A Walk in the Dark A look in to the mind of an RPG designer

14Feb/18Off

Ken Whitman Responds to KODTLAS Release

This may seem like an odd thing to appear here, so I think it requires a bit of an explanation...

If you're a reader of this blog or a follower of mine, odds are you know who Ken Whitman is. Let's just say that he is one of the most talked about people in the industry, and the news coverage of him hasn't been exactly balanced.

Let me be clear before I proceed: I have no stake in this game. I barely know who Ken is myself, I have never backed or even followed any of his projects, and have not followed the details on how he has acquired the reputation he apparently has. I'm am as impartial as they come on this topic.

Suffice to say, Ken's been talked about on numerous websites and blogs, some of which are dedicated almost entirely to him, and the general narrative has been - I must admit - overwhelmingly one-sided. As a result, he admittedly hasn't had a much a chance to respond himself on a venue that isn't against him in every possible way. One reasonably well known blog offered him the opportunity to post his side of the story over all this, to which Ken declined because he didn't want to drive traffic towards that site.

My offer to Ken, as posted on another blog

So that's where I came in... I offered my site as a sort of "neutral ground". Like I said above, I have no opinion of this matter, and as such agreed to post anything Ken wishes to say without commentary or counterpoint, just to get his side of the story out without any bias. And, if possible (I'm not sure how; I've never done it before), I will prevent comments from being posted because I don't want to be a full time moderator and I want to let his statement stand as it is.

So, hopefully, this will be the first of many responses... I have no idea how this is going to go, but here goes.

-=O=-

Before we continue, a little background. Yesterday, the Knights of the Dinner Table: The Live Action Series - one of the Kickstarters that Ken was involved with a while back - was apparently released to backers without Ken's involvement. The post detailing that release can be found on Jolly Blackburn's Facebook feed. As is stated in that post, "D20 Entertainment did not participate or help in this development".

I'll say again: I know little about this project. I was not a backer, and barely even know what the project is or what has been involved in it. And, in an effort to remain impartial, I have not gone out looking for such information because, as I've stated above, the information that's out there is apparently very one-sided.

In any event, Later in the day yesterday Ken contacted me through Facebook Messenger to post his response to that.

Here it is, as I received it and edited for grammar (it's the least I could do)...

About 2 years ago, I turned over the KODTLAS footage to Z.O.E. and today, both ZOE and Jolly Blackburn, announced are releasing all three Episodes of KODTLAS.

Now matter how much I may not enjoys Jolly's company personally, I can not belittle his amazing talent. Jolly is a true genius when it comes to storytelling and everyone at Kenzer was top notch to work with.

It was never my intention to take this long for people to see all three episodes, but due to a turn of events in my life, it did not allow me to financially keep working on the project. I messed up ran out of funds, and had a hard time paying for the project to continue out of my own pocket.

I could talk about the online slander/libel posed many times over the past two years about never turning over the footage, but why open old wounds, they fact is I did turn it over to ZOE.

I hope you enjoy watching them as much as I enjoyed directing them. I will continue to work on this project in my free time, hopefully finishing up the project in the near future.

To Jolly, Kenzer, the actors, the crew. It was an honor working with you.

- Ken Whitman

ETA: After confirming with Ken, he has agreed to let me turn on comments for today only, and he has agreed to respond to them through this site (whether he'll do that in the comments or post separately, I don't know yet). I am not going to be moderating the comments until late in the day (I don't have time for that during working hours), so please be civil.

-=O=-

ADDENDUM 2/14/18 @ 1:22PM:

Ben Dobyns of Zombie Orpheus Entertainment has provided a response to this. To keep everything together, I'm adding it here.

Hi, this is Ben from ZOE with a few facts regarding the KODT situation.

Several years ago Ken mailed me a hard drive that included a) all of the raw footage from Episode 1, b) some raw footage from episode 2, and c) ZERO raw footage from episode 3, along with a Final Cut X file of his work on the edit. The plan was to complete post-production for him and return the completed project for distribution to backers.

