Stuffed Crocodile

Mazes, Martians, Mead

Whatever happened to the netbooks of yore?

One thing that I haven’t heard mentioned anywhere in the last few years are the Netbooks. Not those small and handy computers everybody went  crazy for the last few years. No, I am talking about files of the collected wisdom of the internet crowd on one topic or another (I know them mostly from Fantasy Roleplaying).

Whatever happened to them?
Okay, I know what happened to them, they still are at Olik’s and the Blue Troll’s websites, just as they were in 1998. But what happened to the idea of Netbooks? When I started with the Internet they seemed to be one of the biggest things on the Net.

Basically in the late 80s/early 90s people using the Net, and with that I mean mostly the Usenet and BBSs, were compiling wondrous resources for people with tight money but an internet connection. Now I hardly can say that those things were up to par with the best of the officially printed material of the time, because they were not.
But I can say that a lot of them contained a treasure of new ideas, rules, and mechanics to enrich (or bog down) the Fantasy Roleplaying of the time. And sometimes there would be the occasional little gem in between all the bad stuff. And this actually would be why they are not mentioned anymore: all the bad stuff in between.

The whole thing was a trend that already was over when 3rd edition came around. All of a sudden people took to the Open Game License like dwarves take to mead. But people still were remembering the old netbooks back then, and so at least one page was formed which wanted to create new Netbooks for the new system. They actually got quite far, building a few interesting things with new character classes and monsters, and had a lot of gorgeous ideas for people who were doing this essentially free, and then they quietly disappeared again in 2005. They said that the market was oversaturated with free d20 content and that they could not see anyone really taking to their books. I guess if you really were into publishing anything for the D20 system in that time you would just try to get it to a publisher. Or something like that.

Anyway, what I am interested in right now is the ways that I can use the old netbooks from the 90s for my campaign. They have a wonderful community-created homebrew vibe, not unlike the roleplaying blogosphere of today *coughcough*, and there should be some ways of putting that stuff into a campaign, even if a lot of the stuff in them seems to be a tad stupid.

But I am missing the concept as such, especially the fact that they seemed to be mostly just made up of Usenet entries collected into a larger text file, and then allowed to be distributed over the net. It just was so… what’s the word? Neat. Something like that would be hard to do today, where everyone thinks they’ll be able to  publish the next big thing with their own OD&D-clone. Although I do understand the attraction in 1. having the possibility to have your own things published and bound, and 2. not having to search for these things all over the Internet. Do you remember the days when every role-playing site around had a download page where you could get different files and programs to make your DM life easier? (or harder, depending on what you brought onto yourself) Roughly around the times when 3rd edition came around and the Internet bubble burst, all of a sudden the traditional download page was disappearing. I used to hunt through the webs for ages, trying to find new hidden treasures that I did not know about before, a feeling that is largely gone by now.

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3 responses to “Whatever happened to the netbooks of yore?

  1. Mark September 8, 2011 at 2:04 am

    I liked the old Netbooks as well. I remember reading through them as massive Usenet posts. In the heyday, everyone was concentrated into a centralized (if distributed system) and much more interactive. Today, everything is widely dispersed. The level of collaboration is much lower but the quality of the content is superior.

    The diffusion of the information is the barrier. Trying to compile compendiums of similar material requires far more effort than it once did. Undertaking a compilation of like-minded material would be massive investment in time. I feel most producers of the information would gladly give permission as they once did on Usenet. Finding individuals to commit the time to finding and compiling the information into one volume isn’t likely.

    Like

  2. Pingback: KJD-IMC » Links of the Week: September 12, 2011

  3. James Hutchings October 1, 2011 at 7:18 pm

    Maybe the ease of blogging and self-publishing meant that people who would have made netbooks now feel it’s possible to do it all themselves.

    Like

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