Making a Big Production: Communication

In my last post I talked about producing my very first actual play series, and drawing on my experience as Dorklord_Canada_Logo_Wht_BG_Lo-Res.jpg-01a professional stage manager to explore where those skills might overlap. Let’s continue exploring that as I talk about communication and transparency.

As a stage manager, easily half my job was around communications. During the rehearsal period especially the stage manager is the information hub, connecting the director to the cast and the production team, serving as a conduit to the various departments (props, costumes, carpentry, etc), and generally keeping everyone informed. When I was learning my trade I was taught it is better to tell everyone too much than risk someone not knowing a thing they needed to know. Luckily, I also learned methods that wouldn’t overwhelm folks with information overload.

Having read Twitter threads from folks in the TTRPG space, as well as watching several panels on AP production, communication is a huge part of successful APs as well. The key to successful communication, I’ve found, is not only making sure everyone has access to the same information, but ensuring they have the space to ask questions and feel supported in doing so. I feel like that’s where communication can break down the most often, when folks feel they’re going to encounter anger or defensiveness when they ask questions, whether that’s true or not.

That brings me to our second Theatre Tip, which I teased in the last post:

Theatre Tip #2There is no such thing as overcommunication. Everyone should be able to know everything they want about the production at any time.

Pretty straightforward, right? So does this mean I’m constantly sending emails and Twitter DMs for every little update or change? No, of course not. That’s part of avoiding the information overload I talked about previously. Constant messaging might fly for about a day; by day two the rest of the production would want to strangle me. So how do I keep everyone on the same page? Remember the production document I talked about in my first post? Everyone we’ve invited to the cast has a link to that Google Doc, and knows they can go there for information about the production, as well as any updates. And so they are reminded of that, anytime I do send everyone a message regarding a major development, I also remind them to check that doc for more details.

Remember, the tip reads, “Everyone should be able to know…” not that I have to ensure they know, every second of every day. If I make the information available, some of the responsibility for staying informed has to lie with the other folks on the production. In short, I’ll never hide anything but they still have to get up and go look at it.

And good communication has to start with your first contact with a prospective cast member. So let’s look at a redacted draft of my email out to folks we wanted to invite onto this production. I have redacted any specific details because we aren’t ready to reveal that yet (yes, I know, redacting things in a post about communications, I feel the irony as well). But I’ll show you the letter, then we can break it down by the numbers.

***

Hello! My name is Brent Jans (@DorklordCanada) and I am contacting you to ask if you might be interested in playing in a recorded actual play of the [TTRPG].(1)

Our plan is to record two, three hour sessions of the game, as an introduction for new players.(2) Recordings are currently set for Tuesday, October 18 and Tuesday, October 25, starting at 5pm EST.(3) I will act as the Facilitator (GM) and there will be five players.(4) Currently [Player One] and [Player Two] are confirmed to play. Besides yourself we are also asking [Player Three] and [Player Four] if they are available and interested in coming to play.(5)

The recordings will be edited and then aired on the [Channel Name] Twitch channel, then live on the [Channel Name] YouTube channel.(6) We will use safety tools as part of play, primarily Lines & Veils, X-card, and Open Table.(7) If you do not currently own a copy of the [TTRPG], please let me know and a PDF will be provided.(8)

The project has one sponsor currently, [Sponsor Name], which will pay an honorarium of [Amount] to each player per recording session.(9) This a non-profit I helped create; part of its mandate is to further the playing of TTRPGs through education and demonstration.

In addition, I will look for other sponsors with the purpose of covering production costs and providing more money to you, the players. As well, any money raised from the airing of the two recordings (in the form of tips, subs, or Ko-fi donations) goes only to the players and will be split equally.(10)

This project is meant as a starting point. This is a new game for most of us, this is the first actual play project I have ever produced, and it will air on a relatively new channel. We’re trying something out to see if we can make it work. If it does, there are plans to record more two to three episode blocks of [TTRPG], covering all of the in-game Seasons. If we go ahead with those you will have first refusal on being a cast member.(11)

But first, we need to know if you would like to join us for these two sessions.(12) Please let me know by Wednesday, August 10 if you are available and interested.(13) If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me, by reply here or by DM on Twitter.(14)

Thanks for your time, I look forward to hearing from you.

***

Okay, let’s break it down.

