Thursday, April 11, 2024

The True Birth of Roleplaying

Though I was not an avid reader of comic books when I was a kid, I did read them – mostly Star Wars, Micronauts, and the occasional Doctor Strange issue. Nearly as much as the comics themselves, I loved looking at the advertisements. I could (and probably should) write several posts about all the weird and wonderful stuff that was being hawked on the pages of comics in the 1970s, but the one that, to this day, still sticks in my brain, is the one to the right, offering 100 toy soldiers for a mere $1.75.

I never took the plunge and bought this. As alluring as it was, I had the sneaking suspicion that it was too good to be true. Plus, I already owned a very large number of toy soldiers – or "army men," as my friends and I typically called them – so there was no immediate need for more of them. My soldiers were all molded from camo green plastic and, from the look of them, were modeled on World War II era US troops. There came in a dozen or so different poses, including a medic, a sniper, a mine detector, and one aiming a bazooka. One of my friends had a collection of German soldiers molded in gray plastic, along with the Navarone play set that we all envied.

One of the main ways my friends and I would play with our army men was by finding a large, open space, whether outside or inside, and then arranging our toy soldiers in various positions. Many of them we'd place right out in the open, but some of them we'd secure behind "protection" of one sort or another, such as rocks, potted plants, or even other toys, like appropriately scaled military vehicles (jeeps, tanks, etc.). After we'd done this, we'd then take turns shooting rubber bands at one another's battle lines, with the goal of "killing," which is to say, knocking over as many of one another's soldiers as possible. We'd keep doing this until only one person had any army men still standing. He'd then be declared the winner of this "battle." Sometimes, we'd have longer "wars," consisting of multiple rounds of battles, the winner being determined by which army won the most battles.

This was simple, childish entertainment, but we had a lot of fun doing it. I can't quite recall when we first started using our army men in this way. We were probably fairly young, because I cannot remember using them any other way. Consequently, the rules of rubber band warfare slowly evolved over the years, as a result of adjudicating disputes and edge cases, such as what constituted being "killed" for soldiers, like the sniper, who was already lying horizontally or indeed just how horizontal a soldier had to be in order to qualify as "dead." In my experience, both as a former child and as a parent, these kinds of negotiated "house rules" are quite common, a natural outgrowth of the fact that no set of rules, no matter how extensive, is ever going to cover every circumstance. Kids intuitively understand this and act accordingly.

Another natural evolution was identifying with and even naming particular army men who'd survived multiple rubber band attacks and somehow, against the odds, continued to stand. I recall one soldier, who had a Tommy Gun and a grenade, who, for a time, seemed unbeatable. A combination of good luck and good positioning made him seemingly invincible. He belonged to a friend's army and, after the friend had one the battle in which the soldier had participated, he acquired a name: Sergeant Phil Garner, named after the mustachioed second basemen of the Oakland Athletics – don't ask me why. Sgt. Garner set a precedent and soon we were all naming and creating stories about the army men who survived or otherwise distinguished themselves in our rubber band wars.

I've always found it interesting that, when trying to describe roleplaying to those unfamiliar with the hobby, game designers will often analogize it with Cops and Robbers or improvisational theater – not because the analogies are necessarily wrong but because RPGs, as we know them today, grew out of miniatures wargaming. It's not for nothing that OD&D's subtitle is "Rules for Fantastic Medieval Wargames Campaigns Playable with Paper and Pencil and Miniature Figures." Though I was never, strictly speaking a wargamer of any variety, I cannot help but think that my early experiences fighting wars with army men and rubber bands served as an unintentionally excellent propaedeutic for roleplaying. I doubt my friends and I were unique in this regard.

Thank you for your service.

Wednesday, April 10, 2024

Comments

In the wake of my "Whither Grognardia?" post from earlier this month, I learned that a lot of readers find it difficult, if not impossible, to comment on the blog. That certainly explains why the number of comments per post has generally been lower than it was during the first iteration of the blog. In response, I did some poking around to see if the reported problem related to settings that I could change or if it was something else out of my control. 

I'm still not sure of the answer. However, I did make a few changes to the comment settings. If you're someone who has, in the past, had difficulty commenting, give it a go and see if anything has changed on your end. If so, I will be pleased. If not, I may need to look into the matter further.

[UPDATE: It would appear that most people can now comment without too much trouble, which is good. However, I should point out that all comments are still manually moderated, in order to stem the tide of spam (of which there is a lot). Consequently, a comment's not appearing immediately doesn't necessarily mean that it didn't go through, only that I'm not at my computer or otherwise haven't yet approved it.]

Retrospective: Prince Valiant: The Story Telling Game

When I was kid, I always looked forward to the Sunday edition of the local newspaper, because it had this enormous color comics section. Truly, there were dozens upon dozens of these strips – everything from Peanuts to Garfield to Hagar the Horrible and more. Also present were a number of "old" comics, like Mark Trail, Apartment 3-G, and Mary Worth, whose continued presence baffled me. Who read these comics? Certainly not I, nor any of my childhood friends. 

However, there was one "old" comic that I often did read: Prince Valiant. I did so partly because of the comic's subject matter, Prince Valiant was set, as its subtitle proclaimed, "in the days of King Arthur" and I had long been a devoted fan of Arthurian legendry. Furthermore, Prince Valiant was beautifully drawn and had a very – to me – strange presentation. There were no speech balloons or visual onomatopoeia, just lots of text arranged like storybook. 

I was never a consistent reader of Prince Valiant, but, when I did take the time to do so, I almost always enjoyed it. There was a sincerity to the comic that I appreciated as a youngster, as well as an infectious love of heroism and romance (in all senses of the term). I wouldn't say that Prince Valiant played a huge role in my subsequent fondness for tales of fantastic adventure, but there's no doubt that it played some role, hence why I took an interest in Greg Stafford's 1989 roleplaying game adaptation when it was released.

Stafford is probably best known as the man behind Glorantha, the setting of RuneQuest. For me, though, Pendragon will always be his magnum opus – and one of the few RPGs I consider "perfect." Consequently, when I eventually learned of the existence of this game, I was intensely interested. How would it differ from Pendragon? What specifically did it bring to the table that justified its existence as a separate game rather than, say, a supplement to Pendragon? These are questions whose answers I wouldn't learn for quite some time. 1989 was something of a tumultuous year for me; I was busy with other things, and it'd only be sometime in the mid-1990s that I would finally lay eyes upon Prince Valiant.

