I’m back. Because I could not be silent. I know that I put the blog to bed a while ago but recent events have upset my ability to let it go…
On this blog, I have been a huge supporter of Adventurer Conqueror King System. It is an amazing game and incredibly well-written, designed, and implemented. Unfortunately, it is also in bed with the notorious internet troll and alt-right hack, Vox Day.
Without belaboring the point, here is the outline.
- Autarch has a new kickstarter for two books for the ACKS line.
- Autarch worked out an agreement with Vox Day to provide a “bonus” reward to Day if his followers took up the battle cry to include content, “for the Dark Lord.” This also might or might not include adding money to their pledge specifically for this bonus reward.
- Vox Day advertised this by mentioning that one of the pieces of art he’d commission for his reward was, a picture of vile minions eating SJWs.
- A few – and I admit it was only a few – of us who are fans of Autarch spoke up about our concerns about this.
- We were very politely told that Vox is a big supporter and paid his money so that is it. The company (and owner)’s stance is strictly apolitical.
Before I go on, one thing is important to clear up… Alexander Macris, the man at the heart of Autarch… has always been excellent in my dealings with him. I worked the Autarch booth at GenCon last year because I believe in the product and wanted to be a part of sharing it with the world and gaming community at large. Alex has always been extremely straightforward and professional in our dealings and until this incident, I would not have believed that I would ever be speaking against Autarch. It’s a shame.
But life and business are not, in fact, apolitical. Providing Vox Day with a new soapbox is not a move I can support. He is abhorrent and espouses openly hurtful views under the guise of “rationality” and “standing up against the intolerant left.” His crusade – specifically against John Scalzi – borders on obsession. (Though even I must acknowledge that there is one area where Vox Day and I agree — Scalzi is a terrible writer.) Saying that you are being apolitical is a way to wash your hands of the other guy’s sins while still taking his money.
Alex and I then engaged in private communication. I will not delve too much into what he said as it was between us and not in a public forum, but there are two issues in his response which I feel compelled to take up.
First, Alex listed off to me a history of his business decisions which led him to his current stand on the issue of Vox Day. I understand the list he provided and the decisions he discussed. I appreciate him taking the time to provide such a personal response. That said, there is a fundamental difference and misunderstanding between many of his previous decisions and this current one. In almost every previous case, his decisions involved parties that were doing no harm and were simply, “objectionable” to one group or another. There is a fundamental difference between that and the active anger, disdain, and hatred propagated through Vox Day’s community and his own writing. Day has taken an active stand to be a troll and an extremist. He does harm by his actions. Alex said that the protest is about “who Day is, not what is in the book.” That is a fair point. But unfortunately, you can claim to be apolitical but you cannot claim that working with Day is the same as previously employing someone that others claim to be objectionable when they are harming none. That is a false equivalence.
Second, just briefly, I am going to quote one very small part of Alex’s letter to me. It is in the interest of speaking to it directly.
private economic boycotts over differences of identity and politics are harmful to civil society... I know that many disagree with me, and believe it is better to cause those who espouse unpopular views to suffer for them because they deserve it.
This is important. I do not believe that it is better to cause those who espouse unpopular views to suffer. No one deserves to suffer. What I do believe is that my private boycott of a product (also, not so private as I voiced my concerns in the Autarch forum before writing to Alex privately) is about not being willing to associate myself with the objectionable person or content specifically because of their actions. I don’t care about someone’s identity or politics in the abstract. I care about how they manifest those actions in the world. Vox Day is an internet troll who actively chooses to take a harmful road with his words and actions. His site and writing are not merely “words” they are calls to action. To say that you are apolitical but still associate with him because he has money and has said nice things about your work is not apolitical – it is willfully choosing to endorse, tacitly or not – the messages that he spreads.
Again – Alex Macris has always, always been excellent to me and I have a great respect for his hard work and the product he has created. Autarch’s ACKS is, really, the best D&D style game I have ever played and I’d rank it one of the best games in the market. And again, to be fair, Alex has repeatedly stated that he is in final control of the content and will be certain that it is appropriate to the tone and mechanics of ACKS. I believe him completely when he says that.
But the fundamental disagreement here is not about politics or identity. It’s not about whether Vox Day is a “good person” or not. I frankly don’t care. I’m not always a good person. The issue is that Vox Day actively creates a hostile atmosphere in our community and acts to sow discord, disdain, and spite while frequently patting himself on the back for same. And that is not something that I can associate myself with. If you have reservations, I hope you will express them as well.
I’m conflicted. As most everyone who knows me would tell you, I love Amber. I love the story, the setting, the characters, and most of all (of course) I love the Amber Diceless Roleplaying Game. And so, in the last couple of weeks my friends have been popping up and directing me to the Lords of Gossamer and Shadow Kickstarter. I’m always grateful that I have good friends who know what I love and think of me when they see it. But I’m conflicted.
