Indie Games December

A thousand years ago, back in April, I recorded a month of videos talking about indie RPGs under the hashtag #ReadIndieRPGs. I did this in response to another hashtag going around, #ReadtheDMG, in which folx were recording quick videos reading a paragraph from the D&D Dungeon Masters Guide. At a time when people were going to need distractions and creators were going to need support, I thought it only fair to remind folx about all the amazing games and creators in out hobby.

I set myself some guidelines for the videos. As you can see if you watch them, I decided to do them very rough, always in one take. I wanted them to be very much my honest thoughts about the game from which I was reading, without scripting my way to the perfect soundbite. I also focused on creators often marginalized in the TTRPG space, because I knew I hadn’t always been as mindful about their work as I could have been up to that point. And lastly, I wanted to pay for everything. I started off my series with games I already owned, but roughly two-thirds of the games I talked about were games I purchased and read that month. Including games I had previously purchased, all told I spent $274.01 on indie TTRPGs.

That sounds like a lot of money (and it is, and I am privileged to be in a position where I can afford that) but if you break it down I came away from the end of that month with thirty different TTRPGs at an average cost of $9.13 per game. And considering that I got a few of the games by picking up the excellent San Jenaro Digests which contain 6-8 games each, that price per game is lower. And frankly, cheap at twice the price.

This led me to believe two things. One, when bigger TTRPG companies put out a new game or supplement and expect me to pay $30-$50 per book, that book had better be stellar! As an editor my tolerance for a poorly edited book is already low, so when a company presents me with a badly edited $65 rulebook (rhymes with salamander), you can bet I’m never touching that game or anything else they do.

The second things is that we (myself and you) as TTRPG consumers need to develop a tolerance for proper pricing on indie TTRPGs. Indie creators should not have to spend weeks and months working up a new game and then have to release it for $5 in the hopes that we’ll pretty please buy it (unless they want to; I’m not here to dictate any creator’s price point). I think we as players and consumers of Indie TTRPGs should realize the time and effort put into an indie game, as well as the many, many hours of enjoyment we will get from the game, are worthy of equitable compensation. More simply put, if you dropped thirty bucks for the latest from WotC, tae the fuck wi’ ye for balking at an indie game costing $10-$20. 

All of which is a long and winding road to my point today. Which is, during December I am going to be buying up more Indie TTRPGs. I haven’t decided whether that means a return to daily videos for December, but at the very least I will be posting here every week talking about what I’ve picked up and linking out so you can check the games and creators out as well. I hope this will give all of you out there wanting to explore more Indie TTRPGs a decent place to start.

But it isn’t enough just to have a spike of interest for December. I have a certain amount budgeted for TTRPG purchases each month. Going forward I will allocate half of that budget to buying Indie TTRPGs, then coming here or to YouTube and telling you about what I picked up. Recently I reconfirmed my return to critique of Wizards of the Coast, because if I’m going to tilt at windmills to improve my hobby, might as well start with the one using the most wind. But I can’t only be about yelling at WotC. If I truly want to help TTRPGs grow then I have to support the creators out there doing it right. I’m doing some long-term work around that with the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games, but in the shorter term I need to be another voice singing the praises of Indie TTRPGs.

So look for me to be very vocal in December, then regularly vocal going forward. Frankly, I’m excited about all the new games I get to explore, by some of the most creative people in our hobby. And I hope you’ll follow along and also throw some support at any games that catch your eye. Heck, if this inspires you to do your own deep dive, please drop me a note and let me know where I can find you because I want to come along on your trip as well!

Working my Way to Odinson

Big old Content Warning at the top for body talk around fitness and being overweight. If that sort of thing isn’t for you, I hope you’ll scroll and find some of my other articles to enjoy.

If you do read on, it is also important to note that I am writing about me, and me only. When I talk about losing weight and getting myself fit again, I am talking very specifically about what I want for myself and not passing judgement on being overweight in any way. If I didn’t want new (and old) things in my life I would quite happily continue as I am. But I do want, and to enjoy them the way I want, I need to lose some weight and build up my fitness level. All of which is to say, please miss me with any fatphobia comments. I am fat, it’s great, but it doesn’t work with where I’m going; one of us has to go, me or the fat, and it isn’t going to be me. Okay, onward.

