It’s time to recognize the best gaming blogs of the year.
Of course, most any day is a good one to recognize a great gaming blog as far as I’m concerned. That’s why I link to stuff over at Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog all year long. But of all those blogs I link to, which ones are the best…? That’s a tough question, really. And actually ranking them in order…? That’s like having having to pick from among your own children…!
The way I dealt with this last year was to look at what my own readers were clicking on. Whoever got the most must be the ones that people want to actually read. I thought that gave me a pretty good list of blogs last year. And though I considered trying out a new method this year, the old way seemed to work just fine.
So, without further ado… here are the top gaming blogs of 2015!
Coming in at #10 we have Charles Akins over at Dyvers. This is the guy that pretty much reads all– and I mean all— of the game blogs. His Best Reads of the Week are consistently the talk of the town out in the rpg scene. His off the wall Greyhawk advertisements are strangely compelling. And his flash fiction is just plain… uh… unusual.
Me? I read him because he understands me:
You should have just rolled dice for the answer instead because the game should only be played as it was written – and by game I mean Dungeons & Dragons; by which I mean Basic Dungeons & Dragons; which, as everyone knows, means Moldvay Basic Dungeons & Dragons.
Well, hey. It made sense at the time…!
People cruising through my blog wanted to read this post of his this year: What Must They Think of Us When They Read Such Things?
Wayne Rossi is back again this year with a solid entry as the #9 game blog this year.
Wayne was one of the a very small number of people celebrating Arneson Day this year:
The difference between Arneson’s dungeon maps and Gary Gygax’s fascinates me. Arneson focuses on weird, lengthy corridors, occasionally huge rooms, but mostly small chambers and hallways. (Room 9 at the top has a total of 60 goblins – tight quarters!) It feels much less ‘crowded’ and each room can be totally purposeful, while the dungeon as a whole is instinctively nonlinear and interesting to explore.
He also identified how incremental changes to the rules have had unintended consequences when it comes to Dragons:
Dragon inflation has been a constant of D&D, and it has slowly pushed the dragon out of the game, except at high levels. Dragons went up in hit points significantly in the first edition PHB, and much further in second edition, firmly ensconcing them as upper-echelon enemies. They have stayed that way ever since; a party will pretty much have to be 5th level or higher before even thinking about slaying a dragon.”
Rick managed to hold onto his position as the #8 blog in spite of illness and “real life” type stuff. He didn’t post a great deal this year, but when he did, people really wanted to read it!
His post on how there’s more than one way to play a wizard in combat got a lot of attention:
The party got into an altercation and the visiting player cast Mirror Image, then Shield. The he drew a dagger and closed with the front line, doing very well for himself and helping turn the tide. This led Lew to discuss the idea of Pocket Quarterbacks vs. Fran Tarkenton. Wizards who stay in the middle of the formation and lob spells over his defenders = pocket quarterback. Guys like the visitor who wander around both casting and fighting are Fran Tarkenton (look him up, kids).
Despite the desire of contemporary people to think of the faerie/sidhe as fun-loving hippies in folklore they’re are much, much more like the Weeping Angels – inhuman, utterly other creatures that if you were lucky will only cast you decades through time away from all you know and love.
Maybe it’s best feature is you can have two characters that are the same race, same class, same level, even the exact same stats, and yet have them be very different in abilities and roles because of the use of non-weapon proficiencies and kits.
Big news for me was that what you think you know about druids probably isn’t true:
Everything we know about the druids we have second hand through Greek and Roman sources with a smattering of other reports here and there. All we know is that they were a social class of people that included philosophers, legal scholars, and people that had something to do with religious practice. Druids are first mentioned about 500 B.C., first described about 50 B.C. and vanish from history by, oh, 300 A.D. The only ritual described is something we get from Pliny who heard it from… somebody, we aren’t sure who… and who wrote it as a footnote when describing mistletoe.
While I think I’ll stick to the ones from A. Merritt’s Creep, Shadow, hey… that’s still good to know!
You know, I get that this blog is basically dead. But it holds a unique place in the game blog scene. And as I worked my way through Appendix N this year, there was always a top notch post at Grognardia that I could compare my stuff with. So yeah, Grognardia’s totally the #7 game blog this year. And it deserves the nod, doggone it. Call it a retro-blogging award if you have to justify it!
Okay, another rule-bender here. This is not technically a game blog. But I’m here to tell you these people put out stuff that game blog people want to read! Behold….
It’s got insights into just where the Trek reboot goes wrong:
Khan is a moral force. He is destructive, and willful, but he acts with a purpose in mind. Khan did far more to stop war than Kirk did. If Khan had not rebelled against Marcus, then Kirk and others may have loyally followed Marcus into war. In contrast to Khan, Kirk rarely understands what will be the consequences of his actions. I submit that this makes Kirk a poor hero, and Khan far less than a villain.
