NuTSR’s recruitment drive and the Fall of Michael

From June 2021 to mid January 2022 – nuTSR went into a mission to try to build up credibility as a games company and recover from losing their flagship product as well as the individual they had given control of their social media presence to. Pretty much all of this effort would fall onto the shoulders of “volunteer” Michael Hovermale as Justin focused on talking things up and recruiting terrible people to make terrible products.

I put scare quotes on the volunteer because Justin and… accounts very defensive of Justin have always maintained that Michael was purely a volunteer who never expected to get paid – but as you’ll see he was doing an awful lot of work and putting up with awful lot of shit (including from yours truly) – so I’m inclined to believe this was supposed to be a “volunteer for now and then we’ll talk compensation” type arrangement.

Particularly given some later events involving some accounts called “Mario Real” but… more on that later in our story.

Side note: If this was professional reporting I would have reached out to people for comment, but since I didn’t do it while it was happening and I think there’d be rather massive differences in responses due to personal reasons. (Don & Michael would probably be happy to comment, I’m pretty sure Justin would not) Therefore all this is based on observation and public interactions.

The Official Discord

Before being promoted to head of PR, Michael had been the head moderator at the Discord and had implemented a lot of rules that were in place to try to keep the conversation entirely about games – and not about politics. These, ironically, would have been prohibitive of Justin being a member of the Discord – but Michael didn’t realize that yet.

A screenshot of the server rules for the TSR Official Community Discord.
"1 Respect each other harassment & bullying isn't allowed. This includes personal attacks, slurs, racist, sexist, homophobic, hateful or derogatory speech. Also don't attempt to create drama. It's not nice to make fun of others, let's make sure that this remains a safe and positive space for everyone.

2. No NSFW or obscene content. This includes text, images, or links featuring nudity, sex, hard violence, or other graphically disturbing content. A good rule of thumb is keep things PG-13. Discord allows members as young as 13 to join. If you're unsure if your post is "ok" you can ask a moderator.

3. Avoid sensitive or controversial topics. Real world politics, religion, race, gender, current (sensitive) real world events, depression/suicide, violence, etc. These discussions can easily turn into heated debates, which does not reflect the positive and inclusive nature of this server."
Ironically Justin would later demonstrate the only thing that stopped him breaking all of these rules was disinterest in his own “community”.1My Twitter, 8 August 2021

And I want to stress here, as misguided as it was to try to run a Discord about any role-playing game with no discussion of politics around it in the first place – given that invariably a part of world building in role-playing games is working out the politics, and the implications of your interpretations of those politics. Even something as simple as creating a “good” society means making political statements on what is encouraged and what is encouraged by “good” people.

That and well they were literally issuing press statements because their former CCO and the owner (unclear if he’s in any way a creator… more on that will be provided in the GiantLands Saga) of their flagship product had intensely political meltdowns.

A screenshot of the Discord where Michael K.H. has posted links to the two press releases, announces "TSR is awaiting certification from Twitter before using that pratform."
Michael linking to professional press releases as the official statements to .2My Twitter, 8 August 2021
Michael issuing out warnings and asking numerous people to refer to rule 3 - "This is an inclusive place for everyone equally." It's a nine line wall of text tagging in five people and at least one of those people four times.
These are all notices he’s posting in one day. ONE DAY!3My Twitter, 8 August 2021

But aside from the issue that it is impossible to be “inclusive for everyone equally” when you intend that be inclusive of some people who want to openly declare their hatred for other people based on arbitrary factors… the kind of audience that Justin was attracting were interested in inclusivity or diversity except as a punchline in extremely mediocre jokes.