Being overweight is something I have struggled with for over two decades of my life. When I was coming up through school and into college and theatre school, I was quite fit. I used to play rugby, volleyball, and soccer, I curled, I was on my high school wrestling team, I studied judo. And then I was in Boy Scouts as well, which led to me doing tonnes of hiking, canoeing, dog sled running…thing you might not think of as a sport but definitely need a certain basic level of fitness to do well and enjoy. Of course I also enjoyed eating (as I’m sure my parent’s grocery bills could attest) but that was balanced out nicely by my active lifestyle. Apart from being a huge nerd, I was also the stereotypical jock who made a bag of groceries disappear every day.

Fast forward to me leaving Fort McMurray for the bright lights and big city of Edmonton! As much as the move was necessary if I was going to work in theatre, it resulted in me losing a lot of the activities and sports I had previously enjoyed. Partly due to environment and partly to lifestyle changes, I became way less active. And that trend continued over the next thirty years. About twenty years ago I would say I firmly entered a sedentary lifestyle which has held true until now.

Recently I’ve realized how much I am missing a lot of the things I used to do, mostly hiking and camping. I also want to attend more cons in other cities ( you know, when the world isn’t trying to kill us all and it’s safe to travel) and I know from experience how much of a pain it is for me to get around a big con at my current size. Literal pain, I blew out my knee playing rugby and, even though it healed long ago my current weight puts a strain on that joint that I definitely feel on Con Day 2. I’d also like to get into both LARP and cosplay a bit more, and both those pastimes require a level of activity I’m not currently able to sustain.

What got me thinking about this today was a response to a Twitter meme  I posted asking folx to cast me as a fictional character. A friend responded with Thor, specifically the Marvel cinematic Thor. And that made me remember that at one point I was thinking of cosplaying as Thor for cons. And that led me back down the path of thinking about getting in shape for hiking and camping, among other things.

So as you might have guessed from the title, that is the long term challenge I have set for myself. One year from today I want to cosplay as Thor, hopefully at a convention. I want to be able to wander the con all day in costume without my knees or back giving me grief. And next summer I want to go visit some of our beautiful provincial and national parks, particularly the mountains. So there’s a mid- and long-term goal.

Leading up to both of those, of course, there will be several smaller goals to achieve. This isn’t going to happen overnight. I need to develop new habits around my activity level and eating (fish sticks, yes. And entire box of fish sticks at one sitting? Signs point to no). I love to cook so that’s a bonus. And my jo has let us know that we will be expected to work from home until at least the end of March. So that gives me four months and a bit to start work on some things and figure out where I am going with this before I have to adapt my new habits to things outside the home.

But I am excited to get started! Not only so I can enjoy not struggling to walk around the block. But for all the new crafting and stuff I get to explore. I have to build myself a Mjolnir, for instance, which is a non-trivial problem. But I am looking forward to the challenges to come, in a way I hadn’t really thought about in a while.

So you’ll likely see some posts about the things I am trying out and building on here over the next year. I’ll always post with a Content Warning at the top, so no one has to read it if they don’t want to. As I said before, my desire to get myself fit is a personal one for my purposes. I know folx struggle with body dysmorphia, eating disorders, and the like, and I always want to be mindful of that. Know that when I am talking about anything around food or fitness I am talking squarely about what works for me and not casting a broader net to also assume it would be good or welcome for anyone else.

So that’s it. I’ve made posts similar to this in the past. Obviously I didn’t follow through on those. But this is the first time where I have some of the tools I need to make a plan and stick to it. I hope you’ll enjoy following long as I work the plan.

And remember: When the only tool you have is a hammer, you might be Thor.

My WotC Attitude

Back in July, roughly a thousand years ago, I wrote what I had planned to be my last editorial ever on Wizards of the Coast. I had decided, for what I thought were good reasons at the time, to not write about WotC anymore on any of my platforms, for any reason. And while I still stand by my decision not to write articles supporting or promoting anything related to their games, I have to break my promise to myself in one respect.

