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.

#ReadIndieRPGs Master Post

I was cross posting my #ReadIndieRPGs videos here up until about Day Twelve. I stopped because I knew I was going to do a master post, listing everything I read with links to the videos and the games. It seemed to me a master post with everything in one place would be more useful to anyone coming by the site, even if it meant less daily traffic.

I’ll talk about my thoughts on #ReadIndieRPGs in another video and post that on the site as well. For now, I wanted to get this listed in one spot because I feel that if you are new to indie RPGs and want to explore what’s out there, this list is a good place to start. Not entirely unintentionally I managed to give a good cross-section of types of games, solo vs. group games, and so on. And many of these creators have other games as well, which I encourage you to check out.

A quick guide to the links below. If you click on the Day you’ll go to the video I recorded. If you click on the game title you’ll go to whatever page has more information on the game and a way to purchase it (where this is multiple locations I have opted to link the location which gets the creator more money). If you click the creator name you’ll go to whatever page best shows them off, usually their website or Twitter page. Specific entries might have other information. Enjoy!

Day One: #iHunt – by Olivia Hill and Filamena Young

Day Two: savior – by Kate Bullock

Day Three: Succulent Sorcerers – by Diwata ng Manila

Day Four: Hot off the Press – by Margaret Catter

Day Five: TTRPG Safety Toolkit – by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk

Day Six: A Hero’s Journey – by Jessica Marcrum

Day Seven: Session Zero by Meghan Cross

Day Eight: Purplest Prose by Pamela Punzalan

Day Nine: Station Hunt by Graeme “POCGamer” Barber

Day Ten: Breakfast Cult by Ettin

Day Eleven: Solar Convention by Will Sobel (published by Gallant Knight Games)

Day Twelve: Camp Xander by Raven Norris (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Thirteen: you will die alone out here in the black by Ben Roswell

Day Fourteen: Wu De The Five Powers

Day Fifteen: Wishing Well by Riley Hopkins

Day Sixteen: all we know are the things we have learned by Blake Stone

Day Seventeen: Paleo Party by Dyer Rose (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Eighteen: Oathbreakers by Jamila R. Nedjadi of Sword Queen Games

Day Nineteen: Yule Army by Secrets of the Masquerade (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Twenty: Keeping the Lights On by Hekla Björk Unnardóttir (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Twenty-one: Flying Circus by Erika Chappell (published by Newstand Press)

Day Twenty-two: Los Arboles by Mercedes Acosta

Day Twenty-three: Sandwich County by Flowers

Day Twenty-four: Banquo at the Feast by Marn S.

Day Twenty-five: The Steadfast & the Rebellious by WH Arthur

Day Twenty-six: 99 cent Chamber of Death by Christian Guanzon

Day Twenty-seven: Stewpot by Takuma Okada

Day Twenty-eight: Ego by Sandy Pug Games

Day Twenty-nine: Troika! by the Melsonian Arts Council

Day Thirty: Ryuutama by Atsuhiro Okada

Life in the Time of COVID

Have a picture of a Hedgicorn, for good luck!

I had been meaning to write about a great many things. And then life, as it so often does, took a turn. As I am typing this I am in my second week of isolation at home. I’m lucky, in that my employer issued a work from home order early in the isolation process, so I have been able to keep working. I’m not sure if I mentioned it here before, but I work for my City government as an administrator. Specifically, my section deals with granting and Family and Community Support Services, helping organizations that support the vulnerable sectors of our community. As you can imagine the COVID-19 situation has us particularly busy, as we help coordinate not just the municipal response but the Provincial one as well. To say I have been busy is an understatement, but it is important, necessary work and I am lucky (and privileged) to work for a City that has made helping our vulnerable sectors a priority.

But all of that has meant that my free time is not as free as it once was, even factoring in a lack of commute times. Projects like updating this blog and even the Salt Bay Pirate Radio podcast have had to go on the backest of backburners while I take care of work, and then sleep and eat so I can take care of work tomorrow. They’re still coming, never fear. But the timetable for them has been stretched out a bit.