The most obvious way that Prince Valiant differs from Pendragon is revealed in its subtitle: "The Story-Telling Game." Now, some might immediately think that, in this instance, "storytelling" is simply a synonym for "roleplaying" and you'd be (mostly) right – sorta. The important thing to bear in mind is that Prince Valiant is intended as an introductory game for newcomers to this hobby of ours. Consequently, Stafford tries to use common sense words and concepts that aren't rooted in pre-1974 miniatures wargaming culture. Hence, he talks about "storytelling" rather than "roleplaying" and "episodes" rather than "adventures" or "scenarios" and so forth. The result is a game that's written in a simpler, less jargon-laden way than was typical of RPGs at the time (or even today).

At the same time, Stafford's use of the term "storytelling" isn't simply a matter of avoiding cant. Prince Valiant is, compared to most other similar games, intentionally very simple in its rules structure, so that players can focus on the cooperative building of a compelling narrative set in Hal Foster's Arthurian world. Additionally, the game provides the option of allowing even players to take over the story-telling role within an episode, setting a new scene or introducing a new character or challenge. The chief storyteller, which is to say, the referee in traditional RPGs, is encouraged not to ignore these player-inserted story elements but instead to run with them, using them as a way to introduce unexpected twists and turns within the larger unfolding narrative. 

The other clear way that Prince Valiant differs from Pendragon is its rules, which can fit on a single page. This makes them easy to learn and remember, as well as to use. Unlike more traditional RPGs with their assortment of funny-shaped dice, Stafford opted in Prince Valiant to use only coins. For any action where the result is not foregone, a number of coins are flipped, with heads representing successes. The more heads flipped, the better the success. In cases where a character competes against another character, such as combat, successes are compared, with the character achieving the most successes emerging victorious – simplicity itself! 

Last but certainly not least, Prince Valiant differs from Pendragon because of the pages upon pages of beautiful artwork derived from the comic. Not only does this give the game its own distinctive look, it also highlights its adventuresome, Saturday matinee serial tone in contrast to the heavier, occasionally darker tone of Pendragon and the myth cycles on which it drew. That's not to say Prince Valiant is unserious or "for kids," only that it's a fair bit "lighter" than its "big brother" and thus probably more suitable for younger and/or less experienced players. In that respect, it makes an excellent first RPG.

It's worth noting, too, that the bulk of Prince Valiant's 128-page rulebook is made up not of game mechanics but of advice and tools for players and storytellers alike. Stafford quite obviously distilled the lessons he learned from his many years of playing and refereeing roleplaying games, presenting them in a conversational, easy-to-understand way. Indeed, I've met many people over the years who've claimed that Prince Valiant's true value is not so much as a game in its own right, despite their affection for it, but as an introduction to roleplaying. True though this is, it's also undeniably an excellent game that I'd love to play some day.

That's right: I have never played Prince Valiant and am not sure I ever will. The copy I read years ago was owned by someone else and I've never found a used copy at a reasonable price. I recall that there was an updated or revised version published a few years ago. It doesn't appear to be available through the Chaosium website, alas. Mind you, I certainly don't lack for good RPGs to play; it'd just be great to give this classic one a whirl one day.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Polyhedron: Issue #21

Issue #21 of Polyhedron (January 1985) features a cover illustration by Timothy Truman, who produced a lot of artwork for TSR throughout the 1980s before going on to greater success as a comic book artist. The piece depicts the protagonist of this issue's "Encounters" article, facing off against a creature of para-elemental ice, but, as I'll explain shortly, I have some questions. 

The issue starts with another "Notes from HQ" article by Penny Petticord. Her position is RPGA Network Coordinator, which I assume is the title of the head of the RPGA. However, starting with issue #22, Petticord will also be the editor of Polyhedron, taking over from Mary Kirchoff, who'd been on the staff of the newszine since issue #5. She would then devote herself full-time to fiction, writing numerous Dragonlance novels and later becoming part of TSR's book publishing division.

Next up is the aforementioned "Encounters" article by James M. Ward. The scenario sees a young paladin named Ren Grakkan on a quest to retrieve "the most potent of all artifacts," the white cloak of enchanting (or is it charming? The text is inconsistent) for his unnamed lady love. The cloak is found in a cave guarded by para-elemental ice monsters. As I noted, I have a couple of questions. First, Ren is described as a paladin, but he looks more like a classic sword-and-sorcery barbarian based on Truman's illustration. The text at least supports this, since he's described as wearing no armor but only bracers of defense (AC 4) and having Dexterity 18 (hence a –4 defensive adjustment). Even so, he looks nothing like what I'd expect of a "paladin," but perhaps I simply lack imagination. (I suppose it's possible the artwork depicts the cloak's original owner, a barbarian lord, who lost it in battle against the ice creatures, but then why isn't the cloak shown?) Second, this so-called "potent artifact" Ren is seeking makes its wearer's charm and illusion spells harder to resist, especially if the wearer is female. Could it be that Ren's "lady love" is actually a sorceresss who's charmed him? There's no evidence of this in the text, but the thought occurs to me. (Also, why does Ward keep re-using the name "Ren" for his characters?)

Sonny Scott's "Observations from a Veteran Gamer" is short piece of fluffy advice from a long-time player of AD&D who's also a stalwart of the RPGA. I don't mean to be so dismissive, but there's nothing here you've never heard a thousand times before. More interesting is Gary Gygax's "Why Gargoyles Don't Have Wings But Should." The article begins with classic Gygaxian boasting: he speaks of his association with Flint Dille ("Did you know his grandfather invented Buck Rogers?") and their upcoming joint projects. Then, he moves on to his dissatisfaction with depictions of both the gargoyle and the mar(l)goyle from Monster Manual II. The illustrations for both, Gygax says, lack wings and this should be corrected in "some future edition" of AD&D. For reference, here are the two illustrations in question: 

"Don't try to tell me those dark shadows are wings!" Thus spake Gygax.

Gygax also explains that the second monster's proper name is marlgoyle, with an "l," just as it's named in The Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth. This is one of those cases where, if one knows anything about geology, the error is obvious. In any case, I find this sort of thing fascinating – all the more so because the error was never corrected in any subsequent edition of the game. 

Roger E. Moore's "Take Command of a Titan!" is, by far and away, the best part of this issue and indeed one of my favorite articles ever to appear in any gaming periodical, not simply Polyhedron. In it, Moore lays the groundwork for a "Big Ship" campaign in Star Frontiers. By "big ship," he means a space vessel whose crew numbers in the hundreds at least, if not more. This is territory well covered by both Traveller and Star Trek, but it's not really discussed in Star Frontiers. Additionally, Moore provides lots of ideas on what makes a Big Ship campaign unique and fun. Back in my youth, this article, along with its sequel in the next issue, was a very inspirational one for me. To this day, I find myself longing for a science fiction campaign set aboard a Big Ship.

