Wednesday, May 5, 2021

What Really Happened To Vampire 5e, Chapter Two: Video Games, Bailey Jay, Kenneth Hite, New Orleans, Stockholm

 20,000 Words Worth Of Text Messages


So it’s summer 2016 and Paradox has commissioned two World of Darkness mobile games. I get the Vampire one. It’s been explained to me as “Basically a Choose-Your-Own Adventure, you can figure out the rest”.


It also has to be a prelude which—for non-Vampire fans—means it’s about a new vampire discovering their powers and their curse. Other than that my remit is pretty open and they let me write whatever I want and they could fix the lore in post if I made mistakes they didn’t want to canonize into the new WoD.


Faced with the puzzle of making a mobile game, I get the great/terrible idea to make it work in text messages. My idea was: during your normal day, while you’re getting texts from real people and getting your Facebook notifications, you’re also getting alerts from people in the game. That way, toward the end, when these characters are threatened, it feels like people you really know are in trouble.


Part of the reason this is a terrible idea is my contract said 20,000 words. 20,000 words is fine if you’re writing a game book with complete sentences and lush descriptions of dwarf cities and d100 tables (comparison: Frostbitten & Mutilated is 30,000 ish) but 20,000 words of plausibly realistic text messages is a lot, especially when you’re trying to figure out how, for example, to do action scenes in text messages. So anyway, I’d given myself this horrible job, so in a search for material and trying to get the rhythm of actual text messages I turned to the text messages I was sending and getting in real life.




At the time, my closest friend who didn’t live in LA—and thus the friend I saw least and texted most—was trans porn actress Bailey Jay. Bailey was funny, good at texting, and liked horror movies...


...meaning she was both very much into-, and ripe for-, being turned into a character in a horror game. So with her blessing I went about making her a vampire.



Bailey was also really into giving her Uber drivers handjobs that summer, for some of that--Bailey Jay texting is only a slightly less censored version of Bailey Jay tweeting:



This wasn’t her doing an extended internet gag—sometimes porn stars really do act like porn stars. She’d flirt with them, then say “Hey, I have a dick” and they’d be surprised but then be like…That’s cool. And that was Bailey’s real life. In the game I basically just added in that if they were transphobic she’d drink their blood because, well, it’s a vampire game, someone has to die, why not transphobic people?


Sample dialogue with the Bailey character:


“What are you having for lunch?”

“Mall goths”


I named her Avery Ailes because it kinda sounded like Bailey but not so much I’d accidentally type “Bailey”. Other characters were made from whole cloth but most of the friendly characters were based on amalgams of my friends, including another trans woman, the actress Morgana Ignis, whom millions of Deviant Art goths may know as the voice of Sallie Mae in Helluva Boss.


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So midsummer I thought what you’re supposed to think around this point I called up White Wolf and explained to them I had written myself into a place where there were important transgender characters in the game and could we hire someone trans on the project so that it’s not just white cis me benefitting from the story—I recommended up-and-coming horror comic artist Sarah Horrocks.


I was pleased and a little surprised to see they were all for it, so she came on as co-author. She was fine with the Bailey character and she went to work writing and drawing a vampire monkey into the plot.


By the end of the summer we had a story full of sex and death and lgbt representation and mechanics we hadn’t tested yet—all was as it should be in the World of Darkness.





New Orleans


White Wolf’s annual Grand Masquerade happened in New Orleans, around Halloween. Highlights include me not meeting Tim Bradstreet (despite trying), not LARPing (despite the Swedes trying to make me), and lots of fried chicken and plastic swords.


Around this time the head Swedes began to discuss the plans for the new tabletop edition: V5. They explicitly said what they had theretofore only implied: they wanted me to work on the new edition. In also-excellent news they wanted Kenneth Hite—fresh off doing The Dracula Dossier for his vampire-spy game Night’s Black Agents.

Kenneth was one of the first mainstream designers to notice my work, back when Vornheim came out—we liked each other. This was shaping up to be interesting.


Head Swede’s idea for this edition was: New New New. They loved the old Masquerade but wanted to completely modernize it, make it work for the new century: new team, new ideas—push everything as far as possible, the sky’s the limit on big ideas and  they’re LARPers and so they’d leave the tabletop details to us. Plus: Paradox is a video game company with video game money.



