Saturday, February 2, 2013

Dwimmermount Update #44 - Video Link and Summary

(The video update recorded Thursday night was supposed to alleviate the need for a huge weekly update this week, but Tavis touched on enough new stuff that this week's update is a pretty sizable recap of the 45 minute video - I'm going to highlight via italics and bold what I feel are the major points of this week's update - Erik)

Where We Stand

For a lengthy discussion of where the Dwimmermount Kickstarter is at, you can check out the video record of a G+ hangout with myself and backers Erik Tenkar, whose blog Tenkar's Tavern often acts as a watchdog for Kickstarter projects, and Miguel Zapico who is working on the MapTools framework for running Dwimmermount as a virtual tabletop. The video is attached to this update, and can also be viewed at this link.

Next week I'll be doing another hangout and taking questions from backers. The hangout will be scheduled via the Google community Mages of the Mountain. If you're not already part of this community, please provide us with your Google+ username using this form - you can also let us know your Minecraft username and I'll add it to the Dwimmermount server whitelist.

Here's a summary of things discussed on this video:

Through his friend Victor Raymond, Dwimmermount's author James Maliszewski has shared the news that his father is very ill and not expected to live much longer. Autarch understands his needing to take some time to deal with this difficult situation, and we trust in his honor and integrity to fulfill his responsibility to the Dwimmermount backers as soon as he's able. We feel that the best way to support James, and to uphold our own responsibility to you as backers, is to keep working to realize his vision of the Dwimmermount mega-dungeon.

X and Y Challenges

The difficulty Autarch faces is that our contract with James transferred to him the funds we raised on Kickstarter, along with the responsibility for fulfilling the Dwimmermount rewards. James maintains copyright to his work and the rights to the use of the art he commissioned and paid for. In the video, I assigned these two issues - money and copyright - to the x and y axis of a chart. (In future updates I'll hope to have a graphic of this chart to embed in these updates). Placing the different rewards and bonus goals into the four quadrants of this chart helps determine which aspects of the project need to wait on James, and which we can make progress on in the meantime.

The upper right quadrant is rewards that need both copyright and funding. Things in this zone will have to wait on James' return. The hardback is furthest out in this quadrant; it is costly to print and crucially relies on his copyright. The map booklet is closer in. As a print reward it needs funds to produce but is less expensive, and its IP situation is more nuanced.

The upper left quadrant is rewards that need copyright, but not funding. Things in this zone may be produced as fan and community efforts, but can't be published by Autarch. The PDF is at the edge of this zone. Professional editing, development, and layout would require some funding, but the lack of hard printing and shpping costs makes it feasible for fans to create for their own use and sharing. The PDF's dependence on IP means this is something Autarch can't do while remaining within the law. 

Many rewards in this upper left are already finished, or well on their way. James' draft of all sections of the Dwimmermount text is complete and available for backers to download. Miguel's MapTools framework is largely complete; work is proceeding on levels 7 and 9, but all the other areas of the mega-dungeon are available to run online with an integrated dungeon key and sophisticated features like lighting and fog of war. The Minecraft server is up and running and making progress; we have large sections of Dwimmermount levels 1, 2A, and 2B excavated, including some dungeon dressing. (The server would benefit from minimal funding; right now it is hosted by my home PC and is vulnerable to household outages.) Another bonus goal, to share James' original notes, is partially complete - some existing materials like character sheets have yet to be scanned. Progress can be made on sharing the existing scans at the Play-Generated Map and Document Archive, but preserving the original papers and adding more scans will need to wait on James.

The lower left quadrant is rewards that need neither money nor copyright. These can be done by anyone, whether it's Dwimmermount fans, backers, or companies. The main reward in this quadrant is backstage access: the chance to watch the process of realizing a mega-dungeon. This won't be complete until everything else is, but progress here is good; the Mages of the Mountain G+ community is a recent advance.

The lower right quadrant is rewards that require funds to produce but don't need copyright. These are things achievable by a company rather than a collective effort of fans. Two rewards in this quadrant are the megadungeon tracker and the wilderness vinyl mat. Both are concepts that Autarch set up and haven't been contracted or paid for, so copyright remains with the artists and cartographers. These are physical items that cost money to produce and ship. Autarch could plan to cover these expenses by making these products available for sale to backers who didn't originally pledge for these rewards and to the wider world of gamers, since these items would be useful not only for Dwimmermount but for other dungeons and kinds of RPG play.

My idea here is that, by offering for sale to the general public, Autarch would be able to generate enough revenue to cover the cost of delivering these rewards without having to wait for James' return. (The costs would be eventually invoiced against the original pledge funds). Dwimmermount backers who pledged for the wilderness mat and mega-dungeon tracker would have these items shipped to them. Everyone at the Zealot-Phantast level and above would get the electronic versions, and could apply this as a discount on the physical items if desired.

Proposing New Kickstarters

I think that the megadungeon tracker and wilderness vinyl mat are sufficiently viable as commercial products that their general sale could cover the cost of fulfilling these Dwimmermount rewards. However, Autarch doesn't have the money on hand for the production necessary to have items to sell. To get around this limitation we'd be looking at launching new Kickstarters to create these items, with the expenses of fulfilling existing rewards factored into the funding target. This is a controversial and risky proposition, which is why I want to get community feedback before we go ahead.

