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.

***

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!

BrentCon!: A Little Extra for Extra Life

UPDATE: Sadly, due to some sudden and suspiciously timed last-minute cancellations, I have to cancel this for lack of players. I have made arrangements with the two remaining players so they will get games run at some point, and they’ve both been understanding. Frankly it’s disheartening to think someone or someones would take time out of their day to sabotage an event meant to help sick kids. But here we are.

So I’m going to take the day to feel shitty about it. Then I’m going to jump right in to planning the next BrentCon! Oh, sorry, little saboteurs, did you think your little trick was going to break me? Aw, that’s almost adorable. No, I’m going to keep doing this because it’s fun and it helps people. Maybe give a think as to why you’re doing what you do.

***

Extra Life is running a Tabletop Appreciation Weekend this year, August 22 and 23 (Saturday and Sunday), and I want to run some games! Welcome to BrentCon!: the Brentiest tabletop con on the internet!

There will be three sessions total, Session One and Two on Saturday and Session Three on Sunday. I will take a maximum of five players per table, and tables will run as long as I have a minimum of two players. In order to get more folx playing, please only sign up for one session to start; if I have empty seats by the Thursday before, I will open things up so folx can sign up for more than one session. Session descriptions, along with links to the games in case you want a better description or perhaps to purchase, are below.

I have created a super handy registration form to sign up for a seat. Once you have registered with this form, please make your donation as soon as possible on my super handy donation page. When I see you have registered and donated, I will email you to confirm your seat.

Session One (On Hold)

A Kobolds Ate My Baby! adventure of my devising! UPDATE: Due to cancellations this session has been dropped in order to make sure the other tables run. If those tables fill I may re-open this, so stay tuned if you were really looking forward to this game.

Session Two (Saturday, August 22, 7pm-10pm MST)

A Stewpot adventure. The battles are done and you’ve inherited an inn. Time for the last adventure of all: retirement! Characters will be created during the session and all rules for this delightfully wholesome game will be explained.

Session Three (Sunday, August 23, 1pm-4pm MST)

An Under the Floorboards adventure. Under The Floorboards is a tabletop roleplaying game for 2-5 players about tiny people living in a giant, hostile world, inspired by The Borrowers. The focus of the game is very story-driven, with an emphasis on collaborative storytelling and world-building over stats and crunch. We will create characters in session and all rules will be explained, great for beginners or veterans looking for something a little different.

If you have any questions, please email me at brent.jans@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter at @DorklordCanada. Thank you for your generous donation, and I look forward to running a game for you!

Another Solar Orbit Day

Yep, today is my solar orbit day, or “birthday” as you huma–us, us humans, haha, call it. It’s hard for me to gauge how the past year went, as a global pandemic tends to skew the results. All in all I would chalk it up a win on points after a thorough review of the game tape. Working on Uncaged Anthology and other projects were definite high points and I would like more of that, please. Streaming with the folx on Clockwork Vines is a high point of every week. Not only does it mean a regular game (wealth undreamed of!), but the world Honey has created and the stories we get to play out in it are an absolute joy.

I am taking the rest of the week off to relax into my next solar orbit. But I wanted to take a moment and talk about ways you can wish me a Happy Birthday, if you are so inclined. First, you can just hit me up on Twitter and wish me Happy Birthday, I would love to hear from you! There are so many folx I have “met” through Twitter that I wouldn’t have otherwise, so always good to hear from you.

The Renaissance Gamer, his beard blue.

Second, I am raising funds for Extra Life again this year and would appreciate donations to that. Hitting the $200 mark this early in the year was amazing, and resulted in the blue beard you see, pictured. What will I do as the number goes higher? Who knows, but I would love to find out! Plus there are donation milestones and bonuses you can get for donating; all the details are on the page.

Lastly, and related to the second point: I want to do more streaming, specifically charity streaming. I have realized that my current laptop, while good for playing on streams, isn’t going to cut it if I want to host streams. So if you have a few bucks and want to help me get a new laptop for charity streaming, please visit my KoFi page and buy me a coffee. Or in this case, a percentage of a laptop. Who knows, there might be a session of Bluebeard’s Bride in the future…

That’s it for me though! Going to pour myself a libation and enjoy the rest of the day. Take care, all!

What I’m Watching

Happy Friday! Congratulations on making it through another week, you absolute legend!

