Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Why We Need to Trash Atlantasia

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.


  1. Um, so what? Dude is arrogant and his rpg is cruddy in one or more ways. There's got to be a gazillion guys like that. How does this particular guy merit special attention? Why not just ignore him?

  2. Well, Jeff, ignoring him would be eminently reasonable; so, naturally, it did not occur to me. However, if you permit, I shall attempt to justify my rant.

    Greg Christopher made some points, using Holland and his game as an example. In addressing Christopher's points, I did the same. John Holland does not necessarily merit special attention, but his current infamy makes him a convenient example. Nobody notices the other gazillion guys, so there's no need to do anything about them.

    Ultimately, what I was trying to say is that Holland should not be considered a victim (nor should others of his ilk). If you want to publish something, that's great; but you're representing the hobby, make it look as good as you reasonably can. There are people in the RPG online community that will support and help you.

  3. Another thoughtful post - very disapointing.

    I kinda like Greg, but he needs to look in the mirror more often. He makes the statement that these criticisms say more about the criticizer than the criticizee, but does not even provide the basis for this reasoning. Frankly, it is as reactionary as those he condemns.

    That ridiculous q&a session with zak was hilarious though. Zak never planted his goalposts and Greg kept stumbling after them.

    Not sure why I brought that up.

    A for effort for Greg, as always.

    As to your point, spot on. All it takes is a minimum of effort to discover the online tabletop rpg community, and there are a lot of people willing to help for free. Rural Canada is not like rural Afganistan.

    Well, I have been to neither, so maybe I am wrong.


  4. "professional publishing software is expensive and requires some degree of technological sophistication"

    Cripes, Open Office is free. The GIMP and Inkscape are free. Right there you have enough resources to create a document (with automatic spell-checking), complete with a TOC and an index as well as graphics and a front and back cover, and convert it to PDF format for distribution. It may not be as beautiful as WoTC's or Paizo's offerings, but it doesn't have to look like crap. (Not that I've seen the Atlantasia book, but just sayin'.)

    I don't know about anyone else, but a large part of my snark on that thread was the primitive Web site, the $45 hardcopy cost (BWUH?) and the whole "you need to make decisions! Your horse could starve to death!" hey-look-I-reinvented-the-wheel clueless attitude.

    Though I have to point out that nobody was calling for burning the book (or whatever the PDF equivalent would be), or forbidding Mr. Holland or anyone else from writing games. (Though many of us would be more than happy if Byron Hall and the knuckle-dragger(s) who wrote RAHOWA would have their crayons and scribble pads confiscated.)

    Sheer enthusiasm can carry a work of art regardless of quality, as such auteurs as Ed Wood and Raven S. McCracken have proved. It just would be nice if he had done some research into the RPG world as it stands now before he started bloviating about putting his book into major bookstores (didn't he mention Wal-Mart as well?).