A screenshot of a long post by "negromaestro" posting "Hope the moderators consider this allowable. These four comic panels are so on point."
He then posts four different four panel comics, all of which are the same joke of the blue haired SJW joins a D&D group and then insists they're in charge of the group or otherwise making decisions for them after they run into something they don't like.  He thing follows by stressing he is a black person... like the name isn't a giveaway.
I saw people comment that the creator of these comics had never played D&D, I’ll raise you they’ve never had friends either.4My Twitter, 8 August 2021
A screenshot showing "Daddybear951", a user with a US flag avatar, posting a "Never Forget, September 11, 2001" image with the twin towers - and discussion below not noting anything odd about this.
How could anyone hope to have these guys keep politics out of anything? Being provocateurs is their primary aspiration and their goal in life.5My Twitter, 12 September 2021

So, no matter how much Michael may have wanted to pursue the dream that they could create an environment where love of old school gaming would bring together conservative grognards, progressive new players interested in the past and everyone in between – the foundation was simply not there and would not be with Justin in charge. But that certainly didn’t stop Michael trying – such is the danger of chasing a dream off a cliff… especially when someone else owns the dream and the cliff.

More Channels

So while, the Discord residents continued to experiment with how much they could get away with, confident… TSR also expanded its presence online… kind of… well they started it but since it was all dependent on work being done by Michael they created future ghost accounts.

They created the TSR Hobbies web site and Facebook page. Initially it was TSR Lake Geneva, but then for undisclosed reasons after Michael left it became TSR Hobbies with a different url, so some links by them and others are now broken.

They created the TSR Hobbies (Official) YouTube Channel…. which currently has no public facing content and in the about section links to the defunct “TSR Lake Geneva” page:

A screenshot of the TSR Hobbies (Official) YouTube Channel which has 26 subscribers (including myself) and no content.
Everyone knows “(Official)” in the title/username guarantees authenticity.

The exceptionally difficult to find official TSR Twitter (@Tactical_Srules) which, at the time of writing, still has a link to the IndieGoGo Fundraiser that closed in January 2022 as the pinned tweet.

A screenshot of the pinned tweet, which links to the IndieGoGo and has caption text: "On 12/29/21 the Trademark Declaratory Judgement of Ownership was re-filed in the State of Washington, Case # 2:21-cv-01705.

Please see the updates section and updated FAQ and the Indiegogo for more information."

It was initially supposed to be waiting for verified status (notably none of their accounts have a verified status, and neither Twitter account is “Twitter Blue” verified despite their open simping for Elon… it seems Justin is not in that much admiration that he will pay Elon $8 a month). However it later became “announcements only” and encouraged you to take your questions to the Discord (where the rules said they would not be answered, and Michael was not allowed to answer them unless Justin said so).6My Twitter, 12 September 2022

At the time of writing, the account is showing no signs of activity since 7 March 2021.

And, of course, the TSR Hobbies (@tsr_hobbies) Instagram. To showcase all the wonderful imagery.

A screenshot of the @tsr_hobbies Instagram which has 4 posts, 71 followers and a bio of "An American Game Publishing Company
Join our community of game designers"
Images are 1 promo post, a copy of the Lizard Man as drawn by Diesel, a photo of Duck & frend... and a out of focus photo of the Lizard Man by Justin.
This isn’t a historic pic. This is the entire contents of the TSR Hobbies Instagram… and likely all there’ll ever be. Oddly they did keep posting in the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum (@tsr_museum) Instagram until like… June 2022.

Michael even went in to be their respectable face when there were opportunities, dropping into a video call interview hosted by ComicsGate supporter Ryan Palmer (he’ll show up again later) and essentially managing to find a way to explain the host’s previous hour of babbling dogwhistles in a manner that got fluffy liberal Ed Greenwood to not tap out (until presumably after the next interview) and proudly cantankerous Tim Kask to want to talk to him again.

Ryan for his part fucked up so bad that his next interview would get only a fraction of the views, and he would depart from making regular videos shortly after that. The interview is honestly painful to watch and only becomes viewable in the periods where his guests are talking to each other and Ryan sits there lost (then inevitably ruins things with a dogwhistlefoghorn).

So, infrastructure wise they seemed to be replacing all their lost pieces and gearing up to take over the old school games market… only problem was… well… what games?

Star Frontiers 2.0 / New Genesis

According to an interview with Michael and the information that got disclosed during the hilarious “insider” event (more on that later in our story), the initial plan was that Michael would run all the socials and promotions, etc and his son, Logan, would be the lead writer for the one product they had supposedly in the works: Star Frontiers.

