Monday, June 22, 2009

130 Answers to "Why Original Editions/Retroclones" poll

After 130 answers to a non-scientific poll, the answers are clear (at least to the people who responded):
4E did not beget the OSR, it was already alive and well thanks to 3E and a previous interest/use of older editions (previous to 3E).

I compiled 130 answers to the poll that was posted on here, OD&D Board, Swords & Wizardry forum,, ENWorld and TheGamerDome blog (where a chunk of this was inspired from), as of Friday morning 6/19. I appreciate everyone taking the time to answer, as well as talk about their own experiences. What I'm VERY appreciative of was that there were no edition flamewars in those threads and blog posts.

If you wish to crunch the numbers yourself, here's a link to the "Why Original Edition/retroclone" Google spreadsheet.

Note that the percentages will not add up to 100%, as these were multiple optional answers to each question.

What are you doing with an original edition/retroclone D&D?
I'm playing in established campaign as a player
I'm playing in established campaign as DM
I'm looking to play in a new campaign
I'm looking to run in a new campaign

By far, most of the respondents are DMs/GMs or are GM/DM'ing while playing. There is also a good chunk of respondents looking to run a new campaign - a sweet spot for publishers, if I wanted to be one.

What type of roleplaying game were you playing (or are still playing) before you became interested/involved in an original edition/retroclone?
I've always been playing original edition/retroclone D&D
3rd Edition D&D (includes 3.0/3.5)
4th Edition D&D
I was playing something other than D&D

Out of all the options, 4E is DEAD LAST in the picture in terms of active participation prior to looking at OED&D/retroclones. In many of the responses that included some anecdotes, it was noted that people had looked at 4E, or perhaps played it, but it didn't factor into their decision to look elsewhere. What was very apparent was that out of the two later editions, 3rd Edition was the leading edition that pushed people back to OED&D/retroclones.

In retrospect, when you look at when various retroclones were conceived/published, Labyrinth Lord, OSRIC and Castles & Crusades were taking off just at what seems to be the high-glut-frustration-point of 3rd edition. Although there might be more of a buzz now - leading some to posit that 4E drives the OSR, perception isn't reality, at least as far as these data show. 4th Edition is the least played edition, for these respondents, even after a year and a popular perception that 4E is a best-seller.

If you were playing 3E, why did you decide to investigate/play an original edition game or retroclone?
I still play 3rd Edition
I'm not looking to replace 3E with original edition, just curious
My group of friends are playing OED&D/retroclone and I went along with it
I was unhappy with the 3/3.5E rules, mechanics or approach
I was unhappy with how Wizards of the Coast published/marketed 3E
I like the OGL and wanted to play games that use it

A vast majority of those who were playing 3E when they decided to look at OED&D/retroclones did it because they didn't like 3E rules/mechanics. Despite that, there are still a fair amount who responded that they continue to play 3E.

Is the 22% of people who saw the OGL a significant number? Out of 130, no - but WotC and other publishers should take careful note - the OGL had an influence and there's still an interest in rules that are open. 22% of the supposed D&D community is a signficant number, in my mind.

If you were playing 4E, why did you decide to investigate/play an original edition game or retroclone?
I still play 4th Edition
I'm not looking to replace 4E with original edition, just curious
My group of friends are playing OED&D/retroclone and I went along with it
I was unhappy with the 4E rules, mechanics or approach
I was unhappy with how Wizards of the Coast published/marketed 4E
I like the GSL and want to play games that use it

I'm impressed that both the 3E and 4E respondents showed a "stickiness" to continuing to play their edition, even for those who also responded negatively about their edition.

Similar to 3E, the majority of people who investigated a retroclone or original edition did so out of dissatisfaction for the mechanics. A low percentage are looking at retroclones while continuing to support 3E/4E - another publishing point to make note of.

Also, a data note - some people responded to playing 3E/4E, but did not give further details, and some responded that they had tried 3E/4E, but didn't list it as an edition they were playing at the time they made the choice to investigate OED&D/retroclones.

