Friday, March 25, 2022

Bones of Contention: Policies and Practices

We thought now would be a good time to explain how Bones of Contention works. This includes what our policies are for selecting products to review, how we make decisions, and why we do things the way we do. Let's open the sepulcher and shine our flickering candlelight on what secrets lie within. 

Our skeleton crew is a small collective of reviewers who are also RPG designers. Many of us have blogs, some have podcasts. Most of us publish gaming material in one form or another. All of us are engaged in some way with the classical, retro, or OSR gaming scene. Since we are creators and participants in the scene whose products we are reviewing, we have interests--both theoretical and practical--in game design that go beyond a consumer's interests. 

But we are an otherwise diverse group. We do not aspire to be a movement or to a unified point of view. Bones of Contention is a conversation, not a manifesto. The goal of this conversation is to contribute to the critical review culture of the retro-gaming scene. Other people are engaged in boosting products and shining spotlights on material that they like. We are interested in productive criticism. 

We currently have four kinds of review series through which we pursue this criticism. 

  1. Individual Review Series: each member of our skeleton crew has their own, individually titled review series, for example, Anne's review series is title "Dungeon Dioramas".
  2. Cryptic Signals: our capsule review series, usually multi-authored posts giving smaller reviews of a number of different products.
  3. Folie a Deux: our two author dialogue reviews, usually of a single product.
  4. Rashomon: our longer multi-authored (3+) reviews of a single product.
  5. Grave Trespass: our invited reviewer series.

General Policies

We have some general policies to reduce conflicts of interest. These rules are important for us. Given that we ourselves are creators, Bones cannot be driven by our relationships to other creators. It is about contributing to critique and design, not about promoting those we hope succeed. These policies are followed in all our review series. 

  • We do not accept review copies. 
  • If an author or publisher asks a reviewer to review a work, that reviewer is disqualified from reviewing it. We never review something because its author wants us to review it. (We don't usually contact the author at all in advance of a review.) 
  • We begin every review by explicitly stating any connections anyone involved in the review has with the author or publisher under review. 

Here is how the decisions about what products to review, and who will participate, are made for the different series. 

Individual Review Series

Our individual review series are very important to us, since our diverse critical viewpoints are a real strength of Bones of Contention. We want our skeleton crew to be able to follow those interests and develop their individual critical perspective. For this reason, individual reviewers select what products they will review in their own series, following their own interests. This individual authorial control is crucial to the kind of criticism we're developing here.

Folie a Deux

For Folie a Deux reviews, the pair of reviewers decide to collaborate. They hatch a plan together, select the product together, and co-author the post. 

Cryptic Signals

Cryptic Signals posts usually are instigated by a single individual who suggests a possible theme for a cryptic signals post, or otherwise solicits capsule reviews from other members of the Skeleton Crew to fill out a post containing a few of their own capsule reviews. Often people simply pitch in short reviews as they are able under deadline pressure. All members of the skeleton crew are welcome to pitch in to any Cryptic Signals post. 


Rashomon reviews have thus far involved many members of the skeleton crew participating in a large review project. Our first Rashomon review was a collective play test of Isle of the Plangent Mage, where Ben L solicited players from both within the Skeleton Crew and beyond it. He then solicited feedback on the module from each player in the group. Ben L largely directed this first Rashomon post. Given that this was our inaugural post, we were still experimenting with the form. Our second Rashomon past was a look back at our first year (6 months) of the blogs existence. This was staged more as an explicit conversation in which all members of the skeleton crew were invited to participate. What form Rashomon reviews take in the future is an open question.

Grave Trespass

Grave Trespass are reviews by invited guest reviewers. To select these reviewers, one member of our skeleton crew putting someone forward as possibility to the rest of the group. The rest of the skeleton crew approves the recommendation, and the individual solicits interest from the guest reviewer, and finds out what they want to review. We approve their choice. The guest reviewer then submits a draft of the review to us, which we collective read and edit, making any changes beyond minimal copy editing in consultation with the author.

OK, but How Do Decisions Get Made Generally?

We are a small group in regular communication with one another. Generally we operate on a consensus model. What this effectively means is that a member of our skeleton crew with strong feelings about something will usually be able to exercise a veto, although usually by the time our conversation is done, we've all signed on to the collective outcome which is apparent. For more procedure or arbitrary decisions, we sometimes do majority voting, e.g. on what days of the week to publish our posts. But our deliberations are usually less formal, which has worked for us to date. 

Are there any questions about our methods and policies you'd like to see answered? Just ask away in the comments!


  1. Thanks for illuminating your process. It helps to build trust and confidence in the blog and the opinions of its reviewers by knowing how the sausage is made. In particular, I deeply appreciate the policy of not reviewing products that have been given over for review by the author or publisher.

  2. I encourage you all to make it a regular policy to state up front whether you have used the product under review in real play, too. There is a large difference between reviews based on actual use and reviews based on abstract principles, layout preferences, and theoretical considerations.

    1. We have often done so, and we intended to always do it. Thanks for reminding us about it. We'll do this moving forward.

    2. I'd actually like to note that I think we have indicated every time a review was based on actual play (tho not always in a consistent fashion, which might make it hard to notice sometimes). We haven't indicated every time a review was based on a read-thru rather than an actual play, but as AP reviews are the exception rather than the norm, I feel like this is fair. We could definitely be more consistent about stating it clearly up-front, tho.

  3. Thanks for the clarifications. Quick question: do you have a mechanism for resolving inter-reviewer conflicts, abuses of power, etc.? I don't mean this to cast insult on any of the crew (you all seem fabulous), but there's a tendency in some indie spaces to avoid setting explicit systems to handle such situations until after the fact.

    1. We are a small group that is in regular communication. Our methods for resolving inter-reviewer conflict is through the collective deliberation procedures mentioned the post. The same would be true were abuse to come to light: we would collectively deliberate about the appropriate response. Should the consensus model break down in these conversations, we would move to majority voting on an issue.

  4. Is it possible for there to be a tiny sort of date and by line added to the top of articles as they come in? Any little uniform modification at all that would let me know when and who? The titles don't quite align me in space and time, particularly when I'm reading these entries from my phone.


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