Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Dwimmermount Project Update #47: Domains at War, Discounts, and Possible Resolutions

I'll save my personal comments for the end of this post:


What's the current status of the Dwimmermount project? 
Dwimmermount’s creator James Maliszewski signed a contract with Autarch that transferred the money we raised on Kickstarter and the responsibility for delivering the promised rewards to him. We understand that James is grieving for his father, but we have to confront the fact that he is currently not living up to this responsibility and discuss what Autarch can do for backers to make good on our own responsibility to you.

When will rewards be delivered?
When Autarch started talking with James about helping him use crowdfunding to publish his megadungeon, he told us to set the estimated delivery dates as June 2012 for the PDF and August for the physical items. After it was clear he would not be able to meet his original date, I worked with him to project a revised schedule for delivery of the PDF in March 2013 with hardcovers due in April. We agreed on a structure of weekly conference calls to create accountability and transparency for his progress toward that goal. As of today, it has been three months since James has taken part in these conference calls. The March date is now past and it has not been possible to establish a new schedule because James has been avoiding direct communication with us since his last email on 12/19/12. We still have faith that his honor and integrity will lead him to address his responsibilities on this project, but we can’t predict when that will be.

What is Autarch doing to make things right for the project’s backers?
We understand that what you’d most like to have is the Dwimmermount rewards you selected in exchange for pledging to this Kickstarter. Fulfilling the key rewards depends on James, but there are many good options he could take to complete the project with little further effort on his part. Autarch's role at this point is to keep making progress on those areas we can without James, while continuing to make efforts to communcate with him. The goals of this communication will to be sure he understands his options, the urgency of taking action, and the potential consequences of inaction.

We also understand that you would have liked to have these rewards on the date they were promised to you. Since that’s no longer possible, we recognize the need for restitution. I’ll discuss how we’ll be doing that below.

Ongoing Efforts

In update #45, Autarch decided to give the backers a bonus goal we didn’t reach in the original campaign, a mass-combat scenario for Dwimmermount using our Domains at War rules. The first installment toward that goal – a look at how the fortress of Muntburg could resist a siege if the denizens of the mega-dungeon rose up against it – is now available for download at this link if you’re a backer with an Autarch account configured for access or through the webform. The scenario will be playable with the Domains at War starter edition, which is free for anyone to download at this link.

Working on the Domains at War scenario has also generated progress on an aspect of the basic Dwimmermount project that can be worked on in James’ absence, the Adventurer Conqueror King System conversion. The ACKS spreadsheet has been updated to include information on Muntburg’s garrison and economics, as well as corrected stronghold construction values; it’s available to backers at this link or via webform.

Autarch Discount Offer

As a further way to make things right, Autarch is planning to give Dwimmermount backers a discount on any of our products based on the value of your pledge to this Kickstarter. You’ll be able to use this discount on our existing Adventurer Conqueror King System and ACKS Player’s Companion in PDF or hardback; apply it to any of the reward levels in our upcoming Domains at War campaign; or use it for the Auran Empire Campaign Setting or any of the other releases we have in the pipeline, which we’ll let you know about ahead of their release. We started Autarch to create cool stuff for your gaming table, and want this offer to be a way to get back to doing what we love.

We know that because many of you already have everything Autarch has put out so far, or contributed more to Dwimmermount than we currently have to give you in return, you may need to wait to take full advantage of this offer. To make up for that delay we’d like to give you twice as much in discounts as your original pledge, rounded up. If you put in $25, you’ll get coupons worth $50; if you were in for $132, you’ll get $270 in coupons. We’re expecting to get these to backers via individual email by the end of the month, after taking some time to answer questions about the plan and make adjustments based on your feedback or factors we haven’t considered yet.

Each coupon will be redeemable for a $10 discount. Initially, we’re going to limit it to one coupon per product. Planning to cover costs as a publisher is always difficult, and we need to keep the coupons from being an unpredictable factor that breaks the bank. Knowing that each single product won’t be discounted for more than $10 lets us be certain we can afford to honor this offer. Once a project reaches the point where we can replace projections with real numbers, we may be able to accept more of your coupons for the specific thing you want. If it turns out we’ve got nothing on the shelves or on the slate that interests you, you’ll be able to trade or sell your coupons to other people looking to get a good deal on Autarch’s current and future catalog.

Using these coupons in no way affects your right to receive the Dwimmermount rewards you pledged for. Fulfilling those is James’ responsibility, and only he has the funds to do so or to offer a refund if he can’t. We remain eager to help him do that. Autarch is not washing our hands of this project, just making the discount offer as something we can do for the backers with our own resources.

Potential Next Steps 

Many of us have experienced how grief and stress can make it difficult to muster any sustained mental effort. Fortunately, James has a range of options that would quickly restart progress on fulfilling the Dwimmermount rewards.