Why would I support this Kickstarter? (Besides the fact that they are completely supported – well – about 16 times over.) I don’t say that to be a jerk… I’m super happy that someone wants to keep the Amber system alive and that there are people out there other than me who enjoy diceless play. That’s awesome. And maybe it’s worth supporting the Kickstarter just for that… but here’s the thing – what I’m buying is a setting. From reading through the preview it seems fairly clear that the creators of this game – at least one of whom was actively and deeply involved in the old Amber system – have taken the Amber system, filed off a few of the serial numbers, and otherwise kept it wholesale. Which means that what I’m buying is a setting.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve bought games for just the setting before. Everytime I buy a John Wick game I’m buying it to read the setting bits not the rules. But when it comes to Amber/this particular Diceless RPG, I’m not sure why I’d want to buy a new setting… and I know I’m harping on that a bit but here’s the thing, I can go to RPGNow and buy the Amber RPG for $12. It costs me $15 to get a PDF of LoG&S which I won’t get until at least September. If the Amber book wasn’t available in PDF, I probably would have been climbing over myself to get this – but – Amber is readily available.
And that’s the other part. As much as I love the Amber setting – and as much as I don’t ever want to say anything negative about the designers of LoG&S because I don’t know them from Adam – there’s one other thing… When it comes to the rest of the Amber RPG… it is the single most influential gaming book I’ve ever read. It has the best player advice and the best GM advice I’ve ever read. It’s magical.
I’m very happy for the guys running that Kickstarter that they were funded and that they will get the fantastic art they want (the art does look really spiffy). I think it’s really a question of what will make me want to fund a Kickstarter… not a question of any “badness” by the guys doing LoG&S.
So let’s flip the scenario for a minute… Let’s talk about Arcanum. You know Arcanum, the other game I talk about too much. Bard Games, 1985 for the Second Edition. I just ordered another copy from Amazon marketplace and I’m hoping it gets here soon… my copy is, ragged might be a good word. Yes, let’s go with ragged. Anyway… so I started doing some research and it turns out that another company has produced a new Atlantis: the Second Age RPG! Needless to say, I was excited. This was great news, I could finally get a PDF of what might be the second most exciting RPG book I’ve ever owned. But alas, it was not to be. When I purchased it, the setting was the same, but the game system appears to be more closely related to Talislanta than the original Arcanum system. As cool as Talislanta was/is, that was not what I was going in for.
So, two old games, two new games. One that is too much like the original when the original is still available, one that is nothing like the original and the original is gone for good. Maybe I’m just hard to please (probably true) and despite all my complaining, still let me say that my complaints are purely my own – kudos to the people who are making these games and keeping them alive in whatever way they are… I just want a PDF of Arcanum.
At my local convention, Madicon, a few years back, one of the author guests made a pretty interesting point in his discussion about coming up as a writer. (I apologize, I don’t remember which author guest — it was the quote that stuck with me, not the person). I’m only paraphrasing but he basically said, When I was trying to get started and needed an agent — no agent wanted me. When I eventually made it on my own — agents wanted me but I didn’t need one anymore.
I’ve been investigating Kickstarter lately, reading up on successes and failures. I’ve backed stuff on Kickstarter before and found some great products that way that I missed the campaigns for but bought after the fact. It seems like a great thing. I’ve talked to some people who’ve used it and been successful and I’ve seen the big name, big budget projects hit. I’ve read commentary about it from outside the RPG niche and well, generally, I kinda feel like that author guest up above. In order for Kickstarter to be worth using, you have to already be “somebody” (in a subjective sense, of course — and based on your audience). Being a nobody is a sure way to get a KS to fail.
So I’m well into writing on my Game. I’ve done a lot of the work and I have a great artist lined up and actively working along with some supplemental art by a few others. The project is shaping up nicely. And I’ve really considered whether a Kickstarter campaign would be worth it to help finance the project. But here’s the thing.
I was discussing this very thing with another guest at Madicon this year, a great guy who was in the middle of his own KS campaign for a music project and he told me that he felt that he’d really used the campaign the wrong way, kind of doing it as a poll — to gauge interest in a project. And he realized after he’d started (he actually made his goals and beyond but that’s not the point here) that he wasn’t sure how smart that was. Because if it’s a project you really want to do and you fail to fund it then basically, does that mean that people don’t want it? If you fail to fund, does that mean you scrap the project and never finish it? And I think those are valid points.
Money is tight all around. So far I’ve funded this project out of pocket and I’m happy enough with the results. I don’t expect my little home-design diceless game to set the RPG world on fire or anything… I’ve even contemplated going the free game route at one point. But a funding drive would be super useful right now. I kind of need Kickstarter but honestly, it doesn’t need me. No rancor in that statement, just true facts and a little sad envy.
Ultimately, my reading and my experience lead me to believe that Kickstarter is a great thing and I love some of the products I’ve learned about and picked up through KS. But I think for KS to be worthwhile for someone they need to already have their audience attracted. Kickstarter isn’t (or doesn’t seem to be) for nobodies.
So back to the grindstone, back to polishing my work and being excited about the art coming in. I’ll see where this project takes me — maybe to the next project which will be worthy of a Kickstarter…
Thanks for reading.