There’s No “We” in AI

Dorklord_Canada_Logo_Wht_BG_Lo-Res.jpg-01AI generated art has been the hot button topic in the TTRPG space for the last little while. There are, as so often happens, respected voices in the industry coming out on all sides of the, well, let’s call it a “conversation” to be polite, which it mostly hasn’t been. And that’s understandable, especially as more details about AI sites and how they operate become available.

For those who aren’t on top of this newest development in AI: these sites use keyword/keyphrase searches to amalgamate images from across the internet to create “new” art matching the prompts you gave. As you refine your prompts the AI refines its “creations” and you get closer to the image you want. That’s a very simple breakdown of how it works, you can certainly find a more in depth explanation with clever use of your internet search engine of choice.

People who support this new development in the TTRPG space talk about how it opens up opportunities for them, giving them access to art assets they wouldn’t otherwise have. And at first it can be hard to argue with that, especially when quite a few of these creators come from the marginalized areas of our hobby. When they just want to get their game to market, what harm does it do if they use AI to give themselves a snazzy cover they otherwise couldn’t afford?

Opponents to AI art generation will point out the harm is two-fold. First, if TTRPG creators can write some clever prompts and click a few icons and out comes an art, why would they ever go through the bother and expense of hiring an artist to do the work instead? So the income of artists in the TTRPG space is impacted. Secondly, and at the same time, the AI is “creating” its “art” by doing what computers have always done best: performing millions of calculations and grafting together bits and bobs from various existing art on the internet. Not only is the AI blocking future income for artists, but simultaneously it goes back and steals previous art, often from the same artists.

One could argue that, initially at least, there won’t be a noticeable financial dip for freelance artists. The creators most likely to use this technology first are the ones who couldn’t have afforded to buy art in the first place. But that drop will come when, around the time a small or Indie TTRPG publisher would normally “level up” their products by reaching out for their first pieces of art, they instead keep using the AI. One doesn’t have to get hit by a falling rock to know this avalanche is coming.

I’m not an artist so I can’t speak to whether what an AI generates could be considered art. And frankly I don’t think that argument is important, at least in relation to the TTRPG sphere. What I am is someone who helps publish TTRPGs and has plans to publish my own work in the future. And looking this new tech over and weighing up all my options, I can say without doubt that I will never use AI generated art in anything I publish. Likewise, I wouldn’t knowingly buy any TTRPG that relied on AI images for its graphic design.

Why? I could certainly make the points that have already been made by other artists and creators. There are any number of ways for TTRPG makers to get free and inexpensive art for their projects. Searching DriveThruRPG and Itch will get you access to any number of art bundles, most artists I know with a Patreon have a patronage level which gets you stock art you can use, there are stock art sites…the list goes on, right down to just not using any art in your game.

I know, I know, but if I can be honest for a second? Great art has never saved a bad game for me. If I had a bad time playing your game, no amount of pretty imagery and clever layout will make me pick up that game again. Contrariwise, I come back to games with little to no art constantly because I love the game. One of my favourite games is the ashcan of Crossroads Carnival by Kate Bullock. Beautiful, haunting,  game, the art is sparse. Which fits the game very well, but if the game wasn’t as excellent as it is I would never give the visual aspects of the game a second thought.

Back to why I won’t use AI art. Like I said, I’m not interested in whether it’s art or not, and I think the argument that it will open up opportunities for small creators is shaky as well. Some have tried to say that this is just the march of progress and artists will have to adapt, likening this moment to the invention of steam-powered looms in the 18th century and the effect that had on cottage artisans. I tweeted my reaction to that analogy already, but in short for those who don’t want to click through: the only way that analogy holds up is if the machines created roved the countryside, stealing and stitching together the textiles of cottage weavers. It is not the same and saying it is shows an ignorance of history, economics, and people.

The reason I won’t use AI art is actually pretty simple. I’m most interested in how this affects people in our space, or dare I use that supposedly dirty word, community. And a large portion of our community, the artists themselves, have told us this will directly and indirectly harm them. That’s it. And if we actually want a community and not just a mob with similar interests, we need to listen to them. We can’t call ourselves any kind of a community if we don’t listen to the folks being harmed and take steps to mitigate or eliminate that harm. Marginalized or not, small creator or not, and especially because there are options available, if you have to hurt someone in order to publish your game, is it worth it?

And when the AI comes for the one aspect of your game you currently control, the words, will you still feel the pain is worth it? Think that day isn’t coming? There’s that ignorance of history again.

