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

BrentCon!: A Little Extra for Extra Life

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

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

***

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

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

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

Session One (On Hold)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another Solar Orbit Day

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

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

The Renaissance Gamer, his beard blue.

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

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

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

What I’m Watching

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hanging Out in Salt Bay

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Done Waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

meet it is I set it down

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

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

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

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

Until today, July 4, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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