Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Organizing the Deluge of Gaming Goodness

Back in the “Golden Age of Roleplaying” (for me the early-mid 1980s) organizing all the wondrous little bits of gaming goodness seemed so easy. Materials came to us in easily digestible bits that fit into conventional containers: bookshelves, folders, binders, boxes. But today’s gamers face a veritable deluge of useful content thanks to the connectivity of the interwebzes. How do we – can we – organize all the relevant gaming materials we purchase, download, view, and create ourselves in this Electronic Age where everyone’s a creator and nobody’s an editor?

How simple things seemed years ago. Gamers lived a purely analog existence, despite occasional forays by computers to tempt us into the electronic gaming realm. We returned from the game and hobby stores with new rulebooks, boxed sets, miniatures, and other accessories to enhance our tabletop gaming experience. Sometimes the post delivered new materials from catalog orders or self-addressed stamped envelopes (SASE) sent to publishers to receive additional goodies (I still have a few newsletters and freebies from Steve Jackson Games, possibly from a mail-ordered product...the earliest version of Mini Car Wars perhaps?). Those of us on mailing lists sometimes received newsletters, catalogs, or other promotions. How did we organize all this stuff? I can only speak from my personal experience, but I expect I share aspects of it with other gamers of that lost era. I had a shelf in my room dedicated to roleplaying games, organized by game line and genre. Boxed games – the norm for new game titles in those days – served to house everything relevant to that line: character sheets, scenarios, maps, related fanzines, even dice. I shelved additional supplements – and my own emulative creations – next to the related games, especially when space in boxes ran out. As time wore on those games we played the most received their own loose-leaf binders which held all that ephemera players generate. Issues of Dragon Magazine went their own ever-expanding section of shelving. New material trickled in from traditional publishers with occasional contributions from a few independent creators with presence enough to reach consumers through the print market. Most of our acquisitions came from professional publishers whose games we saw in the local hobby store or the pages of a magazine. The analog nature of communication limited our exposure to new gaming ideas.

Then the interwebzes opened our eyes as if we’d eaten the Forbidden Fruit from the Garden of Eden. With the advent of the interwebzes gamers saw a flow – and then a flood – of new material from online creators. No longer did we have to trust editors at publishing houses to curate what we saw in magazines or decide what reached publication for roleplaying game lines. Now our computers could absorb all the forum discussions, blogs, alternate games and iterations, PDFs, and other tidbits swirling about in the electronic ether from professionals, amateur hobbyists, gamers from other countries, and essentially anyone with an internet connection. Gamers finally had the power to serve as their own content editors, deciding for themselves what was relevant to their gaming experience from the seemingly infinite electronic slushpile of gaming information.

Where do I find material that satisfies my gaming interests and what do I do with it? Most inspiration comes from blogs and Patreon, with social media posts bringing new content and creators to my attention. I have little patience for sifting through forums, listening to podcasts, and watching videos (especially since the latter two don’t translate into a readable format like other game materials). I prefer my written game resources in a format as close to that of print publication as possible; usually a PDF file. Too often I find game inspiration in non-PDF format, as part of a blog or a forum. What do we do with that neat blog post about random tables or a new B/X character class? In all likelihood it eventually passes into the etheric oblivion into which many useful bits of the interwebzes drain (unlike all those embarrassing posts from our sordid past which seem to linger on forever in a kind of electronic Limbo waiting to doom us forever...). A few blog interfaces enable one to save a PDF of a post – text and graphics – sometimes even allowing one to customize the PDF by deleting unnecessary bits. I could always simply print to PDF, but I get everything from navigation sidebars to advertisements. Rarely do I find the dedication to cut-and-paste a blog post text and relevant images into a word processing file for future reference. Occasionally I compile my own PDF book from non-PDF text copied from websites, most often essays by game-design luminaries whose essays and other online musings provide me with inspiration and guidance in my own game design endeavors.

How do I organize useful gaming material from disparate sources online? Most PDFs I collect wind up in an archiving folder on my laptop, a kind of gaming repository of material categorized by game line or genre and, in more recent years, by the names of independent creators. It’s much the same system I use when grouping game books on my shelves, in this case a virtual shelf of electronic resources. Unfortunately only a few stand out and get regular use, often supplementing my own gaming endeavors according to my tastes and momentary interests.

I particularly admire those creators who bring their online works to more traditional forms of print publication, usually print-on-demand. I really respect those who put greater effort into polishing these presentations: fine-tuned editing, clear and attractive layout, even some supplemental material. I pledged at a level to Tim Shorts’ Patreon so he sends me monthly micro-adventures, NPCs, and other goodies; I have a nice box filled with resources ready to inspire my fantasy roleplaying gaming at a moment’s notice. Map-maker extraordinaire Dyson Logos published his works in several Lulu print-on-demand volumes, including a few annual compendia, his Cartographic Reviews, filled with maps with adventure notes (I still need to get his Delves series of books to both complete my collection and use as workbooks to flesh out adventures). A rare handful like Scott Malthouse attract the attention of long-established publishers who shepherd them through expanding and preparing their work for mainstream publication (and I plan on picking up Malthouse’s Romance of the Perilous Land from Osprey Games when it releases in November 2019). My Old School Renaissance (OSR) shelf displays numerous PDF works I deemed worthy of print-on-demand copies, some for their subject matter, others for their fame/infamy in the OSR community, and some for both genre and excellent presentation.

I suppose I’m a dinosaur who should reallly evolve from a paper- and book-based information system to an electronic system experienced through the limited scope of a computer or tablet screen. With the explosion of gaming material available on the interwebzes comes different formats that don’t always translate efficiently to transposition to analog formats. Yet I persist in my outmoded unfrozen cave man ways. Occasionally I print materials myself for future reference and a visible place on my gaming shelves. This usually requires me to format a PDF for booklet printing, print pages in sequence, then fold and staple them, though for some I just print, punch, and file them in clumsy three-ring binders. I feel like a member of the Albertian Order of St. Leibowitz preserving these ephemeral bits of electronic gaming resources in a more traditional format for future reference. But I’m a book-lover at heart; these are my techniques for enjoying the gaming bounty of the Digital Age in my own, antiquated way.

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