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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Locke & Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows

 Title: Locke & Key Vol. 3: Crown of Shadows



ISBN: 9781600106958

Price: $24.99

Publisher/Year: IDW Publishing, 2010

Artist:  Gabriel Rodríguez

Writer: Joe Hill

Collects: Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows #1-6


Rating: 4.5/5


I continue to find myself becoming completely immersed in this re-read of “Locke & Key”, Joe Hill’s fantastic dark fantasy horror series. I think that it had been long enough since I read it that I had forgotten some things that have been nice surprises, which is good. But even the things that I have stark memory of are still hitting me where it hurts. I didn’t remember that it’s a slow build up of actual plot progression in favor of character development, and that is made pretty clear in “Crown of Shadows”.


Dodge is making some moves in this book when it comes to trying to get the keys, though it wasn’t as much as I thought it would be. His first big plot point is dealing with the angry ghost of Sam, who is still trapped in Key House and is PRETTY pissed that Dodge manipulated him. The other is his continued quest for the keys. We are about halfway through the series at the end of this, and while Dodge does have some moments of significance here (outside of Sam’s ire), Hill is still taking his time. The biggest development is a Shadow attack on Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, in which Dodge uses literal shadow creatures to try and find the keys and take out anything, i.e. the Locke Kids, that stand in the way of that. It’s the first significant battle between Dodge and the kids, with Tyler at the helm for the most part, and I was once again enthralled with the directions Hill took this, even though I’d read it before. It’s a BIG battle, but we still don’t really know what Dodge’s end plan is, and why he wants all these keys. Again, I know that we get there, and I know that Hill is biding his time, but it just surprised me that we still haven’t gotten clarification on that, NOR have we found out much more about where Rendell fits into all of this outside of a couple sinister clues. It’s a slow burn. Hill is good at that, but I just wanted a little more clarity right now as I think it’s going to get a bit hectic, if I remember correctly.


But it’s the subplots involving Nina and Kinsey that really stuck chords with me as I re-read “Crown of Shadows”. When I initially read it, I don’t think that Nina’s plight caught my attention as much as it should have, as when I read it this time I was just shattered for her and where she is. She’s still drowning in the trauma that she has endured due to the brutal murder of her husband, as well as the violent rape committed against her during the home invasion, and now that Duncan is off dealing with Brian’s injury she is adrift with her three children, and her dependence on alcohol is far more obvious to them now. Her agony is compounded by the horrible guilt she feels as a mother who can’t give her children the love and support and protection that they need, and that sends her into an even deeper spiral, which leads to more drinking, and it just keeps cycling. Hill always covers this with empathy and care, and it never felt exploitative to me. He just knows how to tell it the right way. But then we get an interesting development involving her daughter Kinsey. When we left Kinsey in the last volume, she had used the Head Key to remove her sense of fear. We now see that playing out in two ways in “Crown of Shadows”. The first is the obvious way: she isn’t fearful of risky or dangerous situations anymore. In this volume Kinsey finds herself in a couple of dangerous situations. The first is the aforementioned shadow attack at the house, in which she is cool as a cucumber and completely unphased, while the second is when she and her new friends get trapped in a cave with rising water. While the other teens are understandably freaking out, Kinsey is casually trying to figure out a solution. She’s also a bit more adventuresome in her interactions with others, no longer insecure about being around other people. But the less obvious path Hill takes her upon has everything to do with Nina and Nina’s emotional spiral: Kinsey has absolutely no problem telling her mother what a fuck up she thinks she is, completely comfortable to unload on her whenever Nina has a bad moment. Hill ties the idea of empathy to fear, at least it seems that way to me, and that is SUCH a fascinating theme to lay out with these two women, with one who is consumed by it and one who has excised it, and how bad both scenarios are.


“Locke and Key (Vol. 3): Crown of Thorns” may have given Dodge just a little more ground in his quest to get the keys, but the lack of key movement gave the Lockes, especially the women, more time to shine. Things have to be looking up for the Lockes soon, right? I mean, I think I remember the answer to that question, but we’ll see when I go on to “Keys to the Kingdom”!


