Page Collection for ^2012-03

2012-03-03 Boycott in der Schweiz

Anonymous Swiss
“Seid auch dabei!”
Ich habe im Februar noch ein paar Filme auf DVD gekauft (weil ich ja bei runDVDrun bin), aber für den März werde ich mich Anonymous anschliessen und nichts kaufen. :)


Comments on 2012-03-03 Boycott in der Schweiz

Are you the same Alex Schroeder whose father is “Helmut”, now in Brazil?

Maurice Brown 2012-06-06 08:52 UTC

Yes indeed! Hi Maurice. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-06-06 21:08 UTC

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2012-03-04 Old School Fanzines

2½ years ago, I listed old school fanzines I knew. Does the Scribe of Orcus still exist? I guess it was never officially cancelled but these days other publications have sprung up.

Four of them are available via Lulu! I usually wait for a coupon that offers free ground shipping and order then. If I don’t do that, I’ll have to pay an extra 50% for shipping to Switzerland.

Fight On is my favorite of the lot. I contribute to this one. You’ll get between 80 and 120 pages of content four times a year. It is published by two pseudonymous persons called Calithena and Ignatius Umlaut. The reason I like it so much is that Fight On is an eclectic mix of things, much of it clearly the work of referees like myself—it’s the kind of thing that looks like it was written by people like me for people like me. The magazine tries to cater to the entire Old School Renaissance with an occasional Tunnels & Trolls or Tékumel article. Most of it is for old school D&D with DC (defense class) being the equivalent of AC (descending armor class).

Knockspell is a smaller, cleaner fanzine, mostly for Swords & Wizardry published by Matt Finch. I bought several of the issues in print (#1–#3, #6).

One of the reasons for buying Knockspell in addition to Fight On are the Formalhaut articles by Gabor Lux which appear in both magazines. I love them!

Another thing of note is that Knockspell uses the Open Gaming License whereas Fight On provides no license for its readers. Unfortunately, many of the Knockspell articles will say This article contains no Open Game Content other than spell names, magic item names, and terminology derived from the game rules or The rules described in this article are Open Game Content, and the remainder is Product Identity, thereby negating the benefit to readers.

Oubliette is published by a small circle of people around Peter Regan and seems to target Labyrinth Lord players. I’ve recently read a review saying that the author appreciated the distinct voice. I loved the crude and direct artwork by The Marg. All of the artwork done by the same artist certainy strengthens it’s unique voice.

I must confess, however, that I never really sat down and read through the compilation of issues 1–4 I had bought. I can’t really tell you why. Somehow there was always something that seemed more appealing. I keep meaning to return to it, but it just sits there on my shelf…

The compilation I own uses the OGL and declares some names to be Product Identity. Everything else is presumed Open Gaming Content even though it never says that explicitly (failing section 8 of the license).

NOD is published by a single person, John M. Stater. It is advertized as being “compatible with Swords & Wizardry and other old school games.” There is much less art in the book, some of it old public domain images, some of it photos used with a Creative Commons license. I bought it for the Asian hex crawl in issue #8 (and bought #7 in order to have something else to compare it to). I really liked the previews I was seeing on his site and I also liked later previews of his hexcrawl in hell.

Once I got the issues, however, I ended up not reading them because they were large and didn’t seem to be immediate applicable. I’d have to start a new campaign in one of the hex crawls! Much like the Wilderlands of High Fantasy I would then use the hex descriptions as a seed to create adventures for players living in the area and build from there.

The license used by NOD is the OGL with very strong restrictions: basically only new spells and new classes are completely Open Gaming Content. Everything else is either Product Identity or only partically open, eg. only the magic item names are open.


We’re truly living in a time of old school plenty – I am overwhelmed by all this stuff! It’s awesome and I think it works much better for me than the beautiful last copies of Dungeon magazine. Those magazines were so polished, they always looked out of my league. These fanzines, on the other hand, look much more like the stuff I might have written myself. It encourages me to contribute, it encourages me to run my own stuff instead of longing for the professional editing and the color explosion of fantastic art. And yet, it’s jst as useful at my gaming table.

Ironically, I want these magazines to succeed, I want to read them all, I want to use them all, but it seems to me that I don’t actually need all this text. It takes longer to read all these fanzines than it takes me to write up new stuff that is truly mine. I feel conflicted.

My suggestion to any readers is therefore to look through the free issues and figure out which fanzine you like the best and just buy one of them. For me, that’s Fight On! but as you can see I don’t really have any good reasons for picking one over the others.

Also, I’d love to see more permissive licenses. I hate hate hate extremely broad declarations of Product Identity. You got an entire game for free and now you’re being stingy with your own contributions? Gah!


And there’s more!

Loviatar is very small, written by Christian Walker, and mailed directly to subscribers. He says “Getting cool mail is so rare. Bills suck!” No Lulu!

Encounter is an electronic fanzine. I’ve read through the first two editions and enjoyed them a lot. Unfortunately I’m not much of a PDF reader—I prefer print if it’s going to be used at the table and when I’m using my tablet, I prefer to waste time reading the blogs, Google+ and Twitter. (If you’re looking for some old school blogs, take a look at my Old School RPG Planet which collects a lot of them.)

