Hobbyist vs “Professional?”

I still can’t believe we’re doing this. It truly makes me ill. I haven’t been this traumatized by an argument since World of Warcraft players were crying “Casuals are ruining the game!”

RPG Family, are we really doing this? Seriously?

This whole discussion is why I take meds. It’s as if Imposter Syndrome weren’t bad enough. It’s royally pissing me off. Seriously, it should come with a unique Trigger Warning.

Disclaimer: Statements expressed in this article are strictly my opinion. If you disagree or have a different opinion, that’s okay. I’m not an expert on everything. I’m not always right. I’m just writing from my experience as I know it. Your mileage may vary.

*TRIGGER WARNING* 
This entire debate is stupid, unproductive, divisive and generally fails out loud. Only consume in small quantities. Has been known to cause seizures in Old Grognards. It's right up there with the old MMORPG saying of "Get better, NOOB!" Jeff is not responsible for any brain damage caused by this debate. You were warned. 

Let’s define “Hobbyist” first.

I still can’t believe we’re doing this. It truly makes me ill. I haven’t been this traumatized by an argument since World of Warcraft players were crying “Casuals are ruining the game!”

Sigh… A Hobbyist in the TableTop Role Playing Game sphere is defined as someone who creates mostly free content. It’s part of the ttrpg experience. It’s what a GM/DM/Judge does for their campaign every day, every game session. New creatures, magic items, characters, cities, maps, dungeons, adventures, and so on are all a GM’s bread-n-butter as part of the hobby/game. It’s what we do!

The same can be said for Twitch streamers, YouTubers, Actual Play podcasters before they’re monetized. Artists, too. Sometimes people sketch their character. Some GMs sketch their monsters. We all have to start somewhere.

I use Bitmoji for my website. I would never *sell* anything with my Bitmoji on it. Ethically it’s a bit sketchy to do that. Legally, it could potentially cause a lot of trouble. This is similar to the arguments revolving around AI art right now.

I would like to point out a couple of Hobbyists that created this game called Dungeons & Dragons. T$R, the original company who produced D&D, was started when Mr Gygax and Mr Arneson got together with some friends and turned their hobby game into a money-making endeavor.

People are forgetting THE WHOLE DAMN INDUSTRY STARTED OUT AS SOMEONE’S HOBBY!!!

Yes, I use Bitmoji and stock photos on this site. Probably because my own art is mediocre at best and I know it.

There’s a monomolecular wire thin line between Hobbyist and Professional. Let’s talk about Pros.

Sorry, family. We all know how I feel about perfeshunalz. Sorry, Professionals. It’s a lot of things I don’t readily identify with because I’m pretty laid back. Yay, money. Boo snobby, pretentious, gatekeeping crap.

We’ll define “Professional” as someone who makes a living in the TTRPG space. They create games. They sell games.

The title likewise applies to the myriad of artists, editors, layout experts, and others who contribute to the TTRPG industry for a paycheck. Technically, if one has sold a PDF product on DriveThruRPG or Itch.io, they should be considered an RPG industry professional.

Professional is also an attitude. After some folx start making serious money selling their TTRPG products start looking down on the rest of us. Suddenly there seems to be some kind of competitive rivalry with anyone looking to break into the industry. It’s like people are afraid new writers are going to cut in on their bread and butter.

Where I become annoyed or even enraged:

Gatekeeping in the TTRPG sphere is not a new phenomenon. I’ve been personally seeing it in the RPG industry since 1988-ish. I once made the mistake of sending a letter (via snail mail, kids) to Dragon Magazine asking how to become a “professional game designer.”

The gist of what the editor told me was “Come back when you’ve been published elsewhere in the industry, kid.”

Yeah… 16 year old me was almost discouraged for life at that stage. Luckily, I’ve had plenty of teachers, friends, and even professional game writers tell me I’ve got potential.

Back in the 1980’s and 90’s, breaking into the industry was considerably harder than it is now. Now all I have to do is publish an adventure on DriveThruRPG or similar PDF sites. I have to make sure all the legalese is included and pay the artist if I have one. It’s not terribly hard.

Back in the day it was either sweat it out to hope to maybe get published by a major company or start one’s own. I dare say old T$R was indirectly responsible for starting several game companies. Those other companies were started because other writers had a plan and a dream that almost got shut down by professional gatekeepers.

Please forgive me if I rage on social media about this.

I love creators of all sizes when it comes to TTRPGs. It’s been my hobby and joy for 40+ years. I dream of having publishing credentials in the RPG field. I’ve only been on this quest since I was a starry-eyed nerd in a small Iowa town with my gaming books and legal pads.

I recently saw someone who used to work for Wizards of the Coast and is now in a similar position for another creator talking mad crap about us “casual hobbyists.” I won’t name and shame on my blog. Needless to say, I’m pissed.

Okay, I’m not working for Matt Colville or Matt Mercer. It doesn’t mean I’m not important. It doesn’t make me less of a creator. It sure as Hell doesn’t mean professionals are any better than the rest of us.

Yes, please be proud of your own accomplishments. Yes, love yourself. I never begrudge anyone for doing well. Don’t we all want to do what we love all day? Don’t we ALL want joy in our lives?

But, don’t shit all over the “hobbyists” who buy those products y’all produce. Don’t tread on the people who got you where are are today. And stop treating anyone trying to break into the industry as competition. There’s enough room for us all.

End rant for now. I’ll say it again when it comes to gatekeeping: Just. F*ckin. DON’T!!!

Thank you for hearing me out. I appreciate you being here. Game on. More tomorrow.

What Are We Here For, Exactly?

We’re humble gamers. A lot of us were marginalized by our peers and picked-on while growing up. (“Nerds!”) There are a ton of emerging sociocultural topics that we are being faced with now that the hobby has grown from hundreds to thousands to an approximately 50 Million. I would go so far as to say we’re a subculture now.

Please bear with me, family. This one is as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.

I see so much injustice in the world. I almost turned this into a poem just now because it goes deep fast. I see all these injustices, lack, and hate in the world. Is that what we’re here for?

I don’t want to come at this from a place of privilege. Yeah, I’ve had it relatively good. I’m super grateful that I got to grow up in white bread middle of the United States. It’s not like I had much of a choice.

