The 10(ish) Best Reads of February!

February is not only the shortest month of the year but traditionally it’s also one of the lowest output months for role-playing bloggers with winter fatigue taking its toll on our creativity. This year, however, that trend didn’t hold true as more bloggers updated in February than did in January! Unlike January there were no overarching themes or controversies that took hold of the community and found fertile ground to inspire countless posts dissecting the topics. This month we’ve got advice for people wanting to break into the game design field; thoughts on why we should hack our gaming systems; open letters to game publishers; surveys on the role-playing game industry; and so much more!

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10. When an Inch is not an Inch in AD&D by Delta, from the blog Delta's D&D Hotspot: Our hobby is filled with these little eccentricities that were holdovers from its war gaming roots that have continued to have an impact on all of us decades later. In this article from Delta we’re presented with the conundrum of the inch that isn’t an inch. For newer players who joined the hobby after the release of Third Edition, such as myself, the idea that an inch could be so many more things than just an inch in the game is really fascinating and this post just captured my imagination. Well worth reading for anyone who came into the hobby in the last fifteen years.

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9. Why Alignment is So Hard by FrDave, from the blog Blood of Prokopius: Since its introduction into the hobby seemingly no aspect of the game has received as much attention and discussion as the topic of Alignments. In a lot of cases this has resulted in a boring rehash of tired precepts as people echo each other while presenting their ideas as being cut wholly from new cloth. Which is why I normally abhor discussions surrounding the subject; however, this post by FrDave is so much more than just an esoteric discussion of gaming terminology and instead digs into deeper and more fertile ground to bring new life into the topic. Not everyone who reads this post will agree with his conclusions, indeed many may not agree, but his thoughts on the subject have reinvigorated my own and caused me to look a little deeper on it for my own games.

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8. Monster Manual's Appendix N by Mike Monaco, from the blog Swords and Dorkery: For a lot of older players the Appendix N at the back of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master’s Guide, where Gary Gygax presented a suggested reading list for people interested in the game, has been a jumping point (and somewhat of a sacrosanct list) where all discussion and theories about the wider mythology of the games creatures, characters, and settings begins. So when Fifth Edition came out with its Appendix E in the Player’s Handbook with more books added to Gygax’s list it brought an idea to Mike’s attention: What if we built a reading list surrounding the type of monsters we use in our games. His list already has fourteen books and in the comments you’ll find more suggestions. The list continues to grow as people add their own suggestions and it’s well worth exploring.

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7. Hacking the System: Why Do It? by Mark Knights, from the blog RPG Knights: For some people in our hobby there is only one way to play: by the book. While these players don’t see the games as perfect they do find that by playing with the written rules, as much as is possible, provides the players with a level playing field wherein the Game Master doesn’t impact the game in a major way. Yet for a large part of this hobby community the idea that we should play the rules as they’re written is a mind boggling restriction on our individual creativity and on the abilities of our Game Masters and Players. In this post Mark looks into why so many of us hack our game systems and why doing so is often more fulfilling for many of us than just playing the game as it was written.

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6. Fortieth Anniversary of Games Workshop by Jon Peterson, from the blog Playing at the World: February marked the fortieth anniversary of Games Workshop and in our hobby there is perhaps no other person so imminently qualified to talk about such an event as the author of the fantastic book about the early history of Dungeons and Dragons, Playing at the World. Jon’s short essay about Games Workshop’s origin is a fascinating read into the early days of the company and our hobby.

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5. Murder Hobos and the Supply Curve of Evil by Emily Dresner-Thornber, from the blog /project/multiplexer: If you’ve ever thought about playing your favorite role-playing game in a realistic way then at some point you’ve had to start thinking about things like economics. Yet in doing so you probably haven’t thought about applying the underlying theories of that field to the enemies of your players. Murder Hobos and the Supply Curve of Evil is an insightful post that not only has convinced me that attempting to be firmly grounded in the real world is utter madness but it has kept me thinking about the implications of my players actions on the world in a deeper way. If you enjoy this post by Emily and would like to read more deeply into /project/multiplexer then I suggest you do so quickly as she has moved on from the website to join Critical Hits with a dedicated column, Dungeonomics, and may allow her blog to lapse.

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4. An open letter to game publishers: Please stop trying to make me feel like a Sleaze by Matthew J. Neagley, from the blog Gnome Stew: If there was one post that threatened to drag the whole hobby community along its path it was this one by Matthew Neagley. In it Neagley argues that when publishers place skimpily clad women on their books that it makes him uncomfortable, furthers sexist stereotypes about the hobby, and that while sex sales that they shouldn’t give into that lowest, common denominator. His view point found people responding to him with everything from the occasional “Right on!” to full on responses from actual publishers. His opinion piece has been one of the most controversial pieces to come from Gnome Stew in a while and the discussion its inspired has been an interesting one to say the least.

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3. State of the RPG-verse by Nicholas Bergquist, from the blog Realms of Chirak: Any survey of the role-playing game industry is necessarily limited by the publicly available data released by the industry, but in this post by Nicholas Bergquist he isn’t trying to read the financial tea leaves left in the bottom of quarterly reports. Instead he’s looking at what companies like Evil Hat, Onyx Path Publishing, and Paizo are producing to create a theory about what they’re actually doing behind the scenes and what they’re strategies are for the foreseeable future. While I don’t agree with all of his thoughts on the subject it’s hard not to find yourself talking about them for hours afterwards.

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2. Lapidir, the City of Secret Fire; Districts of Lapidir Part I; and Districts of Lapidir Part II by Arnold K., from the blog Goblin Punch: Making a city interesting beyond filling it with basic necessities like places to train and sell your treasure is difficult for a lot of us as our towns and cities tend to blur together. The distinctiveness of them tends to get lost when we play because making them unique can be a chore that overwhelms us. It’s why places like Wizards of the Coast’s Waterdeep and Greyhawk, Green Ronin’s Freeport: City of Adventure, Monte Cook Games’ Ptolus, and Lamentation of the Flame Princess’ Vornheim have been able to take such a strong hold in our hobby. These cities gained their ground by evoking a wider mystique of danger and excitement that tends to disappear when we try to do it ourselves. Arnold’s Lapidir follows in their tradition by creating a city in three short posts that evokes a weird and wild place where adventure is around every corner – and since this city isn’t detailed to death you’re able to grow it with ease putting in every strange and terrifying thing you could imagine.

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1. Advice for Women Looking to Get into Game Design Part I (an introduction to self-publishing); Part II (the current self-publishing landscape); and Part III (budgeting) by Wundergeek: Breaking into this industry that helps fuel our gaming needs is difficult, and some would argue doubly so for women, which is why any guide that’s being put out by people who have been able to break that wall is useful. This particular guide is primarily directed at women but the advice inside is, more often than not, applicable to anyone who reads it regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or thoughts about dinosaurs with gigantic laser guns attached to their heads (which I’m strongly in favor of mandating by Federal Law). Wundergeek’s advice has been echoed and added to by other self-publishers and by industry insiders (see Pazio’s Jessica Price’s recent post, Breaking into Game Design as a Woman).

If you liked the 10(ish) Best Reads of February come on over to Dyvers and check out the weekly Best Reads series where I survey over 450 blogs each week (and read over 2,600 posts this month) to pick out the best so you don’t miss them!

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