Interestingly enough, Oubliette appears to be British and Encounter appears to be Australian.

As it turns out, now that I check their website, the last issue was published in April 2011. Oops!

Oddities came and went in 2010… Did Unknown Sagas ever make it?

Do you know of any other fanzines? I know that Pathways is a fanzine for Pathfinder players.

I heard that Tim Shorts of Gothridge Manor is working on another little fanzine in the Loviathar style called The Manor.



Also note this thread linking many more!

Compare this to the situation back in 2008.


Comments on 2012-03-04 Old School Fanzines

Thanks for the mention Alex. Been plugging away at it and hope to have the first issue out in a couple of weeks. The one magazine I also liked was Oddities. I think I am misspelling it. But thought that was another good one.

Tim Shorts 2012-03-05 03:12 UTC

Sorry Alex, I see that you did mention it. I am going to blame my pup attacking me while I was reading for my misread.

Tim Shorts 2012-03-05 03:16 UTC

I love the image of bloggers trying to comment while being attacked by pups! Pups for the win. ✌

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-05 13:06 UTC

I think Oerth Journal (Greyhawk) and Star Frontiersman Magazine qualify…

Lee B 2012-03-05 23:51 UTC

Thanks for the pointers! That reminds me of Infinite Stars…

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-06 08:12 UTC

Just found this: Back to the Dungeon Vol 1 Must add it to the main page.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-18 22:01 UTC

Thanks for the mention, Alex. Issue 3 of the Wizards Mutants Laser Pistols! fanzine is out now and No 4 should be coming out sometime in January.

Alexey Fotinakes 2012-12-11 20:51 UTC

Excellent news! I’m still hoping for Fight On! to make a comeback… :'( — finding other magazines to be thriving is welcome news. 👌

AlexSchroeder 2012-12-11 23:41 UTC

I heartily agree with you in regards to Fight On! Such a fabulous magazine…I can’t bear to think of it as gone. I’m still hoping for a return, and for that “big book of random tables” Cal was planning.

Alexey Fotinakes 2012-12-14 06:29 UTC

Another long list: Old School Zines.

AlexSchroeder 2013-02-19 08:02 UTC

Aye, thanks for having & Magazine on here! Why did I see one that said 7 issues (which is correct) and this one says 5?

I’m sure I’m doing something incorrectly. :)


Ron – 2013-12-30 21:30 UTC

Ah, I realize now that I must’ve been looking at 2013’s list, and this is 2012’s.

Sigh, I’m such a dope sometimes.

Ron – 2013-12-30 21:33 UTC

Hehe! For future visitors: 2013-10-23 Old School Fanzines!

AlexSchroeder 2013-12-30 22:09 UTC

Hey thanks for the AFS magazine mention Alex. And, I would agree with many of your assessments. Game On!

Scott Moberly 2014-02-08 18:26 UTC

Congratulations on this review by Bryce Lynch.

AlexSchroeder 2014-02-11 08:51 UTC

Nice Scott!! Ron

Ron 2014-02-11 09:45 UTC

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2012-03-05 The Bane of Character Builds

I want to like Pathfinder. It’s large, it has adventure paths with long stories, it has more traditional modules, it has background material, colorful art – and yet the products are often awfully long. I used to appreciate that, but these days I often think that the material takes me longer to read than to think up myself. I’m still subscribed to their adventure path line, however, and I still listen to 3.5 Private Sanctuary.

In Known Direction 31 they discussed “interesting” encounters and Ryan says: “Basically if every player feels like they have something they can do on their turn, and not just something they can do but something that they’ve put into their character, some part of their character build that they can use, then they’re going to feel better about it.”

I feel torn. On the one hand, I absolutely understand it. On the other hand, this leads to “my precious encounter design” and railroads and quantum ogres (otherwise players will miss on these carefully designed encounters). I prefer games where as a player I have more freedom, where builds are not that important, where encounters can be incluenced by player ingenuity at the table and don’t server to reward choices made during character creation.


Comments on 2012-03-05 The Bane of Character Builds

Not to bother you, but I think you might be talking about a quantum ogre, not a phantom one.

-C 2012-03-06 05:06 UTC

You’re right. I’ll add that link.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-06 08:00 UTC

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2012-03-07 Tinkering with the CSS

I’ve started tinkering with the CSS again. No more secret theme switching by clicking on my face up there. :)

I’m going for black and white and the default blue for all links. The previous classification for site links, links to sister sites, links to Wikipedia and all other links didn’t really work with all the redirections I had implemented. Thus, be gone!

I’m sticking to Garamond as my favorite font even though I must admit it looks absolutely horrible when viewed on Windows without Clear Type. Oh well! Most people will be reading the site via a feed reader anyway, I guess.

I’ll also try to stick to a larger than average font-size. I haven’t decided whether I should be using Google Web Fonts.

Let me know if there is something you’d like to see changed. :)


Comments on 2012-03-07 Tinkering with the CSS

How does the referrer thingy at the bottom of the post work? The two pages linked seem not to link to this post?

Regarding styling: I’d prefer a non-serif font.