We get some slow plot progression and some dark but well done character development, and “Locke & Key: Crown of Shadows” continues the moving tale of the Locke Family, and those who are after them.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

Locke & Key Vol. 2: Head Games

 Title: Locke & Key Vol. 2: Head Games



ISBN: 9781600104831

Price: $24.99

Publisher/Year: IDW Publishing, 2009

Artist:  Gabriel Rodríguez

Writer: Joe Hill

Collects: Locke & Key: Head Games #1-6


Rating: 4.5/5


I am definitely enjoying going back and reading “Locke and Key” if only because of how it still manages to surprise me on my second read through. I’m curious to try and give the Netflix series a chance again, as I watched the first few episodes and then kinda lost interest. But reading “Head Games” has reminded me that Joe Hill was laying groundwork for so many things early on, and while it’s a slow process, you can see that it’s all going to fall into place as time goes on. “Head Games” takes its time. But it is definitely laying a lot of foundation, while still hitting emotional beats.


There is still a fair amount of groundwork to be laid out in this series, and “Head Games” continues to slowly peel back the origins of the demon Dodge, who has taken on the form of a teenage boy named Zack, and gone to the high school gym teacher, Ellie Whedon to be used as cover. Because this form is the exact replica of Rendell Locke’s high school friend Luke Caravaggio, who was Ellie’s boyfriend at the time. We don’t know as of now what happened to Luke, nor do we know when we start what hold Dodge has on Ellie, and Hill carefully and methodically starts to reveal various elements of Ellie, Rendell, and their connections to Dodge and the keys. Ellie’s story is particularly sad, as she is wracked with guilt over the unknown thing that happened in high school, and is trying to care for her special needs son Rufus. Dodge/Zack knows just how to manipulate and terrify her, and it reinforces the insidiousness of Dodge, as well as some dark secrets that Rendell and his friends may have been hiding.


We also get to see Dodge/Zack start to realize that staying incognito may not be so easy. After all, Duncan Locke, Rendell’s brother and the uncle to Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode, was a little kid during the time that Rendell et all were headed on an unknown dark path to Dodge and the keys, and seeing this new teenager hanging out his nephew and niece could be tricky for the demon should he put two and two together. This also opens up the door to see a little bit more about Duncan’s life now, having to step in as a parent to his nephews and niece given that his sister in law is incredibly traumatized and unable to care for them too well at the moment. We also see his romantic life at the front of a subplot, as he and his boyfriend Brian find themselves targets of homophobic violence. It’s not super great that this is the big storyline for Duncan, but I will say that it does flow into a bigger picture storyline with Dodge and the keys, so that’s something anyway.


But in terms of straight up fantasy world building, “Head Games” starts to dig into the depths of another one of the keys that the Locke siblings have discovered. The focus this time is on the Head Key, in which a person can insert the key into their head, and open up their consciousness and imagination to add things, or remove them. Bode stuns his siblings with this trick, and while Tyler is interested in what you can add (after all, inserting a book makes it so you know all the contents within that book), Kinsey, still deeply feeling the trauma of her Dad’s murder and the family attack, is more concerned about what you can remove. And decides to remove her ability to fear, and her ability to cry. Going through the first time I didn’t think too much of it, as there was still so much going on that I was trying to wrap my head around, but now that I’m going through again with a lot more knowledge, I could appreciate just how utterly heartbreaking Kinsey’s arc is. While Bode was probably too young to understand everything that happened as of now, and while Tyler has been pushing it down, Kinsey’s deep pain has made it so she just doesn’t want to deal with any of it anymore, and decides to remove crucial parts of herself to do so. It’s such a fascinating place to take this Head Key storyline, and I think it’s so well done.


And the illustrations are still excellent. Gabriel Rodríguez really gets to let loose in this volume, since the Head Key is so abstract and outside the box.


Still a lot of groundwork being laid into the mythos, but “Locke & Key (Vol. 2): Head Games” is starting to slowly unravel all the secrets of Key House.

Friday, July 21, 2023

SAG-AFTRA Strike Update

 

As many of you know, SAG-AFTRA went on strike on July 14, 2023. If the strike is not resolved by the dates of Rose City Comic Con, September 22-24, our actor guests are still permitted to appear at RCCC as long as both we and they do not promote struck work or struck companies.

What does this mean for you, the fan?

