Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Going Solo, or why the polish gaming community sucks

Happy 2010 everybody!

I felt shitty after the Xmas and decided to take some time off in order not to cramp my style any further...

But now, I'm back! Hopefully with a vengeance!

During my week off, I was thinking about my main problem with this blog - the fact that after almost two months, I'm still not running an old-school DnD game! Why is it so?

The answer is (unluckily) simple: I can't form a gaming group. It's not that I haven't been trying. I think everyone here knows how difficult it is to get a group of nice people (who have lives and problems of their own) together and play but here in Polandland, it seems twice as difficult! At least for me!

The reason for this, is the fact that the gaming culture developed differently than in the west. Let me elaborate...

The hobby arrived in Poland in the second half of the eighties and bloomed in the early nineties. The late beginnings shouldn't be a surprise, only with the fall of so-called communism and the introduction of the free market was it possible for small publishing companies to emerge and game materials be printed and freely imported from the west.

The golden age of Polish gaming could be linked to the appearance of the first gaming magazine called Magia i Miecz (Sword & Sorcery) in 1993. The first issues were devoted solely to publishing the first* Polish RPG game called Krysztaly Czasu (Crystals of Time), which was an extremely rule heavy AD&D clone.

Over the course of time, the magazine became more and more popular, covering more systems and the subjects linked to gaming, fantasy and sf. In 1995 Warhammer Fantasy Role Play was published, becoming a default "entry" system for the next 10 years. Not long after, other popular systems followed - all the World of Darkness, Call of Cthulhu, Earthdawn, Cyberpunk 2020 and finally even AD&D (which was in house print circulation for a long time, but was published quite late)...

This is where the going might get weird for all the dungeoneers - D&D never made it into the Polish public consciousness... And what I mean is that, in Poland, when people who have vaguely heard about the hobby want to address the subject, they will usually speak of "playing war hammers" or something like that. Of course, DnD is acknowledged by the gaming community as the ancestor, but is generally looked down upon (along with Warhammer) as simplistic and "not-serious", sometimes even addressed as "primitive"...

To be fair, this has changed a bit since in 2004 the Polish edition of 3.e, followed by the new Warhammer, were published. But that introduced a new generation of gamers, rather than changed the attitude of the "old' ones.

But back to the point!

This short outline is meant to give you some background on why I find it so difficult to explain why oldschool DnD is cool.

Because the tradition of playing DnD does not exist, few people understand what kind of atmosphere I want to invoke! And explaining isn't so easy! Usually when I get to the point of explaining how OSR postulates using rule light game and the flow of the story/adventure over loads of pseudo mimesis, people either look at me like I'm crazy**, or ask why not use "a better rule lite-system like FATE" (which, btw. I like a lot). Not many people see the old school elegance of the DnD rules and fall for their charm. In fact I'm close to explaining it by playing people this vid, which in my opinion really captures the spirit of OSR.

Finally there is a problem of the Polish Cult of Role-playing/acting. Somehow the presumption that good playing is synonymous with good acting is extremely strong. Few people here understand that good acting during the game doesn't stand in opposition to being silly, introducing Tables of What Happens When You Are Drunk and keeping in mind that what you are doing is playing an artificial construct of rules according to which you get Xp for gold just because it's cool.

So yeah, getting people to play is difficult... Especially that I have an adventure laying around for some time now and feel that both I and fishlemons are getting restless!

Maybe I'm just trying to make it too perfect! I really don't know now... Maybe I should run it gonzo-style like Zak does? But for that you still need a set of right people, or at least so it seems to me...

Recently I've even started thinking about running a solo introductory adventure for fishlemons (mainly because of this post). Still, it's gonna be her first time and I'm not sure if that's a good way of introducing her to the hobby, which after all is mainly a social activity.


*the question of what system was really the first polish language one remains disputable. The first officially published game was entitled Oko Yrrhadesa (Yrrhade's Eye, this is how the 1995 book version looked like), it came out as an article in the 1990 issue of the magazine Fenix. However, there are legends about first drafts of Time Crystals and a home translation of AD&D Player's Handbook circulating as early as 1987.
**somehow "realistic"rules are extremely popular in Poland and the belief that mechanics should describe the game as accurately as possible is quite widespread. On the other hand all the oldschool random tables, which I find entertaining on the meta game level, are discarded as something primitive!

all art by Jarosław Musiał


  1. Wow, interesting post. How to bring D&D to a culture where there exists NO nostalgic longings for the D&D past, culture, etc. I would suggest you are going to probably be most successful with younger players who have NO history of playing RPGs. They will have no pre-concieved notions of what the game should and shouldn't be like, and don't even need to know it's based on a 30+ year old game. You can fame the entire game as a "new" roleplaying experience and go from there. Let their first game be your chance to completely set the scene.

