Category Archives: Musings

This is What Victory Looks Like

So, WotC has announced they are leaving OGL 1.0a completely alone.

https://www.dndbeyond.com/posts/1439-ogl-1-0a-creative-commons

AND releasing the 5.1 SRD under CC.

YOU did this. Congratulations!

There’s a lot to talk about in “Now what” territory, but I’ll get to that later this weekend, after I have had some time to process.

For now, I thank WotC for listening to the fans and industry as a whole. A lot of people said this would never happen. It’s to WotC’s credit that they decided not to keep pushing this.

Patreon. I has it. Come, join the fun, and support this blog.

OGLpocalypse: WotC’s Response To The Public Wrath At Their Bad Faith Is Not NEARLY Enough

I have talked about OGL facts before, but not previously written an opinion piece here on my blog about the bad faith efforts WotC prepared to try to force people to give up the OGL 1.0s, which has driven the creation of tens of thousands of products over 23 years, in favor of a draconian “OGL 1.1” which would bad for anyone who agreed to it.

If you aren’t up to speed on this, check out Linda Codega’s articles here, here, here, and here. They are at the front of this developing story.

So, here’s the big kicker on why today’s official WotC response is unacceptable. A non-starter that even with the tiny concession they want to use to turn down the heat of anger directed at them by the community doesn’t even begin to address the root of the real problem with what they are trying to do. Taken from the very first paragraph of their response today.

“And third, we wanted to ensure that the OGL is for the content creator, the homebrewer, the aspiring designer, our players, and the community—not major corporations to use for their own commercial and promotional purpose.”

No.

Fuck you, WotC corporate. You DON’T get to ensure that, and the fact you want to means you still think you can change the rules on how people interact with and use the OGL.

You released SRDs for 3.5, d20 Modern, and 5.1 under OGL 1.0a. That license was NOT released with any restrictions on who could use it, and you know it.

The OGL 1.0a was designed to be something you couldn’t force people away from — could NOT force them to used a changed version of it — and you know it.

The OGL doesn’t allow anyone to make “D&D” products with content you object to, as they can’t even mention the name of your game, much less use its logo, and you know it.

You’ve benefited from the ubiquity of each edition of D&D you released an SRD for, reaped profits as a result, and you know it.

You don’t get to bully or bamboozle people into changes now, because you don’t like what the OGL 1.0a means for your current business plans.

[EDIT]

I feel it would intellectually dishonest not to include this, written 12 or so hours later. I’m not walking back anything I said above, but I have to acknowledge that writing the above happened on the same day I wrote the below.

“The ttRPG industry is small.

One thing that means is that dozens of people asked me to be one shows, consult on the future, or lead on the OGL issue. I have done my best.

But ANOTHER thing it means is I have hurt friends and family-of-choice in the process.

That was never my intent, but some soul-searching tells me I didn’t give that possibility the weight of consideration I should have.
Would I have done things differently? I don’t know, but I should have given it more thought.

Apologies don’t undo harm, but I’m sorry folks.

That said, I need to step back and ponder the current reality very, very carefully.

So, I’m taking the next few days off from any OGL-related news, links, or posts. I’ll wake up Tuesday, and see what I think I need to do for my career, industry… and friends.

ALL my friends.”

Supporting This Blog
Writing the things that appear on this blog, be they game material, worldbuilding, thought experiments, or insight into the game industry, takes time. That time is solely paid for with the support of people who join my Patreon, or buy a cup of funding for me through my Ko-fi. If you find any of my content useful or entertaining, please consider adding your support so I can keep doing this.

Some Facts About the OGL (1.0 and 1.0a)

With the excellent article written by Linda Codega, and the video released by Roll For Combat that brought in a contract lawyer, there is a lot of news about WotC’s (Wizards of the Coast) plans for a “OGL 1.1” and why it is an act of bad faith on the part of WotC if they go forward with it.

So I’m not going over all that again here.

What I DO want to do is present some groundwork for what the OGL is, and isn’t, and what WotC have said about it in the past. This is an editorial by me, based in factual information, and is not itself part of the OGL content on this blog.

1. WotC themselves wrote an FAQ about how the OGL was to be used, back in 2004. This is important, because it shows (for example) that they were of the opinion if they changed the OGL publishers could ignore their new version, and that the OGL could be used for software. Obviously WotC doesn’t host that FAQ anymore, but the Wayback Machine has the original archived for us to all read and draw out own conclusions.

2. There is a huge difference between the OGL and the various SRDs (System Resource Documents). The OGL is not tied to any one game system or product release (see Point 3, below). For example, none of the D&D core rulebooks has ever been released under the OGL. Instead, pared-down versions of the rules for D&D 3.0. 35, D20 Modern, and 5e had SRDs released (and the Psionics handbooks back in 3.x days).