"Spelling Bee" by Frank Mentzer returns, looking at the ins and outs of a few low-level magic-user spells for AD&D. I'm always of two minds about these kinds of articles. On the one hand, I appreciate seeing the clever ways that people can make use of well-worn spells. On the other hand, some of these clever uses depend on very specific, nitpicky, and possibly tendentious readings of the text. It's a fine line, to be sure, which is why I can't be outright dismissive of articles like this, even as I, as a habitual referee, tend to grit my teeth at some of the more "creative" applications put forward.

"Witchstone" by Carl Sargent is an AD&D adventure for character levels 8–12. It's an odd adventure, because, at base, it's pretty mundane: a bunch of hill giants are causing trouble and it's up to the PCs to deal with them. However, the reason why the giants are more hostile than usual concerns a power play by a giantess wishing to make her son chief. This she does by trickery, pretending she is a witch and arranging for "accidents" to occur that support her false claim. It's certainly interesting in an abstract sense, but I'm not sure how much of this would be communicated to the characters involved in the adventure.

"Five New NPCs" is just what its title suggests: a collection of five non-player characters submitted by RPGA members. None of them are especially memorable. "Module Building from A to Z" by Roger E. Moore is vastly more worthy of attention. In this lengthy, four-page article in which Moore presents the guidelines by which modules submitted to both Dragon and Polyhedron are evaluated. It's a remarkable article for its insight into the culture of TSR in early 1985, as well as into the readership of its periodicals. There are already hints of the "TSR Code of Ethics" that would appear later, for example. The guidelines also allude to the relative popularity of various RPGs at the time, with modules for games like Boot Hill and Gangbusters being excluded "due to low reader interest." There's a lot here to consider; I may need to do a longer post dissecting the whole thing.

I could not bring myself to read "The RPGA Network Tournament Scoring System" – sorry! "Dispel Confusion" covers only three games this month: AD&D, Gamma World, and Top Secret, with AD&D questions taking up slightly more than half of the pages devoted to this section. That shouldn't come as a surprise, but I nevertheless find it notable. What does surprise me is how often the submitted questions amount to "In my campaign, can I do ...?" with the answer usually being, "Yes, if the referee will allow it." What a strange world! This seeking of permission from the publisher is bizarre. I wonder if anyone ever wrote to Parker Brothers to ask about whether it was OK to use Free Parking as something other than an empty space?

Monday, April 8, 2024

Barbarian, Scout, Tomb Robber

Initially, I modeled the character classes of Secrets of sha-Arthan on 4+3 structure of Tom Moldvay's D&D Basic Set, coming up with the following:

  • Adept: An analog to the cleric only in as much as it's a second "caster" class.
  • Chenot: A non-human class occupying a similar niche to the halfling.
  • Ga'andrin: An analog to the dwarf – a "tough" non-human class.
  • Jalaka: A non-human class that combines combat and sorcery – elf analog.
  • Scion: An analog to the thief only in as much as it's a "skill" based class but focusing more on social situations.
  • Sorcerer: Obviously, an analog to the magic-user.
  • Warrior: Fighter.
I was quite happy with this arrangement, because it kept the number of classes down to a manageable number and (for the most part) the classes were all distinct from one another. However, as I've developed sha-Arthan, both through preliminary playtesting and my own evolving sense of the setting as a place, I've come to realize the need for some additional classes – or at least I am seriously considering adding them. 

The proposed additional classes are:
  • Barbarian: Another "fight-y" class but distinguished in part by its "outcast" status, which is to say, coming from outside the major societies/cultures of sha-Arthan. The purpose of the class is to provide an easy "in" for players who don't want or don't yet feel comfortable playing a character who's part of one of the established cultures of the setting.
  • Scout: Since travel and "hexcrawling" are a big part of Secrets of sha-Arthan (including how secrets are acquired), I felt the need for a class whose niche was exploring (which is why I might use the name "explorer" instead). It's a very broad analog to the ranger class, but with more focus on survival and overcoming terrain hazards, in addition to the usual stuff.
  • Tomb Robber: Despite my alleged hatred of thieves, I nevertheless find myself drawn to (and creating) variants of the class. The Tomb Robber is yet another one, albeit one closer to the traditional D&D thief in terms of its abilities. Given the more "ancient world" of sha-Arthan, I felt like the Tomb Robber makes good sense and has a clear place in the setting.
I haven't yet made up my mind about the additional three classes. They'll require further thought and playtesting, but I feel like they all add to the game, as well as the setting. In fact, one of the biggest reasons I like them is that they all – even the barbarian – hook into the setting and kind of gameplay I find enjoyable. The question is whether they bring enough to the table to justify bringing the total number of "basic" classes to 10. (Alternately, I could eliminate the racial classes entirely, leaving seven classes and four races, but that's a much bigger change in my opinion).

Regardless, work on Secrets of sha-Arthan continues. With luck, I might even finish a complete draft before the next total solar eclipse!

Curse the Baggins!

I've long been a defender of amateurish old school art, but even I have limits. 

While re-reading some old Dragon magazine issues from the mid-1980s, I came across an advertisement Riddle of the Ring, a Middle-earth boardgame originally released in 1977. The ad mentions that a new edition of the game, from Iron Crown Enterprises, which, at the time, held the Middle-earth license, was in the works. However, a limited number of the original edition was still available from its original publisher, Fellowship Games of Columbia, South Carolina.

The only reason I even paid any attention to this full-page advertisement is that it included examples of the artwork found in the original edition, like this:

Or this:
To paraphrase the great philosopher David St. Hubbins, there's a fine line between charming and just bad and I find it difficult to judge either of the examples of Riddle of the Ring's artwork above as anything but the latter. Maybe that's unfair, given the relatively early publication date of this game and the likely limited resources of the publisher. I understand that they're not going to look as awesome as the Brothers Hildebrandt Tolkien calendars of the same era, but, surely, they should be better than this.

Am I wrong?

Can You Go Home Again?

Despite my preference for playing RPGs with a group of friends, I've long enjoyed video and computer games. In fact, over the past Christmas holiday season, I finally completed Legend of Grimrock, a computer game I bought more than a decade ago and never finished. The premise of Legend of Grimrock is that the your party of four characters have been accused of crimes they (probably) didn't commit and must serve their sentence within the dungeons of Mount Grimrock. If they somehow survive its dangers, they will be absolved of their crimes. Of course, no one has ever escaped Mount Grimrock, so the odds of their doing so are not good.

