Extra Magic for Extra Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But only once.

The Plan

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

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

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

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

Thoughts?

Apotheosis Studios: The Culmination of Unprofessionalism

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

If you are in the TTRPG community on Twitter today, chances are good you have already seen some of the threads talking about the deplorable conduct of Satine Phoenix and Jamison Stone, the 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 I think 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 on 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 bulk of 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 that she had been told the writing had been 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. Again, it’s a fair point. 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 here 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 that 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 have each taken the title Creative Director. That means she is 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 a company in our space screws up and see which reaction 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.

So 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.

Catching my Extra Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

It’s Been a Long Road

Welcome, reader! 2021 ended rough and 2022 didn’t start much better. I’ve spent the last few months getting myself sorted and resting as needed. I’ve only just recently got myself sorted, at least enough to get back to writing. So a day early but Happy March!

My intention through the rest of the year is to post something three days a week. Mondays will still be my weekly editorial or interview over at The Rat Hole; I’ll post a link here as well. Ideally the other two posts will be here, hopefully Wednesday/Friday but I’m keeping that fluid. As long as I can post twice more I’ll take it as a win.

I want to get back to producing videos about Indie TTRPGs, so as soon as I can get a few recorded and edited to create a buffer, those will be one of the weekly posts here. I might post a brief description and a link, or depending on the subject it might be some additional supporting info to go along with the video. Again, playing that by ear.

More details later, but that’s the gist for now. I’m working to create a solid space for everything I’m doing here, in a place I can control. While that is under construction I plan to keep working and developing things. I hope you’ll stop by and check it all out.

Creating a Library, No Big Deal

On Facebook yesterday I mentioned that I’m going ahead with an idea I’ve had milling about for a while now. I’m creating a roleplaying game library, mandated to collect, preserve, and share tabletop roleplaying games, as well as documents associated with the hobby. I’m not the first person to have this idea. Alexandria RPG and the Play Generated Map and Document Archive are both examples of what I’m trying to achieve, and they aren’t the only two. Which may beg the question, why? If things like this already exist, why start another one? Well I happen to have a few answers to that.

First, I don’t happen to think redundancy is bad when you’re endeavoring to preserve the history of something. Roleplaying games as an industry-supported hobby have been around for over forty years, and I plan to keep enjoying them for at least the next thirty. There is a wealth of knowledge, lore, and folklore tied up in all the time that all the people involved in the hobby and the industry have expended. It would be a little foolish to think one person, or even dozens of persons, could collect and preserve it all. Just by living in a different geographical location from other librarians and conservationists, I have a chance to collect and preserve a different set of materials, obviously with some overlap.

Which brings me to my second answer. I spent a good long while looking, and I don’t think there is anyone else living in Canada doing what I plan to do. If there is, I’d sure love to talk to them, but if so they are keeping a very low profile. And I think having a Canadian library for my hobby could be a good thing. Yes, mostly because I live here and this is where all my stuff is. But it’s unlikely that US-based groups doing this sort of work will make the trip up to many Canadian events, unless they’re just over the border. It’s just not cost-effective. And maybe this is a bit paranoid, but given the political and social climate in the US right now, I don’t think it could hurt to have a collection of this information outside the US.

But lastly, it’s something I’ve been doing for a while anyway, without what I’m now realizing is the very important public engagement portion. I’ve collected roleplaying material for a while, and I have a bunch tucked away on shelves in my game room, with a bit more tucked in boxes awaiting the light of day. And that’s all well and good, but at the end of the day these are games. They are meant to be out where people can read them and play them. I want people, at whatever point they entered the hobby, to have a chance to experience a bit of what the hobby was like before they joined. Or have a chance to see the hobby from someone else’s point of view.

So a few things are going to happen over the next while.

  • I’m setting up a not-for-profit Society, called the Canadian Library of Roleplaying Games; as small as this is now it’s going to grow, and I need a framework for that growth. A NFP Society is also the first step to attaining eventual charitable status, which I think will help us in getting larger donations of gaming material down the line. As it stands, a Society can’t issue tax-receipts, so all I can offer folks for donating material to me now is my winning smile.
  • But having a Society means I can officially donate my personal library of material to that Society, which will form the seed of the collection.
  • I’ve started on a website, and I have Twitter and a Facebook page in place ready for the official launch. The website is going to be a key player in all this, since that is where the collection’s database will live. I know some thing about creating a database and I’ll need to learn a whole bunch more, as well as finding like-minded volunteers to help out.
  • And then I want to get the collection out in front of the public, so I need to decide what that will look like and figure out the logistics. Currently I’m one guy with shelves of gaming stuff and no car, so how I get to events and which events I attend are non-trivial issues.

