The Rat Hole for May 3 and Announcements

Logo for the RPG Blog CarnivalWell, it’s May. Hard to believe the year is a third gone, but what even is time these days? At the very least I plan to be better of posting here when I write over at The Rat Hole, so you don’t have to go hunting if you want to read my stuff.

This month is all about celebrations and holidays at the RPG Blog Carnival, so I dusted off and updated something I wrote several years back about birthday traditions for your campaign. Slipping a different birthday tradition into your character’s backstory is a great way to create a roleplaying moment in your game. Check it out and see what you think.

And now for a few updates!

ChairMy current desk chair, my faithful writing and editing companion of the past fourteen years, is finally ready for retirement. As you can see from the picture it is quite worn. I don’t mind that; if it were the only issue I would just recover it, fix it up, and carry on. Sadly it also has mechanical issues which make it painful to use for extended periods. So I shined up my Ko-Fi page and am accepting coffees to help pay for a new chair. If you have ever enjoyed what I do, here or over at The Rat Hole, or have enjoyed any of the several projects I have helped edit, and would like to help out, please consider buying me a coffee. I’m currently at 45% of my goal, which is frankly astounding to me. I plan to do something special for all donors once we reach 50% and again when we reach the final goal, as a thank you for their generosity. Don’t know what that is yet, but I’ll sort it out.

Last year I was part of my very first livestream as a player, Clockwork Vines: Alstromeria Alley. We started our second season on Sunday, May 2, and it was a blast! It felt so good to return to this world with this cast under the guidance of Honey (of Honey and Dice). If you would like to catch up, I’ll link here as soon as the YouTube upload is available, or you can catch the VOD and give the channel a follow over on Twitch. We play using Call of Cthulhu rules, minus the sanity mechanic, which makes for an exciting, fast-playing game which is a bit more wholesome than one might expect from CoC. I hope you’ll stop by and check it out, Sundays at 6pm CST.

I have a few other things but I am saving them for a more in-depth post later in the week. Take care and talk to you soon!

The Rat Hole for April 5

Logo for the RPG Blog CarnivalWe’re into April and so it’s time for another RPG Blog Carnival! You can find details and my first post over at The Rat Hole today. Stay tuned through the rest of the month, both there and her, for more magic item goodness!

And keep your eyes here for some exciting Extra Life 2021 announcements! Thanks to everyone’s generosity I was able to raise just over $1000 last year, which is amazing! Never one to rest on my laurels (they really aren’t as comfy as you would hope) I have set my 2021 goal at $2500. That’s going to take a some work, so I’ll talk about what I hope to do to achieve that soon. Enjoy the day!

#iHunt: Under the Influence

Last year I got a chance to play in an actual play campaign for the first time, and it was amazing! Since then I have been working to get the tech and skills in place to host and run some streamed games for charity this year. While hosting has to wait on some needed tech upgrades, I have been given an opportunity to GM an actual play for the first time!

I am so excited to run #iHunt: the RPG, one of my favourite games, for this wonderful group of players. Not going to lie, I feel very much like a hockey player brought up from the farm team for a shot at the big time. I think I have an interesting game planned, the chemistry between everyone at the Session Zero was excellent, so I anticipate a good time for all. I hope folx come out and support The Trevor Project and enjoy themselves. Much like when I stage managed, I will emulate the duck: calm and collected on the surface, paddling like f*** underneath.

Here’s all the details for those using a screen reader:

What: #iHunt: Under the Influence, A charity one-shot Actual Play

When: Sunday, February 14, 2021, 1 pm PST

Where: It’s Probably OK Twitch Channel [https://www.twitch.tv/itsprobablyok]

Who: Players: Aabria (@quiddie), Kimi (@GoldenLassoGirl), Persephone (@Persephiroth), Kandi (@DiceyAmazons), GM: Brent (@DorklordCanada)

Why: To raise funds for The Trevor Project

Updates and addendums: We have prizes! The fabulous folx at Roll20 have generously donated three codes for the FATE Starter Bundle on their site, to giveaway during the stream! One will go to the top donor of the day and we’ll draw from all donors that day to pick the other two winners. Likewise, we also have two $25 DriveThruRPG Gift Certificates that will go to two lucky donors! And still a few more surprises to come!

