Dungeons. Dragons. Graph paper. Funny dice.

2010 Aug 26 6:36 PM

Trading on design

In a reply to my post from yesterday, Scott of Huge Ruined Pile (who himself recently penned something of an apologia for nostalgia) predicted a move to “more modern-looking” OSR products. There’s good design and bad design. Good design is aesthetically appealing and functional. In the case of game covers, the function is to communicate the nature of the content. What is the game about? Is it the sort of thing I would like? Here are a couple of current Swords & Wizardry products:

Swords & Wizardry Peter Mullen cover

Swords & Wizardry white box boxed set

The design of both these products effectively communicates what they’re about. They’re fantasy adventure games, with an old-school flavor. I also find them aesthetically pleasing per se, apart from the nostalgia factor. The boxed set has a clean, balanced design which does its job even when considered in isolation from the 1974 box. Granted, most of the people buying these products are familiar with the earlier works they reference. But that’s true of any package design. You sell an unfamiliar product by creating associations in the minds of consumers. Leaving aside whether they are good or bad design (relative to the S&W covers or on their own), what associations do these “modern” Frog God Games covers evoke?

Frog God module K12 cover

Frog God module ST1 cover

These covers capitalize on a design aesthetic that was popularized around 2001 with the boom of 3e products. No doubt the designs create the desired associations in their audience. My concern is that—however much we would like to see Swords & Wizardry realize the volume of sales 3e publishers saw—the design aesthetic of the Frog God Games products would less effectively communicate the appeal of S&W than the existing Mullen cover. If you think the Swords & Wizardry packaging is derivative (I don’t—it’s nostalgic but not derivative), is it better to jump from one derivative design to another derivative design of slightly more recent vintage? I don’t ask that rhetorically. (In case you haven’t seen it, the art for the new Swords & Wizardry cover is shown in my last post.)


ze bulette October 9, 2011 at 12:41 PM

I’m over a year late to comment here, but still thought I’d just say this:

Nailed it.

Paul October 9, 2011 at 1:08 PM

Thanks, ze.

I’m happy that a publisher with Frog God’s profile is supporting S&W, so I feel bad about craping on their efforts. On the other hand, it’s looking less like they don’t understand, and more like they just don’t care.

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