I see so much negative crap in the world and it kinda breaks my heart.

Yes. Call me a pansy, bleeding heart, woke, socialist, or whatever. I empathize with a lot of people when they’re hurting. Politics aside, my heart really goes out to a lot of friends and family who have been stuck in the proverbial mud as of late.

Truth: Being poor sucks. Being homeless sucks. Being unemployed royally sucks. Abuse of any kind, racism, homophobia, transphobia, and hate in general are all seriously bad. I’m grateful every day that some of these circumstances don’t apply to me.

BUT, they apply to a lot of people I know and care about a lot in the real world and on social medial. I spend a lot of time in the #TTRPG sphere these days. Unfortunately, just as in almost every community on the Internet, there exists inequity, racism, and other forms of hate. It hurts. It really does.

I keep wondering what I can do to help, like really help.

Don’t get me wrong. I have my own share of health and psychological issues. But, I would really like to do more. I’m not sure what, exactly. I’m just a guy with a blog.

That isn’t to say I’m helpless. I do have a few readers according to my statistics. I love you folx. Honestly, you’re great! We need to spread the word more in the #TTRPG community when we see all these injustices.

More discourse!

The TTRPG sphere has had its share of controversies as of late. The issue with NuTSR’s extremely racist views recently came up again. Wizards of the Coast managed to shock the fan community with their recent Spelljammer flub known as the #Hadozee. Gatekeeping is becoming a hotter topic now, too. Finally, there seems to be a regular uproar on Twitter any time someone tries to give advice involving diversity and inclusion in the TTRPG workspace.

Here’s the catch: We should be discussing these things!

We’re humble gamers. A lot of us were marginalized by our peers and picked-on while growing up. (“Nerds!”) There are a ton of emerging sociocultural topics that we are being faced with now that the hobby has grown from hundreds to thousands to an approximately 50 Million. I would go so far as to say we’re a subculture now.

We should be working as a community to move closer together, not farther apart at least as a culture. We need to talk about our beliefs and values. Most importantly, we should be able to come together as a group and enjoy a roleplaying game for 4-6 hours at a time. Discuss!

We’re committing to spending time with one another once (one-shots, conventions games, etc) or possibly one night per week or whatever can be scheduled. We are going to have some different ideas as people outside the game. Public discourse is healthy for us all.

Maybe we don’t agree. Maybe we do agree. Can we compromise on something?

The Session Zero debate seems trivial enough.

Anyone mentioning Session Zero or inclusivity in their gaming group immediately gets shouted at “Don’t tell me how to run my game!”

Some of us think Session Zero is always a good idea. I like knowing what characters I’m dealing with and a little about their backgrounds when I GM. I like to talk about house rules. We discuss what might be sensitive subjects to some players. Simple enough, right?

Okay. Don’t run Session Zero. If you’ve been playing with the exact same group of people for 20 years, you probably didn’t need one in the first place. You know it’s going to be the same hot buttons and things to stay away from. Great.

Please believe me when I say, no one is trying to tell you how to run your game with your group at home.

Trouble starts when tabletop gamers start acting a fool in public or on social media (see also; in public.) Please don’t exclude people from a public game unless the group is jam packed. If you’re not running a system they like, they probably won’t stick around anyway. At least the offer was made.

Most pro level Dungeon/Game Masters know how to run for larger groups and still make it around the table to everyone anyway. (That’s a different article, though.) My point is- we’re all there to have fun. Please make it happen?

If you’re in a PUBLIC space, please remember there are going to be all kinds of people from different walks of life, countries, genders, preferences, races, and so on potentially present. It’s our job as GMs/DMs to make everyone feel welcome as hosts of a game in a public space. What you do inside your home with your own private group is none of my concern.

Back to my original question.

Why are we here? Is is to fight, bicker and complain about one another? Pffft! Absolutely not!

Are we here on planet Earth on the 4D plane of existence to discover love, peace, joy, compassion and prosperity together? Absolutely! How do we want to choose to treat one another? It’s up to us,

My final thought is, if 50 Million of us can figure out how to get along and coexist in spite of our slightly conflicting values, what’s to keep the rest of the world from following us. Please remember, no matter how bad one thinks one has it, someone else has it worse. Someone also has it better. So, please consider- Can we do it better?

Let’s please try to get along.

Star Frontiers Compared to Starfinder.

I’m not saying one is better than the other. It’s a little bit like comparing BECMI D&D to the most recent version of Traveller. They’ve both got a lot going for them. They’ve both got some flaws.

This is a loose comparison. That is ALL.

I’m not saying one is better than the other. It’s a little bit like comparing BECMI D&D to the most recent version of Traveller. They’ve both got a lot going for them. They’ve both got some flaws.

Obviously, I’ve been around Star Frontiers a great deal longer than Starfinder has been in print. Star Frontiers has been around as long as GI JOE. That’s saying something. Paizo is a relatively new company compared to (Original) T$R.

I’ve played/run a lot of space games. I’ve mentioned several here on my blog before. Star Wars, Star Trek, Starship Troopers, Shatterzone, and Star Frontiers round out my Top 5, but there are so many more. Starfinder would definitely be in my Top 10.

Star Frontiers original cover.

Pros and Cons for both.

Star Frontiers Pros (In no particular order.:)

