This is Audio EXP for the 23rd of May 2020, and the title of this episode is ‘What are Wizards playing at?’.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #45]
A warning to start with; this short podcast is going to briefly cover a breaking news story that involves sexual abuse.
Until last night, I had thought the title of this podcast would be about D&D Live. This is a good and exciting story so let’s start with it. We might be getting a new D&D setting and campaign for it.
D&D Live Roll with Advantage will run from June 18th to 20th, and it’s online. You can pay if you want, for perks, but it looks like most of it is free to watch.
Lots of celebs will be involved in actual play games. However, Wizards communications on this mention “New setting” and “New campaign” and “New products” as if they weren’t anything special and then carry on as if nothing was said.
So, honestly, having read the announcements several times it really does seem that by this time next month we’ll have a non-trivial amount of new D&D.
So, what are you playing at Wizards? In this case, I think they’re trying to generate interest in an event without spoiling the news that will be announced at that event. I appreciate that’s a hard thing to do.
Just last night, though, my Twitter stream is full of genuine upset and actual hatred towards Wizards of the Coast.
What happened? Well, in late April we learned that the new boss of D&D was Ray Winninger and that he had been the boss from some time in 2019. That made sense as we hadn’t heard of the old boss, Mike Mearls, for some time. He had been silent on social media too.
Just a few weeks later, Wizards of the Coast announced that Mike Mearls was back on the team.
My initial assumption was that D&D had grown so that WotC had put a heavyweight in charge of the critical product and Mearls had given responsibility for something else, perhaps to soften the blow to him. Maybe that something else was the new setting now hinted at in the D&D Live announcements. If so; the timing made sense.
And maybe that gut reaction was right.
Last night the hashtag #firemikemearls seemed to be everywhere.
We need to be careful about Twitter storms. They’re easily manipulated, and a few people can make a lot of noise, but I was curious enough to dig in deeper.
The story goes back to February 2019 when Wizards of the Coast announced they would purge the name Zak S from D&D.
Zak S had been a playtester of D&D 5e, a big part of the OSR scene, a game designer and an artist.
He was, and remains, a divisive figure with fans and those who accuse him of manipulation, aggression and hatred against women and gay men.
The tide turned when ex-girlfriends finally broke their silence about Zak S, not only confirming the stories but adding their own horrific sexual abuse at his hands.
None of this has been proven, as far as I know, in a court of law. In fact, Zak S has taken legal action against some of the people who have spoken up against him. There are crowdfunding projects to pay for their defense.
However, Wizards of the Coast felt that there was compelling and credible evidence to believe the worst of the stories. They took action. Their statement said they regretted ever working with him and would be removing his credit from the game.
What’s that got to do with the hashtag #firemikemearls sweeping through Twitter. Well, there are two allegations;
Firstly, Mike Mearls did not take the complaints against Zak S seriously and actively worked to reduce them.
Secondly, that Mike Mearls named those women who had submitted complaints against Zak S.
The #firemikemearls tweets are from people who see Mearls as someone who tried to defend an alleged abuser and who leaked the names of complainants to him.
The truth, as it always is, is likely to be more complicated than that.
What seems to be the case, by coincidence or not, we heard dramatically less from Mike Mearls about D&D after that.
If it is the case that Wizards of the Coast did dismiss Mearls, or demote him, as a result of a publicly mismanaged sexual abuse claims, then it is odd they would have him back.
Right in the middle of the Twitter storm Matt Mercer posted a heartfelt tweet.
He said, in the first of the multi-part message; “Today is one of those days that just hurts. Hurt for the state of things. Hurt for the victims of injustice and unearned, desperate circumstances. The struggle to fight paralysis of in the face of it all. To feel that one cannot make a difference.”
We don’t know to whom Mercer was referring to when he said “victims of injustice” but the timing of his tweet added more fuel to the fire.
I have some introspection of my own on this story. Geek Native didn’t do more than mention the Ray Winninger story in a Routinely Itemised round-up of RPG news and, yesterday, did the same with Mearls. His return to D&D was only mentioned in Routinely Itemised.
I hadn’t written up the job shuffle news terribly much because I often worry about a mere blog writing about such things. Is it appropriate?
I might have done things differently if I had known about the allegations. Should I have known? I’m just one guy and struggle to monitor the whole community and the entire internet. I don’t have a time machine, so I guess I’ll never know, but here I am dedicating a huge chunk of the weekly podcast to the story.