Andreas Gohr 2012-03-08 10:14 UTC

The referrer thing works as follows: if a visitor to the wiki has referrer information, the wiki fetches this page and searches for a link to the page. If that works, it remembers the link. This means that eventually referrals expire if nobody ever follows them. Normally this works very well. Some sites such as Blogspot offer users a blog-roll. As far as I understand it, users will then see the n most recently updated entries or a random selection. Either way, by the time other visitors try and check the referral, it’s no longer being displayed.

If you check Self:action=refer you will notice that at the moment the authors of Dreams of Mythic Fantasy, The City of Iron and Troll and Flame seem to have me listed on their blog-roll. All of them are Blogspot blogs. :)

As for sans-serif, try this link. (Your preference is set in a cookie.) Feel free to switch back.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-08 11:46 UTC

For Pierre and others who preferred the old look: Try this! switch to the Red Beige theme and switch back to the default theme

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-23 15:28 UTC

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2012-03-10 Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago I kissed my wife Claudia for the first time. Best decision ever. :D ❤ ❤ ❤


Comments on 2012-03-10 Twenty Years Ago

Auf Grund von Claudias Rezension hab ich mir nun beide Bücher von Jo Zybell gekauft. Ich berichte dann. :-)

– Mom 2012-03-15 16:34 UTC

Wahnsinn! :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-15 22:06 UTC

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2012-03-13 Campaign Wikis

Recently Calithena of Fight On asked on Dragonsfoot: Do any of you have your campaigns on line?

I said:

  • Ymir’s Call – I play every other Monday evening in a Barbarians of Lemuria campaign with DM Florian. Last session we switched to Crypts & Things. German campaign wiki.
  • Hagfish Tavern was the D&D 3.5 adventure path Rise of the Runelords we played before Ymir’s Call.
  • Kurobano And The Dragons was the M20 game that switched to D&D 3.5 before we started Hagfish Tavern.
  • The Alder King – I run a Solar System game set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy on two Sunday afternoons a month, in German. This campaign used D&D 3.5 and English before we switched to Solar System RPG. Right now it’s on a short hiatus as we give the Great Pendragon Campaign a try for two or three sessions. I’ve heard one player mumble that maybe we should try it for a bit longer, though.
  • Durgan’s Flying Circus – I play in a monthly Harp game with GM Stefan on another Sunday each month.
  • Desert Raiders was the Pathfinder RPG adventure path Legacy of Fire we played before Durgan’s Flying Circus.
  • The Golden Lanterns was the D&D 3.5 adventure path Shackled City we played before Desert Raiders.
  • Fünf Winde– I run a Labyrinth Lord game set in the Wilderlands of High Fantasy on one Tuesday each month. I used to run two separate groups in the same campaign area, but ended up merging the two groups because one of the two kept shrinking. Both in German.
  • Wilderlande – I run a Labyrinth Lord campaign set in a Points of Light campaign setting for my best friend and his three kids for two hours on a Friday evening every month. Also in German.
  • Lied vom Eis is a Song of Ice and Fire RPG campaign I used to play in; mostly in German.
  • Die Reise nach Rhûn was a Rolemaster campaign in Middle Earth that switched to Legends of Middle Earth we played before Lied vom Eis. German.

There’s more… There must be at least two short Burning Wheel campaigns on that site (Burning Six, Campaign:Krythos). And a Mongoose Traveller game that switched to Diaspora (Campaign:Kaylash). And a wiki I used for my DM notes when running the Kurobano campaign (Campaign:Attaxa). And a Forgotten Realms campaign using D&D 3.5 (Sohn des schwarzen Marlin). And another D&D 3.5 sandbox (Campaign:Grenzmarken).

I totally recommend keeping notes online! :D

(I run the Campaign Wiki site which explains why I’m so enthusiastic about it.)


Comments on 2012-03-13 Campaign Wikis

2012-03-16 Podcast Update

It has been a year since my last podcast list. I still walk to work and back, each trip taking maybe half an hour. I enjoy listening to podcasts while I walk.



  • The History of Rome – I haven’t listened to the podcast in a long time. There are 61 episodes queued up. :(
  • In Our Time – This continues to be the most awesome mix of science, philosophy and history. ☆
  • Norman Centuries – I love these, even though episodes are rare and short. ☆
  • Thinking Allowed – Social science. ☆


  • Sounds! – Eclectic music, Swiss radio. Win. ☆ ☆ ☆
  • Musik der Welt – World music, Swiss radio. Win. ☆ ☆
  • Parlando – Classical music, Swiss radio. Win. ☆

Any podcasts you are listening to you’d like to recommend?

I’d also like to promote the One Page Dungeon Contest 2011 via podcasts. Should I just mail a host for each of the RPG shows I enjoy and ask them?


Comments on 2012-03-16 Podcast Update

Excellent- thanks for the list. I just started trying to listen to some of these.

Anonymous 2012-03-16 15:19 UTC,,5929,00.html bü podcast

früher auch mal waren einige artikel der zeit gratis, aber nun muss man sie zahlen und bis dezember… aber seit die eine neu app gemacht haben, geht nix mehr :-(

hab mich mal bei bbc eingeklinkt… danke für den tipp:-)

– mom 2012-03-18 21:27 UTC

ooops warum diese komischen buchstaben… schreiben euf ne mac tastatur… ist das der grund?

