Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

Category Archives: Blogging

An Announcement…

There is an announcement today over at Castalia House that will be of interest to readers of this blog:

As Blog Editor, Jeffro will be bringing in a number of new and veteran bloggers, so if you are interested in becoming part of what will soon be the best and most popular blog in science fiction, fantasy, and wargaming, you should make it a point to get in touch with him at some point in the new year. I have absolutely no doubt that as good as the content here has been in the first two years, under his guidance, it is going to be even better in the years to come.

Read the whole thing!

“Their literary posts are among the most substantive I’ve seen”

Okay, that’s coming from our own publisher that’s got every incentive to plug us, but still. (Sort-of publisher, anyway. Site owner?) And as one commenter notes, the competition is light due to the pros thinking: Give it away for nothing? Are you nuts?!  I’m still trying to wrap my head around that whole “literary” bit, though. Eh… seriously? You know, I was never the English major type. Should I go buy one of those corduroy jackets and put patches on the elbows so I look the part…?

But what about those pros, eh? I gotta say, I rarely see anything in the press that meets any sort of reasonable standard of competency for what I’d call game journalism. The Washington Post Volko Runke story was pretty good, though. Also, that recent story on Diplomacy was extremely well done. Most of the time, a lame content-free “features” style is used for these things and they’re tilted towards the mythical “Old Lady in Dubuque.” That recent Guardian article betrays the fact that the target audience is people that hate games in the first sentence. It’s idiotic.

So where does that leave us, really? Oh yeah. Basically uncontested. Tor.com has very comprehensive Appendix N series… but it’s very informal. And of course, I’m just building on the work of guys like James Maliszewski and Jeff Rients. But when I go check their posts to see if I’ve just repeated the same old stuff, I see that while they are often more insightful on a paragraph to paragraph basis, they tend to stop after five hundred words or so. I do think I’ve gone deeper than those guys in at least a couple of cases, which is pretty exciting: there’s still a lot of stuff here to uncover! (Me: “You mean… if I put forth the effort, I can actually create something…?”) So yeah, it’s really weird not just to be out in front of the community… to basically planning on being that way as a matter of routine. That’s just crazy!

Hey, maybe the muses will depart next week. Who knows? And looking around at guys that have done almost exactly the same type of posts that I’ve tried to do… I gotta say that this new guy Scooter and that Jeff Lasala guy at Tor.Com are waaaay more cogent than me. At some point I’ll want to take some time and really look at these other folks’ posts and try to figure what it is that they do that I don’t… but for the moment I’m mostly just trying to keep up with a punishing workload. But hey, Ira Glass already explained that bit.

Anyway, this week’s installment is here: RETROSPECTIVE: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson. Check it out!

 

The Foundations of Gaming: Classic Fiction and its Influence on Early Role Playing Games

Things have been quiet around here, but I haven’t quite dropped off the face of the earth. I’ve continued my weekly column over at Castalia House:

REVIEW: Shadow of the Storm by Martin J. Dougherty — This one provides a look at the new Traveller novel set on the Solomani Rim.

RETROSPECTIVE: The Dying Earth by Jack Vance — Gamers bandy around the term “Vancian Magic” quite a bit, so this one delves in to what that stuff really is all about.

RETROSPECTIVE: Three Hearts and Three Lions by Poul Anderson — This one’s all about the surprising origins of Basic D&D’s three point alignment system.

RETROSPECTIVE: The Winds of Gath by E. C. Tubb — Here I dig into the origins of the term traveler and into the origins of Traveller’s high passage, low passage, and the low lottery.

What started off as a series of book reviews has turned into a tour of the literary underpinnings of the early role playing games. I wasn’t sure how this was going to go– I’ve tried to let the work speak for itself– but I’m going to level with you here. This is my best work. I have no idea what I’m going to say when I pick up a new book, but I sit down and I stay at it until I come up with something. This is 99% perspiration and completely unlike my blogging here. It’s a lot of work. Every paragraph is like an individual problem to solve.