You can still meet your favorite celebrities at Rose City Comic Con! However, there will be some restrictions in place.

1. Autographs: Guests who are members of SAG-AFTRA cannot provide anything to sign which depicts them as a character from their struck work, meaning only generic headshots will be provided at their autograph table. However, if you bring a photo or item from a struck property, it is okay for them to sign. Note, in solidarity, actors reserve the right to decline to sign any items from struck work.

2. Photo Ops: Guests who are members of SAG-AFTRA can take photos with fans.

3. Panels: Guests who are members of SAG-AFTRA can participate in panels and Q&As, however, they are not permitted to discuss struck projects. General topics are fine, such as questions about their process, why they wanted to be an actor, what they like/dislike about working in the industry, their private work or charities, etc. Any fans who ask about the actors' projects will have their question politely declined.

For more information about members of SAG-AFTRA appearing at conventions and fan expos, please visit www.sagaftrastrike.org/cons-appearances-faqs

Rose City Comics Con 2023 - I'll Be there!

 

SEPT. 22 -24, 2023

OREGON CONVENTION CENTER
777 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Portland, OR 97232

I've said it several times before, and I get to say it again this year. I will be covering Rose City Comic Con as a member of the press. So very excited!

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Locke & Key Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft

Title: Locke & Key Vol. 1: Welcome to Lovecraft



ISBN: 978160002370

Price: $24.99

Publisher/Year: IDW Publishing, 2008

Artist:  Gabriel Rodríguez

Writer: Joe Hill

Collects: Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft #1-6


Rating: 4.5/5


“Welcome to Lovecraft” introduces us to the Locke family, which has just experienced an unspeakable tragedy. The family patriarch Rendell was a principal of a high school, and two of his students broke into his home, raped his wife, murdered him, and attempted to hunt down his three children Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode. Now the surviving family members are moving back to Rendell’s childhood home out east, a humungous and strange mansion called Keyhouse where Rendell’s brother Duncan lives. What appears to be a couple of psychopathic teenagers run amok is, anything but, however, as the surviving assailant, Sam, is communicating with something otherworldly that is living in the well of Keyhouse from his prison cell across the country. This first volume does a lot of heavy lifting, from giving voice and perspective to all of the Locke kids (and how they are all faring after this tragedy), to slowly unfolding the demonic presence in the well, to staring to sprinkle in the magical systems and objects that Keyhouse has hidden within its walls. It is a LOT, but Hill manages to fit it all in without it feeling overwrought or hurried. Granted, the magical systems are barely touched upon as of yet, but I am a-okay with building up the family members and their dynamics first. Hill isn’t in a rush, and I think that the characterizations benefit.


The magical elements we do have remain shrouded in mystery. We know that there are keys, and we know that they can do different things, like make you be able to leave your body and travel in a ghostly manner, or change from male to female. But where they come from, and what the deal is with the demon in the well, who is communicating with both murderer Sam and youngest Locke, Bode. They keys are important, and we get a taste as to why. I loved how we slowly see how the demon in the well (unnamed as of yet) inserts itself into both Sam’s consciousness, and the role that it plays in Sam’s violence AND how it manipulates Bode because of his age and naivete. Again, we don’t know much about this demon yet. The creepiness is well established through other means.


But I had really forgotten how freakin’ dark this first volume is. From the attack on the Locke Family at the beginning to Sam’s cross country murder spree after he is set free by the well demon, I found this volume harder to read now than it was the first time I dove in. I will say that some of the worse stuff is left off page in terms of graphic content (specifically Nina Locke’s rape, and it is a relief that we didn’t have to see it), but Hill absolutely pulls out the horrors in the aftermath of it all. I don’t remember the rest of this series being this upsetting, but who knows, maybe I blocked it out? My point is that there are lots of content warnings here. None of this seems exploitative to me in how Hill writes it, but it’s still disturbing.


And finally, I had forgotten about how much I really like the art of Gabriel Rodríguez. It definitely has a ‘cartoon-y’ vibe, but he really knows how to capture pain, sadness, joy, and all things macabre in his designs.