– mom 2012-03-18 21:27 UTC

Nein, ist wohl ein Bug in der Software! :(

Wenn man die Seite nachbearbeitet, kann man das flicken, was ich nun getan habe. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-18 21:48 UTC

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2012-03-20 Not Smart Enough

When I was running D&D 3.5, I dreaded the important fights. One of my players was a powergamer, a chess player, an optimizer, a wargamer – and I am none of that. Thus, my monsters never used their abilities to the fullest and even if I took shortcuts such as “all buffs cast when players appear on the scene” I was at a loss. I didn’t want to outsmart my players, I didn’t want to outwit them! And if I just added more monsters, the system was so fragile that the characters of my non-optimizing players died again and again.

I was reminded of this as our HARP GM recently said that he wanted to play the opposition as smart possible. I thought to myself that this was not how I wanted to play the opposition and I started wondering. I think the answer is that if I try to outwit my players, then I’m being an antagonist instead of a referee. I’m not good at it and I don’t enjoy it.

The old school solves this issue for me: there aren’t too many maneuvers to make, thus fights aren’t full of tactical finesse and when I add a few monsters, consequences are not as dire. Furthermore, I use reaction tables and morale rules to determine the behavior of the opposition. I watch, from the detached position of a referee, as the opposition is run by dice. If I want to spice things up, I can give the monsters special abilities or add traps to locations – but I never need to actively outwit my players.

I think this passivity helps me enormously.


Comments on 2012-03-20 Not Smart Enough

Yep, being a gm is kind of schizophrenic. When you write down the adventure and choose monsters you are the referee. But during fights you are not the referee. You goal must be to try to kill the players with what carefully chosen and hopefully balanced opposition you have. It’s hart but to have tactically challenging fights that’s what you need to do. And if you don’t wanna have them you power gamer player might become pretty bored over time. At least I would and I’m the chess guy, too.

Jan 2012-03-21 07:38 UTC

Absolutely! I’ve also had players ask “That was it!? Where are the real enemies??”

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-21 10:15 UTC

As a player, I enjoy encountering opponents whose actions feel “real” and not like in a bad computer game. Is outwitting your players the same as letting your NPCs act “naturally” within the boundaries of what they can know?

If you roll morale checks during combat, you have to decide on the chance of the monsters fleeing. The antagonist makes this decision. Only then can the referee roll the dice.

– Stefan 2012-03-24 21:46 UTC

Actually, in old school D&D, the referee doesn’t decide that. The monster manual has a morale score for all the monsters listed. I find this really helps me get into the mindset of a referee.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-24 23:38 UTC

But you still have to pick the monsters and design the encounter. Or is that process too far removed from the game at the table because it happens when you prepare the adventure?

– Stefan 2012-03-25 09:56 UTC

I’ve never seen itself as a conscious decision to disassociate myself from the setting, but I think this is exactly what happens. For the sandbox, I pick some broad ideas (“here be dragons”, “darves fight giants over here” and so on) and place those on the map in remote locations. Closer to the starting base, I pick smaller themes (“vampires in a barrow hill”, “lizard men warring on kobolds”), and finally, I write a few random encounter tables with monsters that make sense (“2d6 soldiers, 1d6 merchant and guards, lizard men 2d6, 2d6 kobolds, 1d6 dwarves” and maybe something exotic or very dangerous like a giant or a dragon). I will also place their lairs where it makes sense and have a rough idea of how many there are. When the party gets to a lair and actually starts hostilities, I can still figure that there will be 5d6 kobolds or something like that. This gives me the structure where I can roll some dice at the table (1 in 6 of an encounter per day and per night) without having to pick the exact opposition.

At the same time I will place One Page Dungeons on the map and pick some adventure modules, or write up one or two of my own, and place them on the map. These are often “appropriate” for the current party level in that they are either for low level characters or if they are large dungeons or megadungeons (hundreds of locations) they will at least start out with locations appropriate for low level characters. It is then up to the players to decide where they want to push further in, looking for greater rewards.

All of this, I think, supports the notion that it is not I who directly picks the challenges my players will face but it is the players that will pick the average challenge level based on the risks they are willing to take. They can do this because they can get some information before getting involved (“there be dragons” or “travel is no longer safe because the lizards are on a war path”).

This is getting pretty far from the original question of “I’m too stupid to play a tactical game against my players” but it’s the same idea. Just as I try to avoid having to pick the tactics the opposition will use I will try to avoid picking the opposition itself. Instead, I rely on tables and the roll of dice in order to not feel responsible for the results and I limit myself to being a referee.

At least that’s the current old school ideal I’m striving for. The same does not apply for my Solar System RPG or Pendragon games. :)

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-25 10:27 UTC

I was thinking of adventure path-like adventures with a story to be told while it seems you had a sandbox in mind. In my view, there is a fundamentally different design process behind these two. But this really leads too far away from the original topic.

– Stefan 2012-03-25 13:18 UTC

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2012-03-20 Spielvorbereitung

Der Blog Karneval vom März dreht sich um Spielvorbereitung. Hier ein paar Beispiele, wie das bei mir so aussieht. Klicken für grössere Bilder!

