I’m writing this post in response to what Greg Christopher says here. Yes, as of this writing, that post is more than a week old; however, I did not notice it until very recently. This is part of the reason I am posting here rather than commenting there.
I respect Greg Christopher. He puts out a quality product for free and his material looks more professional than much of the RPG material on the market. I don’t take what he says lightly. After careful consideration, I find that I do not agree with all of his points.
Christopher talks about the disparaging remarks recently made by the RPG online community against John Holland and his The Realms of Atlantasia role-playing game. Specifically, he says these remarks are more telling of the makers than the target. As any devoted reader of this blog knows, your humble host has issued some of these remarks. I stand steadfastly by these remarks and I believe they should be voiced.
As I indicated previously, I believe there are two valid complaints against Holland; his “arrogance” and the abominable production values of his book. Note that I have made no judgment regarding the quality of the game. Among the other concerns aired by the community, there are: (1) the quality of his website, (2) his alleged misogyny, and (3) the ‘stolen’ artwork. Although I do not find it esthetically pleasing, we should not judge Holland or his game based upon his website. I do not think Holland is a misogynist, but the half-elf thing is silly. I pointed this out, but we should not let such a small matter affect our view of the whole. With regard to the cover art, we should refrain from lynching Holland until we have all of the facts. (Personally, I think Holland is innocent.)
Christopher thinks that the RPG online community is insular. I concur. He believes that most people in the RPG hobby are not as informed as our online community. Lacking evidence to the contrary, I concede this point. He also states that the RPG online community is an elite group, both privileged and lucky. I do not concur.
Holland is not ‘just anyone’ in the hobby. He tenders a product that he claims is different than comparable products and that is not passé. (It is new and different; therefore, it is innovative.) Although Christopher’s objective is not to “defend the author,” he manages to offer some excuses for Holland. The fact that Holland resides in “rural Canada” is irrelevant; Raggi is in Finland and he is very much involved in the RPG online community. The keyword here is “online.” You don’t need to be privileged and lucky to participate in the RPG online community (other than to the extent that you have an Internet connection), you just need to be online. There is no exclusive password; no secret handshake. Yes, there is jargon. Learning jargon is not insurmountable. Everyone learns jargon the same way, by interacting with the community.
The Wikipedia entry for ‘role-playing game’ has a direct link to RPG.net. If you want to sell stuff to tabletop role-players and start “going after the big boys” (as Holland says), a minimum of research into the market reveals the presence of the online community. The fact that the tabletop RPG hobby – like every hobby – has an Internet presence should not be a surprise. Christopher says that Holland “is coming from a place of ignorance, not arrogance.” If someone asserts claims without establishing the validity of those claims (as seems to be the case with Holland), then ignorance IS arrogance.
Christopher notes that professional publishing software is expensive and requires some degree of technological sophistication. I can't argue with that, but using a spell-checker doesn't take much skill. Holland forgoes basic formatting of his work. I can almost forgive Holland for not providing an index, but the lack of a table of contents is inexcusable. Holland is not exactly deficient in funds; he was able to pay for the services of iUniverse. (Speaking of which, iUniverse should have been able to help with some of Holland's formatting needs – unless they're a rip-off).
I have found that the online RPG community can be very supportive and helpful (at least to people not perceived as arrogant). Someone on RPG.net with the user name of “jaerdaph” created an Atlantasia map without being asked (and it looks quite good). Supposedly, Holland is “not in this for the money.” If so, he could provide the PDF for free – like other small publishers; like Christopher himself. Alas, Holland wouldn't know about these things because he never bothered to find out. Holland is the object of derision because of things that he could have avoided with a modicum of effort.
Should tabletop RPG hobbyists be encouraged to share or publish their efforts? Absolutely. However, if we want to bring new people into the hobby, products like The Realms of Atlantasia do not help – they hinder. Atlantasia might be a decent game, but the presentation so awful that people don't take it seriously. It reflects very poorly on the hobby. If we want people to take our hobby seriously, we need to be serious about the hobby. Kid gloves are not the answer. Let us not pity John Holland; let us encourage fundamental standards of quality for our hobby.
P.S. The other reason I didn't comment at Greg Christopher's blog is because I can't. So if someone could contact him and let him know about this post, that would be great.