Of course, the official story Michael was told to provide a different explanation in the Discord.7My Twitter, 11 September 2021

A screenshot of the post in the TSR Discord by Michael K.H.: "We apologize for the delays on getting back to the Star Frontiers Community.

We don't like to go into it much, but you deserve some information.

TSR suffered a massive I.T. breach and total destruction of infrastructure during the time of me replacing the previous social media manager that was also serving as the head of the I.T. department.

This individual went completely rogue, they had total control over all the I.T. system for TSR.  We can't recover most of what was lost so have been re building.

We have been reconstructing data, accounts, game materials, emails, managed to transfer the Discord before it could be deleted etc... there is only so much that can be un-deleted on the hardware we do have access to.

Couple all that with some personal items the teams is facing and it adds even more delays

Most of what we had was lost, and it is only now that I have been able to have the time to begin reaching back out to the communities.

[Link to Spock - Where to hit us]"
Massive IT breach that pulled through the fabric of time itself to erase a game before anyone did any work on it!

Unsurprisingly, it seems that Justin LaNasa was the manager and client from Hell, who in addition to apparently expecting them to work “for exposure” also routinely decided to go start controversies and problems for Michael to have to take care of as the PR guy – which included him randomly posting promises for content/ideas and telling them to incorporate it into the game.8Interview with a TSR Insider, Tabletop Taproom, YouTube 24 July 2022

More onerous than telling people they’d lost all the game development material which didn’t exist was being told to announce they’d sold copies of the game… that had never been written or existed as anything images and a trademark registration. The story being that it’d gone on sale on the site briefly and just happened, that with no announcement whatsoever… that the undisclosed number of copies available had all been snatched up.9My Twitter,

That has been confirmed officially by the way, since Justin announced in the court documents that the first beta for Star Frontiers: New Genesis was finalized in February 2022.

I mean… I’m sure this project could have gone worse… oh wait…

Enter Dave Johnson

A screenshot of posts by DavefilmsUS in Discord.
10/12/2021 8:03 AM in #tsr-con-2022
"I am planning on doing a live interview with convention goers for Alarms & Journeys Magazine. With TSR permission."

In #main-gaming-chat
10/12/2021 7:32 AM
"You are my kind of peeps"
10/12/2021 7:31 AM
"Hello this is Dave Johnson. I've been a game from the 1980s and publish Alarms & Journeys magazine."

In #weekly-discussion-top
7/20/2021 1:14 AM
"Raise your dongers! !-(0;0)-!"
Yes, he’s the kind of guy who introduces himself by telling people to raise their dongers. No, there was no context. (From the Official TSR Discord)

Based on the information recovered it seems that George “Dave” Johnson did come in at some point, and did offer some very low quality contributions to the product as envisioned by Logan… specifically his weird insect people who have sexy funerals.

Screenshot showing a word doc series of unorder list entries: "Coming of Age Rites: None
Funerary and Memorial Customs: As stated above in attraction & sexuality
Language: The native tongue and common language of the Commonwealth (Accord Common)"
This is from the Entomoids 0.8 document, which was from the “real” Star Frontiers server that TSR linked to when they had the leak. It seems to be the only bit of writing Dave had done toward the project at the time.

Dave would only formally step forward and announce himself as being on the project once it was handed over to him (ie after Michael left) but had been apparently in contact with and cozying up with Justin LaNasa prior to that – doubtlessly bonding over their love of bigotry’s and delusions of adequacy. Dave also had a volume of work up on DriveThruRPG… had.

Notably Dave is the only “RPG” creator who seems to want to stick it out with nuTSR… but as we’ll see later he doesn’t really have many options so that’s entirely not surprising.

Enter Wizard Tower Games / Don Semora

Or rather, dragged in through duplicity. Wizard Tower Games is a small partnership primarily operated by Donald “Don” Semora – an independent businessman in Michigan who has been working on publishing and RPG related projects for a long time – including having published his own books and running a business 3D printing minis.

Don had some issues in his past, and had shown some interest in using the TSR trademarks and then received an anonymous email which was… kind of threatening but in a weird way that sort of comes across as what a weirdo reactionary imagines leftist activists are like.

