AFF should be more popular

Sukumvit
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AFF should be more popular

Post by Sukumvit » Thu Jul 25, 2019 9:56 pm

Few roleplayers will have failed to notice that D&D is going through another of its periodic revivals, and that this is probably the biggest one yet - it's "gone mega," with WOTC estimating that there are forty million D&D players in the world, and articles in the (very) mainstream press being written about the phenomenon. Some of this new-found popularity seems to be a result of Game of Thrones' success (which I personally find quite weird; I can't think of a more profound disconnect than the one that exists between the type of "fantasy" found in GOT and the type of fantasy you'll experience in D&D...) Stranger Things has also contributed to exposing a new audience to Gygax-World, and D&D now seems to be considered...cool. Cool. When I was first getting into roleplaying back in the late 70's/early 80's, roleplayers were invariably depicted as pale, awkward, skinny nerds who were doomed to a life of solitude and top-shelf magazines...

Now, if a whole new audience is coming to D&D, one that has no experience of hobby-games, funny dice and spending five days painting a dwarf miniature...D&D seems like a really difficult place to start (and always did, to be honest. But it used to attract a somewhat different crowd to a lot of the people coming into the hobby now, and we didn't have as many other things competing for our attention.) Sure, 5E has streamlined and simplified the mechanics to quite an extent, and the Starter Set does a reasonably good job of easing new players in, but once they've moved onto the full system it's still a pretty damn complicated game from a newcomer's perspective (not to mention expensive; if you're a fledgling DM, just buying the "big three" books is going to set you back over £100, unless you get lucky with a sale. And then there's all those badly-painted plastic minis. It's like a tax on nerds. Sorry, I mean cool people.)

Just imagine if these new D&D players' first exposure to roleplaying was AFF; simple (but not simplistic) rules, a minimum of prep for players, very affordable and accessible; even the dice they need are probably already lurking in their wardrobes, in that forgotten Monopoly set. It seems like the ideal introductory game to me (and, like a lot of us, they might just decide that they don't want/need anything more complicated than AFF.) But they've never heard of it. And probably never will, unless one of us steps in and corrupts them. I find this a bit worrying (well, it doesn't keep me awake at night, but...y'know.) AFF really should be experiencing a boom in this era of RPG popularity, but I get the feeling that most of its players are "of a certain age," and the game itself seems to be bordering on a labour of love - a cult game; a niche within a niche. Arion are passionate, the fans are passionate, but unless it garners wider exposure, it's probably going to fade away, eventually. In my local comic shops (the only places in Newcastle where you can buy RPGs,) I don't think I've seen a single AFF book for about five years (and when I did, it was just a single, lonely copy of Blacksand.)

So.. what should be done to increase its "visibility in the market-place?" Is it simply a case of more of a presence at conventions, better distribution, etc., or could more innovative approaches be devised? I know that some comic shops host in-store D&D games; why not AFF? How about clubbing together to buy the core rules and then donating it to your local library? What are your ideas?
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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by LordArioch » Fri Jul 26, 2019 8:02 am

My first acquaintance with RPGs was just about forty years ago. :shock: DnD was the only one of any import back then (Tunnels and Trolls and Traveller were still naught more than ghostly, intermittent ground-clutter on the radar, and the others had even lesser visibility).

Gamebooks -- one of the greatest things to arise from the early 80s -- were my pre-adolescent fixation. I loved the Choose Your Own Adventure series, and even Endless Quest, but in the early 80s on a rare trip to a bookstore I purchased Forest of Doom and was permanently hooked on this wonderful series of books. Unfortunately the FF gamebooks didn't sell that well in the States and the series came to an abrupt end. :cry:

I'm delighted that there is a blossoming second edition of the AFF RPG (thanks, Arion! 8) ), but the game isn't well known here in the US. When the conversation turns to RPGs I always mention AFF2e for the kids who may be interested in getting into the hobby, because it is far easier to learn than the ponderous tomes of D&D (not to mention the confusing array of editions with their markedly different takes on the rules), and AFF doesn't need any weird dice or equipment. That makes it an excellent 'gateway drug' for the hobby.

