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Twitterstorm Aftermath

Well, that was a fun week.

Looks like our website is back up after choking on more traffic than our puny shared-hosting account could handle. I haven’t posted here in a very long time so I upgraded WordPress while I was at it.

So, let’s talk about Tournament of Rapists. But before I go on, if you have already decided that we suck, hate women, and are just plain meany-poo-poo heads then nothing that follows will change your mind.

If you want to know what *actually* happened from our perspective the by all means read on!

First, some background. I’m the owner of Skortched Urf’ Studios (Mark) and I’ve worked with the author of this product (Chris) for almost ten years now. When I started publishing RPG material Chris did a lot of freelance work for me. He then wanted to publish his own stuff, but didn’t want to tackle the behind-the-scenes stuff like laying out products, marketing etc. He wrote, I laid out and found art and it worked out very well. Chris named his imprint Otherverse Games, and Skortched Urf’ Studios is the publisher.

Over time Chris took over more and more of the production; doing his own layouts and forming partnerships with artists. At this point Chris does all his own work, but has decided to keep publishing with Skortched Urf’ Studios since we’ve been working together for so long.

I say all that to give you background. Before the title in question (Tournament of Rapists, or ToR for short) was published I didn’t know a thing about it. I don’t vet his work, tell him what he can publish or oversee him.

Now, I don’t say that to distance myself from Chris or his work. I say it because it is the truth. Chris is a big boy, he can publish whatever he darn well pleases in my opinion. (I for one think he is a mad genius with some of the crazy stuff he comes up with.)

What I think most people didn’t realize about ToR is that the participants in these tournaments are the *BAD GUYS* that the PC’s are supposed to kill! Most of the “stat blocks” are for monsters/creatures for the PC’s to fight. People got up-in-arms about the TITLE of the book. Can you imagine fleshing out the main bad guy who actually puts these things on so your party of good guys can go dismantle the entire organization and kill the Half-daemon Billionaire industrialist who runs it? Now *THAT* is a bad guy worth fighting in my opinion; I’d want to kill him more than I would King Joffrey on Game of Thrones. (See my remark about Chris being a Mad Genius, and I do mean that in a good way.)

Now, frankly, Chris did NOT do a good job of making that point very clear in the sales text. Like many of you, I heard the title and thought; WTF? So I downloaded it and read it to see what I was dealing with. (Which is where my experience with the title differs from most, I suspect.) Chris and his Black Tokyo line are no strangers to adult themes, so I admit to reading the title with the “Adults Only” filter firmly in place. But, as I said above; the entire PDF was about a group of bad guys who do these very evil things and a bunch of stats so the players can go kill them.

Is there a metric ton of shock-value in what he does? Yes, absolutely. Is there a wealth of creativity and world-building in the settings Chris comes up with? Again, yes; even if you have to look beyond the shock-value to get to it.

Does he put out safe, “kinda like what you already know but with some “twist” to make it a little different” titles? Hell no. He’s got a setting that pits pro-life and pro-choice abortion factions against each other in a sci-fi setting with the volume turned up to 11. Is that my cup of tea? Not really. But I have always respected the hell out of him for *not* taking the safe route.

Sci-fi abortion war setting. Sexual-predator daemons rampaging all over Tokyo. Like I said, he’s a mad genius with the freedom to play in a sandbox of his own making. I didn’t consider the title any more shocking than some of his previous releases in the Black Tokyo line, all of which are clearly marked as for adults. So I went to bed.

That was Thursday night.

I got up at 4:00am the next morning, drove to the airport and flew out on vacation.

And apparently while I slept, or was flying across the country, or driving my rented convertible around Park City, Twitter and social media got all riled up into a frenzy. As I said, I was on vacation and didn’t even bring a laptop with me. While not totally off-line I was not “minding the store” so to speak.

Sunday afternoon I got an email from Steve Wieck asking if we could chat by phone or Skype. I called him back and we had a very frank discussion about the title and the effect it was having on OBS. In all of my dealings with Steve and other OBS staff I have been nothing but impressed, and this was no exception. I told him I’d reach out to the author (Chris) and get back to him shortly.

I emailed Chris and we spoke on the phone within the hour.

I told Chris about the situation and we both agreed to remove the title.

I also received an email from another long-time publisher who reached out to me specifically indicating that *His* sales were suffering. The last thing either Chris or I want is to affect OBS or other publishers. I (Mark) have not been actively engaged in publishing material for several years. I make a few bucks a month from selling PDF’s which is nice, but hardly an income I rely on. But other publishers *Do* rely on their sales through OBS and that also played a large part in our decision to remove the title for sale.

I would point out that it was *Our* decision. Steve/OBS didn’t pull it and he reached out to us before doing so. (Chris and I were both away from computers, so I emailed Steve to have him deactivate it rather than leave it up until Chris or I could get to the publisher dashboard.)

