Thursday, March 28, 2019

A Critical Look at the Ernest Gary Gygax Jr.'s Marmoreal Tomb Campaign Starter Kickstarter

Kickstarter has changed over the years. What was considered acceptable project preparation at the time Far West kickstarted in 2011 (ideas and dreams over a written project before launch) is no longer acceptable by the Kickstarter Community. Ernest Gary Gygax Jr.'s Marmoreal Tomb Campaign Starter Kickstarter (hereafter referred to as the Marmoreal Tomb) fell into the "ideas and dreams" when it launched and by many measurements, hasn't progressed much over the few years.

The Marmoreal Tomb funded on September 2, 2015. It was expected to ship in March of 2016. It basically had 7 months after funding to complete, print and ship. Not by any stretch of the imagination was it a realistic turnaround for a project that was not written when the project launched.

As a side note, right after this funded, in November of 2015, Gail Gygax offered me dirt on The Marmoreal Tomb and I declined to receive it, suspecting it was offered to encourage me to cease digging into the GMF. Heh. I probably should have listened ;)

Let's look at stretch goals. 31 stretch goals were hit. Additional content was offered, as was an in print GM screen. Not just time sinks here, but money sinks too.

How about the funding? 1284 backers for a total of $126,109 USC. The average backer is in for $98.22. Of that total, approximately 15% goes to payment processing and Kickstarter itself. So, about $107k was left before taxes. My understanding is taxes are paid the year money comes in and there were little of any expenses up front to offset the income. We'll lowball and say 15% for taxes leaving the LLC with approximately $91k, which is roughly the amount I saw on the bank statement that Ernie showed me at Gary Con in 2017. According to Ernie's latest update "the funds... sit at about 78K now (lots of art and other original business expenses, as well as an expensive worthless accountant to start with)."

Remember, the number you see on Kickstarter after funding completes is not what the creator walks away with.

Now let's look at how the Marmoreal Tomb updates. Simply put, it's poorly updated. But why, you might say, as Benoist is often posting about it on Facebook? Simply because the method of updating backers is expected to be on Kickstarter, according to Kickstarter's own terms.

Throughout your project, you’ll be communicating with backers and keeping them informed of your progress. Project updates, your spotlight page, Kickstarter Live, and our messaging system will help you keep backers in the loop.
Facebook is not the proper venue to post project updates at the exclusion of Kickstarter itself. Not all of your backers will be on Facebook and many of those that are will not know to look there. If I can point out one of the larger failures of this project, its lack of proper communication with backers, who on average, invested 100 bucks each to see this project come to life.

Then there was the latest update made via Kickstarter. I've read comments that it is tone deaf. I simply find it disrespectful to the backers on a whole.

I'll repost it below:
No Amount of Outside Energy Will Speed This Up 
Posted by Ernest Gary Gygax Jr (Creator)   
As of this time the whole project status is waiting for Benoist to complete the writing of the creations we generated together. Then he will pass them on to me and days later we will on video chat finish cleaning the material up. He has no desire to hear or see any comments on the KS page since it fires him up to defend the LATE status instead of working on it at all. He is a finicky artist and will not release parts of anything until it is completed. 
He does not have access to the funds and they sit at about 78K now (lots of art and other original business expenses, as well as an expensive worthless accountant to start with). As soon as the project fulfills I will be closing down the LLC and Ben somehow wishes to keep a company somehow, I do not.  
I playtested the Marmoreal Tomb on three of the four games I ran at Gary Con XI and I will be running some more games at NTRPG con in June. I don't have the finished level 2 or the level 3 Caves of Chaos although some of the monsters and ideas I generated for them are lots of fun and Mark Allen has a fantastic bit of art on my favorite creature of Chaos. 
I don't respond to these statements for the same reason I don't get into blogs and all that. If you want to talk to me about something send me a facebook message: Ernest Gary Gygax Jr
In summary - we won't communicate via Kickstarter because we don't like negative feedback on our lateness. On Facebook we can control negative feedback. Ben has to finish writing (and mapping) the ideas we brainstormed together. Levels 2 and 3 aren't complete yet.

Yeah, the attitude is piss poor in that update. But hey, first update since July of 2018.

I think what we have is two individuals that went into this project we excitement and ideas and very little practical knowledge of the amount of work that would go into a project of this size (because stretch goals did not help). Did I mention the increased cost to ship the completed project to backers which is now three years late? Yeah, that will be another bite in the ass.

Little if anything was written at launch. Unrealistic estimated shipping date. A rabbit hole full of stretch goals. This should have had warning signs on it from the start.