Continuing to talk about things in the TTRPG space that I enjoy, let’s look at some shows I am watching that I think you should feast your eyes upon. I tend to watch shows on both YouTube and Twitch, with Twitch making up the bulk of my live programming and YouTube bringing me pre-recorded content. If I talk about watching the VOD for something, I’m usually referring to YouTube; the only time I watch VODs on Twitch is if the creator doesn’t repost their VODs to a YouTube channel. Also, I watch more than actual plays, so while there are some on the list below, you’ll also find a smattering of stuff from relaxing hangouts to crafting to board game reviews. Let’s dive in!

Our Family Plays Games – While I enjoy deep discussions of board game design and theory as much as the next nerd, I find that I mostly want to know “Is this game going to be fun to play? Why or why not?”. Our Family Plays Games answers that question for me every time. I only recently discovered their channel, after being pointed to them on Twitter, so I have been watching through the back catalogue while I work. And they are exactly as advertised, a family who plays games. So what you get is a very straightforward and enthusiastic look at board games from the only viewpoint that really matters in the end: did this game work at the table for us, why or why not? No fuss, no worrying about whether the game is popular, just a look at what worked, what didn’t, and would they play it again. Add in that they obviously have a love for board games, just a genuine excitement to play them and talk about them, and their videos have become something I look forward to every week. If you love board games and want to add some joy to your life while getting smarter about the hobby, watch Our Family Plays Games.

Gnomebrew – Another recent discovery is Gnomedic’s Twitch channel, and the delightfully relaxed morning chat show, Gnomebrew. Gnomebrew is nothing more (and nothing less) than Gnomedic and Aras Sivad (of Aras Sivad Designs, whose work you should definitely check out!) having a chat over their morning beverage of choice every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, at 9am EST. Which is 7am here, perfectly timed so I can join them with my coffee and breakfast, making a relaxed and often hilarious transition to my work day. And I’m here to tell you, starting the day with a smile is often severely under-rated. Even if something brought the day down later (I work in municipal government, it happens), I’ve never failed to start the day with a lighter heart after watching Gnomebrew, so I highly recommend you join them for coffee some morning.

Return to the Spiderverse – Full disclosure, I am a mod for Jason Mills’ Twitch channel, ItsProbablyOk, so you could assume a bit of bias. In rebuttal I could point out my track record of hyping up Return to the Spiderverse before I ever became a mod, but I’m not running for office and that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Played using the excellent Masks: A New Generation RPG, RttS asks the question, “What if at the end of Into the Spiderverse, we just didn’t end, though?” It then proceeds to answer with hands down my favourite super hero actual play anywhere, thanks in equal parts to the cast: Adam (Cecil Conners); Eric (Peter/Man-spider); Joey Nestra (Preston Parker); Aabria Iyengar (Miles Morales); Michelle Otis (Anya Corazon), each playing a Spider-Them; and the deft world building of Jason Mills. Masks is specifically written to follow the exploits of teen heroes, supers who have to juggle the demands of a higher calling with trying to live a normal teen life. And this group does it with heart, enthusiasm, and joy. As an older nerd I had my feelings shot off in the THAC0 Wars, so I very rarely get emotional when watching actual plays. Return to the Spiderverse has my feelings seesawing almost every episode; when they aren’t it just means the seesaw is stuck at one extreme or the other. If you can’t make it to Twitch every Saturday morning at 10am PST, or you want to catch up first, you can find previous episodes of Return to the Spiderverse on their YouTube channel.

Black Magic Craft – I love creating scenery for TTRPGs. When I was younger I volunteered at my local community theatre and I learned a metric bunch about scenic construction and painting. When I discovered that all those skills and techniques could be shrunk to work on the tabletop, I was thrilled! Of course, physical distancing means no sitting around the table for a while so my scenery crafting is on indefinite hiatus. But I can still scratch that itch by watching crafting videos, and one of my favourites is by a fellow Canadian, Jeremy, over at Black Magic Craft. I never fail to learn something, whether that’s a new technique, a material I haven’t used before, or a novel use for a material I’ve used plenty of times. I especially love that Jeremy isn’t afraid to show us his failures and missteps as he goes through a build. Too often crafting shows come off very smooth, like the crafter never made a mistake, and that doesn’t do any favours for new crafters looking to try their hand. By showing us when things don’t quit work, and how he came back from that, Jeremy does an excellent job of modelling a good attitude about crafting. And I personally find crafting videos relaxing to watch, so Jeremy’s good-natured approach and obvious enthusiasm are a comfortable watch every Friday morning. Even if you aren’t into crafting or TTRPG scenery, check out the videos to see really cool stuff that might inspire an encounter for your game.