But for me, all of that is the first part of the fun part. I’m excited to get this project started and you’ll definitely be hearing more about it as I move forward. And if by any chance you’re interested in helping out, whether with time or a donation of material, feel free to email me at canlibrpg@gmail.com. Don’t be put off if I don’t know how to use you quite yet, it’s early days and I’m still figuring things out myself.

Marginalia and Other Oddities

I love introducing libraries of books in my campaigns. It’s the sort of treasure I’d love to find if I were an adventurer, after all. Cracking open a door no one has opened in centuries, only to discover shelf upon shelf of dusty manuscripts…oh yeah, you can keep your gold and gems (okay, maybe not all the gold and gems).

The problem with dropping large numbers of books into your campaign is keeping them interesting. Sure, you’ll come up with cool descriptions for the special books, magical tomes or the books which advance the plot. But in a big library a lot of those books are going to look exactly the same, at least on the outside. That’s where marginalia can spice things up for you.

Turns out, cats have been jerks to books for centuries.

The term “marginalia” simply refers to anything added to the margins of a book or manuscript. The earliest examples of this were the scholia, or notes, written in the margins of ancient manuscripts by Medieval and Renaissance scholars. Such scholia continue to this day, the most famous modern example being Fermat’s Last Theorem. But it also includes drawings found in the margins of illuminated manuscripts, as well as (less accurately) notes found among the lines of a manuscript’s text. The term can also refer to anything that one might consider a mistake in the manuscript, thought that usage is less common. My favourite example of this is pictured to the left, where we see that cats haven’t changed one bit.

You might ask yourself why someone would hold onto, or even buy a book that came with errors or marginalia. Unlike today where the cost of printing a book is relatively cheap, any form of the printed word was a time-intensive, and therefore costly, enterprise. If you were half-way through copying out a book by hand and the cat walked across the page with inky paws, or you noticed you made a spelling or grammatical error, you fixed it as best you could and soldiered on. Besides time, the materials used for copying manuscripts were often expensive. Even a simple book copied out in a single colour of ink was still an investment.

Often the marginalia was done quite on purpose. As already noted, scholia were written in by scholars as notations for other students of that particular text.  But artistic illumination was often added to the margins to make the book more impressive, and didn’t always relate to the subject matter. It was not uncommon to find cartoonish and sometimes even vulgar images drawn in the margins, and at the top and bottom of pages. Occasionally these would tell a simple tale over

Hmmm…how do I tell these penises are ripe?

several pages, similar to our relatively modern flip-books. And just sometimes, the artist wanted to draw fruit being picked from a penis tree.

Marginalia in your trove of campaign books can have a wide range of forms and uses. Intentional or in error, marginalia can be used to tease your players with riddles or clues, or waste their time with a literary red-herring. But they’re the perfect addition to any of your campaign manuscripts, instantly making your books more interesting. I’ve provided a list of twenty examples below. You can either pick one you like or roll randomly when a character thumbs through that book they just found.

