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 https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1424151599375519749

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.

Continue reading NuTSR’s recruitment drive and the Fall of Michael

GiantLands – Leaving NuTSR

As covered earlier, while the overall reputation of Justin LaNasa, months of barely contained reactionary non-sense and unprofessionalism built the pyre for TSR LLC (LaNasa)’s reputation, and Ernie Gygax’s interview was the match that started it – Dinehart using his GiantLands account to call a trans woman disgusting was the accelerant that turned it into a bright blaze and caught the attention of the wider world.

The actions of TSR at the time are already documented, but the absurdity of Dinehart on his own account and the GiantLands account warrants its own entry – particularly given the many loft claims he regularly makes about himself. At the time, he was doing his absolute best to look incredibly important and a man of many, many important titles.1My Twitter (25 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1408342703394361346

A screenshot of the Twitter profile of Stephen Dinehart (@SEDart4), listing him as Chief Creative Officer: @TSR_games President @Wunderfilled Executive Producer @Psychfilab Artist @zodkev @dodoinksi @dodoo9966 
It also lists his location as "Hollywood" and links to his IMDB profile.
It’s kind of amazing a guy who’s so busy and so important has time to tweet…

With credentials like that, you’d expect some sort of display of some professionalism… I mean… obviously not project management given how GiantLands had gone – but maybe something else like say marketing and communication? Well, I invite you to read his pinned tweet after he posted the “TTRPGs are the original safe space” nonsense.

A screenshot of a tweet of a Pinned tweet by Dinehart (@SEDart4): "When I say "safe space" I mean it. As a sufferer of PTSD & a survivor of various forms of abuse & assault, games, TTRPG has & always be safe spaces for me. That's why I made GiantLands. I know there are kids of all ages, like I was, that also need a safe place to simply BE." 26 June 2021.
Reminder this came up because he told a young trans woman she was disgusting. Also he’s tweeting this like Minecraft doesn’t exist now.

This is particularly telling because, contrary to what he claimed – people had in fact been telling him in detail why they disagreed with his claim. The issues of nightmare DMs who abused trust, the largely exclusionary history of the hobby, the presence of weird reactionaries in the hobby space, etc. His response to this was to dismiss this as “woke” and tell others not to be “woke” but “awake” because “it’s a lifelong journey” before promoting a “before of fake woke” posted by a fellow NFT enthusiast.2My Twitter (28 June 2021) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1409233749137522688

Continue reading GiantLands – Leaving NuTSR

The New TSR (“NuTSR”) – Transphobia, Scandals and Reactionary politics

As briefly covered in the first post, the meltdown in June was pretty dramatic and led to a split up between TSR LLC and Wonderfilled Inc. Since neither Justin LaNasa, nor Stephen Dinehart, can be classified as a reliable narrator and both parties blame each other for the matter – the TSR deep dive on this will be covering everything that was posted under the official TSR brand, since whether it was Dinehart or LaNasa at the keyboard, everything up until that point was under the brand and was consistent with later sentiments.

Everything Dinehart specific that did not bleed directly into the TSR platforms will likely be covered in the GiantLands Saga section.

A lot of the content has been deleted since, there will be heavy reliance on screenshots. After the disaster interview, there were a few attempts to simply dispel the narrative and pretend that the statements made in the interview simply didn’t exist. These went down like a wet bag of sick largely due to them being completely fabricated and having no basis in reality.1TSR Games (@TSR_games) Twitter (24 June 2021) (Archived) https://web.archive.org/web/20210624221618mp_/https://twitter.com/TSR_games/status/1408187164790345733 2TSR Games (@TSR_games) Twitter (24 June 2021) (Archived) https://web.archive.org/web/20210625050832mp_/https://twitter.com/TSR_games/status/1408178463773794306

Two tweets by TSR Games (@TSR_games) posted:
"The TTRPG is the original safe space."
"We are intolerant of hatred of any kind from all sides. All players are welcome at our table. Thanks to the role-playing game, we have a deep commitment to diversity and inclusion."
Continue reading The New TSR (“NuTSR”) – Transphobia, Scandals and Reactionary politics

NuTSR Group – The Beginning

This post had to be heavily edited due to some Facebook pages changing their URL handle without notice, specifically “TSRHobbiesMuseum” to “DUNGEONHOBBYSHOP”. I’ve now updated them, removed the dead links to things that have been taken down and were never archived and now attached links to screenshots. Anywhere you see a ūüďł, you can click it for a screenshot of the linked post, for record keeping purposes.

