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!

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.

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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!