On Hearthstone

Legend Rank, before I hit the dumpster
So, you may or may not be aware that I'm an occasional hearthstone player.

Hearthstone is a microcosm of the strangeness of the modern world writ large. Not just the game, but the entirety of the culture that has sprung up around the game.

In my personal opinion, it is a far superior game to Magic: the Gathering. I'm sure that there are magic players out there ready to disagree with me. Some may even have valid points outside of attempting to eliminate their cognitive dissonance over their sunk cost into Magic, but I'm not interested in hearing their arguments. I'm not going to walk into their house and knock the magic cards out of their hands.

But there are so many design choices that Hearthstone does so right. This is, for a large part, why there is such overwhelming negativity and anger from the player base of the game.

Hearthstone Game Design Choices

Unlike Magic, every single turn you acquire another mana crystal, instead of being dependent on drawing lands from your deck. The result of this steady increase is a high degree of consistency. There is no mana screw. The balance between lands and cards in magic is a strong factor in the consistency of a magic deck, but because lands are dependent on draw, it is not possible to eliminate (completely) the issues with consistency. Of course in professional decks this is rarely a problem, due to the decks being well designed, but consistent mana growth completely eliminates the problem for casual players.

The Magic Client
Another fundamental difference is that the attacker chooses targets. This is a huge change that impacts the entire sequence of play. Anyone who has used both the Hearthstone client and the Magic client, can tell you one is (reasonably) elegantly designed, and the other is a hot steaming box of shit.  If you're not familiar with Magic, each "turn" consists of various phases. For instance, your draw phase in magic includes three steps; untap all your
Hearthstone Client
cards, pay any upkeep costs, then draw. During each of those individual phases, play cannot continue until the current player gives the opponent a chance to do something.

So yes, technically you have to stop the game three times to give your opponent a chance to take an action during the draw phase of a turn. Now in reality it rarely works out that way. In the client you can set triggers to stop your opponents play during their turn when you'd like the option to act.

Because the attacker chooses targets instead of the defender choosing who to block, it streamlines the entire game process. You don't have to wait for your opponent to make choices during your turn. You are encouraged to control the board, be aggressive, and spend your turn playing the game.

A sure sign of someone who has little insight into game design, would be the people popping up, pointing out that all these changes that streamline the play of the game would make it too "simple". The same fallacy is at work when you realize how much smaller each Hearthstone set is, then a comparable Magic set. Having more options does not make something better. They are games about different things: whereas Magic is about using the cards to directly combat your opponent by trying to alter how the game functions to reach what the win condition of each player is, Hearthstone is about reading your opponents hand and plays to play in such a way that maximizes your chances to win, much like poker. Bluffing, baiting, and going all in based on your read and statistical percentages is what makes Hearthstone so fascinating to watch at high level play.

It's important to note that this success of design is mirrored in the popularity of each game. A generous estimate of the number of magic players worldwide is somewhere around 20 million, compared to 50 million active players in hearthstone as of April last year. What's more, is that it's not possible at all for anyone to make a living as amagic player, yet the majority of professional hearthstone players can and do make a living at it, in a plethora of ways.

These choices, in addition to 30 card decks, make Hearthstone a very, very consistent game. In order to offset this consistency, the cards themselves do things. In fact, it was this (forgive the term) magic that first brought me into hearthstone. There are cards that hand out a special set of dream cards, cards that randomize all targets, cards that replace your hero, spectacular cards that do what no real card game can. This is what keeps games from getting stale, the random effects of the cards themselves. And it's these odds and percentages of random effects that must be weighed to reach the highest echelon of play.

The Salt

But, you know, that's just not enough for some people. As someone who's played since beta, there has never been a period where people went "Hey, this game is pretty good."

Let me tell you, the game is and always has been pretty good.

Currently the complaint is about the "Pirate Package", a selection of 3 cards the provide a powerful opening hand. Before that it was about lack of communication from Team 5. Over Christmas. Before that it was salt about Yogg, a card that cast a random spell at a random target for each spell you had cast during the game and how he was too random and too powerful. Before that it was secret paladin and their 'unbeatable' curve of Secretkeeper, Minibot, Muster for Battle, Shredder, Belcher/Loatheb, MC, Boom, into Tieron, (Link Cards) before that Patron Warrior a deck that had a sub-50% win rate on ladder for all but the highest tier player, all the way back to complaints about miracle rogue.

Since, forever–really, since release, any decent player could take a tier 1 or 2 deck to legend. A good player could take any tier deck to legend. Even in the most dismal period for Priest, when it was the absolute worst class, Zetalot, a pro-player who only plays priest, could take it to legend.

But that's the thing about card games, you always have a chance to win.

Now, there are legitimate complains about Hearthstone. It is one of blizzards most popular and profitable titles. Although Blizzard doesn't release specifics, In August of 2015 the estimated revenue is around 20 million dollars a month, several hundred thousand dollars a day. Considering the active userbase has grown since then, it's hard to imagine that the profit has somehow dropped.

Team 5, the Blizzard team behind hearthstone was originally only 15 people, and now, even with the gigantic userbase and profits, still only hovers around 70 members. I seriously doubt each member of the team takes home 3.8 million dollars yearly, making hearthstone an extremely profitable venture for Blizzard. Team 5 is very slow and hesitant to communicate with their userbase, which is understandable, considering the levels of salt encountered online. But this doesn't change the fact that very basic issues persist in the client. It took years to just add an additional 9 slots for decks, some cards and card text continues to be wildly inconsistent, and known bugs sometimes go years without being addressed.