  • Compact. Other than modules and scattered magazine articles, it’s easily contained in three main books.
  • Fully Developed Ship Combat. Knight Hawks pretty much covers it.
  • OSR. It’s an Old School game in all its glory. They just don’t make it that way any more. Longevity speaks volumes. Developed by some of the biggest names in the RPG industry.
  • Fan material. Egads, there are some seriously dedicated Star Frontiers fans out there. 40 years in and still going strong. Fanzines, modules and fan sites abound!
  • Broad. Wide reaching expanse of systems and beyond to be explored and catalogued aside from what’s in the core books.
  • Simple System. Makes for good beer-n-pretzels gaming. Not a lot of complicated skill lists to try to remember. Combat can be swift, bloody, and easily resolved in theatre of the mind.
Star Frontiers Cons.
  • Zebulon’s Guide. Was actually supposed to be the first of three books. It, umm, well… It flopped. Most fans and critics alike have issues with this book. There were better articles in Polyhedron and Dragon magazines. It’s overall okay, but the rework of the dice system was totally unnecessary.
  • Aesthetic. To me, the game will always look very 2001 Space Odyssey meets Lost in Space or Space 1999. Our ideas about technology and ergonomics have advanced. I always used to laugh at original Star Trek when they were still using giant crescent wrenches in engineering, but by the time Next Gen happened, they had all glass touch screens and beam splitters. Star Frontiers just looks very 1970’s-1980’s.
  • Production Quality. Times have changed. Boxed sets are no longer practical financially. The reprints of Knight Hawks don’t really do it justice. While the nostalgia of playing games with hex maps and cardboard chits is great, (seriously!) It doesn’t hold up next to 3D printed minis and roll-out felt hex star maps. (*Okay, I was spoiled on Babylon 5, Battlefleet Gothic, and Silent Death. Sorry.)
  • Lack of Official Expansion. You get Alpha Dawn, Knight Hawks, and Zeb’s Guide. That’s about it apart from those sweet, sweet, modules and a bunch of magazine articles that are no longer available. Tons of fan material scattered all over the Internet.
  • Pre-OGL. This was released way before there was any real Open Game License in RPGs. Unfortunately, when T$R was bought out by Wizards of the Coast, some of the rights issues with various intellectual properties, art, etc became super tricky. Then there’s “NuTSR” who made an even bigger mess.

    Basically, it’s okay to write all the fan material you’d like as long as you distribute it freely. But if you intend to make any money, this is not the game for you. It’s not like the old T$R crew is hiring for new Star Frontiers designers ever again. Then again, even they abandoned it. Sigh.
  • To be continued, never. Unless something dramatic happens, we’re never going to see a new, official edition of Star Frontiers. There are so many things we would have liked to have seen happen with this game.

I think the skill system in Star Frontiers deserves some discussion. If one is just using Alpha Dawn Expanded Rules, skills are okay-ish. Knight Hawks adds starship skills at great expense. Zebulon’s Guide attempted to rewrite the whole thing and made it more complicated than I think most of us would have liked. -1CS for me, I suppose.

Starfinder banner.

Starfinder Pros and Cons:

In this corner, weighing in at one huge rulebook and more sourcebooks than we know what to do with- Starrrrfiiiinderrr! People keep saying “Just play Pathfinder” when it comes to comments about fantasy games. For a long time D20 Star Wars fans got bombarded with much the same about Starfinder. I haven’t heard anyone say I should give up Star Frontiers for Starfinder yet. It could happen, though.

Starfinder Pros:
  • Rich system mechanics and setting. Even the core rulebook is packed with character classes, alien species, magic, weapons, spaceships, and so much more. The setting is all in pretty much one system, so huge jumps through hyperspace won’t be absolutely necessary until later supplements. However, the worlds one can visit are very well defined.
  • Open License. Anyone can contribute to Starfinder Infinite. It’s possible to get paid for writing more awesome fan material for this game! Plus you can go there and find stuff other fans have done.

    Yeah. Not only Starfinder Infinite, but there are some really cool third party sourcebooks for this game. Personally, I love mecha. There are mecha rules galore. With some kitbashing, I can build the deep space mecha game I’ve always wanted.
  • Fantasy compatible. Pathfinder is Starfinder’s big brother of sorts. What does that mean? Elves in spaaaaace! Yup. Gnomes with laser pistols. Magic. The whole nine yards. It’s cool. Kind of like an old game called Dragonstar.
  • Everyone has a seat: The entire adventuring group can man the guns, computers, shields, and pilot’s chair in starship combat. Your characters are the bridge crew!
  • Galaxy Exploration Manual. This book changed my whole outlook on the game. While the in-system campaign is fun and all, I really wanted to explore the rest of the Universe in this game system. It basically turns Starfinder into Star Trek only with all the magic and giant robot combat.
  • Artwork and Layout. Art sells books. The artwork in Starfinder is outstanding! Plus the layout, borders and typesetting are near perfect. If nothing else, it’s a very attractive set of books.

Starfinder Cons.

  • Stuffed! While I love the diverse, rich, involved game Starfinder is, I gotta say in terms of product (expansions, sourcebooks, etc) it’s a bit bloated. Much like 3rd Ed D&D, there are tons of books for Starfinder and another massive collection of books from third parties. Also like D&D, you just have to pick and choose what you wish to allow as a GM.
  • Thick Core Book. Does anyone else think a 500+ page rulebook seems excessive? It’s no Pathfinder 2E, (700+ pages, same company.) but…
  • Magic?!? You just got fantasy all over my sci fi. You just got sci fi all over my fantasy! Mmm nom nom nom… Two great tastes that sorta go together? Kinda? I would have preferred psionics, technomagic, and maybe have the actual “magic” like OGL D&D spells introduced later. They didn’t even try to fake it.
  • Restricted to one star system. The original game was set entirely in one star system. As I mentioned in the Pros, the Galaxy Exploration Manual fixes this. I see why they did it, but I think a lot of players would prefer space games set in an open sandbox.
  • Starship Combat. Seems to borrow a few pages out of a couple of other games. It’s okay, but then again it’s only okay. Designing a starship is fun. Combat isn’t super lethal, but it’s a good idea for characters to know where the emergency spacesuits and escape pods are just in case of a lucky crit.
  • Price Tag. Unfortunately, the more books a game has, the more expensive it becomes for the completist. You can get by with the core rulebook and some dice. Maybe less if the GM prints a few pages of the pdf and lends you some dice. However, if you want all the freaky alien species, sleek cybernetics, cool starships, big mecha, and so forth, it’s gonna cost quite a bit.

Company Spotlight: The Arcane Library.

Designer Kelsey Dionne is one of the most imaginative, outgoing, creative professionals out there in the RPG market today.

Designer Kelsey Dionne is one of the most imaginative, outgoing, creative professionals out there in the RPG market today.

The Arcane Library has been putting out solid, playable, fun 5E adventures for years now. That said, I highly recommend checking out the website. On top of all of that, Kelsey is working on her own take on D&D called Shadowdark. One other thing I’d like to mention is that Kelsey is highly approachable, or at least more than many other RPG designers/writers.