His work in writing the draft is done, and from our weekly conversations I have a good understanding of his vision of how the draft should be developed and polished into a final product. If he transferred the remaining funds to Autarch and licensed us the copyright to Dwimmermount’s text and art, I’m confident we could complete and release his megadungeon in a form he could be proud of, incorporating as much or as little of his further effort as he wants to invest. We’ve made this offer to James and prepared a simple contract that we think requires little review or discussion.

If he mistrusts his own judgement under his current circumstances, he could just as quickly appoint a trusted representative who could take all the time necessary to negotiate an arrangement that addressed James’ interests and concerns.

If James doesn't want to work with Autarch for whatever reason, I’ve offered to put him in contact with other publishers wanting to pursue a similar transfer of funds and copyright so that they could release the rewards.

If he wants to release Dwimmermount through his own Grognardia Games, James could minimize the weight on his shoulders by hiring an editor, developer, and/or project manager – or accepting the help of volunteers like myself - who could keep the delivery of the Kickstarter rewards on track.

Why Hasn't James Taken Action On These Options?

Speaking plainly, when people do things that hurt themselves and others and contradict their normal values we say they are out of their mind. When we add that someone is out of their mind with grief or out of their mind with stress, it helps us understand and sympathize with where they’re coming from while still recognizing that they are being irrational. We can also use the opposite language to talk about when people have been or will be in their right mind.

In the period of taking stock after James stopped returning my calls or emails, it became clear that he never paid cartographers Rob Conley and Chris Hagerty for their freelance contributions to Dwimmermount. Rob's maps were completed in the fall of 2012, Chris's in December. James' failure to pay artists for their work harms them and their families; harms his reputation and ability to undertake future projects; and goes against the values he demonstrated when we started planning this project.

All of us had worked as freelancers, although he had a much longer list of credits than everyone else put together and had even worked for Alex before in his role as publisher of the Escapist. That went smoothly, but every freelancer hears about or encounters jobs that don’t. Prior to launch, I recommended that James should commission some art done to use in the campaign. He was concerned that commissioning work before the money was there could lead to artists not getting paid, so I fronted their payment out of pocket in the confidence that the campaign would be successful, and he repaid me personally once he had the funds from Autarch.

The James I knew then was concerned with making sure fellow freelancers were treated well. I feel it's not like him to withhold payment from his artists indefinitely, given that he has the backers' funds in hand and a mandate to turn it into awesome stuff to give to them in return. When I say that I trust in his honor and integrity, I mean that sooner or later James will be in his right mind again and will do the right thing.

Over the last three months Autarch has been seeking advice from other publishers, lawyers, gamers, and friends; we're lucky to know some people who are all of these at once! Based on this input, we believe that the best next step is for me to visit James and see if meeting in person will help resolve the impasse.

As always, we welcome your feedback and input. In addition to leaving comments and sending messages through the Kickstarter site, you can request an invitation to the Mages of the Mountain community on G+ if you're not already a member; send me an email at tavis@autarch.co; or call me at (917) 749-6938. I will be leaving for GaryCon tonight, and although I may get the chance to talk to some of you there I may not respond to online communication until after the weekend. If you'd like to send a letter to James, you can mail it to me at Tavis Allison , 541 W. 113th St. #2E , New York, NY 10025  and I will forward it to him unopened:



Alright, back to me.

We are nearly 3 months without direct communication from James. While each week that passes leaves me with lowered expectations for a successful Dwimermount completion with James' actual further involvement,  I'm more concerned with James' mental and physical health. Shutting oneself off from responsibilities for this length of time is not in the nature of James Mal. Not paying freelancers that completed artwork is surprising as all hell, and some work was obviously submitted before James shut himself off from the outside world. The longer he shuts out the outside world, the deeper his personal darkness must be.

Hopefully, James decides the right thing to do is to sign over the project to someone that can complete it successfully. I suspect James' is running on empty and was experiencing a lessened desire to work on this project even before he shut himself off. No shame in admitting that real life has thrown some bad shit his way and he desperately needs help to get Dwimmermount completed.

As for the coupons... nice try Tavis, but I'd rather see this project get completed than get $10 off my next 27 purchases from Autarch. That's about 10 - 15 years worth of releases ;)


  1. to flee judgement is an admission of guilt
    ... my sympathy is exhausted .....

    "If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength!" Pro 24:10

    1. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone - someplace in the bible ;)

      All I'm saying is James should take a long, hard look at himself, admit that he has too much to carry on his own and turn this project over to those that can complete it in a satisfying manner

  2. I actually would guess the money is gone.

    I mean, Dwimmermount is done - he just needs to do the layout and put the art in and then print it. He could easily have gotten someone to do it for him, IMHO.

    But perhaps he can't afford to get it printed (or pay off the cartographers or Tavis back for the artists...

  3. I want to send a very large "Thank You!" to Tavis. His efforts to date to keep the backers of this project as informed as possible have been superb, and I can't see that he's seen a dime for all the time he's invested in doing so. The fact that he's offering discounts on future projects to Dwimmermount backers whether we see this Kickstarter come through or not is also a very classy move.

