Shortly after this post was written, Jeff – who, as mentioned below, routinely defended the “little guy” and refused to punch down throughout the length of his blog’s run – made a regrettable choice to support someone with a legacy of problematic behavior online and serious, horrible allegations of abuse. Though Jeff framed it as standing by a friend, it nonetheless equates to tacit support of these things and tarnishes his own standing. While I have greatly respected Jeff’s work and prior welcoming, friendly behavior online, I cannot say I feel the same now in light of this. While I leave this blog post up for transparency and completion’s sake at this time, I feel it is important that this disclaimer come first, so readers coming late to the news can understand the current reality.
Herein lay my love letter to both Jeff Rients and his long-lived, amazing website, Jeff’s Gameblog.
If a meandering post dedicated to appreciating the goodly works of a cool dude and his impact on one aspect of my weird life story is not your cup of tea, turn back now. I’ll still think you’re super-neat, I totally understand, and I promise you I’ll post something gameable and broadly interesting or useful tomorrow or something, dedicated to all the people who get nothing from this sort of post.
The rest of you, cheers. Here’s a thing.
Note: It’s been suggested this reads sort of like a eulogy, as if Jeff had died in a blimp accident. Despite all the money I pay zeppelin assassins, he has thus far evaded my wrath. Jeff is just fine! This post is purely appreciative.
ACT I: The Beginning
I discovered Jeff’s Gameblog through a link on one of the various RPG forums (I think RPG.net, but I’ve been wrong about many things in my life, so I could be wrong again here). It was either Christmas-ish 2008 or the very early days of 2009. I had a lot of time on my hands then. I had crippled myself in the fall of 2007 and by late 2008 I had undergone many surgeries to stave off permanent paralysis and was in the midst of the double whammy of grueling physiotherapy eight hours a day and community college classes to try to pick up the pieces of a new line of work chosen for me by my worker’s comp representatives (that didn’t pan out, in the long run). During this period, I actually had a ton of free time. I was an early-20s guy who had previously been extremely active in a lot of physical endeavors (hiking, traveling, target shooting extensively, etc), and none of those hobbies were open to me anymore. I wasn’t married, I didn’t have kids, I had moved back in with my parents. Due to nerve damage, I was awake all hours of the day and didn’t sleep much. I had time galore.
I filled that time with a few pursuits. The first pursuit, in retrospect, was getting hella fat. I kept eating like I was still a super-active teenager while I was actually a crippled idiot in a bed, computer chair, or wheelchair, without anything resembling a sleep schedule; turns out that doesn’t pan out so well. Second was rekindling my hobbies of RPGs and video games. I played a lot of games during this time. And when I wasn’t playing them, I was reading about them.
So anyway, I clicked that link to Jeff’s Gameblog, and I was hooked. I read it every day. I went back through his catalogue and read all his previous entries. I read his shrine to Erol Otus. I laughed at his quick jokes. His friendly demeanor made me feel at ease. I had been playing D&D for a decade or more at this point and I felt like it was brand new all over again because of his ideas and his enthusiasm. All his ideas and links were very new to me. When my group met and we rolled dice, I was suddenly full of all these great new gimmicks and ideas that left my friends wondering what had gotten into me. I embraced the gonzo, the sense of fun and excitement and just following whatever whims we had. My imagination felt a lot like when I was a kid again.
It was a real bright spot in a difficult time where I was facing an overwhelming amount of pain. The prospect of never walking again had only just been narrowly avoided. Something about the way Jeff wrote was just full of life and a joy for play, and I loved that. Play is something we stop valuing as the real world creeps in and we get responsibilities and we try to fit the mold of adulthood laid out for us by necessity and the presumptions of prior generations. But Jeff juggled that whole adulthood thing and still found time to play, and enjoy it.