With the podcast in particular, I may have to re-record sections of my Episode Zero, and record a new Episode One. My delay has meant that the season finale for Season 2 of Pirates of Salt Bay has already aired, and Season 3 will begin in a few weeks. That actually makes better sense as a launching point for the podcast, so the delay has that silver lining at least. But it will mean a bit of extra work getting ready.

I did take the time to write something over at The Rat Hole, so please check that out.

In short, I am tired, but I have hope. I know we can get through this. Wash your hands, practice physical distancing measures, use whatever supports are offered where ever you are. Choose people, choose kindness. And feel free to reach out to me if you need someone to chat with. We’ll get through this.

Extra Life All Year!

I have been pretty vocal about my support of Extra Life over the years. I have taken part in the 24 hour game day every year for the past seven years, and I have been successful at hitting my fundraising goals. Last year I stepped things up a bit and created The Hedgicorn as a continual fundraiser for Extra Life. I also offered editing services for donations, which was surprisingly successful and something I plan to do again later this year.

But this year I plan to do even more. I would like to extend my fundraising efforts throughout the year, because I believe that children’s hospitals in general (and my local children’s hospital, The Stollery, in particular) deserve attention and support year round. I’ve set an Extra Life goal of $1000 this year, and it would be amazing to come up to game day already well within site of that goal; it would be a situation unlooked for to have actually surpassed it by then.

As part of this, I am going to go a bit outside my learning curve and comfort zone, and live-stream some fundraising events through the year. This will mean figuring out the technical side of streaming, as well as recording those streams. Luckily there are plenty of resources to help me navigate the process so it will be difficult but not impossible.

And thanks to my friend Amber, I already have a great idea for a stream. I waffled on Twitter about whether to keep my beard, and Amber suggested I not only keep it, but dye it blue and run a charity stream of Bluebeard’s Bride. Brilliant! Once I clear that cosmetic change with my employer, I think this will be one of my first streams, though I may do something a bit simpler first in order to test the waters.

So stay tuned, folks! Over the next year you’ll see me popping up on Twitch a bit more, and I’ll post links here when I am ready for players and the like. If you’d like to support my efforts in charity streaming you can do so in three ways. First, you can drop by my Extra Life page and make a donation, which will qualify you for some incentives listed on my donation page right now. Those are good all year round, and you can get an incentive for as low as a $5 donation.

Second, though I rarely mention it I do have a Ko-fi page, and right now I am saving up to get a better camera and proper lights for streaming, so watching these charity streams will be as entertaining as possible. If you have a few spare bucks and would like to support these efforts, consider buying me a coffee.

Thirdly, if you don’t have the cash to spare for donations or a coffee (and I get it, it’s rough out there) then please share and RT when you start seeing links to the event go up. Heck, even spreading the word about this post will help get the word out, which will help us be successful later on. And don’t let a low follower count stop you! Twitter’s algorithm  doesn’t care how many folks you RT’d to, it just cares that you did it. Trust me, it will help.

Have a great day, folx, and watch this space for more to come!

My Devilish Good Looks

I’m working on some posts, but wanted to share this wonderful piece from my buddy Jeff Martin (@HEATComic). As part of backing his Hell, Inc Kickstarter I got a Hell, Inc Staff Portrait. Welcome, Devil Brent! Devil Brent (DB for short) runs the office TTRPG, and loves to switch editions on his players, sometimes mid-session.

Goodbye 2019, Hello 2020

Yes, I realize that time is fluid, and that we arbitrarily section it up into manageable chunks in order to make sense of a chaotic universe. I’m actually okay with that, so I want to talk a bit about this past year, and look forward a bit into the next.

