WARNING: This post is self-indulgent tripe. Turn back now, while you still can!
One year ago today, I was depressed. My life had taken a number of dark turns right in a row, and even though things were getting better, I was unsure of how to move forward. I’d been thinking about getting back to my writing, so I pulled up blogger, set up a site named ‘Comma, Blank_;’ and jotted down an essay about how shitty I felt. After I wrote it, I remember feeling oddly at peace with myself. The half dozen people who read it told me it made them feel terrible, but for some reason I now felt like everything was going to be okay. That was was the first day of the experiment which has grown to become Papers & Pencils. And while I didn’t write any RPG themed articles until August 9th, nor did I start taking that writing seriously until October 10th, I still view today, August 8th, as the day the project began. The day I looked at my shitty situation and said “Fuck this noise.”
But I already wrote about all that way back when I moved off of blogger, so I won’t bore you with it a second time. Instead I figured this would be a good opportunity to take a look at the posts from the past year. Which ones are really good, really bad, or just somehow interesting. Hopefully it will give newer readers a chance to check out some of what came before, without needing to prowl the archives themselves. After that, I’ll outline some of my goals for the future of the site, and other related projects.
The past year has over 200 posts for me to sift through, though, so that’s enough introduction. Lets go.
The Girl and the Granite Throne began shortly after the site went up, and as of this writing hasn’t been updated since I started taking the blog seriously back in October of 2011. It is, I think, a story with a lot of potential. The four parts of it which have already been written still hold up well in my opinion. And now that the campaign the story was based on has officially been declared dead, it’s important to me that I find another medium through which I can tell Erin’s story. The only problem is that I’m actually a very slow writer. Between a full time job, writing 4 blog posts every week, and playing in the games which inspire those posts, it’s difficult for me to make time to write lengthy fiction.
The Hall of a Dozen Deaths is a terrible post, which is a sad thing for me to admit. Most of the time, when I’ve written something bad, I already know it’s bad when I post it. Sometimes, that bad stuff actually gets a pretty warm reception, but that doesn’t change the fact that I know it could have been better if I’d just focused more, done more research, given myself more time, or something else like that. Not so with this post. I did my research, invested plenty of time, and when it was finished I was proud of myself. So proud, I even took the time to repost on /tg/, where someone pointed out that all I had done was create an annoying series of skill checks.
The Corpse Sewn Hekatonkheires. Of all the monsters I’ve created, this one is still my favorite. I have a few of them wandering around my current game world, and I can’t wait for my players to encounter them. And as an added bit of sentimentality, ranting about how difficult Pathfinder’s monster creation rules were while making this beast is how I met by my twitter-pal DarkPatu for the first time.
Ability Penalty Flaws are an idea I wish I could claim as my own, but they were originally proposed by Paul over on Blog of Holding. The system is elegant in its design and application, and lends depth to the characters built using it. In the post, I revised Paul’s original idea to work with Pathfinder, and to be a little less goofy than he had originally envisioned. I love this rule, and it would probably end up codified in any serious attempt I made to design a fantasy adventure game.
Magically Generating New Adventures is an important post for several reasons. First, I think it’s one of the best and most unique ideas I’ve ever had. Second, it was my first post after I decided that I was going to take RPG writing seriously. Third, even after all this time, it is still one of my most popular and oft-linked-to posts. I’m proud of this idea, and I’m always excited when someone tells me they used it to help them design their game world.
Colorful Characters 1: The Governor was (obviously) the very first Colorful Characters post. The series was originally intended to serve two roles. First, I hoped it would provide me with something I could write quickly without to much hassle. Second, I wanted to create a consistent series of posts which readers could know to expect and look forward to. As it turned out, Colorful Characters didn’t fill either of those roles, because they turned out to be longer and more difficult to write than normal posts, and due to that fact, weren’t as reliable as I had hoped they would be.
Instead, they’ve given me an outlet for writing short fiction over the past year which has been invaluable to me. Even though I don’t have time to write full short stories, it’s nice to sit down and sketch out the highlights of a character’s life.