I was actually introduced to the Arcane Library and Kelsey’s work through a 5E book called The Monstrous Lexicon. If you follow along The Arcane Library website, there are also free adventures such as Temple of the Basilisk Cult along with the email newsletter. Did I mention the YouTube Channel? Kelsey walks you through some of her modules as they come out and gives really great advice on RPG topics.

Needless to say, there’s a lot going on.

I get to exchange emails with Kelsey once in a very great while. She’s been a bastion of good advice and is super helpful to new writers and RPG designers. I was lucky enough to chat with her through email during the year which shan’t be named. Now that Shadowdark is taking off, and it really is, The Arcane Library is super busy.

If you follow the YouTube channel or if you know Kelsey a little bit from convention gaming, you know that horror is kinda her thing. A lot of The Arcane Library adventures have a horror theme to them. Some of them are definitely not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach. They remind me a bit of AD&D 2E Ravenloft. (Which is to say, “AWESOME!”)

As a side note, I invested in the mini-DM Screen and the Combat Cards bundle back when I was still working full time. They’re awesome and I’m still using them when I run 5E.

SHADOWDARK holds a lot of promise.

You can download the quick start rules now. I know I’ve talked before about having a reason for an elaborate dungeon crawl, but Shadowdark really gives adventurers cause to prowl around underground in search of glory and loot! It’s also got a lot of that Old School look and feel to it. I would almost go so far as to say OSR, but without all of the Old Grognard stereotypes attached.

The art, which most writers struggle to find, is exceptional. It’s very old school BECMI with some Call of Cthulhu thrown in. I would also add that if you liked the old FASA Earthdawn RPG, then Shadowdark is well worth checking out.

I’ve even run into people online who mention The Arcane Library and Shadowdark specifically pretty much out of the blue. I was actually surprised when someone who I didn’t think had heard of The Arcane Library was talking about it kinda out of the blue one day. I can’t say who it was out of confidentiality, but I was pretty impressed. Kelsey definitely makes an impression.

The Arcane Library is also active on Twitter and Instagram.

Twitter: @arcanelibrary

Instagram: @thearcanelibrary.

Please don’t just take my word for it! Go check out all of the amazing work for yourself. The Arcane Library RPG experience awaits!

Thanks for stopping by. I appreciate you. I appreciate you taking time out to read what I have to say. Have a great day!

If I Owned a Game Store Part 2

Product choices can make or break a game store. This is where business minds superior to mine can probably chime in. The most basic concept, especially starting out, is to balance overhead with profits. If it’s not going to sell sooner rather than later? Hold off on ordering it.

Then comes the fun part- Product.

Product choices can make or break a game store. This is where business minds superior to mine can probably chime in. The most basic concept, especially starting out, is to balance overhead with profits. If it’s not going to sell sooner rather than later? Hold off on ordering it.

Floor space is critical as well. A full Games Workshop spread takes up a lot of space and requires game room for tournaments. Magic the Gathering requires very little counter space (minus single,) but lots of tournament room. D&D is always kind of a gamble because of the massive amount of competition with other retail sources. If you devote a ton of space to miniatures, you lose space for other product. Then there is a matter of peripheral products such as dice.

Below is my list of product considerations:
  • The first thing FLGS owners must generally accept is it’s tough to find decent distributors willing to really work with small businesses. I mean, everyone wants to cut deal with big box stores such as Target, Walmart, or Costco. The big boys are going to order pallet loads of product and get pennies-on-the- dollar deals. The big box stores move pallets. FLGS move one or two units at at time and then reorder.

    Independent owner/operators usually get a pretty rough deal unless they have a ton of money up front. Sounds mythical, but not totally impossible. The unfortunate thing is, middle men like to make big money. Most game publishers will jump for joy at direct orders, but who has time to contact dozens of different manufacturers to secure one copy here and two copies there? The same goes for booster boxes of cards and boxed board games.
  • To GW or not to GW? That is a huge question. Games Workshop is an awesome company, and they are super helpful with retailers. BUT, if you want their support, you have to play it by their rules. Some of their rules are pretty insane. They like to make it so if you’re selling their product, that’s all they want you to sell, ever.

    If you’re a GW store, their product has to be placed prominently up front. There have to be regular events. Tournament armies must be painted. The store must order X amount of product per week. It just goes on and on.

    The alternative is to not be a GW store, but then you can’t carry any of their official product. There’s money to be made selling $250-$300 boxed sets, plus paint, rulebooks, White Dwarf magazines, terrain accessories, and tons of miniatures. Have I mentioned how they like to charge pewter prices for plastic figs? It’s enough to make a guy want to go out and buy a 3D printer/scanner and make his own. (Not that I’d be officially suggesting anyone do that.)

    It is possible not to be a GW store, but being listed as one has just as many or more benefits. It’s a similar situation to Magic the Gathering and other popular TCGs that have the potential to bring in hundreds or even thousands of dollars when done correctly. Where do you want to make the money?

    I used to be big into GW. I love Warhammer 40K. I played Necrons, Orks, and Blood Angels and dabbled in several other armies. WH Fantasy armies were Undead and Bretonnians. As a retailer, I sold a TON of Space Marine minis and Chaos everything. Boxed sets were a big ticket, especially the basic games. I also sold and played a lot of the little games like Necromunda, Blood Bowl, and Battlefleet Gothic. There’s a LOT of money in GW if done well.
  • Oh, I mentioned Magic, didn’t I? Love it or hate it, Magic is a strong seller. (The biter old school Old Grognards all cringed just now.) The most beneficial thing I’ve ever seen a game shop do is have a regular Magic expert on staff pretty much available daily. Cards sell extremely well and really don’t suck up much space.

    There’s a catch to Magic. Single cards are finicky and complicated, especially to the untrained seller. I like Magic, but the nuances of specific cards are way beyond me these days. Buying, trading, and selling cards is big business on this end of the industry. The value of single cards goes up and down monthly. Having cards specifically priced in a display case requires a heap of upkeep.
  • Roleplaying Games: Personally, this is my “why” in terms of owning a store. I’m an RPG guy in my heart and soul. But selling them for a living is not the same as designing and running games. It’s tough on the retail side.

