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?

TTRPGs Giving Back

The tabletop gaming community is filled with smart, funny, imaginative people who enjoy sharing stories and laughter with their friends and quite often with complete strangers. I think that last part is one of the things I love most about this hobby. That I can sit at a table of folks I don’t know and within minutes, thanks to our shared passion, tell heroic stories and get to know my fellow players a little better because of it. While I might sit down with strangers, I rarely walk away from strangers at the end. I think that’s a beautiful thing.

So it will surprise no one that the TTRPG community can also be extremely generous, willing to help whenever and however they can. One only has to look at the prevalence of Itch charity bundles to see this in action. Indie TTRPG creators generously donate their work to these bundles in order to support donations from the community. Donating gains the donor access to a plethora of tabletop games while supporting a great cause.

So here are three Itch bundles going on right now, ready and waiting for your generous donation. Frankly, you are going to get more TTRPG goodness from these bundles than you can likely bring to the table, but I promise you’ll have fun trying! And if you’re on a budget, check the ending dates and grab the deals that will go away soonest.

Important: TTRPG creators have generously donated their work to these bundles. When you get your bundle, please set aside some time to go through the games and leave five-star ratings on all of them. It will really help the creators out (getting them visibility and helping drive future sales) and it’s just a cool thing to do.

Solo But Not Alone 2: A bundle hosted by Peach Garden Games with content from 74 creators. Your donation of $10 gets you access to 102 solo TTRPGs, perfect for those long stints between games with your friends, or when a game is cancelled but you still want to scratch that roleplaying itch. Proceeds go to support suicide prevention and mental health education through Jasper’s Game Day. This year’s funding goal is the amount that was raised last year ($31,650.24) and the bundle has reached 82% of that goal, with just five days to go! Why not stop by and help get them the rest of the way?

Mutual Aid for Armanda: Not every bundle has to support large charities or movements, sometimes it’s enough that we can do something to help one person through some trouble. Cat Elm and fifteen other creators have gotten together to help Armanda get a new laptop, as hers is on its last legs. Like many TTRPG creators, no laptop means no making a living, so replacing it is crucial. For just $15 you can help Armanda work securely and get yourself a collection of sixteen TTRPGs from some of Indie’s best and brightest. I mean, a dollar a game, are you kidding? The bundle ends in 29 days, let’s get Armanda that laptop, yeah?

TTRPGs for Trans Rights in Texas!: It’s unlikely you haven’t heard of the horrible decision by Texas’ governor to essentially criminalize the support of Trans youth in the state. Since Trans rights are human rights and fascists, wherever they raise their head, can get fucked, the TTRPG community has organized to help fight back. The bundle is hosted by Rue (ilananight) and features 496 works from 300 creators. You get access to a huge body of work from some of the best people in our space right now, all for $5! So if you can, slip them a twenty and you’ve given that much more support and still only paid four cents a game. The goal is set at $25,000 and the fund is currently 88% of the way there. With a little over a month left on the bundle, I think we can probably manage to blow passed that goal, right? Right.

***

So there are three bundles you can get right now. Not only will you help make the world a bit better, but if you buy all three you’ll have over 600 games with which to entertain yourself and your friends. And if you’re lucky, maybe turn some strangers into new friends.

I’ve got time free in my calendar, just saying.

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!

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.

Editing for TTRPGs

I recently completed a little project for the #TTRPGResourceJam over on Itch. I had meant to put together something to help non-editors for a while, and this jam was the kick in the butt I needed to pull it together finally.  Editing for TTRPGs: A Primer for Non-Editors is designed to help creators refine their own editing when they can’t hire an editor. But it’s also a guide to what to look for when you are ready to hire an editor for your project.

It’s listed as Pay What You Want, which means you can grab it for free. But if you can afford to throw a few bucks at it, the money I collect from this goes to a fund that allows me to take on free editing work for marginalized creators. Check it out and let me know what you think! If there are any questions the primer didn’t answer for you, please reach out; I am planning to update this on a regular basis.