The problem with the salt is many-fold. The first is that hearthstone is a competitive environment. Lots of other competitive games receive balance patches, so player expectation is that Hearthstone should also. But hearthstone isn't like that. You can't raise someone's damage or fire rate by 4%. Hearthstone is an extremely chunky game. When you increase or decrease the value on a card by simply one, it creates a massive shift in the entire meta-game. There are cards that are underpowered at 4 mana, that would be overpowered at 3. What's more, is that the meta shifts approximately every 90-120 days or so, and really, that's often not even enough time to discover all the hidden peaks and valleys of power within a set. And data is something team 5 does have, as they've mentioned offhand in their somewhat rare communications.

The second is that, if you're reading this, Hearthstone is free to play and has a very generous system for players. I generally get between 6-10 packs a week for free, just from quests, tavern brawls, and winning games. A dedicated player could accumulate 12 packs or more with time, and that's not even considering the possibility of entering their arena draft mode; at 7 wins, you've effectively made your gold spent to enter the arena back. This is, in large part, why hearthstone is such a popular game.

Finally, it's that, at it's core, hearthstone is a really, really, good game. David Sirlin in his masterpiece Playing to Win talks about games that are flat (where there is one best strategy) and games that have depth, where no matter your level at the game, you can improve your play and become a better player. Hearthstone is that. And people can see that. So when you do encounter a flaw or problem or bug, the game is already so good, can you imagine how much better it will be when that problem is fixed?

I think it needs time. Things move faster now then they did in the past- at the two year mark for magic the gathering, (back in 1996) it wasn't nearly as popular or organized. All the problems, they aren't unknown. Yes, the client will improve. Yes, tournament features will be added. Yes, the game will get better. It speaks well of Team 5 that they think very hard before making any changes, and, well, keeping the golden goose alive for their masters.

If you're interested, and you play, give me a shout and we'll trade battletags.

On Ship Design

So my players want to build a ship. That flies. Cool.

This is the system I use when players want to create a vehicle of some type. This works for land, sea, and air vehicles with a little bit of common sense.

There are a lot of iterations of this type of construction system online.  I feel that most of them are lacking because they are overly fetishistic about ship minutia. This however, answers all the questions the players will have during play, while the other systems. . . don't. (How much, how long, etc.)

It should be fairly straightforward. It cannot be used in a vacuum, but requires some discussion between players and the Dungeon Master

What is a Ton?

Traditionally in Dungeons & Dragons, when you come across the word Ton, it refers to 100 cubic yards of volume. This is a space approximately the size of your living room—That is, 100 cubes with 1 yard per side, not a single cube 100 yards on each side. For shorthand, you can assume a ship can carry half its tonnage as cargo


The first step in designing a vehicle is to determine the frame. This is a combination of size (measured in abstract tons) and materials. The dimensions may take any reasonable shape and form. An engineer is required to build per 20 tons of the vehicle. The base construction time is 1 day per ton. Examples follow:

Ship Type Tonnage Dimensions
Fleet Flagship 100 70' Cube (343,000 cubic feet)
Large Warship 80 60' Cube (216,000 cubic feet)
Large Cargo Ship 60 55' Cube (166,375 cubic feet)
Medium Warship 50 50' Cube (125,000 cubic feet)
Medium Cargo Ship 40 45' Cube (91,125 cubic feet)
Small Warship 30 40' Cube (64,000 cubic feet)
Privateer/Trader 20 35' Cube (42,875 cubic feet)
Fighter 10 30' Cube (27,000 cubic feet)
Shuttle/Bus 5 25' Cube (15,625 cubic feet)
Carriage/Chariot 3 20' Cube (8,000 cubic feet)
Wagon 1 15' Cube (3,375 cubic feet)


It costs 300 gold pieces in man hours and labor per ton to build the vehicle. In addition to this cost, there is the cost of the raw material required to build the ship. Materials are straightforward, with their hardness reducing any damage. You can find hardness values in any srd. The Armor Rating provides the base AC of the ship.

Material Cost Per Ton Hull Point Modifier Armor Rating
Thin Wood 75 gp .5 +2
Thick Wood 500 gp 1 +3
Metal* 3,000 gp 2 +6
Stone** 2,000 gp 1.5 +5
Ceramic 6,000 gp 1 +4
Bone 250 gp .5 +1
Other Consult your Dungeon master ? ?
* Iron and Steel; special and precious metals will vary by type.
** Obviously not suitable for sea vehicles.

Calculate Variables

That's it, your vehicle is done. You have time, cost, and final size for your vehicle. Now you just need to calculate your maneuverability class, hull points, and various other factors.

Once you have these factors calculated, you can apply modifications below that will adjust these factors. Once that is completed, you can assign internal space of your vehicle using the module section.

Base Time: 1 day per ton
Base Cost: (300 gp in labor + Material cost) x Tonnage
Hull Points: Hull Point Modifier x Tonnage
Crew: 1 per 10 tons
Maneuverability Class:
Size Class
1-9 Tons A
10-19 Tons B
20-40 Tons C
41-60 Tons D
61-100 Tons E
101+ F


If you'd like to make specific changes, then select any of the following options. These will affect the base time, cost, and other already calculated factors as listed after the modification.

Armored Hull
Cost: By Material per Ton
Space: 10% of tonnage value
This provides armored plating covering the exterior of the ship. This makes it more difficult to do damage to the hull by increasing the armor class. You can plate a ship with any material superior in protection to the hull material. (e.g. you can armor a hull of thick wood with metal, but not thin wood.) This modification can be repeated multiple times.
MaterialCost Per TonAC Bonus
Thin Wood5 gp+1
Thick Wood50 gp+2
Metal300 gp+5
Stone200 gp+4
Ceramic600 gp+3

Frame Modification
This allows you to modify the frame of the ship to alter its maneuverability and hull points. Space modifies the available tonnage for cargo and modules.