  1. Tiny clawed footprints, burned on the surface of several pages as if something had walked or stood upon them. (Left by an imp; could be random, or done deliberately to obscure text)
  2. A series of small drawings in the margins of each page, depicting the comic (and sometimes lewd) misadventures of a flaxen-haired elf and a red-bearded dwarf.
  3. In the bottom right corner of each page, a series of pictures depicting an “untoward” unicorn. (You pick how “untoward” to fit your group)
  4. A carefully written recipe for potato soup, with some odd ingredients (DM’s choice). If tried, the soup is delicious but otherwise unremarkable. (Should ideally be found in a book having nothing to do with cooking)
  5. Next to a passage with information vital to the characters, a note in the margin reading, “Annotation needed, incomplete passage. Original should be kept by [fill in group from your campaign here].”
  6. Someone has underlined several lines on every page throughout the book, often with comments like “Yes! Yes!!” and “Finally, someone gets it!” They don’t seem to bear any relation to each other, and the hand-writing in the comments is different in several places.
  7. On an otherwise beautifully illuminated manuscript, a quite visible green-inked thumbprint can be seen obscuring a portion of the title page.
  8. Starting in the bottom left corner of the last page, and spiraling clockwise and inward on each page, another shorter book has been written in the margins. The subject of the marginalia text should bear no relation to the book’s original subject.
  9. Several pages have been cut out and re-glued back into the book in different places, some upside down or backwards.
  10. Someone has meticulously cut the letter “e” out of every word in the manuscript. Tucked in the back of the book is a small pouch containing the resulting confetti.
  11. Characters will notice the lyrics and musical notation for a bawdy song about naiads hidden in the illuminations of a manuscript. If sung aloud near any body of water the song summons a water elemental which immediately attacks the singer.
  12. A character notices an image of a thin man with glasses, wearing a striped tunic, in the marginalia of one page. That same character now can’t help but notice that same image in the marginalia of every book in this library.
  13. The illuminations in the manuscript look slightly off. But if the page is angled properly under the correct light, characters will note the illuminations appear to be three-dimensional.
  14. Scattered through the margins are a series of truly terrible and nonsensical riddles. Examples: “Why is a gelatinous cube like a sandwich? Because they both like carp!” “Knock, knock. Who’s there? Penchant. Penchant who? Bless you!”
  15. Beautifully drawn and illuminated marginalia, except every figure has a very obviously bare bottom showing.
  16. Starting with the first page and repeating until the end of the book, the first letter of each page spells out a character’s name. Coincidence?
  17. The beautiful but faded artwork and illuminations in this book were restored badly, almost cartoonishly. If properly restored, the book’s value would double, possible even triple.
  18. Someone has worked the phrase, “Gwen and Slaughterjaw forever!” into the marginalia of every page. (Or pick two names which better suit your campaign world)
  19. An unfinished thaumaturgical formula. It seems to make perfect sense but is obviously missing some vital section. (DM can determine how difficult it is to solve, and what it leads to)
  20. The margins are filled with carefully written but indecipherable script (pick a language none of the characters have or make one up). If translated, the writing appears to be scholia, correcting the original text in several places and filling in some missing information.

What sort of oddities have you put in your books? Share below!

RPGaDay Double Feature!

cropped-cropped-me-and-the-eyeball1.jpg(Because “RPGaDay Double Feature” sounds better than “I was sick yesterday and didn’t post”.)

August 10th: Largest in-game surprise you have experienced?

Years back I played in a Shackled City AP campaign. I was playing a Lawful Good human monk names Ceres, and we had progressed through the campaign with the usual trials and tribulations. As part of the adventure, we had traveled to one of the 666 layers of the Abyss, there to break an NPC’s hold on that layer and deprive it of power. I think the layer was called Oculus? Not important. There was only one way to do this: sacrifice a living being by pushing it into the “eye” of energy at the centre of the layer, which would cut off the flow of power to the NPC. The party spent a great deal of time discussing and then arguing the merits of which NPC baddy was going to be used as sacrifice. Ceres stayed out of the discussion, other than to point out that it would be wrong to sacrifice any unwilling creature regardless of their alignment (Lawful Good, remember?).

After the discussion went on for 20 minutes or more, I finally got bored and passed a note to the DM. Ceres was going to throw himself into the eye. Better to sacrifice himself, than force his friends to make a morally reprehensible choice. I fully expected Ceres to die; nothing the DM had said up to this point indicated any other outcome. As I was a monk and way faster than anyone else in the party, I easily flung myself into the energy stream and certain death…and the DM asked me to roll a Will save. I did, and rolled a natural 20, making for a stupid-high final result (monk, remember?). Long story short (too late!), I not only survived the energy stream, I was able to manipulate it, becoming the new master of that layer of the Abyss. Which shocked the crap out of everyone, not least of all me. And that’s how a Lawful Good monk became the ruler of a layer of the Abyss. We didn’t play much beyond the end of the campaign, but I had plans for my new domain if we did. As the only Lawful domain in the Abyss? Oh, baby did I have plans. Ah, well.

