I am back. Toronto is a vast urban desertscape, a nightmarish chimera consisting of equal parts The Village, World of Darkness New York and Disney’s It’s a Small World. Upon my pilgrimage along its endless boulevards of pet shops, tattoo parlours and small buisnesses with THIS STORE SOLD CIGARETTES TO MINORS signs decorating their front doors in lurid screaming scarlet tones, I found peace and inner strength. In second hand book stores and the spaces between long rants about Tolkien owning black slaves, I found serenity. I return to descend once more, an OSR downgoing if you will.
For you, oh patient yet demanding audience, I bring you this gift. I had a chance to talk via email with the well-known and universally beloved Bryce Lynch of tenfootpole.org, a wonderful blog brimming with nothing but reviews of all things OSR (and the occasional side-trek into Dungeon Magazine, the later issues of which are particularly taxing on soul and sanity). The result is ten hard hitting questions, for which I was able to compel 9 straight answers from this elusive, almost mythical spirit-guardian of the OSR before even my power ran out. This is the result. Any gushing I seem to do is included only for dramatic effect naturally.
Bryce of tenfootpole.org. You have been at the reviewing buisness longer then any man that draws breath today. Greybeards tell tales of your prowess around the fireside and striplings shiver when they hear of your decision to review 3e Dungeon Magazine adventures. I invoke thee! Answer me these questions or return to the essential saltes from which ye where constituted.
>> Note: I believe it is traditional to repeat the phrase “I invoke thee” three times. You don’t actually NEED to use it at all, perse, however it is traditional and gives things a nice “Zzarchov Kowolski” feel.
1) Other, less usefull blogs have often asked you why you do what you do. A silly question. One may as well ask why the sun travels across the heavens or the cleric fingerbangs the GM’s girlfriend. It must be, as clearly as night follows day. I ask simply this. You have reviewed a great many OSR things, possibly all OSR things. After most of Lotfp, DCC and Frog God Games have been turned into pillars of salt beneath your stern and uncompromising glare, what other publishers should we look towards for new and exciting Bryce Lynch reviews?
– Ha! As if! I have no plans. I barely pay attention to the scene. I bookmark adventures as I come across them on G+ or the OSR news sites. I do notice some cycles as authors rise up and then settle down. Both Stewart and Kowolski seem particularly active right now and are producing great adventures. This continues the trend of volk with a focused vision hammering it out. The lone mad genius.
I started reviewing because of the the massive effort it took to find something good. Things have now moved on to the effort in just FINDING things. Hope you notice when it pops by your feed. Hope it pops up on a news site. Hope you see it at the big PDF store. Lapis Observatory was something I just tripped over. I just picked up something else that was ok from a post on Reddit. It’s the old shovelware problem. Getting something noticed in the sea of product is step one, and then step two being Is It Ok? Publishing just on Lulu? Or some niche site? Or you have your own storefront like the Frogs, LotFP or Goodman? Just figuring out what is available is a monumental hurdle … which is why I rely on the “I tripped over it” method.
Which publisher is next? Which publishers are publishing?
2) What single adventure would you say you found most challenging to form an opinion on and why?
-I struggle continually with the “ok” adventures. I review fine journeyman adventures from time to time and I always struggle against the faults and my feelings. The dude did an ok job. Probably better than I would. And yet I literally trash the adventure, throwing it away in the same recycle bin that the horrible stuff goes in to. Ultimately I decided that there was only room for the very best in my life and I turn back to that when I face the dilemma of the ‘C’ adventure. I empathize with the designers.
There’s another bucket, that of the people Who Have Ideas. The 3-part narrative of the start of DCO. The Blue Medusa attempt at making things easier for the DM. The Slumbering Ursine point crawls. Even the Psychedelic Fantasies dogma. But then there are others who are trying something new and it just doesn’t work out right. New ways of formatting adventures. Of layout. Of descriptive text. I’m conflicted with these on two fronts. First, as a reviewer, you see a lot of the same old stuff every day. The new & interesting gets your attention, perhaps in an unfair way … I’m always on guard about that. Did I like this because it was trying something new? I have to stop and really think to see if it works or not. I think I have a propensity to want to see these people trying new things succeed in what they are doing and so am on guard about that also. Cheering for innovation … regardless of if it works better?
3) Let us talk like friends or possibly inbred cousins. We are in the trust tree here. We both like Deep Carbon Observatory but if we read through it it is not hard to see it needs one hell of an edit and the timetable makes no sense. Why is it still so goddamn delicious and why doesn’t the award go to Slumbering Ursine Dunes instead?