Stockholm


In winter we’re flown to Stockholm for a week of meetings about the direction of the new Vampire. The meetings take place in one of many very modern Nordic conference rooms at Paradox HQ with a wall-length white board on which, by the end of each day, was covered with a megadungeon of arrows connecting boxes like “Blood” and “Hunger” and “Cloves?”.


The American contingent is me, Kenneth Hite and New Art Director—remember I said I’d anonymize the innocent. At this point it’s being framed like we’ll be the main architects of the game and everyone else is just there to show us where the guardrails are (we can’t change “Toreador” to another name but we can give a dozen historical alternate names). Or else: they’ve already made several decisions about how to set up the sandbox and are now inviting us to play in it—either way, Ken, Art Director and I were given a lot of room.


The way it worked, by accident or design, was this:


Kenneth Hite had lots of ideas about tabletop game design and 100% up-front admitted he had no idea about visuals, Art Director was a woman who’d done a lot of impressive high-fashion shoots and music videos with fancy people and 100% admitted she had no idea about tabletop game design, and I was the guy who translated between them.


Art Director would say something like “Has there ever been a wedding in Vampire? I think that would be a great spread” (Because the art director is an art director). 


And I’d go “Oh yeah, you could have like two clans ally and it’s a threat to the others…” (Because I’m forever in the middle ages).


And Ken Hite would go “And that’s when the NSA finds them!” (Ken is always looking for ways to kill vampires).


Then Ken would talk to one of the Swedes about the possibility of pulpy space vampires and I’d talk to Art Director about actually having a party where everyone dressed like a real wedding, then photographing it, then doing paintings from the photos and using that to explain the metaplot. The team White Wolf had thrown together genuinely had chemistry—we played Maze of the Blue Medusa at Head Swede’s house, we went to the museum built to memorialize the Swedish ship that sunk as soon as it was launched—we had ideas, we had fun—things were alright.



Would This Version Have Actually Been Any Good?


Obviously just because we liked what we were doing doesn’t mean it would’ve worked out. All I can say is: this was what was intended at T-minus one year of the development cycle and it seemed to be working better than expected. Head Swede had this idea—the Camarilla half of Vampire: The Masquerade would look like Vogue, the Anarch half would look like a zine but both would have OSR-style info-design, Indie-inspired creativity, it would be grounded in the real world and it would have a team with a completely new take. That was what we were for, and they’d been planning it for nearly a year by that point.


As you know, that isn’t quite what happened. In the next chapter I’ll start to explain why.


Tuesday, May 4, 2021

What Really Happened To Vampire 5e, Chapter One: Olivia Hill



Note up top: A lot of people are asking about the case against Gen Con--the next step is we file a motion, then a notce within 30 days of that response, then it's in appellate court for a year, probably a year and a half. So: it'll be a loooong time before it's over.


Starting In The Middle

So this is the story of what happened on Vampire 5th edition behind the scenes. It'll be a series of posts, because it's complicated.

I'm going to screw up right from the start by putting two incidents from the middle of the story first, because they contain a moral of the story and I don't want that to get lost in all the details to come.

So:

  • First: sometime in the middle of all the trouble that Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition roll-out had, a bunch of Vampire fans did something that only haters had done before (or since): they organized. They put together and circulated a petition of support  (impressive and rare in the online RPG scene) that said that these haters were not making sense, that fans stood behind the designers, that this harassment would not be tolerated, that the new edition was exciting, all that good stuff. At least 2000 people signed it, which is far more than had liked, shared or encouraged the hatemob attacks on the game (600ish on the most popular hatepost I could find).
  • Second: sales of the game were...fine. There was no great wave of boycotting or backlash among actual consumers.

The net effect of these two facts on the parent company's upcoming decision to dump the game was: nothing. These things didn't help the game or the creators at all in any way, the game still got cut loose, people got fired, careers got torpedoed, etc.

The designers working on the project included Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite, by no-means small fish as far as name-recognition goes. The designers who lead the charge to destroy the game--on the other hand--were folks who are visibly glowing on social media if they sell 500 copies of a game. I point this out just to establish that the power equation here isn't as simple as you might think: Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite only have followers who buy things, whereas the haters have followers who do things. 

Are you sitting there thinking you're an anonymous disengaged nobody so what you do doesn't matter? Well, you're wrong--this story has names in it but is largely a story about what a bunch of anonymous people did. If name-recognition and a platform mattered, Mark Rein-Hagen and Kenneth Hite could've ended this in seconds--hell, Paradox--the video game company that owned White Wolf--could've ended it. But that's not how it works.

