Tourq Stevens, who runs the RPG Site of the Year awards, sent me this piece of feedback from one of the judges. The Stew was a finalist, but The Id DM won — and congratulations to that site, because it’s excellent.

Here’s the feedback:

“Gnome Stew is the daddy. A powerhouse of a site with articles from the A-List of role-playing bloggers. So why is it not in 1st place on my list?

Because I feel that it has lost its way a little, and that’s a crying shame. Other, fresher blogs are being punchier and more relevent, and Gnome Stew really needs to up its game to stay at the top of the pile. That’s a testament to Gnome Stew itself though – it is the site which many others have aspired to be, and now it has to raise the bar even higher.”

I don’t know what to make of it, so I’m putting the question to you, our readers: What do you make of it?

I care about being on the right track for us, the authors, and for you, our readers, not for the SOTY judges. But I want the site to be as useful to as many GMs as it can, and that has meant and will continue to mean changing course from time to time.

About  Martin Ralya

A father, husband, writer, small-press publisher, former RPG industry freelancer, and lifelong geek, Martin has been gaming since 1987 and GMing since 1989. He lives in Utah with his amazing wife Alysia and their awesome daughter Lark in a house full of books and games.



21 Responses to Your Thoughts?

  1. I wrote those words, so perhaps it would be a good idea if I expand on them a little.

    Judging SOTY was an honour, and a real pleasure. I was also mindful that the sites are written by people I count as friends and fellow fans of the hobby. We don’t write for profit but for fun, and because we love the games we play. I held Gnome Stew to the highest standards when it came to judging, because I believe you hold yourselves to the same high standard, and would expect no less.

    Gnome Stew is a cornerstone of the rpg blogging community. I know that there are fellow bloggers out there for whom Gnome Stew is an inspiration, and why they began blogging in the first place.

    With that thought already rattling through my head, I took a looked through the previous years’ posts. I couldn’t fault any of them but they also read, as a whole, like they were treading pretty “safe” ground. None of them hit me between the eyes and made me think “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that”, or “I have to try that, right now”. None of them had me flat out disagreeing either, and I do do enjoy a good disagreement :)

    In short it seemed like Gnome Stew had become the conservative (lower case) sober and professional middle ground of the role-playing hobby. That’s not a bad place to be – far from it – but it also wasn’t what I was looking for out of my first place SOTY nomination.

    Should Gnome Stew change, and are you guys doing anything wrong? No, absolutely not. Write for yourselves, not for me or some other dumb judge in a competition. There are things I would personally like to see (more Hot Buttons (there’s only been 2 this year), a fresh and updated series of articles about world-building, a system neutral guide to monster building, etc), and top of the list would be more articles that lead and inspire new gamers into the hobby and blogging. That’s what Gnome Stew does best, and I would love to see more of that in the future.

    Hope that helps put some meat onto my thoughts.

  2. @greywulf – It does indeed, greywulf — thanks for dropping by and weighing in in more detail. Just before I saw your comment I was about to email Tourq back and ask if he’d mind bugging the judge who said this for more information, but this way is a lot easier. ;-)

    I’m pretty boring, so if we’ve become too conservative, sober, and professional, that most likely comes back to having me at the helm.

    The rest I’m going to have to sleep on.

  3. Because you asked…………

    I started reading Gnome Stew when I came back to gaming a little over two years ago. While I have not delved deep into the archives I can say that I have enjoyed the articles. Hot Buttons? About that, I really do not know what to say. Should you discuss violence, sex and other topics in games just to create waves, get attention? Should you become the TMZ of the RPG world? Not really. What topics can you write about to generate disagreement with a reader? Should you take a stance on the D&D Next issue? Trounce games with bad design? Write “trolling” articles just to have some debate about what systems are better than others? I would have to disagree fully with that mode of communication. It is the big reason why I no longer comment on the DDI forums.