3. The OGL does not just cover products that are designed for use with D&D. For one thing, there are game systems that have been released under the OGL that were not created by WotC, and have no ties to any edition of D&D, including d6 Adventures, Fudge, and Fate.
There are also numerous complete RPGs that are their own things, separate from D&D, including Pathfinder, Starfinder, Mutants & Masterminds, and 13th Age, just to name a few.

4. It’s entirely up to WotC whether or not they release a One D&D SRD. If they don’t, those rules aren’t open. And they could release it under a totally separate license, unrelated to the OGL 1.0a. So, WotC is not under any threat from people using genuinely new rules from One D&D using the existing OGL. (Of course they have said One D&D will be compatible with 5e, so that raises a question if they are *new* rules, and if there aren’t, that might speak to motive on their part.)

5. The OGL does not allow anyone to mention D&D, WotC, the Forgotten Realms, or any other trademarks, or emulate any trade dress. So WotC does not need to worry about the OGL allowing people to associate repugnant material with D&D — all the brands trademarks, characters, and stories, of D&D are off-limits to OGL users, as are many even iconic creatures such as beholders and mind flayers.

6. WotC always knew the OGL would be used by their major competitors to make big profits. The OGL was shared with numerous representatives of various companies before it was made public. I was part of the email chain that was used by Ryan Dancey to do that. And it’s why Sword & Sorcery Studios (a newly-created division of White Wolf, a major ttRPG publisher at the time) was able to put out the Creature Collection in October of 2000, *before* the official 3.0 Monster Manual got published.

7. WotC benefitted from the existence of the OGL. They crafted it, with the knowing intent it would last forever, as part of their D&D relaunch business plan.

But don’t believe me. Believe Keith Strohm (and learn about why you care about his opinion on it in this fireside chat with Peter Adkison, president of WotC when the OGL was created). This is from a comment Keith made on Facebook, and is shared with his permission.

Support My Patreon
The more support I get, the more time I can spend on writing things like this. 

If you enjoy any of my articles, please sign up, for as little as the cost of one cup of coffee a month!

The Year. It is New.

A “New Year” is, of course, an abstract idea. A social construct. We could have marked its passage last week, or next week, or 71 days ago. If we did it on a solstice or equinox, that would at least be tied to some specific actual event. But instead, we have a rather abstract observance tied to a calendar that has a long history (though not as long as many people think) of being wrong, changing, and adjusting to meet everything from political needs to atomic calculations.

But the fact that this being the first day of a “New” year is a cultural decision doesn’t mean it lacks real power. Because of that cultural decision, the cost of my health insurance went up 16 hours and 40 minutes ago. (Well, it went up for a ton of cultural decisions, but the timing of that increase is tied to all of us collectively flipping from one calendar page to another).
How much money I make in the last 365 days and the next 365 days matters more for many federal laws than how much I made in 365 days centered on today. Many businesses are charging me for 365 days of service now, or within a week of now, because that’s how they want to define a year.

Those examples are more concrete, and less optional, than things like “new” year resolutions, but that doesn’t mean taking this shared moment to try to adjust our life course is any less “real.” And for the first time in a long time, I have major resolutions I have chosen to make now, because of the thoughts and decisions I came to when contemplating the past year (and the few years before that). Could I have done that contemplation at another time? Of course.

But I didn’t. Spurred by the mass delusion that is the flipping of a specific page on a communal dust collector, I’ve thought about it now. In preparation for now, even, which in many ways is more impressive. The imaginary temporal line in the sand has enough power for me to want to be ready for it, even though in no physical way is it significantly different than the line before it, or the line yet to come.

And, honestly, that plays into the theme I’m embracing for a new way of trying to survive, and to contribute to the society that I live in like it or not. To accept that the nonphysical has power, and that trying to dismiss it as irrelevant to the base, crass, fleshly moments of my existence is not just foolish, it’s delusional. My advantages are real, even when they are as unweighable as inspiration, friends, and hope. My drawbacks are no less obstacles to be overcome when they are moods and fears and morals rather than measured barriers of location, height, weight.

Weight.

I am born down by vast weight, but the pounds and ounces of fat and hardened arteries are only a fraction of what crushes me. And its those invisible, insubstantial weights of depression and hopelessness that often drove me to add the pounds and ounces, which speaks to their greater power. I don’t have to go so far as the spiritual or religious to see how the things I cannot prove or falsify are often the things that are going to decide if I live or die.

Many times in the past, I have denigrated the idea of a “new” year, because the core elements of my existence don’t change when a date does. I’m aging by the analog moment, not in digital chunks. My failures, personal and public, come in deadlines strained until they die, not crisp seconds of fireworks making bright distinctions of a date passing.

But this year, this New Year, I am embracing the opportunity, as psychological and traditional and cultural as it is, to try something new. And even if the most important elements of my life and my effort at a different approach to it are too ephemeral to sift into a jar or pack onto a shelf, the results of a change in life view can be measured.

