The Gardens at Taskerland v3.0 – Year Two

The Gardens at Taskerland is the series in which I talk about this blog, the direction it is headed in, and any tweaks and alterations I feel like making. The rest of the series can be found here.

I was planning on making a minor course correction based around what I was enjoying writing about but then I looked at my schedule and realised that this post would have coincided with this blog’s relaunch on June 12, 2021.

To be honest, I am not sure how this lines up with when I decided to start this blogging project as I do schedule stuff a couple of months ahead of time and am actually writing this post on Easter Sunday. Regardless of the actual dates and timelines, this post will go live around the first anniversary of the blog’s relaunch and I am amazed that I have not only stuck with it but stuck with it whilst maintaining a steady two-posts-per-week rhythm. Yay me!

I’ll start with some thoughts on how I feel the various blog strands are going:

Ongoing Series

As predicted in v2.5, I have now pretty much run out of RPG shops to write about. There is still one shop left to write about but I’m rather reluctant to take the plunge as I used to game with the bloke who ran it and I’m not sure how I’d feel about him stumbling across my post. So, until I find a way to write about the FLRPGS that meant the most to me, Shrink-Wrapped Retail is going into mothballs.

Another series that is reaching the end of its shelf-life is Origins. I started the series as a means of reflecting on my teenaged years and how they shaped my experience of the hobby but I did allow the series to drift a bit into more recent formative experiences. The next logical step would be to broaden the net and write about memorable RPG experiences in general but I don’t want really that series to descend into a series of war stories or dissections of old campaigns and so I will probably be sticking it in mothballs until I can find a new way of relating to my gaming past. I can definitely see myself returning to it as I don’t yet feel that I’ve really plumbed the historic depths of my sensibility but I think I am going to let this series rest… at least for a while.

The writing of For Real has been a bit of a microcosm for my own engagement with the paranormal. Ask me about how I feel about the paranormal and I will tell you that I find the entire thing fascinating. Indeed, you can sense the outline of my fascination in pieces like my reviews of The Haunting of Alma Fielding and Harry Price – Ghost Hunter but I tend to find those kinds of things a lot more interesting in theory than I do in practice. In theory, I find other people’s beliefs about myths, monsters, and the afterlife to be endlessly entertaining but in practice I find people talking about their experiences of hauntings to be quite dull and a lot of the paranormal stuff that exists online is either a boring recitation of familiar tropes or it stinks of outright exploitation. As a result, I am an absolute black belt in watching the first fifteen minutes of a paranormal investigation show only to start getting bored and then shifting my attention over to my phone. In truth, this tension is already present in the few pieces I have managed to push out under the auspices of FR as most of the stuff I have written about has been a near neighbour of the paranormal rather than the paranormal itself. I will keep looking but I am aware that I am struggling to find decent stuff that fits under this rubric.

On a more positive note, Watching the Detectives is still going strong. I have stepped back from writing exclusively about individual detectives defined by whole series of stories because I wanted the series to be a bit more fluid and a bit easier to write for. I like old occult detective series and more contemporary takes on the genre but I can’t rip through early 20th Century short fiction as quickly as I’d like and so I am enjoying being able to write as inspiration takes me.

I must admit, INSPO has been slower to write for than I expected. The reason for this is that what I want to do is just write a series of posts about police procedurals and then tack on a few paragraphs about injecting elements of horror into the setting but that would just be boring. If I want to write about police procedurals and detective novels, I should just do that. Moving forward, I am going to try to mix it up a bit more and be a bit more inventive in my sources of inspiration.

I’ll be talking about Games Half Remembered from another direction somewhat later on but I am actually pretty pleased at how this series is coming along. When I first started out, I was concerned that the series would just turn into belated reviews of games I played as a younger person but I am enjoying moving back and forth between games I have run, games I have played, and games I have just read. I am also enjoying moving back and forth between English and French-language titles and I feel that looking back at games I used to play is allowing the blog to continue its engagement not only with my past but also with the social history of the hobby. Much more to come in this series!

I have really been enjoying my long slow crawl through the career of H.P. Lovecraft. While I can’t imagine myself ever becoming one of those obsessive Lovecraft ‘scholars’ who spend all their time reading his correspondence, I am enjoying immersing myself in the person of Lovecraft as well as his fiction. In fact, I am so enjoying writing these pieces that I am considering opening a second front for Canon Fodder and looking at the work of another horror author. I am still trying to select which one; I want to work my way through Clive Barker’s Books of Blood and I suspect I’d probably benefit from taking the time to read M.R. James in a more systematic fashion. So we’ll have to see about that… though it is definitely going to happen sooner rather than later.