What attracted you to investigate/play an original edition/retroclone D&D?
It was recommended by a friend
It was what my game group is playing
I used to play these games and wanted to "go back"
I liked the approach of the rules/mechanics
I liked the philosophy behind the rules/mechanics
I liked the "feel" (Swords & Sorcery or pulp) of the game
I was attracted by the amount of "buzz" on the Internet

These data show a clear and consistent picture - the retroclones must hit these notes over and over - approach/philosophy and feel, as well as appealing to those who want to "go back".

I was surprised that buzz, existing groups and recommendations answers were such a low percentage. To me, that means that finding OED&D/retroclones is an individual task which may or may not lead to other people playing those same games as well. Publishers and content writers again should take note - getting people to share these games is an untapped area - and something to look at.

How did you learn about the original editions/retroclones?
It was recommended by a friend
It is what my game group is playing
I already owned my older books
From a blog
From a D&D related forum
From the retroclone publisher's website

Here again, the data show that word of mouth or existing play was not a primary avenue for OED&D/retroclones.

Half of those who responded indicated they own their older books, which may lead to an interesting conclusion that I never considered - the retroclones are competing against older editions and the PDFs (if they ever come available again) for shelf space and mindspace. The data also show that forums are an important avenue, even with the advent of the blogs and the RPG Bloggers Network.

Concluding Thoughts and Controversial Tidbits

It can be fairly said that 130 respondents is hardly a scientific and exhaustive set and I agree. Still, given the amount of activity and discussion, I take the 130 as a decent small representation - given that I did appeal to various forums outside of the usual "old school" venues.

I did not post this on K&K, simply because I thought there was enough overlap on the OD&D/S&W boards and my blog. I did try to get this poll posted on Dragonsfoot. Dragonsfoot has a strict policy about not discussing 3E/4E, and I had sought permission for the poll, given the nature of the questions. I was very disappointed I didn't get a response.

I hope the data here serves to refute statements such as "4E drives the OSR". I also hope the data serves useful for other purposes, such as to help OSR publishers and interested content authors. For me, it was interesting to do this and read the responses and see how D&D and gaming has touched lives.

Here's an interesting thought to leave you with... did WotC already know all this prior to the design/development of 4E? I can't imagine, with the marketing muscle of Hasbro, that WotC didn't know that 3E was having a negative effect.

If you look at how the miniatures gaming world is taking off with many titles and interest, perhaps the handwriting on the wall from 3E forced WotC to move D&D towards what is selling these days? Perhaps the comparisons to MMOs aren't the true picture - but rather a comparison to other miniature games is more appropriate? After all, if you can combine some of the obsessiveness of MtG collectors with the most popular RPG and aim it at the (what seems to be) accelerating market of miniature gaming - perhaps WotC did have a plan?

I dunno, I did not pay attention to what was blogged or written about during 4E design/development. It's an interesting thought.

What do you think? What do these numbers say to you?


greywulf said...

Food for thought indeed, and thanks for collating this.

Taking into account that (as you rightly say) it's a small and not necessarily representative sample, it's important to take it all with a pinch of salt, but some things do stand out to me.

Firstly, Wizards were right to release 4e D&D when they did. 3e had reached the end of it's saleable life and a major new release was needed to drive the brand forward. That's not saying 3e is anywhere close to it's /playable/ life - there's plenty of fun to be had with the old girl yet! - but that Wizards' ability to make a decent profit from it was drawing to a close.

Secondly, it seems that retroclones overwhelmingly appeal to GMs rather than players. My own experience tends to bear that out - players don't generally tend to care what they play, so long as there's pizza and pretty good character generation options. I suspect that the innate simplicity and freedom-of-control inside most retroclones is the main attraction for GMs. Perhaps that's a backlash from 3e's overly-prescriptive nature. I dunno.