August 11th: Which gamer most affected the way you play?

This is a hard one to answer, because it is safe to say everyone I’ve ever gamed with has had an impact on how I choose to play the hobby I love. I’m sure that’s true, and I hope it’s true, of everyone in this crazy, mixed-up pastime. In my early gamer days (from age 10 to early twenties), I was influenced by the folks writing and editing Dragon magazine: Ed Greenwood, Monte Cook, Gary Gygax, Kim Mohan, Wolfgang Bauer, Dave Gross…the list goes on. But they informed a lot of how I played the games, how I treated the hobby, and how I treated the folks I shared the hobby with. As I got a little older I started to depend less on written sources for guidance, and took more stock in the players and GMs around me. I watched what they did, and either borrowed heavily the things I liked, or shied away from the habits which did not equal fun. Today, I’m still most heavily influenced by the GMs I watch, either as a player at their table or by “sitting in” on any number of RPG play-through shows. Matt Mercer from Critical Roll has had a great influence on me recently, as has Ivan van Norman, both from Geek & Sundry’s Twitch stream. They each have a distinctive style, and each deliver an excellent table experience from what I can see. Definitely someones to emulate.

I did want to make a special point about a particular type of gamer that really inspires me, and pushes me to make my gaming table welcoming and fun. If you’ve been in the hobby for any amount of time, I’m sure you’ve encountered them: the gatekeepers. The players and/or GMs who never want their gaming experience to change, and who actively resist anything which might move the hobby to be more inclusive. They’re the ones who tell off-colour sexist and sometimes racist jokes and then chant “SJW” at you if you call them on it (for the record, I’m a Social Justice Cleric, so shut your pie-hole before I give you a holy lance where the tanlines stop). They don’t make allowances for handicapped players, sometime actively shutting them out of gameplay opportunities.  You know, they are assholes. Well, they inspire me. They inspire me to be nothing like them, to make sure the welcome mat is out and clearly visible at my table, and to make sure that my players know what sort of behavior is allowed before we begin play. Eventually, with enough conscientious effort,  the assholes will either change how they play, or eventually they’ll only be able to play with other assholes and their games will collapse from the collective weight of assholery. Which I’m actually sad about. I love this hobby and I think everyone should get to partake, as long as they aren’t making it less fun for others.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow we start in on daily posts for the rest of RPGaDay month, I promise. Want to weigh in on either of the topics I touched on today? Drop me a comment.

Convention Time, Part Deux!

A longish while back I wrote a post about going to conventions, with some tips and tricks I use when conning around. Since then I’ve written a few posts on subjects touching on gaming conventions; if you search the convention tag I’m sure they’ll pop up. Since the Grand Daddy of all gaming cons, Gen Con, starts this week, I thought it was a good time to P1000011_smtalk about them some more.

I have long believed gaming conventions are one of the best parts of the hobby. They offer a way to try new things with new people, in a generally supportive and positive environment. Even playing your favourite game with new people can be eye-opening. I love discovering a new strategy for a game by getting my butt whipped, knowing I can take that strategy back to my regulars and unleash it on them.

If a regular gaming convention does this for you, Gen Con ramps that up to Eleventy-One. Let me start by reassuring you, you will never get to do everything at Gen Con at a single Gen Con. Why is that reassuring? Because you have an ongoing reason to go back, my friend. And you will want to go back. There is no other con in North America, possibly the world, which can offer as much concentrated gaming goodness in one location. Whether you’re on the hunt for shiny new thing in gaming, or an OG looking to relive the games of your youth, Gen Con has it and you can play it. I have never been disappointed.

So I wanted to offer some tips to make your experience as good as it can be. Some of these are specific to Gen Con, but most will make any con better.

Be Considerate – This covers a wide variety of situations at the con, and obviously isn’t limited to just Gen Con. But there are just so many people at Gen Con that dickish behavior can quickly spiral. However, considerate behavior can also spiral, so follow Wheaton’s Law and keep it wholly.