Even though diving back into “Locke and Key” was a bit rough with “Welcome to Lovecraft”, I have a feeling that this is once again going to be a successful re-read. This is old school Joe Hill, and it was clear even then that he was a horror and dark fantasy force to be reckoned with.


A fantastical and incredibly grim start to a dark fantasy series I love, “Locke and Key (Vol.1): Welcome to Lovecraft” will suck you in from the get go.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Grimmerspace (July 2023 Update)


Iron GM Games posted an actual update for their Kickstarter the other day, and I wanted to present it here as an update to my previous post about the project. (You can view the entire update on the Kickstarter page here.)

***

This following lengthy and detailed update covers three primary topics:


  • Delivering Part 1 of Grimmerspace Setting & Adventures 
  • Addressing backers’ many questions and complaints
  • Explaining why we’re so late, and what we’re doing about it

We’d also like to apologize to backers whose questions we may have missed. Questions and complaints arrive in at least six locations (Kickstarter comments, Kickstarter update comments, Kickstarter direct messages, emails, Facebook messenger, and Facebook posts), and sometimes we don’t see them. While we try to answer every question or concern, you’ll likely get the fastest response posting in the Grimmerspace Facebook Group.


SUMMARY OF PROGRESS

As you’ve heard us explain before, the Grimmerspace core book has expanded into three different sections, each of book length. These are: Player Options, Setting, and Adventures.


In the past we’ve shared our plan to release each of these as backer-only PDFs, as we finish them and before printing hardcovers. Normally, to avoid piracy and for a host of other valid reasons, publishers don’t do this. However, we feel the combination of being this late and our ethical obligation to backers trumps those standard publisher concerns. There’s not much we can do about being late except finish and deliver, but at least we can give you PDFs as soon as they’re locked for print.


To that end, we expect to have the full text of Grimmerspace Player Options in layout this month and in your hands by August.


UPDATED XENO FILES

Since we finished our Grimmerspace bestiary, Xeno Files, backers used these monsters in their games and let us know how it went. We’ve incorporated their feedback, updated the book, rejiggered the layout, and are about to lock the text for print. As soon as the last bits of layout are complete (hopefully this week), we'll send another update, letting you know you can download the updated Xeno Files from your Backerkit download area.


BACKER CONCERNS, QUESTIONS, AND REQUESTS

Backers have asked many questions about the Grimmerspace project and its status, as well as voiced any number of speculations and concerns. In the past, we’ve answered a number of these in the Kickstarter comments, but not everyone sees those. Also, some backers repeatedly told us that explanations we gave in the comments really belonged in an update; so, we’re repeating some of those comments and responses here.


Until now, we’ve declined to engage with speculation about our failings or other complaints for a few simple reasons. For one, it’s just an incredible statement of the obvious to acknowledge, yes, we are immensely late on this project. And when you’re late, but are still committed to delivering no matter what, there’s really little more to do than offer sincere mea culpas, course correct whatever is correctable, and get back to work.


For another, spending time and words on a postmortem before delivering just seemed like… whining and making excuses. Who wants to hear that when they’ve risked their money on something and are justifiably angry it's not yet in their hands?


However, enough backers are, with good reason, speculating, accusing, and expressing exasperation that it became clear explanations are clearly in order. We assume that for every one backer voicing a legitimate concern, complaint, or question, there are still more, silent backers who think or feel the same things. So, we decided to try and tackle every valid issue raised in this one update by writing a single, big fat FAQ.


Please know we consider nothing below as an excuse. There aren’t excuses for being this monumentally late, but we hope our answers clarify what happened. Of course, we don’t expect this explanation to make anyone happy; but hopefully, we can eliminate some uncertainty


But before we begin: 


Dear Backers,


First and once more, our apologies. We deeply regret the lateness of rewards, and we share your deep and entirely legitimate frustration. For our part, we’d really hoped to build a thriving game company on the back of this project’s success, which clearly didn’t work out for us, but we remain committed to delivering what we promised.


- Lou and Rone


Q: You gave a rough date for Player Options, but what about dates for the rest of the books?


A: Lots of backers ask this. It’s a reasonable question, and we’re absolutely terrified of answering it with hard dates for fear of missing those dates--even by a little. So this is what we can say about the rest of the core book:


Setting Final development, final editing, and proofing of Setting will go faster than Player Options. The Setting final draft is more polished than was the draft for Options, and Setting is far, far less crunchy. Zero crunch, really; so, no playtesting required.