A screenshot of the email shared by Wizard Tower Games.  The email is titled "TSR Truth", The email is poorly written, saying Justin has a "checkered past" but only providing links to one Tenkar's Tavern post and News Observer article.  The threats are about talking about them on Twitter and that "we cannot allow TSR to gain creatives, and such." It's stamped with "Released by Wizard Tower Games, October 25, 2021."
The news article in there links to a story about Justin posting videos of his female employees wrestling in grits, allegedly for a promotion. All of which was common knowledge and topic of discussion/ridicule at the time of the email.

It has been speculated that this anonymous email was sent by Justin himself as a means of getting Don to take a side and deliberately ignore everything he was being told – this is somewhat re-enforced by the similarly badly written threats Don’s received from the same anonymous email service since parting ways with Justin.

Don for his part did agree to partner up with the NuTSR group, but did definitely take note of what he was seeing (more on that later) and took a much more measured and cautious approach than Michael did.

At some point during this, he agreed to sell one of his products – Dungeon Crawl, to Justin LaNasa for an undisclosed sum which was paid up front. The product then because TSR’s first actual full game that would be manufactured (by Don) and sold… under very bad situations (as of the time of writing people who pre-ordered have not received their copies, and it appears all unopened copies made were sold at TSR Con and markets rather than sent to customers).

About those trademarks

One of the interesting things about this – is that presumably in response to private correspondence received by Wizards of the Coast’s counsel – had already foregone most of the trademarks that they had announced were available for license, but never really posted any retraction of that or explanation.

This bears mentioning because, for not only the deal with Wizard Tower Games but the overall strength of the claims at the time. According to Michael, every time he raised the concern about the trademarks Justin would tell him that they were golden – so golden in fact that he had a letter from Wizards of the Coast confirming it, that he would produce if they took him to court.10Interview with a TSR Insider, 24 July 2022, Tabletop Taproom, YouTube

From a legal perspective, this makes no sense – particularly that even during the meltdown, Justin had apparently been instructing his lawyer to give notices of abandonment to the Trademark Office. Wizards of the Coast has now registered the trademarks themselves, possibly to prevent further poaching attempts but also possibly due to the upcoming 50th anniversary of Dungeons & Dragons (in 2024).

The ones Justin has held onto fit into two categories:

Purely Text

They hold some trademarks which are purely text, which makes them… more able to be more flexible in their presentation.

Poor imitations

There are also a couple of trademarks which are

  • TSR The Game Wizards (#90124839) – One of the olden TSR logos used on many classic products – this is the one that Justin made the request for Darlene sign a statement she owned it… to which Darlene supplied her fantastic “The Power of “No!”” response. Apparently Justin traced over her original work, thinking this would be a great way to claim ownership and avoid issues relating to copyright etc – however due to the simple elegance of it, it’s hard to tell for sure.

The Fundraiser

So, as those trademarks come under increasing scrutiny and pressure from Wizards of the Coast – they eventually gave up on private correspondence and started an action with the Trademark Office to have the the trademarks that were not conceded and specifically to cancel the Game Wizards trademark. The complaint alleges that Justin knew the trademarks were still in the market, were clearly associated with Dungeons & Dragons and that he therefore committed fraud when he signed the affidavit that he was not aware of any conflicts.

Not satisfied with simply arguing the merits of the trademarks with the office who are the literal experts on it and exist to handle these disputes, Justin decided that he had to escalate things straight to the federal court – and that other people should definitely pay for it! As such, he set up an IndieGoGo to fund this – with pledges being offered memberships in his museum (so of incredibly limited value to anyone who doesn’t live nearby). It also had a few problems.

