Sunday 5 June 2016

A Year in the Wicked City


It's now a year since I started writing this blog. I started it for two reasons, one positive and one negative. The positive reason was that I was really inspired by the level of creativity that I was seeing in the OSR blogosphere, and I wanted, in my own small way, to contribute to it. The negative reason was that my son had just turned one and my opportunities for actual gaming had  shrunk to almost zero. I was still writing game-related stuff, because I always write game-related stuff, but I didn't have a chance to use it; it was just piling up on my hard drive, where it was no use to anyone. So I started the blog, partly as a substitute for actual play, and partly in the hope that even if I couldn't use this stuff, maybe someone else out there could...

I didn't really expect to find an audience: after all, 'romantic clockpunk fantasy inspired by the history of early modern central Asia' isn't exactly a mainstream genre. Once I finally overcame my squeamishness about Google plus, however, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that there actually did seem to be people who were willing to read my ramblings about Mongolian shamanism and clockwork zombies, or at least people who were willing to click on a link to them, shake their heads in weary despair, and then hit 'back' on their browser. These days, I average a bit more than 200 pageviews per day, which is a tenfold increase on what the blog got back when it was just starting out. So that's nice.

Over the course of my year-long foray into the exciting and glamorous world of D&D blogging, during which this blog has risen from the lowest levels of the OSR blogosphere to, um, the lower-mid-regions of the OSR blogosphere (maybe around its knees, or something), I have learned the following Important Lessons:

1: Everyone's really friendly. 

It's actually kinda spooky. I've been hovering around the edges of online RPG fandom since the late 1990s, so when I started the blog I assumed it was only a matter of time before someone contacted me via G+ or the comments section to tell me I was evil and stupid and possibly mentally ill because of the way I like to play Dungeons and Dragons. That a whole year has now gone past without this happening, and that all the comments I've had have in fact been very positive and supportive, is a testament to the friendliness of the community, or at least the bits of it that I've interacted with so far.

2: There's no sense of hierarchy. 

The people who run the biggest, most popular, best-known OSR blogs really will read and reshare and link to posts on new and unproven blogs like this one. I mean, I know it's not as though there's that many of us to start with, but anyone who's ever been to school will know that small numbers are no barrier against the establishment of exclusionary social ranking systems. It's nice to see that's not the case here.

3: 'General-purpose' posts seem to be much the most popular. 

When I started the blog, I thought that no-one could possibly care about my thoughts on how to run D&D or what I liked or disliked about other people's adventure modules, but actually those have consistently been my most frequently read and reshared posts. Original material - classes, monsters, settings, the stuff I think of as actual content - tends to be much less popular, both in terms of page-views and '+1's. I'm going to carry on posting the setting-specific stuff, because that's what gives the blog its identity - without it, it'd just be another website full of some random guy's opinions about games, and I think the internet probably has enough of those already - but there may be a bit of a slide towards more general topics as well.

4: People really love 'gaming archaeology'

Delving back into D&D texts from the 1970s and early 1980s, to give them a new look and see what's been forgotten along the way, always seems to get very positive responses. Not that this should be very surprising: many of those old books really are treasure troves. It's probably only a matter of time before I write a post in which I wax lyrical about B10 Night's Dark Terror and/or X5 Temple of Death.

5: I need to write more about romantic fantasy

My initial post about romantic fantasy and oldschool D&D was written in about thirty minutes, just as a way of explaining the 'romantic fantasy' bit in the blog header; but people keep writing to me about it, really intrigued by the idea, and there's clearly a lot more to be said on the subject. So one thing I'm definitely going to be doing in the near-future is a few more posts on what I mean by 'romantic fantasy', what it might look like in play, why one might want to play in such a style, why I don't see it as incompatible with the use of horror material, and so on.

6: Oh my god it's full of worms. 

The more OSR stuff I read, the more I notice the patterns of shared imagery. Worms. Rats. Cults. Insects. Snake-men and lizard-men. Horrible cities. Corpses. Fungus. Machinery. Cannibalism. Blood. Slavery. Mutation. Drugs. Masks. I do it too; half the stuff I write is about masked lunatics lurking in creepy cityscapes full of weird machines. It's not enough to say it's because OSR gamers tend to have an interest in horror in general, and Lovecraft in particular. I mean, that's part of it, but there's something else going on. I'm not sure what it is, yet. I'm working on it.