Adventures Of the 14 adventures, all are written and 12 are ready for playtesting. A while back, we broke off playtesting Adventures to get Options and Setting in your hand. Editing on Adventures should prove swifter than editing Options, but the availability of playtesters is unpredictable and could slow us down.


Q: Okay, but that’s still not a date. What about dates?


A: Again, we’re extremely leery about giving exact dates for fear of missing them. We already blew our predictions the first time, so giving an unreliable date feels, at best, like a horrific disservice to backers or, at worst, might read like a BS effort to get people off our backs.


It’s also hard to be real about dates, because until we hand the files to the printer and the printer tells us how long printing will take, we’re just guessing. And once books get from the printer to the fulfillment house, and the fulfillment house tells us where in the queue our project stands? Again we’re just guessing. Passing on those guesses feels like more BS driven by questionable motives.


Q: Enough excuses, just give me a @#%$!@ date already!

A: Despite what we said answering the prior two FAQs, we’re targeting getting the entire Grimmerspace project to the printer Q1 of next year. When we lock PDF files for the printer, we’ll also send them to backers. Could we miss that goal? Maybe. But it’s not an unreasonable target and, if we do miss, it shouldn’t be by much.


Q: What are the rest of the promised Grimmerspace deliverables and what’s their status?


A: Recently, backers have been asking this question with increasing frequency. Here’s an status update on every Grimmerspace deliverable:


Core Books


  • Grimmerspace Adventures Vol. 1  - Draft. ⅓ ready to print, ⅔ needs playtesting
  •  Grimmerspace Setting & Adventures - Being delivered to backers 1 PDF at a time
  •  Xeno Files - Ready to print, PDF delivered to backers

Other Books


  • Abattoir 8 PDF - Available on DriveThru RPG
  • Immersive Battlemap - Book Shipped
  • Battlemap Stickers - Shipped
  • Players Guide - Layout task only; extracted when Options and Setting complete
  • Starfinder Beginner Box - Shipped
  • Starfinder Core Rulebook - Shipped
  • Starfinder Quickstart - Ready to print


Other Items


  • ARCop’s Piece - Delayed until physical product closer to shipping
  • Denizen Deck - Layout task only; extracted when Adventures complete
  • Gaming Paper - Will ship this summer
  • Hodrak Miniature - Done, waiting to ship
  • Larry Elmore Zyrag - Art Shipped
  • Numbered bookplates - Delayed Grimmerspace Setting & Adventures printed
  • Posters (5 total) - Ready to print
  • Slipcase - Designed, cannot be finalized until book sizes known
  • Xeno Deck - Layout task only, extracted from Xeno Files 


VTT


  • Abattoir 8 - Available on Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds
  • Unfinished books - Not yet on VTTs for obvious reasons
  • Xeno Files  - Available on Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds


Q: Why are you guys so freaking late? I mean so epically, outrageously, dumb-ass, gobsmackingly late?


A: This question will take the most words to answer in full detail and with full transparency. So here’s the TL;DR version: poor initial estimates (we were always going to be somewhat late), COVID and its effects, foolishly expanding all books on the project by roughly 30%, and a staff reduced to Lou, Rone, and handful of (very talented) freelancers.


Our original estimate for a delivery date was July 2020. Here’s the nuts and bolts of why we’re three years late and counting:


Poor Initial Estimate


Our initial estimate was a year to deliver 3 books. At the end of the campaign, those books totaled 396,800 words (give or take). Before the Kickstarter, we’d written development of about 10k words and had 15 professionals (including us), 5 playtesting teams, 3 proofreaders, and an editor lined up and ready to go. Plus about another 12 writers on the bench, each willing to pick up a few thousand words as their schedules allowed.


This was our original thinking on timeframe: 396,800 words divided by 15 people = 26k words each, a length we personally have written in a month as freelancers. Add in oversight and development with each designer… call it 3 months. Then editing and proofing 396k words at about 10k words a day, so 40 days, let’s call that 2 months elapsed, 3 with slack. Call playtesting, which can happen in parallel while we continue to edit, plus layout another 3 months, thereabouts. Artwork to be executed in parallel; so off to the printer, shipping to begin within 1 year.