I wouldn’t be spending this much time on it if it wasn’t something that I thought had potential. I’m thinking of working towards making this sort of thing into a book. (Working title:  “Appendix N: Reflections on Golden Age Science Fiction and Fantasy and the Development of Tabletop Role Playing Games.”) Unlike all of those other ones that are written on the premise that D&D is the main thing or the only thing, I would also delve into Traveller and Gamma World and who knows what else. I could be wrong, but I think all kinds of things could be turned up that would not only be entertaining, but would also open up new premises for adventures and game designs. This could be a resource for picking out summer reading as well as a tool for breathing new life into some old games. I think a collection of thirty or so of these columns would make for a great read even for people that are only casually interested in hobby games.

However, this series of posts has not set the internet on fire. I am just not getting the amount of feedback on this that I was expecting. Maybe this stuff isn’t as interesting as I thought it was. Maybe my attempt at doing good writing for once is completely wasted effort. Maybe there’s some other project I should be working on instead. I don’t know. But if you are really digging this stuff and want it to continue, then I need to hear about it. I can delay gratification up to a point. I can quietly persevere for a time. But if I don’t get some kind of sign in the next few weeks, I may need to slow down, step back, and try a different tack.

I Have a Column at Castalia House Now…

My first post at Castalia House went up on Monday:

REVIEW: Fate of the Kinunir by Robert E. Vardeman

While my personal blog here has grown considerably in the past year or so, writing at this new location will give me an opportunity to reach a much larger and more diverse audience. I see that as being good for both the hobby and for me as a writer. At the very least, the exercise will get me out of the echo chamber of my own making. You see, I’ve spent the past ten years struggling to become both comprehensible and relevant to people that have a passion for classic games. So when this last review went out, I wasn’t terribly surprised when I got feedback from a Traveller fan that looked like this:

I had an Imperial Marine with Cutlass-3. I thought it was pretty worthless till I found myself on a world with an exotic atmosphere behind three pirates marching along in space suits. So yeah, more swordplay in Traveller, please! Seriously excellent lampshading there and a nice review.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to write for hard core Traveller fans? It’s tough! But here’s the response I got from a non-gaming science fiction fan:

I’m disappointed that the first paragraphs in Johnson’s review forced me to wonder “What the heck is he talking about?” He needed more editorial direction. However, it’s great to see Vardeman’s working getting some attention.

Ouch! The funny thing about this… I was specifically trying to communicate to an audience that had no familiarity with Traveller. I thought I was bending over backwards to accommodate those people… but I was completely failing to connect, convey, and inform. No, I just sounded like this to them: “bar bar bar bar bar bar bar.” Doh!

Although I have my work cut out for me, this is exactly the sort of thing I was signing up for. While I expect the next few weeks to have its ups and downs as I attempt to acclimate to the new venue, I would of course be pleased if my regular readers from here could follow along with me there. Thanks for your support so far. If this new thing turns out not to be your thing, I understand. But something tells me that a stint as a small fish in a big pond is exactly where I need to be right now as long as I can swing it….

Cheers, tally ho, and all that….

— Jeff

Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog now has 100 Subscribers

There was a time when “100” seemed impossibly far off; for a long while I’d stayed at around twenty subscribers or so. That was back when I would write mostly about Car Wars. Sometimes I would post more frequently in a burst of activity and nothing would happen. The average hit counts for each day would stay roughly the same as before. I might have been trying some really stupid stuff, I can’t remember. I know for a while I tried to make “end all be all” type posts, but it took a whole lot of time to make that sort of thing and I don’t think the intended audience actually existed.

