GiantLands – The Beginning

While the events crucial to bringing GiantLands to the TTRPG community’s attention in an extremely negative manner occurred in June 2021, the actual origin of the project is more unclear – what is clear is that from the beginning it was built on a shaky foundation that foreshadowed disaster.

Primordial Ooze

Dinehart has shifted multiple times on whether GiantLands was his own Gamma World homebrew that he GM’d as a kid or was the premise for an isometric strategy game (like X-Com) he tinkered with during film school.1Twitter (25 June 2021) Regardless of the true genesis of it, there are a number of factors that remain consistent about it:

  • It is his, property of Stephen Erin Dinehart IV, and NOBODY ELSE. He will in fact, regularly refer to as “my GiantLands” in posts on his personal Twitter even though there is no other relevant GiantLands product it could be compared to.
  • It is inspired by Gamma World. A setting very much a product of its time.2RIP Kimber Eastland (10 Feb 2020)
  • It has been reworked in his imagination many, many times – frequently he will state that his original vision was in the “3rd Age” but also kind of indicate that it doesn’t matter because the “5th Age” takes place after a cataclysm that resets everything anyway.
  • The cataclysm was caused by the mother spirit of the Earth in revenge for the abuse she has endured at the hands of humanity – thus killed all of humanity (they grow back again… somehow).3My Twitter (22 July 2021)
  • There are no “Classes”, only “Professions” (which operate as classes).
  • There are no “Races” because Stephen doesn’t believe in race, and regularly makes bizarre statements about this – instead their are Species and Sub-Species (which is probably how one would more accurately describe “races” in the vast majority of RPGs).4GiantLands Episode 5: Species (24 March 2020) & Gender
  • Gender expression is “open”. (Confused? Yeah it’s weird, and covered later on.)5GiantLands Episode 5: Species & Gender (24 March 2020)
  • It leans into Native American mythology rather than European, but not any specific group.

For those with experience dealing with creative projects, you can probably already sense one of the core problems – this is Dinehart’s “one big idea” that he will not be convinced is not supremely genius, and has overworked and redeveloped it so many times that he cannot keep it straight in his own head – let alone spec it out for a team to work on.

Following the information from Dinehart and co-creator James M Ward (“Jim Ward”), initially this project started life as a TTRPG by Dinehart realizing that Kimber “Kim” Eastland was in the same Facebook as him. Eastland had written a lot of the Gamma World material that was dear to Dinehart, and so Dinehart (working as a freelance consultant in Florida), proposed they make an RPG together.6Over 2000% Funded! (1 December 2019)

Apparently Kim had two conditions: It had to be Gamma World, and they had to bring on his old buddy (and the original creator of Gamma World) Jim Ward. It should be noted that, while the timeline isn’t precisely clear on this, Kim passed away from cancer before the project moved into the Kickstarter phase7RIP Kimber Eastland (10 Feb 2020) – so was likely not in good health at the time he was being propositioned to do a new big project that could not possibly bear fruit in his lifetime.

Dinehart originally registered Wonderfilled LLC in Florida in April 20188Corporate Verify listing for Wonderfilled LLC, then registered Wonderfilled Inc in Wisconsin in April 20199Bizapedia listing for Wonderfilled, Inc – with his previous project ending in November 201610Fall 2016 Update: Journey to Nintendo (24 November 2016) so it seems unlikely the timeline was more than a year or two before the Kickstarter.

Jim Ward is also not in the best of health, but is still working doing freelance writing gigs – particularly for science fiction RPGs. It’s unclear which version of events is correct, but at some point Dinehart either admitted they couldn’t get the rights to Gamma World (unsurprising) or told Jim he didn’t want to use Gamma World because he had a better idea that required using his own property: GiantLands

It should be noted that various posts by Dinehart frequently suggest he was not interested in working on any property he did not own outright, seeing this project as the foundation for an empire that would make him some mix of Gary Gygax and Walt Disney.11My Twitter But regardless, Jim Ward agreed to get on board because according to him there was a gimmick that was too good to pass up.12RPG Review: GiantLands Interview with James Ward and Stephen Dinehart (29 March 20202)

The Theme Park

The unique premise behind GiantLands as a business venture is that Dinehart envisions it as a theme park where people will turn up cosplaying their characters – presumably this is partially inspired by his working in theme parks including Evermore Park,13Stephen Dinehart IV’s Linked In truly the RenFaire of theme parks, but also generally being inspired by the mega success of creative media titan Walt Disney.

A screenshot from Dinehart's LinkedIn profile showing his experience with theme parks to be:
"Game Attraction Designer & Interactive Show Writer", Universal Creative, 1 yr 2 months,  March 2017 to Mary 2018) and "Director of Gaming", Evermore Park, 6 months, July 2018 - December 2018.
According to Dinehart’s LinkedIn he has roughly 17 months experience in Theme Parks, which naturally makes him a world class expert in the field.

Dinehart was, in fact, so pumped about this idea that the platform he did the first interviews on the project was devoted to theme parks. 14Halo Theme Park fet. Stephen Dinehart IV (9 September 2019) There was even an announcement there’d be a theme park before the Kickstarter had even begun – which was presented as though it was an independent news article but was a paid placement for a press release.

The problems with this approach should be obvious to anyone with a background in project management, but simply put – the notion of an small independent RPG gaining enough traction to get the capital to create a theme park anywhere in the world, let alone in the USA, are simply absurd. Theme parks require massive structural infrastructure, staff, inventory for cashflow lines and hence require massive initial outlays in the tens of, if not hundreds of, millions of dollars.