I have to admit, the last year was a thoroughly mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it was probably the hardest year for me physically, as I got hit with pneumonia, a bad patch of migraines, and a number of injuries which kept me sidelined. Add in a number of family issues, and all of the things I had planned to do on my personal projects fell by the wayside. Prairie Dragon Press didn’t put much of anything out (though I am proud of The Hedgicorn), and while the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games added to its collection, I wasn’t able to get that active in the way I had planned. My total time spent gaming was also down, and that’s just bad news at any time.

But then, my freelance editing work really took off in 2019. I worked for a number talented of writers on DM’s Guild and DriveThruRPG, I wound up working on the Uncaged Anthology (I’ve talked about how amazing that is before, so I won’t go into it again), and there are roughly eight to ten TTRPG publications out there with my name tucked into the credits. More than that, I’m proud of the work I’ve done, and I have been fortunate to work with some excellent writers and a stellar Managing Editor/Publisher, Ashley Warren.

I was also busy for half of last year consuming content for the ENnies and working with the judges to come up with a pretty amazing list of nominees. While I do think the awards themselves need some work and changes going into the future, I’m proud of that work as well. There were literally hundreds of strong contenders last year, and out of that we nominated some truly innovative and excellent games. I stepped down because I think there needed someone other than an older white guy in the judges seat, and I am excited to see that coming true with the latest team of judges.

Yeah, a mixed bag. Not great, not awful, it was a bit of a slog but I made it through. Taking time to reflect on the past year and look ahead a bit, I realize that many of the issues which plagued me last year are not there anymore. My doctor and I seemed to have fixed the migraine issues, and apart from a bit of the flu earlier this winter I have generally felt good. Given the changes I have already put in place ( better eating, more activity) I expect to move forward into 2020 feeling better than I have in a while; stronger, higher energy, more physically competent. And if that’s true, I can hope that a lot more things will fall into place for me, because my health has always dictated everything else I choose to do. After all, if I feel like crap, I am less likely to want to sit in front of my computer and write, let alone go to cons or play games with folx.

So assuming my health stays on an upward curve, a few things I plan for 2020:

  • at least four publications from Prairie Dragon Press next year. I have the text of an adventure complete, and I have outlined two other products. At worst I want to hit one project a quarter, but if I can get that to bi-monthly so much the better. This is as much about learning some publishing skills as it is getting some ideas I have had out into the world, so these will be mostly solo projects, not including art commissions and editing.
  • continue working as a freelance editor. I have some work lined up in January, with some “maybe” work in February. Beyond that, I look forward to seeing what I get to work on next.
  • attend more conventions. This shouldn’t be hard, as I attended *checks figures* one gaming con last year. It was fun, and I will be back again this year (to both, IntrigueCon runs a spring and fall con event), but I would like to travel to a convention as well. Big Bad Con is high on my list, and if I can get the funds together in time I’d also like to hit Breakout Con in Toronto in March.
  • start putting up content for the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games. I really want to start talking about some of the history of gaming, as well as look at a lot of the new stuff coming out on itch and IPR. I’m not certain if this will be blog posts, videos of some kind, or a mix of both. But I want to get those conversations going with folx.
  • play more streamed actual plays. While I squeaked in under the wire and kept my annual average at one streamed game (thanks to Scratticus Academy), I would like to get that up to the dizzying heights of two or even three games over the coming year. Maybe even GM a game on stream for the first time, though I don’t want to push my luck.

That’s a bit of looking forward to the next year. I think it’s all achievable, and I have started working on the specific details to get to each goal. After all, intent is not a plan. So expect a post in the next little while getting into more details about one or more of these goals.

For now, I want to say thank-you. Thank-you for reading my content here or over at The Rat Hole, and for chatting with me on Twitter. Thank-you for the comments and feedback, it has helped me at every turn. Thanks to those of you who picked up a copy of The Hedgicorn, validating my desire to publish and donating some funds to Extra Life.  Thank-you to everyone who hired me to edit their work this year, it was a privilege.