ACT II: The Devouring
I remember reading back through his archives very quickly. Maybe a day or two – no mean feat considering the rate at which he posted and the miserable nature of browsing backwards on Blogger! I was fascinated by much about Jeff’s blog. He had a breadth of knowledge about games and he wasn’t puffing his chest out about it. He just wanted to share it. Around this time, immersing myself in RPG discussion and forums online mostly as a reader, I was taken aback by the vitriol and self-importance of much of the community, especially with regards to the fiery edition war between 3.5E/PF adherents and 4E converts. That was really unpleasant to me. It caused me to withdraw from the community at large altogether, in fact.
But Jeff wasn’t like that in the slightest. Something about the way he wrote on Jeff’s Gameblog was excited, wise, friendly, inviting. His genuine love of gaming was present in every post. More than that, he found a way to make posts about an immense variety of topics – Micronauts action figures, Babylon 5 quotes without context, VH1 music specials, wrestling, fortune cookies, Mr. T, you name it – and it was both interesting and somehow felt connected to the rest. If I wrote a post tomorrow about my childhood toys, without saying a word about role-playing games in the article, it’d feel wildly off-topic. Somehow that was not the case for Jeff. It still is not the case for Jeff. If it’s on Jeff’s Gameblog, it feels like it belongs there.
I gained so much by reading through Jeff’s Gameblog. He introduced me to the OSR, even if I didn’t know to call it that yet. That was a really interesting and curious point for me as I was playing 3.5E and 4E and a couple other games at this point and hadn’t though about my old D&D games in a few years. I also discovered games and game miscellany that I never would have heard of otherwise. I enjoyed, vicariously, his campaign notes and plans when I was too tired or mangled to do it myself. Through his transparent joy in all kinds of little things and genuine sense of humor, I got to laugh or smile at everything from goofy TV show references to books he read years before that came to mind for some reason. I got to see the highlight reel of jokes from 4chan and neat posts from the various RPG forums I was otherwise not venturing into at the time. I got to see the good of the community. I wish I’d recognized that at the time and sought to help bolster it with him then, but hindsight is 20/20, right?
I continued to play role-playing games around this time, invigorated by Jeff’s clever ideas and wisdom. I read every page he wrote and followed very closely for awhile, even as I retreated from, and eventually ignored altogether, the rest of the RPG internet.
ACT III: The Dark Times
The RPG communities I had visited became, to my eye, very toxic. I had enough crap going on in daily life as it was, I didn’t want to watch people sling mud at each other about which version of elf rules was better than the other, and devolve into threats and attacks. That insanity put me off the whole endeavor of internet RPG chat. Soon, pretty much the only RPG thing I read at all was Jeff’s Gameblog.
But even that sorta passed for me as school ramped up and, soon after, I took that training out into the world and started an incredibly stressful personal business. For a very long, very unpleasant couple of years I didn’t game at all. My workload was astronomical because I was inexperienced and didn’t know how to run a business or set boundaries. My little spare time was gobbled up by a partner who didn’t see games as a useful way to spend time as a grown up even if she spent hours on Farmville. I spent a few years dealing with all that and it was miserable. I eventually stopped running my own business, took a huge pay cut, and pursued a really simple 9-5 sorta job that fulfilled me. It was for the better.
Because of that, I had a little more time on my hands. I got back to playing RPGs for awhile, but I didn’t come back to the internet side of things. Not even to Jeff’s Gameblog. I had somehow become somewhat aware of how big the Old School Renaissance had gotten, maybe through osmosis, and so I started purchasing quite a few of these newfangled OSR books, some that I got to play and some that I didn’t. But my distaste for the toxic side of the internet meant I intentionally steered way clear of discussions, blogs, and forum posts about any of the products. Many of them I bought sight unseen as a result. Too bad I didn’t have Jeff’s inimitable wisdom to guide my hand in those days! It turned out okay for the most part, though. It ignited a passion for the earlier style of gaming that had been quietly smoldering inside me for a few years; I had been nursing this sense that the newer versions didn’t appeal to me the way the old ones did, but until this period, I had no idea what to call that sense.
