I know that the title of this post is going to honk off some folks, especially within the OSR, who will (rightly) chime in that the DIY ethos is alive and well in the RPG hobby. After all, we’ve got a glut of RPG rules right now – desktop publishing software and print on demand have ushered in a veritable golden age of DIY gaming.
Well… yes and no.
While it is true that there are a ton of new RPG rules being written and published (thanks in large part to Amazon, Lulu, and RPGNow), the hobby does seem to have lost some of the DIY ethos nonetheless. I’m thinking particularly of the accouterments of gaming. There was a time that it was a hassle to find 25mm unpainted lead figures. Terrain? Dungeon walls? Good luck. I picked up a slew of dungeon walls made out of cheap plaster at GenCon in 1985 (I think), but that was it. It was that or grease pencils on acetate.
Now, though, we’ve got pre-painted plastic figures and Dwarven Forge dungeon walls. Artistically rendered dungeon tiles are a dime a dozen. Some games even require that one use their figures, and GW even requires that they be painted a certain way. It’s one thing to be the only company making a D10 Klingon Battlecruiser, and having a game that you can’t physically play without having purchased the right miniature. And yet another thing when, if you show up to a game with a non-authorized figure (GASP!) you will be turned away.
One of the reasons I like Ogre Minatures so much is that it still has this DIY ethos. Part of it is certainly not by design – Steve Jackson Games never produced any Israeli Golems or Nipponese Ninjas – but a great deal of it is simply that when the game was made, that’s just what you did. You bought some figures, you kitbashed or created from whole cloth the ones you couldn’t (or didn’t) buy, and you played the game. And then you made your own terrain. Some of it was great, and some of it sucked. But it was homemade, and that gave it a certain authenticity from which we seem to be actively moving away. Not that it’s dead by any stretch, but it is definitely going out of style.
Go read this post from Chirine’s Workbench ye trendy and despair. There’s gold in handmade terrain, and handmade figures, and even hand painted figures. Let’s not let the “industrialization” of our hobby lose sight of that.