When I read back through my July post I found I was still good with 99% of what I wrote. What jarred for me was the line, “I will not write another word about D&D…”. As with so many things it is a position of privilege to choose not to criticize a thing which is hurting people. I was mad at the time and lost sight of that. I’m still mad, of course, but I have had time to ruminate. I could wriggle around those words and say technically I said D&D and not WotC. But I knew what I meant.

I’m still going to focus the bulk of my time on the things I love about the TTRPG hobby and the excellent things I see happening in the industry. Despite WotC appearing to be the industry and hobby, they are not. That might have been true for a bit back in 1974-75 but it hasn’t been true since, despite TSR/WotC’s best efforts to make everyone believe it over the years. That is one facet of the paste gem that is WotC and we’ll come back to it in the future.

For now, let’s look at where WotC is at compared to four months ago. Back in July I was taking them to task for continuing to do nothing to make their spaces safe, and for their lackluster (the most generous word I can use) attempts to center Black and other marginalized groups in their game design. I’m not going to comment (too much) today, I just want to lay out the situation as I see it so you understand my position when I write future posts and articles. Here we go!

Twitter: A quick search using the search terms “@Wizards_DnD” and “diversity” gets me a whole string of folx taking WotC to task for not doing anything about inclusion, despite a few tweet back in July/August talking about their plans (and nothing since then). So at a glance it seems like, if WotC is doing some work on this, they are keeping strangely quiet about it. Of course, what I also don’t see in their Twitter feed is the announcement of a…

Director, Diversity Equity & Inclusion: Back in July WotC, as part of their response to calls for better inclusion, posted an ad looking for a “Director, Diversity Equity & Inclusion” on their site. Yay! Despite several details of the job being questionable (you can read the posting here) it seemed that WotC was finally taking a concrete step forward. Cut to now. The job is no longer listed on their site, but neither has a new “Director, DE&I” been announced. Did they hire one in secret? Did they stop trying and hope it would go unnoticed? In fairness, I haven’t been watching the site at all since July. It is barely possible the listing came down recently because they are about to announce who filled the position. But then why is it still listed on third-party job boards like the one linked above? Based on past performance I am going to put my money on the “stop trying and hope we don’t notice” theory for now.

Mike Mearls: Again, unless I missed the announcement (and if I have please link me to it so I can pour myself a drink and luxuriate over every word) Mearls still has a job at WotC and is still doing stuff around D&D, despite WotC lying to us about his lack of involvement. So the bare minimum thing I and so many folx have asked WotC to do in order to show good faith in making their space safe and inclusive, they still haven’t done. Not only haven’t done, but instead their efforts go to obfuscation and lies.

Seriously, Wizards of the Coast, Fire Mike Mearls.

DMs Guild: This is what actually got me looking at WotC again, because yesterday I discovered DMs Guild actively promoting Taron Pounds, a creator who engaged in misogynistic attacks on other creators on DMs Guild a while back. A quick firing up of the search engine should get you info on that. The DMs Guild gave Pounds a stern finger wagging and promised to do better (something we’ve heard numerous times from WotC; as above, so below, I guess) about curating their spaces. But their current promotion of not one, but two products to which Pounds is attached suggests their definition of “doing better” is in line with WotC.

And so this is where we find ourselves. In the four months in which I stopped paying them much attention, WotC has managed to do the square root of f*** all on any of the things they promised around inclusion and safety. In addition, DMs Guild seems to be following their lead so nothing is being done in that space, despite it being the comparatively easier fix of the two.

By the way, I’m not commenting on Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything because I haven’t read the book. From other critiques of the work, however, it seems that the promised material around safety and inclusion runs the gamut from them lifting  material and ideas from independent creators whole-cloth without including, compensating, or even crediting them; to suggesting you house rule any issues you find problematic.  If true, that’s…well, par for the course, really. If you’re surprised, then frankly I’m surprised that you’re surprised.