One thing I want to note because I’ve seen the use of AI-generated art excused because the creators in question are “hobbyist” or part-time creators. I think that’s part of a larger discussion for another time, because discourse about who is a “One True TTRPG Creator” keeps popping up. But I would make two points really quick. One, if someone steals from me, I don’t care if they only steal in their spare time. And two, likewise, once they’ve stolen from me it hardly matters to me whether they fence the stolen goods or not. They’re still stolen.

So that’s where I am with all this. I’m not sure how this is going to play out in the TTRPG space, but I get the feeling it’s going to be messy and noisy. I think we weather the storm by thinking of people first, especially if you have a hard time thinking of artists/creators as people and not just a Twitter handle.

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.

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.

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.

Creator’s Catalyst Project

Say what you will about Twitter, but in the last couple of years it has been responsible for me connecting with some pretty amazing projects. Commenting on a thread on Twitter is how I found myself editing for the Uncaged Anthology books, one of the best editorial experiences of my career so far. It’s where I managed to find myself playing in the Clockwork Vines world with some amazing players and under the care of our Keeper, Honey.

And lightning has struck a third time. I replied to a post by Francita about wanting to offer free layout help to creators, saying I would be happy to donate some editing time for any creators she worked with, if they needed it. That led to a conversation between Francita, her partner Hector Rodriguez (a skilled and talented artist in his own right), and myself, about forming a team to provide our services to new and marginalized creators in the TTRPG space. That was yesterday.

Today I am excited and pleased to announce the launch of Francita’s brainchild, the Creator’s Catalyst Project! Our goal is simple: we want to help marginalized creators who might need a little extra push to finish a project, get their project ready for publication. Details are listed in the pinned Tweet and in the Introduction document, but here’s the elevator pitch. We have a set amount of in-kind donations each application period (time donated by the three of us) to put toward a project we choose from eligible applicants. We have set-up a Ko-Fi to take donations from the community; donations from each application period will be put toward the project we choose and help expand the scope of services we can offer. We will then work to get the successful applicant’s project finished so they can publish.

And this isn’t a slow process! Each cycle is thirty days; fifteen to accept applications and take donations, a few days to select and then consult with the successful applicant, then another fifteen to finish the work and turn it back over to the client, ready to go out in the world. This is great for any number of reasons, not least because the successful applicants will see an almost immediate benefit. But it also means our team gets to work on new and exciting projects on a quickly rotating basis, and any community members who donate don’t have to wait long to see the results of their generosity.  Plus you get a bit of advanced notice on cool things coming into the TTRPG space, so you can be first in line to buy the new creations as they come out!

If you’re a marginalized creator in the TTRPG space, I hope you’ll look over the information and apply; we would love to help you get your project ready for the world! If want to help the Creator’s Catalyst Project with our work, we surely would love to get donations so we can expand the scope on applications we receive. Ko-Fi even has a way to donate on a regular monthly basis, so if you want to show continued support for what we are trying to do we would be ever so grateful!

Keep your eye on this, I am excited to see the projects we can help find their way to market! And if you have any questions about the Creator’s Catalyst Project, feel free to reach out through the contact info on Twitter. We’d love to hear from you!

Done Waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

meet it is I set it down

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

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

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

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

Until today, July 4, 2020.

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

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

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

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

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

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

#ReadIndieRPGs Master Post

I was cross posting my #ReadIndieRPGs videos here up until about Day Twelve. I stopped because I knew I was going to do a master post, listing everything I read with links to the videos and the games. It seemed to me a master post with everything in one place would be more useful to anyone coming by the site, even if it meant less daily traffic.

I’ll talk about my thoughts on #ReadIndieRPGs in another video and post that on the site as well. For now, I wanted to get this listed in one spot because I feel that if you are new to indie RPGs and want to explore what’s out there, this list is a good place to start. Not entirely unintentionally I managed to give a good cross-section of types of games, solo vs. group games, and so on. And many of these creators have other games as well, which I encourage you to check out.

A quick guide to the links below. If you click on the Day you’ll go to the video I recorded. If you click on the game title you’ll go to whatever page has more information on the game and a way to purchase it (where this is multiple locations I have opted to link the location which gets the creator more money). If you click the creator name you’ll go to whatever page best shows them off, usually their website or Twitter page. Specific entries might have other information. Enjoy!