Obviously, this was a garbage estimate. So what went wrong?


The short answer is almost everything took longer than expected.


For a start, we’ve needed close to 100k unplanned words of development to accurately communicate the full depth of content to our artists, freelancers, and playtesters- a major, unanticipated time sink. So, no, we did not (as some backers have suggested) “lie” about the level of development. This was always a brand new company’s first project, but we did seriously underestimate the amount of development needed, the amount of time it would take to bring other designers and artists up to speed, and the amount of oversight they would require.


We were also surprised by the number of artists, designers, developers, etc. who just couldn’t or wouldn’t grok Grimmersapce. The act of finding freelancers who did pick up what we were putting down turned out to be hellishly time consuming.


We added an open Beta for our classes, which was worth it but took time and effort to manage. On top of which, proofing has taken far longer than expected. Most of our proofreaders are volunteers. While some return documents with stunning rapidity, most have day jobs and their ability to get documents back swiftly varies greatly.


Finding additional artists who could execute on the Grimmerspace look and style also proved very challenging. The amount of time it took to field artists was startling. We finally found our set of amazing artists who got it and took our Grimmerspace visions to another level, but we grossly underestimated how long it would take to find our people. When we did, most were from other countries, with English as a second language, and we’d never built time for overcoming artist language barriers into our calculations. The number of art order rewrites was simply overwhelming.


In hindsight, if NOTHING else had gone wrong, plain biting off more than we could chew plus faulty estimating were always going to make us a year or so late. A lot of that’s on me, Lou, as I did the initial estimates. Again, I apologize.


COVID & Staffing Problems


But of course, something else did go wrong. COVID. I know many of us are tired of hearing it, and again this is not an excuse, but… Covid happened and we managed its impacts poorly. Other companies may have handled it better, retained their staff, or simply weren’t so new. We can’t speak to that, but we can speak to the full impact of Covid on a fledgling game company. Especially one relying almost entirely on freelancers for design and art.


When COVID hit, most but not every designer committed to the project pulled out, including professionals who had signed contracts. Nearly all professional RPG freelancers have day jobs and write RPGs for fun. As the reality of the pandemic sank in, fun projects went in the toilet. Of those few who did deliver, none were willing to take on more than their initial assignments.


From a practical perspective we went from a team of about 15 writers, designers, developers, and an editor, plus 8 artists, to about 4 designer-side staff total (including Lou and Rone) and 0 artists. We scrambled to add more freelancers, but it was difficult. Some stayed, some fell away. Some delivered half-finished work or stuff we simply couldn’t use.


We tried out a ton of folks, but at the end of the day, we still wound up with only 4 primary writer/designers (again including Lou and Rone), 1 developer, 1 editor, and 7 artists. Finding artists was unbelievably time consuming, and we eventually lost access to one of our favorites because he lives in Russia.


It consumes a huge amount of time to find freelancers, contract with them, and bring them up to speed on the IP, only to receive a turnover that doesn’t cut the mustard. So you educate, bring them up to speed once more, correct, and try again. And… still not there. At which point, do you continue trying to train less experienced designers or do you move on and try to find someone else? Either way, you’re flushing time down the drain and paying a huge opportunity cost to hunting and training artistic and writing talent. This was a problem we NEVER anticipated having.


In retrospect, we wasted a LOT of time trying to replace our vanished freelance team. It was a mistake. We would have been far better off simply accepting we’d have to deliver on the back of a much lighter bench and plow ahead on our own.


COVID also did a number on playtesting. For 2+ years playtesting became something we could no longer outsource. Previously, we sent copies to people who got their veteran groups together in their homes and ran playtests for us. During COVID, very few groups got together, and not all our playtesters switched to VTT. Overnight, the number of vetted playtest groups at our disposal dropped from 5 to 1. And what looked previously like giving 5 groups about 3 adventures each to run 1x week for 3 weeks (let’s call it a month to account for when a group couldn’t meet) suddenly became an impossible schedule to keep.