And I am beginning that measurement today.

While I wish joy upon all of you in every moment, that needn’t lessen the impact of wish you all a:

Happy New Year.

My Insurance Drove Up an RX Price by 100%

So, late last week I got my bivalent Covid boost (just in time for new variants to dodge it, of course), and flu shot on the same day. And, as I expected, I felt crappy. I expected that to last a day, and had the liquids and OTC I needed to cope. And when it lasted longer than expected and got worse, I just assumed the double-dose was kicking my ass.

Saturday I crashed into bed in the middle of a game session. Sunday I was only alert for short bursts. Monday morning, I realized both my ears hurt the way they do when I have an ear infection. And since I had self-misdiagnosed for the whole weekend, it was suddenly at the constant-pain-and-occasional-icepick-in-the-ear-level-agony stage of ear infection.

No bueno.

So, off to my local favorite urgent care, who have always taken great care of me when I can’t wait a few days to see my Primary Care Provider, but don’t need the E.R. It was one degree above freezing, awful slush was falling from the sky, and my wife had to drive me. The Urgent Care was nonstop back-to-back with children with respiratory infections, but got me safely in a waiting area by myself, took my vitals when a medical assistant had a spare moment, and eventually a nurse practitioner managed to see me. She checked, confirmed I had ear infections in both ears (and quipped “How do you DO that?” as they have seen me for this more than once), and that it needed immediate antibiotics, and sent me to pick up a prescription they called into my pharmacy. Eardrops, because they’d be gentler on my system than an oral. But, the nurse practitioner assured me, if I didn’t feel better in day I should let her know, and she’d write a new script.

This had taken a few hours, much of it in the feeing dark, but normally this is the point when we can pick up the RX at a drive thru pharmacy, go home, and begin to recover. But if that had been how it shook out, I wouldn’t be making a bog post out of this.

So we went to the pharmacy, and waiting for the prescription to be ready. And when it was, the pharmacy tech asked if we knew how much it would cost, and we noted we did not.

“$180,” she said.

“What?! For eardrops?!”

“Yeah.”

“Did you run our insurance?”

“Yeah. Let me double check for you.” [Click, click click.] “Yes, I double checked your insurance is current, and ran it. It’s $180. Do you want me to fill this, or put it on hold so you can call the doctor or your insurance?”

We put it on hold, and called the clinic. We explained, and the assistant said she’d go talk to the nurse practitioner, and could we hold.

We held. Sitting in a packing lot, in now sub-freezing temperatures, ice slowly forming on the car, we held. Thank goodness I *could* afford $180 for eardrops if I had to… but I couldn’t afford to do so unless I really did have to. And I love my wife, and love spending time with her. But this was eating my entire day.

The assistant came back on the line, and explained that the eardrops were only $90 without insurance… but yes, she had checked, and they cost $180 with our insurance.

Wha… what? We could get it at half the cost if we DIDN’T use the insurance I had spent hours selecting, and paid for out of pocket every month as a freelancer? It was MORE EXPENSIVE with my insurance?!

Yes.

But, she was sure that was still more than we wanted to pay, so they had called in a new prescription. Let them know if there was any problem with it.

So we waited a bit, drove through the pharmacy window to see if the new RX was ready. It wasn’t. So we waited a bit more, hoping roads weren’t getting slick. (They weren’t, thankfully.) We drove through again, and this time they had it.

“How much?”

“$25.”

“How much without insurance?”

“$40.”

“Great, just checking.”

And, apparently, while the double-cost/$90 upcharge is rare… prescriptions in the US costing more when you use your insurance is NOT rare. “Clawbacks” may affect close to 25% of US prescriptions, often running $5-$10 higher than the uninsured cost. That doesn’t explain the huge difference for me, which may be a result of a pharmaceutical manufacturer offering a huge discount to uninsured customers, and my insurance not covering the drug at all, so I both have the higher price and no help covering the cost.

So, yeah. The system is broken. And, when getting a new RX, check both the insured and uninsured price.

Speaking Of Money
If you are in a position to, please consider supporting the work required to create this blog by joining my Patreon for as little as the cost of a cup of coffee each month, or dropping a coffee-cup worth of one-time support at my ko-fi.

Guest Blog: Going Gray at the Table

From time to time I highlight opinion pieces written by other folks in the industry who are interested in having their thoughts hosted on my blog. This one is by gamer and writer Dan Gallo.

If you are involved, or getting involved, in tabletop games and are interested in having me feature a guest blog of yours, let me know! You can drop me a line at owen.stephens@gmail.com.

Twilight of the Old Gods: Going Gray at the Table

By Dan Gallo

“Oh cool, my dad plays that.” 

That was the horrifying response I got when I told a young man I used to play Vampire the Masquerade. 