It feels a bit gloomy, doesn’t it? Let’s move on and take the chance to get some more bad news out of the way.
Gen Con Line will run instead, at the same dates of July 30 to August 2. We’ll get Spiel.digital this year instead of Essen and that’ll run from October 22 to 25.
The ENnies, one of the RPG industry’s biggest awards, were due to be held at Gen Con. The news is that they will continue and the draw happen, with a live stream.
The newly created conventions calendar at Geek Native is up to date with all these events, including D&D Live.
Here’s some good news. Kobold Press are giving away free digital copies of a 5e supplement called Prepared! until May 31. In it, you’ll find 12 pre-written adventures for D&D.
If you’re a D&D Beyond user and a Discord fan then the Avrae bot looks impressive. It’s now been expanded to work with your D&D Beyond purchases.
This means, on your Discord server, you can use the bot to import your D&D Beyond hosted character sheets and with text commands run entire combats, without ever needing to look any stat up.
If you’re old enough to remember MUDs, multi-user dungeons, you’ll be impressed at Avrae.
Alternatively, if you want something more offline then drop Handiwork Games an email about a|state 2e.
I think a|state is best described as a cult hit RPG as while it enjoyed great critical praise, I don’t think it ever became famous enough to be a great seller. It’s set in a dark and sombre city which seems to stretch on forever.
Handiwork Games are working on converting the game to Forged in the Dark and are now looking for playtesters. If successful; we’ll see the second edition of a|state, and I think it’ll be just as good, if not better than, the first.
Another dark game is Zweihander Grim & Perilous. This week, I took a look at Dark Astral which takes Zweihander into space. Well, in a roundabout way.
It’s set in a future where humanity has lost most of its technical understanding. Now it seems like magic. And, of course, while we bicker among our surviving political factions the Other, aliens from the darkness of space, are heading relentlessly towards us.
The other bit of Zweihander news this week was that the game’s publisher, Andrews McMeel Publishing, signed an exclusive deal with Roll20.
The press release for that deal suggests there’s more Zweihander games on the way and whole new RPG projects from AMP.
Roll20 users got further good news this week when Free League Publishing said their games would use the platform. Tales from the Loop and Alien are coming to Roll20, and I imagine other titles will follow close behind.
It’s maybe not a clean sweep of good news for Roll20 this week though as a new rival launched today. It’s called Foundry and GMs have to pay an one-off license fee of about 50 bucks. Players can then connect for free.
It works by turning your machine into a web server and having you, not Foundry, host the game. The early reviews are very positive.
Also worth knowing about from the world of RPGs is the Bundle of Holding deal in which you can pick up Fate of the Norns books. These are Viking RPGs that use runes, not dice, as part of the system.
If Viking sagas aren’t your thing, and you prefer traditional fantasy, then what about the most iconic fantasy saga of all time? The Lord of the Rings RPG is now expected out early next year.
That’s swift work from Free League Publishing and the designer Francesco Nepitello. The One Ring RPG won’t use the Year Zero engine, so there are no rules to convert.
The last bit of news I wanted to touch on from the RPG space is a bit selfish. Geek Native has posted another genre police article from Ben and, okay I’m biased, but I think it’s another great one.
We’re talking about the pros and cons of longevity in RPGs and now to do it right.
In the last few minutes, let’s blast through some geeky entertainment news. Here, at least, it’s been a good week.
We’re getting more Star Trek. Strange New Worlds will have Anson Mount back as Captain Pike with Ethan Peck returning as Spock.
It’s a Star Trek series in the boldly going sense, we’re told, with a more traditional feel.
Netflix and Dark Horse’s The Umbrella Academy is speeding towards season 2. The launch date is July 31 and to celebrate the cast danced around their lockdown homes.
Christopher Nolan set the internet buzzing with the Tenet trailer.
Time runs backwards, it seems, in these clips and the result is a mix of mystery and high action. What’s more; we’re told it will be in cinemas by July 17.
Lastly, as a thank you to site supporters, Geek Native patrons of any tier will get a a pair of Deal With It sunglasses in the mail.
If you’re a patron by the end of the week, then you’ll qualify too. Yeah, these are low-quality gimmick glasses. I know. You’ll never buy them for yourself, so let me buy them for you as thanks.
With that weird note, let’s call it a wrap, please keep safe, and I’ll see you next week.
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