In instances where the screenshots third parties, I’ve pixelated out their faces and/or names to protect their privacy.

Kim

While it looks more or less like any other house, 723 Williams Street, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin has an extraordinary history as the original office for Tactical Studies Rules (TSR), the company founded by Gary Gygax and the original vendor of the now iconic role-playing game Dungeon and Dragons.

However, as TSR grew, Gary Gygax got pushed out and the venture (put a pin in that) was purchased by Wizards of the Coast (headquartered in Seattle, Washington) – the business of role-playing games move away. The history, and the significance of the site stayed present in the memory of many. Enter Scott Griffin, the man with original vision to make a homage to the Dungeon Hobby Shop (inspired by Jayson Elliot’s Gygax Magazine, though the company that published that is now Solarian Games) and the first man stepped on by Justin LaNasa in his quest for glory and fortune through nostalgia in the TTRPG space.

In a pair of interviews on the Tenkar’s Tavern YouTube Channel,1Ernie Gygax Call with Scott Griffin re: Dungeon Hobby Shop Museum 6/21 – Sorry I Gygaxed You! Part I, Tenkar’s Tavern, YouTube (22 June 2022) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NB5RzpZfxv0 2Ernie Gygax Phone Call with Scott Griffin re: DHSM – Part 2 – Justin is “Abrasive” & “A Bully”, Tenkar’s Tavern, YouTube (29 June 2022) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ljxEo6DJjrU which included recordings of calls with Ernie Gygax, Scott discussed how he had been scoping out the project with some specific intentions of replicating the early environment as much as possible: Incorporating early employees like Ernie Gygax, Jeff Perren (though more realistically his daughter Vicky Perren) and Jeff “Duck” Leason.

Continue reading NuTSR Group – The Beginning

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) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1419043661015257088 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) https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dinehart/giantlands-limited-edition-boxed-set/posts/2751900
  • 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) https://twitter.com/wincenworks/status/1418128086059552768
  • 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 http://amusementsparks.blubrry.com/2020/03/24/giantlands5/
  • Gender expression is “open”. (Confused? Yeah it’s weird, and covered later on.)5GiantLands Episode 5: Species & Gender (24 March 2020) http://amusementsparks.blubrry.com/2020/03/24/giantlands5/
  • 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.

Continue reading GiantLands – The Beginning

The TSR & Wonderfilled/GiantLands Saga – Introduction

In June 2021, a Twitter account @tsr_games (archive) was launched to promote TSR LLC, a company registered in Wisconsin in September 2020 for the express purpose of running a tribute to the original Dungeon Hobby Shop at the original address, and making games with the help of old school gaming personalities like Ernie Gygax. The company and associated group (NuTSR) were founded by Justin LaNasa.

By the end of July 2021 the twitter account would be renamed to @wfd_games and representing Wonderfilled Inc, a company registered in Wisconsin by Stephen E Dinehart IV – former CCO then separated from TSR LLC and owner/co-creator of GiantLands. By December 2021, TSR LLC would have lodged a federal lawsuit against Wizards of the Coast over a handful of old trademarks.

The events involved in that are complicated, and convoluted, but the short version of it is a series of bad business decisions, unethical practices and expression of reactionary politics by the personalities above created quagmires of public image, legal problems and unfavourable exposure. Most of the incriminating tweets, videos, etc have seen been deleted or removed from public access so screenshots will be used where archive links are not available. Most of this is being recreated from a Twitter thread that has become incredibly unwieldly over time.