It was good to get back to gaming, but it was a brief window. Eventually changes in my life occurred. It turned out I was pretty good at that huge pay cut job, and they appreciated it and set me up with promotions and raises and great new responsibilities. Soon I was running the place, or at least a big part of it. I genuinely loved the job, so I didn’t mind. I got busy running a rapidly-growing division of a great company and then I met a woman who became the center of my life and would eventually become my wife. I had few spare hours to devote to things outside of work. I chose to devote them to her instead of to gaming, so I dialed back again – I kept buying this interesting new stuff, but I didn’t get to play (or sometimes even read) much of it, and I sure as hell wasn’t reading the community’s discussions even as they became more vibrant and inclusive and interesting outside of my myopic line of sight. With great shame, I have to admit, I kinda forgot about Jeff’s Gameblog.
ACT IV: The Rediscovery
I left that job and my old life behind and moved to the States in 2015. Between 2015 and 2017 I was pretty much stagnant while I waited for my green card. I was bored senseless. My cabin fever was absolute. It was unpleasant as hell, stressful, difficult. It cost a fortune. I had no money, no job, little socialization, and basically nothing to do with all these free hours I had, day and night. I hesitantly peeked in on the world of RPGs online again, for the first time in years and years. I was worried it was still a burning, cratered wasteland of personal attacks and edition wars, but I rediscovered Jeff’s Gameblog and I was smiling pretty quickly. I was introduced from there, one or two steps removed, to the best of the new OSR blogs, where cool people talked about cool stuff. I dove in headfirst. I lurked on lots of blogs. But out of them all, the one I was most excited for was still Jeff’s Gameblog.
Jeff’s Gameblog got me to love gaming again. It’s not that I didn’t love gaming before, but it’s sort of like it had become a dormant part of me. I hadn’t played a game in years. It had become sort of like a skill you forget you have, like riding a bicycle. I know I can still do that, but I haven’t done so in probably fifteen years now. But, just like I could hop back on a bike tomorrow, Jeff’s Gameblog let me hop back onto a pile of d20s (ow; at least it wasn’t d4s). I felt the creativity seep back into my brain from whatever hidden wellspring it retreats to when you’re stressed and busy for extended periods of time, entirely because of Jeff’s constant excitement and exuberance to share. He talked of campaigns with friends online and I smiled because I remembered my games. He talked about DOS games and the lessons they impart to tabletop gaming and I nodded along. Then he talked about his new (at the time) book.
I had always hoped Jeff would publish a book; back in the day he posted drafts of this little project or that little project, but to my imperfect recollection, I don’t recall him really widely publishing any of them. Surely, I missed years of his blog, so for all I know, he has a dozen books to his name lurking out there somewhere. But when I rediscovered his blog in 2016-2017ish he was alight with talk of this new book, and I immediately got it and read it cover-to-cover. I was ecstatic. It charged me with electricity for D&D. The first review I ever did on this blog was for that book, because it was the first thing that leapt to mind. The first interview I ever reached out for was Jeff Rients, because he was the first person I wanted to interview. When he said yes, and was just as gracious and funny and friendly and welcoming in private emails as he was in public on his blog, I was overjoyed. I’m maybe too old to be a fan, since I’m a grown-ass man and Jeff’s not that much older than me in the grand scheme of things, but I am anyway.
Jeff’s Gameblog had lost none of its charm in the intervening years. It was actually more forcefully pointing to Jeff’s immense creativity and shouting, “This, here, this needs to be played! Play this!” I wanted to listen to that voice.
My wife and kids had always been interested in D&D but had never previously had any opportunity to play. The more I recovered my love of gaming, the more excited they got. My wife bought the books and the starter box for D&D 5E online and encouraged me to play it with them. I started running D&D for my wife and kids because of Jeff’s Gameblog kicking me in the ass and reminding me of how much I love role-playing games. It’s been some of the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. They’re discovering everything new for the first time. They’re laughing and worrying about unlucky dice rolls and steering widely clear of dragons because they know they’ll get absolutely flatlined by that giant scaled jerk. I love every minute of it.