I’m going to take a deeper dive into a lot of this stuff, but I wanted to give myself and you a point from which to start. It can be very easy, with all of the cool stuff and events and actual plays, to lose sight of what WotC is doing (or not doing) behind all the pomp. And independent creators in the DMs Guild space are doing some really great stuff, which can, again, distract from the issues around the DMs Guild.

But critique of both is necessary. No one at either WotC or DMs Guild seems to be doing that critical analysis internally, so it has to come from outside, as imperfect as that may be. Dungeons & Dragons was the game that brought me into the hobby back in 1980. It has been a constant in TTRPGs from the beginning. But it has not kept up with the direction our hobby is trending. It’s WotC’s responsibility to see that it does, and it is our responsibility to hold them accountable when they don’t. Several voices in the TTRPG space have remained constant in that task and I am sorry I stopped being one of them. It won’t happen again.

I can’t promise everything I have to say, about WotC and their management, about the unsafe and exclusionary things I see in the D&D space, about the DMs Guild, will always be nice. But I do intend to be as kind as I can possibly be, to remember that there are people involved on the other side of email addresses and Twitter handles, and to use a scalpel, not a shotgun, for critique. Does that mean I’ll never upset anyone? Nope. Heck, this post is relatively tame and I expect to get push back. But I feel it’s important to operate in good faith, and if there are folx who, in equally good faith, feel they need to cut me off or distance themselves, I’ll have to accept that. My critiques of WotC are not about any one person who works there.

Except Mike Mearls. Fire him.

Thursday Self Promotion

Because of a friend who comes all-caps screaming into my Twitter DMs when they don’t feel I am promoting myself enough, what follows is a post of things I have recently released, am currently working on, and how you can help me do the things I do if you like what you see around here. I may make this a regular mid-month post, if for no other reason than to save my friend the trouble of messaging me.

So let’s start on this page and work our way outward, shall we? First up, I am a skilled editor of TTRPGs and speculative fiction. My rates and other information can be found on the Need an Editor? page on this site. My rates are reasonable and negotiable, so if you are looking for an editor for your next project please contact me with the handy contact form at the bottom of that page. I would love to discuss your next project with you. The page also has links to a selection of previous projects that are worth checking out.

I have recently been taking part in game jams over on Itch under my publishing imprint, Prairie Dragon Press. I have two projects available now: Game Master’s Quick Reference for the Bookmark Jam, and Editing for TTRPGs: A Primer for the Non-Editor for the TTRPG Resource Jam. Both are PWYW, with proceeds going to a fund which allows me to do free editing work for marginalized creators.  A third project, Toys Against Terror (working title) is coming at the end of the month for the Fluffy Horror Jam.

I write articles, editorials and reviews mostly, over at The Rat Hole. Articles go up on Mondays, with reviews popping up whenever my editor schedules them. There are plenty of other folx over there doing excellent stuff so the site is worth your attention. You can give them a follow on Twitter to get notified about new posts.

I am privileged to be one of the members of the Creator’s Catalyst Project, which exists to provide new and marginalized creators with access to editing, layout, and art for their projects. The link goes to our website and you can find all the information about applying there. If you don’t have a project but like the sound of what we do, you can support our efforts with a donation to our Ko-Fi. Funds raised there help us put additional resources into each project we take on, and possibly allow us to work on more than one project.

I also raise funds for Extra Life every year, and we are currently closing in on this year’s game day. I am currently at about 55% of my fundraising goal for this year, and I have a number of incentives available if you donate as an individual, or get your gaming group together to make a donation. You can donate safely and easily through my Extra Life Donation Page, and everything you give goes to support sick kids.

I think that’s it for now. There are a few things I have coming up that I can’t discuss yet and I reserve the right to come back and update as my faulty memory supplies new information. If you want to talk to me about anything here, shoot me a message using the contact form on the site, or message me on Twitter

Editing for TTRPGs

I recently completed a little project for the #TTRPGResourceJam over on Itch. I had meant to put together something to help non-editors for a while, and this jam was the kick in the butt I needed to pull it together finally.  Editing for TTRPGs: A Primer for Non-Editors is designed to help creators refine their own editing when they can’t hire an editor. But it’s also a guide to what to look for when you are ready to hire an editor for your project.