Frame ModificationCostSpaceHull Point ModifierManeuverability Modifier
Extra Heavy+20%-20%x2-2
Super Heavy+40%-40%x4-3

Rigging Modification
Any vehicle, land, sea, or air is going to have some sort of steering mechanism. This is referred to as rigging. It's assumed any vehicle comes with standard rigging. Modifying the rigging can change both the maneuverability and the cost.
Minimal Rigging reduces the cost by 25% per ton, the crew requirements by 50% and penalizes the Maneuverability by 1.
Topped Out rigging increases the cost by 5%, the crew requirements by 25%, and increases the Maneuverability by 1.
The ship has a ram attached. The ship must have the heavy frame modification to mount a ram. This modification takes 5% of the hull space. Rams cost 100 gp per ton of the ship. Note that a variety of ram types exist, all with different effects (blunt, grappling, piercing, etc.)


These are the internal modules of the ship. Any unused space is considered cargo space. The module sizes include support structures for the module (hallways, structural supports, etc.) so tend to be slightly smaller in size then the tonnage required.

Crew Quarters.25 tons per man100 gp per man
Cramped Crew Quarters.15 tons per man75 gp per man
Bunk Only.05 tons per 2 men25 gp per man
Room.75 tons125 gp
Spacious Room1 ton150 gp
Larder*1 ton100 gp per ton
Cargo1 ton-
Hall (mess/recreation).5 tons per 2 men150 gp per ton
Docking Bay, Internal, Specific CraftVessel tonnage + 10%50 gp per ton
Docking Bay, Internal, GeneralSpecial**100 gp per ton
External Passenger Dock1 ton200 gp
External Cargo Dock2+ ton200 gp per ton
Weapons***As WeaponAs Weapon
Turret1 ton500 gp per class of the weapon****
XXX1 tonXXX gp
XXX1 tonXXX gp

*A fully stocked larder will feed 10 men for a month per ton. Poor rations cost 30 gp a month per ton, Common rations cost 100 gp a month per ton, Good rations cost 150 gp a month per ton.
** The tonnage of craft you wish to be able to dock, +30%. If you wish to have space for any 10 ton vehicle to dock, you must allocate 13 tons of space
*** Weapons, of course, depend on your campaign. Anything from catapults to greek fire throwers to submachine guns to lasers is possible.
**** Light weapon turrets cost 500 gp. Heavy weapon turrets cost 1,500, etc.

Note: The above system is just the most basic options available. It is Dungeons and Dragons after all, making your ship out of crystal and having cascading fire cloaks on the outside of the hull just requires some DM adjudication.

Hack & Slash 

On the Old Gods (Part I)

The old gods of Perdition were casual and indolent. Their world was peaceful and rich. Countries spread wide, they ruled over a creative people of peace. The only conflict came from leisurely discussions over resplendent feasts before the evenings entertainment.

The world fell quickly. The gods starved of worshipers, vanished. Yet traces remain. If you find the shattered vestige of one of the old gods, they can be called upon as any great being, though their power is just a shadow of what it once was. One may undertake the illegal task of reigniting their worship, and perhaps bring a sliver of light back into the world.

Bonds and Gods

So bonds are convenient ways to track moral, loyalty, and devotion between players and groups. It's very simple. You keep a list of your bonds. When you meet someone you add them to the list. Bonds run from 2 (Stranger) to 12 (Lifemate). At the end of each encounter or session with the bond, you roll 2d6. If it's higher the bond increases by 1.

Each bond level with retainers affects morale. It's a clear objective way to handle player relationships and romance. The really cool thing about bonds is it can divorce worship in a god (and the requisite abilities granted by said god) from character class and level! It's a way of having clerics without having a cleric class.

Several examples of devil patrons (gods) are illustrated by Russ Nicholson in Perdition, and you can look at a beta version of one of them here on my blog.

Today we are going to look at a bond with one of the old gods. Once Perdition was conquered, all access with the higher planes was cut off, as the land became an extension of the hells where devils could travel freely. Thus the only 'good' gods are the old gods, who are weak and stripped of all their power.

Patron Bonds with Old Gods

Devils and other sources of local power siphon away your prestige as your bond with them increases in power. As they grant you more power, your success becomes more attributable to them, granting them an increase in the prestige they take.

The old gods are very weak, and unlike normal patrons siphon 10% * your bond level in prestige. Since there are 12 bond levels, how could you ever earn any prestige at all once your bond got high enough?

Worshipers can be used to feed your patron prestige. For every steel piece that your worshipers generate, it can be used in place of a point of prestige that a patron might siphon. This is true for all patrons, though worship of old gods or demons of any sort is highly illegal, and as your congregation grows, so does the risk.


Old God of Strength, Dreams, and the Hearth
His porcelain skin stretched taut over his muscular frame, Bodando envelops the spirit of community. In a world of entertainments, joys, and passions, he stood against them for something less ephemeral. The satisfaction of community and providing for your own through hard work. He sprang from the look a father gives his children and from the actions of a mother who provides. That satiation of men fed his milky dreaming form, where he stood as languid protector of the hearth and home.

Because he was a god of dreams, he speaks and interacts with his prophets through visions and phantasm only they can see. They interpret his moony will for the community, bringing pleasure and wisdom to their followers. The closeness of the community and home is his strength. He encourages priest to lay with family, mother with father, sister with brother, parent with child.

He appears as a recumbent young muscular man, hairless except for the golden locks and brows on his head. His skin is so white as to be only just agleam. He eschews clothing and exudes a splendid prismatic aura that flows around his form with his breath and thought. His very presence pacifies all living things.

Bodando's herald is a panoply of fleshy writhing forms, constantly moving and shifting in a crude pantomime of intercourse, a literal beast of backs. A torso will extrude, imprisoned in throes of ecstasy, mindlessly thrusting, yearning, reaching.