Regionale Übersicht für die Spieler:

Kleiner Dungeon:



Begegnungen mit Monstern oder NPCs:

Mit der Zeit wollen die Spieler nachvollziehen können wie lange es dauert, von A nach B zu reisen:

Ich mag solche Hex Karten wirklich sehr gerne, um meine Kampagne besser zu verankern:

Primitiver Dungeon für einen unbedeutenden Ort:

Ich finde, Karten sind ideale “Props” – es ist immer wieder schön, bei den Gegnern eine Karte zu finden:

Auch Briefe sind immer wieder schön:

Vorbereitung mit noch mehr D&D 3.5 Stats (Drachen und so):

Vorbereitung für eine Rede, die ein NPC schwingen soll:

Kleine Skizze für mich, damit ich dann besser improvisieren kann:

Auch lustig: Karte und Idee aus einem anderen Abenteuer klauen, neu zeichnen und so vereinfachen, dass ich es am Tisch auch wirklich brauchen kann, ohne tausend mal hin und her blättern zu müssen.

Erste Versuche mit dem One Page Dungeon Konzept:

(Komplettes Abenteuer hier: CW:DungeonMaps/Gnomish Village with Ogres)

Etwas ausgefeilterer Dungeon:

Vorbereitung für ein Road Trip Abenteuer:

Langsame Hinwendung zu Indie Spielen, hier Spirit of the Century:

Traveller Abenteuer. Wie man sieht, liebe ich es, Karte, Text und Stats auf eine Seite unter zu bringen.

Diesmal wieder D&D 3.5:

Handout für Spieler:

Andere Kampagne, Handout für Spieler:

Andere Kampagne, Handout für Spieler:

Schatzkarte, die man einem dubiosen Typen abkaufen konnte:

Vorbereitung für Solar System RPG:

(Hintergrund hierfür auf Englisch)

So, das war’s!

Diskussion hier oder auf dem rsp-blogs Forum.

Tags: RSS

Comments on 2012-03-20 Spielvorbereitung

Diskussion hier oder auf dem rsp-blogs Forum.

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2012-03-24 How Emacs Wiki Works

(TL;DR: People that don’t like the wiki as it is ought look at the official Emacs documentation instead. I wrote this so that I’d have something to link to in the future. This post was inspired by 2012-03-20.)

Every year or so, I read about suggested changes to the Emacs Wiki. The complaints are the same, year after year.

  1. The pages are confusing.
  2. The code snippets are wrong.
  3. The site is badly organized.
  4. The information is out of date.

The solutions invariably have nothing to do with the problem.

  1. Switch to Mediawiki, the software used to run Wikipedia.
  2. Use a database or a distributed version control system as the backend.
  3. Change the text formatting rules to Markdown, Mediawiki markup, or something else that is better known.
  4. Separate discussion from the main page.
  5. Delete stuff that is outdated.
  6. Fix errors.
  7. Organize.
  8. Moderate.

Why are these suggestions not helpful?

The first problem is the mistaken belief that technology can substitute for social change. Yes, the wiki is badly organized and many of the pages are outdated. Changing the wiki engine, the backend or the formatting rules will not change this, however.

The backend used by the wiki engine can influence performance and resource use, it can make the software harder or easier to maintain and backup—but it will not induce somebody to edit a messy page and fix it.

The second problem is the mistaken belief that moderation can be commanded. You can complain about bad editing and a lack of moderation all day. But since nobody is paying people to do a boring job, we must rely on obsessive compulsive people to fix typos and tag pages.

Maybe we could attract more people by gamifying the experience—offer rewards, badges, scores. But Stack Overflow already does this. It’s the best social question answering machine currently known. The wiki doesn’t need to imitate something better. The wiki needs to do what it does best. We’ll come to that.

The third problem is the mistaken belief that quality control and volunteers go well together. Just compare Wikipedia and Citizendium and consider the animosity generated by Deletionism on Wikipedia. How will you encourage authors to contribute if you are telling them that their contributions are lacking the quality you are looking for instead of simply accepting their text and working on it?

You fight spam, you rework text occasionally, you encourage others, you welcome newbies, you lead by example. That’s how you lead.

An abrasive personality, radical change involving a lot of work—those are not the tools you are looking for.

Let me return to the issue of commanding change. Things people have said:

“the content editing should be one with the goal of creating a comprehensive, coherent, article that gives readers info or tutorial about the subject.” – Xah Lee (2008) “I favor a major reorganization of the wiki material.” – Neil Smithline (2011) “The articles are littered with crappy advice confusing beginners, have little structure and are filled with ridiculous questions” – Bozhidar Batsov (2012) “Wiki is a hydra you cannot cut enough heads off to make it die. I tried, and failed miserably. I suggest you don’t waste your efforts and time on that.” – Eli Zaretskii (2014) “What I propose is starting anew and getting rid of a few common complaints at once.” – wasamasa (2015)

The critics can be unhappy about it all they want, and they can complain about it all they want—but in the end, one needs to understand the forces at work, here. There is no chain of command.

It works just like a free software project. If it doesn’t scratch someone’s itch, nobody is going to add it. I think it’s a fundamental issue with our business model: there is no pay for boring stuff. Plus, documentation is of no direct use for anything—unlike code. Thus, people are mostly motivated to keep their own code and its documentation up to date. I don’t think there is anything we can do about that. That’s why the Emacs Wiki Mission Statement does not mention organization and quality. It cannot be commanded.