  • The fundraiser makes regular promises that it will get “the disclaimer” removed – to date it is not clear how this could be accomplished and there has been no action in the lawsuit to accompany it. It seems, rather, this was just included because the disclaimer was a hot topic among reactionaries at the time.
The screenshot from the Fundraiser titled "TSR will also FIght to Have the WOTC Legacy Disclaimer Removed" which spends two paragraphs vilifying the disclaimer... then provides a copy-paste of it that does not have any of the attributes they claim it has.
Worth noting that none of the surviving creators of these products have asked them to do this or even tried to raise an issue over this… they’re either retired or working on other things.
  • The goal for it was $50,000.00 which is a lot of money to hand over to a stranger who is making these kinds of claims… but a laughably small sum for someone wanting to engage in complicated, long running action in federal court against a corporate titan like Hasbro.
  • The fund then also promises that any excess funds would be donated to the Gygax Memorial Fund… to put a memorial to Gary Gygax in the Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum. Aside from the absurdity of their being a surplus, and Justin’s previous memorial to Gary, and that the Memorial Fund has been… subject to many accusations in the past (Gail Gygax is not well liked among the old guard).
  • Many of the rewards seem to be difficult to confirm, like having your name “recorded in the Hall of Champions at TSR Headquarters (which presently seems to be Justin’s home office) or “unique items, may include signed items, prototype games”.
  • Justin’s initial lawyer filed the claim in the wrong state, not realizing that since it was a corporation they couldn’t make WotC come to North Carolina.

Eventually Justin did manage to file the claim in the correct court… but also seems to have registered a new company during the same time (that’d come to bite him in the ass later) and posted what was, in retrospect – one of the funniest pre-emptive claims to victory that I’ve seen in the last few years.1131 December 2021, Justin LaNasa, Facebook

A screenshot of a Facebook post by Justin LaNasa at Salsa's, dated 31 December 2021, location: Asheville, NC, United States. "Drinking the blood of my enemies WOTC on the Rocks!" [There are photos from the inside of the restaurant - I have pixelated the faces of everyone but Justin]
This is definitely a very normal way to celebrate finally lodging your claim in the correct court, the second time – also yes, he is trying to ultra macho a fruit mixer by calling it “blood of my enemies”.

But, even this was not as funny as the development of the fundraiser, where Justin put out a series of messages first referring to reactionaries who wanted the disclaimer removed “TSR ARMY!” (with all caps) and then assuring people they were going to file in the correct court this time… and finally, Justin insisting that the standard “this action is on hold” for the motion meant it was “cancelled” due to the presence of the word “cancellation” on the… motion for Cancellation of a Trademark.

Apparently behind the scenes, Justin was making both claims that the motion was guaranteed to be an easy win because he had correspondence from Wizards of the Coast confirming that he had permission to register the trademarks… and also that the actual point of this was to just ask for an absurdly large settlement from Wizards of the Coast. The good news is the fund raiser only raised $5,715 of it’s goal… so was a complete failure but Justin’s own assessment.

Y’know if something doesn’t get supported it means… it just shows you there’s no public interest…

Justin LaNasa, Bulletmaker Closeout Stream and TSR Games Lawsuit OFFICIAL BREAKDOWN, 10 December 2021

The Fall

Illustration for John Milton's Paradise Lost by Gustave Doré (1866).
Sourced from Wikipedia Commons.

By now you might notice that Michael was doing a lot of work for the low, low price of no pay and the occasional paid trip to help out or play games with Justin. No small amount of this work was due to Justin creating controversy for shits and giggles, unreasonable interference in the projects that were in the works and refusal to let Michael do things the effective way. He was receiving little to no compensation, and less respect.

In addition to the Star Frontiers fiasco, Justin also decided midway through that he was not going to – as originally planned, simply do some aesthetic tweaking to Dungeon Crawl and release it – rather he wanted to do major re-designs including new cards, Larry Elmore art, and apparently a new board.

He also announced Those Pesky Goblins (later renamed to Goblinz: Those Pesky Goblinz) with pretty much no information but a definite date… then had no plan for what to do what that date came and went and all they had to show for it was a few drawings and a video of “playtest” that didn’t even get past the first stages of character creation. Michael has since advised that aside, from Justin, none of the parties were aware of the filming and no permission was sought before posting the video.12Comment by Michael K Hovermale, 4 January 2023, Star Frontiers: New Genesis (Unofficial) Group, Facebook

Michael graciously announced his resignation on 14 January 2022 and handed over all the logins, etc to Justin. It needs to be stressed, that like everything else Michael was doing – he was much more gracious and professional than things called for… and definitely more than anyone around him.13My Twitter, 14 January 2022

The Fallout

If you’re thinking that this would result in Michael being able to just depart the story without being dragged in, well you really don’t understand Justin and the people he associates with. In less than a month there would be sock puppet accounts harassing Michael and his son – and of course he would be subpoenaed into the TSR LLC vs. Wizards of the Coast LLC lawsuit.

