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.

Free RPG Day Reviews Part 1

If you aren’t a gamer, you might not be aware we just celebrated the closest we get to Christmas this past weekend: Free RPG Day. Inspired by Free Comic Book Day and started in 2007, Free RPG Day works with participating gaming retailers and RPG publishers to put new and exclusive RPG quickstart rules and adventure modules into the hands of gamers.

I love FRPGD, I really do. I think it’s a great opportunity for game stores to celebrate the hobby, and get players new and old through the doors. Sadly, FRPGD events have been sporadic here in Edmonton; no stores have regularly taken part on a yearly basis.  And this year the two stores listed on the FRPGD site, Warp 1 and Red Claw Gaming, had product but no events. Don’t get me wrong, kudos to both of them (especially Warp 1, where I picked up my samples) for taking part and bringing in the product. But I think product without event is a missed opportunity, for both gamers and stores.

That said, I picked up some great free gaming product and that’s what I want to focus on here. Every FRPGD is always a blend of the established publishers and interesting small publishers, and this year was no exception. I’m going to focus on my favourite three “small” press publishers today; I’ll post my favourite “big” publishers in another post.

Cosmic Patrol: Quick-start Rules/The Eiger Agenda – Published by Catalyst Game LabsCosmic Patrol is a retro sci-fi game, inspired by the pulp sci-fi era. It is a rules-lite storytelling game, with play led by a Lead Narrator that switches throughout play, instead of a set game master.  The book packs a lot of information in a 24-page package formatted very close to a pulp sci-fi mag.  Rules take up only ten pages, the rest is given over to pre-gens, maps, and the included adventure, The Eiger Agenda.

I’m only just getting into storytelling-style RPGs, via games like Fiasco and Microscope. As a lover of classic sci-fi, Cosmic Patrol fits into a very specific and potentially enjoyable niche for me. I liked the book overall, and I am definitely going to find a time to play this with some friends as a one-off.

Better Than Any ManBetter Than Any Man is an OSL-style offering from Lamentations of the Flame Princess.  In a break from the tradition of small publishers including quick-start rules, LFP opted to publish a rather hefty adventure offering instead (though they note the rules are available for free download on their site). Rules aren’t really necessary, of course; if you have a fav OSL rules-set you can play through this adventure. An important thing to note, and it says this right on the cover: this is an 18+ Explicit Content product. I won’t go into details, but a quick glance through the art will show you why, and reading the adventure definitely drives it home. It isn’t for everyone, but if you like some hardcore OSL horror, this product is going to be somewhere in your wheelhouse.  And it’s so substantial, it’s hard to believe they gave it away for free.  Definitely a treasure.

Hall of BonesHall of Bones is another OSL offering, from Frog God Games for their Swords & Wizardry RPG. There are quickstart rules included, but if you played any of the original D&D box sets, including up through Basic, the rules are covering old ground.  You really can sit down and start playing this adventure in minutes with the supplied pre-gens, and the adventure is hefty enough to last you at least one session of dungeon delving.

I loved the old-school design and feel of Hall of Bones, and it brought me right back to reading my first modules like Keep on the Borderlands and Village of Hommlet.  I also liked that they included a little primer on old school gaming, sort of a “back in my day” section that I got a kick out of. And what I really liked was how “portable” this adventure could be. Because it’s written for a very simple OSL style game, it would be so easy to strip out the mechanics and drop it into any fantasy RPG you want. For a busy GM like myself it makes Hall of Bones worth its weight in electrum.

That’s it for the small press finds. In Part 2 I’ll give my top three picks from the Big Guys.  Until then, drop a note in the comments and tell me what you thought of your FRPGD finds. Anything catch your eye? Share!