Heliotrope – I have been listening to podcasts by Twelve Sided Stories, and loving them, for a goodly while now. Edited play sessions with audio f/x layered in? Yes please! Their latest show, Heliotrope, is played with the Hack the Planet RPG and is set in a grim climate-disaster dystopia and tells the tale of characters trying to survive in humanity’s last shelter against a world tearing itself apart. Besides an excellent cast (J. Holtham, Pooja SharmaMichelle Otis, Mac Beauvais, and Wes Otis)  and game master (Aabria Iyengar; seriously, if Aabria is running it or playing in it, watch the thing!), what sets Heliotrope apart is your viewing options. In the first of what I hope will be a successful experiment, you can watch the show as an actual play on Twitch every Friday at 7pm PST, and also you can listen to it as an edited play podcast when those start going up (anywhere podcasts are sold; I get mine on Spotify for the most part). The actual plays have been excellent so I anticipate the podcasts, enhanced with audio f/x, will be a step above. Super excellent? Extrallent? Whatever, catch them both places!

There you go, five things I am watching right now, in addition to everything I watch over at Saving Throw. It’s not an exhaustive list by any means, but these are the shows I make the time to watch, without exception. I hope you will check them out and let me know what you think. While you’re at it please share any shows that have caught your eye recently, I’d love to check them out!

Hanging Out in Salt Bay

If you normally come by for my shitposts on the state of the TTRPG hobby/industry, I’m not done with those. But lord love a kitten, does it get wearying to just talk about things that are broken. So today I want to talk about something I love: Pirates of Salt Bay on Saving Throw.

If you aren’t in the know, Pirates of Salt Bay is an actual play series that premiered sixty years ago, in 2019. It features Dirty Hank, a dwarf Monk, played by Eric Reichert; Addi Balmyar, a half-elf Arcane Archer Fighter, played by Havana MahoneyTrislynn Orana, a void tiefling Rogue, played by NegaOryxEoj Reymurts, a halfling Fighter (Champion), played by Teri Gamble; and Game Master Aabria Iyengar. The series follows the adventures and mishaps of the crew as they seek gold, fortune, gold, a way to overcome a great evil, gold, secrets about their past, and gold. And toast? More pets for Trislynn? And there is a cake knife, and Fair Juliet is a good ship, and…

There’s a lot going on, frankly, and I highly recommend finding the playlists on Saving Throw’s YouTube and giving them a watch if you aren’t all the way caught up. I promise it will all make sense if you do (Disclaimer: Promise not binding).

I came late to the Salt Bay party. It was on my list of shows to watch because I make it a habit to check out everything Saving Throw produces (and you should as well). But the first live show I watched was, I think, episode three or four of Season One. I was hooked and it jumped to the top of my Must Watch list; I caught up my plot gaps by watching all the VODs straight through in a day, including the Ghosts of Saltmarsh mini-series that set everything in motion.

But it wasn’t the excellent story that grabbed me. An interesting story idea still lives or dies on the strength of the characters telling you that story, and these characters could hold up the world (in multiple senses of that phrase; they are pirates, never forget). Each one was a unique, interesting person in their own right and I would watch a solo spin-off of any one of them. Even better, though, these individuals fit together to create a team, and eventually a family. When you consider that the characters were originally created with just a three-part miniseries in mind, that they meshed at all was amazing. Even when it’s planned that doesn’t always happen with the characters on an actual play and it was wonderful to watch the characters grow together over the seasons.

Even better, though, was the way the cast connected. I could tell from the first five minutes that these folx genuinely loved playing together, and that shone through in every aspect of the show. I’ve said this elsewhere, but this show is the closest I have come with an actual play of replicating the feeling of sitting around with a group of friends while they play an RPG. The joy they bring to the table, the love and respect they have for each other that allows them the space to be vulnerable and tell stories they might not otherwise tell, is inspiring. Every episode they model behaviour that, to my mind, should be the standard for TTRPG groups. I can’t help but watch and want to find ways to bring that same trust and respect to the tables at which I play or GM.

