Something You Should Know Before Giving Money To the Dungeon World Guys

10th June 2020 Update: Adam has put out a fuller apology. It’s kind of bad, not least because it’s astonishingly me-centred and first plays down the incident as “a mistake”, and then characterises it as a “creative risk”. Jaron Johnson has done an excellent summary of the apology, along with the incident and its aftermath here. The player directly affected by Adam’s behaviour has a good Twitter thread here which, among other things, disclosed how the aftermath of the session went. Suffice to say, whilst the players held it together on-air to the end of the episode, the aftermath of the episode was very different – and included Adam trying to cajole the players into doing one of their post-episode aftertalk videos despite the affected player being obviously and visibly upset, and all the rest of the players trying to take the view that it was absolutely not the time for that.


So Dungeon World co-creator Adam Koebel also does actual play videos with RollPlay, with his Far Verona campaign recently concluding its second season.

The reason the second season concluded is that it was cancelled, and the reason it was cancelled is that Adam sprung a sexual assault encounter on one of his players without warning. The player directly affected, Elspeth Eastman, has recorded her explanation of events here; RollPlay have not edited the episode in question so if you really want to see what happens you can if you like. (It’s the last encounter of the session, beginning about 1 hours 16 minutes in, I am not going to link it here because I don’t want to needlessly increase its exposure; if you really want to see it you can search in YouTube.)

Adam’s apology video, which I won’t link here because I really don’t think it passes muster in any respect, largely tries to pass this off as an “oops, we didn’t talk about people’s lines and veils or any other sort of safeguarding stuff before the game started and by the time it got awkward it was too late” situation.

I’m sorry, that just doesn’t cut it. That is shit you say when, for example, you have a giant spider encounter and didn’t realise that one of your players has a phobia of spiders. You shouldn’t need people to tell you that sexual assault isn’t something they are cool with happening in a game: it’s one of those topics where you need to get people to specifically agree to it prior to anything happening before you even include it in a game.

You should goddamn know that sexual assault is the sort of topic which you don’t introduce to a game without some sort of conversation, and if you have not had that conversation, you shouldn’t do it. Nobody as active on the indie RPG scene as Adam should be unaware of this. More disturbingly, for reasons I will get into later in this post, it honestly seems like Adam didn’t at the time recognise that what happened was essentially sexual assault, when the issues with consent in the encounter in question should have made it wholly goddamn obvious that it was an assault.

On top of that, as Elspeth notes what is done to her player character is radically at odds with what she had requested for the PC’s character arc in previous discussions with Adam. Supposedly he passed it off to her as him misreading her intentions, but the intention was for the character – a robot bartender who’d been cast aside by his former owner – to learn to be more assertive and say “no” to people more often and exert more agency. An encounter in which that agency is taken away from them is not how you accomplish this.

I simply can’t take Adam’s apology seriously. You cannot credibly apologise for something if you do not actually understand what you did wrong, or do not really consider what you did to be all that wrong, and Adam’s apology is so lacklustre and misses the point so much that I think he must still either doesn’t understand what he did wrong, or is unwilling to say that it was actually all that wrong. Yes, some form of conversation about lines and veils and an X-card mechanic should have happened, he’s correct to say that. But he totally fails to address why he thought it was appropriate to do such a scene without prior discussion in the first place, especially on a stream which a significant online audience was watching.

Now, people have taken this up with him, and he’s since made a somewhat better apology – but I dunno, folks. It feels a bit rehearsed, a bit stiff – like he’s gone over the immediate backlash to his initial apology and tried to craft something which makes the right noises. In other words, it’s not an apology intended to convey his actual feelings of contrition, it’s an attempt to stop people shouting at him by saying what he thinks they want to hear. If he is going to step away from starting any new campaigns and do the work on himself to work out why the fuck he considered it appropriate in the moment and avoid doing it again, great, good on him – but I’m going to believe he’s done the work when I see the results.

