In putting together ideas for a relaunched Dancing Lights Press newsletter, I’ve been looking at what’s out there. Not just at newsletters devoted to tabletop roleplaying games, but the current crop of RPG blogs, vlogs, and podcasts as well. I keep coming across a sameness, almost an orthodoxy of process. It’s as if the conformity is more important than the content: this is the way things are done. That’s the same sort of problem that I keep butting up against in a lot of roleplaying games themselves. People want X, do not stray too far from the baseline of X or they will reject your product. I want to create the newsletter we need, if not the newsletter we deserve.
This isn’t to say that what I’m finding is all bad. As with anything, there are some standouts at the top, a great deal of mediocrity in the middle, and some truly awful slog at the bottom. It’s almost a perfect bell curve in distribution, at least in my highly subjective opinion. It’s the content and the format that are almost perfectly uniform. Granted, there are only so many topics of discussion in the field of tabletop roleplaying, especially after 40 years. There’s a lot of rehash. Not just people talking about the same things I read in Dragon magazine back in the 1980s, but actual references and updates to old magazine articles, sections of rulebooks, and published supplements. The good stuff, at best, presents things from a new angle, or finds a fresh way to approach the material.
What I’ve chosen to do is take advice from non-RPG, non-fantasy authors who run successful newsletters. There is generic advice on how to operate a newsletter in general, and how to market the things in broad strokes, of course. But there is also a matter of finding a voice not currently available in roleplaying. A matter of how things are discussed, and how those discussions are structured. That’s what I’m looking for. I gave up being a tabletop roleplaying blogger in 2009 because there was so much noise, so little signal, and I honestly had nothing new to say. There is no point to doing any sort of creative work if you’re just following the herd and repeating what other people are saying.
I may end up floating the first issue of the newsletter later this week, and course-correct as I go. A soft relaunch would have some benefits, both in terms of getting the thing out there sooner and gathering feedback before it starts to grow. I may wait a few weeks, until I clarify some ideas a bit further. I just know that I want to do something different. Even if it sinks like a stone because it doesn’t conform to the orthodoxy the community demands, I need to feel like I’m adding to the larger conversation.