Also, I want to give a huge shout-out to Francita, who worked up our event graphic for us. Francita is the graphic designer over at Machine Age Publishing, the geniuses behind the #iHunt game, so she was the perfect person for this. I couldn’t be happier! So if you need some graphic design or layout work done, please check her out.

Wrapping Up 2020

Okay, here we go, wrapping up 2020! “But Brent, it’s almost the end of January 2021, aren’t you a bit late?” Look, imaginary naysayer, 2020 was a thousand years long, I think I have a bit of leeway.

I think I can say, without fear of contradiction, that 2020 did not go the way any of us expected. Gaming wise, for instance, 2020 was going to be my Year of the Con! I was going to hit up so many gaming conventions, meet new people, visit with friends, play new games and old favourites…

So, yeah.

We all have the shared experience of 2020 tanking our plans to one extent or another. We also have our shared grief. Many of us lost friends and family this past year, whether to COVID-19 or racist/police violence (the Venn diagram on that is pert near a perfect circle), and those losses rippled hard through our friends and acquaintances online. I lost a dear friend I’ve known since high school and her absence, knowing that even when COVID is done and I can leave my home I can never see her again, has left a hole in my heart I may never fill.

But…

But there have been little joys, little triumphs as well. And while life is not a ledger and these do not serve to balance any sort of imaginary books, they still happened and deserve to be acknowledged. In a sea of grief sometimes the best you can do is cling to joy like a life preserver. In no particular order, here are some joys I cling to:

  • I played in my first ever actual play livestream, Clockwork Vines. It was a whole new group of people I had never played with before, and it was one of the best things to happen to me in 2020. I consider all of them friends (and hope they feel the same way, but do not ask it), and our Story Keeper, Honey, inspires me to be a better person to this day.
  • Together with Francita and Hector we formed the RPG Catalyst Project, helping creators who can’t afford layout, graphic, or editing work get their work ready for publication. It was a rocky start but so far we have helped three creators get their work into the world, with more on the way.  I’m excited for us to keep helping folx and seeing what else we can help people create.
  • I dipped my toe into video creation with two series of YouTube videos to help promote Indie TTRPG creators. That’s going to continue in 2021 and hopefully beyond, with some edited weekly videos as well as the months of daily videos in June and December.
  • I was asked to do Twitch channel moderation by Jason over at Its Probably OK. Jason and I only knew each other from Twitter and me sounding off in chat during their games, so it was surprise when he asked me if I wanted to be a mod for him. But it’s been a great experience, and probably as gentle an introduction to moderation as I could have asked for. Of course it helps to have such good content to watch over.
  • I started running a campaign for the Dragon Age RPG for some local friends and it has been excellent. I didn’t realize how much I missed the challenge of organizing a campaign for a game I hadn’t run before, so this has been a treat. And the group is amazing, up for all sorts of shenanigans.
  • I again dipped my toe into something I had never done before, this time publishing, by taking part in a few Jams over on itch. Nothing major so far, but it has nudged me into my own game design thoughts and work, which is exciting. I definitely have more things planned for this year, so we’ll see how it goes.

I’m not providing links to anything, because this list isn’t me trying to promote anything I’ve done. I made it to remind myself that some good happened in and came out of 2020. Grief and loss, yes, but also some things to which I can cling to buoy me through.

So as 2020 fades in the rearview mirror I hope to approach 2021 with those joys firmly in mind, even as I grieve for those who did not make it out of 2020. I am reminded of a quote from G’Kar, one of my favourite characters on my favourite show, Babylon 5:

We are all the sum of our tears. Too little and the ground is not fertile, and nothing can grow there. Too much, the best of us is washed away.

May our tears be just right.

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