  1. Even if you are contacting someone you know, start with a proper introduction. This is me and this is why I’m contacting you. Keep it just that simple, don’t bury the lead.
  2. Pretty straightforward, this gives them an idea of the time commitment involved. In this case, I’m asking for 6-8 hours of their time. For most folks in AP, their time is in short supply, they need to know this so they can decide if they want to spend it on my production or not.
  3. I’ve given them a time commitment, now here’s the specifics. These dates and times worked for the two cast members already on board, so we chose to cast for availability. Even without those two cast members, however, I likely would have set at least some approximate dates and times. It can be tempting to leave this open ended so hopefully you can make a schedule work for everyone. But again, these folks are often busy and need to know what your time frame looks like up front. Better to have someone say no thank you at the start, than having to bid goodbye to someone after casting because you couldn’t make the scheduling work. So set your dates. If they can’t, they can’t, move on.
  4. It’s good to let them know how many folks are involved. Not only does this provide scope for the game, but if you are doing any sort of donation/sub/tip split, it gives them an idea up front what that might look like, at least in broad terms.
  5. This one is so important, I’m shocked when I get messaging from an AP that doesn’t include it. No way around it, there are problem people in the TTRPG space and by virtue of most communication happening through Twitter, you can’t know who all of them are at any given moment. So when you approach a new cast member, tell them who else is involved. Let them decide if they want to work with the folks you already have on board. And let them know who you’re thinking of approaching. It didn’t happen with my casting for this, thankfully. But doing this let’s a prospective cast mate warn you if you might have employed or are thinking of employing someone harmful. As well, and this did happen, one of the folks I approached who sadly couldn’t make the scheduling work, offered to give me names of other folks I could approach in their stead. So now I have a resource for future casting I didn’t have before. In short, there is no downside to doing this, as long as you are open to being corrected and keeping your collaborators safe.
  6. Again, pretty straightforward. This is where we’re going air and this is where the recordings will end up afterwards. Of course I’m going to provide everyone with the links to all of this later, but if for some reason they lose those, they can still track down their work.
  7. I use safety tools at any table I run and it is especially important for actual plays. Streaming or recording, your players need to feel safe enough to fully engage with play. Frankly, if you don’t want to use safety tools for your APs, you aren’t ready to produce APs. I hear macramé is nice.
  8. Like a theatre production provides the scripts, an AP should provide the game. This could be something you work out with the publisher as part of your sponsorship. In our case I hadn’t reached out to the publisher yet, so I provided the game to the players who needed it out of pocket. This is important, because not every player you reach out to has read, or even has the means to read, every game. It’s only right you provide the tools they need to work on your AP.
  9. Here we come to the money part, a subject which I know give plenty of folks Rapid Onset Sphincter Clench. Again, transparency is your friend. If you don’t have any money, say that. If you have a little money (as we did), say that. If you have enough to pay your cast appropriately, please give me the name of your genie (kidding, but maybe…?). Avoid any phrases which sound apologetic or passive aggressive, like, “I know it isn’t much, but…” or “You probably wouldn’t want to work for so little…” No one appreciates those and they lay the groundwork for both poor future communication and hard feelings down the road. Be clear, upfront, and honest about what you can do to compensate the cast member for their time, then let them decide. You’re an adult, they’re an adult. So be adults.
  10. If you have little or no money up front, also be clear about any plans to get more compensation for the cast. Don’t promise the moon and avoid specific numbers unless you are rock solid you can deliver. Saying something like, “I promise everyone will get at least $100 in tips from Twitch!” may sound good. But now your production needs to raise $100 x cast members + whatever Twitch’s cut is, in order to deliver on that promise. And as a producer (or stage manager, for that matter), you are your reputation. Keep your promises? You’re golden. Fail on your promises? You’re dross. The lesson: make less promises and bust your ass to keep both the promises you make out loud and the ones you don’t .
  11. This section isn’t necessary for every project, but we do have tentative plans for a longer series of recording if this project works out (what does “working out” look like? Excellent question, sounds like a future blog post!) and I wanted to let prospective cast mates there could be future work if they wanted it. First refusal gives them an out in case they didn’t enjoy the game or the experience in general, or if their schedule suddenly gets busy.
  12. Just bringing the focus back to this project, which needs to happen to make any of the other stuff possible. I made this a point to demonstrate that it’s okay to dream a bit and invite your prospective cast members to dream with you. But always keep most of your focus on the work at hand, not what dreams may come.
  13. Cast member invites should not be open ended. You want to give them time to look at their schedule, talk to other groups they might be involved with, and look into the folks involved. In this case I gave them three days, which, on the advice of one of my collaborators should have been more like five, given how far off the working dates are. So go with five unless you’re in a hurry. But then, why are you in a hurry?
  14. I’m pretty confident I covered everything, but I could be wrong. So always open the door for questions and let them know where those doors are located.

So, pretty good, right? Sure, but I missed some things. No pronouns for one thing, I should have included everyone’s next to their name. So that’s pretty big. And as mentioned, I should have given them five days or even a week to respond, given we wouldn’t even be recording for another two plus months. In theatre I am used to much tighter timelines, so my instinct is to grant as short a time as possible for responses, so I can move on swiftly if there is no response or if the answer is no.

And I am sure as I post this, veteran AP producers may have other notes for me. I welcome them! Please drop them in the comments below or comment when this pops up on Twitter, I’m excited to hear your thoughts.

As for next time…I’m not sure. But I’ll try to come up with a clever Theatre Tip to go along with it. Until then, adieu!

Making a Big Production

Dorklord_Canada_Logo_Wht_BG_Lo-Res.jpg-01I’ve made no secret of my love for TTRPG actual plays. Recorded or live, video or audio, they are my new favourite media to consume. I love watching and listening to them and I am thrilled at the rare moments I get to play and GM for them. For years, though, I’ve had the thought in the back of my head: what if I produced an actual play? Could I do that? Do I have anything unique to bring to the table, pun definitely intended? While the third is a larger question requiring more time to ponder, I think I have a handle on the first two.

What if, indeed. And yes.