Ignition Point

In June, Ernie Gygax did an interview (no longer available on YouTube) that was reported on EN World by the site owner Morrus. In it, Ernie, amongst other things:

  • Announced that about he was dissed for being old-fashioned, particularly around ideas like gender identity.
  • Claimed Lorraine Williams was a corporate raider and that mean she was like native american tribes who would “wipe out another tribe many times take the woman and children and murder off everything else.”
  • Referred to the people at modern Wizards of the Coast and their supporters lemmings – then announced the problem is “my fighter returns antagonism for antagonism. So that’s where we start getting into some difficulties and I’m having to throw a protection from evil up.”

For obvious reasons, this raised a lot of concerns among the modern audiences and required TSR LLC to wade in on and seek support. This was, initially done primarily by Stephen Dinehart who attempted to simply to deny anything happened and then – through his GiantLands Twitter account (replying to a tweet to TSR’s Twitter) launched the tweet that escalated things to flashpoint.

A screenshot of the original exchange between Meg (@MegTheSorceress) and GiantLands (@GiantLands) where she asks them to confirm if they agree trans identities are valid, and stop evading the question, and GiantLands replied with "You are disgusting"
The tweet that set the garbage pile ablaze

The lit fuze

An apology by Ernie was issued, but at this point the situation became polarized – with the vast majority of the old school gaming (including Luke Gygax) being alarmed and opposed to all of this, sceptical of the validity of this claim of being the old company reborn and unimpressed with the responses; and reactionaries from groups like ComicsGate rushing in to defend TSR LLC, seeing it as a new battlefield where they could claim victory and dominance over shared nostalgia.

A screenshot of the article on ComicsGate "Lying about Ernie Gygax? TSR Games and GiantLands are innocent" by Rohan Kumar Pall.  It has the standard "it's all lies" rhetoric.
Rohan Kumar Pall, aka Warcampaign, posting a video on Comisgate claiming people asking for accountability on Ernie’s interview were “lying” about him.
Continue reading The TSR & Wonderfilled/GiantLands Saga – Introduction

Unsolicited Critique: Steiner Park SP420 Kinetic Assault Pistol (Interstellar)

(If you’re looking for the more serious/professional write up – that’s here)

Wizard Tower Games recently tweeted that they wanted to know what kinds of weapons people wanted for their the works game: Interstellar

This was kind of a weird question to put forward since to date they have provided no real helpful information about what kind of product that it would be, what kind of characters you would play, what kind of enemies these guns would be used on and what kind of world it is set in general.

Continue reading Unsolicited Critique: Steiner Park SP420 Kinetic Assault Pistol (Interstellar)

I played: The Red Strings Club

A beautiful pixel art game that is part mystic bartender sim and part future hacking adventure, created by Deconstructeam in 2018. I first came across the game largely due a controversy at the time about the mandatory path in the hacker portion of the game including discovering the deadname of a trans person and then exploiting this information.

It was met first with condemnation of normalizing of dead naming, followed by a comment from the trans development team member who explained that they felt it was an important inclusion due to it being a reality of being a trans person, particularly their experience. They also pointed out that, this plot point aside it’s very welcoming to LGBT people.

Really the the most confusing part of it all is that is honestly not the inclusion of it, nor the application of it – but rather how oddly it sits within the overall narrative and themes within the game. It also presents an interesting issue in terms of understanding representations of groups one is not a part of… and oddly, perhaps the solution too.

The Red Strings Club is essentially the presentation of a philosophical dialog about free will, morality, mental health and justification of unorthodox actions (lying, breaking laws, etc). Is it better to conform or to raise your middle finger to the rules?

Akara-184 says, "To properly answer that question I'll need to delve deeper into the meaning and implication of "rules"."
Thanks…

The whole process is coated in some amazing world building and character development, but it is essentially video game characters taking the roles of Socrates and the rest of people that Plato (totally reliably, honest) wrote about.

The unique mechanic in the game that facilitates these conversations is the mixing of cocktails with supernatural mood altering powers – a part which I found particularly compelling as a bon vivant. The cocktails can make your patrons depressed, excited or horny. This is the kind of realism in games that I’m all for.