What Arion needs are people to continue to spread the word about the game. On that note, I will soon be starting my very first blog, and (time permitting) one of the things I'd like to do is use it to broadcast my ideas and houserules for the game which will have the obvious consequence of elevating the products' visibility profile.
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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Sukumvit » Fri Jul 26, 2019 10:20 am

Hey, LordArioch. I wish you lots of luck with the blog - I hope it succeeds in raising awareness of AFF (and other lesser-known games that need champions.) Apart from anything else, I'm sure it will be very enjoyable and satisfying to have your own platform.

I didn't know you were American; I actually spent a couple of years in the States when I was a kid (Amherst, Massachussetts 79-80, and Bowling Green, Ohio 83-84.) Loved it. It was where I first played D&D, in a brightly-lit kitchen, surrounded by bowls of Doo-Dads and pitchers of Kool-Aid (not the healthiest of diets, but...y'know. Late 70's.) In fact, I was introduced to D&D just when the Satanic Panic ball was starting to roll; it seemed that every time the game was mentioned it was in connection with kids disappearing in steam tunnels, sacrificing virgins or going insane. Crazy days. I'd love to go back to the U.S. one day, but perhaps when things are a bit more...settled, let's say. You've got a lot going on, at the moment (but then, life in the U.K. has taken a turn for the surreal over the last few years, as well...) :cry:

Reading back my original post, it could be inferred that my contrasting of the "somewhat different crowd" that used to be drawn to D&D with "a lot of the people coming into the hobby now" sounded faintly disparaging towards either/both groups; it wasn't the intention. What I had in mind was this: back in the 70's and 80's, a lot of the people getting into D&D, or any other RPG, came to it from some kind of hobby background; they might have been wargamers, or players of the "hobby" boardgames that Avalon Hill, S.P.I., Yaquinto, Mayfair et al produced, or devotees of model-making, or whatever. Basically, they had a pre-disposition towards indoors pastimes that demanded an investment of time, effort, skill and money. Even sitting in your bedroom, playing FF books was quite a divergence from most kids' standard behaviour of kicking balls around or mooching about on street corners. And, incidentally, because a lot of folk seem to have an inate suspicion of people who spend a lot of time indoors pursuing arcane hobbies ("it's not healthy, I tell you!",) we were characterised as nerds, geeks, weirdoes. The modern scene, on the other hand, seems to be attracting quite a lot of people who don't fall into the category of "pale young boys" (to quote Spinal Tap.) Frankly, they just don't seem like the kind of people you usually associate with playing RPG's. A bit more...mainstream? "Normal?" Sun-tanned? D&D now seems to be trendy, like those hipster boardgame cafes springing up all over the place. Which is great, really; far better for people to join in rather than stand there, pointing and laughing. And new blood is vital to the hobby's survival. But a lot of these guys have come to D&D from watching certain T.V. shows and possibly playing certain videogames, and don't have that background of demanding hobbies, which is why I can't help thinking that learning D&D would be really hard work. AFF, on the other hand, would be so much more approachable and immediate. Game of Thrones seems to have drawn in an audience who wouldn't normally have watched a "fantasy" show, and would never have thought that they might, one day, describe themselves as "fantasy fans," let alone roleplayers. But they're checking out D&D and going to clubs. We need to be snatching them on the way to Gygax-World and leading them towards AFF-Land! It's a call to arms, people! :P
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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by HedgeWizard » Sat Jul 27, 2019 11:11 am

This is an excellent topic and I’ve been giving it some thought.

One of the advantages which D&D has over pretty much any RPG is name recognition. Even my wife who has absolutely no interest whatsoever in RPG’s and gaming has heard of D&D although she had no idea what it was. For many people Dungeons and Dragons is a synonym for table top fantasy RPG.

You make the point that AFF is a small community and it does look like it unfortunately. One of the things driving is that for many of us our imagination was enflamed by the FF books and for us Titan is a rich source of inspiration. But unless you were an adolescent in the 1980’s or early/mid 1990’s then you probably never had much interaction with them. I’m nearly 40 and only knew them via second hand books which I would hunt with my friends in second hand shops or with older cousins and siblings. The books are a key entry to AFF and Titan but the people who really knew them are ageing. We need to grab people who have never known and will probably never read a FF book.

