Lessons from (Somebody Else’s) Life in TTRPGs

Yeah, I know — it’s been two months since I posted anything here. 2019 is not off to a roaring start. Been getting my ass kicked by illness (my wife and I seem to be trading the same bug back and forth), late projects, and depression & anxiety so bad that I’m actually seeking professional help for the first time in my life.

But that’s not why I’m here!

A friend of mine, Dennis Detwiller, recently posted a thread on Twitter which resonated with me. I’ve been meaning to do a similar talk, offering the advice of my time in the trenches, perhaps Patreoned, related to my Insurgent Creative series of blog posts. I still might. But in the meantime, read what Dennis has written. Take notes. Save it. LEARN FROM IT.

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Food For Thought

I had been planning on continuing my Formulaic Writer series today, but it’s being pre-empted — so I’m sorry to the half-dozen or so of you who might be reading that(😊), but I’ll be picking that up again tomorrow.

I wanted to talk about something I’ve read today which is making me think.

For those of you who aren’t aware, Matt Colville, a longtime creator in the game industry, just broke the record for tabletop game Kickstarters, raising 2.12 million dollars on a combined project to produce a Strongholds sourcebook for D&D, and pay for dedicated studio space for his streaming channel..

Today, he posted an after-action report, detailing the story of setting up and running the Kickstarter, and I urge you to read it. There’s a lot of important stuff to absorb there, about preparation, expectations, and more.

One of the things that I found most fascinating, however, is this section, where he talks about the big RPG forums:

“On old forums where folks have been talking about D&D for 20 years, people are trying to reverse-engineer our success. None of them can fathom what’s going on. They’ve never heard of me. Is there really this much demand for a Strongholds & Followers book for 5th Edition? Have we all been doing this wrong the whole time?

I am a member of these forums. On some of them, I had tens of thousands of posts back in the late 90s and early 2000s. Back when that industry was my job. None of these people remember me, and why should they? They’re all newcomers from my point of view, and I’m a nobody from theirs.

Some people try to frame the discussion in terms of Streaming. “The Rise of the Streamer.” None of these people know who streams what, so they assume I am a popular streamer. Some of them know I’m not but in their minds, being on YouTube and being on Twitch is the same thing. I’m watching the birth of a new generation of Grognard.

I interject and try to explain. The success of the Kickstarter is the success of the YouTube channel. There’s no way to understand it otherwise. I don’t think they’re really interested in my opinion. What do I know? I’m no longer part of that world. I feel very little connection with folks in tabletop now. I realize to me, now, this hobby is something that happens at the table, but the community happens on twitch and youtube and reddit and twitter. Those are my native environments. I’m pretty sure most of the posters on these forums have no twitter account. They talk about twitter like it’s a sign of the downfall of western civilization. What would they have made of Elvis and his swiveling hips in the 1950s? Would they have been on the right side of history then?”

I’ll admit this has been echoing some thoughts I’ve been having over the past few years, about the dichotomy between what a lot of the game industry thinks is the Tabletop Games community, and what the community actually IS… and how our misinterpretation is leading us to over-weigh a minority of loud, backward-looking voices, and how that’s not only bad for our businesses, but also bad for the hobby.

In a discussion over on Twitter, game designer James Wallis floated this idea, which, given the realities of where things are and where they’re probably going to continue to move, is brilliant.

I think I may steal this idea. It’s a good one.

Anyway. There’s a lot to think about.


WorldCon Whirlwind (and a bit of a rant)

Brooke Johnson, with me and my wife Laura.I’m currently catching my breath between the last 5 days spent at MidAmeriCon2 (the 74th Annual World Science Fiction Convention) in Kansas City, and later this week, when we take a cross-country drive to drop my youngest child off at his new college. (The picture, by the way, is author Brooke Johnson, with Laura and I. We’ve been on some panels together at ConQuest and now WorldCon, and had a good time hanging out.) Busy busy busy. But I wanted to get this down.

So, I had been lamenting that I’d missed the opportunity to charge my creative batteries at GenCon again — well, WorldCon took care of that. HOLY CRAP, I’m vibrating.

Spoke on several panels — kinda froze a bit when I noted that Larry Muhfuggin’ NIVEN was in the audience of one of them, hearing ME speak. WHAT IS THIS I DON’T EVEN. Met many, many brilliant people. Had the opportunity for sharing physical location with people that I’ve known for years online — turns out, the people from Twitter have, necks and bodies and legs and stuff. They’re not just disembodied heads in squares. Enjoyed time with folks that I already knew “fer realsies”, even though there never seemed to be enough time.

Came away from the show excited about the future — both for stuff that I’m already working on, and stuff that is just at the “percolating idea” stage. Feeling a much-needed sense of actual enthusiasm for my work, which is wonderful.

A couple of other take-aways from the show:

  • I’m in my late 40s, and there were rooms where I felt like one of the “young folks.” Seriously. SFF Fandom (with a Capital F) skews WAY old. I’d love to see more effort made to attract a younger cohort, or this stuff is eventually going to die out. It’s been pointed out to me that younger folks often can’t take the time and spend the money to attend — which is true, and not much can be done about that. But content-wise, there needs to be stuff to attract those that COULD attend, by giving them a reason to WANT TO. The ‘fan-culture’ stuff that’s been kinda stale since the mid-70s is not the way to do it. I mean, sure, have that for those that want it — but make more of an effort to recognize and accommodate 21st-Century fan culture, too.

  • Today, I’ve been reading another spate of post-Con horror stories about creepers, sexists, harassment, social dysfunction. Again. (As an example, this twitter-thread from Alyssa Wong.) Seeing expected messages of support, ally-dom, etc.

    But. BUT.

    I had convos in person with some folks AT the con about this stuff… and the amount of “well, we shouldn’t ostracize” push-back was noticeable.

    Here’s the thing, though: the socially dysfunctional won’t stop these behaviors without it, to say nothing of the purposefully abusive. Until we get over the “geeks don’t ostracize” bullshit, it’s never gonna change. So yeah, offer ally-ship & support. But start actively insuring that there are negative consequences for these behaviors. Now.

    People do this in your presence? Ostracize the shit out of them. “But they’re socially awkward” can no longer be allowed to be an excuse. Learn how to behave in public, or you don’t get to BE in public. This is Basic Adult Socialization 101. Long PAST time to start enforcing it.


Rant over. The positives far, far outweighed the negatives, in the end.

Also? I need to take more pictures when I’m at a Con. Folks are posting them all over the place.

Now, back to work.