Friday, August 7, 2009

So Who Are the Essential Critics?

Who do you read to get an impression on new RPG products?

More than half the people that got complimentary copies of Death Frost Doom haven't so much as acknowledged receiving it, let alone said anything about it publicly.

That's hardly a crime (and that's almost my default mode when receiving unsolicited things), but it's not something that keeps them on my mailing list.

So who should be on it?


  1. I bought the pdf a couple of weeks ago, but haven't read it yet. In fact I only printed it out yesterday after buying more printer ink (ran out a while back). Now I have a big backlog of recently purchased products to print, bind and then read. Ahh, what a terrible situation to be in. And people say our hobby is in decline. :)

    As for reviews, I aways read James Maliszewski's offerings. And although I know he tends to be kind, I also know he tends to review a product because he thinks it's worth reviewing.

    And since your blog, James Raggi, is my hub of blogs to keep an eye on each day, I tend to read reviews put up by those blogs you have on your "Other Stuffies to Read" list, otherwise I don't have any regular reviewers I follow.

  2. Who do I check every day - Grognardia.

    Who do I keep up with - Jeff Rients, Greyhawk Grognard (Not your biggest fan), Trollsmyth. Sometimes LotFP. >:)

    I often check rpgnet reviews, also.

  3. I read Grognardia and your blog almost exclusively (oh, and Kellri's occasional posts), so basically if Maliszewski doesn't review it, I don't find out about it. At very least you should continue sending him copies of your work. I am also a frequent customer at Noble Knight, so I find out about the OSR publications they carry (but alas, no reviews by which to judge quality/usefulness).

    I budget a fairly large amount each month for gaming products, but it usually ends up going unspent or to OOP generic FRPG items from BITD (i.e., 1978 - 1983), because I have no "go to" resource to assist in judging what's worth having from the current crop.

    FWIW, the sum total of my OSR purchases, and what prompted them, from most recent backwards:

    F1 The Fane of Poisoned Prophecies - Grognardia, and I'm a "trade dress fetishist". I'm a sucker for detachable covers with maps on the inside. I'll likely buy the sequels when/if they're released, if the adventure itself doesn't spew chunks (haven't rec'd it yet).

    Carcosa - 'cause I finally became interested enough to see it for myself, plus I now have S&W: WB (see below) in case I ever want to actually use it. Originally saw a review of it on, wait for it... Grognardia.

    GDF #1 & #2 - Saw them for sale on NKG, and I dig your style, so since they are relatively inexpensive I was willing to shell out for them without a recommendation.

    Swords and Wizardry (WB) - Entirely on the strength of the Mullen cover, don't recall if I saw a review or where if I did.

    Fight On! #1 and #2 - Grognardia. Wasn't hugely impressed, so haven't kept current on these.

    When it comes to increasing the number of useful reviews, though, I'm not sure there's a good answer. As far as I'm concerned there are no "essential" critics yet.

    I'm tempted to take up the gauntlet you threw down recently and begin a blog devoted solely to reviewing OSR products. I have no publishing aspirations of my own, which I agree is key, and I think I could be even-handed in my approach. However, I fear that I wouldn't pull my punches enough for the negative reviews not to be considered "insulting" at times (i.e., "I'm smart enough, I'm good enough, but goddarnit people don't like me," to paraphrase our most junior US Senator). I don't have JM's knack for diplomacy and level-headedness, and I'm not witty enough to pull off being negative without becoming disliked.

    I therefore probably wouldn't receive many things to look over for free. That might be okay with me (like I said, the budget is going unspent). Why haven't I done it? 1) I'm afraid I'd go completely ignored, which is bad for the ol' ego, or conversely that I'd become infamous as "that jerk who trashes everyone"--I'm not a big fan of nerd rage, 2) Inertia, 3) What's in it for me?, and/or 4) I'm just not sure I give enough of a damn to bother.

    On the more general issue of exposure, though, I think moving product through NKG is a genius move. I don't buy .pdfs because I can't stand reading from a computer screen, and I'm loath to pay international shipping so I seldom buy print stuff directly from those of you overseas. As NKG stocks new product, I'll likely be all over it as they ship quickly and package securely.

  4. Okay, I just stopped procrastinating and started a blog. We'll see how long it takes for me to get shouted down. About a week, I'm guessing. Headed out to the shed now so I can self-flagellate a bit; maybe it'll help me grow the thick skin I'm undoubtedly going to require.