I was sitting at a bar and talking about what it was like to LARP in the One World by Night organization back in the 90s and early 2000s. OWbN, as we used to call it, was this huge shared universe game that had hundreds of LARPs across the US, all playing stories connected to the Mind’s Eye Theatre system from White Wolf Games. You could play as a reality-hacking Mage, snarling Werewolf, angel-powered Hunters, and countless other kinds of supernatural beasts. Vampire the Masquerade was my poison at the time and it was my obsession. You will never understand how many hours I squandered in a black trenchcoat pretending to be a bloodsucking creature in student unions around the Midwest.

Then one of the people I was talking to suddenly decided to choose violence and drop that Dad line on me. It socked me in the gut as I realized that the person who said this to me was roughly the same age I did my LARPing. I turn forty this year and I never felt older than when I heard those words.

No one likes to think about getting older or talk about what happens when they become the “elder statesman” of their gaming group, but for many gamers, that’s something we’ve had to deal with. The first generation of table toppers and dice chuckers are now in their 80s and 90s  and our hobby, a thing that feels artificially youthful to many of us, predates the invention of the personal computer by about three years.

We, the OGs who remember when this stuff wasn’t cool, are all old now and our hobby looks nothing like I remember it. Celebrities play this game and being a DM is actually a thing that can make you cool in high school. People casually talk about what kind of halfling rogue they play and how neat it was that they adopted Boblin the Goblin. RPGs have podcasts and video blogs and it has turned one group of voice actors into celebrities. Do you know how many times I have heard that weird guy from Dimension20 do that “Laws are threats” monologue? I’ve actually lost count. 

That guy has his own subreddit, by the way. 

With aging comes anger and annoyance. You start to build these ad hominem attacks on things that were never supposed to be your enemy in the first place. Often I find myself reacting to newness with a knee-jerk sense of grumpy rage. It can feel like I’m indulging in these invisible anger fantasies that came straight out of an internet message board. 

Oh, yeah, says the voice in my head, 5e has really shiny books but they sucked every piece of crunch out of the damned thing because they don’t teach math in schools anymore! I’m a veteran of the Edition Wars and you’ll pry 3.5 out of my cold, dead hands! Everybody on Critical Role was already rich. I’ve been gaming for years and no one gave me a cartoon show. Grrr eat the young!

I swear that at times it’s like there’s an elderly Incredible Hulk living inside me who reacts with anger at other people who just want to learn what I already know. I look around my gaming store and get irrationally angry None of you knows how to fight a gazebo, I think, and I refuse to explain to you fetuses what that means. Google it, you cowards! 

When I find myself slipping into that line of thinking, I have to pull back and realize what I am doing. I feel like I am being overthrown in my own hobby, not because of anything that’s actually happening but because of how I feel about myself. It’s misplaced anger and it’s silly. 

The better reaction is to acknowledge that kids are different, their worldviews are different, and that I, as a grown-up, have the chance to save them from the mistakes I have made. My conversation in that bar sent me on a google spiral that ended in me reading the latest edition of VtM and discovering all of the racist garbage that they took out of the game and feeling a sense of pride. New players to the game I really loved won’t have to read about dark brown vampires who get darker with age or the fact that someone decided that the African vampires are all drug dealers. 

Yes, that was all in the original books, and thank god it is gone. 

Still, you change as you get older, and not always for the better. There is a depressing sense that you are fading from view sometimes like you’re being colored into the background with gray paint. This meme is going around on Facebook about how we’ll all be tossing dice at the retirement home and how awesome that will be. It’s a nice idea but I know the truth: it won’t be as much fun. We won’t be using the newest systems, whatever that will be, we’ll be struggling with our dog-eared copies of books that have been out of print for forty years. We will vainly try to recapture our youth and the returns will be diminished every week. It’s hard to live in a fantasy world when everything is so painfully real and age robs you of fantasy each and every day. Playing a gray-haired old wizard is less fun when you’re an actual gray-haired old wizard. 

I know this is true because when I remembered my LARPing, I also remembered why I stopped. I was thirty-two years old and the game I was playing had dwindled from fifteen vampires to just six players. We had lost our last gaming location and we had to move to a park where we would have fake gunfights next to the jungle gym. At one point, we had a loud argument about a rule that the ST had misread. Then it hit me that I was arguing on a playground about who had died in our game of cops and robbers. 

That night I went home and did my taxes. 

Dan Gallo is the pen name of a former reporter and writer who lives in Louisiana. He currently writes the Strange Cases of Jimmy Bionel, a sci-fi detective series now available on Kindle.

And as always, you can support this blog at Owen K.C. Stephens’ Patreon!

The Print Run Crunch

(My blog post opinions are my own, and do not represent any of the companies I work, write, or freelance for.)