  2. Any clue whether "Krysztaly Czasu" has ever been translated into English? Would it be worth it? Perhaps there are some stealable monsters or worthwhile character classes? At least the artwork is cool :)

  3. This was a really neat post. I will have to go on EBay to see if I can buy a copy of the magazine you mentioned. Good luck in putting together a game. I'm not sure why the simple things in life often have to be so difficult to pull off.


  4. I suggest just starting a game with whatever medieval system is popular where you are and then presenting the people with the kinds of challenges you'd expect in an old-school game (whatever you think that is). Then once people trust you and you have a common experience to talk about then you can talk to them about how you might want to change the rules by saying: "Oh, remember when we did That Thing? I want it to be like that"

    You may even find that you don;t really need to change the rules that much to play a game with that Old School feeling. the rules are less important than having people you like to play with and who trust you as a GM.

  5. Here, look for yourself:


    I agree, the artwork is great. It has a feel reminiscent of Liz Danforth's work.

  6. @Badmike - I haven't thought of what I want to do in term's of introducing a completely new game, since I know some people who started the hobby in Poland and have a great sentiment for DnD, but now as I analyze the situation, even they played only AD&D...

    @imredave - I was actually thinking about making a post outlining the system and it's world. I don't think it's available in English. It has a very old school feel in terms of materials, but the mechanics are super complicated and slow. Noticing how all of oyu got excited, I might translate some stuff and post it here.

    @Christian - here the old issues of the magazine are quite common and cheap, if you want to, I might scan one of them and/or send to you. If you find any on Ebay, try the issues published in A4 format, they're older and have a better feel.

    @Zak - that's why in the beginning of my blog I was thinking about making some custom d20 rules, that could be introduced during play, by stripping down the 3.e. The problem is that getting older players to play ANY form of DnD is difficult.

  7. I am experiencing the same problems finding players in the UK - I remember the early 80s and how many of us were about then (enough to keep White Dwarf going as an RPG magazine for nearly 100 issues before it sold its soul to Warhammer) but where have they all gone? Yeah, some have become threetards, but I think that most shut their AD&D days away in a little box that says "Back when I was a nerd".

    How to reach them? Don't know.

    As I have opined on more than one occasion, probably the best option is to work on recruiting the next generation (i.e. kids - saving them from the horrors of Xbox) much as Badmike (from whom I bought ToEE) rather than rely on middle-aged guys who are a bit embarassed about little metal figures and funny-shaped dice. It's a shame if they do feel that way because they'd make great recruiters.

  8. Don;t worry about D&D, play Warhammer, play Krystal of Time, play whatever, just make the challenges the kind of challenges you want to see challenged, and the players will follow.

  9. @Squidman

    Well, on the one hand I get what You're trying to say (in fact You're presenting the situation of our crippled RPG history in Poland really nice) but on the other hand I still get confused when You say that it is difficult to get some players ;).

    If You are the same guy who writes at the Poltergeist's boards (Poltergeist is probably the biggest site dedicated to the various aspects of fantasy and popular culture in Poland) then it will be easy to recall a situation from the boards when the topic of the Old School arose. Apparently almost none was getting it right. For the majority WFRP 1 ed and V:tM were OS games. This is an example to illustrate the mentality of regular polish players.

    On the other hand, when I proposed playing a retro-clone to my players they replied "Ok, so when are we going to create our characters?". It was that simple.

    But as Badmike said, we are quite young both in terms of age and gaming experience (it'll be something about six years of gaming for the most experienced of us and we're all around 18 right now) and we eagerly play everything we can find.

    Oh, and we actually have a good source of OSR news, materials and articles. A blog named Inspirations (Inspiracje in polish) provides a handful of information monthly/biweekly.

    And pointing the whole "RPG is an art, it's all about acting" shit is a really neat idea.

  10. @Behir

    I knew it would happen at some point - that a polish person would appear on this blog... I'm glad you come in peace!

    I don't read internet forums, especially polish ones. So the answer is: no, I'm not the guy from Poltergeist, but I don't find it surprising, that no one got it.

    The problem with finding players for me is that I want them to be people who can qualify as good friends and not just some guys I sometimes roll dice with... In one word, they have to be intelligent and that hard to get.

    Don't get me wrong, I really like people acting in RPGs, it just shouldn't get in the way of having fun.

    I'm glad to hear some one is playing retro-clones in Poland! Hope you have a lot of good games and thank's for the info on Inspirations. I'll definetly check it out.

  11. I almost always come in peace :). And from my point of view and experience there aren't as many angry trolls on boards written in English as appear on Polish ones.

    As for my players, most of them really are my friends. We have a small, unofficial gaming community consisting of something around 11 people so I can choose those who won't have quarrels and with which a particular kind of game will go smoothly (because we sometimes try out those so called "Indie" games ;) ). And from those 11 people (me included) 3 are my very good friends and I know one of those friends as long as I recall (and I knew her before, there are even fotos that can prove it :D).

    And as for the acting. I don't consider it a sin or something. I consider it a part of the hobby. But if someone can't acknowledge that RPG is a hobby, not a form of theater... I just stop arguing.