Reviews

I have really enjoyed my return to regular book reviewing. I have been writing book reviews under my wallet name for ages and it’s been really nice writing about the kinds of books that I have not historically written that much about before.

I actually did get a big spike in views around the time I published my review of Kathe Koja’s The Cipher as the imprint reprinting her work linked to this blog on Twitter.  I even got a lovely email from Koja herself, thanking me for the piece. Being shy and still somewhat unsure about the possibility of this blog getting discovered, I didn’t actually respond to said email but it was lovely to receive praise from one of the all-time greats.

At time of writing, I have about a dozen book reviews ready to go out. That actually puts me so far ahead of schedule that I took the decision to write about something else for fear turning this whole project into nothing more than a horror book blog. This being said, the enjoyment I get from writing about this type of stuff cannot be denied.

I have also enjoyed writing reviews of non-fiction books though I really need to stop writing about histories of D&D as I am starting to repeat myself. I know there’s a series of books that look at early RPG discourse and a further history of TSR coming out this summer and I will almost certainly be buying and writing about those but I am making a conscious effort to read more stuff that will feed my gaming without being literally about gaming itself; More on this in a bit.

Scenario and Sourcebook Reviews

I had really high hopes for this content strand… As a GM, I am constantly annoyed by the lack of critical coverage afforded to RPG adventures. There are a few blogs that try to keep track of what’s coming out for OSR and contemporary D&D but the only blog that tries to engage with the avalanche of Call of Cthulhu content tends to limit itself to very short and not particularly useful capsule reviews so there is a clear ‘gap in the market’ for this type of critical writing.

I think part of the problem is that the lack of critical infrastructure is so pronounced that I am legitimately struggling to find useful stuff. Call of Cthulhu adventures tend to be either an under-written half-arsed mess put together by someone whose primary skill suite lies adjacent to graphic design or they’re so over-written and over-designed that they feel more like whodunit-style murder parties than living breathing RPG adventures. I get that D&D is now so dominant that Call of Cthulhu exists primarily as a venue for palate-cleansing one-shots but I am struggling to find adventures I want to play and that makes it difficult to find stuff I can write about.

The same is true when it comes to sourcebooks as I have been genuinely shocked by the weakness of the sourcebooks that have been published by Chaosium over the years. By now, I have read a few place-related sourcebooks and found them to range from bad to just about okay and I am starting to get a bit fearful of buying new stuff. The excellent Arthur over at Refereeing and Reflection has written quite a bit about the history of Chaosium and how personnel changes and institutional drift turned the company into the place where creativity, efficient management, and professional ethics went to die and while the most recent management change has resulted in some better-looking books being produced, I am still not sure about the quality (or at least the suitability) of the stuff that is currently being produced either by third or first-party Call of Cthulhu publishers.

I’ll expand on this a little bit later but I think part of the problem is that the things I want from published RPG material is evidently not the kind of stuff that publishers tend to put out. I’m not sure whether this is a reflection of poor editorial standards within RPG publishing or whether I need a different kind of book but I am starting to think that I need to step back from reviewing adventures and sourcebooks as they are genuinely starting to give me the fear. I still want to write about RPGs and I am in the early stages of a look at Call of Cthulhu as well as the recent explosion in Cthulhu-clones but I need a different approach to the material.

Going forward, I feel the need to make a few changes and try and few things. The biggest change is going to be the decision to step back from the Call of Cthulhu scenario reviews as, frankly, there are only so many ways I can express my disappointment and while there’s a lot that can be learned from reading loads of adventures and trying to work out the ins-and-outs of Call of Cthulhu writing as a literary form, I don’t really have any plans to start churning out my own Call of Cthulhu supplements and I am starting to realise that my GMing style used to be long on improvisation and short on pre-scripted prep because improvisation and spontaneity are really central to what I enjoy about running RPGs.

Moving Forward

I want to write more about fiction, non-fiction, and film. As a result, I will almost certainly be expanding my short fiction strand and, quite possibly, dusting off that idea of a series of posts about the big horror film franchises.

When it comes to RPGs, I will continue with the infrequent opinion pieces as well as the pieces about older games. I do want to review more recent horror games but I really struggle reading rulebooks so we’ll see how that works out. One thing I definitely want to do is bring this blog closer to my personal creative process. For example, I am in the early stages of planning a hexcrawl-based exploration and survival campaign set in a frozen landscape (think “At the Mountains of Madness” meets the latter half of Vinland Saga) and I want to use this blog as a means of working through the inspirational material and talking my way through all of the decisions involved in taking an idea from initial vibe through to choices of system, pitch of campaign, writing of adventures, and on-going campaign management.

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