Despite repeated requests over several years, Ken did not provide the remaining footage. His reasons (on the record) have changed several times.

Ken's rights to the KODT IP and the live action series footage contractually expired on December 31st of 2017. Following that date, by mutual agreement with Kenzer ZOE set out to release the "rescued" edition to the original Kickstarter backers.

What was released to backers yesterday was cobbled together from the hard drive that Ken originally sent, SD assembly cuts from Jolly's dropbox, and so on. It is a "rescued" edition in every sense of the word.

Unfortunately, I've lost thousands and thousands of dollars to this mess. But because my name and reputation were used by Ken in order to secure the KODT film rights (yes, I have the paper trail to prove this claim), I felt a personal responsibility to get this project released: for Kenzer, Jolly, and all of the KODT fans who pledged to support the original project.

I wish Ken the best, but my efforts to rescue this project are now complete.

27Jan/18Off

Zoinks!

"A Night in Seyvoth Manor" for 5E

In case you are not aware, we're running a Kickstarter for the 5th Edition conversion of our ENnie-nominated adventure A Night in Seyvoth Manor that is already 300% funded!

We continue to be overwhelmed... Over 300% funded?!? Never imagined we would get that far, and we're eternally grateful for that!

The only stretch goal we've had so far is the creation of pre-generated characters, and we had a bit of a crazy idea with that that we're wondering if we can make it work: create two groups of characters...

  1. The original Scooby Gang - Fred, Daphne, Velma, Shaggy and Scooby
  2. The "new" Scooby Gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer - Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles and Cordelia

This of course brought up some questions... like what would the races and classes be? So far this is what we've come up with:

ORIGINAL Scooby Gang:

Fred: Human Paladin

Daphne: Elven rogue

Velma: Lore-heavy mage, either a halfling or a gnome

Shaggy and Scooby: ... Oh boy... Let me come back to this one later.

NEW Scooby Gang:

Buffy: Human monk

Willow: Half-elf warlock

Xander: Halfling bard

Giles: Elf or maybe human... and I'm debating either a cleric or a lore-heavy mage

Cordelia: Human or elf, sorceress (wild magic), heavy on Charisma

Now, let's get back to Shaggy and Scooby... Neither of these are "characters" in the D&D sense of the world, so we'll have to take some liberties. I've asked this question on Twitter and I've come up with two possibilities:

Shaggy and Scooby are the SAME CHARACTER: As above, Shaggy is a Druid with wild-shape that can only convert to one type of animal... a Great Dane (we can go with the Mastiff stat block).

Scooby is the main character, and Shaggy is the animal companion: Let's face it... Shaggy is not worthy of being a PC, and if anything he's Scooby's sidekick. So make Scooby a class capable of either an animal companion (ranger?) or a familiar (mage?), and make Shaggy that semi-useless familiar.

Personally I'm leaning towards the first option, but that introduces another problem: there are only four characters, when we kinda need five. So who should the fifth character be? None other than Scrappy as, you guessed it, a gnome barbarian!

So, since we've gotten this far without mentioning stretch goals, I'm going to see about stylizing these character sheets as best I can and including a portrait for each character by the lovely and talented Val "Kick Girl" Hochberg! We're also going to see about working them in to a cover in such a way that doesn't get us sued by Hanna-Barbara.

We've considered creating other types of characters, some that are more down to Earth and fitting the theme like Van Helsing, Blade, etc... but the above somehow feels most appropriate.

Anwyay... We keep trudging foward! Five days left! Tell your friends!

29Apr/16Off

The Reality of the DM’s Guild

In case you're not aware, our first Kickstarter for The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light has finally launched on Kickstarter.

Initially, based on the information we had from the past, we intended to release it through the DM's Guild. That reasoning is based on WotC's (Mike Mearls, specifically) response to my question in the Reddit AMA with Mike Mearls and Chris Lindsay from January 15th:

ChNV_SWXEAAmVEE

You would think that would be cut and dry. Well, that's not the case.