I had a lot of fun with Legend of Grimrock (and, earlier this year, its sequel). It's a tough, occasionally frustrating dungeon whose challenges are a mix of puzzles, traps, resource management, and, of course, combat. In fact, I had such a good time playing it that I experienced a little bit of sadness when I finished the game. I wanted there to be more and there wasn't, so I naturally set out to find other games that might scratch the same itch. Surprisingly, there weren't a lot of computer or video games out there that had quite what I was looking for – at least not current video games (by which I mean, games released within the last decade or so). 

Fortunately, fondness for and appreciation of the products of earlier eras is not limited to the realm of tabletop roleplaying games. Indeed, I suspect there is probably even more nostalgia for old video and computer games, if only because of their greater popularity and reach. In recent years, quite a few publishers have made their older games available once again, after making small updates so that they'll run on modern hardware. That's when the idea struck me: why don't I play one of those older games – go right back to "the source," so to speak? Surely that would help me over my feeling of letdown after completing Legend of Grimrock.

So, I picked up a copy of Pool of Radiance, a computer game for which I have fond memories. Not only was this the first computer game to make use of the Dungeons & Dragons rules, it came out during my time away at college. I never owned the game myself – I didn't yet have a computer, this being 1988 – but a friend of mine did. He kindly let me play it when he was in class and I recall enjoying myself. I never completed the game, so buying it now would give me the opportunity to do so, albeit thirty-six years after the fact.

Regrettably, it looks like I'll probably never finish Pool of Radiance.

The truth is that, for me, the game is too old, both in terms of its content and presentation, for me to enjoy. I suspected this might be the case, since, when I wrote my Retrospective piece back in October 2022, I had the chance to look at lots of screenshots and even the original manual. They reminded me that just how primitive the game is. Now, as an enjoyer of OD&D, there's nothing inherently wrong with primitive and, in fact, there can often be something very enjoyable about it. When it comes to technology, though, the matter is a bit more complicated, since it can be difficult to unlearn what you have already learned.

In the case of Pool of Radiance, its user interface is awkward and clunky, designed for use with computer hardware that no longer exists. Likewise, the graphics are often difficult to read/recognize on a modern computer monitor. That made doing almost anything in the game slow and unintuitive, thereby detracting from my enjoyment. Further, the game design is very tedious and grindy – almost as if the stereotype of old school tabletop RPGs were true! Rather than challenging my wits, the game challenged my patience and I soon found I was unable to play it with any pleasure.

It's a great shame, because I was looking forward to playing Pool of Radiance to its conclusion, after all these years. I wonder if the problems are really with the game itself or with me. It may simply be the case that I've grown so accustomed to the way modern games work that I can't get myself back into the headspace to appreciate older ones. If so, that makes me wonder if something similar might be going on with people who claim they can no longer play older tabletop RPGs. Is this a case where "technology," broadly defined, so alters our mental frames that it inhibits or even impedes our ability to make use of earlier versions of itself? I don't know if this is true, but it's a fascinating thought.

Regardless, I still don't have a good replacement for Legend of Grimrock. Any suggestions?

Saturday, April 6, 2024

REVIEW: Terror in the Streets

Allow me to say once again, as I always do, that I am a huge fan of historical fantasy. From what I can tell, my fondness for it is unusual, both among RPG players and among RPG writers and broadly for the same reason: the perception that it's hard to get right – especially when there are legions of know-it-all armchair historians out there positively salivating at the possibility of uttering the dread incantation Ackchyually the moment they detect even the slightest deviation from the historical record. Consequently, I don't blame anyone who chooses to shy away from venturing anywhere near real world history in their RPG sessions or products.

Nevertheless, I remain deeply grateful to publishers like Lamentations of the Flame Princess and writers like Kelvin Green for their willingness to sate my peculiar tastes for fantastic adventures set in this world's historical past. Terror in the Streets – no, I won't be using the acronym – is a clever, well-presented and, above all, fun example of just how you can use real world history as a backdrop for a fantasy RPG adventure without either getting too bogged down in pointless minutiae or giving that history its proper due. It's not perfect by any means, but Terror in the Streets is very good.

Before proceeding to the meat of this review, I should add that there are, in fact, two different versions of Terror in the Street. The first (and the one I'm reviewing in this post) is a 96-page A5 hardcover book featuring a cover painting by Yannick Bouchard. The second version, entitled Big Terror in the Streets – no, just no – is a boxed set that features a lot of additional goodies, like a map of the city of Paris in 1630, player handouts, cardboard cut-outs, and a large yellow six-sided Unrest Die (for tracking the progress of civil unrest), in addition to an additional book, the 48-page Huguenauts and Other Distractions. Unfortunately, I don't believe Big Terror in the Streets is available in any form any longer, though there may still be copies of it floating around in secondary markets. That's a shame, since Huguenauts and Other Distractions has much to recommend it and indeed provides worthwhile fodder for anyone who continues to worry that historical fantasy is hard to get right. (If I find that the book is available, I'll do a review of it as well.)

Terror in the Streets is a murder mystery set in early 17th century Paris – "Jack the Ripper, but 250 years early," as the author describes it in his introduction. There's a serial killer of children loose in the city and it's up to the player characters to stop him. Just how and indeed why they might do so is an open question, one of many ways that Terror in the Streets might be called a "sandbox" adventure. Other than a timeline that dictates when and where the killer strikes (along with other key events), the course of the adventure is largely determined by the choices of the player characters, as they investigate, interact with NPCs, and deal with random encounters. 

This is, in my opinion, the only way to structure a murder mystery adventure without resorting to a more heavy-handed approach. Yes, this structure carries with it the risk that the characters might get lost in the weeds, wasting too much time on red herrings – of which there are quite a few in Terror in the Streets – and other irrelevant complications. However, the advantage of this more open-ended structure is that it's much more forgiving to the referee trying to keep track of all the moving parts that make up the scenario. Plus, the timeline, which exists independently of character actions, serves as a useful way to nudge their attention back toward more pressing matters. And there are even guidelines for what might happen if the characters fail to stop the killer, which is quite refreshing.