Wearing clothes inside your home
Sleeping less than twice a day
Eating until you feel full
Using indecent language
Eating creatures of the sea

Sleeping naked in a communal bed with those close to you (+1)
Performing daily calisthenics (+1)
Sleeping for more than 8 hours in a single stretch (+1)
Owning a home (+3)
Living in an owned home as a member of family (+2)
Having members of your family not sleep naked with you (-1)

Bond Levels
2 You gain a +1 on all tests of Physique. This applies to grapples and Physique tests, though not to rolls to hit or damage.
3 You gain access to dream visions. Once per day you can tune into the visions and auger what is to come. You will receive an image or feeling of the outcome of a course of action.
4 Your form becomes infused with languid vitality. Anyone who rests with you naked for a turn after a strenuous event (such as combat) recovers all their hit points and removes one point of stress.
5 Before resting for the night, you may ward an area against intrusion. You set a boundary up to 4" in diameter and decide what will trigger it. Anything that crosses the boundary triggers a mental alarm to all those protected within and two Dreamspites appear to protect the servant. The Dreamspites are not controlled by the servant, but are friendly with him.
6 You gain +2 to your Physique score; and your Physique bonus, regardless of your Physique score, increases by 1.
7 While you sleep at night, you may travel though the Empyreal as a dream. After an hour of rest,  you may leave your body. Your body lies defenseless and without a spirit. You must succeed at a Survival (Empyreal) roll to return to your body with a difficulty equal to the number of hours you have spent outside of it. If your body has been moved in the meantime, the difficulty of the roll is increased.
8 You gain the ability to cause women to ovulate, regardless of their cycle. This can help insure pregnancy.
9 You gain a +2 on all social actions involved or related to sexual seduction.
10 Your physical fitness becomes excellent. The first time each day you become Fatigued, you are immune. If for some reason you become Exhausted, you instead become Fatigued. Further exertion affects you as normal. You may also ignore the first point of stress you acquire during the day. You gain a permanent +1 bonus to your athletics skill.
11 Once a day, you can project an aura from you in an 8" radius. You can cause anyone who fails a mental struggle against you to be overcome with an emotion. Examples include: Tranquility, cease fighting; Courage, have your attack and damage rolls augmented; or Fear, gain the Panicked condition. Any emotion may be stimulated by working out the specifics with your Agonarch.
12 You become infused with renewed youth and vigor. As long as your bond remains at 12 with Bodando, any permanent penalties are eliminated, you are immune to poison and disease, you appear to be in your physical prime and you cease aging. You also become permanently aroused.

Hack & Slash 

On a New Year

The reply to the interrogatories in my custody case glowed on my screen. The specifics caused nausea.

My brother's name stood there in her list of witnesses.

J[Redatcted] C[Redatcted]
[Address redatcted]
I texted him.

"Did you know that [Redacted] is planning on calling you as a witness against me in court?"
Sent. . . Read.
"No, no I did not. That is upsetting."

My paranoia flares down. I don't talk about it any more with him, because he's free to say what he wants. 

A week later he texted me: "Call me when you are able." I did. 

I hadn't heard from my father post-surgery. It was a routine procedure. He had called everyone before the operation. Can you know? We went to see him, before he was "disconnected". From trapped, to half-life after he died, to a funeral home, keeping us distanced from the reality of death. 

The Past

I don't like the internet much because it's full of lies from everyone. Every lie just betrays more ignorance about real issues moving forward. This is full-stop nothing to do with left or right politics. It has to do with ignorance, lies, and systems of control. All of these political social media posts are lies. All of them. Especially yours*. They are ignorant, because not one focuses on meaningful or important issues. 

I've been avoiding the internet because of it. 

The crux of the issue is that the management of humanity is a complicated endeavor fraught with danger. An article is just a way to scrape money from advertisers. It's shared by people who have beliefs unrelated to facts (or reality), who only have a vested interest in avoiding cognitive dissonance. 

That certainly isn't what I want to fill my time with. What I'm bothered by the most is that there is no discussion of issues critical to our future. 

How many times have you seen social media posts on the use of CRISPA to eliminate malaria forever? Or, what happens after that? Once we open the door to genetic control of our children and planet? Would you use it to edit your unborn child to avoid getting fat? Because you can, you know, today; Since they've had the option to use CRISPA for at least a year, I think maybe we should be talking about it.

Oh, hey, how about this. Do you know many employed horses? Really? If there weren't any new jobs for horses, why do you think there are going to be new jobs for you? Cars are self driving with safer records than humans today. Seen the self-checkout lane at the supermarket? Some machine diagnostician artificial intelligences (not symptom checkers)  have significantly better outcomes than human doctors today. The real employment rate is dropping (and a complicated sticky wicket). Programmers are teaching computers to compose and write music, create art- they already write the majority of books for sale on amazon.** Jobs are rapidly being eliminated. Maybe, if someone is forced out of the job market by a labor saving device, like most of humanity will be in the next few decades, we shouldn't treat them as a burden to society.

The Future

The sonuvabitch of it is, that by all available metrics, the world is getting better. Less war. Less death. More wealth. More equality. We are eliminating diseases, traveling in space, curing cancer, extending life. I mentioned this to a lady I worked with and she literally left the room due to how much this conflicted with her conception of reality. It was too important to her world-view that things be getting worse.

Oh, and we won the role-playing fight too. People can make and play whatever they want. Kingdom Death is getting millions. No one is saying people can't play that! It's out! It's getting made! The new D&D is still crunchy and mainstream, but our voice was heard. The Dungeon Master can run the game. New levels in production and usefulness are still being reached. Gaming is good. Gaming is healthy. No one I know lacks for games to play.