I agree with your thoughts to the type of people who are coming into the hobby and that it’s a really good thing. This is something which has been building over time with first boardgames growing and become more popular and then people moving over to RPG’s. Basically people want to take a step back from the digital world and have something tangible and spend time interacting face to face.

So as a brief conclusion I think it’s not about grabbing people going to D&D but grabbing people who want a simple fun way to build stories together. AFF is great for this but it needs to grab people who never knew the books, I don’t have an answer for this though.

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by bottg » Sat Jul 27, 2019 12:53 pm

Bit pushed for time this weekend (hence short post), but at FFF3 I intend to try and have a chat with Steve and Ian about joined up marketing.

The French version of AFF has done well and Scriptarium are reprinting a slightly revised edition soon. The Japanese version is selling very well indeed, the Bundle of Holding sold lots and they continue to sell well at DTRPG. But you are absolutely right that it could be bigger.

The FF gamebooks are being reprinted, but I am not sure if they are in bookshops or not. If they are not, they should be. They should be in school and public libraries as well.

Given that the FF brand now includes app versions of the gamebooks and other games, an upcoming Chinese TV show, miniatures etc, there must be a way we can leverage all of these together to make FF the perfect intro into gaming, and of course AFF will benefit from that.

Any further ideas welcome of course!

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Sukumvit » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:55 pm

Hey, HedgeWizard. Good to talk to you again. Starting with your final point first, I agree that we need to be pulling in anyone who shows an interest, rather than just ambushing new D&D players on the way to their clubs! If I sounded a bit militant about turning them away from the "dark side," it's just because that's where the new influx of roleplayers seem to be going, and I genuinely think that AFF would be an easier and more immediate way of letting them check out RPG's (as well as boosting the popularity of our favourite game.) Also, I wonder how many people are drawn to D&D, struggle with its complexities for a while...then give up. Because they never knew that other games existed, they decided that roleplaying wasn't for them after all. Which seems an awful shame, given how much pleasure and entertainment can be gained from the hobby (not to mention friendships.)

You're right that there does seem to be a growing desire among many people to get away from their monitors for a while and do something a bit more "analogue" (with actual physical people, no less,) whether that's RPG's, boardgames or even wargaming (I've always found it strange that Smiths doesn't stock any RPG magazines at all, but there's always three or four wargaming mags! I would've thought getting into wargaming requires a lot more time, effort and especially money.)

On the subject of exposure to FF books, it's probably true that most kids are largely unaware of them these days, although I guess enough of them must be buying the current Scholastic editions to keep it going (and I get the impression that it's not us veterans who are buying them, with their removal of the original art and their new covers!) It's strange that the local comic shops I spoke of don't have a single AFF book, but a whole shelf-full of FF gamebooks! Go figure. I'm not entirely sure, though, if the long-term success of AFF necessarily requires familiarity with the gamebooks and Titan. The concept of roleplaying, and the fantasy genre, are the things drawing new people in, and what they really need is an accessible, intuitive rule-set. FF was always wandering into other genres and settings; the thing that gave the series unity was the rules. That's the thing that really needs to be pushed, in introducing new players to AFF (after all, newcomers have heard of D&D long before they've heard of Forgotten Realms.)