While the murder mystery scenario is a genuinely compelling one that nicely leverages multiple aspects of real world history, like the tensions between political and religious factions within Paris, it's not the only appealing thing about Terror in the Streets. Equally interesting in my opinion is its presentation of 17th century Paris – its districts, landmarks, taxi service companies, encounters, and, above all, unique NPCs – in effect a mini-gazetteer of the city. Taken together, these elements give the referee everything he needs to keep the characters engaged while in Paris, not just for this adventure but for others as well. It's nicely done and, reading through it, I found myself wishing that LotFP produced more material like this in the future.  

The only aspect of Terror in the Streets that might be considered a flaw is Green's humor-laden conversational style of writing. This is not a book whose author takes himself or the material too seriously. Consequently, there are asides, digressions, and meta-commentary scattered throughout, usually to good effect. Green is quite open about his inspirations and the shortcomings/limitations of the adventure, which is genuinely refreshing and indeed helpful. However, there are also occasional moments of goofiness and sly winks at the reader, like a mad wizard with wild hair and a beard named Alain de la Mare. These don't necessarily detract from the scenario, but I can easily some players and referees finding them off-putting, particularly those who prefer their historical fantasies straight. For myself, I found most of these elements amusing and felt they nicely demonstrated that there's no reason a historical scenario need be unduly solemn.

In the end, though, this is a small thing and Terror in the Streets is one of the best things Kelvin Green has written for LotFP to date. It's also one of the best historical fantasy adventures I've read in quite some time. Reading it, I was left with a small sense of disappointment that I am not refereeing a game where I could easily make use of it. Terror in the Streets is a well written, well presented scenario that is probably a lot of fun to play. I can think of no better compliment.

Friday, April 5, 2024

Favorites

I've asked this question elsewhere, but it's worth throwing open to a larger audience: which Grognardia posts do you consider your favorites? Alternately: which posts, irrespective of your liking for them, do you consider essential

I ask because I've long considered the possibility of putting together an anthology or digest of Grognardia containing only my best and most significant posts. However, I'm not always the best judge of this sort of thing and can always benefit from others' perspective. 

Feel free to post your picks in the comments or, if you'd prefer, send them to me directly via email address included on the "About Me" tab. Thanks in advance! 

"Are We the Baddies?"

The House of Worms Empire of the Petal Throne campaign continues on each week, as it has for the last nine years. One of the things I most enjoy about it are the many opportunities it affords us to explore a fantasy setting that is quite unlike both the real world and commonplace vanilla fantasy settings. This is especially fun for me when the player characters act in ways that are perfectly consonant with the principles of Tékumel but nevertheless surprise their players. This happened in our most recent session and I thought what happened might be worth sharing.

To begin, a brief bit of context: the characters, having returned to Tsolyánu after several game years of having served in the administration of the far-off colony of Linyaró, are now in the employ of Prince Rereshqála, one of the potential heirs to the Petal Throne. They've recently begun to first leg of a very long journey that will take them into unknown lands and ultimately end with the exploration of ancient ruins associated with the non-human Mihálli species. Along the way, their ship put in at an island whose governor belongs to the same clan as Nebússa, one of the player characters. The intended purpose of the stopover was resupply and "showing the flag" on behalf of Rereshqála.

However, Nebússa soon became aware of the possibility that something nefarious might be afoot on the island, with the governor at the center of it. An early avenue of investigation suggested that the governor might be skimming an inordinate amount of money from his collection of taxes, perhaps funneling them toward sinister purposes. Notice that I wrote "inordinate amount of money." That adjective is important, especially in Tékumel. That's because, strictly speaking, there's nothing wrong with a little bit of peculation by a provincial governor. Indeed, it's expected and one of the perks of the job. The expectation that a civil servant wouldn't engage in the misappropriation of government funds is an attitude alien to Tékumel. It rises to the level of genuine concern when said civil servant embezzles too much.

Now, the players – and their characters – already know this. After nearly a decade of playing in the setting, they have a very good sense of how things operate in Tsolyánu and elsewhere. They've (largely) put aside their 21st Western morality and approach Tékumel from the point of view of a native. They might still comment upon it as an out-of-character aside – and frequently do, because it can be a source of humor – but none of them really need to be reminded anymore that the social context of Tsolyánu is not that of our world. Things are done differently here and that's that.

As their investigations continued, it soon became clear that the governor they initially suspected of duplicity was, in fact, being set up by someone else and that the strange things occurring on the island had nothing to do with his theft of tax money. They knew this to be the case when, upon examining the governor's books, it was clear he wasn't stealing enough. Sure, he was embezzling, but he wasn't embezzling as much as they would be in his position. Indeed, they soon came to the conclusion that he was basically honest but incompetent and that someone else was probably behind certain events on the island.

They were right. A political rival on a nearby island was responsible for much of what was happening. When they confronted her, she admitted as much without any artifice. The characters were surprised that she was so open and honest, but she explained that this was simply politics and no concern of theirs. Initially, they objected, claiming her actions undermined the Empire and that, therefore, they had no choice to become involved. She reiterated that her goal was strengthening Tsolyánu through the elimination of a weak rival and, once again, that this was none of their concern. She then offered to buy them off. What would it take for them to stop interfering, leave, and never return?

At first, the players weren't sure how to respond. As they struggled with everything the rival had said to them, they realized they'd been approaching this not as Tsolyáni, which is to say, as subjects of a fantasy empire with a very different worldview, but as 21st century men offended by political corruption. Soon, though, their perspective began to change; the offer held more and more appeal. A few rounds of negotiation and they had managed to obtain a fair bit of magical and monetary assistance in exchange for their silence. A deal had been struck and they were on their way, prompting one of the players to ask, "Are we the baddies?"

The session was a terrific one. Everyone involved had a lot of fun and laughed at what had ultimately transpired. I personally found it enjoyable, because I got to present Tékumel as a "real" place that operates according to its own rules, ones that are frequently at odds with those of our world. To me, that's one of the best and most vital parts of roleplaying: being able, if only for a while, to be transported to another place and to see that place through alien eyes. I wouldn't want to live on Tékumel, but it is an interesting place to visit.

Wednesday, April 3, 2024

Why Women Don't Play Wargames

Roger E. Moore's article in issue #20 of Polyhedron about "Women in Role Playing" reminded me of this ad that I first saw on Jon Peterson's blog. According to Jon, it first appeared in the June 1977 issue of Fantastic, a Ziff Davis pulp magazine founded by Howard Browne (a protégé of Ray Palmer).