I suspect it will fulfill to some extent at some point. We are not dealing with Ken or Gareth. We have two individuals that had good intentions, unrealistic expectations, and a very poor ability to contain an ever-expanding project. We don't need perfection as consumers, we need a completed project that comes close in value to what we backed for. Hopefully, we get there, sooner than later.


  1. I think you are being charitable here because people want to think the best of Ernie. I see another immature, inexperienced nerd with a ton of self-imposed personal problems screwing up and taking a significant amount of money in the process. There's also no mention of Benoist's unbelievable arrogance and rudeness and his habit of blocking anyone on Facebook who is even mildly critical or ready to challenge him.

    Instead of doing what he is supposed to do - work on the project - Benoist is on Facebook constantly, spinning and spouting more craziness. Ernie was supposed to do a whole set of these projects - now he is walking away from ever doing any more because he is so upset at the results of his own incompetence and immaturity.

  2. Here’s the problem that no-one seems to talk about when discussing this mess. They straight up lied in order to get funded!

    From their KS page:

    “The game design phase is complete. The Main Module is entirely written and the two Expansion Packs entirely outlined. All the maps are done, and we have some entirely new art from fantasy artist Mark Allen as you can see here. We will soon move into production and will need professional editing, layout, as well as additional art to make this whole Marmoreal Tomb Campaign Starter all it can be for your game table. “

    The main module is entirely written. All they need is layout and art. That is their words.

    From one of the rare updates we have received on KS, dated April 2018, Benoist wrote this:

    “It was always my intention to post a full blown update when the writing of the Marmoreal Tomb's main module would be over and done with. We are now very close to it being finally done.”

    Years later and the main module, which was already supposedly written prior to the launch of the KS, is *almost* done and now we are in 2019 and guess what? Still.not.done.

    They lied to get backers. This was fraud, plain and simple.

    1. I had thought the module was written, but only for one edition....the book promised to be Pathfinder, OGS, 5e and possibly other systems as well.

    2. This seems a textbook case. I've done two KS campaigns. One successful; one not. I have a ton of respect for people who attempt it because it is a lot of work. It's good fun work but not what most people, who don't do their homework (?), think. And stretch goals...don't get me started. If you don't really calculate it, they'll kill you.

  3. Hmmm. Supported on Kickstarter. Updates are delivered via Facebook.

    Does this mean my comments on the updates should be posted on a third platform? Their responses will be on a fourth? Do we have enough platforms out there for a long thread?

    -- An in for $191 based upon the Gygax name backer

  4. I'm saddened by the Marmoreal Tomb project. When I first read about it I was very excited. It brought back the feel of the rose-colored good old days gaming with my friends in the basement while ignoring our homework. I considered pledging, but instead chose to give that money to a friend of mine struggling with medical bills, and I'm glad I did.

    But don't get me wrong. When they actually publish the thing, I'm likely to buy it.

  5. Unfortunately, I just want out. I have other things to do with the money now.

  6. I got lucky and Benoist refunded me. And oddly enough, hasn’t blocked me.
    I’m glad I got out. I would love to see this right itself. I’ve run 7 and fulfilled 6 (the 7th will fulfill in. 4-6 weeks) smaller (~32 page each) projects on Kickstarter since this funded. All of mine launched fully written and 80% edited. They were at the point, at launch, where another could finish them if I were stuck down.

    I think this is the only logical way to run a project.

    I don’t have a name to trade on or a huge audience, but I haven’t generated this much hate from my backers either.

  7. I backed this 100% because it was something done by Ernie. It has the Gygax name and I wanted to be a part of it.

    I still do.

    But I'm really tired of waiting. If it completes and something is offered in the future, I will not back it.

    they could have had me for $100 a year on an indefinite basis. I think you are being generous in your evaluation.

  8. Imagine getting your big shot to put out a single for the radio and make a name for yourself, but you sit in the middle of the studio, on the floor, during pre-production, and tell everyone you're not leaving until allowed to finish an entire prog rock concept album.

    And thinking this will go over well with everyone else involved because you're sure it will be a great prog album. Someday.

  9. The preference for communicating on Facebook seems odd. I'm not on Facebook. Does it allow more blocking/banning/editing of comments than Kickstarter? If so, that may be why Facebook is preferred: being able to avoid a bunch of negative comments/feedback.

    1. Kickstarter updates get emailed to backers as well as in a news feed for Kickstarter, so updates on the platform are the best way to reach backups. HJB notes below some of the drawbacks to depending on Facebook for news updates on a Kickstarter.

      Kickstarter also allows anybody who backs a project to freely comment. The owners of the project can't alter this normally. They can file a request to KS admins to delete posts, but only if they are considered abusive--complaining about a late project or critiquing a project doesn't equal abuse.