The big change happened when I decided to start posting about role playing games. I’d held off for a long time because I didn’t want to look like an idiot. (I actually posted several session reports on a forum until I had more confidence about it.) I started posting once a week and I remember getting to a point where I ran out of things to post. I’d do reviews if I didn’t have anything else and somehow I trudged on gradually getting in the habit posting a couple of times a week. Several mid-tier gaming blogs put me in their blog rolls. This new phase of “popularity” managed to double the number of subscribers up to about 40 or so at which point I reached a new plateau. I was ecstatic.

I think that’s about where I was at the start of last year. I soon switched to posting several times a week and then changed my title to “Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog.” I expanded my coverage another notch and developed a set of regular features: Blog Watch, Designer Spotlight, On the Table, and Space Gaming News. I was trying to go more for a magazine feel, but I soon began dabbling in more original material. I started several different series at once and tried to keep spinning the plates…. Some days I would get up, write, and post, and I would almost forget who I was after a while. If I ever got tired of doing it, someone would come along wanting collaborate on something and I’d redouble my efforts out of a desire to make them look good. I kept at it… and things just kept growing until I got to here: 100 subscribers!

Anyway, blogging may be a dying art form at this point. I don’t know. It seems like that the people that are five or more years younger than me don’t really read… while the people more than five years older than me aren’t really on any sort of social media. Maybe that’s just the gaming scene. What I wanted to point out to the people that may care about the form… if you want the number of subscribers to go up, you have to diversify. Being good or deep or going viral only does so much… because there’s only so many people that are keen on whatever narrow slice of greatness you are willing and able to serve up. If you start trying a new thing, new people will show up and hit the subscribe button even if you’re clueless. If you run out of things to say but then try it again several months later, you’ll be better at it and then you’ll get a second round of new subscribers.

At least… that’s what I’ve observed.

But, yeah…. 100 subscribers. Of those, maybe 25 of those are just nutso gaming junkies that would be here regardless of how much effort I put into this. (I’m one of thirty gaming blogs in their feeds and they wouldn’t necessarily notice if I went dark for a while.) Another 25 of those are people that are gone, that subscribed by accident, or that are some kind of internet marketer or something. The fifty in the middle are lurkers that are probably just here for maybe ten percent of what I do… but none of them are here for the same ten percent!

I really should look into writing for money at some point. I think Jerry Pournelle actually said that it is immoral to write for free. On the other hand, I don’t think there’s much of a market for a lot of the topics I want to delve into. None of what I want to say would survive the translation into a media that is targeting the proverbial Old Lady in Dubuque. And most of the value in what I do here lies in the fact that it comes across as many eyeballs as it does. Packaging it all up into a PDF that is read by a fraction of my readership doesn’t really get me much.

But really… I’ve seen people look at me with that “here, take my money” look for something I can do for them. It’s kind of silly what most people actually want and it’s easy enough to make them open up their wallets, but I can tell you that a few thousand words on some vintage game is not it! The amount of effort that I think it would take to get any amount of money for writing stuff just isn’t worth it in comparison. But I’d hate to think that my giving it away here just makes it that much harder for people that would otherwise like to seriously make a go at paying their bills with the written word. Of course, most people that are a couple orders of magnitude better than me can’t quit their day jobs, either. Being a “real” writer that gets paid would be as much about the prestige as anything else. Of course, at that point I’d figure out another reason for why I still wasn’t really “real.” (Velveteen writer syndrome is a killer.)

So, no… “100 subscribers” does not mean that you suddenly become a real boy… or that you have a brain, a heart, or courage. Anyone willing to drop a couple thousand words a week could have done the same, of course. It’s been a little scary sometimes crawling up the ranks. But if I’m edging into the imaginary top 20 gaming blogs list at this point, it’s as much because so many great bloggers have quit as anything else. And that’s the last point about diversifying your themes and coverage that I want to make: you’re either going to be growing or quitting. There’s no middle ground. If you keep a narrow focus, you’ll eventually run out of things to say.

Anyway, to all the folks that have helped me to get “here,” thank you. There’s more people out there that are like me than I ever would have known… and it’s been fun getting to know you all through this medium.