    RPGs can take up a ton of space. The markup in terms of prices is usually not the best depending on the distributor. Turning product into profit is a big challenge when you’re competing with Amazon, other Internet sources, other FLGS, the pdf market, and even game companies themselves.

    I would love to have a good way to turn huge RPG profits in this day and age. If I’m being honest, it’s just not there right now. The smartest decision I’ve seen from other FLGS is to carry the basic, core book for any given game and signage that explains you can have the store order specific sourcebooks/modules.

    There’s a couple of exceptions. First is D&D. Again, there’s a lot of competition. Short of selling below MSRP, dealing directly with WotC, or having a ton of product that might be beautiful shelf lining for many years, I’m not sure what else can be done.

    The second exception might be local interest. If you have a solid Call of Cthulhu group that comes in regularly? It might be worthwhile to expand that section be a few books. Another exception is Pathfinder. It’s a big draw, much like D&D complete with all the pitfalls of selling it.

    Other RPG systems worth keeping more than one book on hand include, but aren’t limited to :Monster of the Week due to its small volume of product; FATE due to its narrow selection of books; Shadowrun due to popularity possibly; anything with a tv or movie tie-in might be worth having a couple of books; finally, I recommend Dungeon Crawl Classics for the OSR fans who want something cheap and endless hours of fun.
  • Wargames other than GW are another potential pitfall. If you have a local wargaming and strategy club, there might be some specific recommendations from them. Otherwise, Battletech is a really great game and crowd pleaser. It’s one of the only games to ever give GW a run for their money in the US, and it’s not that close. But, miniatures wargames can be a huge draw as long as one is careful with product overhead.
  • Miniatures in general are a big draw. They can take up a ton of cabinet and display space, sit for a long time, and sell for big money depending on where one finds them/acquires them. Back in the old days, our local FLGS in Des Moines, IA had a big cabinet full of painted minis on commission in some cases. Nowadays, pre painted figs come in a variety of ways from booster packs to single painted (usually large) figures from talented artists in the community.

    This is sort of a sticky wicket in the same way Magic singles are. One can devote tons of space, time and effort in stocking them or sell unpainted figures/boosters sometimes in bulk. Paizo, Wizkids, and some other companies also sell huge dragons and other monsters already painted and boxed. Lots of space, big sales, but also a big gamble. Always asking, “Will it sell?”
  • Pre-Owned merchandise is another major issue to look over. Roleplayers will tend to try to dump a lot of old books during an edition change. (Not me, but some people do.) Personally, I don’t recommend buying or trading for much of anything but modules/adventures. Adventures can be used with other systems or editions. The catch is not giving away the farm for things that probably aren’t going to move very fast.

    Again, TCG singles or even full collections have the potential to be big money deals. The kicker is how fast will they sell. A case full of cards doesn’t do a heap of good if no one is buying them.

    Miniatures, as I mentioned before, can possibly be a big deal. Fantasy minis never really go out of style. Games Workshop frowns on sellers peddling product other than theirs, but I think most retailers keep it quiet if they’re selling other products. Used GW products are usually a big no-no unless they’re well painted current figures. I’ve gotten jammed up on GW in the past when suddenly units change in terms of types, figure bases, and size.

Then there are all of the peripheral products such as dice, dice trays, journals, and wargaming supplies.

We’ll talk more about product tomorrow. I’ve given this a lot of thought over the years. I love that people are making their own dice, printing their own minis, creating their own dice bags, and even dice towers. Profitable endeavors are another story, especially from a brick-and-mortar perspective.

Thank you for stopping by. I appreciate you. Please take care.

Racism Has No Place In the Tabletop RPG Space.

@NoHateInGaming is very good at what they do. They, Tenkar and @jedion357 have done a great job exposing the racist drivel being spouted by “NuTSR” contained in Star Frontiers: New Genesis.

Recent spoilers of Star Frontiers: New Genesis on the Tenkar’s Tavern YouTube Channel have gamers fuming mad.

It’s not Tenkar’s Fault. He’s just being honest. I think he also did the community a favor. You can watch the video here while it’s still available. News of the drivel in the manuscript being discussed has gone viral in the last two or three days.

Screenshot of the Tenkar’s Tavern video.

If I had made the mistake of backing any “NuTSR” product on Kickstarter or elsewhere, best believe I’d be asking for my money back.

Dave Johnson and Justin LaNasa are proven racists. I’m appalled at the fact I even have to mention them on this blog or anywhere. These two clowns took over the old Intellectual Property for Star Frontiers Role Playing Game. The “product” that they are supposedly developing is showing to be some hardcore racist Nazi propaganda.

NoHateInGaming is very good at what they do. In this case, they’ve exposed Dave Johnson for his racist beliefs. I wouldn’t buy a game from this guy. Sorry not sorry at all. It might not be legal to outright censor someone, but we can expose their garbage.

@NoHateInGaming was kind enough to repost some of Dave Johnson’s atrocities.



If Star Frontiers: New Genesis ever hits the shelf anywhere, and all of the racist garbage is still within its pages?

The outcry in the #TTRPG community is going to be outrageous. There might not be a court case made against “NuTSR,” but damned if some of us won’t try anyway. Regardless of legalities, a lot of us will be on social media, at conventions, and harrassing sellers for carrying Star Frontiers: New Genesis if it still contains all the racist garbage shown during playtesting.

Not kidding, I can’t believe Wizards of the Coast, owners of much of the old T$R original property rights, let it get this far. There are already other lawsuits in the works between “NuTSR” and WotC, but no mention of Star Frontiers yet as far as I know. This has gone well beyond some small time game company trying to bring back an old classic RPG and well into insanity in my opinion.

@NoHateInGaming was kind enough to repost this on Twitter as well.

What year is this again?

“Negro?!?” Are you serious right now? And then the clowns go on to portray this “race” as physically able, but less intelligent. Come on. Really?

That’s bad enough, but then there are the “Nordics.” They may as well have not beat around the bush and just said, “Aryan.” It would have been more transparent.

They didn’t apparently think any of this book through.

Even though Star Frontiers: New Genesis contains parody races, they still did a damn terrible job. Don’t get me started on how little justice they did to Grays and Reptilians. The injustice they did to humans and the “Negro” is bad enough. I didn’t think people still used the word any more. Sad. Really sad.