I’ve mentioned before, here and on Twitter, that I worked for close to twenty years as a freelance stage and production manager. Both jobs related to the organizing of a theatre production, and so I have almost two decades of practical experience in organization and communications around production work. But could those skills port over to actual play production? My gut says yes, and every panel or workshop I’ve taken on AP production over the last few years seems to confirm that. Despite the fact that actual plays are consumed as video media and so are superficially like television, I’ve always thought of them as more in line with theatre anyway (that’s a post for another time).

A conversation with a few friends online led to us wanting to play and record a show together. This collaboration seemed like the ideal time for me to take a leap and see if if my skills would serve me. And I thought it might be helpful, to anyone else thinking of producing their own AP show, for me to talk about what I’m doing and the steps I’m taking. After all, when do you get a chance to watch somebody try things, screw up, learn, try new things, and hopefully get better? Hopefully my posts will help take some of the anxiety out of starting your own production.

Let’s call these…Theatre Tips! Sure that sound corny, but it will grow on you. So…

Theatre Tip #1: Collaborate. Don’t try to do it alone. Even one-person stage shows need someone running lights and sound.

For my first shot at producing I definitely was not going to solo. The idea came about from a conversation with two friends, as I said, and thankfully those friends wanted to work with me (I promise, as soon as we make details of the show public I will stop with the “my friends” and name names, give credit where it’s due. For now, be patient.). And based on what we decided to do we knew we needed at least three more folks on board, which meant convincing three people who weren’t in the initial conversation that we had a good idea they should consider joining.

First thing I did? Thankfully this initial conversation was via Twitter DMs, so compiling notes was easy. I copy/pasted the entire conversation into a Google Doc. Then I removed everything that wasn’t a detail related to the project. Then I made five main categories, which you may be most familiar with in relation to journalism and news writing: Who, What, Where, When, and Why? These questions are just as important when planning a production; I would suggest that how well you can answer them will determine how successfully you can produce your show. I could have created a category titled “How?” but decided to be specific, entitling it “Sponsorships and Support”. I also put a “To Do” list in the document, to keep track of tasks at the start. Later on this list will become a checklist in Google Sheets, but for now a simple list works fine.

Why do all this? Now I have a document containing all the details of our proposed production. I don’t have to hunt through a Twitter DM thread to find important information, I go to the Doc instead. Later, when I want to create a media release, or put together an ad, or even just answer someone’s questions about the production, I have a source from which to pull that information. And most importantly, because it’s a Google Doc I can share it with the other folks on the production so they also have this information at their disposal. As well, they can leave comments and questions in the Doc itself for me or anyone else to discuss.

Which leads me into the topic for our next post:

Theatre Tip #2: There is no such thing as overcommunication. Everyone should be able to know everything they want about the production at any time.

And we’re going to use the somewhat redacted text of the cast invite letter I sent out recently to illustrate this point. But that’s going to be Thursday’s post, so I hope you’ll come back.

If you have any questions about today’s post, or about AP production in general, send them my way. I’ll answer questions about the post right away; I’ll save my answers to other questions until we hit that point in the production. Again, I’m not an expert and I don’t pretend to be one. I have some skills I think will help so I am diving into my first AP as a producer. Hopefully watching me work through it can help other folks do the same. I guess time will tell!

 

New Year, New Look

Dorklord_Canada_Logo_Wht_BG_Lo-Res.jpg-01Today is my birthday, which seems like a great time to introduce the new site and new look for Dorklord Canada. If you follow me on Twitter you might have known I worked with Allie at ATG Studios to get a unified look and feel to the DLC brand (I almost put brand in quotations, but I didn’t. My online presence is a brand, nothing wrong with that). Allie delivered beyond anything I envisioned and I love the new look.

I’ve spent the last few weeks updating all my online locations, editing some, deleting others, even creating new ones. It feels so good to look at all the spaces I exist online and really see myself there, see the person I want to be looking back at me.

Moving forward, my online presence will focus on the TTRPG hobby and community, focused but not limited to:

  • How TTRPGs can be used to help us improve, individually and collectively
  • How the games of the past connect with the games made today, and what we can learn from both
  • Using my presence in the TTRPG space, whatever that is, to encourage the community to grow and foster marginalized creators
  • Have fun. They are games, after all.

That’s just some thoughts I had today, I’m sure I’ll think more thoughts, I usually do.

So what’s new on the site? I got rid of a few outdated pages and replaced them with more relevant ones. The whirlwind tour:

  • About DLC – I had created a carrd page to hold links to all my stuff, but why use that when I have a website all my ownsome? So About DLC will be the living (regularly updated) repository for everywhere you can find me online. It’s the first place you should look if you need to know something about me; if you can’t find it there, shoot me a DM on Twitter.
  • Need an Editor? – I have no plans to stop freelancing as a TTRPG editor and this is where folks can find out more, or contact me with questions or work.
  • Support – This page outlines some ways in which I can immediately offer support if you’re running a TTRPG charity or fundraising event. And if you like the work I do and can offer a bit of support, this page offers some places to do that. Not going to lie, I’m sort of excited by the TeePublic store. Yes it would be cool if folks got stuff with the DLC “Dragoonie” logo on it, but mostly I’m excited to order my very own Dragoonie mug!
  • Extra Life – My fundraising for Extra Life is ongoing so I decided it need its own page. This is also a living page, I’ll update it with new information and events for whatever year we’re in. If you want to find out what I’m doing for Extra Life, this is where to go.

