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Monday, June 1, 2015

Guest Poster - The Frugal GM - As The d20 (Entertainment) Spins - Wayward Kickstarter

As most of you folks know, The Tavern is open to to guest posters. Send me an email using the contact form to the right of this post with your elevator pitch. Today's guest post is from Christopher Stogdill, the Frugal GM. It's topic - d20 Entertainment / Ken Whitman. There is much more to this story. Hopefully in the coming weeks, Chris or I will be able to expand on what it here.

Greetings Tavern,

My name is  +Christopher Stogdill and like Erik, I try to give back some to the RPG community at-large through my blog and some other writing/design efforts under the “Frugal GM” banner. I try to get in on the Tavern Chats and have been fortunate enough to be able to contribute here or there elsewhere. For a couple of months I’ve been doing my best keeping Erik apprised of the general fuckery that has become the Knights of the Dinner Table: Live Action Series (KoDT: LAS) Kickstarter. I’d hoped he would use his site as an additional forum to highlight this “issue”. Although he’s aware of what is going on in general, and I’m sure on some of the specifics, he’s been reluctant to do so for some very good reasons, primarily because his information is second-hand. I don’t have that problem….not the willingness to use second-hand info, but because I have 1st hand info. I get his point loud and clear and the more I think about it, I cannot come right out with everything I know because I’m certain some of it was told to me in confidence.

A quick background: I was quite active with the HackMaster Association and while I was just a rabid fanboy I’ve generally come to consider the D-Team (Kenzer & Company Development Team) friends. Through volunteering and just straight-up social visits I’ve gotten opportunities to develop actual relationships with these people that at one time were stronger than those with my immediate family. I could try to “prove” this connection somehow, but it is one of the things you’ll just have to take my word for it.

Another thing you’ll have to take my word on, and I think it is a fair bet to say this is a general assumption, is that the publicly-viewable problems are the tip of the shitberg, er…I mean iceberg. As much as I’d like to type out, “..and this happened to Barb, or some such” I’ll point out only what has happened to me & the Mrs. and what you can easily read for yourself online. I’m sure I’ll miss stuff, which just adds credence to the sh…iceberg analogy.

The basic facts are that Ken Whitman of d20 Entertainment started what ended up being a series of Kickstarters with the KoDT: LAS Kickstarter than ended on February 5th, 2014 with 795 backers coughing up $69,525. My wife backed the “GEN CON 2015 THEATRICAL PREMERE & AFTER PARTY PACKAGE” at $450 which was promised this:
1.            Blu-ray DVD of the KODT:LAS with bloopers and extras
2.            Ability to download a 480p .mp4 of the KODT:LAS series after the “theatrical debut”
3.            Thank You in the movie credits
4.            24” x 36” print of the movie poster painted by Larry Elmore
5.            Hardback Limited Edition Book (KoDT: 20 Years of Covers)
6.            2 Tickets to the “world premier” of the KoDT Live Action Series at GenCon2015
7.            Question & Answer session with the D-Team and KODT: LAS Actors
8.            Hang out at the After Party with the D-Team and KODT:LAS Actors

Now obviously I cannot really get into items #1-3 because the “movie” isn’t out yet, I can speak a bit to items #4-8. Remember, all of this is pretty much publicly available knowledge except for any “this happened to us” input.

Item #4.               24” x 36” print of the movie poster painted by Larry Elmore
One of the lower tiers of pledges states the KODT: LAS DVD will “feature” cover art by Larry Elmore, but pledges at level $100 or higher, like mine, are to receive a “print of the KoDT 24” x 36” movie poster”. According to d20 Entertainment’s comment dated May 21, 2015 “The Elmore Movie Poster will come out ON the DVD itself in Mid August!” If I buy a “print”, I’m expecting an appropriately-sized piece of paper with art on it, not a digital file.

Item #5.               Hardback Limited Edition Book (KoDT: 20 Years of Covers) (review of the Limited Edition is here)
Backers pledging above the $200 were to “receive a FREE copy of the Hardback Limited Edition Book!!!” The content of this book wasn’t quite what it was described to be, but like the basic format of the KODT:LAS, I understand that some allowances have to made for a product that is in the process of creation. What is not acceptable is the “misleading, or inaccurate” content regarding this book. I ascertain that d20 Entertainment was deceptive and dishonest about the fundamental nature of this “limited edition” book. 1st the KODT:LAS kickstarter page clearly states, “IT IS ONLY AVAILABLE ON KICKSTARTER. AFTER FEBRUARY 5th, YOU WONT BE ABLE TO GET THIS BOOK.”, which is patently false since you have been able to buy a copy of this book directly from d20 Entertainment even as late as this morning, more than two years after the Kickstarter completion. d20 Entertainment also claims that “Just 250 copies of this beautiful book will be available in Hardcover”, which is also false since they printed and extra 25 copies as part of the author’s payment and they created another hardcover version of 50 copies (at $250 each) not listed on the Kickstarter, but available on their website.

