Howdy, I'm Martin Ralya
. I'm a proposal writer by day and a small-press publisher, award-winning author, and GMing blogger by night. I live in Utah with my amazing wife, Alysia, our awesome daughter, Lark, and our tiny dog, Wicket, in a house full of books and games.
I love games, and I always have. As a kid I played all sorts of games with my parents, created wargame rules for my G.I. Joes when I got a bit older, and scavenged dice from our board game collection when I started playing RPGs. I've been playing board games for as long as I can remember and RPGs since I was 10 (back in 1987).
In what I laughably refer to as my spare time, I run a small-press publishing company, Engine Publishing
, run and contribute to the GMing blog Gnome Stew
(and before that the GMing blog Treasure Tables
), write my personal blog, Yore
, and post on Google+
. I also created New Game Day
, an annual holiday for gamers. I was a freelance writer for the RPG industry
from 2004-2009, and while my focus is on Engine Publishing I'm always open to working on freelance projects.
You can see the books Engine Publishing has published on our website
or here on RPGG
. A list of my work in the RPG industry is available on my personal site
as well as on RPGG
. My work and the books I publish have won several awards
and been nominated for several others, which is pretty wild. Many thanks to everyone I've worked with, and who has read, nominated, and supported my work! At the summit of Mount Olympus (Utah, 9,026 feet), December 26, 2013.My collection"One more thing: Don't spend too much time merely reading. The best part of this work is the play, so play and enjoy!"
-- Gary Gygax
I'm a charter member of the I Wish I Had More Shelf Space Society, and my wife doesn't agree that books and games make great decorations for every room in the house, or that lining the walls with shelves is a big time-saver -- who needs to paint? Just put up another shelf!
I rarely get rid of a gaming book, as I've learned over the years that my relationship to RPGs changes over time and I often find myself wanting books I no longer own, be it for inspiration, stealing elements for other games, or due to renewed interest. With board games I'm a lot freer about selling games I don't play; unplayed games take up "head space," so my collection has gotten progressively leaner over the years.
Here are quick links to my ratings: RPGs
(RPGs I've played/run), RPG Items
(gaming products I own/once owned), and board games
(games I've played). Here's my core board game collection
That last link is the one I use most: When I think "What should I play?" those are the games I want to consider. As of this writing, they're all rated 7 or higher. Everything else we own is on a different radar ("What would my daughter like to play?" "We have one relative who likes this game." "I'm weird and can't bear to part with this.").
Most of my RPG collection lives in the office, but I also have some shelves in the library and a bunch of Dragon magazines boxed up in the basement. My board game collection lives in the basement, with most games out on shelves and some in storage.
Here's my RPG collection as of March 2014:
Here's my board game collection as of January 2015: RPGG stuff"It's not about how well you play. It's about how you feel about what you play."
-- The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
I don't like the RPG Item rating guidelines' "odd/even" system, so I rate RPG Items based on how much I like them and how closely they match my play style. I've rated every RPG I've played and every product I own or once owned, except for products I've published, designed, or written. I base my product ratings on usage, reading, and/or familiarity with my books. Ratings are a journey, not a destination.
I started noting my face-to-face RPG plays at the tail end of 2008, in a little Moleskine notebook, but didn't enter them into RPGG until 2015. I backtracked through my emails, Gen Con tickets, and memory of plays I never recorded from 2008-2015 and added them all. As of January 2015, I log all plays here, face-to-face and virtual. More than 20 years of unlogged plays precede my first logged play.
I got to be the 83rd RPGG Geek of the Week
in 2011, which was a fun experience.
Technically my first RPG played was a Choose Your Own Adventure
book, The Cave of Time
(also my first gaming product owned), which I probably played sometime in the early '80s. My first "full-fat" RPG played, though, was Lords of Creation
sometime in 1987; I had no idea what I was doing. My 75th RPG played was Psi Run
on 8/27/13, which was also the first game I've ever run online (via Google+ Hangout). My 100th was Executioner, a 200-word RPG that was pulled by the designer in less than 24 hours, on 4/30/15.
My RPG collection hit 1,000 products on 8/4/13 with FreeMarket (Limited Edition)
, about 26 years after I bought my first gaming book.BGG stuff"When playing a game, the goal is to win, but it is the goal that is important, not the winning."
-- Reiner Knizia
I rate games I've played purely based on personal preference, in whole numbers only, and stick to the rating guidelines as closely as I can. I've rated every board game I've played at least once. Ratings are a journey, not a destination.
