Wednesday, August 5, 2020

What Are Your Favorite Blog Posts?

I am not a particularly deep thinker; my gaming is more about applied science rather than theoretical science.  But there have been many deep thinkers in the blogosphere through the years, and I've sopped up ideas like a sponge and made them part of how I run games.  My best games are the product of inherited wisdom.

When I was thinking last week about participation in the OSR blogosphere, I couldn't help but remember posts that had a lasting impact on my ref style.  Here are a few that come readily to mind, although this list is only scratching the surface.  If you have your own favorites (and wouldn't mind linking in the comments) I'd be greatly appreciative.  There are tons of D&D blogs, and I personally only see or read a narrow subset.

Back in the early days of the OSR, Grognardia was massively influential, and James Mal frequently posted multiple times per day!  We embraced randomness as we returned to old school gaming, and it's been an important part of my make up ever since - random tables for encounters and content creation, sure, but it's just as important for things like reaction rolls and morale checks (which modern games have mostly left behind).  Give yourself the chance, as referee, to be just as surprised at the direction your game goes as the players by allowing ill fortune or serendipity to intervene.  Plus a little randomness lets you flex your improv muscles.

Back to Grognardia, I'm fairly sure that blog coined the phrase "Gygaxian Naturalism" - the idea that random tables becomes a short hand descriptor of the game world in the "show don't tell" vein.  Furthermore, if those monster listings also contain randomization (number appearing, and percentages of also appearing) you begin to create a deeper picture of the world through tables.  I'm firmly in the camp that random tables for encounters help put the world in motion and support the simulation of a fantasy world.

In the early days of LOTFP, James Raggi was a prolific blogger.  A lot of it was promotional but there are thoughtful essays here and there; discussions of the "Weird" and using horror in D&D, for instance, and "I Hate Fun" - a polemic against modern D&D's predilection for putting the game on easy mode (and this was in 2008 !!  Long before the elimination of Save or Die effects and massive healing).  D&D is a casual beer and pretzels game for the majority, but that doesn't mean *you* can't run your game to challenge your players.  My players are firmly in the modern camp of "winning is fun" but even they'll admin prevailing against challenges with real consequences is the best.

Rogues in the Sandbox
Long before the Zakpocalypse, you could find jewels over on PDNDWPS.  The one I remember is the idea that super heroes are reactive, defenders of the status quo, like firemen in the station waiting for an alarm to go off.  The villains are the ones that initiate action and make plans; they make the first move; they upset the status quo.  In fantasy gaming, this has implications for your open world sandbox game.  Are your players Conan-like scoundrels willing to plan capers?  Or are they more like the police and firemen that want the local lord or patron to dole out missions smiting malefactors?  I always thought this conceit did a good job of illuminating why some groups are better off doing guided adventure paths and not sandboxes.  One thing I carried forward from 4E was the "points of light" setting concept, because it imagines a world that's almost entirely hostile surrounding small islands of civilization - allowing your sandbox to potentially appeal to scoundrels and do-rights alike,

This wasn't exactly a blog post, I believe it first showed up on En World.  For the combat as sport crowd, the encounters in the game are the end in themselves, and players in that style of game want a good, balanced fight between their characters and the monsters, highlighting the way their clever tactics and play skill lets them win during combat.  For the combat as war crowd, encounters are obstacles to their real goals; they see a balanced encounter as a strategic failure; proper play is about tilting the battle field so the odds heavily favor your side.  Good game play is about creating a plan so you never have to fight a balanced encounter, and can get on to the real goals with resources intact.

Matt's quick primer for old school games is a free PDF over on, but I encountered it through lots of blogs.  Although it's called "the old school primer", I'd say most of it could just be called "good game mastering advice".  It's about making your games interactive and not dice-rolling bore fests.  Things like challenging the players, not their character abilities, and advice on narrating the game so it's evocative and descriptive and engaging.  It's solid gold for referees.  The primer holds up well across editions (except maybe the advice of keeping the game heroic, not super heroic... both 4E and 5E eschewed gritty "zero to hero" starting points for player characters.  Otherwise it all applies just fine for 5E.)

I've clearly landed firmly in the camp of "no dice fudging" but can't remember any landmark posts laying out an iron clad argument.  For me it comes down to integrity and unforeseen results are the most interesting; if that means my dice are on a cold streak and the monsters get smoked one night, good for the players; if the dice are on fire and they can't catch a break, well you need nights like that too, to appreciate when you actually have good fortune.

I've also stayed committed to resource management.  Much like the combat as war crowd, where the planning is the game, so it is with managing resources.  Not exactly "OSR-era", but here's a cool post I came across recently that had an insightful twist on the resource sub-game:  If Your Torches Burn for only One Hour your NPCs will be More Important.  Dealing with logistics forces the players to engage with the game setting - visiting towns, villages, markets, and worrying about henchman, hirelings, and ordinary people.  I felt it.  Looking through this new lens, I think this is why I love the domain game in old school play so much; it forces engagement with the game world because the players have to interact like fellow citizens of the fantasy realm, and not just unconstrained super powered tourists.

That's enough for this time.  As requested, would love to hear some of your favorites.  What's the saying, when you talk (or blog) you're only sharing stuff you already know, but when you listen (or read other people's stuff...) you get the chance to learn.


  1. This blog post got me into the OSR.

    It just ripped through me like a lightening bolt—I never knew before that people could have such interesting evocative ideas. I had been stuck in the boring D&D world of goblins and kobolds in the same boring dungeons over and over.

  2. There are many that I have enjoyed. As a latecomer, I found many interesting things to read that had been stacking up for a decade plus. For example, these two:

    The first blog that I found, though, where I stopped and kept reading, was Dungeon of Signs. It was his reviews of early D&D modules and ideas for reworking them that I found interesting just when I was getting back into gaming late last year. Now even those are not available to passers-by.


  4. Someone has already linked to the alexandrian, but thought I'd share this article. Not sure if I'd class it as an iron clad argument, but I found it useful and helped me cement my opinion on the matter.