It gets worse, if that’s possible.

Unfortunately “hate speech” is still protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. However, I would remind everyone that even though it is protected speech, so are the thousands of voices shouting down this racist nonsense! As long as there are no threats of violence, we can call these clowns almost anything we’d like and get away with it just like they do. That said, I still urge patience and tolerance when possible.

First Amendment.

Otherwise, loud outrage does quite nicely in this situation. I hope no platform such as DriveThruRPG will even consider allowing this book if it contains all the racist prattling of lunatics. It might be legal, but I know for a fact OneBookShelf controls their own platform and what is allowed on it. Even if it wasn’t a direct violation of their Terms of Service, do they really want thousands of gamers mad at them?

Wizards of the Coast at least has the wherewithal to put a disclaimer on their older products to reflect that fact that beliefs and values have changed. This disclaimer is even on the Star Frontiers products listed on DriveThruRPG:

WotC puts a disclaimer on a lot of their older products, especially D&D.

You know? I wish we could say, “It’s just a game. No big deal.” But that opens the floodgate for racism, homophobia, transphobia and just plain hate loose all over the industry. TTRPGs are supposed to be about friends and fun not hate and fear. And if it’s prevalent in our games, what stops it from being that way in society?

More on this topic later. Thank you for listening to my rant. I really appreciate you being here. Thank you!

AD&D, But the “A” is Not What You Think, Part 2

I love D&D 5E. I love all of the editions for different reasons. There are even mechanics in the much maligned 4E that I thought would be interesting to bring back. It begs the question, though- if 5E is so awesome then why is there such a push for OSR? (*Old School Revival.)

Say what you wish about 5E, but its days are coming to an official close in the coming years.

I love D&D 5E. I love all of the editions for different reasons. There are even mechanics in the much maligned 4E that I thought would be interesting to bring back. It begs the question, though- if 5E is so awesome then why is there such a push for OSR? (*Old School Revival.)

I think the easy answer is that the more the game evolves into new editions, the more some of us OGs miss simpler times and familiar record keeping. I know a lot of people in all walks of D&D fandom think it’s all or nothing when it comes to a favorite edition. I’ll talk more about this sometime down the road. My purpose here is not to engage in the infamous Edition Wars, but to see what a mash-up of editions might look like.

When last we left our heroes…

We talked about character creation. Every edition has something to contribute. 4E had a really interesting book that many probably overlooked. The 4E Player’s Strategy Guide was underrated. I forgot to mention it in the previous article, but it really was a good way to bring people into the game.

I thought the 3E/3.5 Dragon Compendium (Paizo) offered up a lot of interesting class options, especially the Savant. This class offered an opportunity to sample all of the main core classes (Cleric, Fighter, Thief, Wizard.)

Equipment:
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The most extensive equipment guide for any edition was probably 3E. I don’t necessarily think every single lantern and wagon wheel needs an entry, but there were some neat pieces of gear and mounts for players to explore.

Armor:
Again, my first choice is 3E/3.5E. There were a lot of variations and piecemeal armor sets. I think with a few minor tweaks, the armor table for amalgam would be complete as a revision of 3.5E.

Weapons:
No surprise here, I’m going with 3.5’s weapons list. No lie, I miss having the exotic weapons in the game, quirky though they were. I also miss all of the Monk and Samurai weapons in the game. Oddly, I would fix the Bastard Sword and Katana back to their 2E glory days. Also, the amalgam weapon list would have to be adjusted to include Weapon Speeds to go with the hybrid initiative system.

Spells:
Photo by lilartsy on Pexels.com

Okay, I’m sure the pitchforks and torches are coming out for this. I actually liked the 2nd Ed AD&D spells. Specifically the Priest’s Spell Compendiums and Wizard’s Spell Compendiums. I also enjoyed creating spells in 2nd Ed.

For a bit of added excitement, (and I may have to move to an undisclosed address after this,) I think the 4E casting options work a little better than the old, tired, fire-and-forget spell system. Don’t get me wrong, healing surges can stay dead. I don’t think every spell should be re-castable every round. But wouldn’t it be great to recast spells like, Magic Missile and maybe Fireball more than once per combat without burning slots for Utility Spells? How about Cure Light Wounds?

Certain spells that take more than a turn or two would continue to take some kind of spell slot. Obviously V, S, M components would have to stay in the game unless negated by Feats. I know some of these concepts might be daunting to new players, but I think with time and a little game time experience, it could work. Playtesting might indicate otherwise.

I think some special treatment needs to be given to Clerics’ Turning Undead and Healing. (Again, healing surges are still dead.) While turning should stay a separate ability from spellcasting, what if Clerics or Paladins could burn a spell slot to recover or enhance a turn attempt? Or maybe treat healing like a turning attempt and have some (not ALL) healing be recoverable per round/rest period/day? OR even burn turning to heal more?

Feats are a nice multitool for casters to gain a little advantage with spells. IF/F we altered casting to make some spells re-castable, how to cover things such as casting a low level spell at a higher level? Do we follow the 4E model of every single spell has a table with damage bumps? Burn a higher level slot and scale the damage?

How about changing the die type for damaging spells? So instead of 2d4 Magic Missile damage, we cast it as a 5th level spell and now it does 2d10? But it still recharges… Hmmm.

More dice? Bigger dice? OR both?

More to come. Combat is on my list of things to cover next time. Thank you for being here. I appreciate you.

A Tumultuous Time for Part of the RPG Industry.

Then there’s Star Frontiers: New Genesis. I really don’t want to give this product or this company any free press. There are literally hundreds of RPGs that I’d rather invest my time and effort it. Yeah. It’s that bad.

I’ve been following the recent news about a game company that many of us in the community had a world of love and respect for back in the day.

I was genuinely excited when I heard someone was bringing back Star Frontiers. Taken at face value, it’s one of the coolest things to happen since D&D 5E! Freakin Star Frontiers! It’s back. YAY!

Here’s the Bell of Lost Souls article.

The original Star Frontiers cover art by Larry Elmore.

Did I mention it looks awesome on the surface?

I keep my somewhat banged-up copy of the original with my D&D boxed sets. I’ve kept up with the game on and off. It’s a really amazing classic Sci-Fi RPG. It’s been available in reprint form on DrivethruRPG. That in and of itself is enough for some of us old school gamers.