One thing I do wonder about - and it's a problem that I don't think has an easy, or necessarily desireable solution - is the "razzle-dazzle" aspect; new players are probably more likely to be drawn to RPG books crammed with full-colour artwork and glossy pages. Apart from WOTC, smaller publishers like Chaosium, Arc Dream and Pelgrane Press (revealing my Cthulhu interest yet again!,) have also moved towards a practice of publishing glossy, swishy hardbacks with colour art. Given the steep production costs - and consequent high retail prices, which could potentially put people off - you would think that they would've steered clear of that approach, but they've obviously decided that it's necessary in the modern market place. Now, I don't know, but this sort of thing might well be beyond the budgetary power of Arion, and I personally wouldn't actually want to see the original (still fantastic) artwork removed from the books (when I bought the Heroes Companion and saw that it was crammed with Russ Nicholson artwork, I was in Hog Heaven!) I'd imagine that most of us like the look of the books just as they are; they have that nostalgic appeal and take us back to an era when roleplaying was less...self-consciously slick? Newcomers, though might be less enthusiastic; what we see as nostalgia, they might see as old-fashioned, unfortunately. I don't know, maybe I'm reading too much into it. But would we really want such a break with the past in order to attract new players? The old-hands' reaction to the new art in the gamebooks would suggest not...

Name recognition...(wow, I really am working backwards through your post!) This has always been the biggest problem facing any RPG that isn't D&D. How do you compete with a brand that was already very well-established by the end of the 70's? Pretty much everybody's at least heard of it (even now, if I'm teling a non-gamer about something like Call of Cthulhu, I still find myself saying "it's a roleplaying game, a bit like D&D, but totally different..." Sigh. )
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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Sukumvit » Sat Jul 27, 2019 1:59 pm

Yikes. It's happened again; while I was replying to HedgeWizard, another post snuck in - and the Man Himself, no less. I have to dash right now, but I'll get back to you later on, Graham. It's good to know that this has attracted the attention of the Senior Management! :P
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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Sukumvit » Sat Jul 27, 2019 5:11 pm

Right, I'm back again. Hi, Graham. It's heartening to hear that AFF is doing well in overseas markets; I guess we have only been discussing English-speaking markets and forgetting about the rest of the world. I hope you don't think we were belittling your achievements, by the way; you've done an excellent job in keeping the AFF fires burning. But as you say, it can always be more successful (anything can, really.)

I'm glad you'll have a presence at FFF3; I wish AFF got more than an occassional mention on fightingfantasy.com, though; even Fighting Fantazine only supports the game sporadically. As you say, it all needs to be a bit more joined-up. Like I stated above, I'm not sure that familiarity with Titan and the gamebooks is an essential step towards moving into AFF, but if you can build the popularity of the gamebooks/apps and increase awareness of AFF in arenas devoted to them, it's bound to have a beneficial effect on the RPG.

I seem to remember Ian doing the rounds in the papers (and possibly the T.V.) when Charlie Higson's FF book came out; there's obviously still an interest in the media, and journalists seemed to be as interested in talking to Ian as they were in talking to Charlie. Do you think he and Steve could be tempted to take a more active role in AFF, possibly even penning source books or scenarios and promoting them in the same way? I think something along those lines would attract a big thumbs-up from the community (and allow you to get even more material out - there's only so much that you, Andrew Wright and Johnathan Hicks can do; You guys need a holiday!)

Have you considered doing something for Free RPG Day? It seems like a really good way of making AFF visible to a new audience (I don't really know how it works, in terms of becoming a part of it, but it could be worth looking into.)

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by SkinnyOrc » Mon Jul 29, 2019 7:36 am

A lot of things that were fringe 40 years ago becoming more main stream is something that's surprised me. It seems to have been led by the rise in popularity of superhero culture in the US with the success of all the movies, and then bled into other things. I'm not sure the Game of Thrones series would ever have been made without that first. I wonder if it's just that a lot of the creative types that were into this sort of thing as kids had risen to positions of authority in the movie and TV industries, and those mediums have a lot of power to set what's accepted in mainstream culture.

The RPGs equals D&D thing is one I'd guess pretty much every gamer has experienced. You're trying to explain to a non-gamer what a RPG is and at some point give up and say "it's like D&D". At which point the non-gamer nods sagely because they've heard of that, even though they're still completely clueless what it really involves. :)

Even though AFF2 is one of the easier RPGs to get started with, both for learning it and the cost, you still need a fair bit of motivation to figure out how to play and get some friends together to give it a go. It was never easy taking that first step into RPGs if you didn't have an existing group to join. An advantage today that wasn't there back in the day are all the ex-players rediscovering their interest in RPGs and introducing it to their kids.