Yesterday I was contacted by the Director of Publishing and Marketing at OneBookShelf. His email contained the following:

Someone linked us to your Kickstarter and I wanted to touch base about a few things. DMsGuild creators cannot release titles on both DMsGuild and DriveThruRPG and they cannot use Kickstarter to "sell" their DMsGuild publications.

The wording on your Kickstarter makes me think this is more of an OGL type product, which is great because we have a ton of awesome 5e OGL content on DriveThruRPG and you are already set up to sell there.

You would only need to remove the DMsGuild elements (logos and text) from your Kickstarter page and continue on with your plans to sell on and fulfill your project via DriveThruRPG.com.

(Emphasis mine)

At first I thought it was simply semantics... My original listing made references to Drive Thru RPG even though I mean the DM's Guild; the reasoning is that, let's face it, both websites are one in the same and differ only in branding. So, in response to that email, I removed all references to Drive Thru RPG and stuck to my plan of releasing for the DM's Guild.

I just received the following email, from the same person at OBS:

The issue is you are in violation of the license on DMsGuild with your Kickstarter. All DMsGuild creations must remain exclusive to that storefront. They cannot be sold on DriveThruRPG, other storefronts, nor via Kickstarter tiers.

While it is true someone could run a Kickstarter to fund artwork or development of a DMsGuild title, they cannot offer tiers that provide backers copies of the title product. So, I imagine tiers would have to be "special thanks" or "game with the designer at Gen Con" or "your likeness used as one of the NPCs" all backers would still have to buy the book on DMsGuild once it launched as the publisher wouldn't be able to sell them a copy via crowdfunding.

(Emphasis mine)

Now think about that for a second... I can use Kickstarter to fund art for a project, but I can't actually provide that product as a reward to my backers once it's done. Backers are REQUIRED to purchase it through the DM's Guild, even though they already provided funds via backer rewards.

What I don't get is that I, at my discretion, do a few things to circumvent this:

  • Provide my product on DM's Guild FOR FREE or "pay what you want" (which could also be zero). Backers pay what they paid for it; anyone else gets it at whatever price or free. Not exactly the best solution from a business sense, but that's an option.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild at whatever price I choose, but give a discount coupon to all my backers for them to acquire it at no cost to them. Based on the above, not exactly sure I can do this either.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild, but require all backers to pay more than they've already paid to get it there. This feels unethical.
  • Provide my product on DM's Guild, but buy copies myself and send them to my backers. This feels... well... stupid.

But, in light of my  past legal issues with D&D publishing, I really don't have much a choice here... Until I get further clarification from Wizards of the Coast (with which I'm trying to communicate, but they don't exactly have an easy way of doing that), I will likely switch my product to go OGL. I'm not happy about doing that, but this goofball licensing agreement doesn't give me a lot of choice.

I will continue to try and get additional information, and will update this accordingly when I do.

Update 4/29/16: Yet another response from OBS...

The DMsGuild license specifically agreed to by content creators states that all DMG titles are exclusive to the DMsGuild.com storefront. Putting the PDF on Kickstarter violates that exclusivity. You are specifically listing your title (understanding that it isn't officially released yet) on another site and not on DMsGuild. It wouldn't be available on DMsGuild until after you've collected funds and finished the project.

DMsGuild creators do not currently have the tool set to upload PoD files themselves.

It does sound like making adjustments and releasing this title on DriveThruRPG as a 5e OGL product would work better for your overall setup.

(Emphasis mine)

First off, since the point of the Kickstarter is to fund editing and art, that it won't be available until after - well after, actually - the project ends is kind of a given.

Secondly, that poses an interesting problem... if I go the DM's Guild route, I can't offer hardcover discounts to my backers because there's no way for them to actually get a hardcover through the DM's Guild anyway. It *must* be done through DTRPG's default site, so the OGL is the only way to get a hardcover for any 5E product.