Looking back over the last 8 years of this blog, I find that I live (mostly) in the world I had hoped to in regards to gaming. I've been dealing with separation and fighting for some legal affirmation that I am in fact, my daughters father. Every time I read the internet I'm assaulted with ignorance and hate and cruelty and stupidity from the luckiest people to ever be alive. 

I've changed, you've changed, the world has changed.

Personally, in spite of the endless personal setbacks I've had this last year, I'm happier than I've ever been. The best use of my blog going forward is to expand beyond just talking about role-playing.

Common wisdom says, you know, not to do that. You want to brand. You want people to come to you for one thing. Fuck that I guess. I still love gaming and am still working on gaming (and gaming adjacent products). I've learned a lot about myself and who I am and the ways in which I'd like to share. In the year going forward we're going to see a bunch of new things. You've already seen some of the type of things I'm talking about; the in-depth look at the Catalyst fiasco.

I'm interested in feedback about this and about the new things I'll be trying. Take the opportunity to let me know if you like or hate a new thing. It'll be a week or two before I'm fully back up to speed, but I'm looking forward to 2017.

I hope you are too.

* I'm not calling them out, because I don't want to get engaged in pointless debate. But literally every political post is made by person ignorant of facts; almost universally unconcerned about that ignorance. Conservative and Liberal. 
** As always, these facts are subject to spin, but that's not the point. The point is that today there are very few things humans do that machines or computers cannot either do better or have a path to be superior than humans at. Nobody is breaking apart automated assembly lines to reinstall human laborers. Once replaced by automation, new jobs are not created and the jobs do not return. This point is philosophically neutral. The end of needing humans to labor is not. 

On the Shadow Catalyst (Part III)

The Internal War

Bobby Derie, known as "Ancient History" online has a little conversation with some of the new freelancers brought on board in response to the exodus and copyright restriction. The conversation is pasted below

Session Start: Sun Mar 21 11:55:21 2010
Session Ident: DavidAHillJr
01[11:55] If you buy one word Jason is spilling right now, I will hit you with a shoe.
[11:56] lol. I believe that to the best of Jason's knowledge, he's telling the truth. However, I know he's a very uninformed middleman.
01[11:57] No, I mean he's actually lying to you right now.
[11:58] Oh? You think he knows more? Fair enough. But, if they
[11:59] they're unable to pay licensing, why move forward with more products?
01[11:59] They hope to talk Topps down into accepting less money (who knows where they are going to get it from), but at the moment they can't even cut checks to freelancers. THat's a bad sign.
[12:00] But if they can't pay the freelancers to release, then moving forward on new product just isn't a rational path.
01[12:01] Nothing about this is rational. They're keeping a known thief as the company's president.
[12:02] Fair.
01[12:03] All I'm saying is that be aware Jason isn't telling you everything, the situation is probably worse than it is, and it is unlikely you're going to get pad for your ork.
[12:04] Duly noted.
Session Close: Sun Mar 21 12:53:45 2010

Immediately after, Line Developer Jason Hardy banned Bobby from the freelancer forums.Why? Because this transcript was sent to him, presumably by David Hill, because he would be the other person that would have a copy of it. 

Now at the time, Bobby had several drafts in editing and layout for the company. But having been banned from the freelancer forums and waiting along with everyone else for pay that no one was certain would ever appear, Bobby did the only logical thing and terminated his contracts with the company and withheld copyright on his works he had yet to be paid for.

Now I'm going to jump ahead a little here and reference two little things. It's no secret online that Bobby never got on very well with Jason. That said, after this, Bobby released all his current work that he had pulled from Catalyst and posted it online, free, for the fans.

Of course that didn't stop Jason and Catalyst from using his work anyway. Bobby got word from friends that they were given his drafts and told to work from them to write the new material. And when that didn't work, they just used his material in the books they published anyway

I guess that's just the way you do business. Jason claimed these were layout "accidents". I think the sequence of events speak for themselves.

Frank, falling upon a knife already firmly planted in his chest, forwards a letter from an insider written by Randal Bills to the freelancers working for CGL. Here are the relevant parts of the letter, the entirety of the letter can be read here.:

Randal Bills
Hello all,

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Randall Bills and for the last several years I’ve been serving as Catalyst's Creative Manager.

As many of you have undoubtedly noticed, Catalyst has hit a few stumbling blocks under the weight of its dramatic growth over the last several years. As I’ve become the face of the current situation, I felt you all deserved a look at the current situation and some details regarding the steps Catalyst is taking to get all freelancer payments caught up so we can move forward. . . . Over the last several years, Catalyst Game Labs has showed a dramatic growth in terms of demand, increased total revenues and strong sales with an increasing market share in the gaming industry. A huge portion of the credit for that goes to you, the freelancers. After all, without your passion and dedication, there would be no books, no games, no Catalyst.

That growth has not come without its obstacles, however, and by Q4 of 2009 the Catalyst Managers acknowledged that a co-mingling of funds between the personal and business had occurred involving the company’s primary shareholders, the Colemans. We immediately initiated an audit of the company's historical financial records, and designed a comprehensive plan to get Catalyst's production and payments back on schedule. This process took some three months of very long days, and was overseen by our Bookkeeper and Operations Manager, in conjunction with the Colemans. [Editor: Note that both those employees quit during the audit, one clearly on record as for personal ethical reasons]

With the completion of the audit it is clear that the breadth of what occurred was significant, and would require extensive changes to correct. A detailed plan was outlined for changing the organization of the company, as well as many procedures to establish a strong financial oversight and series of checks and balances to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future. It also included a proposal for how the Colemans will begin paying back the money involved. All of those detailed findings and action plans were delivered to the pertinent parties on the 15th of March as a key step in our efforts to move forward with full disclosure and transparency. A series of discussions are currently underway on how best to proceed.