I'll confess that the answers to "If you were playing 4E, why did you decide to investigate/play an original edition game or retroclone?" surprised me. I'd have expected more people to be unhappy with Wizards' publishing and marketing - 50%, at least. Does this mean that 70% were happy? I doubt it - possibly just that it wasn't a driving force in them looking at retroclones.

Mind you, I'm not surprised no one was happy with with the GSL. I don't know a single solitary soul who is, except Greg Leeds.

Be interesting to run this same poll in a years' time, and see how the answers have changed.

Thanks again!

Chris said...

I suspect that the innate simplicity and freedom-of-control inside most retroclones is the main attraction for GMs. Perhaps that's a backlash from 3e's overly-prescriptive nature.

Speaking personally: good grief yes! I can hold the mechanics of my retro-clone of choice (LL) in my head during play. I wouldn't even have dreamed of trying that with 3E.

Good stuff btw Chgowiz.

Chris Tichenor said...

"Perhaps the comparisons to MMOs aren't the true picture - but rather a comparison to other miniature games is more appropriate?"

I've never played a MMO before. I haven't the slightest idea whether 4e resembles one or not. I have, however, played some of the collectible battle games extensively. Namely, Magic: the Gathering, Heroscape, and Pirates of the Spanish Main.

4e reads to me (and I'll be the first to admit I haven't played it) like one of the collectible battle games. The character creation rules feel like a template for creating a deck/army card/ship. The combat rules are written in much the same way as the battle games. The monsters are written up in much the same way as the cards for these games.

It would be exceedingly easy to reduce the 4e rules down to about 50 pages of text and then sell the rest of the rules as cards or something. Start with a fighter card... stack a weapon on him. Earn some points and then stack a level card on him. Maybe he earns a magic item card. Have him go up against four orc cards...

What role playing text is there is not unlike the flavor text bolted on to the battle games I mentioned earlier. Frankly, it wouldn't be any harder to role play in the Heroscape world using the Heroscape rules and flavor text.

Joseph said...

I also found that the ratio of DMs to players jumped off the screen at me; I would expect it to be the reverse of your findings.

I come at a different conclusion than Greywulf, however. I think it's a reflection of the gamer population that frequents gaming-related blogs and message boards. Perhaps DMs by the nature of that role are simply more dedicated/ obsessed/ interested and would be more likely to come across the poll.

Tom said...

Maybe most of the people who played 4e are simply still playing it?

Aaron W. Thorne said...

I'm with Joseph, I think GMs (even if they spend a fair amount of time as players) tend to frequent blogs and online RPG sites more often than players do, as players who never run games tend to be more casual about their participation in the hobby.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Tom - which is why this poll was aimed at those who've left playing 3e/4e for OED&D/retroclones. It was a very specific set of gamers.

It was meant to put at least some representative numbers to the question of whether 4E had a primary influence into the OSR. The data seem to refute that claim.

Unknown said...

I think there's an argument to be made that the 4e numbers for "what were you playing prior to..." don't necessarily uphold your conclusion or contradict my assertion. For example, I played 4e for months, then went back to 3e, then started investigating retroclones. I know several other people who did the same, so we would have answered your poll in the 3.x way, but 4e was definitely the driving force behind our investigation of retroclones.

This is an impressive piece of work you've put together. :)

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@Prop - you're welcome to do a followup to track the precise history of RPG adoption, but I think the data, plus the numbers that show a "Play 3E" vs "Play 4e" would preclude a "back and forth" - there were far too many people who put down 3E and not 4E at all. Many of the anecdotes that came with the numbers bore out a 3E push. I'd have to submit that the numbers, at least for this small set, do refute the assertion that 4E begat the OSR.

JB said... ure would be cool to receive and collate more data (especially from other OSR web sites like K&K and DF). There's definite food-for-thought and good data to be mined from polls like this. Thank you for looking for actual answers!

Player of Kee said...