Basically, my website has become the hub for everything Dorklord Canada, as it should have been. Not that social media, especially Twitter, won’t continue to be my main point of contact much of the time. But if I want something to last beyond Twitter’s cicada-like lifespan, this is where it will live.

And with a solid base under me, I have plans for the future. Keep an eye on my Twitch and YouTube, as well as some other place to be named later. But I am making plans with some amazing folks to make some amazing things. I hope you’ll stick around to see them.

Extra Magic for Extra Life

Logo for Extra Life fundraisingDonate $10 through my Extra Life page and I’ll make that $10 work forever.

Let me explain. (If you want to skip my meandering and hear the plan, scroll down to The Plan, below)

I was mulling over copy for my Extra Life tweets and emails and I remembered those tweets that usually go something like, “…if everyone who followed me donated just $1 I could hit my target of [X] today!” And I totally get where that messaging is coming from, even if I don’t think it’s effective. Partially because I don’t think guilting the folks you ask for help works all that well. But mainly because it isn’t an actionable request.

Look at my case with Extra Life. Sure, if there were some way to get each of my Twitter followers to part with $1, I would blow away my (in comparison) paltry goal of $3500 with ease. But there is no way for my followers to donate just a dollar. The lowest donation my EL page will accept is $5 because they need a useful minimum in order to keep costs down. And even if I could accept it, it doesn’t make sense for folks to donate that dollar since it will cost them more than a dollar on their end, either credit card or PayPal fees, to make the donation. The whole process would feel like a waste of time and money.

And let’s be real about my follower count for a second. I’m certain there are about twenty five hundred of my followers, plus or minus a hundred, who follow me for me. They have an idea of who I am, they’re into TTRPGs or something else I post about, and they are there for me as me, as much as they can be without having met me (I’m not counting irl friends in this, of course they know me for the whirling bastard I am and I love them for it). When my tweet blew up and went viral, initially there were then a bunch of folks who followed because they liked what I had to say in that tweet and followed me hoping for more (hopefully I haven’t disappointed them too much). But then the tweet reached critical mass and I started getting followers because other people were following and they didn’t want to miss out so they followed even though they didn’t really know what was going on at that point. I’m already shedding a lot of those followers and I expect that to continue.

So while it might appear that I have twenty thousand plus followers ready to serve my every dark whim, in effect I have probably a quarter of that number who pay any appreciable attention to me, and half of that number invested in some way in what I’m doing.

Muddled in with that thought, I started considering numbers. My goal this year is $3500. I feel good about that, and as of right now I am at $235, or roughly 6.7% of my goal. On my list of incentives I priced my lowest level incentive at $10, which gets the donor a special/magical item, created by me, for whatever game system they wish. I get a few details about what they have in mind, then I create something to fit their game/character. Extra Life gets $10, they get a cool item for their games, everyone is happy.

But only once.

The Plan

Okay, hear me out. What if, in addition to giving the magic item to the donor, I saved all the items I made for a particular year, collected them together in a single volume, and sold that volume with all proceeds going to Extra Life in perpetuity? My reasoning is two-fold. One, donating $10 once gets you a magic item, which is cool, but then also gets you the option to donate again and get access to the (potentially) 350 other items created that year, which I think is cooler. Two, doing this year after year would yield multiple volumes of excellent items, creating what would essentially be a passive donation stream for my Extra Life fundraising. Every quarter I would calculate the amount generated, post it here for transparency, and donate it to Extra Life.

So every December 31 I would gather up all the special/magical items I created, dump them in a PDF and ePub (for accessibility) and make them all pretty, then sell that collection through Itch. Maybe it’s pay what you can, maybe I set it at fair market value with community copies. But folks can then donate and take home a collection of rarities and oddities for their gaming table. I’m putting a hard cap of 350 on this because 350 times 10 is 3500, but also it seems a high but reasonable number of items to create.

So as I said at the top: Donate $10 through my Extra Life page and I’ll make that $10 work forever. Well, a reasonable portion of forever, anyway. Make sure to select the $10 incentive when you do, and follow the contact instructions so we can discuss the item you want. I am reasonably confident there are enough of you out there, maybe even 350, who would be willing to donate $10 if you knew that donation was going to keep on giving and you got something special in the bargain.

This in addition to all the Extra Life shenanigans already planned for this year, of course. As an update to those plans, there will be no public event on July 22, though I will encourage folks to donate that day as a birthday gift to me. Everything else is still in place. I’ve just added this extra little twist to help encourage donations.

Thoughts?

Apotheosis Studios: The Culmination of Unprofessionalism

(Brent here! There are ongoing updates with links to the accounts from other folks coming forward at the end of the article.)

If you are in the TTRPG community on Twitter today, chances are good you have already seen some of the threads talking about the deplorable conduct of Satine Phoenix and Jamison Stone, co-leads of Apotheosis Studios. I retweeted one of those threads myself. But as more freelancers come forward about their treatment by Jamison and Satine I thought it important to document this information in a slightly more permanent location. Too often these incidents crest a wave on Twitter and are then lost in the swell of the next wave. But this is too important a warning to creators in our space, especially new creators who might not be familiar with all the bad actors, to let it be rolled under.

