In early October of 2005, Critical Hits launched using the WordPress platform (version 1.5!), both to bring the nerd conversations I was missing with friends as we all had moved to different areas and to fill a perceived need of an all-purpose nerdy blog. In the next few years, blogs in the “general nerd” space exploded, as did all the RPG-centric blogs, which we focused our attention on after the first year or so of operation.
Now we’ve been doing this for ten years. While those of us there at the beginning don’t post as much as we used to, Critical Hits is still our blogging home, with many thousands of words written about gaming and beyond. As we’ve done in the past, I’ve put together a brief retrospective of the past decade of blogging, plus plenty of web stats and links to many of our different and popular posts over the years.
The Changing Web
It never entered my mind when starting Critical Hits that we’d be around ten years. More so, I couldn’t have predicted the changes that the web altogether would go through. (If I COULD have predicted it, maybe I’d be rich instead of writing this.) Here’s a very broad timeline of what we’ve been doing for ten years:
- 2005-2007: Getting started. Many of us were still developing our writing style.
- 2007-2009: The coming of D&D 4e and our transition into covering RPG and other gaming news seriously. We started covering conventions more seriously too, and all of this contributed to us becoming press and not just a fan blog. Also the time of RPG Bloggers Network.
- 2009-2011: As a lot of our initial random writer pool dropped out, I put the call out for more regular writers to try and turn up the magazine feel of the blog. One of the first big moves was the acquisition of Chatty DM’s blog in January of 2010. We’d also pick up writers like our long-running columnist Vanir, and occasionally, folks who were looking to for another outlet after leaving other blogs or even Wizards of the Coast.
- 2012-Present: Decline of RSS subscriptions, and social networks reign supreme. More and more, people’s first contact is a social network that sends them to a longer form piece here (I’m including subscribing to our Twitter and Facebook channels) rather than following the blog by itself. We also picked up Multiplexer’s Dungeonomics column to bring her wonderful economics articles to a wider audience.
Some Words From Our Writers
From Dave (me), AKA Dave The Game, Founder and Editor-in-Chief:
In 2005, modern CMSes were in their infancy. Blogger was still a big deal. As I ran Critical Hits, I learned more and more about SEO, and digital marketing, and content development.
Now, I’m a Web Content Manager professionally. Lessons and tools I picked up from running Critical Hits became more and more applicable to business use, and I was able to translate those skills. And vice-versa: what I learned at my day job I was able to apply to Critical Hits. It’s had a profound impact on my development and skills, and so I’m forever grateful.
From Emily AKA Multiplexer, author of the Dungeonomics column:
“Given an infinite amount of time and actual economic pressures, all adventuring groups become neutral evil.” – Me, Dungeonomics, “On Mid-Medieval Economics, Murder Hoboing, and 100gp.”
In August, 2014, after reading a book exploding out the difficulties with medieval economics, monetary velocity, a lack of minting, and Malthusian traps (a set of economic theories by Economist Thomas Malthus), I came to the realization that fantasy economics doe not fundamentally work. And not in small ways — fantasy economics do not work in any major, realistic ways. When the fantasy worlds and reality collide, they explode and then die sad trombone, but often funny, deaths. Murder Hobos collude with pirates. Murder Hobos prop up terrible kings. Murder Hobos go on rampages for money and profit.
I wrote the first essays — where does the money come to pay for adventurers? — from a place of frustration. People seemed to like it after it ended up on the front page of Reddit. So, encouraged by the Internet, I wandered off, read thousands of pages of research, and wrote another 40+ more. And there are more where those came from.
I’m super happy to join the Critical Hits family with my special brand of madness. Here’s hoping for another decade of Critical Hits!
From Danny AKA Bartoneus the Architect DM:
Dave mentioned to me that he wanted to start a blog back when I still didn’t know what a blog was, and Critical Hits came about at the perfect time in my life. I’d just graduated college and started working professionally and desperately needed an outlet for whatever random writing popped into my head. My earliest posts were often completely random, and desperately tried to be humorous. I could not be happier that over the first five years Dave and I pushed each other to keep writing, not matter what, and actually managed to grow the blog in ways we’d never expected.