I don't have a lot to say about this particular topic beyond relating to you my own limited experiences. I started playing RPGs in late 1979 with my neighborhood friends and classmates. Not one of them was female, but that's hardly surprising, given my age. I recall encountering a very small number of girls and women who played roleplaying games at the local games days organized by public libraries to which I'd sometimes go. When I went to college in the late '80s, I likewise encountered a handful of women who gamed, but, as in my childhood and teen years, they were unusual. I don't think I started to see female roleplayers in any number until the 1990s, thanks in no small part to White Wolf's World of Darkness games, particularly Vampire: The Masquerade. 

Obviously, girls and women are much less rare in the hobby nowadays than they used to be, though I'd still wager they're a minority overall. For example, my adult daughter has gamed with her friends since high school; most of them are men. I won't make any claims to how representative any of this with the hobby as a whole, of course, but it's all I've got when it comes to this question (which, I'll be honest, isn't something that occupies my thoughts all that much).

Retrospective: The Complete Fighter's Handbook

AD&D 2nd Edition catches a lot of flak among old schoolers and I completely understand why that is. Nevertheless, as I've stated before, I don't think it's nearly as bad as its somewhat exaggerated reputation would suggest. I played 2e happily for many years and have fond memories of the adventures and campaigns in which I participated. For that matter, I probably wouldn't hesitate to play 2e again if someone I knew were starting up a new campaign using those rules. In short, I think 2nd Edition is just fine, even if it's not my preferred version of Dungeons & Dragons.

That's not to say 2e is not without problems – or, at least, that the larger 2e game line is not without problems and big ones at that. One of the biggest can be seen in its inordinate fondness for bloated (and frequently mechanically dubious) supplements, like 1989's The Complete Fighter's Handbook by Aaron Allston. This was the book that launched a thousand supplements, inaugurating not just the "PHBR" series, which would eventually include fifteen different volumes, but also the "DMGR" (9 volumes) and the "HR" (7 volumes) series as well. These supplements were of varying quality and entirely optional, but, as is so often the case, their mere existence placed a lot of pressure on referees to allow their use in their campaigns, often with disastrous results.

At 124 pages in length, The Complete Fighter's Handbook is an eclectic mix of new and optional rules for use by players of the fighter class and by Dungeon Masters wishing to include additional levels of details with regards to armor, weapons, combat, and related topics. In principle, it's not a bad idea for a supplement, akin in some respects to Traveller's Mercenary, both in terms of its content and the way that its publication changed the game forever. Once The Complete Fighter's Handbook was published, it was inevitable that there'd eventually be Complete Handbooks for every class and race in the game, each one adding further complexity and ever greater demands on the referee.

The book begins with a lengthy, eight-page treatment of armor and weapon smithing in the context of 2e's non-weapon proficiency system. On the one hand, that's a genuinely useful and even interesting subject for players and referees who want that level of detail in their campaign. On the other, it's also a lot of new rules material that most players and referees simply won't want. Ultimately, that's the paradox of this book: there's some good stuff in here, but I'm not sure the juice is worth the squeeze. It's also, as I've said, the first step on the supplement treadmill that would come to characterize AD&D 2nd Edition – not to mention undermining the edition's very raison d'être of making AD&D clearer, simpler, and more accessible. Alas, the need to keep selling books trumps all.

Next up are 24 pages devoted to 14 different "kits," a concept first introduced in Time of the Dragon, along with guidelines for modifying the kits or creating one's own. Unlike the kits from Time of Dragon, those presented here are mostly rather "generic" – gladiator, peasant hero, pirate, etc. – rather than being immersed in a specific cultural or social context. This is the same problem that would later befall 3e's prestige classes and probably for the same reason: it's harder to sell game material that is tied to a specific setting than it is to sell material usable by anyone who pays their $15. 

Then there's a similarly long section devoted to "roleplaying" that is a mixture of the banal ("warrior personalities"), the basic (campaign structure), and the half-interesting ("one-warrior type campaigns"). In many ways, this section exemplifies the Complete Handbook series as a whole: an overwritten mix of good and bad, with much of it unnecessary. The remaining half of the book is like this, too – lots of rules options relating to weapon proficiencies, combat, and equipment, mixed up with occasional bits of advice regarding their implementation. There's simply so much of it that I shudder at the thought of any referee making use of more than just a tiny percentage, because I imagine the effects of using more than that in a campaign would be confusion at best and catastrophe at worst.

That, ultimately, is my primary criticism of The Complete Fighter's Handbook and the books it inspired: it's too much and to little good end. There are a few good ideas scattered throughout but finding them is like looking for a diamond among a mountain of coal. Worse, as I've said, is the way that this book laid the groundwork for a new philosophy not just of play but of publishing that would hobble AD&D 2nd Edition until its – and TSR's – demise. I genuinely wish that weren't the case, because I think there's the germ of a good idea behind this book, but it's buried under so much dross that I find it hard to render a positive judgment in the end – a pity!

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Popularity (Part II)

Here are the eleventh through twentieth most popular posts on Grognardia for comparison to the Top 10:


That's quite a different batch of posts and (mostly) a pretty good reflection of what I think of this blog as being about.

  1. Brandification in Action is a good post and its subject matter is one to which I return again and again. Indeed, it's one I intend to discuss more soon.
  2. Imagine Magazine: Issue #6 only ranks so high because it was the final post of the first iteration of Grognardia. For nearly eight years, it was the first thing anyone would see upon visiting the blog. Frankly, it's a wonder it didn't rack up more pageviews. 
  3. Programming Help is another post of no consequence whose pageviews are almost certainly are an accident of key words.
  4. The Articles of Dragon: "Falling Damage" is a genuinely interesting mix of gaming history and theory and is very much the kind of thing that I like.
  5. The Ages of D&D is a worthy and significant post. I might quibble with some of what I wrote back in 2009, but the general thrust of it still seems sound.
  6. The Enduring Appeal of Basic D&D raises a very real point on which I think I ought to expand one day. A solid post.
  7. Silver Age Obsessions is a favorite of mine and, apparently, others as well. I like it because it not only makes good use of  the schema of "The Age of D&D," but does a good job of illustrating some of the very real differences between the game's proposed eras.
  8. Old School Dungeon Design Guidelines is a good and useful post. It's also a relic from the days when there was a lot more interplay between blogs and forums. 
  9. Rebound represents one of the few posts on this blog to talk, even allusively, about 5e, which might explain its popularity. That said, it was written before we knew much about the game, so my points are very abstract. I certainly wouldn't have chosen it as a Top 20 post, but I'm just the writer of this blog. What do I know?
  10. Quelle Surprise being on this list is probably an artifact of the past anticipation for the 2011 Conan the Barbarian movie rather than a reflection of anything else.
Looking over entries 1 through 20 in terms of pageviews doesn't provide me with much clarity about just which posts will prove popular and which ones will not, since it's an incredibly eclectic mix. However, seeing them all has at least given me a better sense of what I consider my best posts. Perhaps I can use that insight as I continue to contemplate how best to continue writing this blog in the years to come. 