    Instead of tearing down other peoples opinions. Asserting that “You have the real core of game X” in your heart. Why not spend the time helping others to become better players and GMs? There is always a need for good, solid information or methodological way to improve storytelling. On both sides of the screen. Your system neutral approach is good to have. I do not see many supplements that do the work you do.

    I am no writer, though I often have ideas about things I would “like” to write. I just have too much going on to do it. I do have an idea for something. If I could pitch it to you guys and see if it is something that you could run with. Reply to this through my email.

  4. @blather – “Instead of tearing down other peoples opinions. Asserting that “You have the real core of game X” in your heart. Why not spend the time helping others to become better players and GMs?” sums up why I don’t feel the need to jump every time we get negative feedback about this specific issue (not being controversial/etc.).

    By and large, this is a positive place. That’s deliberate, and I like it that way. Plenty of other blogs do controversy, but in five years — assuming the Stew is still here, which I’d like it to be — our non-controversial posts from five years before will likely still be relevant.

  5. That is exactly why I have you guys on my D&D browser tab. I think the articles you guys post are very relevant, now and will be in the future. RPGs have been around for so long that new perspectives on the game are hard to find. The ID DM is just one of those new perspectives. With its age many topics get re-hashed and to some extent they do get fleshed out and develop into some good tools. Your two publications are good examples of some general topics that have been talked about on so many blogs and pod casts.
    Then manner in which the books are set up make them a fresh new take in these two subjects.

    Thanks for asking about award feedback. I paint a lot of minis but have never paid heed to getting awards or recognition for my work.

    Best wishes and continue the good work. I hope to see more publications from you guys in the future.

  6. I think the Steww is great, and check it whenever my feed alerts me of something new. I do, however, think there have been articles of late that have been, for lack of a better description, of marginal value at best. I think the reviews of indy games and books are OKAY only…that is, they’re interesting sometimes, but they really smack of filler…like the 2nd side of Pearl Jam’s ’10.’ I mean, they were decent songs, but compared to side 1…when we had sides, that is…I hope you get the point. And as a long-time reader, and long-time GM, there have also been a good many articles that are so basic – that is, focused on GM fundamentals – that I get no benefit from reading them. The clue map was one such, as well as the petri-dish sandbox…while it was nice to see way old-school maps, the idea that drawing a map, and then gleaning ideas from your creation is so basic, I believe, as to be almost not worth mentioning (add to that the fact that stuff like that is mentioned in pretty much every ‘how to GM’ section of a rulebook).

    Anyway, I guess my advice would be to focus on the high-value stuff. Go back to the types of posts you guys were writing 6 months to a year ago, and look for topics & trends. Trim the list back down to those, so you can focus on what made the Stew unique and coeherent. All thrilla no filla, right? In fact, I think I’d rather see no article than filler.

  7. I do not want this to sound dismissive, but what about the other judges? I can understand what Greywulf meant, especially after elaborating, and I agree with most of that.

    But why didn’t other judges make Gnome Stew SOTY? I think that more judge feedback would be more helpful than a single opinion.

    That being said- I think Greywulf hit it on the head. Not many article this year elicit a strong response from me. I do not feel compelled to respond as often as I did, and I do not feel the need to check in as often. The articles feel (this is entirely subjective so I can’t give much more than a feeling without doing some archive combing-which I may do tomorrow) to be re-hashing some advice already found on this site. I think the reason that Gnome Stew did not win SOTY are some of the same issues addressed with the evaluation of the site not growing in the State of the Stew article around the beginning of the year. It feels more like reading the RPG newspaper, informative, but not the thing you discuss about your day.

  8. @lyle.spade – While we won’t neglect the fundamentals (we have readers of all skill and experience levels), I like the idea of trolling our own archives to see what things looked like in years past. There’s a fine line between looking back for no good reason and looking back to see if something useful can be gleaned to help keep us moving forward, but I bet we can stay on the right side of it.