The first I became aware of today’s bad news was this thread by tattoo artist Chad Rowe. In it he talks about his experience dealing with Jamison and Satine, both before and after doing some tattoo work for Jamison. I’m not going to dig too deep into it here. The tattoo world is not my area of expertise and there are folks better suited to discuss it in that context. But read the exchanges and keep Jamison’s responses in mind for later. It establishes a pattern of condescension and gaslighting that is important.

Sadly, today was not the first day I became aware how badly Apotheosis Studios treats their freelancers. Several friends in the TTRPG freelance community told me about their awful treatment at the hands of both Satine and Jamison regarding work done on Sirens: Battle of the Bards and other projects. One friend, Jessica Marcrum, was brave enough to come forward about her treatment as a writer on Sirens, treatment confirmed by another writer on the project, Pat Edwards. That’s where I’ll be focusing my attention in this post.

Some context is important. Sirens: Battle of the Bards was a successfully Kickstarted project which raised just shy of $300,000. If you check out the campaign page it is all very slick and pretty, filled with beautiful art and littered with the dropped names of TTRPG “luminaries”. If you scroll way, way down near the bottom of the page, past the shiny promises of stretch goals and events packed with Satine’s/Jamison’s industry friends, you’ll find the list of folks actually doing the work on the project. Okay, no, put a thumb over Satine and Jamison’s photos. There you go, everyone else there.

Let’s pop back up and talk about stretch goals for a second. I’m a little leery of projects that use stretch goals to reward the writers/editors/artists on a project. Done correctly they’re great, but too often they are used as a way to pay the people involved what they should have been paid from the start, while giving the appearance of a bonus. But good or bad, they are at least an acknowledgement of the work that goes into a project and who deserves some extra kudos.

Saying that, take a look at the stretch goals on Sirens. Notice anything missing? Yep, nothing in there benefits the folks doing the yeoman work of bringing this book into the world. Which shouldn’t be a big deal, right? After all, the project raised nearly $300,000, and with none of the writers/editors/artists relying on stretch goals to get their proper due, they must be getting their fair share of that money. Right? Right?

Let’s pop back to my friend Jessica’s thread. With her permission I’m sharing some of her screenshotsTweet One. This first pic, right, is the start of a conversation well after writing had been turned in and Apotheosis Studio had been invoiced for the work. After waiting for any response on her invoice and getting none, Jessica flat out asks about payment, which seems reasonable. So reasonable that Satine acknowledges it as a good question and thanks Jess for asking it. And then (to borrow a hockey term) tips the puck to Jamison, thus allowing her to maintain that veneer of positivity so important to her brand. Now Jamison has the puck and starts giving the bad news: instead of paying writers as they turn over, everyone gets to wait until the last writer is over the finish line. Which makes this the fault of those pesky, slow writers, not the person in charge (Jamison).

Another person in the conversation mentions “30 days” and the assumption that it meant 30 days from invoicing. This is important because “net30” or getting paid within 30 days of invoicing is pretty standard. It isn’t a term which has a lot of room for interpretation, either. Anyone who deals with invoicing in any capacity should be familiar with it. Say, the person in charge of a large, well funded publishing project, as an example.

Tweet TwoBut that’s okay, Jamison has the screenshots of the appropriate parts of the contract handy (which is a little weird, unless he somehow anticipated a poor reaction and the need to defend himself). But this is where we climb aboard Condescension Express, as Jamison’s tone quickly shifts from a reasonably professional one to, “Hey dummies, read your contracts!” I’m not going to comment on the language in that contract snippet except to say that if you ever encounter it in a contract you are asked to sign, walk away. I find it hard to assign much blame to the writers who did sign it, I would likely have misread it as they did and assumed the standard net30 was in play.

Again, the important thing here is Jamison’s tone. There were any number of ways he could have more constructively carried on this conversation. Ways which would have sounded a lot more like he knew he was talking to real live people, writers who had contributed materially to the success of this project. And ways that would have sounded a lot less like he was scolding children, to be sure.

And next slide. Here we have more “correction” from Jamison and another admonishment to read the contract. The writers involved at this point are being veryTweet Three calm and polite, explaining their understanding of how things normally work. Jamison continues to be very angry about it all. I might almost say, suspiciously angry, especially for someone who purports to have done no wrong. In any case, Jamison now asserts dominance by reminding everyone of his very fancy job title, then broadens the discussion by bringing in all the writers (I feel like he should have waited to bring up the job title until after he brought everyone else in. But hey, he’s the Creative Director and I’m not).

Skilled leader that he is, Jamison simultaneously reassures everyone that he is happy to answer any and all questions, while mocking Jess (you remember Jess, the one who came to him with a question?) by quoting her words back to her and everyone else. Also adds the stipulation that folks bring their questions to him in private, because a lack of transparency just screams approachability. This is actually a pretty common tactic of poor leadership, demanding that your team members only discuss “negative” things in private. Good leaders? Good leaders want to talk about things out in the open and get input from the whole team, and are often consensus driven. But that’s a conversation for another time.

