B/X Essentials: Rebranding?


For some time, I’ve been pondering the name B/X Essentials and what it means to different types of people.

I chose the name in the early days of the project and I think it does a great job of expressing the content of the core books: the first five books form a clone / rules reference of B/X (the essentials of the B/X game, if you will). B/X Essentials has now become a (to some degree) known name in the OSR scene, and I’m delighted that my work has played some part in bringing B/X back into the limelight.

However, over time, I've had a growing awareness that the name is pretty obscure. This was reinforced by my experience last week at the SPIEL convention in Essen, selling B/X Essentials and Wormskin. I met three types of potential customers:

  1. People who are completely new to role-playing, but are interested in the hobby.
  2. People who are experienced role-players, but have never played B/X and aren't part of the OSR scene.
  3. People who are familiar with the OSR and B/X Essentials. (This group was by far the smallest.)
As you can probably guess, people in the first two groups were mystified by the name B/X Essentials. They don't know what B/X means, they don't know what a retro-clone is, they don't (for the most part) even know anything about old-school D&D. The name, in and of itself, isn't evocative. (If anything, I guess it sounds mathematical?)

I didn't have an easy time selling the game to them.

And I think this is a real shame. Of course, it's not good for my personal business interests, in terms of being able to sell the books I've produced, but more so I think it's a shame for the name to scare off people who would potentially get a great deal of enjoyment from the game.

Expanding the Reach

One of my core personal aims with the B/X Essentials line has always been to expand the reach of the classic rules set by improving the ease of use. The B/X rules, especially when presented in the new, streamlined form of B/X Essentials, are a great way for a novice to jump into the role-playing hobby.

To that end, in my work building up to the Kickstarter next year (the BXE boxed set and all-in-one hardback), I've been making a few tweaks to improve the accessibility of the game:
  • I've added a proper introduction, explaining what the game is, why it's split into modules, and giving some links and suggestions for how to learn about role-playing. (I don't feel there's any need to actually include a "What is a Role-Playing Game?" section, in this day and age. I've just linked to info online.)
  • I've included a section talking about what other products the game is compatible with. (I think the massive cross-compatibility of most retro-clones and TSR editions of D&D is a bit of a hidden secret in the OSR. It's obvious to most of us hardcore old-schoolers that you can grab a book of Labyrinth Lord classes, an old TSR adventure, and run a game with BXE, but I think it's really non-obvious to those outside the scene.)
  • I've added an extra section before the character creation rules, laying out all the different stats that make up a player character. (Such information was implicit in BXE before.)

Rebranding

Additionally, I've been considering rebranding the game. My goals for this are:
  1. Casual gamers who don't know what B/X and the OSR are should be able to recognise it as a simple to learn RPG.
  2. Experienced role-players who aren't directly in the OSR scene should be able to recognise it as an old-school game.
  3. OSR folks should be able to recognise it as being 100% compatible with B/X.
It's a challenge to come up with something that covers all of those different goals!

My current thoughts on the matter are as follows:
  1. The overall product line should have a new name. B/X Essentials is too obscure. I have a few thoughts on potential names, but nothing that I'm totally convinced about yet. Hex & Ruin is the current front-runner that I'll use in the example below.
  2. The game will probably need a subtitle that makes it obvious what it is.
  3. Each individual book will need a title (obviously).
  4. Some kind of "corner band" or "sticker" will indicate the game's compatibility with B/X.
So, we might have something like this:
  • Brand name: Hex & Ruin
  • Brand subtitle: Classic Adventure Role-Playing
  • Book title: Core Rules
  • Corner band: 100% B/X
The actual names there are all just rough ideas right now, but I feel like the general scheme is the right way to go to achieve the aims laid out above.

I'm posting about this now as I'd love to hear what people think about all this. If anyone has any suggestions for names, please let me know! The larger the pool of possible ideas, the better.

60 comments:

  1. I love the way you present the B/X rules in the Essentials line. I am not sure that I would use the name Hex are we talking about a hex crawl or a hex spell from Harry Potter or is the game about hexadecimals I can see all these question from new people? The only thing I ask is that you keep B/X essentials somewhere on the cover so when I go to buy the book I know it's one meant to work with my other B/X essential books.

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    1. Thanks! The presentation of the rules will remain exactly the same, which I think is the main thing. (In fact, I'm making some small tweaks to improve the clarity of the presentation further.)

      Re: "hex", the multiple meanings were kind of the point of it.