Tabletop RPG products that are part of an ongoing line and need a big, traditional print run (and here I’m going to go with 2,000 or more copies as “big” sadly, though that’s basically the minimum low end of big and 10k or 50k fits more strongly into this category) that goes into the distribution channel in order to make an acceptable Return On Investment have scheduling pressures that books that aren’t reliant on those factors get to avoid.

For that plan to work, distributors want to know your release date months in advance. Always well before a book is anything like ready to go to the printer. So, you do your best to write a schedule that makes sense to do that, and then you make arrangements with people like printers, warehouses, shippers, advertisers, freelancers, licensors… it’s a whole thing.

And because it is “a whole thing,” it is much, much more impactful if you miss that series of dates. Now, yes, it happens. Even the biggest companies sometimes miss a ship date. Sometimes it’s their fault. Other times, your normal printer can’t ship your product on time because they are shut down with too many employees out with Covid. (Yes, Covid. Yes, now in November 2022. This is not a random example, it’s something a tabletop-related company reported and is dealing with as we speak.)

But the consequences of it happening can be pretty severe, in both the short term and the long term. Distributors may push your product less if it doesn’t come out on time, or it may miss marketing windows you’ve set up in advance. Printing and shipping costs can go up precipitously (the Kickstarter Killer problem). Stores can end up not having the budget they set aside to get your book on their shelves because you don’t show up in the month they expect, and they reserve the money to spend on products with more reliable schedules. Printers and magazines may become less willing to reserve times for you in advance. And, retailers and customers may lose interest if they decide your release schedule isn’t stable.

No matter how hard companies try, sometimes their best effort at a reasonable schedule doesn’t allow for unexpected problems. Over 25 years in the industry I have had books get delayed because cover art was late, writers were late, editors were late, licensing approvals took longer than planned, licensing issues are found, files got corrupted, key team members became sick (or, sadly, even died), freelancers became unavailable due to things as serious as hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or war, and, of course, an international pandemic.

So when something you cannot predict or control goes wrong, and it goes wrong enough that the slack you built into your schedule can’t cover it, there is often a strong pressure to throw more hours at the project so you hit your printing/shipping deadlines anyway. Sometimes you can do this by adding more people, but that doesn’t always speed things on projects that require coordination between sections(especially core rulebooks). So, you look to have the staff working on it put in more hours… “Crunch Time.”

And, of course, the bigger and more expensive the book, the more pressure there is to get it done on time. Nor is this unfounded concern. A lot of game companies work on very thin margins. A major release going from a big moneymaker to just-above-break-even-or-worse can lead to cost-cutting that causes its own problems (you can have layoffs or do less marketing for one quarter, but you will suffer later), or even kill a game line or an entire company. This isn’t theory-crafting on my part. I have seen it happen.

Nor, in my experience, when a tabletop company has to go into Crunch Time, is it a matter of executives and managers airily commanding rank-and-file employees to work harder, do more with less, and stay late. At least with the companies I have been lucky enough to see the inner workings of, it’s much more likely that directors and department heads and publishers are among the hands for “all-hands-on-deck” emergencies. That doesn’t make it suck any less, but at least it’s shared pain.

And this, by the way, is one reason game creators can get pretty annoyed when someone claims something was just a cash grab, or the creators clearly didn’t care about quality, or it “just needed someone to read through it once to catch all the dumb stuff.” Because the bigger the book, the more likely it is everyone working on it put blood, sweat, and tears into it, and only caring about the quality kept them going at 2am, or when working 12-hour days for 20 days in a row, or pulling an all-nighter.

(This is actually one of the reasons the crowdfunding campaigns I run never include traditional print runs. I stick to pdf and print-on-demand, so that I can dodge some of these issues. And if something does get badly delayed, the fallout is less complicated. That does mean I am forgoing the possibility of a big retail hit, which limits my possible reach and income, but for me it’s worth it for my private projects. And given how many 6-digit Kickstarters I am aware of that ended up losing money, I’m happy to stick to my smaller-risk, smaller reward model.)

Now, none of this is an excuse to mistreat people or not keep striving to find ways to avoid Crunch Time. This kind of relentless deadline grind that still sometimes fails to hit the mark is one of the things that lead to burnout among creatives, and financial loss among companies. Nor is this an issue that only impacts some companies, or that has only come up in recent years. It’s hard to avoid, and happens often, to companies of different sizes, different structures, and different locations. It *can* happen as a result of negligence or bad decisions. But the vast majority of times I run into it (and end up Crunching for a project), it’s just an unfortunate consequence of how the industry and technology and retail have evolved. Those forces may not be insurmountable, but they are powerful. And a company may not crash if no one pulls crunch, but it’s a risk.

And often, it’s a risk even the rank-and-file employees and freelancers want to avoid if they can, even if that means Crunch Time.