Then in early 2012 my gaming and blogging lives were put almost entirely on hold as my wife and I welcomed our first child, but ever since then Critical Hits has always been on my mind and I always yearn to get back to writing here regularly. I’m just starting to get back into tabletop gaming again, so I’m hopeful that I will have more active gaming topics to write about once more. I’m very proud of the many D&D book and product reviews that I worked on and of course the Architect DM series which is without a doubt the most popular content I’ve ever written, but above all I’m proud of how Critical Hits has grown from the beginning and the wide variety of contributors that have all added to the site. Thank you everyone for writing, reading, and being awesome!
From Matt AKA Vanir:
I picked out three things that I thought got some attention and/or I’m proud of.
In 2010, I discovered that the icon for Gen Con’s SPA events (Activities for the Better Half, for non-gamer spouses), was that of a ball and chain. Not liking that very much, I wrote an article, hoping to spread awareness. I just wasn’t expecting THAT MUCH awareness. Hundreds of people responded with comments, including representatives from Gen Con, and we were eventually forced to close down comments before the Internet exploded. The good news: Gen Con changed the icon to something much nicer the following year. Yay us!
SECOND THING: Recompiling Digital D&D
In 2012, I was wondering why, in today’s modern age-o’-computers, why awesome digital D&D stuff wasn’t available. I’m ALSO still wondering this today.
THIRD THING: Pelor’s Peg-Leg Protection Protocol
The very next week in 2012, I looked at digital piracy, and suggested a few things to make it better from a roleplaying standpoint. Also still waiting. <sigh>
From Phil the Chatty DM:
Critical-Hits was a shocking discovery for me: people were discussing RPGs and general geekery outside of troll-infested forums. I rapidly became hooked to the site, writing comments after comments to articles. At one point, one of my comments became so long and detailed that I decided to launch my own RPG blog and post my response to it. I had to come up for a blog name and I just decided to call it “Musings of the Chatty DM” and thus was my story born.
In January 2010 I decided to merge with the site that inspired me to do my own blog, adding my voice to a retinue of brilliant and funny writers. The adventure was so worth it. Today, as with many writers who turn pro, I don’t have the time to blog as much as I used to, but every once in a while, I’ll write something that reconnects me with the joys of unfettered blogging.
And as a bonus from Phil, his top 5 favorite Musings of the Chatty DM articles:
- The Rule of Cool
- Mouseburning It
- Teach Kids to Game: Nico and Rory Stories
- The Index Card Method Codex (Part 1 and Part 2)
- Castle Death Revisited
We predate Google Analytics, or at least, we predate the public having access to Google Analytics. As soon as it become available in October of 2006 we signed up. So the following stats are mostly from 2006 on (though I’m pretty sure we barely had any traffic to speak of during that first year anyway.)
- All-time pageviews: 5,294,861
- Unique Users: 1,906,555
- Published Posts: 3,216
- Probably Not Spam Comments: 31,458
- Best Day Ever: 17,570 views on September 10th, 2014 (Our D&D 5e Monster Manual coverage, including Mike Shea’s review, and Lyndsay’s Target Map method, was super popular, spurred on by the official D&D channels.)
Top Posts & Pages By Traffic
- 10 Monsters I Use in Every D&D Campaign (and 5 I Don’t)
- Musings of the Chatty DM
- Skill Challenges Feature
- Gamma World Feature
- Review: Monster Manual
- The 5×5 Method
- D&D XP 2010: Dark Sun Characters
- Target Mapping your Monsters
- A DM’s Look at D&D Essentials
- Guide to 4e Accessories
- How the iPad Changes D&D
- Unboxing: Wrath of Ashardalon
- The 5×5 Method Compendium
- What I Learned Running a 1 to 30 D&D Campaign
- Using the 5×5 Method for Adventure Design
- Critical Hits Podcast
- Why You Shouldn’t Watch Firefly
- D&D XP Dungeon Delve Characters
- First Crop of 4e Tools
- Review: Gamma World
- Review: Axis & Allies Revised Edition
- First Impressions Review: Player’s Handbook
- Initial Impressions of the New D&D
- Dungeon Master Guys Podcast
- Unboxing: The Shadowfell: Gloomwrought and Beyond
I’m As Surprised As You Are By Some of These
My “10 Monsters” post was part of a multi-blog event on monsters, and my attempt to put together a BuzzFeed-style listicle and see how it would work. It turns out, those kinds of articles do really get a lot of search traffic. I followed it up with another similar post when the new Monster Manual came out, which doesn’t do nearly as strong, but notably better than a lot of articles.