Once we accept that this is the sand upon which we are building our house, we necessarily need to scale down our expectations. Personally, I think the wiki exists somewhere between the official documentation, Stack Overflow, the FAQ, the newsgroups, the mailing lists, and IRC. It’s certainly nowhere near the quality of organization and writing that the Emacs documentation has—and I don’t think this is the right medium to aim for this level of quality. I think the people willing to invest that amount of energy to write quality stuff ought to be writing the real Emacs documentation—and they probably are.

What remains are the people using Emacs Wiki for their own pet projects, questions asked, answers given, sometimes organized, sometimes rewritten, sometimes linked to the rest of the site.

Wikipedia works because of its universal appeal. When I added an image to an obscure Indian temple we visited when I was staying in Mysore, the photo was terrible. But it was a start, and enough people cared about the page and it grew, and it found people to tend it, and now it’s big and beautiful.

There just aren’t enough Emacs users and authors out there and the best of us will be contributing to the official Emacs documentation. The wiki exists somewhere between the official documentation and the mailing lists. Lower your expectations.

Given all that, why does the wiki exist at all?

When I started it, I had several reasons:

  1. The wikis I knew, C2 and Meatball Wiki, had attracted a particular community and they had created a particular subculture I liked. We talked about the Wiki Now and many other things that made wikis work. The medium itself was interesting.
  2. I had been posting on the newsgroups for a long time, and slowly I realized that the same questions kept being asked again and again. The newsgroups and mailing lists were failing as a medium because they were ephemeral. Sure, we kept telling people to search the archives. But the medium afforded asking questions instead of searching.
  3. When I looked for Frequently Asked Questions, I found a document online, maintained by a single person. This person was a bottleneck. The FAQ updated slowly.
  4. At the time I was getting into Internet Relay Chat. On IRC, conversation is even more ephemeral than on the mailing list. This time, however, “searching the archives” was out of the question. We needed our own archive. And thus I started answering questions on IRC and posting the answers on the wiki.

I think this last point bears consideration: I was creating pages or adding information to pages because it was pertinent on IRC. An index, linking to the page, categorization, returning to the page later and reworking it, all these quality related tasks were not pertinent on IRC. All I needed was a pastebin that I could go back to and rewrite if I felt like it. Often I did not—and I still don’t.

The wiki being on the web, updated every now and then, with pertinent answers to specialized questions, unorganized and raw, ended up being a good resource for the search engines out there. These search engines bring new people to the site. People that don’t understand how wikis work in general and how this wiki grew to be where it is in particular. They are shocked. So many pages outdated! Such a mess in style and quality!

I think those people are better served reading the official documentation. They don’t want this mess, they don’t benefit from it’s loose rules, they don’t understand how cool it is to have a site with no login required. They are better served elsewhere.

I’m sure that one day the Emacs Wiki will have become irrelevant. But just like the old newsgroups never disappeared entirely, so will the wiki transform into something else and remain part of our information landscape.

Perhaps one of the Emacs Wiki critics will one day set up an alternate site, pull all the pages (more than 8500 pages last time I checked), extract the quality content—or rewrite it from scratch—and produce something better. Perhaps they will build an organization that can keep the quality up, encourage new authors to join, provide more value to their readers. But I don’t think complaining about the existing Emacs Wiki is a step in the right direction. Build it, and they will come—elsewhere.

Comments on 2012-03-24 How Emacs Wiki Works

> the mistaken belief that technology can substitute for social change

Well, simply having a “talk” page for each wiki page (with a big link at the top) would let people have conversations about those pages without cluttering them up. And having an actual, complete revision history would help someone figure out what happened to a completely messed-up page. But EmacsWiki doesn’t seem to have those things. Its technology is too primitive to reasonably support – much less encourage – a workable society.

> the mistaken belief that moderation can be commanded

As Wikipedia has amply demonstrated, there are plenty of obsessive-compulsive people online. If anything, moderation needs to be limited.

SeanO 2012-03-24 03:44 UTC

One of the critics already started an alternative wiki - :-)

Other than that - I’m with SeanO on this one. And with 8500 pages or so - it easier to save the worthwhile articles than to revisit all the material.

Bozhidar 2012-03-24 05:48 UTC

Sean, if the lack of a complete revision history is what held you back from reworking and reorganizing, then I guess you’re right. I am keeping all the logs, but discarding all the older revisions after two weeks and never felt the lack.

The addition of Talk pages was discussed a while ago—it was one of the items on the suggestions page—but at the time we had two votes in favor and two votes against them. Nobody else seemed to care. I’ll be surprised if their mere existence improves the pages. But I guess we’ll see, now. Good luck to you all!

After a quick look at the site I’ll suggest that you should add licensing terms as quickly as possible. As it stands, you cannot copy anything from Emacs Wiki. That would require a copyleft license.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-24 07:16 UTC

Alex – I’d say my laziness and your sneering condescension were greater obstacles. But if I don’t check in for more than 2 weeks (quite likely, given how little time I have for Emacs these days), I’d still like to be able to see what happened if something I cared about (e.g. the Perl page or my homepage) went bad. (How much, to an order of magnitude Euros and hours’ work, would it cost you to keep a complete revision log, by the way?)