Patreon
I have a Patreon. It helps me carve out the time needed to create these blog posts, and is a great way to let me know what kind of content you enjoy. If you’d like to see more game industry essays, or more rules for Starfinder or either edition of Pathfinder or other game systems, fiction, game design articles, worldbuilding tips, whatever!, try joining for just a few bucks and month and letting me know!

Storytime: The Insane 20-Person, 14-Hour, Multiple ttRPG Game System Adventure I Played In At WorldCon 1984

Over the weekend I was reminiscing about my first big convention, the 42nd WorldCon when I was 13 years old, and how I wandered around by myself in LA with hundreds of dollars for most of a week. For those curious about the whole post, it’s at the end of this blog entry.

But one of the things I have gotten the most feedback on from that story was mentioning I played in a “20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.” And, yeah, that was pretty crazy. Several people have asked me to talk more about that game, and it was darn near 40 years ago, but I’ll give a quick rundown to the best of my recollection.

There were lots of “Open Gaming” rooms at the 1984 WorldCon, spread over numerous hotels, which were set aside for people to just organize their own game sessions. I am sure there were organized tournaments and scheduled games as well, but I didn’t interact with that end of things at all (and still rarely do). Instead, I had a backpack with my favorite characters, a bunch of dice, some snacks, and a couple of rulebooks, and looked for people interested in striking up an ad hoc game. That was how gaming had been handled in the tiny convention that was my first taste of cons in Norman the year before, so that was what I expected to be the “standard.”

And, there was a pretty robust 24/7 gaming scene in at least one of the hotels, and I got a few games in. But the one I remember best started about 5-6pm, I think on Thursday (might have been Friday), and came together because a charismatic young man (I thought of him as “an adult” at the time, I’d guess now he was somewhere in his 20s, likely college-aged) stood on a chair in one of the biggest open-game rooms, and shouted he would run a game for any number of people, allowing any characters, from any game system, all together.

There was a lot of slack-jawed disbelief, but when he started setting up multiple fishing tackle boxes of dice, miniatures, and terrain, a bunch of us got interested and went over to see what was up. There were 20 of us players (give or take), and only 3 open round banquet tables in the room. I mentioned there were spare tables a couple of floors down and a young woman (older than me, but I thought not by much — I do not remember her name… I don’t think though it might have been Susan, but she had what I thought was an adorable Canadian accent) said we should go steel them. And she was leading the mission, because she was going to playing an Expert Thief.

So a few of went with her, rode an escalator down one level, cleared and grabbed two round tables no one seemed to be using, rolled them down the hall, had 2-person teams brace them on the escalator for a ride up, and rolled them down to the game room.

The GM had the now 5 tables arranged in a circle, stored his stuff on the floor under them, stood in the middle, and explained the game. First, he really meant any character, any game system. We each got to do one thing in a round, and he’d deal with each of us in our native game system. If there was one monster, the Metamorphasis Alpha characters would fire gyrojet rounds at it, the various D&D players swing swords and fling spells, and the Boot Hill gang (all of one table IIRC) could fan revolvers and unload shotguns. I’m pretty sure he played fast and loose with the rules, all the rules, but it never interfered with the game.

I played a high-level cleric who worshipped Saint Cuthbert of the Cudgel, and carried said saint’s cudgel as an artifact. There were several D&D characters of various editions and classes, a flying psychic telekinetic blue whale and it’s ally a white 4-armed gorilla covered in chitinous armor plates, a Boot Hill outlaw gang (maybe called the Broken Trestle Gang?), and I am absolutely forgetting several folks.

The GM got straight to the set-up, explaining that each of us had a dream where we were told by a wispy voice that only we could save everything, and the End was coming to destroy the Demiurges, destroying all of reality, and we had to stop it. And then our characters woke up on an island covered in various ship, train, and carriage wrecks, with a huge ruby tower at the center. We roleplayed introductions briefly, dealt with the fact several characters thought they were still dreaming (or had gone mad, or were high on bad moonshine, or all of the above)… and then just as we were trying to figure out who would be in charge and what we were going to do, creatures that looked like the garthim from the Dark Crystal came wading out of the water to attack us, and they had small turrets on their shells with machine guns in them.

It was quickly clear that if you didn’t have cover, the machine guns would chew you up. And if you did have cover, the guns would chew it up in a few rounds. So we tried to cover each other and fell back toward the ruby tower. But we couldn’t get in the front door. So, the flying blue whale told us all to climb on board it, and it flew up the tower… and through a big crack in the sky.

And we went reality-hopping on a psychic mutant blue whale. If someone’s character died, they ran to go grab food (we all pitched in), then usually came back to watch, at least for a few hours.