It breaks down precisely where Firefly goes off the rails:
It’s by far the show’s weakest episode though, and an excellent example of how betraying the viewpoint of your story to preach a specific message does no good for either your story or your message. I’m still scratching my head trying to figure out how ‘Out of Gas’ or ‘Objects in Space’ never got nominated. THOSE are absolute masterpieces.
These people can explain why we love the Daredevil TV series so much:
This, my friend is wonder: It is awe. It is a lone man, human, broken, nevertheless willing to fight for the weak and downtrodden, and despite all his failings and faults, to come out victorious. And THIS is how you display such a thing, make it convincing, make the audience believe that you have just witnessed a victory won only after a monumental struggle. You see how he needs to brace himself before he enters that restaurant. You know the pain he is in well before he walks in the door.
They dig deep into everything from Star Wars canon to adventurer morality. If they want to keep putting out posts this awesome, then I don’t mind leaving a place open for them on this list. This year they debut at the very respectable position as the #6 gaming blog of the year!
The Traveller rules assume a feudal social structure. I want all the mess and social and political crisis and tension that offers. Blood lines matter, power is passed down through children and family members, and Royal Families work hard to keep their pride and power through both hard and harsh methods. And when things fall apart they fall apart badly. All the Official Traveller Universe always downplays this. And I assume it is in an effort to keep the politics and social structure stable and static at all costs. As a strategy for building a constant setting to sell to consumers this makes perfect sense. As a strategy for building a setting ripe for adventure it makes no sense at all.
And that is a real clue to where everything went wrong with Traveller fandom. In fact, practically everything about the game that’s written about the game now can be traced back to this one change:
People attack the Traveller rules for ‘not making sense,’ for ‘not being realistic.’ Flamewars have broken out over the logic (or lack thereof) of Interstellar Trade, Piracy, Ship Design, and more. Decades have been spent trying to bring the rules and setting of Traveller into alignment with the Hard Science Fiction that Traveller is ‘supposed’ to be. But the fact is, Traveller was never supposed to be Hard Science Fiction. It was designed to allow RPG play in fictional situations inspired by SF tales published in the middle decades of the 20th century.
It’s incredible, but Traveller is a victim of the exact same sort of “canon gap” that transformed Dungeons & Dragons. Once someone points it out to you it’s obvious. But someone has to break this stories… and in this case, it’s Christopher Kubasik. Heck, the answer was right there on the back of the box all along. For bringing these stories to light, Tales to Astound ranks as the #5 game blog of 2015.
Some people write the stuff I want to read. Some people go further and write the stuff I wish I could write. Ron Edwards is one of those people. Over at Dr. Xaos Comics Madness he delves into everything from history to culture to gaming and everything else while covering the topics that are simultaneously obscure and oddly important.
Stuff like… I dunno… Howard the Duck:
Nuances and personalities aside, though, Howard is a powerhouse of comics and pop culture event, no question, a direct splat of comix somehow delivered into one’s newsstand funny books. For me, the touchstone for his presence lies in an immediate nab into the role-playing hobby. When I got into the role-playing game RuneQuest and its setting Glorantha in 1980, I didn’t even blink at the obvious homage in the Gloranthan ducks, which made perfect sense to me in that I practically personally embodied the complete connections among dope-scented counterculture, role-playing, fantasy worlds, politics, and comics. When I finally met Greg Stafford we greeted each like long-lost brothers and stayed on the phone for about a solid year. I was baffled by the strange push in the later fandom to make them less cartoony, and to this day, a gamer who complains about the ‘silly ducks’ is dead to me.
Why our model of comic book history is complete bunk:
That’s a pretty good idea! But there’s one lurking and dangerous concept in there: its reliance on the Golden/Silver/Bronze/Iron model in a big and not good way. ’cause that model is just ass. There weren’t any such things, especially not in a graded downswing from Cheerful Idealism and Patriotism into Bitter and Tragic and then into Dark and Mature and Gritty. I’m calling this mythology out; it’s bullshit. It was confabulated by journalists and hucksters in the mid-80s to hype specific titles (‘Zap! Pow! Comics finally grow up’), and it relies on cherry-picking titles, plain and simple.
The origins of those van painting people:
Kirby and Ditko weren’t seeing painted vans and funky rock posters in 1966 – the people who’d soon be doing those vans and posters were reading these guys. Not even fantasy and SF had broken it open yet; the future Bodhisattvas and apocalyptic runeswords were at best contemporary and most would come later – again, by people who had nursed at the teats of the Negative Zone and dialogues with Eternity in cheap newsprint.