Polyhedron: Issue #20

Issue #20 of Polyhedron (November 1984) is another with which I am very familiar. Regular readers should also remember it from another post I wrote almost a year ago. The cover, by Roger Raupp, depicting the events of this issue's "Encounters" article, is a big part of the reason why it made such an impression on me as a teenager. I'll have a little more to say about it shortly.

"Notes from HQ" is a good reminder that, whatever else it may have been, Polyhedron was supposed to be the official news organ of the RPGA. Consequently, the article focuses on the most recent GenCon and the events run there on behalf of the Role Playing Game Association. While most of the information it conveys is ephemera – "Due to a computer mixup, our events didn't make it into the pre-registration brochure ..." – I nevertheless found the titles of some of the RPGA events fascinating. For example, there was "Baron of San Andreas" for Boot Hill, "Seventh Seal" for Top Secret, and "Rapture of the Deep" (or "Face of the Anemone") for Gamma World. It's all quite evocative and makes me wish I knew more about them.

Speaking of Gamma World, there's another installment of James M. Ward's "Cryptic Alliance of the Bi-Month," this time devoted to the Healers. To date, most of the entries in this series have been, in my opinion, vague on details and generally limited in utility. Some, however, get by because the cryptic alliance covered is sufficiently interesting in its own right, like, say, the Knights of Genetic Purity, Sadly, the same cannot be said of the Healers, who come across as very generic peaceniks without much in the way of adventure hooks that might convince a referee to include them. Also, like too many of the cryptic alliances in this series, the Healers' own legends include too many sly jokes and references to 20th century pop culture ("Lue of the Sky" and "Bencassy"), but then that's a common problem with the presentation of Gamma World's setting and not unique to them.

Kim Eastland's "The Proton Beam" describes a new form of weapons technology for use with Star Frontiers, along with defenses against it. I've always had conflicted feelings about the fixation sci-fi games have with an ever-expanding equipment list, so I tend to greet articles like this with some skepticism. In this case, though, I appreciate that Eastland use the introduction of the proton beam into an existing Star Frontiers campaign as an occasion for adventure. He suggests several possible ways the new weapon could debut, each of which has the potential to send the campaign in different directions. To my mind, that's how new equipment/technology ought to be handled.

James M. Ward returns with "The Druid," a two-page article describing Thorn Greenwood, a druid NPC, in some detail. This is part of an irregular series begun back in issue #17, in which Ward presents an archetypal example of an AD&D character class as an aid/inspiration to players and referees alike. Accompanying the article is another page in which RPGA members have submitted their own shorter examples of members of the class. It's an interesting idea, but I'm not convinced it's quite as useful as Ward might have intended.

"The 384th Incarnation of Bigby's Tomb" is a very high-level (15–25) AD&D tournament adventure by Frank Mentzer. Despite its title, the scenario does not seem to have anything to do with either Gary Gygax's character Bigby nor with The World of Greyhawk. The titular Bigby would seem simply to be a generic archmage, though artist Roger Raupp seems to have taken some inspiration from Gygax's actual appearance in depicting him:
The premise of the adventure is that Bigby labors under a curse that makes him unable to employ potions of longevity and thereby extend his life. Rather than die, he placed himself in suspended animation within an artifact, where he would rest until brave adventures might find him, lift the curse, and deliver to him the desired potion. The dungeon surrounding the artifact is not really a tomb, since Bigby isn't dead, but it is a deadly place filled with lots of tricks, traps, and challenges, just as you'd expect of a good tournament dungeon.

"Encounters," yet another piece by James M. Ward, features the Aquabot for Gamma World, about which I've written before, as I noted above. In my youth, I remember finding the article somewhat jarring, because, up until this point, the setting of Gamma World had never included anything like this in any of its previous supplementary material and I didn't quite know what to make of it. Years later, I'm still not sure, but there's no denying that it made an impression on me, so I suppose it achieved its purpose.

The antepenultimate section of this issue is a doozy: Roger E. Moore's three-page essay on "Women in Role Playing." The article is a very well-intentioned and reasonably thoughtful attempt to broach a number of topics relating to the entry of more women into the overwhelmingly male dominated hobby of roleplaying. While I suspect that many readers today, male or female, might detect the occasional air of condescension in Moore's prose, I think that's probably the wrong lens through which to view this piece. TSR, to its credit, was always quite keen to expand the hobby beyond its traditional male fanbase and articles like this suggest, I think, that they were at least partially successful. 

Roger Moore returns with "Now That It's Over ...," another report on the most recent GenCon (17 for those who care). Unlike "Notes from HQ," Moore's article focuses not solely on RPGA matters but on the entire con. Consequently, there's some genuinely interesting bits of historical trivia, like the performance of a dramatic reading from the first Dragonlance novel that received "a standing ovation." He also highlights all the new RPGs that appeared that year, like Paranoia, Toon, Ringworld. and Chill, not to mention TSR's own additions, like Marvel Super Heroes and The Advenures of Indiana Jones – quite the banner year for new releases!

Finally, there's "Dispel Confusion," with answers to questions about D&D, AD&D, Gamma World, Gangbusters, Star Frontiers, and Top Secret. Only the AD&D questions have any lasting importance, largely because they're questions put directly to Gary Gygax himself at the latest GenCon. One concerns the appearance of the mythical module T2, whose manuscript Gygax says is now complete, though without committing to a release date. The second monsters that are "pretty useless" and that "are never seen in the modules." Oddly, Gygax replies that "work is being done to update and improve the Fiend Folio," even though the questioner, at least as reported, did not specifically mention that book of monsters. It's well known that Gygax didn't like the Fiend Folio and many of its entries, so perhaps he simply took this question as another opportunity to vent his spleen about it.

Monday, April 1, 2024

Popularity (Part I)

Let's continue to today's theme of navel gazing by taking a look at the most popular posts of this blog by pageview, according to Blogger's own stats. I'd like to see if they reveal anything about what my readers have enjoyed over the years. 