Going and buying a game and signing a petition full of positive platitudes are both things fans are comfortable doing.  Vampire fans did them and it didn't help at all. Haters are comfortable with doing way more: they name names, they go to the forums where narratives are being written and interrupt the story being told with their own story, they bring things up over and over and over, even when no-one asked, and most of all: they work together "When I do this, you do that" etc.. And normal people, even normal gamers if there is such a thing--people who just want to play a game--don't do any of that. They see drama and, at best, ignore it, or, worse, buy into the idea that all drama is equal and equally bad.

And remember the sales figures, games have gone on to be supported and become IP farms on far less--voting with your wallet alone doesn't work when the creators of what you're buying are told "You are risking trashing your Google results and professional reputation forever if you take on this new project" and the company itself doesn't want its reputation associated with that. Self-publishing doesn't solve this: The kinds of accusations made against Vampire authors don't just destroy someone's career or chance of being published but can (and in some cases has) harm literally every part of the lives of the people involved. If every time someone Googles you it says you committed crimes against humanity, it affects your entire life.

A petition or a statement from anyone which does not name the specific people responsible for the problems it is trying to overcome does nothing at all. 

If you ever want to hear any story about the RPG industry other than the one I'm about to tell: you, the fans, have to do something different than what you are doing now. You can easily fact-check haters without trolling, harassing or hurting anyone, but most of you can't do it while staying in your comfort zone. You have to be as persistent and dedicated to telling the truth and making things better as they are at lying and making things worse.

It's not that you're a terrible person if you don't--it just means the things you like aren't going to get made ever again.

Disclaimer 1


I am jumping the gun on this: I wanted to wait until later this year, when certain legal things would have had time to happen and I'd be able to provide even more evidence to back up what I'm saying. But Onyx Path authors Olivia Hill and Filamena Young being exposed as abusers (and not yet having suffered any real consequences I can see) has made it seem necessary that I do this early. If you still don't believe my story after reading all of it, come back around Christmas, see what I've got to say then, and feel free to rub my nose in this paragraph.



Disclaimer 2


It’s popular in these kinds of posts to disguise the writer’s intention under a layer of objective-sounding language—as if the author is just the Star Trek computer voice “The Alpha Quadrant is populated by a race of three-eyed tree bastards…” etc. I am not going to do that. This story is outright an attempt to persuade. Straight up. I am still under a non-disparagement clause with White Wolf (the company that makes Vampire: The Masquerade) and I plan to respect that, which is easy since this isn’t about them fucking up, this is about what some bad people did to White Wolf. When it matters, I have obscured the names of the innocent (and deadnames) but not the guilty.


I am also going to say something most reporters can't say: I am in the middle of suing people right now. If a single word of what I'm saying isn't accurate, I just volunteered, for free, to ruin my own case by writing this.



The Biggest Success In The History Of RPG Hatemobbing


It’s 2021, and there’s Critical Role and there’s Stranger Things and it’s been seven years since the 5th edition of D&D came out and, weirdly, no other RPG has managed to ride its coattails. There’s been no matching revival of Shadowrun, RIFTS, or Vampire, no new game or anything near close. 


There were two kinds of conventional wisdom on the 2018 5th edition of Vampire: one is that it committed a wide variety of terrible social justice crimes, the other—and the one, as far as I can see, that seems to have stuck around longer—is that it was solid in many ways, but it failed to generate any enthusiasm. It was...fine. It isn’t setting the world on fire, the company isn’t rushing to support, promote, or expand it. If you want to try playing Vampire again but with some tighter rules and the next generation of lore, well it’s there. People involved appear to have moved on to other things.


Did something happen? Yes.


This is the story of a group of bad internet people who, after many minor successes hurting innocent designers' careers, finally managed to take down a whole game. The biggest piece of RPG intellectual property of the 1990s was making a big push to get revived and got shot in the head, by people who are, by-and-large, now discredited and what’s more, had no idea they were even doing it.


And they and all their friends are still out there—and they keep doing the same stuff, and they will keep doing it to any game that isn’t too corporate to care or from a country so far away it hasn’t yet been swallowed by the toxic dynamics of the english-language RPG discourse.


This is the story of the biggest success in the history of online RPG hatemobbing. It's why, if nothing changes, games are basically fucked.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Alien, Predator, The Problem of Interesting Monsters

 Note: If you voted to hear the Vampire story, it's still coming in early May, don't worry.