The FF gamebooks are so good I'd be surprised if they ever go out of print for long. They seem like they'd always be the ideal gateway to AFF, but I assume as they have different publishers an AFF2 advert at the back of the book is out of the question these days. So even if new readers discover the gamebooks, most won't become aware of AFF.

On the other hand, getting RPGers to try it is also tough. Most haven't played a non-D&D based RPGs to realise what they're missing. You try and explain why classes limit the character you can create and they look a bit confused.

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Sukumvit » Mon Jul 29, 2019 10:20 am

Hey, SkinnyOrc. Some good points, as always. You're absolutely right that the superhero boom seemed to be the thing that got the "genre entertainment" ball rolling; and with Disney owning two massive geek franchises, it's going to be rolling for quite a while...

When you say that FF and AFF are produced by two different publishers, so one advertising in the other might be a non-starter, I guess that underlines what Graham was saying about the need for all the different branches to be more joined up. I'm assuming that Ian and Steve own the FF/AFF brands, which they license out to various companies who want to produce books, games, miniatures, shows, apps, roll-up dice trays or whatever; one way to promote all these products simultaneously would be to (...drum roll...) bring back Warlock magazine. A magazine of solo adventures, AFF scenarios, articles, new rules, reviews, etc., promoting FF in all its forms; if a reader discovers one thing, they discover all the others at the same time. And it needs to be available in high-street newsagents/department stores; when White Dwarf moved out of hobby shops and into W.H.Smiths in the early 80's, its increased visibility helped to drum up interest in RPG's (my mum, knowing I was into FF books, spotted an issue one day and thought "I bet he'd like this!" And I did.) We need something that people can stumble across in a shop and pick up out of curiosity (Fighting Fantazine is great, but it attracts established fans rather than newcomers - you have to know it exists before you can buy it.) Could Ian and Steve license a publisher to produce a modern incarnation of Warlock?

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by SkinnyOrc » Tue Jul 30, 2019 1:59 am

Well Graham would know far more about how licensing and publishing work. But I assume the only time Ian and Steve could get a publisher of their gamebooks to put a few pages in the back promoting other FF related products is when they negotiate a new license deal for those books. But as they have an interest in FF products as a whole doing well that sort of cross-promotion would make sense for them.
Sukumvit wrote:
Mon Jul 29, 2019 10:20 am
bring back Warlock magazine. A magazine of solo adventures, AFF scenarios, articles, new rules, reviews, etc., promoting FF in all its forms
These days it'd only be viable as an electronically distributed magazine and we already have that with Fighting Fantazine. We could definitely get more AFF2 articles in that though.

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Dawndeath » Tue Jul 30, 2019 12:55 pm

One of the things that really helps draw me to a role-playing system is being able to see that it's a living thing, by which I mean that there is still stuff going on with it - that it's not dead in the water.

Obviously the most important thing in that respect is seeing that there are still official publications coming out for the system. Graham et al. are doing a great job on that part, with new books &c. coming out frequently enough to keep my interest levels high, but not so frequently that I start to feel overloaded. (It's actually a bit of a turn-off for me with D&D, that there are too many books - I look at them and think, yeah, great, but when am I ever going to have time to read all this?)

But I also love to see that the community as a whole surrounding the game is alive and kicking - even if it's only small. I found AFF2 because I went on a bit of a nostalgia kick one day, googled Advanced Fighting Fantasy, found the AFF2 rulebooks on DriveThruRPG, and hence found this forum. It was great to discover not only that a beloved RPG from my youth had been resurrected and given a new lease of life, but also that there were other people taking an active interest in it as well. Sure the forum is small, but the point is its alive. Whenever I discover a new game, I immediately hit the internet to see what's going on with it. I love finding forums, fan sites, blogs and all that good stuff, about the game.