I didn't start keeping track of board game plays until I joined BGG in early 2008; many, many plays precede that date. I don't track plays for expansions, with one exception: I do track them for standalone expansions (for example, Dominion: Intrigue).
My first logged play was Zooloretto
on 1/25/08, my 500th was Quarriors!
on 11/5/11, and my 1,000th was Hive
on 8/10/14 (chosen because it's my longest-standing 10 and my favorite game overall). I don't know what my first-ever played game might have been, but Snakes and Ladders
is a decent guess.
My 400th discrete game played was Barbarian Prince
on 7/7/13 (also my first PNP game, and a lucky win: I found 500 gold in some ruins on the first day of week four).Watershed moments as a gamer"The books I write because I want to read them, the games because I want to play them, and stories I tell because I find them exciting personally."
-- Gary Gygax
I enjoy looking back on games and events that have shaped me as a gamer, and for some reason I've gotten in the habit of recording them here -- probably because I like this site so much!
Stumbling across Lords of Creation
at a Barnes & Noble in NYC (1987). I didn't know quite what it was, but I knew I had to have it. I ran something very close to one-on-one RPG sessions with different friends, but I had no idea what I was doing. I loved it.
My first session of Mentzer D&D
in junior high (1989). This was the first time I gamed with someone who knew what gaming was, and it made me decide this was something I wanted to pursue in earnest. I bought my own books (AD&D 2e
and Time of the Dragon
) shortly thereafter and I haven't looked back since.
Gaming with a group for the first time in high school (1992). Prior to high school I gamed almost exclusively solo (one GM, one player). Having a regular group was a real eye-opener, and a lot of my gaming tastes solidified during high school.
Playing Call of Cthulhu
for the first time (1992). CoC turned my perception of what gaming was about on its head ("Wait, not only do I want
my character to go insane and die, but it's awesome?"). It's still one of my favorite games, and it's part of why I like trying new games.
My first GenCon (1997). GenCon was a last-minute, grab-ass affair for me, but there was something magical and compelling about it that stuck with me. I've gone almost every year since then (1999, 2000, 2002-2007, 2009, 2010, 2012), and it's still an amazing experience.
Starting Treasure Tables
(2005). Writing about GMing changed how I think about gaming in general and GMing in particular. Doing it daily for two years made me a better critical thinker, and helped me figure out what I do and don't like in gaming like nothing else.
Publishing my first book (2010). Working with an amazing team of 18 people, including my fellow Gnome Stew authors, to design, write, produce, and publish Eureka: 501 Adventure Plots to Inspire Game Masters
was an experience like no other. It was a year of hard work, a gamble that paid off, and a true roller coaster ride, and it changed my relationship with gaming.
Getting my entire collection into RPGG (2011). Rating things honestly tends to crystallize my tastes, and the results often surprise me; this was no exception. Rating and commenting on all my books and games played (commenting wasn't finished until 2013) has changed how I look at gaming.
My first Game Chef (2013). The first complete RPG I designed was Eaten Away
, for RPGG's 2012 24-Hour RPG Contest, but it wasn't until a few months later, for Game Chef, that I designed a game (Signal Lost
) that clicked for me. Designing Signal Lost broadened my perspective on, and changed my experience of, gaming as a hobby.
For board games:
Playing games all the time as a kid (I was born in 1977). Games were a part of my life from a very young age, and as far back as I can remember I've always enjoyed playing games. Special credit goes to Uncle Don and Aunt Lynnette, who sent me a game every year for Christmas for several formative years in a row.
Being introduced to Settlers of Catan
in college (1996). It was my first Eurogame, and it turned out to be a real eye-opener for me -- an entirely new board gaming experience.
Playing Ticket to Ride
for the first time (2005). I was in a board gaming slump at the time, with a decent-sized collection of stuff that I just wasn't as jazzed about as I used to be. TTR was just plain fun
, and it got me much more heavily into board games.
Joining BGG (2008). Being active here got me more deeply into board gaming as a hobby and has made me think more critically about what I do and don't enjoy about different kinds of games. Joining also prompted me to start buying a lot more games -- too many, as it turned out! This is one of the best communities I've ever found online.
My first time playing Puerto Rico
(2008). My group tended towards lighter Euros, and I didn't think a 90-minute game with a higher complexity level would go over well -- but it did, and in spades. It was a total shift in my perspective.
My second board game purge (2013). I purged about 25 games in 2011 and thought I'd learned good lessons about curating my collection and being more thoughtful about acquisitions, but purging another 50 two years later proved I hadn't. This time, the lessons stuck. I got my unplayed list down to almost zero and realigned my perspective on what kinds of games I want to own and what I enjoy playing.