Our skill challenges page contains a wealth of links, but I believe it remains popular to this day because of two main factors: 1. the execution in the official books (especially in the original printings) was terrible, and 2. it’s a concept that gamers look for, even today as 4e numbers dwindle and 5e/Pathfinder numbers remain strong. You may personally have strong feelings about the skill challenge rules and whether they’re needed or not, but I believe the numbers speak to there being a demand for it to this day.
Where Are They Coming From?
From across the site’s history, here’s how people got to the site.
- Google Searches
- RPG Bloggers Network
Top Search Terms
For various boring reasons involving the NSA, we lost a lot of data about what people were searching for. Here’s just a few that people have searched for lately.
- critical hits
- 13th age review
- gamma world
- 5×5 adventure design
- how to make a D&D campaign
And a few near the bottom:
- I am running an underwater game in D&D
- D&D one player is a dick / D&D how to deal with difficult players / dungeons and dragons someone hogging / D&D disruptive players
- good alcohol sayings with dungeons amd dragons [sic]
- differences between birds and fish [and many variations of this]
I consider myself privileged to have gotten to work with a variety of gaming bloggers, all with their own unique styles, passions, and ideas. As we shifted from “just a blog” to trying to be more like a magazine, I focused on recruiting columnists so you could see different voices take on different topics. Here’s some of the most popular articles from different regular columnists throughout CH’s history.
- Musings of the Chatty DM: I Don’t Do Paladins Really Well… (see also his top 5 above)
- The Architect DM by Bartoneus: Give Your Cities Some Character
- The Pain of Publication by The Main Event: Everyone Remembers Their First (DM)
- Dire Flailings by Vanir: Cheeseburger, Plain
- Dungeonomics by Multiplexer: The Murder Hobo Investment Bubble
- Critical Threats by DaveTheGame: Get Bit! and the Tabletop Effect
- Flavour Feast by Scott: Ashes to Ashes, Death to Life
- Analysis Paralysis/Random Encounters by Chris Sims: Booty Talk (this title has lead to some… interesting searches arriving on our site)
- Know Your Roll by Shawn Merwin: D&D Breaking (is) Bad
Most Popular Downloads
For one, we’re going to keep publishing Dungeonomics as long as Multiplexer wants to keep writing them. We’ve also talked about doing a publication that would assemble many of the columns into a semi-campaign setting. Many talks to come on that.
Several of us here are working on the Sentinel Comics RPG with Greater Than Games, which would be Critical-Hits Studios’ first big product for sale with our name on it. From there, we’re hoping to branch out into other areas: more RPGs, supplements, and tabletop games with our name on it, working with partners where appropriate.
As for the blogging side, I suspect it’ll remain slow for a bit. We’ve been approached several times about running a Patreon. At the moment, we take a monetary loss running Critical-Hits (ads don’t pay what they used to) so that would enable us to balance the books a little better on the blogging side. We also don’t pay any of our authors or other contributors (like Jaydot who draws the wonderful illustrations for every Dungeonomics column) and so Patreon would finance that. However, I don’t want to make that plunge until I have a plan, regular contributors, and we can be sure we wouldn’t be letting our audience down.
In the meantime, expect the same amount of posts that we’ve been doing for about the past year or two. I’m hoping to blog more about game design and the process, especially as we develop more games.
I’m interested to hear your thoughts if you’ve read this far. Let me know in the comments what you think about all this, and if you have any ideas.
Thanks to our webmasters, including Justin, Graham, Eric, and Quinn. Without you, everything would be broken.
Thanks to all our writers over the years, many of whom I got to call out during our Ennies speech, what I consider the biggest achievement of our blogging career.
Thanks to all the people who I’ve met through blogging, including my dear e.
And of course, thanks to all our readers out there. Put on your armor, grab your sword, and always aim for the weak spot that you can only hit on a natural 20 as we boldly go into the next decade.