  1. By a wide margin, 30 Greatest D&D Adventures of All Time is my most viewed post and understandably so. Its title alone probably ensures that it's one of the top hits in any online search for "greatest D&D adventures" or some variations thereof. From my perspective, it's not an especially great post; I'm not even sure I still hold the same opinions about the modules on the list.
  2. By contrast, Gygaxian Naturalism is a good post. This is the origin point for that particular term, which still gets bandied about online after all this time. I couldn't be happier about that.
  3. Sci-Fi Archetypes is bizarre to have at the number three spot, yet there it is. It's a trifle of a post that I can only assume owes its place to its title playing well in search engines.
  4. Fifty Years Ago Today is on this list because it celebrates D&D's half-centenary and that was a popular point of discussion back in January.
  5. REVIEW: Mörk Borg was my first post on this blog after nearly eight years, which is probably enough to explain its popularity. That Mörk Borg was, for a time, the online flavor du jour likely played a role, too.
  6. Pulp Fantasy Library: Pigeons from Hell is a decent enough overview of the classic Robert E. Howard horror short story. It's not my favorite, let alone my best, entry in this long-running (and temporarily dormant) feature of Grognardia, but it's solid. Why it's in my Top 10 of popular posts, I could not tell you. Perhaps another algorithmic artifact? 
  7. How Dragonlance Ruined Everything is a good post and one of my favorites. I'm not surprised it's in the Top 10 and it deserves to be there.
  8. Remembering Norman Bean is almost certainly here for algorithmic reasons. I'm not unhappy to see a post of Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of the founding fathers of modern fantasy and, by extension, our hobby, get more attention, but I am surprised it's a Top 10 post.
  9. Shock and Betrayal is here for a lot of reasons, including, I suspect, the Internet's love of drama. I'm also likely one of the higher profile fans of Tékumel online, so I suppose it was inevitable that others would be interested in my take on this particular bit of unpleasantness. 
  10. An Interview with Lawrence Schick is an early interview with a notable figure of the early days of gaming. There's some good stuff in the interview, though it's too short. Why, of all the interviews I've done over the years, it's the only one to reach the Top 10, I have no idea.
Looking over the Top 10 posts in terms of pageviews, I don't see much of a discernible pattern, except perhaps the role search engines play in directing traffic on the Internet. Of these ten posts, only a couple – "Gygaxian Naturalism" and "How Dragonlance Ruined Everything" – are really all that representative of my considered thoughts about roleplaying and its history and culture. The rest seem almost random in content; they do very little to help me get a sense of what readers enjoy. However, the next ten most popular posts are, I think, a bit more representative, though, even there, there are some oddities. 

I'll take a look at this second tier of popular posts tomorrow.

Whither Grognardia?

Over the past holiday weekend, Grognardia celebrated its sixteenth anniversary – or, rather, the sixteenth anniversary of the first post to appear here. Now, in truth, I've only posted at this blog for about half that time, owing to my hiatus between December 2012 and August 2020. On the other hand, I never took the blog down and it continued to have a fairly steady, if significantly decreased, readership even during those nearly eight years when I wasn't posting. Take a look at what I mean:

That's a screenshot of Blogger's own Stats page, illustrating Grognardia's pageviews over time, during the period between June 2011 and July 2020. I don't know why the stats only go back to 2011 rather than earlier, but that's all I've got to work with. As you can see, during the 2011 to 2012 period, the two-year period I was posting regularly before my long break, the blog was averaging about 160,000 pageviews per month, with a high of 186,933 for February 2012. After the break, that dropped to about 45,000 per month, with a high of 65,409 in November 2016.

Here's what's happened since I returned to the blog in August 2020:

During that first month back, the blog received 120,063 pageviews, which is about triple what it'd been receiving during my absence, though still quite a bit below what it'd been getting at its height eight years prior. Since then, as you can see, pageviews have fluctuated from month to month, but generally stayed around the 130,000 range. Then, in May 2023, views inexplicably spiked to 221,901 before dropping down to 144,281 the next month and then spiking upward again, eventually reaching an all-time high of 286,230 in August of that year. While I've never again seen anything close to that number of pageviews, the overall number seems to be slowly on the rise, averaging around 140,000 for most months (though March 2024 was just shy of 200,000).

I bring all this up not merely to boast, but as background to the real point of this post, namely, what to do with this blog. When I began it in March 2008, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing or where it'd go. Owing as much to fortunate happenstance as to any skill on my part, Grognardia took off, becoming one of the major blogs of the burgeoning Old School Renaissance. Indeed, the blog received so much attention that I often felt as if I'd lost control of it, which, like a runaway freight train, was soon careening wildly under its own momentum. 

I often joke – not without some degree of truth – that the fist iteration of Grognardia was my mid-life crisis. The blog sprang from an unthinking impulse on my part, one born of my increasing dissatisfaction with the direction of Dungeons & Dragons in the dying days of the 3e era. Giving in to that impulse yielded great joy but also great disappointment, failure, and embarrassment. The present iteration of Grognardia came about when, in the depths of the pandemic lockdowns, I felt I needed a public outlet for expressing myself again. After considering all manner of other alternatives, I finally settled on posting here again, though not without some trepidation.

Though born of different motive, this second version of Grognardia is every bit as directionless as the first. Most days, I write about whatever happens to come to mind rather than proceeding according to some definite plan. The downside of this is that "whatever happens to come to mind" is often a topic I've already covered before. After about 4200 posts and more than 70,000 comments, what haven't I already written about? Indeed, what more do I have to say about anything? I sometimes feel as if I'm competing against an earlier version of myself, a younger more energetic version whose combination of enthusiasm and naivete provides him with more interesting fodder for thoughtful posts.

And yet, for all my frustrations, people keep reading, as the stats above demonstrate. They don't comment as much as they used to, nor do my posts seem to generate nearly as much discussion elsewhere (or as much controversy, thank goodness), but they do nevertheless read, for which I am grateful. Still, I sometimes can't help but wish that I got a better sense of engagement with my posts from my readers. This lack, in turn, feeds my feeling that I don't really have anything interesting to say anymore, so why even try? 

Some of that perception may be the result of the larger hobby's (not merely its old school sub-grouping) having changed a great deal between 2012 and 2020. When I started Grognardia sixteen years ago, blogs were very important parts of the online ecosystem of discussion. That's not true anymore, or at least it's less true than it once was. Social media and video seem much more significant, neither of which I really use. If so, is there still a place for Grognardia? Or is it, like old school RPGs themselves, a relic of the past? 

[ADDENDUM: To be clear: I have no intention of shutting down the blog again, at least not anytime soon. I simply find writing engaging posts a lot harder now than I did years ago and I wonder if the problem lies with me or with changes in the wider world of online RPG discussion.]