I absolutely can’t remember everything that happened. We stayed up all night, eating cold pizza and drinking warm Pepsi, and I had the time of my life. There were undead WWII battleships, living “evil eyes” that would fly into the wound of a dead person to become a “third eye” and possess them, floating islands, reality and alternate planes curling back on each other, and at least a little time was spent in fantasy, Old West, and Generation Ship in Space settings. One of the D&D rogues ended up with a sawed-off Boot Hill shotgun. One of the Boot Hill gang members got a ray gun from Metamorphasis Alpha. The psychic blue whale sacrificed itself to save us when a spiked ghost train attacked us in the Astral Plane by crashing into it head-on, while an AD&D wizard riding it broke his Staff of the Magi on its cowcatcher.

We worked out that The End wanted all our worlds to stop existing, and had discovered our worlds all existed because the Demiurges willed them to, and all the Demiurges were gathered in one place, and it was going to kill them, but we could stop it. And the flying eyes all belonged to an extradimensional creature that served as a lookout for the End. It had a weird name, like “That Which Disapproves,” though I doubt that’s exactly right.

We played all evening, all night, and well into the next morning. Character after character died, but we knew it was okay, because if we stopped the End, they would live again, and if we didn’t we’d all cease to exist.

We ended up with just 5-6 of us left, in the Modern Era, in LA, hunting the End through the halls of a hotel… and finally found it. It was a scrawny, unimpressive, short boogeyman, lurking outside a room at the hotel. And it was looking through the door at… us.

Us, the players. We were the Demiurges. The End wanted to kill us, and if our characters didn’t stop it, we, as real-world people, would be killed by it. The idea thrilled me…and freaked me out.

But the last few heroes (including my cleric) destroyed the End, ensuring that the worlds of adventure would continue forever. And we realized we could, as our characters, go into the room and meet ourselves, as players. And in that moment, having gorged myself on junk food and soda and been awake for something like 36 hours and playing for 14, I believed. But, we decided in-character that might freak out the Demiurges, so we left.

Also, there was something about a dartboard. There was a folding-cabinet bar-style dartboard in that hotel conference room for some reason, and it came into play in the story of the End, but I can’t for the life or me remember how.

And the game ended. We exchanged long-distance phone numbers and address and promised to keep in touch and I, at least, had lost all that info by the end of the weekend.

Then I went and slept in the Anime Room, because it was closer than my hotel room.

Want to Support This Blog?!

You can join my Patreon, or drop a coffee worth of support at my Ko-Fi.

For those of you who want some context, here’s the story I posted on Social Media about my time at the 42nd WorldCon.

I don’t have kids, and I am well aware that things were different 40 years ago. But apparently even people my own age are shocked to learn my mother was fine with me wandering around LA on my own at age 13 with $500 on me.

Though to be fair, $300 of that was traveler’s checks.

It was for the 42nd WorldCon, and I was almost 14.

My mother went with me, and we had a hotel room, but we mostly checked in on a notepad in the room. We rarely saw each other.

She was filking. I was gaming.

I went to a Elfquest #20 Howl/release party. A woman dressed as Nightfall flirted with me and gave me first-ever romantic kiss (from someone I didn’t even know the real name of).

Saw the anime Lensman movie.

Was part of a banquet table heist so we could fit more gamers in a room.

Rode to Disneyland with C.J. Cherryh.

Ate breakfast at a diner counter at 4am, discussing Return of the Jedi with some nightflyers who weren’t, AFAICT, die-hard geeks.

Played a 20-player, 14-hour game of mixed Basic/Expert D&D, 1st ed AD&D, 2nd ed Boot Hill, & Metamorphosis Alpha.

Bought my first junk metal wall-hanged sword.
Broke my first junk metal wall-hanger sword.
Bought my second junk-metal wall-hanger sword.

Got offered, and declined, my first beer from a stranger.

Ordered a delivery pizza just for me to eat watching movies, for the first time.

Saw, for the first time, ALIEN, Dawn of the Dead, Heavy Metal, Flesh Gordon, Dark Star, Sapphire & Steel, The Quatermass Experiment, Mad Max, Life of Brian, Clockwork Orange, and Zardoz. The video quality was often terrible, and some may have been taped off movie screens.

That was my 2nd or 3rd scifi convention ever, and it would be a high-point until I got to a Gen Con in the late 1990s.

I was a BIG 13-year old, in both height and weight. I’d never been unsupervised while away from my home town before. We didn’t have cell phone, or pagers.

Now as it turns out, I was fine. I can’t say if it was genius parenting, or luck, but the experience was formative for me in a lot of ways. Not the least of which was I saw how total strangers reacted when someone whipped out a big wad of $20s, and stopped doing that.

To Be Frank and Honest About the Downside of ttRPG Industry

I love ttRPGs, I love being a full-time professional I love all the fantastic amazing people I have met doing this for decades. But it’s not *all* Bifrosts and Buddy Moments. There are things that may not get talked about enough and, without wanting to be a downer, I want people considering being more involved to know what some of them are.

The number of salaried positions with benefits in the ttRPG industry are extremely small. While some are highly-paid jobs with security and clear opportunities for advancement and career growth (and things seem to be trending that direction for more), that’s not the norm.