I guess the Talk page issue came and went in a revision window when I didn’t have time to hang out here.

I’m also tired of your pseudo-legal threats toward the content of the wiki (which is under GPL2, not GFDL).

(This comment is protected by the GFDL, I guess. Whatever that means.)

SeanO 2012-03-24 08:14 UTC

I wonder where you felt my sneering condescension. Perhaps in my replies to people I felt were trying to tell me what to do in my free time and with my money? I also don’t think I threatened you in any way. Perhaps you missed the problems I had with changes to the Emacs Wiki license in its early days. I was trying to help you or Bozhidar not make the same mistake.

The logs are there for all to see if you follow the links. Here’s the the SiteMap history, for example. Keeping all the old revisions would cost me nothing – it’s simply a setting. I prefer it this way. As I said, I think keeping the old revisions provides no benefit and adds a number of small drawbacks such as needing administrators to permanently hide particular revisions that contain material deemed problematic from a legal perspective. As it stands, I can undo these edits and with time, they are gone. Another issue is that I like the idea of a right to be forgotten. The original C2 wiki kept no revisions at all. I think that the only reason old revisions need to be kept at all is peer review and anti-spam and anti-vandalism measures. For those tasks, a small time window is sufficient. After all, wiki pages are not code. We don’t need to look through the history of a page to find when bugs were introduced and by whom.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-24 10:30 UTC

P.S.: EmacsWiki:WikiDownload links to a CVS repository of the source files hosted on the wiki, a subversion repo with daily snapshots of all the wiki pages, and a new, up to date git repo of all the pages with full history. I guess in a way my preference regarding the right to be forgotten is already moot since deleted stuff can be pulled out of the archives. This just hides deleted info from casual visitors.

Excellent riposte, Alex. We who criticize the wiki should pay attention. I would like to thank you for this consistently useful resource and your dedication. I certainly don’t detect any sneering on your part. Having said that, I do think there are a lot of real and fixable problems with the wiki, the worst being the hosting of code with neither “proper” SCM nor automatic notification of changes. Once you’ve used LaunchPad and (especially) github, this is just not tolerable. So I’m going to see what if anything I can do to help any new project.

– PhilHudson 2012-03-24 11:29 UTC

I see the problem! I think people like me don’t feel bad about keeping code that consists of a single file on the wiki because we usually don’t think of these files as requiring maintenance. After all, that’s how gnu.emacs.sources used to work. The wiki has the benefit of providing a stable URL, but the process remains essentially the same: post & forget, possibly have discussions with other people via email, followed by another post & forget.

To me, creating a separate project on Savannah or Source Forge is an unacceptable overhead for files like EmacsWiki:rcirc-color.el or EmacsWiki:rcirc-controls.el. But if somebody else felt like taking those files, putting them up on some other site – excellent! At first, color-theme.el was hosted on Emacs Wiki. Eventually somebody took it, moved it elsewhere, and started a real project. Great!

I still think that the Emacs Wiki can act as a low barrier-to-entry incubator for all those small little files that need a place on the web. I don’t read gnu.emacs.sources anymore, and I don’t think many other people do. At the same time, I think there still are a lot of people without their own web pages out there. They can’t post code on Facebook or Google+ and I imagine uploading code to Wordpress and Blogspot sites is also unwieldy. For all those people, the Emacs Wiki offers an alternative. It’s a bit better than gnu.emacs.sources and Lisppaste but a far cry from a software forge.

If people would take popular code from the wiki to a forge, repackage it as a real project, that would be great.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-24 12:11 UTC

Phil, I just remembered EmacsWiki:Git repository. Maybe that helps? I know Jonas is very enthusiastic about it and has been pestering me for weeks when I dragged my feet. ;) I’m sure he’d appreciate help or some nice words.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-24 19:07 UTC

“the mistaken belief that technology can substitute for social change”

Github was an example of technology that brought about a change in social behaviour.

– Phil Jackson 2012-03-26 12:18 UTC

Excellent post, Alex. Long live the EmacsWiki! :)

Edward O'Connor 2012-03-26 23:35 UTC

Thanks, hober!

Phil, regarding Github: I’m not much of a github user. I see that git and github bring a lot of relevant new features to the table. Compared with other version control systems they facilitate forking on a grand scale. Do you feel that using Mediawiki introduces a similar set of new features that will revolutionize how wiki pages are edited and organized? I don’t see it, which is why I cannot imagine that Xah’s and Bozhidar’s idea of switching to Mediawiki will in fact help solve the quality issues they have with Emacs Wiki.

AlexSchroeder 2012-03-28 15:32 UTC

Just saw this: The Wikemacs Experiment: 300 Days Later.

AlexSchroeder 2013-01-22 11:57 UTC

We are grateful for the wiki. It’s the best we have. Thank you for your work.

– Visitor 2014-05-08 17:02 UTC

These days I tend to think that Emacs Stack Exchange will make Emacs Wiki obsolete in the long run.

– Alex Schroeder 2014-11-16 09:18 UTC


This comment was extracted to my blog:

This might be different in emacs stack exchange, but it just shows how such systems are defective by design. And I believe that emacswiki will stay as good as it is now, even if thousands of idiots start migrating to it.