Instead, we had to invest time making our own impromptu VTT versions, and have Lou run the majority of playtests himself. That approach also came with a big opportunity cost. If Lou was spending days making VTT adventures and running playtests, he wasn’t writing, developing, or editing with Rone. We eventually put playtests and adventures on hold and shifted to Player Options and Setting, as feedback from backers indicated many would prefer to receive those first.


With COVID over, when we return to Adventures we also expect playtesting to be easier.


A Significantly Bigger Project


At the same time, as it grew more clear we’d be late, we decided to try and at least partially make it up to backers by adding to your books at no extra cost. For example, we grew Xeno Files from 90 to 128 pages. Player Options and Setting expanded, and we also added to Adventures. All of which also needed its own development write-ups, its own playtesting, development, editorial, art, etc. At the end of the day, from a word count perspective, Grimmerspace looks to come in about 30% larger. But that increased word count likely cost us 40-50% more time.


But here’s where we truly blew it: we added all this content and even as we lost our freelancers. That's like 2 cars smashing into each other. You have to add the velocity of *both* cars to correctly calculate the force of impact. We estimate these two factors alone added about a year to the project.


Was it the right decision? Only you can say when you finally receive the books. You’re getting more value for your dollar, and we’re eating the cost, but we definitely screwed up our work estimate, and big time. The effect was exponential, not linear. We’ll be eating crow for a long time over that. We out-and-out messed up.


Life


In hopes of offering a complete explanation, and not a justification, life is… life. It throws curveballs at us all. During this time we’ve also faced multiple deaths, wrestled with personal medical issues, caught COVID, were both hospitalized, developed repetitive stress disorders, etc. etc. And now Owen has cancer. While such things always happen to people, and are no excuse for our poor estimates, none of it helped.


Q: Printing and shipping costs have increased since your 2019 estimates, so it’s hard to see how you’re going to finish/print/ship this. How could you afford it? Other KS in this position demand more money from backers before they’ll deliver. It seems likely you’ll do the same.


A: Backers like John R. Garzanich, Seer of Chaos, Ebonweaver, and others have raised this very reasonable question. It is of course true that costs have increased drastically, and the short answer to this question is “We’re going to deliver by taking out loans and expecting to lose a lot of money to deliver.”


The longer answer is we didn’t raise enough money from the initial Kickstarter to cover ballooning freight costs, inflated shipping costs, and accelerating print costs. Especially on a larger than anticipated book.


So, between us, Rone and I have sold cars, refinanced our homes, and secured a line of credit for Iron GM Games. As of right now, we have the money we need to finish, to print our larger books, to freight them to fulfillment houses, and to ship them to you.


Q: Why can’t we get a refund? Other companies give refunds, so you’re full of @#%@. I bet all the money's gone.


A: Backers Michael, Michael hack, the Smug Druggler, and Tom Miskey have asked about this in public comments. Others have asked privately. Some ask more politely than others. Regardless of how it’s asked, it’s a reasonable query.


For starters, the money is not all gone, it’s mostly gone. For good or for ill, the money raised was spent on art, designers, developers, writers, design, development, shipping backers their 3rd party books and products (Starfinder Roleplaying Core Rulebooks, Beginner Boxes, and Battlemap books), materials, layout, and keeping the lights on. What remains is earmarked for printing and final shipping to backers.


But the reason we’re not offering refunds is in the answer to the previous question. It’s precisely because we didn’t raise enough money from the initial Kickstarter to cover the now increased freight costs, inflated shipping costs, and ballooning print costs on even larger, heavier books.


We aren’t offering refunds because we have a fiduciary responsible to exert our best efforts to put rewards in your hands, and opening the door to refunds could damage our ability to deliver by burning through the remaining money earmarked for printing, freight, and shipping. We refuse to allow the angry and disappointed backers demanding refunds, however understandable their viewpoint, to put the project at risk at the expense of our patient and supportive backers. That would be unfair, not to mention a breach of our contract with Kickstarter.


At least one backer has called this a “weak excuse.” We understand their disgruntlement, but we respectfully disagree.


Q: You’re just going to hold our books hostage and demand more money for shipping, aren’t you? That’s what other KS have done!


A: A lot of backers are concerned about this possibility. It’s a relatable fear. Our answer is, no. We don’t plan to do that. We’ve specifically taken on personal financial burdens so as not to do that. And we would never hold your rewards hostage for financial reasons. Period. Full stop.