Non-Digital Random Map Generation. The idea I wrote about here is one of my favorites. Like Magically Generating New Adventures, it feels uniquely “mine,” and I’ve received a lot of compliments for it at the time. Sadly, this one doesn’t get linked to nearly as often as the magic card post does. One of the great flaws of the blogging format is that old posts sometimes get lost, because nobody is going to spend their time going through all 200+ posts in my archive looking for gems. I hope this link gives that post some of the traffic I think it deserves.
Simple Experience Points is another idea taken directly from Paul of Blog of Holding. And, somewhat frustratingly, it’s one of the posts which I’ve received the most recognition for. Again, I did adapt it for Pathfinder, and add a few refinements of my own to the idea, but the critical leap of intellect was Paul’s. None the less, it’s a good system, and one of the best house rules I’ve ever implemented in my game.
I wrote The Problem with Feats on Halloween night. I was covered in caked-on makeup, and had a severely burned finger that stung every time I typed with it. But it was worth it, because that post gave me my first real bit of attention from the very generous Courtney of the blog Hack & Slash. Thanks to the link he posted, I had 74 hits on my blog the next day. And bear in mind, this was back when I was having a good day if I broke 10 hits! I doubt I would have lasted long enough to write a 1 year retrospective post without Courtney’s encouragement. I didn’t get that many hits again until late February, and it didn’t become normal for me until long after I had made the move to Papers and Pencils.
Deadly Dungeons: Scholomance Part 1. Ho boy. Well, first I’ll point out that originally, I was planning to make ‘Deadly Dungeons’ an ongoing series, much like Colorful Characters. But I bit off more than I could chew with my first outing, an adaptation of my favorite World of Warcraft dungeon, Scholomance. Part of my failure there was that I failed to realize that WoW dungeons and D&D dungeons have very different design goals. Sholomance, in WoW, is one of the most sprawling dungeons in the game. In D&D, it’s a very brief, very combat-heavy dungeon, which lacks a lot of flavor.
I’d still like to revisit the idea of transforming Scholomance into a dungeon someday. Particularly since Blizzard recently brutalized this beloved dungeon of mine, sucking out everything that made it beautiful in the first place and making it linear. I’m not sure when I will tackle it, but when I do it will likely be a fresh start, with a completely different approach.
Funny story: I’m very proud of Thoughts On Hero Points, but I still don’t use Hero Points in my game, nor do I really intend to start doing so in the future. It’s a good post with good ideas, but they don’t really suit my gaming preferences, or those of my group.
Sitting Behind the GM Screen stands out in my mind as one of the worst posts I’ve ever written. My thinking, at the time, was that it would be cool to write a post about how I prepare for games, and how I set up my table before my friends arrive to play. I’ve never been happy with how the post turned out, and generally try to avoid remembering it. Which is too bad, because that’s an excellent photograph of me.
My book review of The Worldwound Gambit is kind of a dickish piece of writing on my part. I stand by every criticism I made, but in my attempt to be entertaining about it, I think I just came off as mean-spirited. None the less, it’s kind of cool that my review of a book is currently the 5th result when you perform a Google search for the book’s title.
I’m proud of Succubi Deserve More. If I had to pick my favorite post from the first six months of the site, I would probably pick this one. I don’t even have all that much to say about it, except perhaps to mention that after it went up, I suddenly started getting a lot of hits from people searching for Succibi.
No More Overzealous Paladins was really just a rant which didn’t turn out as well as I wanted. I had this vision of finding tons of good and bad paladin stories, and spacing them throughout the post. But when it came time to write the thing, I couldn’t find any of them! Feeling defeated, I jotted down what came to mind and wrote it off as a bad post. The next day I woke to discover that it had been reposted to several different websites. This was probably the first post of mine to get circulated around the internet much at all.
Obfuscation Through Volume. Aside from being a solid post about Game Mastering techniques, this post made it onto the OSR Required Reading List posted by Courtney over at Hack and Slash. That was a proud day!