I could say more, and will say more in time. I hope you will take some time to watch the Salt Baes in action. Seasons One through Three are available on Youtube, including the Ghosts of Saltmarsh three-episode mini-series that started it all. The show is currently on break, though if you are registered for Gen Con Online this year (and why not, it’s free) you can get a free ticket to watch a Very Special Event streaming as part of Gen Con. As well, members of Saving Throw are running a number of panels and other events, so check those out as well; go to the Find Events page and type Saving Throw in the search bar. And as promised at the end of the Talk Back we are getting one more season of the Salt Baes; there are still stories to be told, toast to consume, and a baby to raise!

And if you want to hear me talk more about Pirates of Salt Bay, everything else Saving Throw produces, and TTRPGs (in roughly that order), Salt Bay Pirate Radio is launching soon. I had intended to get episodes out ahead of Season Three but then *gestures at world* so it had to go on the back burner for a while. It’s kept simmering away back there, though, and will soon be ready to serve!

Done Waiting

Like many of you, I read Orion’s statement about their being let go from Wizards of the Coast and their treatment while they were employed there. And I feel what many of you feel: anger, disappointment, sadness…a mix of feelings that, for me at least, add up to rage. And that’s what I had intended to do when I got up this morning. The previous version of this post was full of rage, lashing out at WotC and Hasbro, their management, at the co-workers who remained complicit in silence. But I deleted that post and started this one.

Because I have worked through rage, to contempt. And that is all Wizards of the Coast deserves from me, and all of us, today and going forward. I could run through a laundry list of reasons why. I feel like I covered enough of them in my previous post so instead I’m going to focus on one thing that stood out for me.

WotC’s most recent statement included the following bullet point:

“We’re proactively seeking new, diverse talent to join our staff and our pool of freelance writers and artists. We’ve brought in contributors who reflect the beautiful diversity of the D&D community to work on books coming out in 2021. We’re going to invest even more in this approach and add a broad range of new voices to join the chorus of D&D storytelling.”

And the thing that immediately occurred to me when I read Orion’s post yesterday was, they knew. When WotC made their statement, when they squirted out these beautiful sounding words, WotC already knew what had been done to Orion and the treatment they endured, and not only did they do nothing, they already knew they weren’t going to renew Orion’s contract.

They lied to us. They looked us in the fucking eye, told us everything was going to be okay, and carried on as usual.

meet it is I set it down

That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain…”

There is a tactic an abuser will use if it looks like they might get outed as an abuser. They will go to their previous victims, check in, and apologize. It isn’t sincere, the abuser isn’t trying to fix anything with this. They are doing damage control, so when the story of their abuse comes out they can claim they were already working on the problem.

The statement made by Wizards of the Coast in mid-June is the corporate version of that. They made it, not out of contrition, but to control the narrative. So that any stories that came out (and there have been many, Orion’s is sadly just the latest) would be mitigated. “No, our bad, but look, we’re getting help!” Like so many other abusers in out hobby and the industry, WotC has been outed. And not once, it must be said. People I respect have been telling us for years that we are in an abusive relationship with WotC, that they won’t change. Speaking for myself, and as recently as my last post, I held out hope that WotC could change, that they wanted to change. I was wrong.

I started playing Dungeons & Dragons on January 21, 1980. It has been a source of joy and creativity for me for forty years. I have found friends I wouldn’t have otherwise because of D&D. I have written innumerable words about and for the game. I have been this game’s champion.

Until today, July 4, 2020.

Wizards of the Coast is another abuser exposed in our hobby. It may be in them to redeem themselves, but frankly I no longer care. Given the size of WotC’s presence it may sound ridiculous, but for the good of the hobby they cannot be allowed to take up space here anymore. I’m sorry I wasn’t fully on board with that before, and I apologize to anyone I hurt by my continued tacit or overt support of D&D and WotC.