    I wish Tavis all possible luck in meeting with James in person. I think Autarch's products have been superb to date and I'd love to see Tavis take over this project altogether. If he can manage that feat, I have little doubt that we'll end up with a great product.

  4. I am one of the backers at the $100 level and at the time, it was the most amount of money I had ever pledged to a Kickstarter. While I appreciate everything Tavis has done to keep us up to date, I agree that the coupons are not really doing anything for me either. Personally, I don't believe this project will advance any further than it has at the moment (and I will apologize if it does) but if anything good comes out of this, Tavis might be able to write up a primer for some other companies about his experiences with this Kickstarter and how not to make the same mistakes in the future.

    Eric, thank you for your updates on all of the behind Kickstarters (here is still looking at Far West and Steampunk Musha in particular) and I hope your semi-regular updates continue.

    1. My wife earlier tonight referred to Far West as "Far Nothing"

      We are in at the portait level there.

      The shame is that one of the biggest defenders of this late Kickstarter has an even later Kickstarter...

  5. I believe that when people are struck by tragedy their behavior reveals their true character. I gave $60 to this kickstarter and I feel like I've been cheated by an irresponsible man who is either making excuses or would rather wallow in misery than face his responsibilities.

    Three months with no contact?! Freelance artists haven't been paid?! Still no sign of a return on our collective investment?!
    No. At this point, my sympathy is gone. The only thing he can do to redeem himself would be to apologize for the delay and get back to work.

  6. Agreed coupons just seem like desperation.

    Keep to the task at hand: Dwimmermount.

  7. Inexcusable. Those two artists did the work, gave James the artwork, James had the money...and he did not pay them. It takes all of 10 minutes to transfer money these days. Even with crushing emotional and/or physical disabilities not taking 10 minutes over a 6+ month period to pay a debt on this level is just plain wrong.

    The thing I got from the original letter is that James took the money and ran.

  8. I can appreciate what Tavis is trying to do here; making the best of a situation he has no control over, but the time for giving James a pass is over.

    Look. I know writing this stuff is hard. I know dealing with a death in the family is hard too. But 40k is still enough for a full time job and if you were at a full time job you would have been back to work after leave.

    I am probably going to get skewered for this (or have it brought up if I am ever late on something) but James is dire breach of contract and people need to stop saying "poor Jim" and start saying "pony up the project or give me my money back now."

    If you want to be treated like serious professional then you need to act like one. ESPECIALLY when things are not going well for you.

    1. I agree, but it seems that Mal's contract was with Autarch - he didn't run the Kickstarter and does not seem to have a contract with the backers.

    2. $48,756, to be precise.

      Agreed. I'm far beyond the "poor Jim" phase.

    3. Tim - the usual defenders (ie - other extremely late Kickstarter folks) will skewer you for the comments ;)

  9. having spent time clinically depressed myself, I would not be surprised that with each passing week it is getting harder for James to face the failings he sees in himself.. talk about father issues. He may be functioning in other areas of his life but feel that he has completely burned out his credibility in gaming. That would be a loss to the community for sure.

    But I don't know James so that's just my own experience being projected.

    If/when James comes through (and I hope he does), I would urge the community to assist him in meeting his obligations, see that he meets his obligations, then accept him back and move on. He is likely kicking himself harder than we ever could.

    1. According to Tavis, all JM would have to do is license his copyrights and the project could be completed. He doesn't actually have to do any work.

      I guess if he reappears and apologises he could be accepted back. RPGers tend to be pretty forgiving.

  10. I know Tavis didn't expect to get screwed over like this, but the fact is that it was his company that ran the Kickstarter - it is actually his company that is in breach of contract with the backers, and theoretically liable to them in court. He made some incredibly bad business decisions here. Obviously he's doing his best and I expect people are cutting him a lot of slack, but the way he set it up was extremely foolish.

    1. I'm willing to cut a foolish man who tries to repair his foolish choices much more than a man who just up and leaves without even a "sorry, can't finish but I'll let you carry on" when things are tough.

      As has been pointed out $48k is a full time salary. Even assuming money to print and cover the add ons is 5/6ths of the cash, $8,000 is 2+ months salary in the US prior to taxes. I lost my father last year and despite generous leave policies I took 12 days off combining a last week in the hospital and funeral. Yes, my work was off for several months but I was still at work every day. Perhaps more creative duties, as opposed to routine tasks, were covered more by other team members but my day to day routines were getting done.

      Paying freelancers and saying, "I can handle this but I can pass it to you so it gets done" are 1-3 days of work total. Even if we let James have two months leave they should have been done a week ago.

      Also, the freelancers were done prior to the communications cut off. The failure to pay revelation has pushed me over the "poor James" edge to the "what a fuck-up" position.

    2. "I'm willing to cut a foolish man who tries to repair his foolish choices much more than a man who just up and leaves without even a "sorry, can't finish but I'll let you carry on" when things are tough."

      Oh, definitely - agree 100%.


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