Solo Saturday Part Two!

Dorklord_Canada_Logo_Wht_BG_Lo-Res.jpg-01This past Saturday was Solo Saturday the First! By every metric I care about it was a rousing success: folks came by and engaged, I had returning viewers, some of the creators dropped by at various points, money was donated to Extra Life, I got new followers, and I played four excellent games. It was a great day!

It was also my first stream as a newly minted Twitch Affiliate, which was fun. I still have to poke around my channel and figure out all the bells and whistles. But that’s something for me to pull together over the next several weeks.

But it definitely went well enough that I’m going ahead with Part Two this coming Saturday, November 26, at 10am MST/Noon EST.

Games!

Finishing out my Extra Life Game Day line-up, I have four games on the schedule (all times MST):

In between games I’ll also talk about Extra Life, chat about TTRPGs in general, and talk with chat. But while I am talking with chat there will also be…

Prizes!

This is the one thing I forgot to do last Saturday! Every two-hour block I’ll run a giveaway for a $10 gift card for DriveThruRPG. You must be in chat to win, and if there is no winner in a block, I’ll add $10 to the next block’s gift card. No purchase or donation necessary, just be in chat and be willing to share your email address with me so I can send your gift card.

That’s it! Swing by and enjoy some great games next Saturday, follow the links and pick up the games and play along!

Solo Saturday!

Tomorrow, starting at 10am MST/Noon EST, I am playing eight hours of Solo TTRPGs in support of Extra Life! There will also be chatting, and prize giveaways, and stuff.

“Oo, stuff! Tell us more about the Stuff, Brent!” I will, I promise, but let’s take things in order.

Games!

Picking up from where I left off in my Extra Life Game Day line-up, I have four games on the schedule for tomorrow (all times MST):

In between games I’ll also be talking about Extra Life, chatting about TTRPGs in general, and talking with chat. But while I am talking with chat there will also be…

Prizes!

Every two-hour block I’ll run a giveaway for a $10 gift card for DriveThruRPG. You must be in chat to win, and if there is no winner in a block, I’ll add $10 to the next block’s gift card. No purchase or donation necessary, just be in chat and be willing to share your email address with me so I can send your gift card.

“But Brent, what about the Stuff? We want the STUFF!”

Stuff!

20221029_142353As promised, let’s talk about The Stuff. A few weeks ago I cleaned up all of my loose dice and put them back in a large candy jar I use to store them, pictured here. There are a lot of dice in there, in fact there are…actually, why don’t you tell me? Check out this post on Twitter for entry details and the Prize pack. Some pretty sweet indie TTRPGs up for grabs, so don’t miss out!

That’s it! I hope to see you tomorrow on stream and as always, feel free to drop an Extra Life donation if you are so inclined.

My Extra Life got an Extra Life!

Logo for Extra Life fundraisingI had glorious plans for Extra Life back in the summer. Laid them all out, started organizing, planning, it was great! And then when I tried to execute on those plans at the beginning of September, I discovered that my hardware was not up to the task, even in the simplest ways. So I shelved those plans.

But things change, and things put on shelves can be taken back off and put back in use. Thanks to a generous friend who wishes to stay anonymous, I have the temporary use of some hardware that will let me stream! Friends, I am so grateful, and super excited to put at least some fragments of my plan into action for this year. Extra Life is dear to me and it was breaking my heart to not be able to support it how I wanted.

I can’t do everything I had planned to do back in the summer, there just isn’t time for me to pull together the players for me to GM a bunch of games. So this year is going to be a Solo TTRPG Fest, from now-ish straight through to the end of the year.

My updated schedule of events looks like this:

  • Remainder of OCTOBER: Thursdays at 6pm MST/8pm EST, streaming Solo RPGs!
  • NOVEMBERGame Day Solo-athon! Lineup TBA, but it’s going to be a whole raft of solo TTRPGs for 24 hours. Watch some great games and my fatigue-induced mental decline!
  • (The Rest of) NOVEMBER: Thursdays at 6pm MST/8pm EST, streaming Solo RPGs! Games TBA.
  • DECEMBER: Thursdays at 6pm MST/8pm EST, streaming Solo RPGs! Games TBA.

I will add more details as events come closer, but this is the framework. If you are a Solo TTRPG creator, or you have a favourite you think I should consider, please reach out and let me know about it! And of course all the rest of my Extra Life shenanigans are in full swing, so please click the link for that information.

  

Just a Coffee

Dorklord_Canada_Logo_Wht_BG_Lo-Res.jpg-01This is a hard post to write. I try as much as possible to focus on TTRPG stuff and show off a good mix of the myriad projects and events going on in the space, along with projects I’m working on. But there is no getting around it, I need to ask for some help.

Without going into details I can’t share yet, my family got some terrible news this past week. Coming out of COVID and with both my parents retired, this is going to stretch them thin. Obviously I’m stepping up to help my family as much as I can, but that is going to mean my resources will soon get stretched as well. But I can’t not help them, they’re family.

So I’m doing something I don’t do very often. I’m asking for help. If you like what I do around here and want to lend a hand, probably the best way to offer direct support is to buy me a coffee. Honestly, just one coffee from everyone who subscribes to the blog, who follows me on Twitter, who showed up to read my post on the whole Satine and Jameson situation, that would be enough to give me a buffer and help my folks out. At this point I want to say thank you to everyone who has already bought me coffees, your generosity and support mean the world to me.

If Ko-fi isn’t your bag, check out my Support page for other ways to help out and often get some cool stuff. I’m still editing as well; I was about to wind down for the end of the year but I’ll get back in the harness to help my family. So if you need editing work done please reach out. Until the end of the year I’m doing everything at my Zine rates, so now is a pretty good time to hit me up.

That’s it. I promise I’ll share details when and if I can, within the bounds of protecting privacy and not trauma dumping. And like I said, times are tough for us all right now. If you aren’t able to help out monetarily, I totally understand. Maybe help with a share or a retweet if you can? Spreading the word may get this in front of someone who can spare a coffee, and that’s help enough.

Thank you.

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.

Change of Plans

Logo for Extra Life fundraisingIf you’ve been following my Extra Life plans you might have wondered why there were no ads going out for games this weekend. There’s good reason for that.

Sadly, I had to cancel my planned games this weekend. The loss of my best friend last month, coupled with the death of my cousin Randy a few weeks ago, hasn’t left me in a good space. Certainly not a space from which I could organize a TTRPG marathon, however much I might have wanted it. I’ve barely managed to stay on top of other projects, and then only because I hate letting folks down. Something had to give, though, and in this case letting the Extra Life event go disappoints only me, which I can handle.

The rest of my plans for the year are still in place. So look for me to advertise my solo streams for September soon. I have three of my four games chosen, I’m just taking a look for a good fourth solo TTRPG.

And obviously everything else, the incentives and the “$10 to Infinity” project, are still very much a going concern. I hope that you’ll take a moment to donate and take advantage of those, especially the second, as it is near and dear to my heart.

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!