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.

It’s Time to Pick Up Childish Things!

NTYE-03-Cathy-WilkinsThere are many reasons to get kids in to the role-playing games hobby. Table-top gaming has been shown to have positive benefits for its participants, like improved problem solving and social skills. But it’s also a healthy thing for the hobby itself to encourage. If table-top gaming is to continue to flourish we need young people to discover a love of this hobby just as we did. And it’s easier than ever to find the resources to introduce kids to RPGs, certainly a lot easier than it was when I started gaming. I’m not saying I had to walk 20km through snow, rolling my d20 uphill both ways just to find a game, but looking back it sure felt that way.

These days, not only are there a number of resources available to get your kids into gaming, but there are a number of RPGs created specifically for kids. These games are designed to make their first sessions fun and exciting and take into account things specific to running a game for kids, like a shorter attention span. In support of this, Drive Thru RPG is running a sale event called Teach Your Kids to Game Week, encouraging gamers with kids to bring them into the hobby. You can get a plethora of games designed for young players, like Monte Cook Games’ No Thank You, Evil! And Arc Dream Publishing’s Monsters and Other Childish Things.

Why do we need games designed just for kids? Look, I love D&D. It was my first RPG and it will always have a place in my heart because of that, especially with the resurgence due to 5e. But as good as the current edition is I would never start a 7-year-old off with Dungeons & Dragons. Of course I could run a heavily simplified version of D&D, but given the choice I’d rather use a game written for their age. And if it turns out they aren’t interested in playing RPGs (I know, I KNOW, but it could happen), then you’ve only lost a minimal investment of time and money.

If you are going to run an RPG for kids, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Keep it Short – Under the age of 10, attention spans are not terribly long. Try to keep your sessions in the two hour range, but don’t be surprised if your players can only go for shorter spans at first. Over time, as they get more invested in the game, they’ll be able to pay attention longer.
  • Keep it Fun – Since you’re generally dealing with a shorter time span anyway, get straight to the good stuff. No kid (and few adults, for that matter) want their session to be all about the minutiae of character creation or a forensic accounting of their encumbrance. If you’re running a fantasy RPG, get to killing monsters and finding treasure. If it’s more sci-fi slanted, start zapping aliens. Whatever the fun bit of your chosen game is, get to it! You can slip in the boring-but-necessary stuff in small chunks later on.
  • Keep it Clean – This one is important, especially if you’ve never run for young kids before. It’s easy to slip into many of the habits you developed while running for your peers. Those habits may include innuendo, graphic descriptions of the fight scenes, and so on. But these are kids, so clean it up! Especially if you’re running the game for kids who aren’t yours, you want to keep anything potentially distressing or “dirty” out of the session. After all, their parents have the final say on whether they get to come back and game again; if they’re running home with certain new words in their vocabulary or having nightmares about goblin decapitations you likely won’t see them again.

Do you have any advice for someone running RPGs for kids? Drop it in the comments.

Start GMing Now

cropped-cropped-brent-chibi-96.jpgIn honour of International GM’s Day, held each year on the anniversary of Gary Gygax’s passing, it seemed only right to post something about starting your GMing career.

If you’ve never game mastered before, it can seem like a pretty daunting task. And it isn’t for everyone; many gamers I know go their entire time in the hobby without running a single RPG session. There’s nothing wrong with that. As with most things we do for fun, there’s no point in doing it if it isn’t going to bring you enjoyment. But if you have ever thought you’d like to see what it’s like on the other side of the GM screen (and we’ll talk about those in a moment), then here are some tips to make that transition easier.

1) Gather Resources – There are plenty of resources out there to make a GM’s life easier, most of them available on-line and many for free or extremely cheap. If you haven’t quite decided what game you want to run, your first stop should be Drive-Thru RPG. Use “Free” as your search term, and then settle in for some serious scrolling and clicking. There are a metric buttload (yes, we use the metric buttload here in Canada. It’s about 2.67 of your Imperial Buttloads) of RPG material available for free on Drive-Thru. If you haven’t picked a game yet, you want to keep an eye out for anything marked as Quick Start rules. That will give you a bunch of options to choose from for your first game. Even if you’ve decided to run a standard Pathfinder or D&D game, there are pages and pages of free adventures to get you started, as well as PDFs of paper miniatures and map sheets. Yes, you’ll have to spend some time searching, but I did mention free, right?

If you have decided to run either Pathfinder or D&D, then I also recommend checking out the Paizo and Wizard’s of the Coast sites, respectively. Both have fantastic resources available, many of them free for download. At the time I write this, Paizo is running a Humble Bundle for charity. The value of the PDFs available is over $350, and you can get everything for about a $17 donation, an amazing deal by any standard. WotC will likely have similar deals available through Humble Bundle at some point, so it’s a site worth keeping on your radar.

2) Plan the First Session – Resources in hand, you can begin planning your first session. The details of how to plan are the subject of a separate article, so I won’t delve in to them here. But don’t bother planning any more sessions just yet. After all, your first may be your last, depending on how your players feel about the game, the setting, and a bunch of other details which have nothing to do with you. Probably the best way to plan the first session, and show off the game in its best light, is to treat it like this is the only chance you have to play it. That way you won’t be tempted to hold anything cool back for a future session. Why bother? Get all the cool stuff about the game in there right away. If the game is about exploring strange and dangerous old ruins, get them stuck into a weird old ruin right away. If the game is about mech warriors, get them in the pilot seat. Whatever is cool about that game should make an appearance as soon as possible, so your players can get excited. Then if you do go ahead with more sessions, your players are more willing to sit through quieter, slower bits because they know coolness is just around the corner.