It’s listed as Pay What You Want, which means you can grab it for free. But if you can afford to throw a few bucks at it, the money I collect from this goes to a fund that allows me to take on free editing work for marginalized creators. Check it out and let me know what you think! If there are any questions the primer didn’t answer for you, please reach out; I am planning to update this on a regular basis.

Meanwhile at The Rat Hole

As part of September’s RPG Blog Carnival I have an article up over at The Rat Hole, about adding a bit of magic back into magic item creation in your game. Check it out, and I’ll see you a bit later in the week with another article.

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A reminder that if you enjoy my content here or over at The Rat Hole and would like to help support my work, I have a Ko-fi page for quick and easy tipping. Currently I am saving up to upgrade my computer so I can properly livestream TTRPGs for charity, so if that is something you’d like to help me with and you have a few bucks, I’d be grateful for the assist.

Of Grognards and Neckbeards…Again

Hey, so this post is for all the neckbeards and grognards out there who think their length of time in the hobby gives them the right to condescend to and gatekeep newer players. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, the tl;dr is: Just stop, you colossal fuckwits.
Look, I get being proud of how long you’ve been playing. I mean, years and decades of rules learned, games played, and stories told…it’s okay to take personal pride in that. Hell, were it within my power I’d hand out medals for Surviving THAC0 and Palladium…Just All of Palladium. I admit that I still take pride in system mastery, even now that it is no longer really necessary. I love being the person in my group who has read the manual cover-to-cover, dug deep into the rules and lore, and absorbed how it all works. I don’t know I’ll ever stop loving that, even though I do it for different reasons now (more on that later).
But from what I’ve seen, some of you hobby veterans think that your “time in service” gives you authority to decide when new members of our hobby have been naughty or nice. And…it doesn’t. As has been stated elsewhere and succinctly, you don’t get to decide someone else’s fun is wrong just because you’ve been playing a version of that fun for years before them. At best you sound ridiculous, at worst you are the toxic element in every online discussion, in every livestream chat, and at every convention.
I’ll give you an example from outside of gaming. I work for my municipal government. Until he retired a few years ago there was a co-worker who had been a clerk with the City for just over twenty-five years. Generally a nice fellow, friendly enough, but he would regale anyone who would listen about his time spent as a “fax clerk” (you can Google what a fax machine is, kids, the neckbeards here already know). Once upon a time, when the City had implemented the use of the fax to allow document submission, they set up a central room where the fax machines lived and the clerks there were responsible for properly receiving, forwarding, and filing faxed documents. It is exactly as exciting as it sounds.
Now, did he have a right to feel proud of that work? Of course. At the time it was new technology and he came up with and executed the procedures for how to deal with it. By all reports he did it well, so why shouldn’t he be proud of a difficult job done well? The issue, of course, is that he often tried to use his experience in running this fax room to give his opinions weight when we were discussing other things. Most of the time the result was sitting in a meeting listening politely until he finished trying to make fax machines relevant to our discussion. But it sometimes resulted in having to deal with (and a couple of times, make) harassment reports when he didn’t feel folx were “respecting his experience” (read: accepting his natural authority).
Why do I bring up this example? Because when you try to use your TTRPG veteran status to impress or intimidate newer members of our hobby, you sound just as ridiculous as someone trying to make fax mastery relevant to…well, anything. You are never going to get the result you think you want by weaponizing your imagined seniority. And it is imagined. The hobby is in such a state of flux at all times that any seniority you think you have is an illusion. Oh, you were one of the first people to play the Ghostbusters RPG? Cool story, grandpa, but there have been dozens of iterations of that game since then.
“So Brent,” you might ask, “does this mean we can’t talk about old systems or how things used to be in the hobby?” Of course you can. But you need to accept that having that knowledge and experience does not confer any authority to you or your opinions. There are folx coming into the hobby, as well as people who have been here a bit, who might have an interest in our hobby’s history. To those folx, what you have to say may be of interest as long as, and this is key, you aren’t trying to bludgeon them into submission with your imagined authority. When they are relevant, stories about the Old Days of TTRPGs can be entertaining. At least I assume so, the younger gamers I often run games for or play with seem to enjoy them, or at least haven’t found them so onerous as to stop playing with me.
And understand when you do swing that seniority hammer around, all you are doing is making it less likely anyone will listen to you, even if what you are saying turns out to be relevant. Verbally bludgeoning folx will not get your point across. But it will teach them that, based on the current available example, hobby veterans are opinionated, bullying arseholes. I don’t know about you but I don’t tend to listen to bullying arseholes about anything. I don’t give them my time on social media and I am pretty fearless about showing them the door when I run games in public. Once upon a time I had the line editor for a game (nope, not going to say which) escorted away from my table by con security because he insisted on aggressively haranguing myself and my players about “playing his game wrong” because he didn’t like the scenario I had written. I mention this not to brag (okay, a little, it’s not often your table gives you a standing ovation) but to demonstrate that if I’m not afraid of a game’s editor, how much patience do you think I have for a random grognard?
So take pride in what you’ve accomplished in the hobby, by all means. But rid yourself of any thought that this knowledge and experience gives you any sort of authority, moral or otherwise. As I have said before (and in fact in a tweet just today) the only thing playing all the previous editions of Dungeons & Dragons has given me is a head full of wrong information I have to remember around in order to play the current edition. Should I get a medal or some sort of plaque for enduring THAC0? Damn straight! Is it relevant when discussing the current Skill system in D&D and other TTRPGs? Not unless you somehow think we should bring it back, in which case I will fight you.
Do better, neckbeards and grognards. If you refuse to grow with the hobby, then stick with your current group and stop trying to stunt the growth of others.