      Contrasting that with Facebook, if updates are used via Facebook groups, they can be closed and membership can be controlled by the owners. Some people mentioned being blocked and that's even worse--unlike ignores or muting on forums, blocks are two way and they actually prevent you from seeing anything from that initiating user, past or present, even if the post is set to public--it's like they are erased from facebook to the user. Thus, if there is blocking going on because of criticism, those backers can't read any updates posted.

  10. Ben has produced a number of wonderful maps as a part of this kickstarter. I almost feel like I have gotten my $40 already, but I was only in on the all digital level anyways. Hopefully Ben can get something more out eventually (It sounds from the most recent update that Ernie is moving on).

    1. What has he produced? Not a single thing has been released.

  11. Jason- FB does threading (sortof), so the mess that KS does (although it now has some threading) is a downside there. BUT, Kickstarter shows all posts. Facebook, in its boundless (redacted bad words) tries to figure out what you want to see and only show that. I find it rarely makes the right call [as in- post that has no activity in 6 hours and which I've seen is shown before new content that I've not seen]. Needless to say, some of us find that a sev-1 show stopping bug. You can work around this to a limited extent by going to the FB group (vs. your timeline) for the project (or using a different and longer URL for your home page). Then you end up seeing stuff twice (whatever shows on your timeline and the less incomplete stuff in the group). I can't say how much I find this design defective. Ignoring all the privacy issues (which I consider valid but perhaps out of scope here), their user interface is like a Model T - as long as you like their filtering and presentation order (defaults to "what we think you want to see" instead of having a knob to twist so that you can get something resembling chronological) it sorta works. For those of us that expect linear time and don't have memory issues, on a good day it merely stinks. Most days it is intrusive enough to remind you that better designs exist in freshmen comp-sci textbooks.

  12. Tenkar, isn’t there an old saying about the “Epigone”?

  13. All I know is that I bought in at one of the levels where I could contribute a piece of written work to the project and I haven’t heard from anyone regarding that.

    I could do without Ben’s snark as well.

  14. I’m not a backer, so I don’t have an axe to grind on this subject. I’m struck by something that seems worth sharing, though. What kind of OSR GM doesn’t like designing dungeons enough to take a few weekends to kick out enough gaming material to fill a nicely-sized book!? I do that kind of thing in my spare time the way some folks doodle while talking on the phone. Sure, I may not be a Tracy Hickman or Gary Gygax Sr., but it’s playable and probably fun.

  15. My impression is they planned way too big for a first time Kickstarter. I feel Ernie knows this from his past experience, he's been here before. The products got finished but IMO they were underwhelming. His last update tells us just that I think.

    My impression is Benoist does not understand the difference between an artist and a graphic designer, it's a tough balance but one meets timelines the other is an artist. You can be both you just need to learn when to be an artist and when to be a graphic designer. It's also apparent Benoist is learning some hard lessons, all these posts about "layers and complexity" is basically him admitting he has no idea how to manage a project whether he knows he is saying that or not. As you get more material and towards the "end" of a project the amount of time needed becomes more intensive. He's also showing us he's refusing to learn that "no amount of outside energy will speed this up". He has no idea how to manage a project and he is telling us just that without knowing it.

    2 guys with no project management trying to pull this off is almost impossible. I think they also both lack business prowess. This could have been multiple impressive and successful Kickstarter campaigns that would have led to a stable ongoing business. Instead it killed any possibility of that. If you can't run any more successful Kickstarters you need to get capital somewhere else. Being a world building DM is one thing, being a professional game designer is another.

    I have very little faith this will get done this year if at all and I feel both are telling us just that but do not know it. Not only do they have to pull of an immense amount of work, they don't have the money to produce all these products.

    I am also learning a lesson, don't invest in 2 man projects, that probably need at least 5 folks to pull off, with no previous record of success. I feel bad for both of them and for all the backers.

  16. No issue here at all, I was buying this to get signed and put on my shelf. WHen it gets done, it gets done, I have no ill will toward them, although pretty stuff for the GM to look at is crazy, just give me a few scribbles. Don't invent an entire world when just the dungeon is is required.... ANyway I have backed other KS where the creator up and moved to the other side of the world before the project completed and have backed some amazing stuff by James Ward..

    I also did not bring this issue up to Ernie at GaryCon... nor will I unitl I ask him to sign it

    1. It is attitudes like this that enable these hucksters. When people say "Oh, it's okay you lied to us and don't worry you are years and years overdue" it emboldens them instead of holding them to some sort of standard.

  17. Yeah, this is one of those bad relationship kind of deals. One where you're super excited at first and for a lonng while very optimistic... then afterwards you see the mountain of red flags that we're littered along the way that pointed to this being doomed from the beginning... and you keep asking yourself how/why you did see them from the start.

