(The first bit of this post is *very* inside baseball. Skip to "Housekeeping" if you're a normal person who reads this blog for fun.)
EDIT, 31/12: This is now the most viewed post on this blog, mainly because people link to it as if it were a dictionary definition for SWORD DREAM. It’s not - these were my unfiltered musings, written and posted within an hour or so of first coming across the term on Twitter. SWORD DREAM now means something a little more specific, and different from what I rambled about here. I don’t see any need to take the post down, but I’ll leave it at this - if you’ve got to the point where you’re fighting with strangers on the internet over elfgames, or wanting to involve yourself in The Discourse, please just get offline and play games with your friends instead. That’s why we’re all here in the first place.
The idea of "officially" (I use those quotes in the heaviest of senses, for reasons that will be elucidated) moving on from the OSR scene has been bandied about at least since I became a part of it.
The central argument - that the emerging mishmash of artpunk modules, new mechanics and blogs is seen by its contributors, proponents and outsiders alike as only tangentially connected to the initial movement of an Old-School Revival and/or Renaissance - has been recently galvanised by a growing awareness of the depths to which a significant portion of the current OSR use the acronym as a cover-cum-calling-card for regressive, predatory and bigoted behaviours and rhetoric.
At the very least, we possibly need a new name.
Ben Milton's proposal of Tabletop Adventure Game (TAG, #tag, my own silly idea RAGTAG) has, to my knowledge, been the most sensible suggestion so far. I think I saw it on a Kickstarter or two.
There's also "artpunk" which is now seeing much wider use, but denotes a more specific subset of games and creators - I feel comfortable calling Scrap Princess' work artpunk, but I'm not sure whether someone like Emmy Allen is also, for example?
Very recently, a new contender has gained steam - and, crucially, like artpunk and #tag, done so among relative luminaries of the actual genre up for discussion. I am still tentative about its adoption (again, elucidation forthcoming), and as I said it's only just begun circulation; only time will tell whether or not it sticks.
The chrysalis discarded, a new life emerges. She stretches her glassy wings, still slick with the albumen of a body regenerated, regurgitated, drying them under a hopeful sun and preparing, for the first time, to fly. She is called:
The initialism Second Wave Of Roleplaying Design - DIY Rules Everything Around Me is a useful backronym. The basic tenet is a design philosophy identical to the current OSR-as-genre, with the caveat of a movement rooted in a rejection of intolerance. I offer this Twitter thread for further reading.
|logos already! people are excited! this by Nate Treme is v cool|
I think this is a good name, appropriately ridiculous, and I could theoretically be not only behind, but a force for transition into, the new era it represents. But I am, again, tentative.
For this to work, SWORD DREAM must carry over all the things that made the OSR function, and there are some of those bits that I can see easily - through nothing more sinister than human lack of awareness - falling by the wayside. To wit:
SWORD DREAM must be a genre, not a "community".
("genre" can be "scene", "movement", etc.)
The OSR functioned as a loose web of online connections based singularly around appreciation of a form of game design. The only community that ever mattered was each individual's home game table.
This is perhaps the point least understood by the "indie" scene, who function primarily as a self-contained cottage industry. The OSR acronym is at its best nothing more than a handy stamp to indicate possible areas of interest for like-minded game fans searching the quagmire of Online Content for things they might find useful. It's the "rock/pop" section at the record store, not a meaningful label, certainly not anything resembling a cohesive group. There was never a centralised hub and this is to the scene's credit.
So, when people think up ways to bring SWORD DREAM creators together under some kind of banner - an ostensibly noble cause! - I just can't get fully on board. Free-use logos, f'rinstance, are ok, but only as long as we recognise anything without the logo as being just as much a SWORD DREAM as something with it.
Similarly, though a smidge more rankling, is talk of registering a domain name or starting a forum - again, fine in theory, but it must allow literally any content from literally anyone who wants to participate (in good faith, obviously, in accordance with the above tenets).
And what would be on that website - content? Discussion? Who curates that? Who "runs" SWORD DREAM dot com? Even if its moderation is somehow as decentralised as "everyone who uses the site", that's an "in" group, which necessitates an "out". A genre shouldn't have an out group beyond "people who aren't into those games really."
Nobody runs a genre, nobody could, but by creating a "manageable" space you invite management, and suddenly SWORD DREAM is not a loose connection of shared interest like the OSR that spawned it, but the output of a glorified subreddit. Things the platform's creators agree with will be more prominent, dissent will be quelled by a growing hivemind as unwritten social rules form around what is or isn't "appropriate", and anyone who doesn't feel like they fit won't fit.
I'm not even talking about politics here - what if someone posts a piece of art on a forum that mainly deals with written content? Is that ok? What type of art do we like? Do we ban porn? What do we consider porn? What if art content overtakes text - do we ban art? Split into subforums? Or what if, say, the mods run a friendly "200 word RPG contest" - what do all the people who don't feel able to write in that style contribute to that space?
Psst... These are not actually important questions! Not when talking through the lens of SWORD DREAM as a whole-ass genre. But if we considered it a community...
Every act of curation and definition in a public space spawns these questions about identity and then answers them, whether according to individual whim or vote or consensus or whatever, defining the group who uses that space not only by shared interest but also tangentially related values, and thereby directly or indirectly excluding people worthy of inclusion, along arbitrary lines.