Then there’s Star Frontiers: New Genesis. I really don’t want to give this product or this company any free press. There are literally hundreds of RPGs that I’d rather invest my time and effort it. Yeah. It’s that bad.

There are two notables among many out there fighting the good fight.

In case anyone wonders, I always type it out as T$R to honor this old logo. It’s a dragon, not a dollar sign.

Tom (Jedion) at Table Top Taproom on YouTube has been embroiled in an ongoing conflict with the person behind this revival version of T$R. Another soldier in this battle is Tenkar of Tenkar’s Tavern. They have both been up to their proverbial eyeballs in harsh trolling on Twitter. (Gonna leave those links alone, because it’s pretty brutal.) They have both been making videos in support of one another and are very critical of these guys at the “nuTSR.” From what I’ve seen between Tom and Tenkar, there’s no way I’ll touch the new Star Frontiers.

In fact, from all of the internet brawling I’ve seen over Star Frontiers: New Genesis and other “nuTSR” properties, I won’t touch anything the authors do. Ever. Please note, it takes a lot for me to be openly offended this way.

I’m just peeking in on this insanity that is “nuTSR.”

The old T$R had its flaws before and after the Lorraine Williams era. Gary Gygax, (Rest in Peace) had his own personality quirks and flaws that people have called out. It’s all water under the bridge now, but we do owe Gary Gygax, Dave Arneson and others credit for putting RPGs on the map.

There are so many award winning authors and RPG designers who passed through the hallowed halls of old T$R, I can’t name them all or we’ll be here all day. Some of the luminaries from the T$R golden age of prosperity and even a few of the later hires are still HUGE names in the RPG business.

Despite the popular culture overtones of the time, many of the games from the 1980’s and 1990’s are still thriving in one form or another. Some of them are five, maybe six editions in. (It happens.) Many old campaigns and modules in reprint now come with a disclaimer from Wizards of the Coast.

The disclaimer as it appears on DriveThruRPG and DMsGuild.

I would bet my collection of Polyhedron magazines none, absolutely none of the old T$R crew would sign off on anything these “nuTSR” guys have been doing. From everything I’ve seen, most conscientious gamers won’t touch the stuff these new guys are putting out. We feel bad for the ones who have.

It’s not just Star Frontiers, either. This “nuTSR” has acquired the licenses for Dungeon Crawl and Cult of Abaddon (module.) Apparently they have not shipped as promised. Seems a bit suspicious at best. At worst, it’s awful customer service. (*Here’s a thought- don’t screw people who are giving you money in exchange for your product!)

Crowdfunded efforts unfulfilled. Designers/Writers blasting fans publicly on social media. One incident on social media involved threats against someone’s family. Star Frontiers: New Genesis is a hot mess from what we hear. Lore and backgrounds aside, it is rumored the editing is a total disaster. The museum and several old T$R intellectual properties are on the line, too. Oh, and apparently WotC has issued a Cease and Desist order and set their crack ninja death squad of elite hit lawyers on the perpetrators from this “nuTSR.”

Trauma and drama aside, the true disservice is done to the fans at this point.

No offense to Tom and Tenkar, but that’s what hurts most about this entire debacle. There are some real Dungeon Crawl fans out there. If there was a successful, well thought-out, well edited remake of a classic game, who knows how many fans could have been introduced? The same can be said for Star Frontiers.

Old school T$R fans from all over are shocked and appalled at what has gone down with “nuTSR.” No matter how freaky and controversial the old guard T$R might be, they would never have stamped their imprint some something shoddy, undeliverable, unedited, blatantly offensive, or promised but not delivered. Then to go on social media (*sorry, not much 1980’s or 1990’s comparison,) and treat fans and buyers like absolute dirt? Ouch.

My humble advice regarding “nuTSR.”

I sincerely hope this all dies down soon and we can get back to gaming. Star Frontiers really was a good game. Please, my advice will always be, put your energy toward that which you love, not creating more hate. Love Dungeon Crawl. Love Star Frontiers. Please give Table Top Tap Room and Tenkar’s Tavern a listen over on YouTube.

My other earnest advice, from someone who used to be somewhat anti-WotC, please watch the manufacturer listed on the product! If it comes straight from Wizards of the Coast or old T$R via WotC, then you can reasonably assume it’s authentic. I also find that knowing a little of the product history helps when I’m looking at older modules. There are plenty of other companies reprinting or revising old T$R modules and they’re fine.

Good times are on the horizon. Please stay hydrated. Stay safe. Thanks for being here. You are appreciated.

Please Put Me In Charge For a Month or Two, Part Two.

As a GM/writer, I would rather have two or three monster books, a guide full of advice for GMs along with new items or NPCs, and a setting guide rather than a GM screen and a bunch of prefab modules. Why? Because I’m probably going to tailor adventures to my campaign and the characters. No premade module I’ve ever seen/run has ever fit directly into the game for our characters specifically.

I have some thoughts for a new game company that I would love to share more directly with them.

I know roughly how arrogant I sound. But, I’ve been around a while and I have a pretty good gut instinct when it comes to the RPG industry. Some things are like any business. Some things are like any publishing business. Others resemble the retail industry. Still others yet are a platypus unique to the RPG business.

That’s where I come in. I love a good platypus, or rather RPG. There are formulae at work. You’ve got players, obviously. You’ve got a GM in most cases. In some instances you have fans of whatever setting or genre the game is based on. There’s lots of moving parts here.

Every game company I’ve ever seen grapples with at least one of the big three components I just listed. Most game companies tend to overlook the poor Game Masters for some odd reason. Do we GM in a vacuum?

Here’s how I would do it for the GM.

Telling the GM to make up everything is not an OSR mentality. Honestly, it’s just plain self-sabotage for game companies. Maybe there are just too many GMs out there saying, “I usually toss out the rulebooks and make up my own.”

If a GM says that about your game, your product? Y’all have a problem. That means a company can make up anything it wants, but chances are, it’s lost some potential buyers. RPGs function on word of mouth advertising as much as anything. If the GM is tossing your rules out, it’s pause for concern that you’ve lost your audience. (Except good old D&D, but that’s a deeper rabbit hole.) If a GM loses faith in the product, what message does that send?