Even for well-known companies with name recognition, awards, large fanbases, and decades of business, the number of them run largely (or even entirely) by freelance and contract work would shock a vast number of gamers.

So while it is possible to make ttRPG work your full-time job (I’ve done it since the late1990s), it’s rare, difficult and stressful. And you have to set your own definition of success. I know many designers, developers, and writers end up happier with the ttRPG work being a hobby that pays for itself, or a side-gig that gives them both satisfaction and some extra money.

But that’s not me. And, maybe, it’s not you.

If so, here are a few tiny bits of hard-won advice, distilled from decades of experience but all obviously colored by my own life experiences, which include a lot of privilege and luck.

*Don’t work yourself to death. It may seem like just this once you need to put in 80 hours, or pull an all-nighter, or self-medicate to get through writer’s block. And, you know, I get it. that has to be your call. But the industry is build on the burned-out careers of people better than me who pulled off the impossible, and were rewarded with the expectation they’d keep doing it over and over, and who eventually discovered when burning the candle at both ends isn’t enough, you set fire to your own flesh without even realizing the extra heat and light is killing you.

*This industry remains disproportionately white and male. No, it’s not universal. But it is still the case, and not only is that a self-perpetuating issue, it reinforces an environment where anyone who doesn’t meet the expected traits of a “game designer” is likely subject to fewer opportunities, greater challenges, and more prolific abuse. We can’t shrug and just accept that this is the way things are, but we also need to face the current reality.

*Be safe. I wish I didn’t have to say that. But there are absolutely people who will take advantage of you in all sorts of ways, from underpaying you to gaslighting you abut what was agreed to, to being abusive to make them feel better about their hobbies. And, let’s be honest, sexual misconduct is not unknown. Look, I’m a 475 lb. cis white bearded male, and I’ve had my ass grabbed nonconsensually and inappropriately at events. More than once. Alcohol on the part of the grabber was usually involved. Never go anyplace you’re uncomfortable or with anyone who makes you feel unsafe.

*If you are someone who has ever or you think could ever send someone sexual pictures or texts without clear and ongoing consent, or pressure someone to kiss, or grab their ass, or make lewd remarks, or worse, be that at a bar, or the office, or a game, or an event, drunk or sober, fucking cut it out. I know a lot of us were powerless and mocked growing up, and I have seen what a little taste of power, prestige, and popularity can do. It’s not acceptable, it never has been, and it has to stop. And if you are aware of people doing it, take steps to stop it.

*If money, ideas, rights, graphics, art, or effort is being exchanged, commissioned, or transferred, don’t work without a contract. That contract needs to say what is being done, who gets the final rights for it, what the remuneration is, what happens if the project never happens, when it is due, and what happens if any element of that doesn’t go as laid out. Without that, don’t start working. Not for well-known companies. Not for me. Not for anyone.

There are lots of wonderful, amazing, caring, creative, fun, interesting people in this industry. In fact in my experience, that’s the MAJORITY of people in this industry. Most of my best friends are ttRPG professionals, and will move heaven and earth to make the world a better place.

But 1 oz of raw sewage can spoil a very, very large bottle of Mtn Dew even if most of it is fine. (Well, assuming you are okay with Mtn Dew to begin with — but you see my point). Nothing a ttRPG career can bring you is worth your security, safety, sanity, or serenity. By all means enjoy the great parts of this community — but also take care of yourself.

You Can Support This Blog

Your support of just a few dollars a month, or even a one-time tip, makes this blog possible.

On Being Your Own Hype Person as an Independent Creator

Neal Litherland recently wrote a piece on social media abut why he posted about content of his in multiple different places online. It addresses a reality many of us face (everyone but the biggest and most successful content companies, n fact), and with his permission I am sharing it here.

Neal Litherland has a Patreon that supports his blog, and you can support him by joining it.

Small Words

“No disrespect, you made something really cool, but why did you share it literally EVERYWHERE?”

I will use small words.

Your options as an independent creator are either, “Be silent about your work, and let it languish ignored,” or, “Share it in every appropriate venue you can think of, and run the risk of possibly pissing people off because you have to be your own hype man.”

Trust me, Internet friend, I would DESPERATELY love to not have to do my own promotion. If I had a legion of at least a thousand dedicated fans who each bought a copy of every new release, who read and listened to everything I put out and then shared it on their own socials, I wouldn’t have to be constantly seeking out new places to scrounge eyeballs. But I had to go to over 60 different forums just to scrape together 1k views. If I hadn’t done that, I’d have managed 50. 100, tops.

I appreciate that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea to be subjected to promotional posts. But I promise you with full sincerity, as much as you don’t want to see them, creators sure as fuck don’t want to make them. But it’s that, or starve, so that’s where we’re at.