After writing Colorful Characters for months, it started to become more of a chore to do it every single week. So I started writing the Magical Marvels series, starting with Kofek’s Tongue. These have always been really fun, because I was able to work together with my ladyfriend Morrie on the art. Plus, they allowed me to share the history of my game world by describing the history of artifacts found therein. I think pretty much every Magical Marvels post I’ve written to date holds up very well, and would recommend giving them a look.
I don’t have a lot to say about A Personal History of Role Playing. It is a post which I felt like I had to write, and I’m glad I did. I feel as though I expressed myself very openly, honestly, and clearly in that post.
As I mentioned, after writing “Succubi Deserve More,” I started to receive a lot of hits from people searching for Succubi on Google. Oddly, one of the most common searches was for “Succubi in Succubus Town.” To this day I’m still not sure why that happened, but I decided to write a post about it. What started as a shameless attempt to draw in more traffic turned into an interesting exploration of what a succubus society might look like.
NPC Reactions is the single laziest post I’ve ever written for this site. I am ashamed of it.
Roughly halfway through the past year’s posts is Deities Defined. Some might argue that it’s pointless to spend too much time working on the mechanics of a god, since in essence, the gods are just a tool for the GM to manipulate the game world with. Keeping their powers nebulous and undefined is valuable. But I think gods are interesting. I love the idea of players being pawns in a war between deities, or entering a realm where their god cannot help them. I honestly view my system for defining the limits of the gods to be one of my best additions to Pathfinder.
After writing Merciless Monsters 2: Bloody Avenger (Bloody Mary) I received one of the best compliments I think I’ve ever received about my game design, again from Courtney of Hack & Slash:
You’ve committed the wonderful gygaxism of generalizing a specific creature into a monster! (Gorgon, Medusa et. al.)
That made me feel like a god damned badass.
Player Agency in the Dungeons and Dragons Cartoon. After watching the 80s D&D cartoon, my ladyfriend and I joked that whoever was running that D&D game was a terrible GM, because they weren’t giving the player any ability to affect the outcome of the adventures. It seemed like a fun idea for a post, so I wrote this. Like the book review for The Worldwound Gambit, I stand by everything I wrote, but I feel like I may have come off as mean-spirited when I was really just attempting to be funny. There’s even a Facebook thread out there where a bunch of people complain about what a dick I am for writing it. Ernest G. Gygax Jr. even left a comment in that thread talking about how hard they worked on the show, though he didn’t give any indication that he read the article itself.
I tried to play up my hatred for the show to get laughs, and I wonder if I did a poor job of that. Though, bad as I might feel, I seriously considered making “Gary Gygax Jr. Disapproved!” the tagline of the site. >.>
After the success of my Bloody Avenger post, I decided to find another little-known undead monster I could convert to Pathfinder. I settled on Merciless Monsters 3: Draugr. All I remember about this post was that it took forever to write, and I was up for hours working on it at a snail’s pace when I really wanted to be sleeping. I’m happy with how it turned out, though I was disappointed when I learned that I had failed to notice the Draugr’s presence in Pathfinder’s 2nd Bestiary.
Making Travel More Engaging and Hex Crawling Encounters were written as a pair, and they basically epitomize what I want to do with this website. I want to identify gaps in tabletop RPGs, and I want to thoroughly discuss how those gaps could be filled. I want to improve upon gaming’s weaknesses. These two posts are largely aimed towards Pathfinder players, and attempted to re-introduce concepts which were commonplace in the early days of gaming, but have become forgotten over time.
Like the previous posts, A Paladin’s Fall and The Paladin’s Oath, and GM Clarity were written as a pair. The success of my rant about Paladins a few months prior had left me thinking about the class a lot. It is a class with a lot of fun potential, but one which is often improperly handled. The three posts were my attempt to articulate and address those problems intelligently, and I think I succeeded to a reasonable degree.
Making Encumbrance Work is another example of a post where I took something which I don’t think works in modern games, and I made it work for myself. I’m proud of how it turned out, even if I think the system presented there needs some improvement based on reader feedback, and my own playtesting.