Tweet FourCarrying on, the last pic shows that not only is Jamison not really sure how publishing works, he isn’t even quite sure what the writers on this project are up to. Jessica has to remind him that she wrote three, not two, chapters. Seems like, if you’re going to talk to your writers about their work, you might pull up a spreadsheet or something so you know what you’re all talking about. Jessica then points out she had been told the writing was approved, rightfully making the point that if one person on the leadership team says something, the fair assumption is that they speak for the other leaders. But Jamison again asserts his position and throws his co-lead under the bus, a pro move befitting his position as self-nominated Creative Director.

“But Brent,” I hear you say, “You’ve shown us a lot of Jamison acting a complete nozzle. Where does Satine fit into all this?” A fair question. It seems difficult to believe Satine would be unaware of Jamison’s behaviour, especially after the aforementioned passing of the puck at the beginning of the thread. So if she was unaware of his responses here, at the very least she was choosing to be unaware. Here’s the thing though. If you look at the KS page you’ll see they’ve each taken the title Creative Director. That makes her as responsible for the decisions made around this project as the other Creative Director. She doesn’t get to play the “I had no idea!” card, even if true, because quite simply it was her job to know.

Here’s another way to spot a bad leader, by the way. Bad leaders will talk a lot about their authority and very little about their responsibility. That’s why the two most common reactions from bad leaders are “I didn’t know!” and “It’s not my fault, it was [X]!” Good leaders know that ignorance is not an excuse and so try to be aware of everything. Good leaders also follow the adage “Wins belong to the team, losses belong to the Leader.” Pay careful attention when a company in our space screws up and which reactions you hear.

This isn’t just Jessica’s experience on Sirens. Crystal M, another writer on the project, backs Jess up and talks about a similar experience. It’s also important to note that while they did eventually get paid, it was less than expected. And this behavior wasn’t limited to a single project; Ian E Muller talks about his treatment on The Red Opera, another Apotheosis Studio publication. He reveals that he was eventually paid, but by the creator of the project paying out of pocket, not Jamison or Apotheosis Studios.

What’s the takeaway here? First and obviously, don’t work for Apotheosis Studios. That seems pretty straightforward. A little more broadly, be wary of working on projects run by “Industry Darlings” who promise all sorts of glamour and shine, backed up by very little in the way of knowing what the fuck they are doing. I will also add, read your contracts carefully before signing them. The best time to clarify contract details is before you are locked into them; there is no next best time.

But I think the biggest thing we need to face is the stratification of our hobby and the rise of a “star class” due to the popularity of actual play shows. Don’t get me wrong, there are any number of folks out there who put in a job of work to produce excellent AP programming in an ethical fashion, and they deserve all the acclaim they receive because of it. Unfortunately it allows people who are able to skillfully feign that integrity to draw creatives into their sphere and take advantage of them. Sometimes they get away with it for a good long time, hurting a lot of folks along the way. But as we’ve seen today, when that façade cracks, when enough people are no longer invested in protecting that veneer of integrity, they are exposed for the grifters they really are. The sad thing is, everything I’ve seen in Jamison’s and Satine’s response to today’s revelations indicates they believe their own mask, that the first people they grifted were themselves.

In the end, though, I think Apotheosis Studios has reached the natural culmination of its Creative Directors’ actions, and a steep fall is at hand. Hopefully this makes folks take a good hard look at that stratification I mentioned earlier. But I have my doubts. We do so love our darlings, don’t we?

***

Updates June 10, 2022: Several more folks have come forward about their treatment by Phoenix and Stone since I first wrote this a few days ago. I wanted to capture what I could find here to keep them all in one place, for ease of reference. If you see one that I missed, please reach out.

Planning for my Extra Life

I teased some of my goals and plans for Extra Life 2022 in a previous post. Since I have done a bunch of free-range scribbling in my planning notebook, let’s take a slightly more detailed look at what I’m

Extra Life Notebook

Everything starts by scribbling ideas and plans into one of these, before I move on to digital alternatives.

thinking for this year. This post (which was originally a thread on Twitter) will help me see if I have everything in a good general order. Maybe it helps you with your own organizing, as a bonus.

The first thing I do when I’m planning is set out my goals. What do I want to get out of all this? What will success look like? My primary goals are:

  1. Raise at least $3500 for Extra Life by the end of December 2022. Will I try for more? Of course! I would love to figuratively Scrooge McDuck into my pile of fundraising! But this is my target; if I hit other bullseyes as well, so much the better.
  2. Involve a diverse range of creators and players from across the TTRPG community. After money raised, this is my most important goal. I want to showcase games by marginalized creators and I want vibrantly diverse casts of players showing them off. Period.
  3. Have fun!! In the end, despite the cause and all the work that will go into this, I and everyone else I bring on board should have fun. That especially includes the audiences watching! Entertained people donate, so I want them entertained!
  4. Learn to do my own streaming tech by the November 5th Game Day. I need to learn this stuff so I can set up my own charity streams and be able to host other folks if they need it. My planned series of events will let me become more comfortable with OBS and everything else, so I should be able to handle the tech when the November Game Day rolls around. I may still get some help, but it will feel good to not be reliant on it.

Those are my four main goals for this year’s fundraising drive. One big main goal, a mandate to achieve while working on the main goal, and two smaller, easily achievable goals which support the first two goals. Sound good so far? Cool, on to next steps.

