, clunky, over-encumbered with unnecessary rules bolted onto a 1970s structure, published by a company that defiantly refused to give new players an easy entry-point to the role-playing hobby while it preferred to stick its oars into doomed ventures and further attempts to milk the Buck Rogers licence into the Dille family coffers. By 2006 D&D was just a game, published by just a company.

Then in 2008 D&D4e was released. And I leafed through the books, written by friends and colleagues, and I tried very hard to like it. But there at the back of my spine I could feel something dark, trickling upwards from where it had been hiding for ten years. Hello vitriol, my old friend. Hello, hello.

Which brings us to the present day.