March 2012 was apparently a pretty good month for me!
Oh, wow. I’d forgotten about How Players Make Enemies & Influence People. This was a decent idea, ruined by rushed and lazy writing. It’s easily a contender with ‘NPC Reactions’ for wost post I’ve ever uploaded to this site.
I spend a lot of time thinking about features that might improve Papers & Pencils. For awhile, I was really set on the idea of having a sub-section of the site where I just posted adventure notes. My thinking was that I would write detailed notes for each adventure, and others could use them either to follow the progress of my game, or to run my adventures within their own campaigns as a kind of mini-module. The only thing which ever came out of that idea was Behind the GM’s Screen:ToKiTiMO 3. Writing such detailed notes was simply too much work to keep up with. And since my players started to make their own plans, rather than following the adventure hooks I put in front of them, my style of note taking has needed to adapt to a format which would be much less enjoyable to read.
Then there’s the grand overview of skills. Christ on a Cracker, was this a lot of work to write. Eleven posts in all, which took over half of the month of April to post. This is probably my most notable work to date. And while I have had one person complain that they were far too dry, I’ve also had at least three other blogs start similar skills series of their own, citing me as part of their inspiration. That feels really good.
While it is far from completed yet, Page By Page: Gary Gygax’s DMG has been an educational thing to write. Slowly reading through the original Dungeon Master’s Guide, and writing down my thoughts on sections which stands out, has helped me to better understand a lot about gaming’s origins. I look forward to continuing this series into the next year, then finding another book to do the same thing with!
I was honored when I was asked to participate in the May of the Dead Carnival. So much so that I asked if I could write four posts instead of only one. From those, I think Undead Items is the best. Followed closely by The Crypt of Ancient Wisdom. I have a penchant for the macabre, and I got to exercise that here. I really ought to come up with another post about Undead Items!
The Wide Swing Dilemma created some fascinating discussion in the comments. This was one of those rare cases when I honestly was not sure what the correct response was as a GM. Normally I’m pretty confident in my decisions, even if I later decide I was wrong. But in this situation, I had my personal gaming philosophies on one hand, and an important game mechanic in the other. It was a difficult choice, and not one which everybody agreed with.
My post on Fantasy Languages was the first time in a couple months that I really tried to comprehensively address a problem with RPGs. To date I think this is one of my most underrated posts. I’ve never received any comments or feedback on it, despite pouring many hours into its development. Maybe this is a subject which just doesn’t interest anybody but me. But that’s fine, because I myself have used it as a resource several times already!
If you want me to write for anybody but myself, you gotta pay me.
Writing What I Want felt like writing a manifesto. I stated my goals, and I’m going to work towards finding or building a game which meets those goals. And once I’ve done that…well, I’m sure I’ll have new goals by then!
While it wasn’t the first in this series, Lively Locals 2: River of Blades is the first Lively Local post which I felt a strong connection to. Lively Locals finally did what my “Friday” style posts (Colorful Characters, Magical Marvels, Merciless Monsters, and Lively Locals) were supposed to do from the beginning: they don’t take forever to write. I can bang one of these out pretty quickly, and I think most of them have been both entertaining to read, and useful for GMs.
The Updated Forest Battlefield Generator might just be the most useful GMing tool I’ve contributed gaming community. Which, come to think of it, is kinda sad. And on top of that, I completely forgot to add another sub table for elevations! None the less, I think it is a solid tool, and I use it in many of my games.
My post on Weapon Mechanics is one of my favorites from recent history. One of the things which keeps me from abandoning modern gaming and jumping completely into the OSR is my love of deep, tactical combat. But what modern gaming does wrong is that much of the tactics come from character build options, many of which unnecessarily limit what players can attempt within the game. I think increasing the importance of which weapons the character chooses to carry is a much more interesting way of enhancing the tactical aspect of combat.