Last week I met with Luke Crane, Kickstarter's Games Project Specialist, to discuss these plans. (Luke is also the co-designer of FreeMarket, a game in which characters engage in radically futuristic economic schemes, so this conversation was a little like being lost in a dungeon and getting the chance to to ask Dave Arneson about best practices for dungeoneering.) Luke said that there is ample precedent for this move. His recommended approach to handling it is consistent with Kickstarter's recent requirement to disclose risks. People backing any new project Autarch crowdfunds should know that we have outstanding unfulfilled rewards on Dwimmermount, so that they can take this into account before deciding to extend their trust on anything else we do.

The wilderness mat is the reward that I think can most immediately be fulfilled by a second-order Kickstarter. I'd like to use crowdfunding to get these rewards into the hands of the Dwimmermount backers who pledged for it. My feeling is that we'd all benefit as a result, regardless of whether you pledged for the wilderness mat, because having this cool play aid will encourage playtesting which makes the ultimate Dwimmermount release more robust and suited to the actual needs of gamers. I think this new Kickstarter could succeed by learning from the mistakes Autarch has made in the past - or, at least, be set up in such a way that if it succeeds in reaching its funding target it is likely to succeed in delivering its rewards on time. In the video, I explain some of my reasoning; unfortunately if I'm going to keep my commitment to post these updates on Friday, I don't have time to write these out before midnight.

Autarch is also considering launching a Kickstarter for Domains at War, a project we have in hand but don't have the money to produce. I fully understand that people who feel burned by Dwimmermount may feel like we're rubbing salt in their wounds if we take money for another project while this one remains unfinished. It may help to explain that Autarch is divided between two cities, NYC and Durham, with accordingly separate resources. As I've been spending time on Dwimmermount things like writing these updates, the Durham crew - with the assistance of many volunteer readers and playtesters - has been finishing the Domains at War manuscript. It's now at the point where the only thing it needs to be finished is funding for illustration, layout, printing, and shipping. Domains at War is a key piece of what we created Autarch to do, and I'm confident that by supporting our growth its Kickstarter will enhance rather than detract from our ability to deliver the rewards we've promised our Dwimmermount backers.

One of the bonus goals we proposed for the Dwimmermount Kickstarter was a scenario for Domains at War that would use its mass-combat system to play out the ancient battles between the Thulians and Red Elves seen in pedestal-visions on the Path of Mavors. We didn't reach that funding level originally, but as a token of our continuing dedication to doing right by our Dwimmermount backers we'd like to offer you this bonus goal as part of our Domains at War launch. The essential rules for mass combat in D@W, similar to the War Machine in the Rules Compendium, will be released for free. Your enjoyment of this Dwimmermount-exclusive scenario won't depend on your having to buy Autarch's new thing, because that would be lame.

There's a Jack Vance story in which Cugel is lured into a monster's cave and can only escape by tricking other people to enter. I really don't want Autarch's continuing use of Kickstarter to be this kind of situation, so I need your help to avoid such a fate: Cugel may be clever but every GM knows that many heads are easily able to outwit one. In the comments to this update, and at the Mages of the Mountain community, please help me identify the flaws in what seems to me like a good idea so that we can fix them and move forward together.


  1. Man, this whole thing reeks of desperation, and is fairly depressing. "Since we can no longer say whether this project will right itself, let's do what we can for the original backers to mitigate the damage..." It's born from a position of integrity; but the subtext - that salvage measures are necessary - is the depressing bit. Maybe Tavis isn't breaking out the "dearly beloved..." speech yet, but it sure seems like he's tallying the funeral costs.

    It was bound to happen - a high profile OSR kickstarter would drive off a cliff.

    I would still like to see Autarch move forward with their own stuff (soon); folks that like the ACKS game aren't going to hold the Dwimmermount joint-venture against the company. Okay - that's speaking for myself - I've been paying attention; at this point, I get it. I'm looking forward to Domains at War and the Auran Empire stuff, and seeing them put some pavement in the rear view mirror.

    1. The Dwimmermount (perpetual?) delay is a bummer, to be sure, but I too hope that Autarch carries on and keeps making great stuff for ACKS and other projects.

    2. Well, it wasn't OSR (at least originally), but the same thing happened with that Razor Coast thing. Guy took a bunch of pre-orders, never shipping it, then a while later for some reason Frog God decided to do a Kickstarter and asked everyone to pay 3x the amount it should cost (well, 2x, since Frog God books are super-expensive) so they could fulfill the older orders.

      And people lapped it up.

    3. Tavis seems to be a man of high integrity and limited wisdom. I guess for future Kickstarters the message is that he won't deliberately rip you off, but check the small print in case he's left it open for someone else such as an artist or author to rip you off. Hopefully he will not again put himself in a position where he has no control of the IP(!) of the Kickstarter he is running, but you had better check.

  2. I've neither the time nor the unlimited internet download needed to watch a 45 minute YT clip, so the summary is much appreciated, thanks Erik.

  3. "There's a Jack Vance story in which Cugel is lured into a monster's cave and can only escape by tricking other people to enter"

    I appreciate the self-awareness, and no one can now say they weren't warned!
    If I had backed this or any of the non-delivering, non-refunding kickstarters I'd be absolutely furious. I'm surprised more people don't take legal action.