In particular, take a good strong look at his wording: he is going to work on himself before he starts new campaigns to sort his head out, and in his existing campaigns he is going to implement safeguarding measures. If you read that in a hurry that might sound good, but it’s not, because it’s a honking great contradiction. There are only two things which can be true here, neither of which match what Adam is doing in terms of actively continuing his existing streamed campaigns:

  • Good safeguarding is a sufficient and proportionate safeguard for his existing campaigns. In which case it should be fine for new campaigns too and there’s no good reason for him to beg off on starting new ones due to this situation; the statement that he is going to do so is a meaningless PR gesture, and in general if your apology includes a meaningless PR gesture as opposed to something you actually sincerely mean that kind of means the apology is probably bullshit.
  • Adam has realised his internalised attitudes are dangerous enough that he really should not start running new campaigns until he has sorted them out, even with safeguarding techniques. In which case, those same techniques won’t be sufficient for his existing campaigns and he should stop running those too, and by not doing so he is deliberately endangering his players, because, by his own admission, he has realised he cannot control himself in this respect and needs to do significant self-examination before he can be trusted again.

I bet that by the time his existing campaigns are done and he needs to start a new one to keep the e-fame flowing, he’ll discover that actually, the work he’d done on himself whilst his existing campaigns were running was sufficient, no need for a break at all. What convenient timing!

Of course, you may feel different about this and that’s your right. But if this does bother you and you were intending to promote or put down money for Dungeon World, it might be worth thinking about how you feel around promoting Adam’s work in light of this.

(Content warning: from here on in I am going to go more into the specifics of the incident)

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Mini-Kickstopper: Powered By Jeeves

This is not quite a full-blown Kickstopper article as I’ve done for Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, since I don’t really much to have to say about the actual Kickstarter delivery process there that doesn’t equally apply here. Usual caveat is that I know the designers, Jay and Elizabeth, in real life and so it’s not impossible that my assessment of her work is skewed, but the What Ho, World! Kickstarter was handled pretty well. The estimated delivery was April 2017, I actually got my core set in March 2017 (and that was through the regular, ordinary post like any other backer, not just going over to the UFO Press gang’s house and grabbing a copy), the lesson to take away is that the team actually do have a good handle on how long shit takes to accomplish and communicate that well, go figure.

However, I’ve had this review sat in my queue for a while and I do want to get it out there, largely because with this design UFO Press have managed something rather clever with the Powered By the Apocalypse system – namely, hitting on an interesting way to migrate it to a different format whilst still retaining the essentials of play. You see, not only is What Ho, World! a Powered By the Apocalypse RPG, it’s also a card game…

What Ho, World!

What Ho, World! is a card-based RPG that’s inspired by the whole Jeeves and Wooster thing (with somewhat more diversity-friendly artwork encouraging a diversity-friendly take on the time period). Characters are various figures like the Gadabout or the Pillar of Society who you might find in such stories, and they rattle around inter-War Britain getting into jolly scrapes and pursuing their various goals.

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Interview: Minerva McJanda Takes Us To the Heart of the Void

As I mentioned in my Kickstopper article on Legacy: Life Among the Ruins and its associated Kickstarters, I happen to know lead designer Minerva McJanda in real life, so when I heard she’d developed a new game inspired by the Persona CRPGs and was planning to do a Kickstarter for it I decided I wanted to get in touch and see if she wanted to do an interview. Luckily enough, she did!

The new game, Voidheart Symphony, you can actually check out now in a rough early draft which, to my eye, seems to capture the intended style extremely well. It’s a standalone sequel to Rhapsody of Blood, a Legacy supplement that focused on hereditary bloodlines sworn to protect the world against the machinations of a decidedly vania-like Castle – the sort of place which would be the abode of loners who consider human beings miserable piles of secrets, perhaps – but with the hereditary angle taken out (since Legacy‘s focus on campaigns unfolding over multiple generations of PCs don’t quite fit here) and set in a version of the modern day where the Castle and its agents lurk behind the scenes of everyday existence.

As a big Persona/Shin Megami Tensei fan, I personally think it’s another great UFO Press product which showcases Minerva’s ability to find new ways to interestingly adapt and alter the Powered By The Apocalypse system. But why take my word for it? Scroll on down and let’s start the interview…

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Kickstopper: The Legacy of Three Kickstarters

Accountability disclaimer! This Kickstopper article’s going to be about a trio of projects run by UFO Press, owned by Liz Iles and Minerva McJanda (with Minerva being the lead designer on most of the material I’m about to discuss). These are friends of mine I know in real life, so if that makes you want to apply a grain of salt to my opinions and question my objectivity on the subject… don’t care, writing article anyway.

