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.