Your first session is definitely one where you want to over-plan and under-deliver. Don’t worry that you won’t get to everything you came up with; you won’t. But you want more adventure than you think you’ll get to, just in case your players do something you didn’t expect. And as a new GM, that may happen a lot at first, so it pays to be ready. Don’t worry that you wasted that effort if the players don’t get to everything you’ve prepared for them. Just save it, make some changes, and use it for another session. All your players know about the game world is what you tell them, so they never need to know what they would have found if they went left instead of right. The left-hand encounter can show up later, with them none the wiser.

3) Gather the Players – Game chosen, an evening’s entertainment put together, it’s now time to gather your players. I’m assuming that you’ve come to GMing in the traditional fashion; a bunch of your friends were sitting around, lamenting they didn’t have a game, and you volunteered. But maybe you’re new to the hobby as well, and figured sitting in the GM’s chair was the best way to get your equally green friends to play. Whatever the case, the key to gathering your players is to pitch them on what’s exciting about the game. Easy enough to do, since you focused on that very thing during your preparation, right? Now is the time to really sell it to your potential victims…er, players.

Another part of successfully pitching the game is also knowing what your players like. If you’re pitching to veteran RPGers in search of a new game, you have a good idea of what they might like to play. But even if they are new to the hobby, you can usually find the not-so-subtle clues that point you to RPGs they might like. Did your group of friends flip over the Avengers movies? I see super-hero RPGs on your horizon. Are they action-movie crazy, or do they gather and discuss the latest fantasy epic? You might want to look at a cinematic action RPG like Feng Shui for the former, whereas the latter will be right at home in whatever fantasy RPG you land on. The point is, if you want them excited to play, pick a game based on something which already excites them. And remember, it’s just one session for now. If it doesn’t work, pick another game and repeat until something clicks. Hanging with friends and trying a bunch of different RPGs sounds pretty awesome in its own right anyway. And maybe you can convince everyone to take turns GMing for a session, so you get some play time as well.

Hope that helps convince you to take the GMing plunge. I’ll have plenty of GMing tips and tricks down the line (and you can search for past articles right now), so please come back for a visit any time. If you’ve got a specific question regarding GMing, or playing, or about RPGs in general, send your question to RenaissanceDork@gmail.com. I’ll answer when I can, and may save up questions for a Q&A post here.

Gamer Gift Guide 2013

With a week to go until Christmas I thought this would be a good time to break out the gift ideas. Nerds are sometimes hard to buy for, and gaming nerds can be among the hardest (hir hir hir). If you know what games the geek(s) in your life play your task is a little easier, but even if you don’t there are plenty of options your gamer friends will love.

1) A Drive-Thru RPG Gift Certificate – Perfect for the role-player in your life, a gift certificate to Drive-Thru RPG lets your friend pick the games they want from DTRPG’s vast digital library. The GC is also good for the RPG Now and WargameVault pages, so your giftee will have plenty of gaming goodness from which to choose. Plus your friend can enjoy their purchases at the speed of light! Sort of. I mean because it’s a digital download. And far from being impersonal, a gift certificate to DTRPG shows you were listening when your gamer friend said, “Don’t bother buying me a specific book, I might already have it.” Speaking as a gamer, I appreciate that.

2) Dice – Yes, your gamer friend already has dice. But no gamer ever has so many dice they won’t appreciate more of them. And there are so many dice from which to choose: Chessex,Q Workshop, Crystal Caste…the list goes on. Or step it up a notch and get them a sweet dice ring from Crit Success! And if you don’t know your friend’s ring size, no worries; they have gift cards as well.

3) Magazine subscription – This is a great gift idea because it’s the gift that keeps coming throughout the year. And most magazine subscriptions come with a digital or digital add-on option. For general gaming goodness I’d recommend Gygax Magazine, covering a wide range of role-playing games. Or introduce your friend to the antics of Knights of the Dinner Table, the monthly that is half comic book, half gaming mag. While it does tend to focus on the Hackmaster game, many of the articles touch on general gaming topics and reviews. Plus the comic is pretty darn fun as well. And if you want to branch outside of the gaming realm, consider a subscription to a sci-fi/fantasy fiction magazine. For perfectly reasonable reasons that have nothing to do with me editing there, I’d recommend the amazing On Spec magazine. But I hear tell Asimov’s is a pretty swell magazine, too.

4) Tickets to your Local Con – This is assuming you have one, of course. And assuming your friend can make sure they’re free that weekend. But I know I’d be pretty stoked to get the gift of a free weekend of nerdery! Don’t have a local con? Then sign you and your friend up for games at ConTessa, a free on-line gaming convention. Then show up with food and drink, and turn the weekend into a virtual con/slumber party!

5) Run a Game for Them – This is especially cool if the friend is a constant GM in your circle of gamers. Give them a night or two off and run something fun for them to sink their teeth into; a system they’ve never had time to try or an adventure they’ve always wanted to play. And if you want to kick it up a notch, write a scenario or adventure just for them! Include people from their life as NPCs/monsters, make it about their work or school. It doesn’t have to be high art, the important thing is to make it as personal and fun as possible. Stuck for ideas? Here’s some 5-room Dungeons to get you started. While you’re there, why not sign yourself and them up for Roleplaying Tips?

Those are some of my holiday gift ideas. What are yours? Share them in the comments!