Anyway! This Kickstopper article’s going to be a little different from the usual one because I’m going to be reviewing a series of three linked Kickstarters – the first one being for the original edition of Legacy: Life Among the Ruins, the second for the 2nd edition of that game, and the third for The Next World – a set of additional settings for Legacy. These three Kickstarters chart the birth and rise of UFO Press from one small indie publisher among many to one which, to my admittedly biased eyes, seems to be punching above its weight in the industry, with Legacy getting widespread critical recognition – there’s currently a Bundle of Holding offer dedicated to the 2nd edition – as well as a crucial commercial leg up thanks to a distribution deal with Modiphius.

Minerva’s been able to shepherd her game from a passion project reliant on DriveThruRPG’s print-on-demand arrangements to deliver hard copies to a series which gets traditional print runs and wide distribution via one of the industry’s current major players, and hopefully this article might highlight how that’s possible thanks to the combination of interesting content, delightful presentation, and excellent Kickstarter management that UFO Press has been able to bring to the table.

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Kickstopper: Divinity Lost, Quality Found?

Once upon a time there was a game called Kult, whose original Swedish-language release came out a few months before Vampire: the Masquerade‘s original English-language release. Despite being penned in different languages and presented for different markets, both of them managed to tap into the zeitgeist in a broadly similar way; each of them stepped away from the fantasy worlds, science fiction galaxies, historical settings or superhero milieus that had dominated tabletop RPGs to date in favour of setting themselves in a dark take on the real world, with supernatural horror lurking just out of sight of ordinary life. Both games had a distinctively edgy aesthetic drawing on goth and industrial influences freely. Both games tackled the subject of sexuality directly, rather than tiptoeing around it or pretending that sexual or romantic stories had no place in tabletop RPGs.

And as a result of all of that, both games ended up both making a splash in their respective RPG scenes – Vampire is famous for successfully getting people into RPGs who wouldn’t have previously given them a second look – and sparking cultural controversy. Vampire got tenuously connected to some murders in the USA, but Satanic Panic conspiracy theorists’ interest in tabletop RPGs had largely already waxed and waned by the time that Vampire emerged, and it rather got lost in a mass of a whole other range of stuff to get outraged over like DOOM and Marilyn Manson. Conversely, Kult was at the centre of a firestorm of controversy in Sweden, effectively becoming the hub of its version of the RPG-related Satanic Panic just as Dungeons & Dragons had in the Anglosphere.

Kult‘s English-language versions, however… those have had a bit more of a patchy record. The first English edition made a bit of a polite splash but I felt it was let down a little by a mixed bag of supporting supplements and adventures – with, in particular, some issues arising as a result of a mixture of Swedish 1st and 2nd edition materials being used, giving rise to contradictions between some materials.

There were also issues with the system being poorly received in the English market, being regarded as a bit clunky and uninspiring. This would have been less of an issue in the Swedish market, since Kult followed what was then the in-vogue style of system design, which largely consisted of ripping off Basic Roleplaying, since that was the first system which made it big in the Swedish market. What was then the norm in Sweden had become clearly a bit old-fashioned and behind the curve in English-speaking markets, especially compared to Vampire which (along with Shadowrun and Star Wars) did a lot to popularise the “dice pool” school of RPG design. Subsequent English editions failed to make much of an impact at all, with the third edition being quite badly botched – right down to the printing of the actual physical book.

When Swedish publishers Helmgast landed the rights to Kult, they decided to do right by the old beast – putting a new system under the hood to better support the themes of the game, and producing the English-language and Swedish versions of the new edition in conjunction with each other so that no more would the English version be out of step with the Swedish. And the grand plan to fund all of this? Why, a Kickstarter!

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Referee’s Bookshelf: Dungeon World

I’d seen Dungeon World cited in discussions of Numenera as a game which also touches on Dungeons & Dragons-like stuff without having especially D&D-ish game mechanics and which delegates all dice-rolling to the players, so I decided to investigate it since it’s readable online for free.

It’s interesting stuff. I think it’s a somewhat more successful game than Numenera, but equally I don’t expect that I personally will ever have a use for it.

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