This is an exciting time for role-playing games as a medium. It's become possible for individuals to invent a game, write its text, design its book, have it printed and distribute it to the eager masses. As a result we've seen amazing invention and creativity that might well never have been ventured by a traditional publishing house with a (comparatively) tiny market. The barrier that upper management and traditional distribution channels placed in front of the new and the different, and hence risky and frightening, has been lifted.
With that barrier has gone the caution that balks at the publication of lower quality games. Game buyers have to rely on the individual designers to discard shaky ideas, continue work on unfinished games, or to issue revised editions. On the other hand, designers have no one but themselves to turn to for editorial or critical input.
It's long been our belief that a solution to some of these problems is a solid, respectable source of criticism. There already is a raft of user reviews, actual play reports, forum endorsements and condemnations, podcasts, developers blogs...there's no doubt that there's a lot of internet presence for role-playing games, but that the glut of dubious opinion can be confusing.
Compounding this fact is that the extreme biases of the correspondents involved have complex causes. Those who are best informed on the state of the art are least willing to speak frankly about games they think are flawed. Some fear taking a dollar out of some one else's pocket, others offending their peers. The result is that flawed, weak games make it onto the shelves of stores and onto the tables of gamers, who conclude, understandably, that the role playing industry is doomed. We believe that this well-intentioned self-censorship is doing no one any good.
This is where The Owlbear comes in. We intend to step into the gap, and provide reasoned criticism of role-playing games. We hope that we can improve the quality of the games that are released, by pointing out the brilliance and shortcomings of independently published games to their designers and their prospective audiences alike.
In the coming weeks and months, we will be presenting reviews of diverse games, from popular standbys to up-and-comers. Our staff of volunteers all have a solid background in role-playing games. Most of us are designers ourselves.
We're not here to produce play reports of games, although we'll play the games we review, or make it clear that we're only reviewing the game's text.
We're not here to philosophize about games, or construct elaborate theories about how they work, but our reviews are founded in theory, and if you're paying attention you might catch a whiff of a concept or two. For the allergic, be assured that we'll minimize our use of specific jargon to the purely functional.