The 8 Worst Things About Tabletop Gaming in 2014

Geek & Sundry
Somehow, this show continues to not make this list. But Wil Wheaton’s smug face does.

RPGs are a somewhat unique medium in that there is very little agreement about the good and the bad. For everyone that hates a setting or system, there are others who completely love it and lull their newborns to sleep by reading to them from the main rulebook. Every RPG system seems to appeal to someone, even if it’s just a small group of people with very similar ideas on how fantasy swords should work. Also, RPG fans occasionally seem to hate buying things. Entire enclaves exist on the web of angry roleplayers that believe all RPG development stopped after their favorite edition, claiming everything that came afterward was nothing but a money grab.

Personally, I disagree. I like RPGs and find them inexpensive, good returns for value and don’t mind getting new editions after 5 years or more. I am generally well-disposed to new releases and assume someone, somewhere, will like them. One only needs to go to a gaming convention and find that one guy in the corner running his favorite RPG from 1986 to confirm that there is some truth to this. However, this isn’t to say that all is roses and honey in the RPG world. Every year there are things that are bad, and things that just aren’t good. Read on for the 9 worst moments in RPGs this past year.

1. Kickstarter Delays

I’m going to start with the irritating stuff, then move up to the truly awful stuff. Kickstarter deliveries embody mixed feelings for me. I’ve said before that Kickstarter is an amazing tool for small-to-micro press like most RPGs tend to be. Not only does getting paid in advance give small press some needed breathing room, it also allows publishers to do super deluxe versions of existing properties.

Perhaps more importantly, and true to the original idea, Kickstarters also let you launch new products with nothing more than a cool web page and video. These last sorts of pitches have led to some awesome products. However, they have also led to long shipping delays. Kickstarters I am personally signing up for are kicking out 3 to 6 months. Ask me again in the summer and we may be caught up, but for now this goes in the not-good column.

2. Minor Annoyances

Speaking of Kickstarter disappointments, last year’s big loser, Artisan Dice, still hasn’t managed to get me my dice. This is somewhat included under the Kickstarter delays but I had to mention it because a year and a half later we still don’t have our dice or any reliable thought of when they will arrive. The Kickstarter got fully funded on May 1, 2013, and by their own estimation, only 1/3 of the orders have been fulfilled as of yet. Artisan Dice is shipping regular orders along with Kickstarter orders so there is no particular timeline as to when anything will be done, and sometimes months go by without any information posted on the Kickstarter page. As it’s the worst Kickstarter I am currently involved with, I wanted to give it a special spotlight.

Also, along the lines of minor disappointments that don’t necessarily warrant their own spot, was the release of Dark Dungeons the Movie, which I already reviewed here. I didn’t like it due to some creepy additions and a general feeling that things were too all over the place, but I had honestly thought that it would still catch on and expected gamer cons to be interrupted by chants of “R… P… G!”. However, the ripples appear to have died from what I have observed. References to it were rare after a weekend or so. We must continue to wait for the anthemic RPG movie.

3. Mixed Feelings About the D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master Guide

The D&D 5th Edition Dungeon Master Guide was released a little over a month late this year. I didn’t oppose this move in general; this is a core book and we would want it to be as good as it can be. However, I would still call the fact that they were still working on the Dungeon Master Guide as the other books were releasing a bit of a red flag. Once I received it, I thought it was fine, but it wasn’t particularly impressive to me the way the Player’s Handbook was.

There are two main reasons why it fell short. First, the promise of D&D 5th Edition was scalability – the idea that any fan of any version of D&D would find things to like in this version. When I read the streamlined options for characters and play in the Players Handbook I assumed more detailed rules to make a game more like 3rd or 4th Edition would be coming along with the Dungeon Master Guide. I don’t see anything like that in here. The player’s content is maybe two pages; nothing like the optional powers I was expecting. Second, the writers seemed to opt for presenting as many topics as would physically fit in the book, but at the cost of depth. For instance, 3 pages on game styles, 4 pages on traps, or two pages on the Hells. There are dozens and dozens of topics, each with a few pages max. It just seems scattershot at times.

4. Paizo Is Quiet…Too Quiet

I had hoped that D&D 5th Edition would ignite some fires under the people at Pathfinder‘s publisher, Paizo, but so far there hasn’t been much response to 5th Edition that I can see. I had hoped that they would declare war and announce a very strong catalog in response to 5th Edition, but so far they have only announced one major core product for next year. Perhaps Paizo is comfortable sitting for now – they do have a substantial head start – but I would like to see some big and exciting releases planned to keep interest as in my own little universe it seems that they are losing some market share.

It would be great to see two major fantasy publishers dueling and competing for readers. Paizo has announced a book that will essentially add psionics to the mix, but it seems like they are mostly happy to publish small and content-light books. I think they are in a bit of a dilemma, as hardcore Pathfinder players like that book releases are limited, but if you go too far down the route of catering only to hardcore fans you end up like Palladium, running the same old rules and releases with no change for decades.