It goes without saying that losing the one public facing person who has an idea how to interact with normal, well adjusted people and the one author they only creators who understand that games are a product people buy to enjoy – not weird propaganda they will pay for unconditionally – left the nuTSR group in kind of a lurch, and this led to many new players entering the field.

Arise Vincent “TheEvilDM” Florio

Vincent had been using his YouTube channel as a kind of unofficial spokesperson for nuTSR where he would invite them onto his channel and let them say pretty much anything unquestioned, particularly since Vincent is himself a reactionary who falls prone to any grift that promises infinite success and prosperity at the expense of others. No seriously.

A screenshot of a Gettr post by TheDevilDM - The Podfather of OSG (@TheEvilDM) 16 March 2022
"I remember and he had a plan for us.. old man rivers destroyed that plan. #gasprices"
[A photo of a gas sign where someone has placed an image of Donald Trump pointing at the price with "Remember this?"]
Yeah, he went to Gettr because he thought the OSR was going to follow them there – and seems to have abandoned it because even Gettr finds him boring.

Literally the day after Michael left, there was some clear hints that Justin really wanted Vince to take over the PR role, after all, Vincent has a YouTube channel and had some vague following. He had also been happy to host “interviews” where he would let them make ridiculous claims, and never challenge them (those videos are no longer publicly listed), and even do the occasional “rumor squashing” vide for them, so he was a pretty obvious choice – however he quickly released a video where he announced he was distancing himself (publicly at least).

Vincent (along with Don) was promoted to Admin in the Discord and a poster released with a figure who looked suspiciously like one of The Evil DM avatars.14My Twitter, 15 January 2022, 15My Twitter, 15 January 2022 16My Twitter, 15 January 2022

Ultimately though, Vincent did not accept the role and nobody was appointed to it. He did however create a module for them.. well he’d apparently already made it and donated it to them, but more on that later. Oh he also still occasionally leaves a supportive comment on their Facebook page.

Arise Michael Yach

One of the moderators who worked under Michael, and apparently did not appreciate Michael’s authority and decisions – he rose to being the head moderator shortly after Michael’s departure – possibly due to him sharing Justin’s passion for cosplaying as being from the South (Yach is from Wisconsin, and LaNasa from York, Pennisylvania).

To the extent he has an obsession with The Blood-Stained Banner and Jefferson Davis that he is quite defensive about.17David Flor’s Twitter (@Brainclouds), 26 July 2022

A screenshot, with redactions, of an exchange in Facebook comments:
Someone posted: "Michael Yach Why do you have Jeffy Davis as your avatar? It's a bad look in light of all this other stuff."
Michael Yach (with a Jefferson Davis avatar) replies:
"Kisses from the South to you and your family. Fuck wokeness and cancel culture."

Pretty much as soon as Yach took over a few people he’d clearly not been in approving of got banned, and general quality of the moderation in the Discord.

He remained pretty might the sole enforcer on the Discord until his departure in October 2022 – and it appears his personal account was deleted

Dave Johnson makes his move

Despite having made barely any contributions to the materials while the Hovermale’s were the leads on it, Dave pretty much immediately swooped in with a promise that it’d be playable at TSR Con.

A screenshot from a Discord channel #star-frontiers-new-genesis
DaveFilmsUS 16 January 2022
"Come play Star Frontiers New Genesis at TSR CON!"
[There is a stock art image which has been marked up with some promotional text]
It was later confirmed that image is stock art, and stock art that was a paint over of a frame from Pitch Black (2000).

Court documents in the TSR LLC vs. Wizards of the Coast LLC lawsuit, the beta for this was sent to Wizard Tower Games for print in February and claims to use Dave’s D30 system. So either Dave was using a lot of the Hovermale’s work and they’ve been left out of the credits, or he seriously thought he could make a full game fit for beta release in one month.

Regardless, it was at this point Dave starts presenting himself as the creator of Star Frontiers: New Genesis… and well, you can probably guess how that works out.

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