    They committed fraud. They only ever produced enough samples of work to pitch their scam to backers. If they had anything near what they have said they completed, they could have tied a bow on an incomplete, yet playable product for backers to enjoy within 4-6 months plus shipping time. It's D&D! holes in the story are a great thing! Howm many times do parties venture off in a completely different direction for sessions at a time?? All the time! So just have maps 1-3 with this text is for levels 1-2. Maps 4-7 are for levels 5-8, etc. And tell people to fill in the gaps. Give them a town map with 8 locations and 4 quests - there that filled in a 1-2 level gap. Easy, next!

    But no. They have nothing and will produce nothing. They are and have been in "go away" mode and a "we can wait forever, can you?" strategy. They should be denounced at any event they go to. That last response after 9 months of radio silence was the last straw. They are both pathetic. ItsI as if the guy from South Park that plays World of Warcraft in his basement suddenly decided to do a KS campaign, and we were all dumb enough to give them money...

  18. This is why I don't back RPG (and videogame) KS -- okay, besides that I already have plenty of RPGs (and videogames) already. I dunno why my maps KS (Loke's Dungeon Maps) is expected to show all the map pages, while an RPG can just be a pitch. My guess is that RPGs have such a low barrier to entry (I'm also a reviewer on RPG.net and get more review PDFs than I have time for) that anyone who thinks they can write (and some do great jobs writing) that they can manage an actual project. No, no they can't.

  19. I'm $60 in the hole with this. I've pretty much written it off as a loss. The progress has been mind numbingly slow, and Benoist has not been very friendly or forthcoming. I'd rather get a refund at this point. Shotguns and Sorcery was also super late, but we received regular updates and finally a beautiful book three years late. The System Malfunction kickstarter went through the sudden dissolution of the company and still delivered.

  20. I've been defending Benoist on KS, but I'm done. He spends his time on FB spewing right wing political nonsense and heraldry. If he is working on this at all, there's no sign of it.

  21. I feel we should of at least gotten a few items sent to us by now I put in enough money to buy 3 full sized books from wizards at full price value then i see that Ernest and Luke have released another kickstarter called the ruins of gaxmore or something like that did they use our money to fund that

    1. Hi JBuys. Sorry I just saw this comment. But I wanted to assure you that I am NOT involved in Marmoreal Tomb. I worked the Gaxmoor 5e project with Trolls myself. Ernie got half the author payment based on his previous work. But he didn’t manage any of the business or recruiting talent to expand the revised City of Gaxmoor. The Trolls are helping to get the MT completed and to the backers. I helped broker that in hopes of helping my brother fulfill your pledges.

    2. Hi JBuys. Sorry I just saw this comment. But I wanted to assure you that I am NOT involved in Marmoreal Tomb. I worked the Gaxmoor 5e project with Trolls myself. Ernie got half the author payment based on his previous work. But he didn’t manage any of the business or recruiting talent to expand the revised City of Gaxmoor. The Trolls are helping to get the MT completed and to the backers. I helped broker that in hopes of helping my brother fulfill your pledges.

    3. Hi JBuys. Sorry I just saw this comment. But I wanted to assure you that I am NOT involved in Marmoreal Tomb. I worked the Gaxmoor 5e project with Trolls myself. Ernie got half the author payment based on his previous work. But he didn’t manage any of the business or recruiting talent to expand the revised City of Gaxmoor. The Trolls are helping to get the MT completed and to the backers. I helped broker that in hopes of helping my brother fulfill your pledges.

    4. I’m a couple years late in replying. Nope these are completely different animals. I have no part of GP or TSR. I worked with Trolls to get Gaxmoor 5e KS together and fulfilled. Ernie had no role other than what he wrote in 2001 for the original. He did benefit as a full author participant because we are family. I also helped broker the Trolls stepping in to save the MT. I think you see the base product delivered but the lofty stretch goals are less likely. That’s my opinion. I have no affiliation or role in the project. I have a few modules in pdf on DTRPG that are $4, that’s where I am putting out stuff for now. If I do another KS it’s probably to expand a completed project. But I’m too busy with Gary Con, F&L and my real job to take in more.

  22. June 3rd 2021, Troll Lords took over and even with their help it's been slow going. I'm sure they had a huge job in trying to help this see the light of day...and the stretch goals, forget it. But hey we should get some nice heraldry to play with...

    Ah well, live and learn and invest in more reliable companies on Kickstarter.

  23. Eight years later...
    I finally have it. In my hands.
    And I don't want it.


Tenkar's Tavern is supported by various affiliate programs, including Amazon, RPGNow,
and Humble Bundle as well as Patreon. Your patronage is appreciated and helps keep the
lights on and the taps flowing. Your Humble Bartender, Tenkar

Blogs of Inspiration & Erudition