I've always loved OD&D and 1eAD&D. In the last couple of years I've made an effort to mingle with more RPGers. Many of them were playing 3e, which was the Edition o' the Day. So we bought the core books. A few of our new friends were Rule Mongers, and loved 3e 'cause they could cite a Rule every 30 seconds and looks stuff up mid-game. That rules-heavy approach annoyed me to no end, so when 4e came out, I took a pass. I just don't want to go there - it isn't fun for me.

Anonymous said...

Interesting results. I think I'm in the minority alot of the time, as I have no issue with 3e - but it is a much more complex and rules-intensive game. (honestly, some days I feel like I'm the only one that doesn't see 3e/0e as an either/or choice - I like both! I also like checkers.)

The OGL is also a major factor for me.

Michael S/Chgowiz said...

@everyone - the discussion is fantastic - I'm glad the numbers have given you something to think about (or in the case of one poster on one of the forums, something to have a "serious problem" with...) - any opinion is interesting as numbers always mean different things to different people. What do you think?

Tacoma said...

It's possible that 3E didn't have a negative effect, it had a creative effect. People saw the OGL, saw all the 3rd party stuff, saw all the work in the fora on prestige classes and monsters. And because the game system was so obviously balanced against itself (though not always equal or fair). Seeing all this they started being creative, fooling around with the game, and realizing that you don't need all these rules and restrictions to have fun. Hence the OSR.

Not entirely of course. There are always many reasons for a revolution. But one is usually that peopel realize there is an alternative to toiling under an undesirable regime. Some still desire it. But those who don't have a reason to flee.

I'm perturbed by the conclusion that DMs are more interested in OSR than players. Someone mentioned that it might be because DMs are more likely to read these blogs. And that certainly seems right. I just hope broad swaths of players aren't specifically against the OS style of play.

Natalie said...

The "GMs are online" factor could also account for the relatively low word-of-mouth advertising for the retro clones. People who mostly get their information about new game systems from their friends are probably not answering online polls. Asking people if they'd recommended these games to their offline friends, and gotten them to play, would be a more useful way of measuring that. (Or at least a good way to rule out that factor as an issue.)

On the other hand, there could easily be some credit to the idea that these games appeal mostly to GMs. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since they're usually the ones driving game choice anyway.

redbeard said...

4e lead me to OSR - but not the way you think.
It was 4e's attempt to make a smoother, quicker game that lead me to question 3.x. From there I found OSR.

As a DM, I will never DM 3.x again once my current campaign finishes. Yes, it's complexity and weight are more of a bother to me as a DM than as a player. So I would play it again, but not as a first choice.

I would play or DM 4e if the setting and group were right for it (say, Ptolus.)

Of my 3.x group, I'm the only regular reader of gaming blogs and forums. So there's a data point on that part of the discussion: DMs are more involved in the hobby.

Unknown said...

I concur with the GM involvement remarks. None of my players do much thinking about the hobby when they aren't actually playing. (That's the general hobby, as distinguished from stuff that applies strictly to campaigns they actually play in).

I heard about the OSR via Grognardia while looking online for inspiration for my game. My players just don't have much use or time for that kind of random trolling around D&D blogs. The only ones who might find one would do so only because they themself run or want to run a campaign.

I have convinced them to try an old school game on the side, although we haven't run a session yet. The driving factor for them was dissatisfaction with the 4e rules and interest in a less structured, more creative game. The biggest stumbling block, I've found, is that they still aren't convinced a dungeon-crawl or sandbox could have as many opportunities for role-playing as a scripted adventure.

Anonymous said...

I was surprised that buzz, existing groups and recommendations answers were such a low percentage.

I wasn't surprised.

All the buzz surrounding retroclones and suchlike is taking place inside a closed circle - once you step outside the dedicated 'old school' network, where everyone is already a convert, there's almost no talk about this stuff at all.

(Example: I only found retroclones through this blog, and this blog while looking for West Marches games. I had no idea all this stuff was going on.)

I think other parts of the data - the number of gamers looking to 'go back' or who own the original books, for example - offer circumstantial evidence to support this theory.