    @Razjah – “It feels more like reading the RPG newspaper, informative, but not the thing you discuss about your day.” Ouch! An RPG newspaper is not at all what I want the Stew to be. An RPG textbook, maybe, but not a newspaper.

  9. @Martin Ralya -What do you mean about wanting the Stew to be an RPG textbook? What exactly do you want Gnome Stew to be?

  10. @Razjah – That “maybe” was important. Textbooks aren’t sexy, but they’re useful; above all else, to me, the Stew is supposed to be useful to GMs of all skill and experience levels.

    I’d rather it be some kind of sexy textbook, but it was just an off the cuff comment. I want the site to be useful without being boring.

  11. I really like the Stew, but if I’m to offer my 2c or whatever the expression is, I would like to see more stuff on innovative ideas – original ones from the Stew Crew, or pointers to other people who’ve done interesting stuff. My favorite columns to read tend to be the ones touching on ways to do things differently, like reviews of innovative RPGs, or discussions of interesting ideas (subsystems, setting ideas, mechanics, etc) that various games have had, or just “My group tried doing this dungeon crawl differently, by…”

    I don’t have enough time to do all the experimenting I’d like to do, so I really like to read about other people trying new things, to get an idea of what it’s like.

  12. I really love the Stew. I’m a relative late-comer, though, having only stumbled across it about six months ago. I do spend a lot (too much) of my time clicking the the “1d12 Dire Weasels” link.
    I’d say there is a difference in tone when looking at some of the older articles. The newer articles read as bit more staid perhaps, but they are also often more well-considered, well-written, and more professional (plus I still find them quite entertaining).
    As for the Hot-Button articles, or lack-there-of, while these types of articles may be more evocative they often aren’t as useful. It’s not the thing I like to see “forced” either. Interesting/controversial issues crop up (or don’t) pretty naturally and trying to fit one in weekly or monthly usually just leads to (or comes from) trolling jackass-ery.
    I’ve been a GM for twelve years now, and I still learn (or relearn) something useful from the Stew weekly. I think the practical advice, show don’t theorize approach is an excellent direction for the Stew. Though the esoteric, theoretical, philosophical stuff is still fun too.

  13. Thank you for your feedback, Riklurt and randite!

  14. In part, I agree with what Riklurt said. I’d prefer to read about ways people handled situations differently. The articles about your news books, other gaming systems, and “hot button” topics have pretty much become articles that I don’t even bother clicking on.

  15. One of the things I like about Gnome Stew is that it loves the hobby without LOVING the hobby. Too many times, on too many other gaming sites, I feel like I’m reading something by the Simpson’s “comic book guy”. Maybe I just don’t do well with nerd rage or nerd arrogance. But either way, Gnome Stew is a very FRIENDLY place, with a very relaxed attitude. I dig it.

    That said, I don’t read every article. But that’s only because they don’t all apply to me. And that’s OK. Dice have many sides.

    Of the articles I do read, some are better than others, sure. And by better, I don’t mean quality, I only mean “suits my needs”. Some articles rock my world. Some are neat. Some I don’t care about. The dice have many sides, not infinite sides.

    Everyone’s got a unique perspective. I find it funny that the Petri Dish article I wrote is being called rudimentary, because I spent 20+ years in this hobby and NEVER ONCE had running a campaign explained to me in that particular way. In fact, all I ever found in any GM resource was half assed and bad advice. I even asked a friend, who ran his campaigns in that way for years, how he did it, and he couldn’t tell me. Not wouldn’t, couldn’t. As in, could not articulate it in that way.

    Now, I’m perfectly willing to admit that still puts me on some GM short bus. But it does make me wonder what sorts of things I call rudimentary, that others are only now discovering.

  16. Hmm, I’ve noticed that while the quality of writing around here hasn’t declined at all lately, I feel like the advice has been a lot less vital this year. It’s been a very long time since I’ve read an article, and thought “wow! I need to try this!”