AlexDaniel 2014-11-16 17:24 UTC

Hm, you are clearly much better informed than I am. I just type a ton of Java and Oracle questions into Google every working day of the week and so many of these answers are found on Stack Exchange it’s amazing. This works so well because many of my questions are simple and stupid and even those questions get asked and answered. I guess that’s where the low hanging fruit are if you are into the points.

I’ll keep my eyes open and watch out for this kind of development.

– Alex Schroeder 2014-11-16 19:31 UTC

And I see no reason why something like Ask Page Extension couldn’t be installed on emacswiki. Even tagging extension can be integrated with it. You will get the same ask button, questions feed and no scoring system – PERFECT. And as a bonus this will be highly integrated with the wiki, so that you can link stuff back and forth without throwing users to another website.

AlexDaniel 2014-11-29 21:14 UTC

And I’m not alone:

AlexDaniel 2015-01-31 23:48 UTC

The section on poor community aptly describes what I feel towards Stackexchange and Wikipedia. But I still participate. Maybe less enthusiastically than before, and avoiding the authoritarian feedback, but I still write and vote. Simple answers to stupid questions are still useful. I will learn or not, on my own terms. Not every question needs to be a learning experience. But poor community bites. :-(

– Alex Schroeder 2015-02-01 10:06 UTC

More stuff about stackoverflow

Now and then I stumble upon thoughts like this:

“I don’t chase reputation points any longer: it interferes with the writing of a good answer.” – Borodin [1]

But then I start thinking – how can we undo this mess? It is very unlikely that someone running Stackoverflow will decide to make it better, these guys are doing their business there. If they wanted it to be good they wouldn’t implement their score-based system. First of all, they need something that attracts users in any way, and a game-like experience works best right now. Great for them.

But since the whole thing will become a big pile of mess eventually, they will probably start deleting old answers. Yeah. Since they have a stable flow of questions (which are repeated over and over) this is not a big problem for them – every question out there still will have an answer. If not – ask it again and get an answer. And this kinda makes sense, in their system, improving old answers is hard and not appreciated. Therefore deleting old answers will solve everything.

Do you think that deleting old answers is OK? Or can you see any other way to keep their income without doing that?

But for the moment, let’s list mentioned emacswiki problems (copied from this page!):

  1. The pages are confusing.
  2. The code snippets are wrong.
  3. The site is badly organized.
  4. The information is out of date.

What about stackoverflow?

  1. The pages are confusing. – One page has a question and a bunch of answers. Every answer answers the same question. You don’t know which one is better, there is a scoring system but it does not always reflect the quality. Even worse, new answers are placed on top (like if they were somehow better), but later they fall down anyway (like if they became worse or what? Of course, they are trying to fix their lack of Recent Changes by doing that, but maybe implementing Recent Changes can fix their lack of Recent Changes?). Some pages have useful answers but are locked (you cannot contribute and fix problems even if you want to). Some pages are turned into something weird, where every contributor name is hidden. It is called “community wiki”. WTF is that I still don’t know. However, it works OK most of the time, but that’s pretty confusing, don’t you think?
  2. The code snippets are wrong. – yes, the code snippets are wrong. For example, think about Bash answers – instead of giving a link to well written wikis people write their own shitty code. Most of the time, these snippets have errors. It is not better with other languages – although these answers might work, the solutions are frequently very ugly.
  3. The site is badly organized. – not organized at all.
  4. The information is out of date. – yes. Some of the stuff is already out of date, but we will see it becoming much worse a bit later. Stackoverflow is very young, not enough time has passed until we can say “it is out of date”, but there is nothing else you can expect from a system that does not encourage improvements and refactoring by design.

There are many bad things our mankind has went through. We will manage to go over this one as well, eventually.

AlexDaniel 2015-04-23 00:02 UTC

Perhaps you are right and eventually Stackoverflow will degenerate into a “worse is better” than Usenet. Old answers will disappear. The same questions will be asked again and again. But at least we’ll have rudimentary scoring. Perhaps this would be a simple thing for a wiki to add. Like little +1 or I like buttons – but for every section, or paragraph, or code snippet. Essentially, this would make it easier for people to keep the good stuff and delete the useless stuff.

– Alex Schroeder 2015-04-23 07:43 UTC

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2012-03-31 Spring

Spring has come. Temperatures reaching 20C, the sun is shining, bumblebee queens are out searching for a new nest and hayfever has been rearing its ugly nose.


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2012-03 Book Club

What: Snow by Orhan Pamuk

When: 21 March, 19:30 – RSVP on Meetup (optional ;))

Where: Bistro Lochergut

Back cover description:

As the snow begins to fall, a journalist arrives in the remote city of Kars on the Turkish border. The city he finds is a troubled place - there’s a suicide epidemic among its young women. Islamists are poised to win the local elections, and the head of the intelligence service is viciously effective. Soon the growing blizzard cuts off the outside world and the stage is set for a terrible and desperate act.

Amazon says:

The story encapsulates many of the political and cultural tensions of modern Turkey and successfully combines humor, social commentary, mysticism, and a deep sympathy with its characters.

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