Last week, while in the process of drafting announcements for the public, as well as our vendors (distributors, printers and so on), licensors (i.e., Topps), Catalyst freelancers, and so on, some information was leaked to the public (and, as is the way of such things, immediately took on a life of its own). Obviously I was forced to deal with that leaking of information and am just now reaching a point where I can be drafting information to share with our freelancers.

There are several critical concerns (in no particular order) that Catalyst is moving to address ASAP.
1. Re-organizing and re-structuring to prevent this situation from occurring again.
2. Finalizing a plan for how the Colemans can repay the money owed to Catalyst.
3. Ensuring the continuity of license with Topps concerning Shadowrun and BattleTech.
4. Finding additional sources of revenue in the short term to help start paying down various debts (including monies owed to all of you).
5. Working with Posthuman (Eclipse Phase) and WildFire (CthulhuTech) to determine if they still wish to work alongside Catalyst. If they do not, we’ll make every effort to spin those games off to those respective companies in a way that will best ensure future growth. . .

. . . Some of you have already expressed your inability to be patient with Catalyst as we try and find solutions, and I completely understand your frustration. That frustration was mirrored by several Catalyst full-time employees who felt they simply could not continue with Catalyst after all that has occurred, including Jennifer Harding (Office Manager and Bookkeeper), Dave Stansel (Operation Manager) and Adam Jury (Head of Graphic Design), all of whom have formally left the company. We’re already moving to try to find appropriate people to take on their work and responsibilities. Though I wish their decisions might have been different—as they’re incredibly valuable to what Catalyst has been able to accomplish—I cannot fault them for the choices they’ve made. I’ve worked with them in various capacities for a long time and consider them good friends. I wish them well and hope we’ll have a chance to work together again some time in the future.

During all of this, my decision-making process has been called into question. After all, how can I accept what’s happened? Why are the Colemans still involved at Catalyst if these events occurred? Usually I would have reservations about sharing such personal thoughts. However, since I’m asking for each of you to decide if you’re willing to allow Catalyst some time to address this situation, I feel it only appropriate to give you my thought process so each of you can make up your own mind.

1. Catalyst would not be enjoying its current level of success without Loren’s strategic thinking, or without the connections he’s forged in our industry. We started as a small, internet hobby company in 2003 and only officially formed Catalyst three years ago. Yet as of last Gen Con we “stole the show” and are considered one of the “up-and-coming big boys.” While Catalyst is far more than a single person and is very much a team effort (including all of you), Loren’s contributions have been crucial.
2. Would Catalyst survive if the Colemans were no longer involved? Yes, I believe it would. However, I believe that despite the horrific mistakes made, we will heal faster by keeping Loren involved as part of Catalyst’s ongoing strategic thinking. Last week that belief received a huge chorus of support when we contacted and/or were contacted by numerous people in the industry, including three titans of the industry [Editor: ???] (I’m not at liberty to share their names to this large of a group without asking their permission). Each of those three were given a blunt (albeit very brief) synopsis of what occurred, and yet each still pledged their support to Loren and me in helping move forward (both in the incredible business savvy they possess that made them titans, but also in potential revenues to bring to the company). Furthermore, two of these people are intimately familiar with Topps and with their strong advice in our pocket we’ve already approached Topps. Without getting into details we told Topps of our financial issues and made our case that despite those mistakes we have been fantastic in protecting and expanding the BattleTech and Shadowrun brands and that we are still the best possible stewards of those brands. Topps liked our attitude and appreciated our bluntness and we’re setting up a face-to-face meeting in NY, following the GAMA Trade Show this week, to present a plan for how to move forward with securing those all-important licenses.
3. I believe the best possible way to incentivize someone is to create a recipe for success. Excessively punishing and kicking someone to the curb does not incentivize anyone. Keeping someone involved in the process and invested in seeing Catalyst succeed so they can succeed is a far better path for all involved (and one I’ve seen succeed time and time again at all levels of business).
4. I’m not the only one that has seen and believes in the points above. If all the mangers, employees and investors of Catalyst had lined up in opposition to my thoughts and opinions as outlined above, then I very much believe I would’ve backed away, feeling that my decisions were compromised. However, while some have left and/or decided they can no longer work with Catalyst, we still have a very strong team of investors, managers, employees and freelancers that supports the overall direction of trying to deal with what’s occurred while finding ways to move forward.
5. Considering how long I’ve been involved, and how much blood, sweat and tears I’ve given for Catalyst, I’ve seen a lot of “How can Randall continue to work with Loren?” I’ve obviously known the Colemans for a very, very long time and been involved intimately with the company from the day the idea was born 8 years ago. And after reviewing everything and doing some massive soul searching, I’ve made a personal decision that this was a terrible, terrible series of mistakes; I bear my own weight of guilt in this in that I didn’t pay better attention to the various red flags raised over the years that something wasn’t right. More importantly, I see in the Colemans every indication I need to see in order to make forgiveness seem appropriate. This falls into a “very personal” category, but it’s key to my point of view and if you’re trying to understand my decisions, it’s important you know this. While I may not be the usual image of an LDS church member that comes to most people’s mind, my faith is a bedrock; it is the only reason I’ve survived the stress of the last several months and especially last week. But if I see a person genuinely sorrowful over a mistake (regardless of the size of those mistakes), and see that same person trying hard to make the mistakes right, I personally have to forgive them. Just as this as been the most difficult personal and professional crises of my career, it has been one of the most difficult for my faith, as the rage has had to give way to compassion and forgiveness. Please note, however, that this point is 100% a personal decision, one that deals with whether I can keep a personal relationship with the Colemans. If none of the other points above existed, then I would’ve asked Loren to completely step away from the company and he and I would’ve solved our issues in private. However, those very points are exactly why I’ve stated I believe the Colemans should still intimately be involved with the company (though a host of checks and balance are in the process of being put into place) and why I can set aside my own personal anger and disappointment to try and move forward in what I believe is the best possible way to save the company and to save the games we all love to work on.