    And when I play 'normally' I just have some funny events in the form of a list, the players have their characters and a story that links them and we just start telling the story of their deeds. If I see that an event is appropriate I just pull it out my sleeve and check what the players will do. And I build on their expectations and thoughts. If an idea is clearly better than mine, guess which one turns out to be real :D?

    And as for the retro-clones. I'm slowly building a sandbox for my players. Also, I'm working on a small project which could encourage more people in Poland to delve into the amazing world of OSR :). But that's top secret for now.

    And if someone wants to see how a polish retro-gamers blog looks like: http://bialylew.blogspot.com/

  12. I'm glad you have a nice gaming group and the way you run your games seems fun.

    We also seem to have the same view on acting.

    Thanks for following!

  13. As for starting with a solo-game: Do it! I introduced my wife to gaming using a solo-game. The next session a friend of hers joined the game. A session or two later somebody else joined that I had met on the Internet. And it grew from there. Now it's my favorite campaign with six regular players. And like Zak I use D&D 3.5 because playing with nice people is more important than anything else.

  14. I bet you can get them to play warhammer 1e and that is old school as you can get :)

  15. Do you have legal rights to publish those pictures in this article?

  16. that's nice, what do you want me to do?

  17. try to get a contact to author of this pictures and ask him for permition

  18. and do you happen to know, who the author is and how I can contact him?

  19. Hello, Squidman. You're fourth / fifth person writting about old school RPGs with Polish heritage. Lol, we're crippled. ;D Kryształy Czasu - I suppose you arn't A. Szyndler, don't ya? ;)

  20. No, I know you're not. That was question to this guy "krysztalyczasu". ;)

    P. S. Anyway, good article, with in-deep observations of our tiny RPG world.

  21. Ah! I'm tired, haven't noticed. Thanks anyway!

  22. Just stumbled upon your article, thanx to Ojciec Kanonik.

    First af all, I'd like to say, you nailed whole thing. I'll bet it is a nail to the coffin, because in fact there is a strange tendency in polish gaming society.

    Unfortunately younger generation (I myself began playing in late eighties/early nineties) were introduced to hobby by "mood, roleplaying and atmospheric" games like White Wolf's World of Darkness, which were basicaly an "anthithesis" for AD&D. All those people put an emphasis on rolepelaying experience in way of emotional drama. It can be fun when you are teenager or emo, but for me, and I think any grown man, it is childish lay. But the image was created: (A)S&D is viewed as purely hack&slash, munchkin game for "lesser" players. Funny thing, almost no one was able to say a damn word about old TSR settings apart from Dragonlance or Forgotten Realms, but almost everybody was running afoul of them. This show state of knowledge and state of of polish gamers.

    Warhammer on the other hand is viewed as "state-of-the-art" setting, full of drama, doom, rain and shit. It became like that thanks to cycle of articles "Jesienna Gawęda" (Autumn Tale), which presented Old World a place condemned, full hurt, betrayal and without hope. Basicly it degenerated in player's minds into "living hell", where you die slowly with face in mud, with your testicles gutted out. Strange thing, WFRP always were described as a grim world, yes, but of perillious adventure, not shitty death.

    Anyway, damage was done: one game was called childish and dumb and that sticked to it, other was praised and still holds a special place in heart of many gamers. There are some people, who still love old (A)D&D (for example Ojciec Kanonik or me) and they can shed some light. Just check out blogs.

    Gotta read and comment your blog, it is very good!
    Best regard, and take care!

  23. Indeed! I liked Autumn Tale column a lot! However, I do think there is still a huuuuuge number of people still loathing Warhammer.

    Thanks for the comment!

  24. "the question of what system was really the first polish language" I find not relevant so much. We used to start with english-language rpg-s back then. It wasn't that easy to find and read one, but it wasn't that difficult, too.

  25. Indeed, but from what I know the language barrier was quite a significant one back than... Also it's really only after the appearance of Magia i Miecz, that the RPGs became available to wider audiences.

  26. Well, addressing your post title - I don't think the Polish gaming community sucks...it is just much different to the American.
    Because of the nation's mentality and things that happened in the past (like Warhammer being one of the prime RPGs on the market in the 80s-90s, followed by dark and gloomy World of Darkness) the Polish RPG scene is more akin to the "doom and gloom" in their roleplaying. This changes now. Most of the teenagers nowadays started their fantasy RPG journey with DnD3.
    Don't get disencouraged. The problem you are facing is not that your players don't want to play OS, is the fact that they don't want to play an old system that they see as inferior to what they are familiar with. There is no nostalgia factor there…
    I successfully run at least a dozen of old school style games using Savage Worlds. IMHO old school gaming is more of a style, than a particular game – you might disagree, but if you want to test your strengths as an old school gm, try running it on a different light mechanic (WFRP, Savage Worlds). I had so much fun with almost no-prep games on Savage Worlds.

    Oh, btw – I come in peace – with Polish heritage ;)