Cuğa Necropolis, Naxçıvan region. AZERBAİJAN:

Anyway. I've had a lot of fun writing the blog over the last year, and it's been hugely inspiring to see all the brilliant people other people have been coming up with over the same time. (In particular, Goblin Punch never fails to impress me, and the stuff Noisms is doing at the moment on the dream-world of a several-million-year-old crocodile is just brilliant.) I know that the OSR blog-world isn't quite as hyperactive as it was a few years ago, but a lot of extremely strong work is still coming out of it, and its collective creativity still dwarfs that of the official industry. So: thanks for all the feedback, thanks for all the links and +1s, do let me know if there's anything you want to see more of, and here's to a second successful year in the Wicked City.


  1. Happy anniversary to your blog! (Also to your wife, in case she didn't see the post on her Facebook page)

    1. Thanks. (She won't have done, though; I don't think she's been on it for years.) Happy birthday for yesterday!

  2. RPG archeology is also alway RPG alchemy. We're always trying to reconstruct the formulas of the ancient masters to glean their knowledge of the mysteries of GMing.

    I think that's also why general purpose posts are the most popular. They are the most useful for GMs. Setting and monster ideas are also well suited for idea mining. Magic items, spells, or character classes you can take as they are, but many people probably have their own already. There's not as much to learn from them.

    And who doesn't love worms? Or at the very least, loves to hate them? ^^

    1. Yeah, I get what you're saying. It's just the popularity of the commentary posts - the ones where I talk about other people's work, rather than doing any of my own - which has slightly surprised me.

      I will be speculating wildly about the worms in a future post.

    2. Commentary posts are popular because everyone knows the source material and has an opinion about them. I've noticed the same thing.

      But please *do* keep developing your own stuff. I love your shamans and spirits and balbals and blunderbuses.

    3. Yeah. And people are more likely to weigh in with their opinions in the comments thread, which *also* generates more page-views, as the discussion goes back and forth...

      'Balbals and Blunderbusses' clearly needs to be the name of my OGL D&D fantasy heartbreaker.

  3. In regards to your third point, I hope you continue to post setting-specific material. Since discovering your blog a few months ago, I've read almost the entire archive and my favorite posts were classes, monsters, and other topics relating to your campaign setting, since I think they strike an excellent balance between illustrating the setting and providing the mechanics to put these ideas in play.

    I'm a lurker in the community, which is why I haven't commented on or liked previous posts, but I felt it was worth weighing in on this point, since though I've enjoyed your general purpose posts, I find them much less engaging than the setting-specific ones.

    1. Thanks - that's good to know. I'm always pleasantly surprised to hear that someone's read the archives!

  4. congrats and yes love the central asian stuff and pretty much everything here - one of my favorite blogs

    1. Thanks, Chris. And congrats on getting Elfmaids to 850 posts! Glad to hear it's been getting the popularity it deserves...

  5. Your rules text is always great - very clean and concise, but also very flavorful. As I'm not personally playing a game of romantic clockpunk fantasy inspired by early modern central Asia I don't see myself lifting much material directly, but your writing has been an inspirational example of how to efficiently communicate an unusual game setting.

    1. Indirect usefulness is the best kind of usefulness!

      Honestly, I don't really expect anyone other than me to ever use the setting as written. But I hope that bits of it may be useful enough for people to adapt them into their own games, in suitably modified forms...

  6. I just discovered your blog a few months back but quickly became an avid reader. There are a lot great posts here but the snake-man post is brilliant.

    I for one, am looking forward to another year of great material.

  7. Per a friend of mine, who sent me a link to this post:

    3 Worms.
    4 Rats.
    5 Cults.
    6 Insects.
    7 Snake-men.
    8 Lizard-men.
    9 Horrible cities.
    10 Corpses.
    11 Fungus.
    12 Machinery.
    13 Cannibalism.
    14 Blood.
    15 Slavery.
    16 Mutation.
    17 Drugs.
    18 Masks.


    1. With the aid of a few sub-tables, you could have a whole 'random OSR fantasy setting' generator...