Some ideas of things we could do:
  • Keep this forum active, even if it's just a post or two a day;
  • Review AFF products on DriveThruRPG (just a little thing, but when I'm browsing, I'm always interested to know what other people think about the products I'm looking at);
  • Make more of our fan-produced material available - I love seeing the great adventures, house rules, new monsters, &c. that get posted here;
  • Put more stuff about AFF on YouTube - there are some videos there already, including reviews of a number of the rulebooks, but what about videoing some of our games and posting highlights? If we want people to see how simple yet elegant the game is, why not show them?
  • Contribute articles or other material to Fighting Fantazine - I see they're still looking for material for issue 17.
Well, that's all I can think of at the moment. I'm going to post some reviews on DriveThruRPG. If I can free up some time, I may try writing some short adventures and sharing them here (if they're not too bad...)

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by drbargle » Tue Jul 30, 2019 4:26 pm

SkinnyOrc wrote:
Tue Jul 30, 2019 1:59 am
These days it'd only be viable as an electronically distributed magazine and we already have that with Fighting Fantazine. We could definitely get more AFF2 articles in that though.
The problem with Fighting Fantazine is that each issue is HUGE, and as you imply, contains only a little AFF content. Look at the OSR 'fanzines'. Stuff like Crawl! (for DCC) and the Undercoft (for B/X D&D) are about 20 pages or so long, ideal for home printing (or printing up and distributing at conventions). A long time ago I promised to do something like that for AFF. I was going to call it Test Your Luck. I never made much progress. I knocked out Viscera! and then... stopped. Maybe I could this time, but probably not. I think the best fanzines have a singular vision - a consistent tone and style - which doesn't mean a single author but does mean that they shouldn't be simply a grab bag of stuff.

So, make is short, suitable for home printing, give it some *atmosphere*.

The second issue is hosting/distribution. No point only having it available from a AFF-dedicated website that only AFF-inclined gamers go. Well, actually, that's not fair - that would keep the community ticking over. Keep people from drifting away.

Graham, what would be the Arion position on AFF fanzines/fan adventures? Obviously there I could see there would be problems if people are making money, which makes it hard to commission art and so on. Ideally, a fanzine would be on DrivethruRPG - having people *see* that there is a lively community seems to me to be pretty important.

Also, I'm blogging mostly about AFF2e at the moment.

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Bifford » Tue Jul 30, 2019 6:15 pm

There is also RPGGeek.com where you can post your reviews, thoughts and even run a PbF (Play by Forum) game.

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Re: AFF should be more popular

Post by Sukumvit » Tue Jul 30, 2019 6:42 pm

Absolutely agree that a thriving fan community is important to the game's continued health; if a newcomer does stroll into our neck of the woods, they need to know that there's groovy stuff going on - things to read, things to play, people to talk to. Having more of a presence on YouTube is a very good idea. But how to increase AFF's visibility outside of fan arenas is still the main problem. I guess that's where the serious marketing-minds come in. That's what's so enviable about D&D: TSR made damn sure that the mainstream markets couldn't ignore it, barging into conventional book shops long before graphic novels did (in the U.S.A., at least.) Granted, a lot of the attention it got was negative, but it certainly didn't hurt sales. Quite the reverse, actually. Now, I don't think AFF needs to go down the road of horrendous cartoons, bendy toys and jaw-droppingly bad hollywood movies, but some way of raising its profile in mainstream arenas is needed. In the 80's, FF books were a genuine world-wide publishing phenomenon, and an awful lot of those kids who were playing them went on to RPG's; White Dwarf was easily available in the newsagents, opening up entire vistas of RPG's to interested kids. But Now there aren't any entry-points that are even comparable to those, unfortunately. The internet age should be making "niche" interests much more visible to everyone, and to some extent it has; but apart from the big-hitters, most games have settled into their respective "fan-ghettos" (to use a derogatory, but not always inaccurate, phrase.)

Much as I don't want to admit it (and I really don't want to admit it,) I guess it's probably true that "Warlock version 2.0" could never survive as a print magazine. Rats. Another interest of mine - classic horror film magazines - has been decimated in recent years. 5-10 years ago, there were new mags springing up left, right and centre; now, a lot of them have gone (even Monsters from the Vault and Famous Monsters of Filmland have folded. Dark days... :cry: )
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