Disentangling our hobby from WotC will not be easy. There are any number of freelancers who, because of the market share D&D holds, rely on creating D&D content to pay the bills. This includes not just the DMs Guild, but also your FLGS, folx who make gaming accessories, and streamers. Yes there is an uptick in non-D&D games streaming, but the D&D tag on Twitch remains the most used and watched of the TTRPG tags. So while I hope each of these groups and creators will take a good, hard look at what is going on and make their own decision, I don’t expect there will be a huge switch overnight and I don’t fault anyone for that. Talk to me a year from now, though…

As for me? In my now deleted rage post I had a towering list of ultimatums and demands, promises I was going to make. But all of that boils down to one thing. I will no longer support Wizards of the Coast, or any game they produce. I am winding up any current obligations I have that might touch on the D&D space, and then I am done with it. I will not write another word about D&D, here, at The Rat Hole, or anywhere else. In order to cause the least harm to any creators who still rely on DMs Guild, I will continue to accept editing work for DM’s Guild projects, but will ask that I be paid in a royalty share to be assigned to Extra Life instead; if that can’t happen I will donate my word rate to Extra Life myself. Existing projects for which I currently receive royalties cannot be changed, but I will tally my quarterly earnings from those and also donate that amount to Extra Life. In any case I will not personally profit off of any D&D products, and I look forward to taking on editing work for products in other systems. A few current writing projects will be pivoted to system neutrality or other TTRPGs.

And as I have said before, you’re going to see me talking a lot more about other creators on here. Picture our hobby like an enormous aquarium. Yes, D&D is a whale floating smack in the middle, big and impressive looking. It’s the first thing anyone sees when they first arrive. But it doesn’t actually do much except occasionally inhale and spit out other fish. If you pull your attention off the whale you will see it surrounded by a vibrant, colourful, exciting world of other creatures. Our hobby has so much more to offer than a whale that is taking up space better used by other fish*. It’s time for the whale to go. 

Because even if they fixed everything tomorrow, it wouldn’t be contrition or remorse. It would be fear. Fear of losing their place of power in our hobby. Fear of losing us. Because that’s what WotC hopes you and I won’t notice in all this: they need us, more than we have ever needed them.

*Just to head off the comments, yes, I know a whale isn’t a fish. You know what I meant so just don’t.

Waiting for the Roar

The round of atrocities which have led to wide-spread protests in support of #BlackLivesMatter and defunding police, also caused the TTRPG industry to take a hard look at its history of systemic anti-Black racism. Many companies, streamers, and other hobby notables were quick to show their support, helping to raise funds and outlining tangible ways in which they were going to move forward in support of Black people in the industry. But one voice was conspicuous in its absence.

Finally, on June 1, weeks after the protests began, Wizards of the Coast tweeted out their response from the D&D account. For anyone expecting full-throated support in line with so many other, earlier, TTRPG industry messages, the post seemed more like a, “Oh, by the way…” No where did it actually say Black Lives Matter, instead landing closer to All Lives Matter in it’s blandness. It was a statement long on sentiment and short on specifics, disappointing given how long it took for WotC to release a response in the first place. (In order to be fair, WotC did send a linked tweet with the BLM hashtag…twenty minutes after the initial tweet went out. So at least somebody though that was important, if only as an afterthought.)

Since then WotC has done a few things that seem to show active support; they hosted a fundraising stream featuring Black creators, charity bundles were pulled together on DM’s Guild, and their twitter account was RTing a number of other BLM events and initiatives. Still, this was all facilitating other folx actions; helpful, but amongst all the promotion for D&D Live and various Magic: the Gathering events, I waited to see some direct action from the company itself. I mean, in this same amount of time Itch and the TTRPG community were able to raise over $8 Million dollars. Surely WotC, backed by a major corporation like Hasbro, could manage something of a similar scale?

Fast forward to June 17, when WotC tweeted out another statement. While it might have appeared they were doing little, that was because they had been listening. Okay, not a bad thing, listening is the first step to learning. And in a linked page on their website, WotC laid out what they learned and what they were going to do about it. I’ll let you read it yourself.

My overall impression is that, while it gives the appearance of being much longer on actions than sentiment, it’s a lot of stuff the community has been asking for since well before the current protests. Criticisms of the biological determinism embedded in D&D go back years and decades, and when WotC is finally stirred to action? They’re going to do better in future books, fix problem areas in specific current books when they reprint them, and will release a supplement to fix the core character build process. The first one should be a given, and is arguably the lowest bar to clear given their track record. The second is great, and has apparently already been done for a few books, but no mention of what they’re doing for folks who already purchased the books (apparently there is something happening for those folx, but it should be on the statement page, don’t make people hunt to find it).

