Welcome to Bones of Contention.
We are dissatisfied with a lack of genuine review culture in the "retro-game" or "classic" scene. This absence stifles healthy criticism that might foster improvements in design. It also suppresses visibility for new material and authors. To the extent this has need has been met, it has been by a smattering of blogs, mainly boosting things the bloggers love. There have been a couple of more critical review sites operating for a long time now. But these sites have been single authored, and so promoted the point of view of single reviewers. Some are also written by, or host comment sections full of, trolls.
In this vaulted sepulcher of the blogosphere, our skeleton crew will do better. With our fleshless fingers, we will pen reviews of retro-game modules, settings, supplements, and rulesets. You can learn more about us from the obituaries below. We will each be launching a titled series of reviews on this site, but will also collaborate on collective or Rashomon-style reviews from time to time.
We will deploy different standards and tastes, and bring different perspectives to the material we review. This is part of the point of our collaboration here. Over time, our numbers may grow. But our crew has collectively agreed to the following basic principles.
- Conflicts of Interest: This is a small hobby scene, where many people actively involved are also creators. This is no less true of our skeleton crew. For this reason, it is unrealistic to expect that we will never review the products of people we know. But we commit to being transparent, stating clearly our relationship to the authors of the products we review. For similar reasons, at present we are not accepting review copies. Each author of a series will be responsible for selecting items to review.
- Actual Play vs. Reading Reviews: We think there is an important distinction between reviews that are based on actual play, ideally with kind of ruleset for which the product is written, and reviews based only on reading the product. We are not professional reviews, but rather hobbyists, gamers, and creators, with our own campaigns, blogs, and projects. We think it would be counterproductive to require all AP reviews, since we would produce many fewer reviews that way. But we promise to always tell you whether the review was based on actual play or reading. Those of us who have are able to make the time and playtest games will do so as we are able.
- Standards: We will not hesitate to criticize a product when we believe it could be better. Indeed, this is one of the skeleton crew's main purposes. We will review products in terms of how effectively they contribute to classic, sandbox, exploration-focused play. We will consider how well constructed they are for such use, as well as how imaginative they are.
Meet the Skeleton Crew
A Pinch of Salt by Dan
Author of the blog Throne of Salt (and eventually some other stuff). His main interests lie in setting supplements and adventure modules and he prefers those to be both novel and short.
Brain Infestions by Ava
Authtrix of the blog Permanent Cranial Damage and the forthcoming RPG Errant. Her interests lie in innovative systems and mechanics for the facilitation of old-school play, and big fuck-off dungeons.
Dungeon Dioramas by Anne
Author of the blog DIY & Dragons. She will be trying out different systems for procedurally generating adventure sites and looking at some of the latest generation of “heartwarming” rulesets.
Flying Dice by Nick
Ludic Dreams by Ben
Author of the blog Mazirian's Garden and the zine Through Ultan's Door. Although he appreciates a good vanilla, his heart lies with evocative and quirky material, at least when it's well-designed for play. He primarily runs systems taking inspiration from older editions of D&D, although his interests are growing more eclectic.
Overburdened by Eric
Author of the rarely updated Malevolent Bejewelled Cutlass and longtime TTRPG enthusiast who strongly prefers to be on the player's side of the table. A fan of dungeon crawls, the overloaded encounter die, and procedural generation.
Pedantic Wasteland by WFS
Author of the blog Prismatic Wasteland, the nascent, unreleased game of the same name, and the Big Rock Candy Hexcrawl. He seeks settings of wonder and whimsy and collaborative systems that hew closer to the bleeding-edge of the old-school than to its dilapidated, vestigial past.
(P)late Mail by Zedeck
Author of A Thousand Thousand Islands, and others. Lives in semi-rural Malaysia. RPG materials take at least a month to arrive. Hyperfixates on a single aspect of a game text and overthinks it to exhaustion.
Spectral Interrogatories by Gus
Author of the blog All Dead Generations and formerly Dungeon of Signs, he has written several adventures including Prison of the Hated Pretender and Broken Bastion. His reviews focus on suitability for exploration play in the classic style, utility, a subjective love of fecund language and fondness for the numinous.