-The Alien and The Predator are both interesting monsters.

-One reason Alien is a better movie than Predator is it found reasons for the cast to talk about the interesting monster and observe its behavior. After Cain dies, like 50% or more of the dialogue is in one way or another, finding out about the monster, explaining it ("using the air ducts", "Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.", "big as a man").

-What dialogue isn't about the monster is about The Company's plot ("crew expendable" etc.).

-Simple formula (Lovecraftian even)--create an interesting monster and then the story is mostly just explaining how it's interesting.

-Predator on the other hand: how do we know its an alien? First scene we see its space ship. How do we know it has only thermal vision? We see through its eyes.

-Showing not telling doesn't work here because it leaves the characters almost nothing else to talk about or do--except the same things they'd do in any other non-monster action movie: I'm worried about murdering! I'm not! How will we accomplish murdering? Yeah, they got betrayed by the CIA, but it's so not important to anything and Carl Weathers (the Ash figure, the betrayer) gets killed by the Predator, so that plot resolves itself without anyone having to confront him or make a decision about it or act or anything.

-A problem with all the later Predator and Alien movies: instead of interesting or difficult characters being dealt with by the other characters (as the crew deals with Ash in Alien) they just get killed by the monster. We realize, at some point in every later movie, that this is a slasher formula and none of the interpersonal plot gymnastics matter. Ripley matters, that's all, because Ripley will, in one way or another, survive.

-So what does matter (besides the quality of the kills)? We want to learn more about the creatures.

-This, I think, is what really disappointed everyone most about Prometheus--the whole beginning was a classic Hard SF set-up: we were going to Learn About The Universe and then as soon as we get to the big mystery (What the fuck was that thing in the...chair? in Alien?) it turns into a slasher movie. No, we are not going to learn anything else, the only question in a slasher movie is: how will they die? Not well, it turns out. Also he looks like the Michelin man but that's a whole other post.

-Anyway to retrieve the thread: Interesting monsters. The genius of the first Alien--and nearly all the best parts of all the later Alien and Predator movies--is it turns learning about the interesting monsters into the plot.

-The technique: rationing out the information on the interesting monster scene by scene, piece by piece, kill by kill.

-Failure means: wasting information, wasting kills, and, by extension, wasting characters. Letting the monster chew through the cast before the cast gets to chew on the monster.

-Again, Lovecraftian: the scenes in The Call of Cthulhu where we learn about Cthulhu are more interesting that what Cthulhu actually does at the end (with the Swede and the boat and all that).

-It's all a slow tease, a show whose content is slow revelation. It's why there's this curious deflating effect when you see a Wiki full of information on the creatures, like everything fun is mashed down into a statblock. The Predator tribe is called the Yautja? Did you know that? I didn't. Somehow I wish I still didn't? I want the mystery.

It's like looking at the lyrics to your favorite song all typed out. "Oooh, ye-ahh, baby" I mean yes that's the words but...it felt different in the song.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Note on The Vampire 5e Story

 In case you missed it, I asked readers to vote on whether they wanted to hear the whole story on Vampire 5e--I set the threshold at 100 votes and reached it, so I will be getting to work on that, collecting all the receipts etc.

My plan is to have it up in early May, just so you know.

Here's a foldy map I drew:

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Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Now It Can Be Told--If Any of You Care

So, two of the most aggressive harassers online--people responsible for more hate directed against me and the other D&DW/PS crew since 2011 than almost everyone else put together--got cancelled yesterday: Olivia Hill and her spouse, Filamena Young. 


Olivia's girlfriend claimed that she was abusive, lied all the time, and played victim constantly to escape responsibility for doing fucked up things.

  • If Olivia's girlfriend is telling the truth: this is exactly what I have said for years about them except when I said it I had proof. Olivia is an abuser and Filamena is, too.
  • If Olivia's girlfriend is lying: it means Olivia and Filamena want a benefit-of-the-doubt in this situation after demanding it not be extended to others. Which means they are abusers.

Anyway that means an even fifteen of the folks who were involved in the smear campaign against me have themselves been outed as abusive. I have a question for readers, right after the list...