Day One: #iHunt – by Olivia Hill and Filamena Young

Day Two: savior – by Kate Bullock

Day Three: Succulent Sorcerers – by Diwata ng Manila

Day Four: Hot off the Press – by Margaret Catter

Day Five: TTRPG Safety Toolkit – by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk

Day Six: A Hero’s Journey – by Jessica Marcrum

Day Seven: Session Zero by Meghan Cross

Day Eight: Purplest Prose by Pamela Punzalan

Day Nine: Station Hunt by Graeme “POCGamer” Barber

Day Ten: Breakfast Cult by Ettin

Day Eleven: Solar Convention by Will Sobel (published by Gallant Knight Games)

Day Twelve: Camp Xander by Raven Norris (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Thirteen: you will die alone out here in the black by Ben Roswell

Day Fourteen: Wu De The Five Powers

Day Fifteen: Wishing Well by Riley Hopkins

Day Sixteen: all we know are the things we have learned by Blake Stone

Day Seventeen: Paleo Party by Dyer Rose (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Eighteen: Oathbreakers by Jamila R. Nedjadi of Sword Queen Games

Day Nineteen: Yule Army by Secrets of the Masquerade (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Twenty: Keeping the Lights On by Hekla Björk Unnardóttir (published by the San Jenaro Co-op)

Day Twenty-one: Flying Circus by Erika Chappell (published by Newstand Press)

Day Twenty-two: Los Arboles by Mercedes Acosta

Day Twenty-three: Sandwich County by Flowers

Day Twenty-four: Banquo at the Feast by Marn S.

Day Twenty-five: The Steadfast & the Rebellious by WH Arthur

Day Twenty-six: 99 cent Chamber of Death by Christian Guanzon

Day Twenty-seven: Stewpot by Takuma Okada

Day Twenty-eight: Ego by Sandy Pug Games

Day Twenty-nine: Troika! by the Melsonian Arts Council

Day Thirty: Ryuutama by Atsuhiro Okada

#ReadIndieRPGs – Catching Up

I took a few days away to relax and regroup, get my bad brain back in order. But I am back, and here are videos for Days Ten to Twelve to catch me back up. Day Thirteen resumes our normal one-a-day schedule.

Day Ten

Day Ten is here! As foretold in The Prophecy we are reading from Breakfast Cult by Ettin. Breakfast Cult is played using the FATE Accelerated rules, and each player takes the role of a student at Occultar Academy, Earth’s finest occult school. Hilarity ensues.

If you you would like to play more from Ettin, check out their Itch page and give them a follow on Twitter. I recommend Retrocausality or Oh, Dang! Bigfoot Stole My Car With My Friend’s Birthday Present Inside.

Day Eleven

Day Eleven is here, Ambassadors, and it is time to attend the Solar Convention. In this one-pageRPG by Will Sobel, published by Gallant Knight Games, you will argue and cajole your fellow players to advance your government’s agenda at an intergalactic conference. Good luck, Ambassador! You can keep track of what Will Sobel is up to on Twitter and find more from Gallant Knight Games on DriveThruRPG.

Day Twelve

It’s Day Twelve! Get your bunks squared away and head to the mess hall, we’re having breakfast at Camp Xander, by Raven Norris. You play camp counselors at a camp for monstrous children, with all the hilarity and pathos that ensues. If you would like to find more from Raven Norris you can follow then on Twitter and check out the San Jenaro Co-op compilations. Volume One has another game by Raven, Eggsecutive Powers, and Volume Two contains On Loan and Deathseekers.

Inspired by the recent #ReadtheDMG I wanted to do something similar to celebrate the Indie games I love. Permission is sought from the creator before recording. If you would like to record your own videos reading from an Indie game, please do and use #ReadIndieRPGs so we can find them. If you are not the creator I highly recommend seeking their permission first. And talk to me in the comments about your favourite Indie RPGs, I’d love to hear from you!

#ReadIndieRPGs – Day Seven: Session Zero

Day Seven! We made it through the first week, which means twenty-three more days of Indie goodness to go! Today I read and talk about Session Zero by Meghan Cross, one of the best character story generators I have come across. If you would like to see more excellent games by Meghan Cross please check out her Itch page or follow her on Twitter. I highly recommend The Silent Garden and GayMerGirls, both brilliant games.

Inspired by the recent #ReadtheDMG I wanted to do something similar to celebrate the Indie games I love. Permission is sought from the creator before recording. If you would like to record your own videos reading from an Indie game, please do and use #ReadIndieRPGs so we can find them. If you are not the creator I highly recommend seeking their permission first. And talk to me in the comments about your favourite Indie RPGs, I’d love to hear from you!