Welcome to the Level One Wonk Holiday Special for 2021! My traditional retrospective for the year in gaming, this Holiday Special has some extra meaning for me because of the time. Cannibal Halfling Gaming kicked off in December of 2016, making this my fifth year here out in the internet. Five years of ups and downs have seen this site go from me and Seamus writing about whatever RPG topics came off the tops of our heads to…well, me and Seamus writing about whatever RPG topics come off the tops of our heads. Though now there’s a podcast. And people send us review copies. And some even pay us!
Though we’ve been having a wild ride behind the scenes of the site, most everyone has been having a wild ride with world events as well. While we had a bit of the ‘hot pandemic summer’ I alluded to in one of our podcast episodes, much of the hope did not last, and we’re now back again in our houses and apartments, hoping more of our fellow humans get the message. But while we can’t control human nature and we certainly can’t control COVID, we can at least get some writing and gaming done.
2021 was a year of solid growth for us, driven not by viral explosions like our next best year, 2019, but rather by putting our heads down and doing the work. I did get a little cute with “So You Don’t Want to Play D&D”, but the underlying message about finding players for more obscure games was still a resonant one. Behind that leader, my review for the Dune RPG and Seamus’s review of the Avatar quickstart rounded out our top 3, and drove readers throughout the year. Speaking of readers…as I write this we have eclipsed our previous best year by more than 45,000 views, a large enough lead that we know me toying with Google’s algorithm wasn’t what got us there.
Then there was the podcast. Cannibal Halfling Radio is something we do mostly because we want to, and has seen numerous shifts as we’ve played with format, small actual play features, and also just figuring out how to edit audio and make it sound the best we can. I don’t think any of us here think we’re going to topple System Mastery or anything like that, so it was a big surprise when, after episode 15, we started drawing in literally thousands of listeners. I’m not going to pretend to know why, but we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and hope all of you newcomers stay along for the ride. Episode 17 has already been recorded and should be out in the next month or so.
In some ways, 2021 felt less eventful than previous years, for the site at least. We didn’t have anything huge like getting nominated for an ENnie, nor did we feel the rush of finding out someone wanted to send us an ARC for the first time. We’re a bit more established now, and being that this is a hobby for us at the end of the day, there are limits to how far and fast we can push things. As I alluded to above we don’t have many other contributors at the moment; we still wish the best to everyone who has written for us and keep up with them when we can, but at the end of the day life is happening all around us. I know Seamus will say it as well in a couple of days and I know we’ve both said it before, but thank you, to all of you. And to anyone out there who’s looking for a place to put their byline, we’re but two thirtysomethings from Massachusetts and would love the extra perspectives.
From the wider world of Cannibal Halfling I now turn inward a bit. What did Aaron do this year? Well, a couple of weeks ago I wrapped up a Cyberpunk Red campaign that lasted 14 months, a personal record if you can believe it. Some of you readers have been keeping up with that particular game in the CabbageCorp Adventure Log, but even if you haven’t I can say that it was an enjoyable experience to return to the system and setting that was one of my favorites from my teenage years. In addition to that, my group returned to Delaware for a gaming weekend that had been on hiatus since 2018, and this year was the best yet, both in terms of gaming and in terms of how badly I needed a vacation. I got to play games like Mistborn and Cyberpunk Red (despite my GMing I’ve only played in that one-shot), see another Masks campaign be born (this time run by frequent contributor Aki), and run a few games myself, like Forbidden Lands. Let me just say that there will be more Year Zero Engine games in my GMing roster after that experience.
This past year I did what I said I was going to do when I wrote the last Holiday Special, which was focus on play. I wrote about finding new systems and how games have rules for the GM and the players separately. I talked about how to read new games and about how gamers like Glenn Blacow kicked off the field of RPG theory. I found a lot this year when I was reading from the perspective of a player, and I don’t think I’m done quite yet. As my campaign this year taught me, I’m not the same gamer I was when I was 15, and while I enjoyed Cyberpunk Red I’m also glad to have a few different games in the chamber for 2022. And as my investigations of the history of the hobby have taught me, we’re not really any closer than Glenn Blacow was to having a vocabulary that helps players understand what games will best provide what they’re looking for. The hobby is a lot bigger than D&D, but nobody, especially not the game design community, is helping to guide new players in what it’s all about.
So what are my resolutions for 2022? Well, play more games, of course, but more specifically, find new experiences and really expand my horizons in the hobby. When I took a big step at the end of this year by running a module for the first time, I got a response on Twitter which was an offer to run a module for me, help me better see what the form is all about. I think that’s something I’m going to do…though my prospective GM may end up on Cannibal Halfling Radio in the process. And that’s just one example. As much as dabbling in game design has been quite rewarding (and I plan to continue with it), I think I’ve learned more this year by opening my mind as a player of games and seeing how much more there is to discover.
2021 was not our year; if you were lucky, like me, it was a 7-9 result. But even hard years can be positive years, and I think 2021 was a positive year. We have a lot of room to make 2022 better; in addition to playing more games and welcoming more people into the hobby, please do your best to stay healthy, keep wearing those masks, and get a vaccine and/or booster as soon as you’re able to. While we’re nowhere near normal quite yet, we have the tools to keep things positive, if only we use them. Keep playing games, running games, and writing games, and join me in hoping that 2022 is a happier and healthier year.
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