Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Blog Annual

Among the host of blogs I regularly read several stand out as frequently delivering original gaming content worthy of future reference. I often find myself wishing the outstanding, really useful blog entries might coalesce into a PDF game supplement allowing for further refinement, better graphic presentation, and ultimately easier, more “permanent” reference.

BestofDragonCollecting the best articles from periodicals has long been a practice in the publishing industry. Sometimes they served as a “best of” review of the past year’s material; other times they compiled articles on a similar theme to appeal to a particular audience. Certainly longtime gamers recall the Best of Dragon Magazine compilations. I myself am guilty of a Best of the Star Wars Adventure Journal collection during my time editing that periodical at West End Games. “Best of” editions for print magazines often made more sense for those casually interested in a publication than regular readers who religiously kept all their back issues; but they still served to highlight the most outstanding material among all the articles that made it through to acceptance, revision, and publication.

Although blogs don’t often share the same editorial standards as the stodgy old professional publishing field, some -- culled from the seemingly infinite masses on the blogosphere -- reflect an extraordinary degree of creativity, originality, and refinement. Few of these collect useful blog entries in themed PDFs for download and future reference. A PDF publication downloaded to a computer, laptop, or pad device is still a more accessible reference (whether printed or electronic) than searching numerous blogs for something within a specific and prolific blog, especially when much of the fluid internet can change, disappear, or otherwise mutate into other forms without any warning, sending an entry or even an entire blog into etheric oblivion.

Sometimes blogs include a button allowing readers to print or create a PDF of an entry. Although this provides an option for saving relevant game material one post at a time, it puts the editorial responsibility and power in the hands of the reader. PDFs generated in this way offer haphazard and rarely professional-looking layout and save only single articles for which readers must find some means of categorizing and organizing on their computers or print binders.

Not every quality, inspiring gaming blog contains material worth compiling into a PDF “best of” collection. In some cases blogs offer news with fleeting interest and little nostalgic or reference value. Others, such as Hobby Games Recce, provide more commentary than practical game source material. Blogs frequently focusing on game design elements -- such as Doug Anderson’s inspiring Blue Boxer Rebellion, Daniel Solis’ eponymous blog, or my own Game Design Journal -- use the websites for presentation and discussion of game concepts for future publication as gaming products in other venues and thus rarely lend themselves to compilations of the best gaming source material.

Certainly some bloggers already compile relevant game material in PDFs available at their websites or use their blog sites to host links to other, related works -- Hack & Slash’s comprehensive offerings of “Old School Resources” and Dungeon of Signs come to mind (though the prolific creator Dyson Logos collected many of his maps and scenarios in a print-only offering yet to see PDF publication) -- but the percentage of bloggers creating interesting material and collecting it in more easily referenced PDFs remains low.

A PDF compilation of high-quality blog entries can not only provide readers with a somewhat permanent collection of useful gaming material but encourage bloggers to evaluate the past year’s work, gathering and revising it for what some might consider a more refined form of publication with a greater degree of permanence and usefulness. (And while I’d love to publish a “best of” annual from across the wide expanse of the gaming blogosphere, the task remains beyond my limited scope of blog-reading and covers a disparate range of topics, even within the realm of adventure gaming.) Websites offering PDF freebies -- especially gaming-themed sites -- can use these downloads to generate interest in the blog, promote the site by generating newsworthy releases, and garner more followers.

Here’s my very short list of blogs from which I’d like to see “best of” compilations in PDF. Most offer source material in the “old-school renaissance” or “retro-clone” category, games emulating the experience of early Dungeons & Dragons. Given my limited blog reading and the exponential growth of blogs in just the adventure gaming field, I could probably find more if I set my heart to it. These represent only a few of the really quality gaming blogs that might benefit from producing a PDF annual:

The Riders of Lohan: This campaign blog for an online Basic/Expert D&D game offers some clever ideas to port into similar games, from locations and magic items to secret organizations, in-game maps, and useful character enhancement tables. Since these really useful source bits remain intermingled with game reports and other practical gameplay logistics on the blog, it might benefit from an annual, edited PDF compilation.

The Dungeon Dozen: Several times a week this blog offers a random table based on the much-neglected d12. Readers can find tables for almost any occasion, from stocking dungeon levels to providing original background motivation for different character classes. Although the site offers a few PDFs of adventures or locations with the same humorous and often gonzo feel (such as Secret Party House of the Hill Giant Playboy…), I’d love to see a collection of the best tables, especially along certain themes, such as those related to characters and non-player characters, ones to inspire settings and campaigns, and encounter-related tables.

Dyson’s Dodecahedron: I’ve mentioned Dyson Logos before…his blog serves as a platform to present his prolific, old-school-style, hand-drawn maps, often with short backgrounds to inspire the stocking of said maps or, in some cases, completely furnished dungeons. He recently compiled several maps and adventures into a print publication, Dyson’s Delves (available in soft- and hard-cover). I’m guilty of saving his maps to my computer for future inspiration and of copying/pasting some of his inspired dungeon-delving adventures into document files for future reference. I wouldn’t expect him to offer too many finished pieces as free PDF downloads, but I’d love to see Dyson’s Delves and future compilations for sale in handy PDF format.

In drafting this blog entry I realize I’ve opined on aspects of this subject before -- in last year’s “The Vast Internet Versus Edited Periodicals” entry -- but my yearning for the soon-to-be-extinct ways of doing things before the internet usurped print publication persists.