I stress that point since OBS put out their new Offensive Content Policy. It is my sincere belief that Steve does *Not* want to censor titles. Do I (Mark) agree with the new policy? Yes, 100%.

As I’ve said earlier, I believe Chris Field has the right to write and publish whatever he wants to. (Note the period at the end of that sentence.) It doesn’t mean I think Chris should publish things that I like, or that I agree with, or that I would want to play. If Chris wants to create a RPG world that tackles mature (or heck, immature!) themes then what better medium than the PDF market? Chris and I are about as far apart in some of our views as two people can get, but he’s entitled to them and I’m *Not* entitled to force mine on him. This is why I don’t vet his work and let him publish whatever he chooses to.

I think the new OBS policy is a good one. It creates a mechanism for people to voice their opposition to a title aside from a Twitter-storm. Could this new yet-to-be-implemented system be abused by the Perpetual-Outrage-Brigade to report every title they disagree with? Sure, but any system can be abused. OBS is really in a no-win situation and I frankly expected they would have just pulled ToR immediately but they didn’t. I don’t expect under the new system very many titles will ultimately end up barred from the site.

As I stated earlier, I believe in free speech and that a creator can make the setting they want to without meeting some arbitrary or esoteric “standard”. That doesn’t mean that OBS is under *any* obligation to *host* any product released. Yes, they are the Amazon of the gaming industry; and inclusion on the OBS sites is almost required to make a go of things as a publisher. I believe they *Do* have the right to say “We don’t want to carry this product in our store”. Having said that, I also don’t believe they will wield the Ban-Hammer indiscriminately as some other people have feared. Time will tell, but I have faith on OBS to maintain an open market place.

It seems there are a portion of people who think OBS is acting as a gatekeeper to products. They aren’t. Products are uploaded and go live on the site when *publishers* submit them through the back-end. There is no OBS staff member that checks titles for content, spelling, bad cover art, or the correct socio-political slant. Going forward they *still* won’t be acting as a de-facto gatekeeper since their stance is to be re-active vs. pro-active in removing titles.

The issue ToR raises will not go away, though. Is every Black Tokyo title going to be flagged by the mob of outraged gamers because it deals with mature and sexual themes? Similarly will his Otherverse America setting, which dives head-first into the pro-life/pro-choice debate, be targeted for removal because many people are uncomfortable with the subject matter? And that is the *real* crux of the matter; should products not even *exist* at all or , barring that, never be carried on OBS because most (or even some) people don’t like the content or subject matter?

A few other comments about things that have been noted. When Chris uploaded the title he *Did* tag it as an adult product. In order to see the title a customer must have registered with OBS *and* changed the default setting in their account to *allow* adult titles to be seen. The “naughty magazines” were, indeed, kept in brown paper behind the counter in this case. Apparently he also tagged it as Pathfinder compatible, and someone(s) at Paizo took exception to that. (I heard about this from some comments, but haven’t actually seen the specific Paizo statements.) The tagging system at OBS is just a series of check-mark’s you can select to indicate what system a given product is for. While ToR was not released under the Pathfinder Compatibility License, the content is/was compatible so Chris checked the box showing that it was. The filters let someone go to OBS and see only things that apply to their system, not necessarily things officially licensed. (In the same way that products could be D20 System compatible vs. OGL compatible.) Is the complaint that *any* product tagged Pathfinder on OBS must also be released via the Pathfinder Compatibility License rather than simply denoting the underlying mechanics of a product? That seems a stretch, so I suspect it was more Paizo (understandingly) wishing to distance themselves from the Twitter-storm.

I’ve seen comments where people assume Chris must be a horrible human being that wants to rape people or whatever. (He isn’t. And by the same token, do these same people also think George R.R. Martin wants to have sex with his sister because he wrote about two of his characters engaged in incest?) He’s a guy with a huge imagination who loves RPG’s.

If a novel with this title was written and Jim Butcher, Anita Blake or Jack Reacher were going after the bad guys it might be a best seller. But Chris chose to make it a game supplement and everyone who saw the title assumed that it was about the players running around sport-raping people for XP. Time to gather up the torches and pitch-forks, right? If you disagree with that statement, then imagine for one second if he’d named it “Tournament of meany-poo-poo-heads” or “Gladiator Pits of Black Tokyo”; would there have been the same level of reaction? I don’t believe so. But even if there was, the above statements still apply.

Shocking title? Yes, 100%. Adult oriented, fringe product? Yes. Do I think we should hang Chris, burn his corpse and salt the Earth where his bones lay for *daring* to put out a controversial title (in a long line of them) that no one, anywhere, is under any obligation to purchase? No, I don’t. But that’s just my two cents.

Skortched Urf’ Studios