      Re: keeping B/X Essentials on the covers, one idea would be to use that as the "corner band" (like I suggested "100% B/X" in the example above). The problem I see with B/X Essentials is that all further books in the product line will not actually be "essentials" of B/X, you know? Advanced Classes, Post-Apocalyptic Classes ... all the new books will be additions to the game, rather than it's essentials. That's why I was thinking of using "100% B/X" instead.

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    2. I agree that as the ground covered by your new books expands, "Essentials" becomes less accurate. A rebrand seems like the right way to go!

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    3. You've reminded me of a time that I went into a stationary store and asked if they had hex paper. The guy at the counter turned red with rage and said he would never carry such things in his store. I was baffled until I got about half a block away and the double meaning of what I had said sunk in.

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    4. Adam: haha! Right, in this case, the double meaning is intended to be the other way around. Your average gamer is supposed to think of dark magic and your old-schooler will get that it also refers to hex-crawling.

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  2. This seems an eminently sensible decision. 'Increasing the reach' is about breaking out of a niche market (a niche within a niche, even!).

    I know 'Hex and Ruins' isn't you're final choice, but I like it. I wonder if someone more imaginative that me can come up with something that conveys that the game is character- and story-led?

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    1. Thanks for the feedback!

      Yeah, the realisation of just how tiny our niche (hardcore old-schoolers who talk about the OSR online) is has been quite an eye-opener for me!

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  3. Now you are making me spitball some names that are old school.
    Crawlers and Caverns?
    Gorgons and Grottoes?
    Necrotic Adventures?
    Gnomes and Gnolls?
    Ululations of the Necrotic Gnome?

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    1. Haha, it's not suitable for this project, but I really like Gnomes & Gnolls!

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    2. I have to say that Ululations of the Necrotic Gnome should be an adventure written by you. It should be about the Inn that inspired Necrotic Gnome, and its many weird troubles. :D

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  4. At first I was like...why? But I get it. Maybe a subtitle...formally B/X Essentials.

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    1. One possibility would be to use B/X Essentials on the "corner band" that I discussed. Though I think that would only apply to the first five books. All the other books planned in the series are by no means "essentials" of B/X.

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    2. Also, I'm thinking longer term. "Formerly" will only be relevant for a short period of time.

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    3. Maybe "B/X Essentials" and "B/X Expanded" or something along those lines, using the same sort of trade dress? That way you can tell at a glance that they work together, but you can also tell what is core and what is extra. And you get to keep the branding you've already built(just shuffled off to a different use).

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  5. I like the idea of keeping B/X in the title somehow given the brand equity you've clearly built, but combine that with what the game really is in the title for clarity. This probably isn't quite right, but here's an idea to get you started:
    "Classic Adventure Role-Playing: Essential B/X Rules"

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    1. I think if I go with a rebranding, having B/X in the brand name or subtitle is out of the question. (That would defeat the main point of rebranding.) But B/X will certainly be on the cover somewhere. Probably in the "corner band" (e.g. "100% B/X" or something).

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  6. Just an idea. It could be an "entirely new" game, say, Mutant Aeon or Fantasy Adventure (these titles are silly but they capture a mood). This game would be the 5 B/X Essentials modules plus one additional module describing the setting.

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    1. Well, actual settings (i.e. campaign worlds) are not part of the plan (yet). I'm thinking more about genre modules, like books that give you the mechanical bits (e.g. classes, monsters, spells) to bring different genre flavours to the game. My feeling is that it's important for all modules to obviously be a part of the same game.

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  7. It's difficult to think of something that's generic enough to work as a name but is also interesting or unique. If everything produced fitted as fantasy, then I think something simple like 'Fantasy Essentials' might work. Keeping Essentials in the name makes it clear that the ruleset is simple, which I'm not sure 'Hex & Ruin' does without the subtitle. It would also give a more obvious link to the previous branding.

    I always thought 'Fatal Fantasy' would be a good name for an RPG line, but there would be so much confusion with the F.A.T.A.L system it's probably not worth it.

    How about an acronym? C.O.R.E? Classic Old-School Roleplaying Essentials?


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    1. I second CORE, very strongly. Hexes & Ruins sound more like a map-making supplement than a set of modular RPG rules.

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    2. It's interesting that many people reading this are misinterpreting the suggestion Hex & Ruin. It's supposed to mean like "dark magic and ruination", with a double meaning (for those in the know) that it refers to hex-crawling and dungeon-crawling.

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    3. Hex suggests to me the hexcrawl style, which I don't use but it's an important part of the OSR and old school. Although I'm familiar with hex as witchcraft, I can't think of it in relation to OSR games, but that must be because I know OSR and B/X Essentials. Maybe if you tried the title, without explanations, in a regular RPG group?

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  8. I worry a "100% BX" band might suggest that it's a *module* for BX, rather than a rulebook.