Creator’s Catalyst Project

Say what you will about Twitter, but in the last couple of years it has been responsible for me connecting with some pretty amazing projects. Commenting on a thread on Twitter is how I found myself editing for the Uncaged Anthology books, one of the best editorial experiences of my career so far. It’s where I managed to find myself playing in the Clockwork Vines world with some amazing players and under the care of our Keeper, Honey.

And lightning has struck a third time. I replied to a post by Francita about wanting to offer free layout help to creators, saying I would be happy to donate some editing time for any creators she worked with, if they needed it. That led to a conversation between Francita, her partner Hector Rodriguez (a skilled and talented artist in his own right), and myself, about forming a team to provide our services to new and marginalized creators in the TTRPG space. That was yesterday.

Today I am excited and pleased to announce the launch of Francita’s brainchild, the Creator’s Catalyst Project! Our goal is simple: we want to help marginalized creators who might need a little extra push to finish a project, get their project ready for publication. Details are listed in the pinned Tweet and in the Introduction document, but here’s the elevator pitch. We have a set amount of in-kind donations each application period (time donated by the three of us) to put toward a project we choose from eligible applicants. We have set-up a Ko-Fi to take donations from the community; donations from each application period will be put toward the project we choose and help expand the scope of services we can offer. We will then work to get the successful applicant’s project finished so they can publish.

And this isn’t a slow process! Each cycle is thirty days; fifteen to accept applications and take donations, a few days to select and then consult with the successful applicant, then another fifteen to finish the work and turn it back over to the client, ready to go out in the world. This is great for any number of reasons, not least because the successful applicants will see an almost immediate benefit. But it also means our team gets to work on new and exciting projects on a quickly rotating basis, and any community members who donate don’t have to wait long to see the results of their generosity.  Plus you get a bit of advanced notice on cool things coming into the TTRPG space, so you can be first in line to buy the new creations as they come out!

If you’re a marginalized creator in the TTRPG space, I hope you’ll look over the information and apply; we would love to help you get your project ready for the world! If want to help the Creator’s Catalyst Project with our work, we surely would love to get donations so we can expand the scope on applications we receive. Ko-Fi even has a way to donate on a regular monthly basis, so if you want to show continued support for what we are trying to do we would be ever so grateful!

Keep your eye on this, I am excited to see the projects we can help find their way to market! And if you have any questions about the Creator’s Catalyst Project, feel free to reach out through the contact info on Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!