Saturday, 6 August 2016

Review Standards

Bryce has his [edit: and so does the weird other guy], I’ve got mine.

Basically, I buy RPG products (mainly adventures and mini-settings) either on the basis of gut feeling, or favourable comments made by trustworthy people and gut feeling. I have a weakness for things that are cheap, homemade and a bit dodgy, while the modern Big Shiny Book aesthetic leaves me cold. I like sword&sorcery-ish flavour, and materials which don’t overstay their welcome (although I am suspicious of the ultra-minimalist trend permeating old-school gaming). And of course, hype is a hell of a drug.

These are not always good principles to inform your buying habits, and this blog is partly here so you can at least learn from my mistakes. There are a lot of old-school supplements that imitate this or that classic trade dress with the doggedness of a mimic, but don’t deliver on their promises. There are many products with elaborate setups which boil down to “five rooms with monsters and stuff in them”. Sadly, this is a common flaw of modules based in otherwise interesting settings.

My ratings go from * (terrible, possible comedy value) to ***** (an outstanding work). Most of the stuff I am running into is worth three stars; very few are worth five, and I try to steer clear of anything below a comfortable ***. Fortunately, the majority of old-school products out there are functional, and their most common flaw is being inoffensively unremarkable. That is no crime; the real atrocities in this hobby tend to come from the people who don’t game, or who hold their peers in open contempt.

[Addendum, 23. 01. 2017]What do the ratings mean?

* Terrible, would damage a sane person's game. Possible comedy value.
** Poorly designed, boring, dysfunctional, insufficient, or a combination thereof. Might have some salvage value, but you are better off writing your own materials.
*** A good, functional product (or a flawed gem). Most old-school materials fall into this category.
**** Something that's either original and highly imaginative, or so solidly made that it should offer an outstanding gaming experience. Worth buying.
***** An outstanding, very well-designed work that sets the example for others, and puts something genuinely new on the table. Worth buying before you regret missing it.
***** and the Prestigious Monocled Bird of Excellence. One of the great achievements in gaming. At the moment, this category includes Anomalous Subsurface Environment 1, The Tome of Adventure Design, and Yoon-Suin. Naturally, you already own these.

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