5. “Consultant-Gate”

NSFW – Just an FYI

This one was genuinely bad. Various societal divisions have started to show up in tabletop gaming that used to be less prominent. “Consultant-Gate” is based on the following note in the new D&D Player’s Handbook: “Additional consultation provided by” followed by the names of two controversial RPG figures, RPG Pundit and Zak S. This caused a great deal of anger and chaos among those who were apparently afraid that somehow this vague consultation had tainted the entire game. I once spent an afternoon trying to figure out the actual origins of the controversy, but it seemed to basically come down to the fact that they and their fans are assholes online.

This was fair enough, but I really was unable to find a smoking gun for what exactly set everyone off. There was also the question of what exactly it was anyone thought was done by them in regards to the game, as “additional consultation” is pretty vague. The attacks were met by counter-attacks and soon there was a giant fight that left everyone unhappy. Unfortunately, this was all on top of the usual anger that comes from a new edition in the first place. This tends to ruin the fun when both sides are filled with a righteous fervor.

6. DungeonScape Was Canceled.

Console RPGs seem to make this happen without much of a problem.

D&D was working on some new digital tools that have since been canceled. Now, 4th Edition was intended to launch with digital tools and they developed very slowly, never really reaching the full power expected to come along with the books. 4th Edition was powerful enough to make a digital character generator fairly essential, but then the digital releases were so slow that one would often have a book full of new stuff but no ability to use them to actually make a character for a month or two.

Why the history lesson? Well, abrupt abandonment of digital platforms do bring up these memories. As it happens, 5th Edition is far less dependent on character generation due to the characters being simpler than in past editions. However, it really is about time for D&D to get some decent digital support, as sites like Roll20 are already doing it on their own. Can a sleek new edition come along with some decent electronic support? I hope so.

7. Outlaw Press

Worst piracy since Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest

Tunnels and Trolls is an “old school” game, based on days when RPGs were simpler and people made up rules as they went. I have played it at a con here and there, but am no expert about it. I did play AD&D quite a bit in the day, so I do have some sympathy for their design goals. At the same time, I don’t play it too often, even if I did enjoy the games I did play. What is more important than the game itself is the harassment they are undergoing.

A company by the name of Outlaw Press has been called out for illegally making supplements for Tunnels and Trolls. This has been ongoing for years, and at times has spread into strange troll-like behavior. Although the audience is small and the money in question is probably small as well, this is no excuse for some pretty disturbing behavior by Outlaw Press. Ignoring licensing requirements and allegedly stealing artwork are both serious allegations. I can easily find records going back for at least four years, but there has recently been a burst of activity and drama that is putting things back in the spotlight. This sort of behavior is strange and a bit creepy.

8. The Worst Thing of 2014: Gamergate

Gamergate is becoming pretty infamous around these Internet parts, and I’m no fan of the movement. I understand there are sincere members and agree that gaming press is a bit corrupt. After all, they are dependent on gaming companies for revenue and yet are supposed to monitor them for quality and ethical behavior. It’s a clear conflict of interest. It’s also clear that this is exploited by gaming companies who use tactics like game embargoes and threats to keep reviews high.

Unfortunately, the bad behavior attached to the movement overshadows any good it has done. Small publications and indie developers seem to have taken the brunt of Gamergate’s wrath so far, along with Gawker Media. These people are not the problems with the industry and the tactics taken against them strike me as bullying and unfair. This brings me to a conundrum.

A boutique RPG developer named James Desborough, who, I think it’s fair to say, has a cultural warrior/anti-feminist bent, became involved in Gamergate, as did a few other personalities in the RPG industry. This did not prove popular, especially since he happened to the be lead designer for the Chronicles of Gor RPG, which is something way outside of most people’s comfort zones, especially for anyone who takes it remotely seriously. Controversy and arguments followed.

This would not have been anything too special if not for the fact that he decided to develop a card game based on Gamergate and market it on DrivethruRPG, which is a site that features “tens of thousands of titles.” This was followed by some unhappy tweeting by the people at Evil Hat and the title was soon pulled from the virtual shelves in question. DrivethruRPG denied that any publisher’s feedback was involved in the decision, although they did admit that several had spoken out. Their statement cited misogyny, real world violence and the situation being “too current and emotionally fraught”.

This is a huge problem for me, however. The library in question must feature many, many games based on current events and featuring misogyny as it contains decades worth of games. According to the CEO of DrivethruRPG’s parent company, they have never removed any title before. They are thus setting a precedent for future protesters. This is also a hardship for the developer. I’m not really a fan of his, but he is definitely the small fry in this situation and the recipient of a campaign against him because of his political views. Frankly, it’s the same sort of tactics that gave Gamergate its bad reputation.

I know at least a few people in the industry who view this as a victory. However, I don’t think that censoring works is the correct response. Although I dislike Gamergate as a movement, the huge majority of those involved are far from terrorists, so treating them as such seems unfair. Most people now embroiled in this discussion would never have even considered this card game, which probably passed into obscurity. Now instead it is a huge scandal, and an example of how Gamergate is spreading into tabletop gaming as well as video games. This disaster was the worst RPG moment of 2014.

Previously by David N. Scott

10 Reasons I’m Glad I Attended Comikaze
A Christian Gamer Offers 5 Reasons to Watch Dark Dungeons (And 4 Not to)
10 Reasons David Goyer Must Be Stopped

Ten Things We Learned Attending L.A. By Night: The Grey Ghost Masquerade

10 Things I Learned Running Game Demos at WonderCon