This is getting to be pretty recent, but I very much enjoyed my posts on Tabletop Magic from Final Fantasy, and Tabletop Items from A Link to the Past. These posts were written over a week apart apart from one another, but I group them together because they have the same purpose. I took a property which is similar to tabletop RPGs (in these cases, Final Fantasy games and a Zelda game), I selected an aspect from these properties which is also present in tabletop games (magic systems and special items), and I adapted them to a tabletop environment. I love this kind of thing because it forces me to change my thinking patterns in order to accomplish the goal. And anything which forces me to approach tabletop gaming from a fresh perspective is a good thing in my mind.
My Product Review of the AD&D First Edition Reprints was a cop-out post. A friend of mine had spent the day with me, and I didn’t have time to write a proper post. So I took a bunch of pictures of my new books and threw up a review of them. This post wouldn’t be even slightly notable, except it somehow got me a link from Penny Arcade, which shot my traffic into the stratosphere for a day. It gives me a lot of hope when something I’m not particularly proud of can still be important. It makes me think that perhaps I’ve got a chance at doing something more than uneducated labor with my life.
And finally, Product Review: Using Banners on the Cheap for Maps. Even if this wasn’t a very good post, and even if the product was bad, it would still be important to me. Because for the first time, a company gave me free stuff in exchange for a review. That kind of recognition, combined with the Penny Arcade thing, really makes me feel as though this writing is a valuable use of my time. (And by the way, the post is pretty good, and the product was awesome)!
And that’s it. An overview of what I think are the most notable posts from the last year. This is already the longest post I’ve ever written for this site, but I promised a look at what I want to do in the future, so I’ll go over that quickly here:
- I want to learn to write faster, which I understand means I need to lower my standards for what I write, and raise my standards for how much I edit. I’d also like to inject more humor into my writing, because I like to think I’m a funny dude.
- There are a number of improvements I’d like to make to the site itself. I have a long-standing bad habit of constructing extremely over-designed websites with very little content. And now that I have tons of content, I worry that I’m not displaying it as effectively as I could. I would like to find a way to integrate some kind of automatically-generated navigation system, which allows people to go through the various posts in a more organized fashion. Doing so will probably require me to revise all of the post categories and tags, which means:
- I need to revise all of the post categories and tags.
- I need to begin working my way through my archives and making sure all of the images I use are properly attributed to their respective creators. As the site gets bigger and more people see these images, the people who created them really deserve to get some attention for it. This is something I should have been doing from the start, and I’m trying to improve on it now.
- I’d like to integrate a few other kinds of content into the site. I’m very interested in both board gaming and war gaming. I doubt the focus of the site will ever stray far from its pen-and-paper roots, but these are related topics and I think it would be not only fun to cover them, but valuable to examine them and how they relate to tabletop RPGs.
- I have and idea for a space-combat board game which, I think, is quite good. It is in very early development at this stage, but my hope is to eventually produce a complete set of rules which can be played with household objects. Once I’m there I can’ start looking for groups interested in playtesting the game.
- I’ve written a script for a 5-10 minute comedy video centered on tabletop RPGs. I don’t want to reveal much about this right now, but it’s a project I’m extremely excited for. The biggest obstacle is that I don’t yet own a video camera, nor do I have a computer which could easily handle video editing. Both of these problems are being addressed, but may take some time.
- While I’m sure the site will always have a lot of one-off posts, I want to move towards doing more series, similar to the one I did for skills posts. Not necessarily that long, mind you, but there are many topics which are better covered in 3 or 4 posts than they are in only one.
- I would like to begin writing more fiction for the site as well. I think I’m a much stronger fiction writer than I am an article writer, so the fact that I’ve hardly posted any fiction in the past year is kind of silly. Returning to, and finishing, The Girl and the Granite Throne is high on my list here. But I also have an idea for a much shorter story about a lowly porter, and his adventures with a Fighter, a Paladin, a Wizard, and a Sorcerer.
- I’d like to begin covering a larger variety of games. Which means I need to start playing a wider variety of games!
And that’s that. First year under our belts, and if I have anything to say about it, the second year will be a lot better than this one was.
Lets do this.