Next I needed the broad strokes of what events to run between now and the end of the year. I have two main dates already set out by Extra Life: August 19-22 (Tabletop Appreciation Weekend) and November 5 (Official Game Day). But I need events in between these dates. If I only ran events on those days, it would take a lot of extra work to build up and retain any potential audience for each. Of course there will be a big social media push around all of my events. But running some smaller, differently structured events can not only help me build an audience, but help retain them between the two major days.

I won’t bore you with the brainstorming and scribbled notes, but in general my schedule looks like this:

  • JULY: Brent’s Birthday BASH!! July 22 – single session gladiator-like free-for-all
  • AUGUST: 12 hour GMathon, Aug 20 or 21 – three sessions of four players each, GMed by me
  • SEPTEMBER: Weekly streamed Solo RPGs – two hour-ish evenings of Indie Solo RPGs
  • OCTOBER: As September, but spooky Solo RPGs!
  • NOVEMBER: Game Day 16 hour GMathon, November 5 – as August, but four sessions
  • DECEMBER: Nap. Like, a lot.

So it all kicks off on my birthday, allowing me the space to run and play an assortment of games (Goal #2), while I build my tech skills leading up to the big day in November (Goal #4). I also have dollar amounts I would like to hit between and during each of these events, which actually make me feel quite optimistic about my chances of hitting the overall goal by the end of the year (Goal #1). And by presenting a wide variety of things for folks to watch, I keep things fresh for me and potential viewers/donors over the six months.

That is my broad strokes plan for the rest of this year. It’s ambitious; it’s more than I have done in past years for sure. But if I am going to shoot for three and a half times the amount I usually fundraise, the folks donating deserve more from me than a wink and a smile (don’t worry, you’ll still get winks and smiles in abundance). I hope you’ll follow along and catch as much of it as possible. And hey, never too early to donate, right? And if you see my tweet linking to this post out in the wild, RTs are welcome and encouraged!

Any questions? Thoughts? Suggestions? Want to tell me I’m a mad fool? Fire away in the Comments or track me down on Twitter!

Catching my Extra Life

Logo for Extra Life fundraisingTen years ago I decided to take part in my first Extra Life. I didn’t consider it a huge step at the time. I had taken part in local fundraisers for various children’s charities, I figured doing something with games to help sick kids was a natural fit. That first year was a bit rough; EL wasn’t yet set up to include tabletop games so it took a bit of work to fit in. But I exceeded my modest goal of $250 and felt good enough that I did it again next year. And the next. And the next.

At some point I realized Extra Life was my new fundraising focus. It married two things I am passionate about: TTRPGs and helping sick kids.

Okay, quick story time. The year I started Grade 7 I came down with pretty severe Bronchopneumonia. It got its start during a canoe trip the summer before when I lent my rain gear to one of the other kids who hadn’t packed any. I was a big strong lad, I could handle canoeing in the rain, no harm done. Turns out, plenty of harm done. It started out mild and everyone attributed the symptoms to a combination of a summer cold and growing pains. Jump to a month into the school year when I had to go to the hospital because I passed out very suddenly during a volleyball practice. Woke up to a doctor telling my concerned parents that I would need to stay home for three months. Like, ‘indoors for three months’ kind of stay home.

I know, considering the isolation we’ve gone through the last two years, that doesn’t sound like a lot. But for 13-year-old Brent it was torture. Sure, I’m an introvert. But at the time I was a “go find a quiet place in the woods to read” sort of introvert. Plus, my friends’ parents were nervous about letting my friends come visit me, so I didn’t even have D&D and my other games to break the monotony. I read books, I kept up on my schoolwork, and I was oh so very bored. But I got better.

That in a nutshell is why I have a passion for helping out Extra Life and throw support to my local children’s hospital, The Stollery. I have been a sick kid and it absolutely sucks. But it would suck even more to not have the resources available to get better, to carry out necessary research into childhood disease, to receive long term care for much more serious conditions. If I can do something to help, if even one kid has a better outcome because I took some time to play games one day out of the year? That’s all the reason I need.

That’s they why, let’s talk a bit about the what, when, where, and who.

What: This is my tenth anniversary with Extra Life and I am going big! I have set an ambitious goal for myself. I’ve been happy to get around $1000 the last few years. This year I would like to reach $3500. Yes, you read that correctly, three and a half times my normal goal. I have some things planned to hit that goal, and you may get sick of hearing from me on social media. But I believe I can pull it off.

When: There are two big dates coming up. Official Game Day is November 5, and that’s the day I’ll be gaming for 24 hours. It gets a little tougher every year but I wouldn’t miss it for anything. But sooner than that, August 19-22 is Extra Life’s Tabletop Appreciation Weekend. I’m still working out the details, but IExtra-Life-Tabletop-2022-1536x864 would love to run some sort of BrentCon online that weekend, with myself and others running and playing TTRPGs on Discord. At the very least I would like to run a 12-hour streamed RPG-a-thon on the Saturday or Sunday. Stay tuned for details!

Where: Pretty much everything I have planned is going to take place online. I am still not in a position to produce anything for streaming, but I would love to connect with someone willing to do my tech for a few key events, just so I could raise my visibility a bit. And as I said earlier, you all are going to get sick of hearing about Extra Life on Twitter and Instagram. I make no apologies for that, but I do hope you’ll stick around and maybe take in some of the fun things I have planned.