    Also this is long enough ago that my memory is hazy, but the alliterative naming of Castles & Crusades really did help communicate to me, a tRPG newbie who had only played Neverwinter Nights, that it was related to D&D, and probably more "old-school" than the 3.0 ruleset I semi-understood.

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  9. Maybe playing around the B/X thing : Bulettes & battle aXes ?
    The coolest monster for the coolest edition of the game ^^

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  10. Rebranding makes a lot of sense for what you're planning to do with the product. However, the name 'Hex & Ruin', while not horrible, doesn't do it for me personally. At least stick to the old cliche of alliteration: 'Heroes & Hexes' maybe?
    My personal suggestion: 'By Sword or By Spell!' with the subtitle 'The Role-Playing Game of Classic Fantasy Adventure'

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  11. My suggestion:

    Essentia: Old School Role Playing Game
    A Near-Perfect Reiteration of BX Rules

    My reasoning:

    "Essentia", for the name of a game, is derived from and connects with the previous brand name. For me, it sounds faintly magical and mysterious (like it should, for a fantasy rpg), it feels less derivative than the "Alliteration & Alliteration" naming convention, and feels less cheesy than other names (but for other people a Latin word like this might feel like this is the cheesiest suggestion on here!). The title also conveys itself as the "essence" of the old school version of the World's Greatest Role Playing Game, more streamlined and refined than the original edition but without the excess complications of the advanced editions. Plus, when you get to the "advanced" and alternative supplement lines, you can brand them as "InEssentia", or the "Not-Essential" line.

    "Old School Role Playing Game" conveys both that this is a role-playing game and is OSR. If you want, you can convey the type of rpg by instead saying "Old School *Fantasy* Role Playing Game."

    A Near-Perfect Reiteration of BX Rules -- Really, to be any more perfect you would have to reprint the contradictions in the original version or copy it word-for-word. "Near-Perfect" conveys that this is a strict retroclone of BX without committing an act of hubris by claiming to be "Perfect". Maybe instead of "reiteration" use "Re-Presentation"?

    The only one of your criteria I don't know how to cover is that it is a "simple to learn RPG," other than literally printing on there "simple/easy to learn".

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  12. Why not just call it "Wormskin"? I loved that name the moment I heard it. Mysterious and evocative and weird.

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    1. and your extra books for alternative settings/classes/genres will be "re-skins" :P

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    2. I really like the name Wormskin too, but definitely not for this game. Wormskin has way too much of a specific, weird campaign flavour. Whatever BXE ends up being called, or has to be genre neutral.

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    3. Hex & Ruin is extremely neutral. Too much IMO. It sounds a bit cold and dry to me and does not evoke anything like B/X (to me, again).

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  13. How about Necrohex?
    I second wormskin.

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  14. I'm not keen on the rebranding idea but I understand the utility of having a nice simple and unique brand you can move forward under. It'll always be BX Essentials to me and my players, but we're all in our 40s and know the context of the current name. I guess I don't care what you call it as long as you keep up the quality.

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    1. Right, the quality and consistency of the product line is by far the most important thing to me, and I hope that will only continue to improve.

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  16. I understand why you think a rebranding is necessary, but I feel you should refrain from going the "X&Y" route. It will position your product as yet another D&D imitator/derivative, which it is not. Why not just use your intended subtitle : "Classic Adventure Role-Playing" ?

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    1. Then you can call it "C.A.R.P." as shorthand.

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    2. "It will position your product as yet another D&D imitator/derivative, which it is not."

      Um, B/X Essentials is pretty much by definition a D&D imitator/derivative.

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    3. I acually agree that to me B/X essentials is *not" a derivative, in that it presents no new spin on it, it simply reproduces faithfully.

      I would also go for something highly descriptive in the context given. Maybe something as simple as "Classic Fantasy" - Basic and Expert rules for playing in the original style of fantasy roleplaying.

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    4. A bit late to the discussion. While I understand the need to rebrand, I'm not a huge fan of "Hex & Ruin" (or indeed any "X&Y" derivative name). Names like "Into the Odd" and "Lamentations of the Flame Princess" catch your eye and make you want to take a closer look. "Hex & Ruin" doesn't have that same impact for me.

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  17. I have to say I like "Hex and Ruin." There may be some better name out there, and you may stumble on it, but I can see why "Hex and Ruin" is your front-runner. And I like the double-meaning in both terms. It's very cool, and one of the reasons I think "Hex and Ruin" is such a good possibility.

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    1. Right, the double meanings are what I love about it too.

      From the comments above, I get the feeling that many of the detractors of Hex & Ruin aren't seeing the double meaning (they're just seeing the secondary meaning referring to hex- and dungeon-crawling.)