Plus even if you have a viable property to base your park around – there’s not really any guarantee that the park will survive. Theme parks going under having to be abandoned is so common that there’s listicles discussing which are the creepiest. While some of them do have very good reasons for closing (Pipyrat Amusement Park, for instance) there’s plenty that are closed by more benign twists of fate such as simply running out of popularity.

Theme park enthusiast and YouTuber Jenny Nicholson came across a defunct Flintstones theme park on her quest to get a giant spider plushie so, y’know, the odds of making it with anything less than an iconic long running property the odds are that you’re going to go down in flames.

Speaking of Jenny, she very recently released a video on the many problems and issues with Evermore Park (where, it should be remembered, Dinehart worked as the Director of Gaming15Stephen Dinehart IV’s Linked In

On top of that, the expectation that guests would turn up in cosplay for a specific property that couldn’t really use generic items like capes etc was hilarious at best. To even have a hope of having the materials you’d either need to have massive merchandising to sell costume parts, or a fanbase so massive you could count on thousands of people hand making costumes (ie Star Trek sized)

The Campaign Begins

In June 2019, the campaign began with a video being posted to a YouTube channel of unknown origin – I say unknown because although the channel is branded as GiantLands and contains exclusively GiantLands related videos – the data on the account states it was created in February 2015.16GiantLands Youtube (About) Given that timing, I assume it was originally the channel for Dinehart’s previous Kickstarter: Pinky Elephant: Collision of the Colorverse.

A screenshot from the Pinky Elephant Kickstarter, an update where there is clearly a removed YouTube embedded into the post.
The campaign did have videos, which are now removed, and Dinehart has a long history of repurposing accounts to maximize metrics17My Twitter (30 July 2021) – put a pin in that, it comes up much later in our story.

In what would become a running trend with GiantLands – there is a typo in the title of the video which remains there at the time of writing.

What is a Gaint and what might their lands be like is more compelling question than anything raised in GiantLands promotions or the product itself.

There was also a trend to put a lot of flourish on the designs, but not check for branding such as the original Facebook page where the “GaintLands” video was posted referring to it as “Giant Lands” and advising that it was trademarked.18GiantLands Facebook (13 June 2019) Though the actual trademark was not registered until 28 August 2019.19United States Patent and Trademark Office, GL GiantLands, US Serial Number: 88590483

The promotions included a claim of “fan art” (which seems to be a children’s drawing, likely by one of Stephen’s own children), a video of “unboxing” the “Sigil Coin” – an item which does not seem to have been distributed, promoting a GiantLands t-shirt, and a video of Dinehart going to pick up “white boxes” in an attempt to link the product to the original Dungeons & Dragons White Box created by Gary Gygax as the prototype product – oddly while Dinehart never used these boxes as products or showcased them publicly, it appears they were used as the “proof of use in commerce” for the product on the USPTO registration in June 2020.

Also a Patreon was promoted on Facebook, though according to those who looked into the (now long gone) Patreon itself simply advised to check press releases rather than give any sort of indicator of what sort of content would appear “Club GiantLands”. The archive available suggests there was mostly image posts to three people – a far cry from the promised “monthly GiantLands E-Zine” and closed before the highest tier could use any “Ongoing discounts on current and future products, including the game the park.” (put a pin in this, it’ll be an ongoing theme in our story).

What was not promoted was anything relating to the rules, concrete information on the setting, or how it would be new and exciting in the hyper-saturated table top roleplaying game market. Which was confusing since according to Jim Ward he had finished writing it in late 201920James M Ward’s Facebook (2 October 2021) and they would promote playtests at Gamehole Con21GiantLands Facebook (27 July 2019)[0]=AZXLqWppD4gZCA3eUZJI3xcGYheJa_zHtInP4xvctjM1DHseduPd53uWg28UuTaMGFEQOcB-_8I-fx_D6ohCUZfvzf32l5NK_Y14C1nwsg_3sXNuWGOcwK47wKmMZs2MlN7aYIhVnH2fscH9Jbdfy7Mss6__xNtWFAigYJq4hUv0nwevb668dDPAL287jLgsUF8&tn=%2CO%2CP-R and GenCon.22GiantLands Facebook (20 June 2019) 23GiantLands Facebook (21 June 2019)

At the end of October there was the playtest at Gamehole Con 2019, Listing for Gamehole Con 2019 (October 31 – 3 November 2019) which although hyped as a big event showing the public interest in the event – has been alleged to be primarily Jim Ward’s personal friends (which explains the ages of the people present) and Dinehart’s own son (who looks particularly uninterested). The video was not posted until December 2019 for reasons that are not clear.

Aside from the occasional, nebulous promotional videos on the GiantLands YouTube channel – Dinehart also started doing interviews on theme park related podcasts – a series on Amusement Sparks and a single interview on Time/Split where he declares he thinks of theme parks as “game parks” and refers to Elfquest as an “underground comic” (Elfquest has been published by literally all the big three comic publishers – Marvel, DC Comics and Darkhorse). He also talks extensively about Evermore in a manner that is, very interesting in like of the Jenny Nicholson video above.

Then, having done a single very limited playtest, and mostly having marketed to primarily small theme park media – they went went ahead with the Kickstarter at the end of November/start of December (depending on your time zone).25GiantLands Kickstarter (30 November 2019)

And that… that is a ride…

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