Item #6.               2 Tickets to the “world premier” of the KoDT Live Action Series at GenCon2015
As of today I have not received any tickets for this event from d20 Entertainment. Since the end of the Kickstarter d20 Entertainment has been selling “premium” seating for the 1st two rows of the “premier” showing. My wife has inquired about this on several occasions and has yet to get a direct response from d20 Entertainment. Today there was some mention that they’ve updated their website to accommodate this, but frankly, for the huge premium, we should be jumping through hoops 60 days out form the event.

In addition to the issue with tickets, it has come to my attention, via d20 Entertainment’s posts on the subject, that this initial GenCon showing will in fact not be the premier for at least one of the episodes, which significantly dilutes the pledge package I bought into, “Episode Two will premiere on line in June 25th Where? Two locations! On line, and ready to download for backers AND the the nexus game fair in Milwaukee. Jolly and the D-Team will be on hand to talk to you about the episode and all HACKMASTER PRODUCT. If you are interested in attending log on to http://www.nexusgamefair.com.”

Item #7.               Question & Answer session with the D-Team and KODT: LAS Actors
It has also come to my attention, via a post from one of the KODT:LAS producers that the actors have largely not been contacted (as of May 24, 2015) about attending either the “world premier” and the Q&A, or the after-party.

Item #8.               Hang out at the After Party with the D-Team and KODT:LAS Actors
As far as the KODT: LAS Kickstarter pledge levels go, this is the one item that distinguishes my original $450 pledge level from the original $150 pledge level. There are several issues with this after-party that rise to the level of “taking action you know is false or misleading”. First we have the aforementioned unknown status of the actors, much less the complete cast, being able to attend GenCon. Second is the simple fact that for $40 I could essentially purchase attendance to this party which I already paid an additional $300 for! In one of the comments to another backer d20 Entertainment stated, “Throwing a party at gen con is an added expense. Not promised in our Kickstarter.” This in and off itself is a falsehood because that is the differentiation between my $450 pledge level and the $150 pledge level. Either d20 blatantly lied about their intent to throw an after-party when creating the Kickstarter, or are lying now during their attempt to elicit and additional funds to throw one of three parties at GenCon.

So basically we’ve spent an extra $300 (that’s $150 for each of us) on what? That’s an injury if I’ve ever seen one…and Ken’s incessant spamming is just adding insult to injury. Now to be fair, Ken’s email and social media “marketing” may have slowed down or stopped, but I wouldn’t know because the only relief I could get was to block, de-friend, unsubscribe to everything I could.

There are already too-numerous-to-list complaints regarding unwanted solicitations regarding other d20 Entertainment KS projects using the KODT: LAS pledge list (just read the comments in the KoDT: LAS Kickstarter), d20 Entertainment used the KODT:LAS project to promote the Traveller Kickstarter on May 9, 2014 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/838878); May 15 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/844526); May 23 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/851667); Jun 1 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/862367); August 13 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/952173); January 5, 2015 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/1099566). The KODT:LAS update feed and email list was also used for promotion of the Dice O’Matic Kickstarter on July 4, 2014 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/900252) and even the Castle & Crusades Kickstarter on October 3, 2014 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/1006805) & November 2, 2014 (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/d20e/kodt-live-action-series/posts/1021668). At one point d20 Entertainment’s own Ken Whitman comments, “For those of you receiving KODT: LAS shirts, Hackerjack boxes, etc. Please e-mail me with photos so I can spam the other members with your happy faces! :-) -Ken Whitman” Later he even goes to defend the use of SPAM as an appropriate business activity, even though it clearly violates the TOS, “@ RevChewie I am sorry thats our business model does not work for you. If there is anything I can do for you, please send me a personal e-mail at sales@d20entertainment.com. -Ken Whitman

The over-arching theme of this KODT:LAS Kickstarter has been manipulating fans of the Knights of the Dinner Table into giving d20 Entertainment as much money as possible with no clear intention to fulfill all of the promises made to backers. The recent attempts by d20 Entertainment to solicit more funds from current backers and GenCon attendees at best is diluting my pledge package by $300 and at worst is outright fraud since d20 Entertainment has demonstrated their inability or unwillingness to full pledge packages as outlined in the Kickstarter.