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    2. We get the double meaning. We don't like it because, regardless of the pun, it's not a particularly good name.

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    3. Fair enough. (Though I'm fairly sure at least some people haven't got the double meaning.)

      I'm beginning to see that it'll likely be impossible to come up with a name that everyone likes, so in the end I'll just have to go with what I like.

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  18. I agree that BX essentials is only clear to people who know the history of D&D / the OSR scene. Just a though - maybe get away from the "X and Y" naming paradigm. Lamentations is cool because it isn't "Foo and Bar". I would personally capitalize on the Dolmenwood bran. Maybe just call it "Dolmenwood Core Rules".

    Another question - when are the advanced classes coming out for B/X Essentials? I'm really excited to use the ranger / paladin / barbarian.

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    1. Yeah, I'm totally not set on the X&Y pattern.

      Tying the name in with Dolmenwood is out of the question. I don't think "Dolmenwood Core Rules: Post-Apocalyptic Characters" would work that great ;)

      Advanced Characters should be out early next year. It's being play tested currently.

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    2. lol, I kind of like the sound of "Dolmenwood Core Rules: Post-Apocalyptic Characters".

      Anyway, thanks for the update on the Advanced Characters, I'm looking forward to it!

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  19. Late to this but another suggestion:

    Beast & heX

    With the proper font and color, it could make the B & X pop. And it retains the double entendre of the hex, harkens back to the original game with the x&y format, while remaining distinct in its use of single syllables.

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  20. Based on why you're considering a new title, I definitely think it should be something that speaks to normal people (your goal). "Heroes and Monsters" (or something better than that), but not "E.F.R.P.G." ("Essential Fantasy RPG") or something equally arcane - it defeats the point.


    Also, I think you should do a TSR-ish "BXE" logo, as far as letting us know what the product is goes.

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  21. Seeing this for the first time now... here are some opinions (without having read most of the comments here or on the G+ thread), roughly in order of how strongly I hold them:

    1. If it contains only rules from BX, it should absolutely retain a cover reference to the full name "B/X Essentials".

    2. I like the idea of a corner sticker (and I actually love the term "100% B/X" (No pulp!), but wouldn't want it to replace BXE). However, I don't think the logo, with its current font/design would look good there, that small. The design reads best as a large face to see the details of the type and the sword. (Of course, I have a small bias in retaining BXE in this since I'm pretty sure I suggested the name!)

    3. That said, I've never been a huge fan of the specific design of the logo. Primarily the outline - being both double-color and both colors being very narrow and high-contrast, it feels harsh. I think the design stands fine with no outline. If one is definitely desired, consider only white, or white with another black outline, and up the thickness on it (or both) by at least 2x. Actually, doing this might be sufficient to let it stand as a smaller logo.

    4. Closely intertwined with point 1, I definitely agree that BXE should not be the name of your full product line, since literally the content from here on out is not Essential.

    5. Perhaps BXE could refer specifically to the individual books, and the compilation/Tome could be called "B/X Complete"? This doesn't really fix any of the stated issues; however, it would take care of the side-issue of how to distinguish the zines from the book without adding an extra cover element.

    6. I also mostly like the idea of using a product line name that's a retronym (I think I just made that word up) of BX. I'll suggest a few in a bit.

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    1. Hey David, thanks so much for your thoughts!

      1. I agree that this, on balance, seems like a good idea. I'm considering labeling the core 5 books as "B/X Essentials" and further books as "100% B/X".

      2/3. Agreed about the current logo. I don't imagine keeping that, going forward. (And I'll get an actual graphic designer to make a logo for the new brand name, whatever that is.)

      Ah yes, I think it was you that suggested BXE in the first place! Thanks for that! I'd forgotten who suggested it.

      5. I'll probably end up calling the all-in-one book "Tome of Classic Fantasy" or something along those lines, to indicate which books it compiles.

      6. I'm certainly open to BX retronyms (as you put it), but by no means fixed on that as an approach. Please suggest away!

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    2. To clarify my comment on your point 5:
      What I mean is that the book title (as described in the post) would be "Tome of Classic Fantasy" (or something like that). The brand name (to be determined) would be consistent across this and all other books.

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  22. More Dungeons than Dragons

    Retro Dungeons and Dragon Clones

    Ok, serious now...

    Lights for Ancient Spells
    A Classic Roleplaying Game
    And so on...

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  23. Hex & Ruin
    The Basic Adventure Role-playing Game
    100% B/X 100% OSR

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  24. Replies
    1. Current plans put it in spring 2019. Maybe around May.

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