1. Olivia Hill (former Vampire et al Onyx Path designer--girlfriend says she lied all the time, is abusive, and plays victim when she's caught, which is exactly what I've always said Olivia does)

2. Filamena Young (former Vampire et al Onyx Path designer--enabled Olivia's abuse)

3. Brandon Dixon (Swordsfall, called out on twitter as a creep by a fan)

4. Adam Koebel (Dungeon World/ Streamer, caught on tape being creepy)

5. PH Lee (Bliss Stage, Hot Guys Making Out, storygamer, cancelled for their edgy games--after making fake allegations about rape)

6. Ben Chong (various "games about relationships, storygamer--admitted to being a sexual abuser)

7. Sean Patrick Fannon (Savage Rifts--admitted to being a sexual harasser)

8. BlackHatMatt (RPGnet moderator--accused of rape)

9. Tyler Carpenter (Battletech, storygamer--admitted to sexual harassment)

10. The folks at Green Ronin (who either committed sexual misconduct or handled it poorly in the case of C.A. Suleiman)

11. Shoe Skogen (my ex's friend, outed as an alleged abuser after being made an OSR discord mod as a reward for harassing me)

12. Elizabeth Sampat (storygamer, ex-girlfriend and enabler of Gamergate-related sucide Alec Holowka)

13. Jared Cassady aka AuraTwilight aka Paimon Prowler (ran the OSR Discord, outed as an alleged abuser by fellow greaser furry hypnotism enthusiasts I am not making this up I swear)

14.  Oliver Darkshire (DMsguild author--pissed of fellow members of LGBTQIA+ community by publishing a D&D book about queer villains)

15. Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Head of Community at Kickstarter, stepped down for helping Adam Koebel even after he got cancelled)


Olivia and Filamena finally being exposed for what they really are makes it safe(r) for me to tell a part of the RPG story that nobody really knows yet.

However, there's another problem and that's: it's possible nobody fucking cares. I got cancelled because people believed things without evidence from "people they trusted"--even when the "people they trusted" turn out to be liars and abusers, nobody seems to connect the dots.

So, I will only tell this story if there is unusual and atypical evidence that some of you out there actually care.

If I get 100 comments from a 100 distinct accounts (none of them banned) on this post, I will tell the whole story of what happened with Vampire 5e--why it turned out how it did, why it was treated by Paradox the way it was almost as soon as it came out, why the launch didn't come out as planned, what went on behind the scenes with me, Kenneth Hite, Martin Ericsson and everyone else and how many online jerks were actually involved. I have never told anyone this and only the people who worked on it know the whole truth. And I have the receipts.

Vote if you care.
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Tuesday, March 30, 2021

What Are You Playing?

 Simple questions, leave your answers in the comments

1) What tabletop RPG are you playing?

(We're playing D&D in Cube World, as usual)

2) What are the players up to?

(The girls just went into a shark god temple, got to the last room, decided "we're too low level for this" turned around and started a raid on a bandit camp in some ruins.)

Also, there's a new module up in The Store.

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Wednesday, March 10, 2021

Wow. WOW.

Nobody wants this to be a Daily Gamer Drama Blog but jesus:

So it's Wednesday, and on Saturday I first posted about wow we had three people in the RPG world cancelled in the same week and surprise all of them were people who'd harassed me, and that I'd warned people about.

And I thought, well, that's enough of that, better post about hobgoblins or something before....oh fuck and here's another.

We can no longer do a D12 table, because that's 13:

1. Oliver Darkshire (DMsguild author--pissed of fellow members of LGBTQIA+ community by publishing a D&D book about queer villains)

2. Luke Crane (Burning Wheel, Head of Community at Kickstarter)

3. Brandon Dixon (Swordsfall)

4. Adam Koebel (Dungeon World/ Streamer)

5. PH Lee (Bliss Stage, Hot Guys Making Out, storygamer)

6. Ben Chong (various "games about relationships, storygamer)

7. Sean Patrick Fannon (Savage Rifts)

8. BlackHatMatt (RPGnet moderator)

9. Tyler Carpenter (Battletech, storygamer)

10. The folks at Green Ronin (who either committed sexual misconduct or handled it poorly)

11. Shoe Skogen (my ex's friend, outed as an alleged abuser after being made an OSR discord mod as a reward for harassing me)

12. Elizabeth Sampat (storygamer, ex-girlfriend and enabler of Gamergate-related sucide Alec Holowk

13. Jared Cassady aka AuraTwilight aka Paimon Prowler (runs the OSR Discord)

At the current rate of four per week, literally all of the people who attacked me will be cancelled by the end of 2021. I believe in you.

EDIT: April 6, less than a month later--Olivia Hill and Filamena Young have been cancelled.
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