I started Beyond Fomalhaut one year ago, and slowly but surely, it has been lumbering on ever since. Most people seem to do their “this year in gaming”-style posts around Christmas or New Year’s Eve, but I will henceforth be doing them this time of the year, as long as the blog lasts.
Fair warning: since this post is inevitably personal, there will be a lot of “I”s in there.
The State of the Blog
Blogger tells me I have 55 published posts including this one (and eight reviews reposted from TheRPGSite), which is not bad. It could have been more, and I have a lot of respect for people who can keep up a steady stream of good posts month after month, year after year, but I am not one of those people. I also do my shitposting elsewhere on the Internet, which cuts down on the dross a little.
Among all those posts were 24 reviews, 8 old and 16 new. I did some counting in a spreadsheet, and it turns out I’m a fairly consistent reviewer, since both my old reviews (from 2012-2013) and the new have hovered around a 3.0-3.1 average. The ratings went out like this:
- 5 with the Prestigious Monocled Bird of Excellence () to Anomalous Subsurface Environment #1 (but that’s from 2011, and the review was a repost). So far, the only other products I’d put in this category have been The Tome of Adventure Design and Yoon-Suin.
- 5 went to one new product, Secrets of the Wyrwoode. There is another one that looks like a candidate, but it’ll need more reading to decide.
- 4 went to one old product and four new ones: Yngarr #1, Dispatches from Raven Crowking, Sunken City, and The Tomb of the Sea Kings. Along with the previous rank, these were the supplements to impress me this year.
- 3 went to nine adventures, ranging from the evenly good (like The Phoenix Barony) to the uneven with good spots (like The Fall of Whitecliff). These are goodish, and you would be having a good time if you ran them at your table.
- 2 went to seven adventures. I’ll be honest: this would include a lot more titles, but a lot of small adventures I picked up from RPGNow this year were bad in such uninteresting ways that I couldn’t be bothered (and mean enough) to tear them up in public. I feel there is a real problem with the “20 pages, overlong intro that doesn’t affect gameplay, dungeon with 10-20 rooms” adventure module.
- 1 went to no new adventures, because I filtered out the real stinkers before I bought them this time.
Reviews have turned out to be fairly easy and fun to write, so I’ll be keeping up the habit, and I’ll keep focusing on the rough gems and dodgy homemade materials. There are only so many reviews the world needs about the high-profile releases, so unless I feel like I have something interesting to say about them, or they are really relevant to my interests, I’ll pass. Sometimes it feels like reviews are a cop-out from real blogging, and I’ll try to look into that.
|Got this thing out|
Through the year, I kept a campaign journal going, now at its 11th instalment. This has proven to be a tremendous amount of work, something I already learned with the City of Vultures campaign. It seems to get rather few readers, and ironically, they might come more from Hungary than the English blogosphere, but I have a soft spot for it. It is a way of sharing and documenting our collective memories of a fun game (with occasional missteps and frustrations), and I’d like to look back on it twenty years from now and say this is what we were doing. I will keep going while I can – so far, entries have been late, but never more than by one session, and that’s what I’m aiming for.
And I also had a bunch of discussion posts; fewer than I thought I would have as I was setting out. One reason I have always liked forums is that I prefer adding to existing conversations rather than coming up with a detailed OP – and half-assing it doesn’t feel right. That has carried over to my blogging, where you don’t really have a way to be reactive, so you just don’t say anything. There is another reason, too; I tend to feel I have mostly said what I had to say with regards to game theory, and would rather focus on the practical side.
One additional lesson that bears repeating here: flamebait sells, bigly.
The State of my Projects
One of the many reasons I dropped out of the old school gaming scene around 2013 was that I was starting to focus on gaming projects with a larger scope than it could be summed up properly in small chunks. It was also around this time that both of the big old school fanzines I was writing for, Fight On! and Knockspell ceased publication (and the two founding fathers of old school gaming who had been running them, Calithena and Mythmere both seem to have vanished). I didn’t have much to say in small form, and the places where I was saying it were gone. Therefore, I turned my attention elsewhere.
|Got this thing out, too|
One of the results has been Helvéczia, my picaresque fantasy RPG. Helvéczia is about looking at D&Dish gameplay and aesthetics through the lens of swashbuckling romances, 17th century novels about lowlifes and scoundrels, local legends and the works of the Brothers Grimm. It started as a slightly out there campaign idea and quickly decided to grow into its own system, a mixture of the strange and the familiar. We published a great-looking boxed set and a short range of adventures with a printer friend of mine (the game is in part a love letter to the typography and cheap pamphlets of the 16th and 17th centuries), and I’d like to bring it to a larger audience. I believe I have something worth saying with Helvéczia, a new look at historical fantasy gaming – even in context of the other stuff out there – and the updated, expanded English edition is the product of that. I have the rulebooks ready, and want to translate the adventures before I start thinking about moving it into publication. Not much progress through the year, but it is picking up again.
The second large project is Castle Xyntillan, which I have covered elsewhere. Xyntillan is the successor to my unplublished Tegel Manor manuscript; what started as an update of the legendary Judges Guild adventure has become a whimsical homage to it. Work here is still ongoing, but it is getting there.
