16–22 September 2019: Kickstarter; Kayfabe; Sales

Busy week! Let’s get right into it.

The struggle over unionisation at Kickstarter continues, and we can see its ripples in the RPG community. Meanwhile, Fandom, which bought D&D Beyond earlier this year, has acquired the Cortex RPG, and has plans for it.

In weirder news, a Pro-Wrestler’s mocking of Dungeons & Dragons draws a fierce reaction from fans. It’s a strange story in particular because it’s hard to tell what’s real and what’s part of the performance.

There’s a profile of the Indie RPG scene on itch.io; a study on tariffs; some news from the world of RPG translation; a massive dice roll; imaginary monsters; MAD magazine; product announcements from Free League, Chaosium, and others; and a mini-Black Friday worth of sales.

Featured Image: “Kronspolar” by Simon Stålenhag, from Out of Time, by Free League

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The Business End

Union presses charges against Kickstarter

Last week we reported that Kickstarter was under fire for anti-union practices after firing two union organisers in quick succession. Charges of wrongful termination have now been filed with the National Labor Relations Board. This week, we’ve seen over 200 creators (including several RPG publishers) sign a letter standing with Kickstarter’s union organisers. The union has not called for a boycott, but it’s clear from statements in this week’s Crowdfunding News that creators are taking notice.

Cortex acquired by FANDOM

The Cortex RPG system has been acquired by FANDOM, owners of (among other things) D&D Beyond. FANDOM promises digital support (“like we have done for Dungeons & Dragons with D&D Beyond”) for the system.

Changes at Catalyst Game Labs

Catalyst Game Labs announces several management changes.

Indie RPGs on itch.io

A blog post from the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies offers a snapshot of the Indie RPG scene on itch.io.

Tariffs will hit games hard

A study by market research company, NPD Group, predicts that sales of games and books will be hit hard by tariff increases.

MJF v. D&D

Dungeons & Dragons appears to be at the centre of a pro-wrestling narrative. All Elite Wrestling star, Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF), posted a tweet mocking Dungeons & Dragons, which his opponent, Brandon Cutler, plays. The tweet has been widely mocked by the community, with responses from Joe Manganiello and Matt Mercer. More disturbingly, MJF also reports that he has been receiving death threats from D&D fans. His mockery of the hobby is clearly kayfabe, but it’s not clear whether or not the death threats are just part of the act.

Given how fractious and reactionary our hobby can be at times, I’m betting that the death threats are real. — Amy

Translating Games

Goodman Games terminates its translation agreement with Brazilian publisher, New Order Editora, and announces that Sagen Editora will take over the license to translate Dungeon Crawl Classics into Portuguese. This comes after a crowdfunding campaign for these translations failed to deliver all promised rewards.

D&D Beyond is looking for feedback from users for whom English is not their first language.

Fun Stuff

The biggest dice roll ever occurred accidentally.

Michael Tresca looks at the origins of some Dungeons & Dragons monsters in Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Things.

Barnes & Noble releases a list of 10 books based on RPG campaigns.

D&D will be making an appearance in MAD Magazine.

New & Upcoming Products

Wizards of the Coast has released its latest campaign, Baldur’s Gate: Descent Into Avernus, accompanied by a series of one-shot podcasts to serve as a prequel to the campaign.

Wizards have been leaning pretty heavily into actual play as a way to reinforce D&D’s brand identity and market their products. The DM in me worries that the way they are doing this will also re-enforce the notion of an official D&D canon, which I would take to be a very bad thing. — Amy.

Free League announces Out of Time, an expansion for weird ’80s RPG, Tales from the Loop.

As part of the WeAreAllUs campaign in remembrance of Greg Stafford, Chaosium will release an unpublished adventure by the Chaosium founder.

Goodman Games is offering a line of horror adventures for Dungeon Crawl Classics.

Pelgrane Press launches a Beta program for the Black Book — a digital toolset for GMs of GUMSHOE games.

Chaosium is releasing a print edition of Paladin, the ruleset adapting Pendragon to focus on the life of Charlemagne. The campaign was originally published only in digital format by Nocturnal Media.

Wizards of the Coast releases the new edition of the classic D&D card game, Three-Dragon Ante.

Swedish publisher, Helmgast AB, announces The Troubleshooters, an RPG in the style of Franco-Belgian comics.

Wizards of the Coast releases two new subclasses under their Unearthed Arcana playtesting program.

Bundles & Deals

Humble Bundle is offering a bundle of Old School roleplaying books.

Bundle of Holding is offering a bundle of Savage Worlds books by Battlefield Press.

DriveThruRPG is having a sale on Pathfinder books.

Cubicle7 is having a warehouse sale.

Onyx Path Publishing is having a sale on World of Darkness 20th Anniversary edition products.

Crowdfunding News

Kickstarter United 

Following the controversy surrounding Kickstarter’s response to unionisation, a number of Kickstarter projects have included statements about where they stand on the issue. Notably, this includes the two biggest launches of the week:

Heart (Rowan, Rook & Decard): We’re aware that Kickstarter has been accused of (and has denied) firing people for trying to organise a union, and we stand in solidarity with those still working on that goal. As of the time of writing, the union has not called for creators with planned projects to boycott the site, so we’re going ahead as planned, but we’re monitoring the situation so that we can act if that advice changes.