Most of all, thank -you to everyone who works every day to make out hobby and industry more inclusive, and a less-friendly environment for gatekeepers and predators. More than anything, I would love to see 2020 be the year we finally fix the broken stairs instead of walking around them. Thank-you to everyone working to make that happen.

As we pass from one arbitrary year number to the next, I wish you all the best. May your dice always roll interesting.

Beyond Lamentations

A little while back I posted my thoughts on the Lamentations of the Flame Princess publication “Zak Has Nothing To Do With This Book”, both here and over at The Rat Hole. It was pretty well received, and of course the usual Zak and Jimmy apologists came out and were blocked, because life is short and I don’t have time for both games and playing whack-a-mole with fools.

Last week, LotFP posted the book for sale on DriveThruRPG, minus the three page “editorial” from Jimmy Raggi Number Four at the back. Apparently Jimmy has the courage of his convictions, as long as his convictions are limited to 500 copies so only a fraction of the industry will read them. And yes, I am aware because Jimmy made sure to say, the full text of the editorial is available in a LotFP fan group on Facebook. Wise to post it where the majority of the folks who will read it already agree with you. Such brave, much courage. By the way, if you’re looking for the book at DriveThru now, it has been re-titled, “An Analysis into the Nature of Man & the Satanic Power He Contains”, because if Jimmy Raggi Number Four is two things, he is cowardly and pretentious.

In any case, I made my feelings know at the time, both on the DriveThruRPG product page and on Twitter. And in the moment, full of righteous fury, I declared I would not buy another thing from DriveThruRPG while that book was on their site. And my tweet took off! It got over a hundred Likes, shared pretty close to that many times. Not huge by some standards, but it had traction, and folks were getting on board with a boycott. When the CEO of DriveThruRPG posted on the product page, saying they would not be removing the book for… *check notes* …reasons, it got even more traction, and more folks were climbing on the boycott bandwagon.

Which sucks, because a boycott was not the answer, and I was a fool for thinking it was.

Let me take a tangent for a moment, that I promise I will loop back. I did volunteer emergency medical response for close to twenty years, starting in my teens. I’m also a trained Emergency Medical Responder. Through all that, I was taught to always think of the victim first, and where possible, listen to the victim. They can often tell you things you need to know in order to deal with their emergency effectively. Also, a patient on scene who is awake and coherent has to give consent to be treated. That issue of consent is huge in the EMS field, and professionals have lost their job for forgetting it.

Back to the present. See, in calling for a boycott of DriveThruRPG in the heat of the moment, I forgot my duty to the victims. After all, who is my boycott going to hurt? Zak can’t sell there any more, so it doesn’t hurt him. Jimmy does sell there, and it would hurt him a little. But his apologists have already driven that book to be an electrum best seller, because garbage people buy in packs, and no one supporting my boycott was likely to have bought it anyway. But there are folks in the industry who have been victimized and hurt by Zak and Jimmy, who still somehow and bravely create for our hobby, who use DriveThruRPG to make a living. And that’s who my righteous little boycott really hurts. To use an analogy I made elsewhere, it’s like I showed up to an accident scene and was more concerned with the car than the pedestrian it hit.

I didn’t come to this realization on my own. Someone else had to point it out, I was just lucky enough to see it, and belatedly smart enough to stop and think it through. So I have to thank @wundergeek and @machineiv, among others, for getting my head back on straight. They didn’t do it for me, but I am glad they and their words were there nonetheless.

By not listening to the victims and what they needed, not only did I cause them harm, I wasted an opportunity to help them. Like I said, my Twitter thread on the whole affair has been read and liked and shared a bunch since I posted it. Traffic to my original article, both here and at The Rat Hole, has jumped to thousands of views. There was excellent discussion going on in a very supportive RPG.net forum thread. I had the attention of a not insignificant portion of the TTRPG hobby for a split second, and I wasted it by calling for a boycott.