A SWORD DREAM with content curated in any sense beyond the bounds of its inherent definition inevitably gains, like the acronym OSR, cultural meanings beyond the genre of game that it is.
It becomes... ugh... a brand.
|I also like this one from Sean McCoy|
While we're on the website example - what about all the content that would inevitably happen away from that site? Or if SWORD DREAM happened on Twitter - what about everyone else, the sensible few who don't frequent that hellsite?
A public space with the name SWORD DREAM plastered on it that doesn't include absolutely all of SWORD DREAM - an impossible task if "all of SD" is as wide as a genre can be - begins to close the genre off into something at best esoteric, or at worst exclusionary. A clique will form. People asking what SWORD DREAM is can be directed to a handy website with that exact name, believing it to be the sum total of some imagined community and missing out on an entire genre along the way.
This dividing of the "in" and "out" crowds would happen purely by negligence - perhaps something innocuous like a collection of SWORD DREAM content being sold as a product by the people who organise said public space. The issue: highlighting a particular creator's work on something "official" like a website called SWORD DREAM, or even something merely prominent enough that it might be misconstrued as "official", is inherently exclusionary to anyone not on that creator's "level", or rather, and perhaps more importantly, anyone who perceives themselves to be not on their level.
Again, this is a difference between the OSR and indie scenes - any fool who starts a blog and claims it to be OSR is automatically just as OSR as any given published creator. Things are often even considered OSR regardless of creator opinion on the label, because they just fit the genre - I know that Sean McCoy doesn't really call Mothership OSR himself, but accepts that most do because of how genre works.
Conversely, how "indie" are you really if you're not active on X forum/social platform, demonstrably at least this woke *gestures vaguely*, have had at least one needlessly divisive tweet go semi-viral, and have put an illustrated PbtA hack for sale on itch.io? (Ok, I'll stop being catty, but seriously indie folks - the OSR is a genre, not a community, so stop pretending queer/PoC/non-Western/working-class/left-wing creators don't both exist and create amazing things within that genre just because it makes your tweets sound more pithy.)
By attempting to unite and centralise discussion and/or content under the banner of "community", said group would only serve to draw a line between those who are and those who are not SWORD DREAM - or merely *feel* like they are/are not part of that group. This, even if only because it is perceived as such, is a barrier to entry.
There can be NO barriers to entry.
(Yes, that necessitates the inclusion of a wealth - nay, a surfeit - of free games and content. Sorry, capitalists.)
|and here's one by @OpeSounds|
I don't have an antidote to any of this, other than what the OSR has already been doing: blogs. Longform content, free and easy distribution, individual creator-run spaces over some nebulous collective, considered discussions rather than a social media-esque frenzy on some community hub.
(Zedeck Siew has said some very well-thought-out things on why the longform nature of blogs benefits the scene but I unfortunately can't find a link.)
When, inevitably, someone who claims to be part of SWORD DREAM is discovered as having done terrible, hateful things (it will happen), the reaction should be akin to that of rock n roll fans discovering that one band is problematic (i.e. decrying them and moving on), not that of sailors on one big boat discovering a leak - a "breach" in a community they fooled themselves into believing was somehow ideologically pure and/or self-sustaining, leading to panicked puritanism, cancel culture and performatively woke "discourse".
Let people be fans, or not, of each SWORD DREAM creator; nobody should feel they have to be a fan of SWORD DREAM as a whole. Nobody should ever be entirely sure of what SWORD DREAM "as a whole" is.
Which brings me back round to those quotation marks around the word "official" at the top of this ramble:
SWORD DREAM only survives as long as there is no "official" SWORD DREAM
- neither in actuality nor in the general perception.
If this can be done?
Then I, too, will dream the SWORD DREAM.
Now stop reading about games and start playing 'em!
I'm going on vacation this month! Just a small break but it's the first time I've been away in literal years. I've earned it! So, there won't be posts on the blog again until near the end of June.
Which makes this probably not an ideal time to remind you that you can support this blog via Patreon! Just a tiny monthly contribution can really add up and help me out.
Or, if you don't want to commit to a monthly thing, I have cool stuff for sale over on Gumroad.
Money is hard for me. I don't like talking about it. I don't like the fact that I need it, but, guess what, I do. Rent and food and stuff, but little things too - Both mine and my partner's laptops recently broke down, so I've been doing blog stuff and actual RPG work on my phone and public computers. I need new glasses (thank the NHS for free eye tests!) but can't afford them, so I'm still using my old prescription for now.
Again, little things, and I'm certainly not in any genuine danger right now. There are people in this community who sincerely need your help to survive and function, so please support them first.
But if you're left with a bit of change after that, I'd certainly appreciate it. And I'll give you games in return! Capitalism at work.
I also want to start doing regular reviews of RPGs and tabletop games in general. These would be about once a month and to what I consider a professional standard - not like the stream-of-consciousness ramble above! To that end, I'm going to be updating the tiers on the Patreon this month, in the interest of hopefully making this blog yet more of a cohesive, useful thing.
It will also very much still be my game content and nonsense opinions.
Happy gaming! I sincerely wish you all the very best in the month ahead x