Update #2, 4/39/16: Mike Mearls has responded to my inquiries...

Well that settles that I suppose.

21Apr/16Off

The Sum of All Fears

TCD_Title

As several of you may know, I've had a little project of mine - the campaign The Coming Dark - in development for quite some time. Almost five years, to be precise... it's technically the reason this blog exists.

Over a year ago I decided that I was going to launch The Coming Dark, Chapter One: Into the Light as a Kickstarter. That's easy to say, but the fact that I'm writing this a year later without having launched anything yet says otherwise. I think that deserves explanation, or at least discussion; doing so may or may not my product or my image, but I feel some things need to be said.

Fear of Failure

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that sometimes I'm probably more open about my personal problems than I probably should be. After all, here I am trying to come across as an industry professional and a publisher but at the same time I'm talking about my own personal problems and issues. I know it's probably inappropriate, and I've had many people tell me "you know, maybe you shouldn't say that publicly"... but I don't exactly have anywhere else to say it.

I've mentioned this before as well: although I don't have a clinical diagnosis, I'm reasonably sure I regularly suffer from depression. Granted, I'm not a doctor, but I can sort of feel that I suffer from it more often than most. With that comes a sense of despair and a fairly large lack of motivation to do anything, even those things that you love. As a result of this feeling, I've lost count at how many times I've looked at this campaign and thought "what am I waiting for to publish this? I'll get on that tomorrow!" ... and never do. Be it depression, be it fear of rejection, be it aversion to briefly becoming a shameless salesman while the listing is active... it's always something that makes me think "I'm not ready."

In the back of my mind, there is also that fear that I may fail. This project is very personal to me - it's actually dedicated to both of my recently deceased parents - and I can't help but think that a failed Kickstarter would be mentally disastrous. I have the fear that if that does happen - however unlikely it may be - I would have failed them and failed myself, and I likely wouldn't be able to ever recover from it.

Fear of Success

I'll be totally honest here: for a while, I've been horribly terrified at the possibility of overwhelming success. I have what I consider a very small goal ($2K), but I have this fear that if the Kickstarter does overwhelmingly well and I suddenly have tens of thousands of dollars handed to me on a silver platter... given the personal problems I deal with on a daily basis, would I actually use that money for what it's intended for?

I am openly critical of projects that raise an ungodly amount of money and three months later say "we spent it all on shoes and don't have anything to give you." Having that happen to me terrifies me to the point of paralysis; fear of making the wrong decisions, or fear of making inappropriate decisions, makes me feel that I would rather not be in that situation at all. I don't want overwhelming success, so what would I do in light of such success? Spend it on actually fulfilling purchases or buy a container full of mammoth tusk d20s?

Fear of Exposure

AvatarYou may not have noticed because the internet is what it is, but you'd be hard pressed to find a photo of me online; those photos of me that are out there weren't actually posted by me. That's actually on purpose, and I honestly prefer to hide behind my "digital rabbit" avatar than use my actual photo. I've hidden my appearance so well that at GenCon 2013 nobody would have known who the hell I was if it wasn't for the Twitter ID on my show badge.

Why? You see, I've actually been "doxxed" before... As a result of an alternate reality game I was once involved with, I was throw to the wolves that are 4chan. I've had photos of me posted on public forums I frequent in an effort to mock and humiliate me. I've been crank-called as a result of this exposure. I've been threatened online, and I've had my family threatened (even though they knew nothing about them) as well. Suffice to say, it wasn't pretty or pleasant, and it's not something I'd like to go through ever again.

Since then I've retreated to being the "digital rabbit" avatar (which was part of the first alternate reality game I ran), and I've effectively built a brand around that image. I have thousands of followers on Facebook and Twitter, but outside of close friends and family I'm pretty much known only by that image (for the next GenCon, I probably should get it made into a T-shirt...). It's who I've become, and what I'm known best as.