And the best explanation you’ll find anywhere of why The Watchmen is just plain nonsense:
Taking out the, for lack of a better word, environmental villains removes the heroes along with them. It means that the trappings of the ‘costumed crime-fighters’ must be explained in some other way besides stepping up to the ongoing menace the villains both represent and actually present. Without any such menace in the picture, the heroes’ costumes become fetishes, with their psychologies adjusted to match; their patriotism or community spirit becomes naivete or goon-ism; and their feistiness and powerful abilities become bullying, up to and including casual atrocities – all of which describes the historical characters and the pasts of the principal characters in Watchmen precisely. And so important: every one of them is completely out of his or her depth regarding the social and political world they live in and in no way can they confront it…. Instead of grappling with power-politics, they become establishment stooges.
Seventies culture in general is disproportionally relevant to gaming. At Dr. Xaos Comics Madness, you get a window into why things were the way they were. Even better… you get to see the gigantic brain storming process that goes into one of Ron Edwards’s game design projects. It’s a consistently great read and easily holds down its position as the #4 gaming blog of the year!
Douglas Cole made a tremendous splash this year running what can only be described as a book on comparative rpg design. It’s positively epic:
(Read the whole thing!)
That series covered what are, for the most part, thoroughly modern game designs. Given that he took such a close look at these things, I was especially pleased to see that he could still cite things that some of the older rpgs bring to the table— stuff that the new stuff could stand to look at emulating:
One of the nicest things about the Basic D&D and S&W sets (and I feel this way just as strongly about the old WEG Star Wars RPG) is that you can sit a half-dozen or even a dozen people down at a table with nothing, and be playing in less than an hour. Perhaps much less. Even with limited copies of the rules.
For consistent top-rate output like this, Gaming Ballistic holds down the #3 spot this year…!
Why did my players opt to wear plate mail armor for their trek across The Isle of Dread when it made no sense and slowed them down so much they had to deal with several times as many wandering monster encounters as they would otherwise…? Peter V. Dell’Orto has the answers in Armor, Travel Speed, and Players:
“Nobody sprints to the heavyweight title fight. Nobody brings a light tank to a heavy tank battle, no matter how much faster the light tank is. If the fight will always be waiting for them, it behooves them to bring the heaviest and most effective combat loadout possible.”
Need one more reason to build your own megadungeon for epic gaming…? Check out OPM – the problems running Other People’s Megadungeons:
Everything I have down on paper is a reminder. It’s not new information. Even when there is a blank, I know what I was thinking when I wrote it and what would thematically fit. I don’t need to roll on the “What does the faction do?” table. I know what they’d do. I might flip a coin to find out which option they choose out of two, but I know which two and why.
What to know the secret for Gamma World’s enduring appeal? Take a look at Does Post-Apoc need a sense of loss?:
You can’t go home again because home – all of it – is wrecked. But you can try to build something new out of it. There isn’t some great shining beacon to retire to, but you can try to build one.
For all of these posts and many others, Dungeon Fantastic holds the #2 spot on this year’s list of Top Gaming Blogs.
There’s only one blogger that I was afraid would actually scoop me when I was working on the Appendix N series. In fact, that same blogger covered books that were way cooler than anything I was reading this year:
Seriously, those books are so awesome it hurts. And yeah, this same guy not only covers hard core hex ‘n chit war games that I’ll probably never get to play, but he also would touches on culture war topics that I would never even go near. And then there’s posts like this one where he’d put into words things that nobody else seemed to be saying:
For all of the outrage, very little I’ve seen has been outrageous, or even particularly provocative. Where is the sci-fi Salome I was promised? The mild and inoffensive nature of the Puppy entries is in bizarre contrast to those who’ve given me the impression that it was all going to be Spacemen doing manly things, like shooting guns and absconding with inappropriately dressed women on implausible worlds of mushroom forests populated spear-chucking natives. I mean, if everyone is calling you racist and sexist, at least have some fun with it!
He did that with gaming topics as much as he does with books as you can see in this piece on 5e D&D’s supposed fit “old school” gaming:
While there was some fun roleplaying stuff we did among ourselves, the game itself seems more of a case where a group of variously powered individuals are thrown against a puzzle in the form of an elaborate encounter drawn from the monster manual. Players must figure out how to use their powers effectively against the monster to solve the puzzle of beating it (the riddle of steel? Nah) before time(HP) runs out. It feels like a supers game dressed up as a heroic fantasy. It is maybe the right system for the wrong genre, but it doesn’t feel like the Dungeons & Dragons I enjoy.
That he took that same ox goring, myth-breaking coverage to my favorite games just about kills me, but you can see that in posts like this one on B/X D&D:
This one paragraph at the beginning of Part 3: Spells radically affects the implied setting of B/X, moving it away from the Vancian implied setting (if not the system) as it’s usually understood. In two sentences, Magic Users go from scroungers of lost arcana to part of what will eventually morph into the magitek society settings of continuous light street lamps and tinker gnomes. Magic users would always need to find higher level characters to teach them new magic. Even more significantly, Magic Users cannot add spells they find to their spell book, whether in the form of scrolls or rivals’ spell books!
Seriously, this is one of the best game blogs around, easily grabbing the #1 spot this year with consistently strong and varied output.