Remember, most game companies aren’t WotC/Hasbro. Most companies don’t have a big money actual play podcast/animation franchise on Amazon Prime. Most game companies really can’t afford to have their initial product releases flop horribly or they will not be around for another year to do it again in all likelihood. Likewise, if a GM is pulling in books from other games or pitches the system out the window, the sales on future supplements might not look so good.

Here’s my theory.

Really, the formula is simple. Start out with a solid core book that includes literally anything/and everything basic within reason that players and GMs alike are going to need. Unless you’re dropping a two or three volume set, it is best to include all of the character creation, system, combat, gear, spells, monsters, and items in one book. It is highly advisable to include GM basics in every core book such as how to create adventures and adjudicate the system because not everyone is a 40 year veteran GM. That first book has to be dynamite!

Then, the next releases are pretty crucial. My angle is support for the GM. Is a GM screen crucial? No. Is a book full of monsters going to help? Oh yeah.

New GMs especially need something to keep the game from becoming stale and redundant. Trust me, reskinning the same orc, skeleton, or goblin a hundred times over gets pretty droll after a while. Giving out the same +1 glowing shortsword of orc detection, likewise pretty boring.

Modules are okay, but if you set GMs up for success within the first few releases, modules are icing on the cake. Yes, it’s okay to have a module available early on to get players interested in the game for the first time. But after that, the GM is on his/her/their own anyway. Please set the GM up for success!

If a GM says good things about the core book, and buys into the next three or four books down the road, word will spread about what a wonderful game it is. It’s not set in stone, but a lot of people do look to the GM when it comes to what books to purchase next. This is really crucial if the players are new to the hobby.

Sourcebooks aimed at players are cool, but…

As a GM/writer, I would rather have two or three monster books, a guide full of advice for GMs along with new items or NPCs, and a setting guide rather than a GM screen and a bunch of prefab modules. Why? Because I’m probably going to tailor adventures to my campaign and the characters. No premade module I’ve ever seen/run has ever fit directly into the game for our characters specifically.

As a side note, if your game is not specifically a miniatures wargame, figures are probably not mission critical. Many fine RPG systems run off of minds eye theatre or rudimentary blocking with coins, dice, or tokens. Minis might look shiny, but the real RPG money is in the books/pdfs. *Unless we’re talking about Games Workshop.

The player driven stuff is great. We all love new character options, spells, weapons and magical gimmicks. I mostly go after that stuff to see what I can loot for ideas and to get an impression of what the players are likely to want next. Some things catch my eye as a drooling fanboy, such as all things mecha.

Okay, enough about my obsession with giant robots. New game companies can still benefit from listening to old veterans. No one has all the bases covered. We’re all human, and as such, prone to errors. Living is learning. What works for my game company may not work for someone else’s.

Have a great weekend. Thank you for stopping by. See ya soon.

Gah! Just Let Me Drive!

At some point, you absolutely must cater to the GM. What do GMs need? If the game involves slaying monsters and grabbing loot, it’s probably best to have a book with monsters and a GM’s book detailing all kinds of cool loot. That mentality of “set up everything for the players and tell the GM to wing it” is going to go stale pretty fast.

I’m having an egoic moment, but I have to say something as a fan and “Old Grognard.”

First impression of a game should not elicit shock and dismay.

I’m not going to name and shame any game companies, but I noticed the 2022 release schedule for a new RPG that just released this year. For a brand new game with a brand new system, this thing looks anemic. I’m incredibly underwhelmed by what I’m seeing. If it were my company, I daresay we’d be doing things a little differently.

Maybe it’s the drooling fanboy in me. Maybe it’s the writer talking. It could be the guy that’s been on the retail end of the RPG industry for years. I just have a sinking feeling that this company could do better with a flagship release. The second half of the book made me cringe. The subsequent releases made me start looking at other games again. My quest for “the One” may yet continue, sadly.

Honest disclosure: I’ve never run a game company.

Most of us can probably say the same? However, I have seen dozens of companies come and go over the years. I have an RPG collection on paper larger than I can easily catalog. Then there’s pdfs. Let’s just say I’ve seen a lot of game settings in a lot of systems. Could I do better? Maybe.

Here’s the thing. I’ve seen some definite winners over the years. Games that came out with a solid core book or books and followed up immediately with things they know fans will be clamoring for. Some games even go so far as to promise certain expansions in their core rules because they know there just isn’t room to cover depth and breadth without creating a 700+ page nightmare to the tune of $65.00 or more.

For example, if a new modern combat game comes out; after the core rules, what does everyone likely want? Well, if you’re like me the order is usually first guns, sometimes a setting book, next vehicles, and then a GM’s book. Then the order probably depends on the setting. You have various factions, cyberware, hacking rules, monsters, magic, and so on to consider depending on the game.

What did I see?

Without naming and shaming, the company in question flopped hard on their first release. The core book was lacking and a bit mediocre. The system in question is a solid B+, the art is an A-, and the rest is pretty lackluster. But then it got kinda mopey. I can’t give too many details because I want to teach and not offend.

What would I have done differently? So far the writers have done a great job catering to the players. The art for a game is make or break in a lot of cases and they did that fabulously. The question I think the company needs to ask is, who’s running the game?

At some point, you absolutely must cater to the GM. What do GMs need? If the game involves slaying monsters and grabbing loot, it’s probably best to have a book with monsters and a GM’s book detailing all kinds of cool loot. That mentality of “set up everything for the players and tell the GM to wing it” is going to go stale pretty fast.

Maybe it’s because we’re in some freaky modern era of game design?

I think there is a LOT more to designing an RPG that just handing everything to the players and oh, yeah that person behind the screen. Unless you’re branding the game as GM-less or some other wacky players-only mechanic, that person behind the screen is important. That person behind the screen is going to need a lot more than a screen last I checked.

I’m going to go more into depth on this in my next article. There’s a lot more to pulling together a first product release and subsequent supplements than anyone could really cover here in one article. The problem is, I have a pretty fair idea of how to do it, but not the resources to actually build a company and release an RPG. So, I’m playing armchair quarterback for now.

Have a lovely day. Please stay safe. Thanks for being here. See ya soon.

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