-The start of DCO beats the living shit out of you. Those scenes are focused like a laser. Boiled down, refined, to just a few words that embody drama. What are they, One sentence, maybe two? And yet there is more drama in those than all of the new WOTC stuff combined. Not just drama. Player focused drama that doesn’t seem to be pandering to the player. And it keeps coming. Scene after scene. And then the river journey. Encounter after encounter. And then that fucking dam. And then the nightmares beyond it. It never seems to let up. Ursine is a GREAT adventure that everyone should have. DCO is screaming at you, in your face, WHAT DO YOU DO!?!?!?!?!?! Without actually making you do anything or even appear to be screaming at you.
As an aside: My son is a young 15 and still likes to think like a HERO. I ran him through the first three. He had a horrified look on his face. I ran my wife through them separately. She ignored them … there was treasure beyond the dam and she would not be distracted, besides, she said … they would be better off if they just died.
4) Your standards for what constitutes a good adventure make so much fucking sense I find it hard to disagree with any of them. How did you come by these standards? If you are tempted to answer ‘years and years of experience’ lie to me and tell my largely imaginairy readership about that one special adventure that condensed every single benchmark and qualifier for a good adventure in your mind like some arrow of enlightenment fired from the bow of Mecha-Apollo himself.
-We always want the easy black & white answer, don’t we? Grey is never good enough. Some of these came through opinions I already had, some came through some of the more thoughtful writings in others blogs, and most came from my early reviews. The real breakthrough, though, came with Fight On #2. About that same I was looking again at G1. The similarity of style between the two made sense. Also, my job reviews, year after year, note how I instantly grasp connections between things that others can’t see. They also note that I’m a jerk. Work life balance indeed!
5) What the fuck is this shit about you doing freelance editing or some shit? You were supposed to be one of US. You can’t be seen taking the MAN’S money. That is not punkrock. I think you should tell us what is up?!?
Yes, I’ve sold out. I now do a sort of editing and have a decent workload from it You can find the details on tenfootpole. I agonized over this decision more than any person should have. I’ve prided myself on buying everything I review and somehow extending that to “work for hire” seemed dirty. Money is dirty. Direct Action, and all that jazz. Now all I have my misspent youth are some akpress t-shirts and Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist. I console myself by lying to myself: it’s all in service of a longer-term plan ...
6) Any chance you will ever write an adventure of your own and publish it?
Yes. In six years. I suggest folks hold their breath until then. Until then folks will need to console themselves with my re-write of Chapter One of Hoard of the Dragon Queen … which I now cringe at how terrible it is. I think there’s a link on Hack & Slash. Would you believe my wife and I LITERALLY argues for three hours over what the first sentence should be? I am not being my usual hyperbolic self. Three. Fucking. Hours. And that juvenile attempt was the result. Ouch. You can see now why “six years” is a realistic answer.
7) What type of drugs will you use when Dungeon Magazine hits the 4e era of DnD?
I’m pretty sure alcohol is tradition, for writers? I’m not looking forward to this, although, truth be told, I think I’ve already hit a few in the last few Dungeons which run pretty close to the stereotypical 4e adventure. I haven’t looked ahead, but I think may be the print edition of Dungeon ended close to the the advent of 4e? My box of magazine is pretty close to empty, so I shouldn’t have to suffer long. I always hold out hope, though, that there will be a gem in there ..
8) Would you do everyone a favour and describe your take on the OSR and where you think it might be heading? A sort of ‘boots on the ground’-eye view so to speak.
(On this question Bryce remains ominously silent. I feel the hairs on the back of neck rising, as though some vast, ponderous intelligence is directing the full power of its immeasurable intellect towards me in titanic, world-shattering displeasure. I quickly follow up with another hard hitting interview question before the nervous tremors prevent me from continuing the interview).
9) I know I know most gamesystems are basically interchangeable. That being said, any system, setting or sub-system that needs more adventures published in it?
Hey, great question! IMO, most of the game systems don’t really have adventures that capture the spirit of the system.
10) While we are on the fucking subject. What genre do we need more of? I used to love Lovecraft but I’m getting a little sick of seeing it pop up under every fucking rock wherever I look. Science Fantasy? Sword and Planet? Dunstany & Eddison (Kent threatened me into putting that one in)? Thinly-veiled ripoffs of Tekumél half-heartedly disguised beneath a thin coat of bollywood-veneer (Tarnowski threatened me into putting that one in)? Anything so long as it has tits?
DCC captured that kind of old METAL style of 70’s perfectly and mashes it up with beer & pretzels. I’d love to see the OTHER side of the 70’s. (Uh, the third side? Not fucking Tolkein.) That softer and more fantastic/naturalistic fantasy. Arduin. Mobius. Wizards. Fire & Ice. The Warlord comic. The old California scene intrigues the fuck out of me and I’d love to see more in that vein.