The last one, however, raises red flags for me. Why a supplement? Why not just update the core rulebooks in the same way you are doing with other sourcebooks? If they truly believe this is the path forward, why create a “separate but equal” set of rules that will inevitably cause issues in the community going forward. Any long time gamer can tell you, “supplemental” rules are optional rules. If they aren’t wholeheartedly adopted by WotC and incorporated into the DM’s Guild and Adventurer’s League, then this is just performative and WotC is trying to have their cake (that they didn’t even bake) and eat it too.

Now, let me take a moment to extend legitimate praise to WotC for hiring sensitivity readers for their upcoming work. That is an excellent step, and while it should have been done much sooner, the fact that they have done it is a positive sign. Hopefully it is something which continues once attentions wain.

The statement ends on a seeming commitment to hiring more diversely, which on its face would seem like a positive thing. And certainly a more diverse freelancer and staff pool is a good step. But there has been no mention of dealing with any of the systemic issues inside WotC/Hasbro’s office culture, issues which have led directly to some of the problems WotC is arguably trying to fix. As well, WotC and Hasbro continue to be silent in the face of calls to fire Mike Mearls and fix their harassment problems. So any diverse folx hired are coming into an environment which does not appear to value them enough to protect them, or support them with an equally diverse management.

On top of that, no where does this statement mention the faint bit of action present in the June 1 statement, the promised donations to three agencies.  By now someone in the Finance area at WotC/Hasbro should have been able to blow the dust off a calculator, figure out a number and a sufficiency of zeroes to follow it, and be able to announce it. That they haven’t at this point, while instead pushing third party initiatives through DM’s Guild and DnD Beyond, concerns me.

I have tried to be optimistic when it comes to WotC/Hasbro. In the face of everything I hoped they might actually take some sort of action befitting an industry leader. They were so proud of all those survey numbers they talked about a few months back, after all; all those folx playing their game, how wide their impact is spread. I’ve been waiting for a roar befitting a dragon.  But in this time of crisis, with people in the community they so proudly tout facing bigotry, hatred, and in some cases, death…well, we get this.

But hey, it’s a start. At least they’re still listening, right?

Where I’m at with #FireMikeMearls

I was going to write another #FireMikeMearls tweet but I felt like I needed a bit more room today, so you get a post instead.

I’m not going to spend time summarizing the situation. By now you are either familiar with what’s going on or you aren’t. If you are a summary is wasted space and if you aren’t, searching the hashtag on Twitter will get you up to speed. If you need to do that before reading further, go ahead. This post will be here when you get back.

This may not be a very cohesive post; I’m going to talk about things as I think of them. To start, I am 100% in support of firing Mike Mearls from his position at Hasbro/WotC, as a first step in cleaning up their corporate culture. If it can be cleaned up, and we’ll touch on that in a bit. And firing Mearls is the minimum the company has to do right now. He should have been fired years ago when the harm actually occurred, but Hasbro/WotC shat the bed on that situation, alerting anyone paying attention to their obvious lack of any sort of harassment policy or procedures.

Before we go further, let me establish that I have some experience with harassment policies and procedures through my job. I work for my municipal government, and we have a clearly defined policy and several procedures in place to deal with workplace harassment and misconduct. Every employee is aware of what their rights are and what they can do if it occurs or if they witness it happening.  Through my position I have sat on committees reviewing our procedures, so I am probably more familiar with the details than most of my co-workers. In addition, I am a shop steward for my union, and it is my responsibility to understand and carry out my union’s policies and procedures around workplace harassment. That means helping the victims of, but also identifying and penalizing the perpetrators of.

So when I tell you that, as an outside observer, it appears that Hasbro/WotC either doesn’t have policies/procedure in place, has them but didn’t bother to follow them, or has ones so bad they aren’t worth the stale bagels and coffee consumed at the meeting that crapped out the policy document, I have a bit of experience in that area.

When I send a tweet with #FireMikeMearls in it, I don’t think that’s the end goal. Not even close. Because Mearls is just the most egregious symptom of a larger problem. He doesn’t work in a vacuum, there are higher ups and co-workers who have allowed him to retain a place in the industry and our hobby. The fact that his actions around Zak S are simply one example of Mearls’ poor judgement (at best) and active support of abusers (at worst), makes the tacit support of his peers disappointing.