Who: Well, me. And I plan to spend my Game Day playing games with Team Knifeshoes, as I have for so many years. But the most important “who” in all this is you. You and everyone else who donates, retweets, and helps spread the word. If you’ve given in the past or are planning to give for the first time or again this year, you have my deepest thanks. Without your generosity and the generosity of folks like you, this could not happen.

So that is a bit of my plan for Extra Life this year. If you would like to help me get a jump on things my donation page is live and has some fantastic incentives for a wide range of donation levels. I plan to add a few more in the coming weeks, trading editing work for various donation amounts. But I think what I have there is a good start. And if you aren’t in a position to donate quite yet, sharing this article or the tweet you found it in will help me out immensely and is appreciated.

Thanks for reading! I hope you’ll help me get my Extra Life this year!

Blowing Up

Up to now, my experience on Twitter has been pretty quiet. I only just this year hit 2000 followers, a number that a year ago seemed ridiculous. I enjoyed being a very small fish. I cultivated my follow list so I was generally always seeing tweets from the folks I was most interested in: indie TTRPG creators, fellow editors, actual play players I admire. It wasn’t perfect. Twitter often hid me in the algorithm so it was hard to get engagement sometimes, hard to find the people I really wanted to see without actively seeking them out.

But that was all okay. I was generally able to talk to the folks I wanted, on topics that mattered to me and them. If I thought about gaining new followers at all, I figured at some point down the line, maybe in a year or two, I might reach a respectable 5000 followers or so. Gradually, naturally.

Smash cut to Tuesday night. I posted the tweet pictured below:

Lost some followers today. One of them took the time to DM me, tell me they were leaving because they followed me for D&D, not abortions. I really took that feedback to heart, so let me be clear: 1) Bodily autonomy is a human right and I won't shut up until everyone has it. 2) If you followed me for D&D you were going to be sorely disappointed anyway. 3) Quoting the great Jewel Staite: This is not an airport, you don't have to announce your departure. Fuckity-bye and good riddance.

 

Then I went to bed and thought nothing more about it.

Then, as you can see by the numbers, it went viral.

I spent pretty much all of Wednesday watching my follower count spiral up and up. At first because folks found my tweet through friends and friends of friends. Then the algorithm which had seemed to work so hard to fight me in the past, grabbed my tweet and ran. And ran, and ran, and ran…

I had 2146 followers before that tweet. As I write this, I have 19,542.

I really don’t know how to process it. On the one hand, I’m thrilled what I said resonated with people. I stand by it and you can expect me to keep talking about it. But it’s more attention on Twitter than I ever thought I’d have. It’s definitely more than I’m comfortable with. I’ve spent some time thinking about what I’m going to do, what’s going to change going forward.

The answer to the second part is, not much, at least as far as what I tweet about. I’m still going to talk about indie TTRPGs, local politics, human rights (I think each of the groups that followed me because of one of those things is likely to get sick of hearing about the other two, but I can’t help that). I also don’t plan to stop talking up marginalized creators in the TTRPG space. In fact, my next major personal project is going to involve talking about and with them even more.

I think if anything changes, it will be how I use the app. I need to be more mindful of what I draw attention to, for good or bad. Twitter has a momentum all its own, if I tweet that I think “X” is bad and discover later I was wrong, a whole bunch of my followers are going to steamroll “X” before I can stop them, because they trust my opinion. So I have to earn that trust every day by being purposeful and clear in what I post.

But I’m still the same nerd I always was. I’m going to share actual plays I love, creators I think need your attention, games you should bring to your table. I’m still going to work to be kind, I’m still going to send gatekeepers and bigots to the Block Party. That includes any of my new followers who act up.

As for how I’m feeling? Still overwhelmed, honestly. I never looked for this and I sure don’t think I deserve any of it. There are definitely people in the space that deserve this more. But now that I’m here, I have to deal with it as ethically as I can. My best way forward is to keep doing what I have been doing, focus my attention on helping to uplift as many other creators as I can and talking about the things I love.

And I’m still going to put my foot in my mouth, and I’m still going to make mistakes. Depression and anxiety are still a part of my life, and sometimes the bad brain days get the better of me. So I have to remind myself to extend the same grace and understanding to others that I hope they will give me. Twitter gives us the illusion that we know all the folks we talk with every day. In fact, we see only the portion they share. We don’t see all the joys kept hidden, the pain obscured, the fears and the heartache. I have hundreds of mutuals on Twitter; not counting the folks I know in real life, I consider maybe a dozen of those friends. Maybe they consider me one as well, but I won’t presume.

Okay, that’s enough introspection. If you’re one of my new followers, welcome! If you’ve been with me since The Before Times, also welcome! I promise we’ll get back to the tabletop nerdery you’ve come to expect from me very soon.

Tuesday at The Rat Hole

phonto 121It’s a rare Tuesday at The Rat Hole! That’s because my interview with the cast of Queen’s Court Games’ Kult: Divinity Lost mini-series was so jam packed with fun stuff, we had to break it in two parts. And Part Two is now live! You should definitely read Part One first, though, so you don’t miss anything. And do not miss the final installment in this creeping tale of childhood trauma and adult horror, this Thursday at 7pm EST at the Queen’s Court Games Twitch channel.