Root (Magpie Games): We fully support the union and are following their lead on how best to aid them. They have not called for a boycott, but we are excited to assist them as they continue their efforts to make Kickstarter a stronger, better platform.

Under Hollow Hills (Lumpley Games): We’re strongly pro-union and they have our full support. Between us, this is our seventh Kickstarter project, and we’re Superbackers. Whatever our support’s worth, the workers and organizers at Kickstarter have it. When they say stand, we’re standing. When they say tools down, we’re tools down. So far, the union hasn’t called for a boycott. If they do, the moment they do, we’ll end the campaign and find some other way forward. We won’t cross a picket line. Meanwhile, we’re cheering them on.

At time of writing, no other project launching this week has issued a statement that we have spotted, on either the project page, the FAQ or as a publicly available update (although they might have dealt with the topic elsewhere).

Noteworthy New Projects

Root: The Tabletop Roleplaying Game: A tabletop roleplaying game adaptation of the Root board game, by Magpie Games (Masks: A New Generation, Urban Shadows) October 20th

This has been a huge first week for this project, with over 2,800 backers raising more than $260,000. This is no doubt largely due to the popularity of the board game on which it is based, but Magpie’s reputation as a publisher of solid Powered by the Apocalypse games, as well as their decision to give away a playable quickstart version of the rules, can’t have hurt. It will be interesting to see how high this goes.

Heart: The City Beneath RPG: A dungeon-delving game set in the world of Spire, by Grant Howitt/Rowan, Rook & Decard (Spire, Goblin Quest) October 17th

Heart has had a remarkable first week — raising almost £54,000 ($67,000) from over 1,100 backers. It looks set to eclipse Rowan, Rook & Decard’s biggest previous Kickstarter project to date, Spire.

Pick of the Week

Under Hollow Hills: A Powered by the Apocalypse (PbtA) game about a travelling circus that moves between fairyland and the mortal world, by Meguey & Vincent Baker/Lumpley Games (Apocalypse World 2nd Edition, The King Is Dead) October 20th

This is by no means the biggest project of the week, or even the biggest PbtA project, by a long way (a sign of the Bakers’ impact). But when the creators of Apocalypse World (the progenitor of PbtA games) go back to the system, it’s worth paying attention. Add to that an original and interesting setting, some lovely artwork and it definitely counts as the project we’re most inspired by this week.

Fantasy 5e & Pathfinder

NIOBE RETURNS IN SHE IS DEATH AND THE UNTAMED: A comic book with a Pathfinder-compatible sourcebook, by Sebastian A. Jones September 28th

Gemhammer Grimoire: A collection of spells and spell cards for 5e, by Gemhammer Games (The Compendium of Wild Beasts 5E, Deck of Wonder: After Dark – 100 NSFW Random Spell Effects) October 3rd

Harold the Halfling’s Herbology Handbook: Fantastic Flora: A 5e compatible sourcebook for fantasy flora, by Deep Dungeon Games (Diception, Spellmasters Template: A simple spell solution for TTRPGs) October 12th

Hidden Heroes: A one-shot 5E adventure in which the players play the role of animals protecting their forest from an incursion, by Justin Spath, Space Daddy Games (Rebels of the Drifting City: A one-shot 5E adventure) October 12th

Monster Cards: DnD 5e Reference Cards: Quick reference cards for 5e monsters, by Colin Sproule October 13th

Urban Fantasy / Horror

The Lovecraft Country Holiday Collection: A collection of Lovecraftesque stories and Call of Cthulhu adventures with teenage protagonists and a holiday theme, by Golden Goblin Press (Cold Warning – A Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition Adventure, An Inner Darkness – For 7th Edition Call of Cthulhu) October 14th

Deviant: The Renegades – a tabletop roleplaying game: A world of darkness game in which you play the victims of experiments who turn against the people who made them, by Richard Thomas/Onyx Path (Chicago By Night – for Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition, Geist: The Sin-Eaters 2nd Edition) October 17th

I’ve fallen a bit out of love with the World of Darkness lately, but it used to be my favourite playground. From what I’ve heard about Deviant, it could be the game that brings me back into the fold. Not quite “pick of the week”, but I’m eyeing it. — Amy

Cyberpunk, Steampunk and other Punk

SLA Industries: 2nd Edition: A second edition of the 1990s cyberpunk game, by Nightfall Games October 8th


CAPERS Covert RPG: A supplement for the CAPERS superhero RPG bringing Cold War-era espionage, by Craig Campbell (Capers, Die Laughing) October 11th


[NSFW] PunkApocalyptic: The RPG: A tabletop roleplaying game set in the PunkApocalyptic world!, by Robert J Schwalb (Shadow of the Demon Lord) October 10th

The only animated gif on this Kickstarter page is a woman with three jiggling breasts. Hardly the worst offender in the industry, but there’s a lazy misogyny to this artistic choice. For me, it was a bitter reminder that the roleplaying milieu treats women as sexual objects first, and players last — if at all. RPG makers: Be better than this. — Amy


THE STORY ENGINE deck of endless storytelling prompts + book: A deck of story prompts for GMs and other storytellers, by Peter Chiykowski (POSTCARDS FROM IMPOSSIBLE WORLDS // The Shortest Story. The H.M.S. Bad Idea: An Anti-Self-Help Comic Collection) October 12th

This update was made possible by Keenan Collett and the rest of our Patreon supporters.

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