I apologize for the length of the email and for the incredibly personal nature of it, but I felt it warranted. Ultimately each of you will need to ask yourselves whether you can still trust Catalyst to treat with you fairly and to pay the debts owed you, while ensuring that such debts do not pile up for the future. We’ve laid strong groundwork to do just that over the last week and GTS this week will give us the opportunity to further cements those plans.

We are also in the process of bringing on a new Bookkeeper who will continue the plan laid out by our previous Bookkeeper to send each of you a thorough audit of what our books show. This will allow us to ensure we’re not missing any work by anyone and will help us build a plan for how to start reducing the debt owed to each of you. However, the original plan called for that to go out by the end of March, but with the changing of the Bookkeeper that’s going to need to be middle to end of April.

I hope each of you will be willing to bear with us during this crisis and give us the chance to make this right. However, if you feel you cannot, I completely understand and of course wish you well. More importantly, even if you feel you cannot do future work for us, of course we still will work to pay the debts owed to you.

Thank you for your time and patience.

Randall N. Bills
Managing Developer
Catalyst Game Labs

Holy moley! Literally!

Let's get something straight:
"I’ve made a personal decision that this was a terrible, terrible series of mistakes" -Randal Bills

No. Let's be clear. A mistake is an action that is misguided. A series of mistakes is a crime. And not a victimless one either.

"I'm glad I could put a face on the situation, hopefully for everyone. But it isn't just me. It's the new dad with a baby and a mortgage who could use the money for medical bills. It's the single mom paying her way through school who could have really used the money for Christmas presents for her daughter. It's the man facing bankruptcy who just lost his job, and could have really used the money to make a few house payments until he found another job, as the bank threatened to take his house. It's the student who desperately wanted to go to GenCon and couldn't. It's the man who's been out of work for 6 months and can't pay rent. It's all the employees of CGL who took late paychecks, or skipped getting paid altogether, because they were told "the money isn't there."

These are a real examples of people, who I won't name, who begged and pleaded with Catalyst for even a portion of their back owed pay.

There are hundreds of people who have freelanced for Catalyst. Writers, artists, editors, layout artists. All of them fans. All of them who provided work for Catalyst in good faith. People who have written pleading letters to Catalyst asking for money, people who have threatened to sue, people who have just walked away, burned by the company.

When you read about what's happening now, think about all those people. Not just me (although I will admit to being far more touched than I could imagine by all the incredible offers of well wishes and support).

Then think about the two people who took that money -- as has been stated in letters released by folks other than me (I wasn't ever even sent that freelancer letter).

If Catalyst can't--and hasn't in years--met it's contractual obligations to all the freelancers who poured their hearts into their work, why can't they? Where did the money go? I know. You know. If they can't even pay a few thousand dollars to get products back into production, how can they pay for the larger debts? How are they supposed to pay tens of thousands of dollars for printing? For shipping? For royalties? For all the other expenses a printing company faces?

Yes, there is a face on this entire debate. It's the face of a hundred people like me, who really could use the money they're owed. And who, most likely, will not see it. There's the true tragedy." (LINK: )

Loren Coleman allegedly committed a crime. His friend covered for him, minimizing his alleged crime, using God and his religious beliefs as justification to do so. Then they used their power and pull in the industry to make sure that they got away with it.

And get away with it they did.

That's what it means to be an industry insider. Who are these "Titans of the Industry" that rushed to his protection? No one knows. I'd hazard a guess and back it with cash that one of them was Jordan Wiseman. As far as the other two, I'm less certain. Perhaps L. Ross Babcock III? I have some guesses, but don't know that I'd call them Titans.

The Path To Victory

How did they get from the execution of an alleged crime to remaining solvent? Both Wildfire and Posthuman studios cut their losses and attempted to recoup their money via lawsuit. Catalyst terminated long-term employee Troy Garner, who handled the shipping and customer service e-mails and gave the job to Randal's wife, Tara. Stephen McQuillian, production manager quits.  With their overhead down, the immediately begin paying freelancers. As much as I'd like to consider this as a step in the right direction, the real cause is because of the Copyright being pulled, they couldn't generate any revenue without these books being in the pipeline.

They called on their "Titanic" industry insiders to interceede with them at Topps, and Topps gave them a limited extension, which was enough time for them to raise the funds for an official license extension.   After the cash started flowing again, they began publishing a new edition of Shadowrun. And thus begins the tragedy of 5th edition Shadowrun.

The Edition Failure

Here are some facts. The 5th edition of Shadowrun is one of the best selling editions of Shadowrun ever. It's also, objectively, one of the worst.

A lot of people might call this standard edition warring, but this is no war. This is a massacre. It's important to realize that there is no canon bible for Shadowrun. There is no reference document that can be handed to new freelancers that says "This is Shadowrun and this is not." And with the exodus of some of the biggest and most knowledgeable fans, this left a pretty big gaping holes in the work.

Now you don't have to take my word for it, you can read "10 things I hate about Shadowrun" which covers a few of the giant absurdities in 5th edition. You can read this post about someone using the .pdf search function to try to figure out the simplest game mechanics  We could mention that the binding on the 5th edition books is terrible and disintegrates.

