Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Point Of No Return

So, a lot of things have happened this week. We've seen an increase in campaign rhetoric from both sides now that the DNC is done; Jerry Doyle, who played Garibaldi on Babylon 5, passed away; and I've decided to no longer do RPG material for profit.

CUE RECORD SCRATCH "Say what now?"

Let me repeat that for you. I'm no longer doing RPG material for profit.

So the big question is: why? I've already made known my reasons for creating stuff as well as my lack of enthusiasm toward the popularity games behind various RPG awards, but there's a number of reasons.

OBS and the Outrage Brigade: This has been a thorn in my side for some time and just recently (tonight, in fact) I reached the tipping point. This wasn't a matter of money or popularity, but of principle. People who have read my blog in the past have seen me voice concerns about OBS' apparent relationship with the hobby's Outrage Brigade, the almost pathological need some people have to find things to be offended by, and the disturbing fact that some publishers use all of this as a way to silence their competition. Of course, that was just the tip of the iceberg. At this very moment, I'm steering my ship toward open seas after seeing the Outrage Brigade lay another turd mine in Postmortem Studios' path.

For those of you who don't want to click away from this entry, I'll give you the abbreviated version. Postmortem Studios has been the target of this activity in the past. This time, the target of choice was Hentacle, a card game that, while it will never appear on my hard drive or shelf due to its sordid and distasteful subject matter, was being sold on OBS' site without issue since 2004 or thereabouts.

Some will openly argue that since the First Amendment clearly states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances," that the matter is settled. OBS is a private company, not a part of the federal or a state government, and so Postmortem Studios and James Desborough have no legal footing. Unfortunately, it's not that simple. The First Amendment protects the advocacy for and expression of ideas that some may find distasteful, despite its exception for obscenity.

Now before you come at me with torches and pitchforks, let me note that I do have a bachelor's degree in Mass Communication, was a working journalist for close to a decade after I graduated from college to the Real World, and have knowledge of the Miller Test. While the Miller Test is certainly valid, the issue of community standards is the sticky wicket here. There are three things in the Miller Test that need to be met in order to declare something "obscene."
  1. Whether "the average person, applying contemporary community standards", would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest,
  2. Whether the work in question depicts/describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct or excretory functions as specifically defined by applicable state law,
  3. and whether or not the work as a whole lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.
Now, the first two apply to community standards on the local and state levels. The third aspect, however, is the check against the first two; it applies to the national level. In other words, while someone in Rochester, MN, may find an item under scrutiny to be obscene, someone else in Rochester, NY, may not. Want an even more in-depth look at the matter? Check out the article Mike Godwin (yes, that Mike Godwin) wrote on the matter.

Of course, the Miller Test isn't the only issue complicating matters here. While OBS is indeed a private company located in the United States, the gaming community is not limited to the U.S. What may be declared obscene or otherwise offensive here in a variety of states may not be looked upon the same way in a nation across either ocean. Additionally, Postmortem Studios is located in Great Britain. A lawsuit filed against Mr. Desborough here in the U.S. isn't going to go very far unless you have the money to get you a very good lawyer. Additionally, open flames and pitchforks are are not welcome on aircraft - the TSA says so. Good luck keeping those torches lit as you swim across the pond to serve the papers, folks.

Well done, and thanks a lot, OBS. It's been real and it's been fun, but it hasn't been real fun.
That in and of itself would be enough to raise my blood pressure, but wait, there's more! The Outrage Brigade is known for its selective goonery. While they managed to get Hentacle banned, they missed the Lovecraftian expansions offered by Postmortem. One would think that OBS would want to maintain consistency and review ALL the supplements under that line.

In the past, the Outrage Brigade has managed to ban Postmortem's Gamergate card game, a questionably titled supplement for for Skortched Urf's Black Tokyo line, and temporarily banned Venger Satanis' Alpha Blue RPG (it was later reinstated). All of these are items that I will never buy because of their terrible material and premises, but I support the rights of the designers to produce this material. Why? Because it's only a matter of time before even the most innocent of game designers finds their home or workspace surrounded by Outrage Brigade goons chanting "Think about the children! Think about the children!".

Way to go, OBS! You're batting .05-4 here - and that's me being far from remotely generous.

The takeaway from all the above legal blathering is this: Effective immediately, Silent Sage Publishing's current and future RPG offerings will no longer be found on any commercial site and they will be available free of charge. All announcements of future products will be made here and elsewhere online as deemed necessary by management. Appropriate links to sites where the products are available will be provided with the announcement and the links will be archived on this site in a catalog entry.

This will not affect any current or future fiction offerings from my wife and myself; those will be made available from Amazon/Createspace as well as other outlets both online and brick-and-mortar. (EDIT: For those of you wondering where the RPG product links are, you can find the beginnings of the RPG catalog here.)

Pressure To Perform: I don't always do well under pressure. Couple the perceived pressure of the Outrage Brigade breathing down my neck, the pressure of making a profit, and my own lack of a local community, and you can see why this change is necessary. I knew from the get-go that I was not going to become a rich man, no matter how much Beyond the Wall needed a GM's screen and reference pack. The decision to step away from doing this for profit means much less pressure in this and many other ways.

Moving away from for-profit RPG work means I can work with whomever wants to work with me and not worry about dividing up royalties, let alone waiting for the publisher to send the check. It also means I don't have to worry about pricing myself and my fellow designers and writers out of the market.

My perception is that gamers are notoriously cheap, hence a lot of the howling about PDF pricing versus hardcopy pricing. I know my wallet and I bristle slightly at having to pay $24.99 for a professionally made PDF. Also, gamers don't always hold fan products to the same standard as professional-for-profit books and PDFs. After all, Gygax and crew as well as the folks behind Judges Guild put out material that was typeset on typewriters, composed by hand, and mimeographed/photocopied. I'll admit I'm not made of money. I may have to use black and white art inside my products and possibly even reuse art from time to time, but I promise to adhere to a professional standard of quality in my goods.

So, all in all, it's a winning situation for everyone. You get quality material for free, I don't have to worry (as much) about the Outrage Brigade and money, and my blood pressure stays normal so I can produce more good stuff.

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