Last year, I woke up one morning with the compulsion to shout into the internet void about RPGs. I made a Twitter, and I did just that, and that somehow turned into this blog. I started this blog because Larry Hamilton and Jordan Trager told me to, and I think I’ll always be grateful to the two of them for encouraging me and believing in my ability to do so despite knowing me only for a very short time. But deep down, I made this blog hoping one day I could produce something as wonderful as Jeff’s Gameblog. Maybe even just one article. Certainly I’ll never catch up to his years of consistently tremendous posting over a long career as the best gaming blogger we’ve ever been lucky enough to have. But I logged into Blogger that very first time hoping that I could produce, some day, something that would excite and energize one person out there as much as Jeff’s Gameblog electrified me.
I don’t think I’ve done it yet, but I’ll keep trying.
EPILOGUE: To Jeff
You’re out there, lurking in your brightly-colored wizardly robes and conical spellcaster’s hat. Beneath the flowing garb of a sorcerer, you’re wearing only a lace-trimmed speedo, just like Ian Maclean drew. You are likely clutching a Rowdy Roddy Piper action figure in one hand and a d30 in the other hand. You are surrounded by wispy specters of a dozen amazing campaigns, some great books, and tons of different Shatner memes. Wherever you are, I presume you are framed by an indistinct backdrop that feels a lot like the future we need and you deserve, where you continue making things that you enjoy and which bring excitement and happiness to other gamers.
You’ve spent years interacting with the community, playing games with all sorts of people from all over the place, creating innumerable things large and small. You’ve influenced, nurtured, or encouraged nearly everything the DIY/OSR scene has made over the past ten years or so, somehow, even if we have to play Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon Jeff Rients to figure out where and how your kindness or ideas snuck into something.
Somehow, despite all these years of being a public figure in the gaming internet, you’ve never really lowered yourself to being nasty or cruel. You’ve never wasted your energy and considerable creative might by insulting others or decrying their work belligerently. For the most part, your criticisms of others have always been fair and honest, even when you were upset by something. Even the occasional snarky or off-color joke was clearly made in good humor. When you got political, you did so with sincerity and humanity, on the side of the “little guy”, and you defended it in the face of disagreement all the while offering an olive branch to the opposition. You’ve stayed transparent, honest, and open to learning. You’ve been inviting to people of every stripe; you’ve welcomed people from all kinds of different corners of this polyhedral hobby into your games and conversations. You never raised a sword against parts of the hobby that didn’t appeal to you or apply to you, like so many others did for so many years, and you never sought to divide people into categories related to that mistaken idea. For all of this, it seems like you’ve never had your enthusiasm for gaming of all kinds, and for sharing that with others, dampened by the various things important and otherwise that sometimes make it hard to remain excited.
Your behavior and your blog are inspirations to me. I can’t speak for others, but in my estimation you’ve done, and continue to do, a tremendous job. You’re also our best ambassador, somehow, even if you don’t know it and others haven’t figured it out yet. It is your work in playing games, talking about games, sharing games, and writing games – all encapsulated on Jeff’s Gameblog – which truly inspired me to undertake this blog effort and write the previous 99 published articles. This post specifically marks a big shiny number 100 in about 9 months. I like to hope some of them have made this blog worth reading for some of the lovely folks out there in our hobby the way your articles, big and small, have always done.
Thank you for all the work you’ve put into Jeff’s Gameblog. Thank you for the work you’ve put into your books. I hope that you will continue to laugh with us, paste five links at a time at us, and amaze us for years to come. I hope you find the time and the joy to always continue sharing your love of gaming your whole life through; we need another Gygax, and I honestly can’t think of a better one.
Cheers, Jeff, and here’s to many more years of the Gameblog!
Assorted choice Jeff quotes:
“Your campaign world probably could use a good fucking up.”
“If you meet Gary Gygax on the road, kill him.”
“Ballsack of the Nut People”
“Maybe someone needs to do a “Kill Whitey” adventure module. That could be fun. Stick it to the Man!”
“GLOW IN THE DARK BRAIN!!!”
If you stuck around for that whole thing, and your name is not Jeff Rients, you’re a superhero. If you want to tell Jeff you love him, do it in the comments, or yell at him on Twitter. If you want to yell at me for writing this, you can also do that below in the comments or by shouting in my direction on Twitter, where I post as @dungeonspossums.