I'm sure you can find plenty of people who did a review of the core book and gave it a decent score, but in many of those cases, that's what they were doing. Reading through a core book once and writing a review. That isn't relevant to the quality of the game, right? It's about the people who play it. And if you look at the information available about the 5th edition on forums like dumpshock where people have a weekly game, well:

"Simply put: The Core Rulebook is so poorly edited and written that we couldn't find the rules we needed to actually play, and this is after 4 weeks of actual play. The book is confusingly written, the mechanics are clunky and large portions of the book look out of place." -Source 

"SR5 currently has some glaring omissions, inconsistencies, and ambiguously-worded areas that need to be cleared up." - Source 

"I'm trying to give Fifth another look. I liked a lot of the concepts and changes but the poor editing and 'ware hate put me off it." -Source 

"Eh. Half the builds in the game don't work with Priority. Especially Technomancers." - Source 

"This is what happens when huge parts of a new edition are just copy/pasted from a previous edition." -Source

"So now, a few years and a couple of hundred bucks of (often poorly written) PDFs later... I'm walking away from the flaming wreckage that was one of my bucket list games. . . ultimately, Shadowrun 5th Edition was hostile waters from the start. Even when we where struggling to understand just the CRB . . . Crucial information was overlooked, reasons for rules left unclear, all because it was assumed that we already knew how Shadowrun worked." -Source 

"All of the books are riddled with horrific editing fails, rules that are terribly mangled by the lack of editing process that results in having to spend days on end on their Shadowrun forums . . . trying to divine what their rules are actually meant to be.
They have now had years to get 5e publishing/editing right and issue errata for their many multi-variate fails, none of which they have done."-Source  LINK: ()

"I have a great idea for fixing SR5.
Play Shadowrun 4th Edition, before a pants-on-head retarded brainfucked moron took charge of the line and began vigorously skullfucking it trying to roll things back to the techno-derp of the '80s from the near-future transhumanim of SR4 in a vain idiotic attempt to recapture the grognard neckbeards who were still playing SR1-3. (It failed. They still play SR1-3. It's just that SR5 drove me to Eclipse Phase.)" -Source 

"It's player hate.
SR5 hates giving players viable options and choices, from a bizarre payout system to drastic limits on character generation in the core book to a generally antagonistic idea of GM/Player interaction (including 'friendly banter' in rules texts that directly insults the reader). Where SR4 gave you a lot, maybe too many options, SR5 delights in giving you no viable option at all. You want worthwhile cyberware? Have fun with being hacked without a shred of a chance at defense! (The hotfix daisy chaining ban errata means not even your team decker is any help - good job, CGL). Skillwires are so overpriced they stop being viable at all. There is no skinlink, there is no viable defense for cyber characters. Want to play an infected? Fuck you. Want to play something more exotic? Fuck you very much! Only mages and mystic adepts seem to have a lobby, though they don't thrive, they're just not gimped nearly as bad as other archetypes." -Source 

Is that enough? I mean, I didn't have to look very hard to find all that, and it's repeated over and over when discussed by players of the game.

We could talk about how it was released in 2013 and there is still no errata to cover any of the errors in the core books–like the fact that every character archetype presented has massive errors in their descriptions. Here's Patrick Goodman, freelancer, posting last month:

"We've talked a lot about the state of errata for Shadowrun. It's become something of a sore subject for a lot of us, so much so that fights have erupted, people have quit the game, and any number of unpleasant incidents have occurred. It's a fraught subject." -Source 

Of course this comes on the heels of 22 pages of errata already submitted via the dumpshock forums. Not esoteric errata, but things like dwarves after 4 editions and nearly 30 years just having their thermographic vision not listed as a trait. The Decker pregenerated character has no matrix initiative.

Of course, it's important to mention that Catalyst isn't actually paying them to do the errata

The game, as written is currently unplayable. But not just because the rules are actually a complete shitshow, but because the book is impossible to use at the table. That isn't to say people aren't playing 5th edition and enjoying it. Some are. But they aren't playing it as written. There are some attractive things about 5th edition, but do you want to take on that burden of house ruling, reworking, and trying to fix a complicated rule system with a badly designed book? Most suggestions (if you perused the threads above) involve going back to 3rd or 4th edition Shadowrun, both extensive rulesets with well defined errata.

And that's just the problems with the core book. "War!" is in the running for one of the worst supplements ever released for a role playing game ever. It covers a war in bogota between dragons and mega corps and doesn't contain a single map. You get coverage of conflict hot spots, like Auschwitz where you kill Jewish ghosts to steal Nazi gold. Yeah, not only offensive, but wrong; Shadowrun doesn't have ghosts. Not part of canon.  Check out the reviews on DrivethruRPG. "In the end, the feeling I got from reading this part of the book is that it went through no editing at all."

You're free to follow up on your own, but the combination of the lack of a canon bible, freelancers who are unfamiliar with the setting, amateur layout artists, total lack of proofreading, and Catalyst Game Lab's complete disregard for the product after its hit the market, 5th edition has been a disappointment.

So why did it sell so well? Because you and I both know that RPG fans are like Magpies. We all play one, two, or maybe three games on the regular and yet we still buy every new shiny that comes along. We like the setting or played a game once that gave us a good memory, and we buy the book and put it on the shelf. That's just how a significant portion of the industry works. The aesthetic brings out the collector in us. If you only kept games you actually play regularly, what would your gaming shelf actually look like?

And that's the story behind Catalyst games, who aggressively pursued the license, allegedly had money disappear leaving single mothers, college students, and people in crisis abandoned, used insider power and leverage to minimize their actions and end up being rewarded with a jaunt into the origins hall of fame.

That's the inside scoop, or as much as I could dig up of it anyway. There's not much that can be done. I'm going to keep playing Shadowrun, and since Catalyst owns the license if I need a book or .pdf, they get the money for it. That's just the way the world works for people who aren't you and I. I'm used to it chummer. That's just life in the shadows.

Hack & Slash 
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