But that’s actually all the time I’m going to spend talking about Hasbro/WotC’s corporate culture. If I thought they could be saved, if I thought they were worth saving at this point, I could look at my own workplace policies and make some suggestions around fixes they might try. But if you’ve built an unsafe house, you don’t try to repair it. You tear it down and build a better house. Frankly, I don’t see anyone at Hasbro/WotC having the guts to do that.  Believe me, I’d love to be proven wrong.

So if I’m not going to talk about that, what are we doing here? I want to spend some time talking about what I plan to do going forward in the hobby. Because while I maybe should have come to this sooner, it’s come to the point where I can’t put it off: I can’t support Dungeons & Dragons anymore. Which is sad. Dungeons & Dragons was the game that got me into the TTRPG hobby, it was my first and my most often played, through forty years of gaming. But as long as Hasbro/WotC demonstrate their complete lack of connection to or concern for their player base, I can’t support them.

“But Brent,” I hear you say, “You can still play D&D and never give the company another dime.” And you are right. But monetary support is only part of the picture. I am a big believer in modelling the behaviour you want to see. If I talk about Hasbro/WotC needing to face consequences for their lack of action, then turn around and shout, “Roll for initiative!”, that doesn’t model good behaviour in my eyes. Rather, it shows that I am willing to justify folx being hurt as long as I get to remain comfortable playing my games.

So going forward, I am going to be writing about other games in the hobby, and framing my player/GM posts to relate to these other systems. I’ve been guilty of writing posts where I assume the Dungeons & Dragons style of play as the baseline, and have talked about campaign creation and game mastering from that standpoint. But something my #ReadIndieRPGs videos demonstrated quite clearly to me, was that D&D is not our hobby’s baseline, and hasn’t been for some time. I mean, I knew that (and indie creators have certainly been yelling it at me for a while), I just hadn’t thought about it consciously before. So expect me to better live up to the site’s name going forward.

I’m also going to stop running/playing D&D, though that will take a bit more time to transition. One campaign has been on hold, and won’t be an issue to just stop. The other is active, however, and since I haven’t even discussed this with my players yet, it isn’t going to stop on a dime. Luckily we have a session tonight, so I can start that conversation and hopefully find us another system that suits our needs. I have no doubt we will.

Update: We had that discussion. This group of players does not follow the goings on in the TTRPG industry, and so were unaware of any of the issues surrounding Zak S/Mike Mearls/et al, so I had to fill in some background. Gratifyingly, however, once I did there was unanimous agreement that we should drop D&D like a moldy apple and switch to another game. For those curious, we have settled on The Black Hack for now, and are excited to see where these new, much simpler mechanics take us.

Because guess what? Did you know our hobby and industry has other games besides D&D? I know, it blew my mind as well! Not only are there other games now, there have always been other games! Growing up in the hobby I played a decent percentage of all of them, and I look forward to getting back to some of them, trying out their updated versions, or diving into newly designed games. This is the perfect time for me to get a Ryuutama, #iHunt, or Flying Circus campaign going, for instance.

What I don’t plan to do is dog pile anyone who still plays D&D, or independent creators who still publish for the game. You’re all adults, you all get to make your own decisions about these things. Not all indie creators, especially those in marginalized communities within our hobby, have the luxury of being able to just stop. Many creators have commitments in the pipe and can’t just cancel an entire project. I get that, and I have no beef with you. That said, if you come after me or anyone I know because of our decisions around this game and the hobby; if you try to brigade me or anyone else for using the #FireMikeMearls tag; if you’re just generally a shitty person about the whole thing, regardless of the “side” you support, I will call you out on it, report you, and block you. I have no time for any of that, and my Block Party has unlimited seating and all the warm Diet Fanta you can drink.

That’s where my head is at right now. I’m still reading threads and listening to various people in the hobby and industry to get their takes. But I wanted to take a moment to get some stuff out of my own head, maybe help me think a little clearer around the subject. Because this current situation is a) not a new one in our hobby, and b) something that is a source of and caused by the history of bigotry and colonialism that has long been present in the hobby and industry. There are better qualified people than I talking about that subject, so for right now I am listening. But I will have more to say by and by.

As always, feel free to shout at me here or on Twitter. We’ll talk more soon.