  5. Years ago I submitted review material to and the reviews there were very helpful in driving traffic to my site. I can't remember if I contacted directly or if I started a thread looking for willing reviewers.

    You are a popular blogger. I bet that if you asked some of the people on your blog roll to review or at least plug your stuff, they would.

    When it comes to making some money and getting your work out there, any and all tactics are fair. :)

  6. I try to hit everyone on my blogroll at least once a week. But there are some folks I hit almost every day. They include:

    How to Start a Revolution in 21 Days or Less (who did a great review of your DFD, I think)
    A Hamsterish Hoard of D&D
    (though I can't recall her doing any reviews)
    Jeff's Gameblog
    The Lair of the Evil DM (Only for the articles! Yeah right. ;) )
    Monsters and Manuals

    Of these, Grognardia is probably a must-do, and I assume you sent him one already, he being the Blogfather of the OSR. Jeff and Evil DM publish their own stuff and are probably the biggest leaders of the circle-jerk out there.

    I can't say Oddysey of "How to Start a Revolution" would post a negative review (which could limit her usefulness to you) but she clearly will write about stuff that interests her, what she writes isn't the same-old-same-old and her perspective is exactly what the OSR needs in terms of criticism from a different viewpoint.

    Noisms at "Monsters and Manuals" clearly has no problem letting people have it when he disagrees with them. I have no idea what his numbers are like, but he's got more followers than I do. He does seem to have some interest in getting published, however, so that may put him a bit lower on your list of potentials.

    I used to read religiusly, but I really don't have time anymore. :p

  7. If you want to get out of the "old school circle jerk" as you so aptly referred to it recently, there I'd look at two places:

    Berin Kinsman aka Uncle Bear

    His blog is the oldest RPG blog I am aware of and he does tons of reviews for many systems. He has credibility and he isn't afraid of giving criticism.

    Flames Rising

    They call it a horror webzine, but it puts out a significant amount of RPG reviews. I remember you once stated something along the lines that horror is intrinsic to adventuring... and having read some of the stuff you come up with, your Death Frost Doom will likely strike a chord with Flames Rising.

    I have no love for forums, because I think they are the backwater of the internet. The majority of other blogs, outside the OSR, are usually dedicated to 4e or 3.x.

    I do reviews and spotlights (more of a looky-here-at-this-new-thing) as well, but I've only done a hard-core review of two products (WoD Core book & 4e Player's Handbook). This is because I like actually using the damn things before I render a verdict. I have yet to do an adventure review because, well I don't purchase/use them (I create my own) and no one has sent me one.

  8. And here I was going to mention Trollsmyth as "a guy who does useful reviews." ;)

    Grognardia's my main source of game news. I'll also take a look at anything that comes up on Trollsmyth, Jeff's Gameblog, Monsters and Manuals, The RPG Corner, Shams Grog 'n Blog. But in general, I'm not out looking for new stuff to buy, so I tend to get interested in new stuff more from the "hey, check out this cool thing I'm doing with X" type posts than the straight out reviews.

    And the criticism thing is something I've been thinking very carefully about. I tend to ignore stuff I don't like -- to the point where I don't own many gaming materials I don't like. But there's probably a profitable intersection between "things I think more people should know about" and "things that could be improved."

  9. many reviews do you want/need?

  10. A million billion.

    But I really want them from people who are inclined to do reviews anyway, have an audience, and aren't necessarily involved with or even sympathetic to the OSR to reach a different crowd.

  11. Have you tried offering Death Frost Doom to Ron Edwards of Adept Press? He's posted many review articles to the Forge web site, is actively interested in any independent publishers of RPG material, is a fantasy RPG buff though not a shill for the OSR, and has WIDE following of non-OSR gamers.

    Plus, this particular adventure sounds like its right up his alley.
    ; )

  12. Oh, I read Dan Proctor's occasional Uhlutuc Awakens (sp?) blog, he has occasional looks at stuff AFAICR.

  13. I don't think that giving a bad review to a product carries such opprobrium. I'd be interested in Delta's take, along with Ryan of Save vs Poison - I believe these fall into the 'not publishing stuff' circle. And would suggest I can't think of anyone whose review I'd be more inclined to take seriously than Matthew at Silver Blade...perhaps not so much a marketing move there though ;)