The later portion of the game becomes a “hacking” sequence which, like the bar, reaches surprising levels of realism by not being about solving mini-games or math puzzles disguised as games – but rather through looking for weaknesses in people’s routines and then manipulating people into exposing more weaknesses.

Overall the game is not a conventional game (which I consider a plus), rather it is certainly a pretty interesting exploration issues that are very topic in the world we live in. It is definitely worth the time to play as an arthouse experience – though I strongly recommend that follow the game’s guidance to question everything as play. (Honestly, more games should do this kind of genuine philosophical approach).

The protagonists of the game all ask questions, all question whether something is good or bad – then they draw their own conclusions and contemplate the best path forward.

It doesn’t always work out, but it’s always the best they can do.

Screencap from the bar, Donovan the bartender says, "Ok. But don't be reckless"
This game is full of wisdom.

Further discussion including spoilers is below the cut.

Continue reading I played: The Red Strings Club

I read: The Calling by David Gaider

The second book in the adventures of King Maric, who is long dead before the Dragon Age: Origins game began Рintroduces some characters from the game in a way that is a mix of character and world building Рand oddly transparent set up material.  Most oddly, it provides almost no insight into the titular topic, but rather seems to assume the audience is familiar with all the lore already.

When Dragon Age: Inquisition was released, many people expected the Architect to be the big bad or at least a pivotal figure – and reading through this novel it’s easy to see why.¬† It does very much set him up as a pivotal figure for future events, and somewhat rehash his goals revealed in Awakening.¬† Certainly the book suggests there is more than enough depth to make him the focus of a whole game in itself – its just all unrealised potential.

Reading the book, it feel a little as though watching a tabletop adventure game party consisting of a few player characters and a bunch of non-player characters included to assist.  It also unfortunately somewhat undermines the significance of the events in Origin, making the events seem oddly common due to a comical amount of negligence by various groups.

Ultimately its a story that feels very like it had a lot of potential but was under developed and under edited, being put out with a set agenda to achieve a few goals relation to the game rather than really expanding out the lore of Dragon Age or providing a satisfying story.  So much potential is on display, and yet so little of it is really fully explored.

This makes sense to a certain degree, since games are made as a collaborative effort and writing an expansion novel is largely a solo endeavour, both are done to deadlines but as the novels were secondary it seems safe to assume that less time was available (both relatively and actually)

Spoilers follow:

Continue reading I read: The Calling by David Gaider

I still think about: Alice and Kev

Alice and Kev was a blog project by Robin Burkinshaw in 2009 to use the Sims 3, a game primarily about obtaining happiness through success and materialism, to portray a homeless family. ¬†The father (Kev) and the daughter (Alice) both started in a “home” built to be an abandoned lot with none of the basic amenities.

The blog took a while to find its voice, but ultimately it turned into a captivating tale built from a¬†gameplay challenge combined with empathy for a group of people that society generally ignores. ¬†It in turn, spawned a challenge of it’s own – but that’s not why I keep thinking about it.

Ultimately there’s two ways to play an Alice and Kev game, there’s the game like approach of trying to “succeed” in the Sims 3 Challenge –¬†which can easily be derailed by the game itself with mods, knowledge of the game mechanics or random chance.

(The playthrough is btw, adorable and I really recommend checking out the chaos that occurs in ModdestSimmer‘s game)

The other way, which is how Robin played, is to use the game which was designed for vicariously living out success and/or drama, to explore what sort of decisions the homeless might find themselves such as stealing apples out of a yard to avoid starving, trying to talk strangers¬†into providing much needed assistance and Kev’s never ending quest for validation from anyone he happens to come across – be they Alice, strangers or ghosts.

This, juxtaposed against the Sims general background of unlimited conventional “success” created a sort of contrast that isn’t really seen outside of games, with the exception of Diaries of a Spaceport Janitor. ¬†It’s something that was and still is sorely needed in games as the medium grows (and hopefully matures).

Most games in most genres allow for you to go to a path of incredible success, or if they’re not intended to people will find a way to spin it (often in record time), there’s very little focus on ever considering engaging with the opposite.