Because of past experiences, the idea of making a video for the sake of Kickstarter concerns me. I've weighed whether it's necessary, and depending on who you ask it may or may not be, but these days once your image is out there it stays out there... Five years ago it was possible to purge, but not now. I've been stung before, and those scars haven't quite healed yet.

Whether a video is absolutely necessary or not is up to discussion, but I can't get myself over the stage fright and the thought that I would have to step out from behind ths curtain I've built just to shill my product. Is it necessary? Is it worth it?

Conclusion

I've been thinking long and hard about this, and have come to the conclusion that TCD: Chapter One needs to be launched one way or another. And now, with the recent release of the 5E licensing, it's the best time to do that.

So I'm going to take a very big risk: I'm going to launch it without a video... focusing all my efforts on the copy on the page. The way I see it, my goal isn't very high so it should be OK... and, worst case, if I see it's not going to make it I have two options: (1) create a video while the project is active, or (2) re-launch it with a video after the first one fails. If all goes well, I won't need the video at all and life goes on.

I know the numbers... I know the likelihood of success is higher with a video... but I think I can still make it.

I'm in the process of tweaking the listing, but barring any convincing arguments or discussions it's going to get launched and launched soon.

So, if you've read this far, what do you think?

17Jan/16Off

Size Matters

The recent announcements of the 5th Edition SRD/OGL and the DM's Guild has got me really excited, and I've begun to look back on a large "incomplete"/"shelved" folder I have on m external hard drive.

There's a lot of things there that I don't even remember doing, but one thing stands out: the Revenge of the Crystal Scion campaign that I was creating (below text was adjusted to make it more Realms-centric and cater to the DM's Guild):

For the past several days, large mysterious crystals have been appearing at seemingly random stops across Faerun. And, about two days after they appear, they disappear... along with several square miles of land, leaving nothing behind but an enormous crater. Up to now these crystals have been appearing in seemingly random locations - in the middle of the desert, on the open sea, and deep within the mountains to the north, but when one of these crystals appears in the center of Waterdeep* the locals are understandably concerned. Something must be done to save the city from becoming another smoldering crater of nothingness.

Revenge of the Crystal Scion is a D&D 5th Edition adventure for a party of 10th-12th level characters, transporting them from the heart of Waterdeep* to deep within the astral plane, where a new threat emerges that threatens all of Faerun.

*: I say "Waterdeep", but I'm honestly not sure which city yet. Obliterating Waterdeep might not go over well with some people...

It's a bit hokey, sure, and that's likely due to the fact that it's the first high level adventure I attempt. But the one thing I like about this is that it has some of the best maps I've ever made.

RavensRock

Raven's Rock, the pirate stronghold floating amidst the ether.

The campaign is admittedly a trainwreck; there are lots of ideas I find rather cool, but it's a bit of a mess to tie them all together in such a way that makes sense. But the big problem is that the campaign is pretty massive: I'm predicting it to be three times the size of The Coming Dark, Chapter One... Right now it's 101 pages and practically half done. And, unlike TCD, by design it can't be easily split up into three parts, so it has to be done all at once (TCD Chapters Two and Three are designed but not written... yet).

This is a nasty habit of mine; I'm somewhat of a storyteller at heart, so I envision these long campaigns that tell a robust story. As a result, they pay the price in page count. I really need to start making smaller "one shot" adventures; those are actually easier to sell and a lot less work.

I've considered breaking up RotCS into component parts, and I'm sure I can probably make a few adventures out of it, but that somehow doesn't feel right. Is it worth the effort to piece this mess together and release another mega-campaign, or cannibalize it for parts and release three or four smaller adventures... discarding the rest?

So what do people want? Huge 100-200 page campaigns/adventure paths, or quick adventures that might take only a few sessions?

In the meantime, it seems like it's still a go to do The Coming Dark, Chapter One as a Kickstarter. Video... damn it, need a video!