Ken Whitman/d20 Entertainment agreed to a specific set of rules when they started their Kickstarter binge, outlined in the applicable Terms of Service TOS, dated October 2012. The specific rule(s) that have not been complied with are (emphasis mine):

“You shall not, and shall not permit any third party using your account to, take any action, or Submit Content, that: infringes any patent, trademark, trade secret, copyright, right of publicity, or other right of any other person or entity, or violates any law or contract; you know is false, misleading, or inaccurate; is unlawful, threatening, abusive, harassing, defamatory, libelous, deceptive, fraudulent, tortious, obscene, offensive, profane, or invasive of another's privacy; constitutes unsolicited or unauthorized advertising or promotional material or any junk mail, spam, or chain letters;”

The majority of these rewards are not scheduled to arrive until August 2015, but it has become evident from the publicly-viewable comments for KODT: LAS that a) d20 Entertainment has knowingly and willfully taken action widely considered to be “unsolicited or unauthorized advertising or promotional material or junk mail” and b) has “taken any action, or submit(ted) content….you know is false, misleading, or inaccurate”.

But hey, don’t take MY word for it……

11 comments:

  1. That certainly sucks that you have been taken for a ride.

    I didn't know Knights of the Dinner Table was still a thing. I have the first 20 or 30 issues. I hope the actual folks behind KoDT have nothing to do with the Kickstarter.

    I really can't imagine a live action version of those characters.

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    1. They had a lot to do with the Kickstarter, or at least the "movie." However, they have always championed the readers/funders. D20Entertainment is still the producer and the one responsible for the Kickstarter and fulfilling rewards.

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    2. The Kickstarter was a licensed thing, so while they have had a ton of input on the creative side of things, and helped to get the KS funded, actual production or anything of substance regarding fulfillment, not so much.

      Jolly Blackburn has been championing for the backers pretty much since day one, but there is only so much he can do until d20 Entertainment breaches the contract. That'll probably sic DSK on them.....

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  2. I hadn't even thought of that. Kenzer is a lawyer. Nice.

    Also, last time this came up at the Tavern, we got Jolly to chime in IIRC.

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  3. http://www.tenkarstavern.com/2015/03/kickstarter-from-folks-that-brought-you.html?m=1

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  4. Item #8 in Frugal GM's list seems a tad premature. It does sound like it's revving up to be an overpriced ticket for him and a bargain for those who waited....but given it hasn't happened yet it seems.....premature.

    Honestly though, it sounds like this is a KS that's producing what it intended, but was misleading or misrepresenting what each level offered...would that be a fair characterization? I have to say, if that's the case it's still twice the KS that most of the other terrible ones are (cough Far West).

    If the quote from KS is right then I think most of the KSes I've backed have gone on to violate those terms, unless something somewhere green light's cross promotion that I haven't seen.

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    1. The bit about item #8 isn't that it hasn't happened, but that this event which was a HUGE backer level bump, was made available at a huge discount to....well, anyone. You could go and buy for $150 what we paid $450 for, and we don't even have tickets for everything! I'm not counting the covers book since that was add after we made the pledge.

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  5. As one of the actors involved in KoDT, I can confirm that I haven't gotten any real information on GenCon. I'm also good friends with a good portion of the rest of the cast, and haven't heard anything from them about getting any news on that front, either. While I'm sure most of us would love to come out, at this point it would be for the sake of the backers, not Ken. I can't speak for the entire cast, but about half of it was made up of actors Ken had worked with at a local theater, and all of them that I've spoken to had trouble with getting paid, some not getting their money for six months or more, and some not at all. Again, I don't represent the entire cast, but I would have been happy to help with the project for free if he had been honest up-front and said he just couldn't afford to pay, but the way he's treated me and my (and supposedly his) friends just guarantees I won't be involved in any more of his projects.

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  6. A related site full of memes on the subject...

    http://dontfundkenwhitman.blogspot.com

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  7. @midnight_phoenix All the actors have been paid. Thats is just not factual.

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    1. Unless something has changed in the past week, no, they haven't. I have far more reason to trust my sources than you.

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