In the meantime, I have published less via my blog than I meant to when setting out. Here is what I did:
- The Technological Table, a collection of vaguely sinister high-tech items.
- The Smugglers of Cliff Point, a small lair dungeon from the remains of a never completed sandbox supplement.
- The Ruined City, a transcript of my first dungeon module (very RJK of me).
- In the Name of the Principle!, probably my favourite adventure I have ever written. Predictably, almost nobody gave a fuck.
- And the manuscript for the German version of Cloister of the Frog God (including the grotesque and hilarious, never-seen-before wilderness segment), to be published in the fanzine Abenteuer.
I am mostly thinking a blog is not a good venue for publication. Stuff gets plussed on Google, a few comments come in, but posts sink like a stone and never resurface. This is one more reason to start a fanzine (homemade? POD? stone tablets?), which I am more and more eager to finally do, and will start thinking about seriously after at least one of the two big projects come close to completion – close enough to safely free up thinking capacity.
|Still working on this one|
Right, and then there are the two books whose covers I used to illustrate this article. This Spring, I published my long-delayed monograph, Reindustrialisation in Central Europe, a work surveying the regional transformation processes, outcomes and current challenges of industrial development in post-socialist Central Europe. This is something I have worked on for the better part of ten years; over successes, setbacks, reorganisations and personal losses. Sometimes writing it was a joy, and sometimes a burden I am happy (if a bit wary) to have finally put down. I put my heart and soul into it, and it simply feels right to hold it in my hands.
The second book, The Routledge Handbook to Regional Development in Central and Eastern Europe collects the results of a large research project on the various transformation processes of the macro-region, and where it all leads to. This one was a work of a large team, mostly from our research institute, and some abroad, and took a lot of fiddly work to coordinate and massage into a cohesive, unified whole. I took the first steps on this journey with my late mentor and boss, who died the same day I could tell him our book proposal got accepted; and the final ones with the help of my colleagues who had supported me along the way. The people at Routledge have done a tremendous job through the publication process (I was very much impressed by their professionalism and attention to fine detail), and I think the end result is solid, honest scholarship in a seriously good-looking, crisp package. I feel good about it, and that's how I hope it will go down with the readers. (As a matter of personal pride, I selected the cover images for both volumes, and think they came out very well.)
The State of the Old School
Roleplaying games are as strong as the creative networks around them, and you can see it in the various communities that there is less going on than it used to, either in discussion, publishing or actual play. It can be spun as “things have settled down to a normal level”, or “there is less but it is generally better”, but it is there. This is not a bad time to be – it is pretty good for those who are a part of the action – but look three years ahead, or five years ahead, and there are some mighty dark clouds on the horizon.
|Very much a work-in-progress version|
Sometimes I think there are a few prestige products too many in this corner of the hobby. Coffee table books, bookshelf books, don’t mark them up books, Kickstarter perks, gold foil special editions. It doesn’t beat the asinine hobby of collecting original shrinkwrap in its ridiculousness, but seriously, folks, you do remember why so many of us got away from the gaming mainstream, right? Right? Are we still on the same page? Actually, is there anyone still out there? Helloooo?
You can’t eat production values, is what I’m saying. I don’t mind if you have good art, but there is form, and there is function, function and function. Game-relevant content. Things that come right from some guy’s game table and it is so hot it’ll burn your hands when you slap it down your game table. Certainly, I have been guilty of it – sitting too long on something, overthinking, missing opportunities to just do it and publish, all of it – and all I can promise is that I’ll try. That’s why I want to do that fanzine.
Something I am seeing reflected in the reviews (mine and others’) is how few good generic AD&D modules get released. Something is missing. Whatever’s out there mostly turns out disappointing or just lacking the spirit. For all the old school scene’s roots in rediscovering older editions, I really haven’t found anything decently AD&Dish outside The Tomb of the Sea Kings (from the crazy tournament dungeon tradition) and maybe Sunken City (from the “I was actually there” tradition). I will keep looking, including checking out some older titles I missed out on, but this lack of good material is worth examining more deeply. What makes them hard to do? Why can’t people do them well? (Or, as an alternative explanation, why aren’t the people who know their stuff putting their skills to good use?) Has the Gygaxian spirit departed from gaming, if it was ever there in the last years? It also feels like a challenge, and yes, I’ll try my hand at it.
As it is, the most significant old school accomplishment of the year comes from unlikely quarters, and right at the last possible moment: Next Friday has come, ITZ has happened, Hell has frozen over, a golden baby can fly, and
Grimoire: Heralds of the Winged Exemplar is finally finished and available for purchase
(for one week only, there is a five-dollar discount that will not be offered ever again).
This blog will dedicate more detailed posts to the most highly anticipated Wizardry-like of 1997 (and 1998, 2001, 2004, 2013, Next Friday, and so on), but for now, let it suffice to say that it is authentic, enchanting, Gygaxian (by way of that other giant of the age, D.W. Bradley), a little crazy, and yes, sometimes rough around the edges. It is rough and idiosyncratic because it is the real deal. For all the setbacks and vexations, the time of tremendous Incline is at hand!