This includes but is not limited to: bathing and using deodorant; not blocking the aisles for too long as you look at the new shiny or take a picture of cool cosplay; asking the cosplayer if you can take a photo in the first place, and being okay if the answer is no; not arguing rules during the time-limited game event you’re playing in (yes, you’re very smart and likely right. Who cares? Shut up and let everyone play!); follow Thumper’s Law (“If you ain’t got nothing nice to say, don’t say nothing at all.”); play the demos, play all the demos, but don’t hog the demos. If you want to play more of the game, sign up for one of the events or buy the game; watch your language, Gen Con is a family friendly con; say thank-you, every chance you get, to anyone who deserves it (food servers, game masters, the woman who ran your demo, game designers and authors you run into…the list is Me and the Eyeballendless).

Do the Things! – With an event catalog the thickness of the average game manual, it can be easy to be stymied by analysis paralysis as you try to figure out what to do next. You can spend hours sitting around, pouring through the events, trying to find the Best One. But you didn’t come to Gen Con to read the con guide, pretty as it is. You came to get your nerd on!

Hopefully you picked some events early and pre-registered, so you’ve already got those on your schedule. But hopefully you also left holes in your schedule for picking games/events as they appeal to you or as you find things you didn’t notice before. If that’s the case, don’t get too bogged down trying to figure out the Single Best Solution, because there isn’t one. Honestly, pick the first event that looks fun and get in there! As I said before, you won’t be able to do everything at a single Gen Con. So just do everything you can, and save the rest for next time. As long as you are having fun you are Gen Conning correctly, so don’t worry about what you might miss.

Look After Yourself – Gen Con is an endurance race, not a sprint. Trying to do all the things all day and night will burn you out. By Day Two you’ll be a wreck, and by Day Three you’ll be curled up in your hotel room trying to recover. So:

  • Get sleep, at least six hours a night.
  • Shower every day. We touched on cleanliness under the first point, but it is also a good way to look after yourself. You’ll just feel better if you’re clean every day, fact.
  • Eat actual food at least once a day. Anything served from a kiosk in the convention centre barely counts in this category, but even the con food is better than a steady diet of chocolate bars, soda, and chips. However, within five blocks of the convention centre are a variety of excellent restaurants and food trucks, all wanting to exchange currency for delicious, fresh food.
  • Drink water. How much? Hard to say, since it depends on a wide variety of physical factors. But here’s a tip: if your urine is the same colour as any of the various Mountain Dew varieties, you aren’t drinking enough (and if it’s the same colour as Code Red see a doctor immediately).
  • Try one thing you wouldn’t normally try. Could be a game, could be LARP, could be anything. Try something outside your comfort zone, at least once. You might pick up a new hobby, but at the very least you’ll gain an appreciation for something you’ve never tried before.

Thank the Volunteers – They were there before you in the morning and they’ll go home after you in the evening. They are constantly in motion, doing things you’ve never had to think about, so your convention experience goes smoothly. No convention in the world, Gen Con included, could run without volunteers. So say thank-you. Takes a second and it can make a volunteer’s day. And they deserve it.

And if you can swing it, volunteer. You’ll work your ass off, but you’ll also gain an appreciation of how much work goes in to making a convention run well.

Those are my tips. I’ve also got a a page with suggestion on what to pack in your Convention Kit, so check that out. If you’ve got a con tip please drop it in the comments below.

Do It In Public!

readrpgs-anibuttonRead an RPG Book in Public, that is! Why, what were you…naughty!

Promoted tri-annually by The Escapist, Read an RPG Book in Public week is meant to raise the profile of the role-playing hobby and show our love for what is normally a behind-closed-doors activity. You grab a favourite RPG book, find a public area to relax for a little while, and get to reading. That simple.

I’ve done it when possible in past years, and always enjoyed it. I’ve endured very little in the way of any negative response to it; the occasional strange look to be sure, but nothing like actual harassment. Most of the time, when folks approach me it’s to tell me that they play or used to play, and occasionally we end up swapping stories of games gone wrong (or right). And I’ve even had a few people ask about how one gets in to the hobby, what they need to buy, where to find players, and so on. So if I’ve managed to inspire even one person to join our geeky ranks, it’s been worth it.

So get on out there and post your pics of you reading an RPG in public. Spread the nerd love wide this week. And please feel free to share your pics in the comments below, I’d love to see what you’re reading. I’ll be posting my pics here as I take them, so stop back and see what I’ve got on the go.