What should I have done instead? Taken a moment to check in with the folks victimized by Zak and Jimmy. Find out what they might want or need from this situation. Maybe that’s nothing; they don’t want to get dragged back in, and that’s understandable. But maybe there were ways I could have used this moment to help them, to help the marginalized in the TTRPG community who have always been the targets of the Zak Smiths and the Jimmy Raggi Number Fours.

For instance, as was pointed out, instead of shouting boycott in a crowded thread, I could have instead pointed folks to creators that could actually use the attention. Wundergeek and Machineiv are two of them, but there are so many others I could have shone a light on while passions were high. I’m not saying it would have changed anyone’s life, but even a few more sales for some or all of them would have been a net positive. But I’ll never know, because that’s not what I did.

But it is what I am going to do. If you stuck through and read this far, it won’t surprise you that I am not boycotting DriveThruRPG, and I don’t think you or anyone else should either. Obviously folks have to make up their own minds about that, but for me the path forward is a bit more complicated, and ultimately better. I’m still thinking things through, and listening, and thinking some more. But here are some main points for me going forward:

  • Obviously Lamentations of the Flame Princess will never see a dime from me. The only reason I have anything from them in the first place is because I grab one of everything on FreeRPG Day, and they submitted some stuff for the ENnies last year (It was never in any contention; it was laughably bad when we got it, and it fared worse by comparison as we received better submissions throughout the year).
  • I’m going to be very picky with my DriveThruRPG purchases going forward. While proximity is not guilt, I have made a list of the publishers who appear on the “People Who Purchased This Title Also Bought This” list on the LotFP product pages. It’s possible not all of them are the same level of toolbag as Jimmy Raggi Number Four. But given a choice, I think my money is better spent elsewhere. Update: since a few people seem to think this is some sort of hit list, let me be clearer. This is simply the first step in a process of being more conscious of where my money is going. Yes, there will be several large publishers on the list. Do I think they are all problematic? Of course not, but taking a closer look at them and consciously choosing where my money goes doesn’t hurt. We are past the point where brand loyalty and willful or feigned ignorance of a publisher’s issues should be acceptable.
  • I’m also going to spend more time over at Itch.io and Indie Press Revolution, because DriveThruRPG might be the biggest online distributor, but that doesn’t make them the best. Both those other sites have a really strong concentration of some of the best and brightest in our hobby today, and I plan to make them my first and second stops for games, with DriveThru coming in third. I don’t think I’ll suffer by that.
  • I’m going to be more active in finding those creators who deserve to have more attention paid to their work, checking out their stuff, and picking up the stuff that interests me. More importantly, I’m going to use the platforms I have to promote their work, to make it even a tiny bit easier for other folks to find.
  • I receive royalties from projects on DriveThruRPG and DM’s Guild. Going forward, I’m going to budget so that half my royalties will be spent over at Itch or Indie Press Revolution, to support creators there. Alternately, if a creator has a more direct way of getting their work, that delivers more of the profits to them, I’ll use that.
  • In a similar vein, a quarter of my royalties will go to supporting marginalized creators in other ways, whether that’s Patreon, Kofi, Kickstarter, or direct support though PayPal and the like.

For those last two points, I’m not swearing it will be a bucket of money going out. But it’s easy to say I support marginalized creators in my hobby. Going forward, I want to be deliberate about it, and put my money where it will do some good. If that also means less money for DriveThruRPG (except for what I spend on marginalized creators there), well, maybe they will take that as a sign. Or not, but I can hope.

I understand not everyone can make commitments like that, and I get it. But if you were one of the folks who built the barricade when I shouted boycott, I’d appreciate it if you tried something similar, within your means. Not only will this actively help the folks who would be hurt most by a boycott, but it will ultimately hit Zak and Jimmy where it will hurt the most; in their soft, fleshy egos.

Comments, questions, concerns? Talk to me below or find me on Twitter.