    Maybe it’s just that there have been a lot of big-picture articles about starting and ending campaigns, which are only useful at certain points in a campaign, and not so many articles about week-in-week-out game sessions? Or maybe I’m just imagining that? Maybe I’ve just grown as a GM, and it’s harder to write tips that rock my world?

    Whatever it is, I still like the work you guys do, and you’re still the main RPG blog I read.

  17. I’ve given this some thought and time before i’ve waded in with my comments. I applaud you for taking the time to consider the feedback and engage with your readership. As long as it doesn’t end in any knee-jerk reactions but instead a considered and focused response then thats a really good thing.

    In reference to greywulf’s feedback, I suspect that it is the choice of words – I would suggest a less than ideal choice – rather than anything else at this point. For example, being professional is a good thing and why I personally rate Gnome Stew highly.

    I keep thinking of a sporting analogy to understand the comments. Over here in Australia, we have a team called Geelong in our national football code that has finished in either 1st or 2nd place on the ladder at the end of the regular season over the last 5 years. Across that same time, they have won the Grand Final 3 times. In 2008, during the regular season their record was 21-1, one of the best seasons of all time. And yet they lost the Grand Final.

    Ok, my point. Geelong raised the bar in 2007 and continued to do so in 2008. They have been the measuring stick every year for the last 5 years, and are again this year. Other teams have come and gone, all of whom burned bright for a year or two, and then faded away as other teams figured them out and raised their performance in response. However, despite being the gold standard, Geelong did not win the Grand Final every year – in 2010 they exited the week before. But Geelong were still considered the one of, if not the, best teams.

    And that is Gnome Stew. One of the best blogs I have found. Does that mean no changes should be made? No. Geelong continued to adapt, find new edges, different ways of doing things. And so should Gnome Stew.

    There have been a number of suggestions above, and I agree with a lot of it. Gnome Stew is a friendly place to be. Hot buttons, whilst often edgy and controversial, do not often provide much in useful content for GMs.

    I agree completely with @randite that the focus on practical advice and occasional philosophical article is a great mix of articles.

    However, I also feel there has been a little bit too much focus on beginner GMs lately. Such a focus is needed, because without beginner GMs there really isn’t much of a business case for companies to support and grow our hobby.

    And thats cool, as long as us more experienced ones are remembered from time to time. @Tom_Collective, I’d have said that your article was aimed at a less experienced GM than I, and I think that is what @lyle.spade meant rather than as a rudimentary article (which i believe are more your words than his? could be mistaken).

    After all that, if Greywulf had been a far less experienced GM, maybe he would have voted Gnome Stew number 1.

  18. What I like best about Gnome Stew is the articles that clearly describe a way of doing something. I have been gming for about 10 year, but even the articles that are obveously aimed at new gm’s have given me a new way of looking at a situation or put into words a problem that I was having. I think I am a better gm and player for reading gnome stew.
    You guys are doing a lot right. In the State of the Stew article the main point was that people wanted regular updates. You guys have done an excellant job on that. Maybe too good though. It has gotten better, but in the first couple months this year some of the articles felt forced. So, maybe the goodness feels spread a bit thinner than before. Instead of a concentrated burst it comes in regular doses and thus is less noticable, but it certainly is still there.

  19. Quit the bellyaching. My site didn’t win either, and I didn’t think it would as I specialize in not D&D…but if it drives any traffic to your site you win.

  20. My thanks to everyone who has taken the time to give us feedback. I don’t always respond with specifics, but it all goes into the pot when it comes to deciding how the site can improve.

    @black campbell – “Quit the bellyaching.

    This isn’t bellyaching, and unless you’re willfully misconstruing it just to be snarky I don’t see how it could be perceived that way.

  21. Kurt "Telas" Schneider

    Thanks to everyone who replied. I’ve already re-read the comments here more than nearly any other article* on the site.

    * Exception: The first article I wrote. I re-read those comments over and over, simply because I was nervous as hell when this thing launched. ;)

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