Welcome to the first week of October 2019 where the biggest news of the week is a fast-food chain publishing its own RPG. The road to the mainstream was never going to be all blockbuster movies and celebrity endorsements, but we definitely didn’t see this one coming.
That may be the most contentious story this week, but it’s not the only contentious story. DriveThruRPG Has Nothing To Do With Zak (again), Kickstarter continues to push against unionisation, and Forbes looks at the economic factors threatening small businesses in the industry.
There are also some new hires and departures; Fantasy Grounds statistics; a drinking game; and a villainous goose.
Featured Image: Art from Untitled Goose Game, by House House
We’re Taking a Short Rest
The time has come for Amy to take a short holiday, and so we’re taking a little break from these updates. There will be no weekly update for the next two weeks. d100 will be back with three weeks worth of news on 28 October.
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Wendy’s & Critical Role
American fast-food chain, Wendy’s targeted Critical Role fans and D&D players in a bizarre marketing campaign this week. This included the official Wendy’s RPG, a D&D rip-off spotlighting the company’s rivalry with McDonald’s, and a Critical Role One-Shot.
Critical Role was fiercely criticised for partnering with Wendy’s, due to the chain’s poor history with regards to labour rights. The studio issued a statement, and announced that it would donate all profits from this week’s sponsorship to Farmworker Justice, an advocacy group that works with labour rights in the agricultural industry.
There have been other controversies around this: Wendy’s has been criticised for not crediting the authors of the RPG (normal for advertising, but not for RPGs). Additionally, a Wendy’s game jam on itch.io (transparently a spoof) drew outrage from people who thought it was real.
The ethics of the Wendy’s—Critical Role partnership has been discussed to death on Twitter, and presumably off of it. Some of that discussion has been interesting and challenging. Most of it has been really, really dumb. We’re not going to add to it.
But the fact that we’re talking about this raises a broader point about the state of our industry. Forbes observes: “The key takeaway from this collaboration is that companies now see fantasy fans and D&D players as a desirable demographic.”
The RPG industry is growing, and there is a complexity that comes with that. The more money the industry makes, the more we draw the attention of a capitalist world, and the more connected we become to that world.
And there will be moral choices to make because of this. Critical Role, with its 360k subscribers and its $11 million Kickstarter, is just the first to find that out.
The Business End
Last week we reported on an RPG module which defends accused sexual abuser, Zak Smith. DriveThruRPG, who initially allowed the product on its platform, has re-reviewed it and decided to remove it on the grounds that it violates the spirit of their decision not to support Smith.
As we have reported previously, Kickstarter has been in the news over its anti-union activities. This week, Kickstarter says that it will only recognise a union if it is voted for in an NLRB (National Labor Relations Board) election. In other words, when it is legally required to do so.
Forbes looks at how shipping costs, tariffs, and union-busting by Kickstarter may impact small tabletop RPG publishers.
The North American arm of Ulisses Spiele acquires the rights to the steampunk RPG, Space 1889.
Pinnacle Entertainment Group is searching for a Line Developer and an “Evangelist” for Savage Worlds.
Michal Lisowski joins Chaosium as Director of Operations.
Dave Brookshaw steps down as Line Developer for Mage: The Awakening, to be replaced by Meghan Fitzgerald.
IGN adds to the genre of popular news outlets explaining why D&D is popular to people who haven’t heard of actual plays.
Fantasy Grounds releases statistics on the games played on its platform in the last year.
Ardent Roleplay is an Augmented Reality tool for RPGs, launching later this year.
The Game Manufacturer’s Association (GAMA) announces the Rick Loomis Service Award, named for Flying Buffalo founder and former GAMA president, Rick Loomis, who died in August this year.
Benjamin Riggs recalls how a $9.5 million debt to Random House helped to sink TSR.
Rob Minneman announces the 2019 24-hour RPG contest.
Two new Kickstarter projects have stated their position on the issue of unionisation, while one that launched last week has now clarified its position:
Ross Rifles: While this platform is enabling us to create games, we recognize that a union is best for the company and its employees. Dundas West Games supports Kickstarter workers’ right to unionize. Kickstarter United is NOT calling for a boycott of the platform and one of the primary organizers has advised the community to go forward with their October campaigns.
Visigoths vs Mall Goths: I [Lucian Kahn] support Kickstarter workers’ right to unionize. Kickstarter United is NOT calling for boycott, and the main original organizer has advised me to go forward with this campaign. I have written about these issues extensively on twitter. For more details, my open letter in support of unionizing Kickstarter workers is here.
Haunted West: We’re doing the work to create a more inclusive gaming world but we can’t do it without crowdfunding. If Kickstarter doesn’t recognize their workers’ right to unionize, we won’t launch another project with them. Most of you know me [Chris Spivey] for one thing and that is speaking truth.
Noteworthy New Projects
Deep Magic for 5th Edition: A Tome of New Spells & Arcana: A collection of spells and options for spellcasters in D&D 5e, by Kobold Press (Creature Codex, Empire of the Ghouls) — October 30th
As we’re taking a couple of weeks off, there will be quite a few popular crowdfunding projects which are due to end before our next newsletter – it’s been a bumper month! The following have more than 1,000 backers:
SLA Industries: 2nd Edition is a reboot of the Scottish 90s game set in a dystopian future controlled by a single corporation. At present it has over 1,100 backers and has raised over £80,000 — October 8th
The Story Engine is a deck of cards offering storytelling prompts for creatives, including role-players. At present, it has nearly 1,400 backers and has raised over CA$84,000 ($63,000) — October 12th
Heart: the City Beneath is dungeon-crawling RPG from the designers of Spire. More than 1,600 backers have raised nearly £73,000, making it a bigger hit than their previous game — October 17th
Deviant: The Renegades is the latest in the Chronicles of Darkness series of RPGs, this time focusing on the victims of experiments who team up and fight back against the organisations that changed them. More than 1,400 backers have raised over $67,000 to date — October 17th
Root is a powered by the apocalypse RPG adaptation of the popular board game. More than 4,000 backers have raised over $380,000 and it is Magpie Games’ biggest hit to date — October 20th
Agon is a game of fast-paced heroic adventure inspired by ancient legends, and a reworking of John (Blades in the Dark) Harper’s 2006 free-to-download game. 1,400 backers have raised almost $35,000 — October 25th
It’s remarkable quite how many popular and diverse projects have launched in the past few weeks. None of them is traditional fantasy or 5e-compatible and perhaps only Deviant: The Renegades could be described as run-of-the-mill. We expect things to start to quieten down again now for a few weeks as we get closer to Christmas.
Fantasy 5e & Pathfinder
A Complete Guide to Nautical Campaigns: A 5e sourcebook for ships and ship-based combat, by Guy Sclanders — October 31st
Traveling Encounters volume 1: A collection of short encounters for low-level D&D games, by Jerry Joe Seltzer (Call To Adventure) — October 22nd
Drinking Quest: Old Habits: An RPG and drinking game, by Jason Anarchy (Haiku Warrior, Pretending to Grownup) — October 29th
Seekers Beyond The Shroud: A solo urban fantasy RPG, by Exalted Funeral (The Ultraviolet Grasslands) — October 27th
Powered by the Apocalypse
Disposable Heroes: A roguelike-inspired card-based RPG set in a neonpunk world, by Sandy Pug Games (Americana) — October 15th
Ross Rifles: An RPG set in the trenches of the First World War, by Dundas West Games — November 4th
Visigoths vs Mall Goths (game & weird 90s mall setting): A dating RPG about 5th-century warriors and 20th-century teens, by Lucian Kahn — November 1st