Is it possible that, despite all our efforts, we still won’t have enough money to ship everything exactly as originally planned? 


Maybe. Lots of things are possible, but right now it doesn’t look that way. If it really came down to it we have options. For example, we might save money by printing and shipping books containing only exactly what we pledged in the Kickstarter, and then give you the 30% new content as free PDFs. But again, right now, the project is looking okay financially and Iron GM Games isn’t contemplating any extraordinary cost-cutting measures.


Q: You’re frauds! You stole our money! You scammed us! This project is dead. It took so long I moved on from Starfinder. I’ve written this off as a loss. You’re a pair of dirty thieves whose updates are nothing but lies and broken promises!


A: These are quotes. We hear multiple variations on this theme, daily, and we understand the feeling and we hate that we’ve made any of our backers feel this way. We own that it’s our fault and, again, apologize. However, we also believe our best rebuttal to such sentiments is to keep our noses to the grindstone and deliver; so, we’ve nothing more to say in response.


Q: What’s with this tracker spreadsheet? It’s confusing/a lot of nothing/meaningless/intentionally deceptive/doublespeak/doesn’t tell me how much progress was made. At the very least show me something concrete because this tracker makes it look like the project is years away!


A: Many backers, including Dylan Stayman, Hank McCoy, Kevin Melka, Fabio Elias Reis Ritter, Jb Brown, Dan Bond, Zion Productions and others have all expressed variations on this concern. We hope everyone found this update more concrete. In response, going forward we plan to make two changes to our updates:


1. We’ll start with a brief, written summary of progress as a way to clearly and concisely state what’s been accomplished since last time, and


2. While we didn’t get to it in time for this update, we’ll either add a button to the tracking sheet that lets you pop back and forth to the previous one, or try to pull out a little HTML and add a history with links to all the previous tracking sheets.


Q: What if there’s a Starfinder 2E or Starfinder Enhanced before this is out?


A: This question was on the mind of backers like Alexander Ren Eldritch, Tom Miskey, SuccessfulGeek, J Howerton, and Remi Fayomi. It’s a good question. We speak to folks at Paizo regularly, and we’ve heard nothing about a 2nd Edition of the Starfinder Roleplaying Game Core Rulebook. As for Starfinder Enhanced, after we’ve delivered Grimmerspace we contemplate reviewing that book and, if it's needed, issuing a compatibility/conversion update as a free PDF.


SUMMARY & PERSONAL NOTE

That was a lot to read and emotionally tough for us to write (some of it for a second time). We hope it came across as politely as we intended. We’re trying our best to deliver as quickly as we can without sacrificing quality, but as we forge ahead our hearts are pretty broken, our aspirations shattered, and it’s all made worse because we catch rocks in the face every time we even think about customer service and responding to posts. That’s no excuse, it's on us to handle customer service appropriately, and we’re determined to be more responsive to backers’ questions going forward.


Every extra minute this project takes, we lose more money. We have a burn rate after all, on everything from web sites to warehousing, and you can only dim the lights so low without turning them off. And of course, every minute this project continues we trash our (until now, excellent) reputations in the industry.


As you can imagine, these are not the reasons we went into this Kickstarter. But it is the reality of where we’re at, and we get it. We’re not sitting here playing the tiny violin, begging for your sympathy. We are brutally late delivering rewards, and that is nowhere but on us. And yes, of course you should vent and discuss as you like, you’re entitled and that’s what comments and Facebook groups are for. And In fact, we again urge you to post your queries and opinions in the Grimmerspace Facebook group, as we see those posts more frequently in the normal course of a day.


We do ask one thing, though: if some of you could bring yourselves to vent, complain, and speculate but leave out counterproductive insults like turds, thieves, fools, frauds, scammers, and worse, it would at least reduce the soul-crushing weight of all this and make pressing on to the finish line just a little easier. Thank you for considering that, and a big thank you to all who have already exercised restraint and consideration.


As dispiriting as it felt to compose this update, it was important that we suck it up and present a full explanation to anyone who genuinely wanted to hear our answers. Now it's time to head back to work.


As poet laureate Bobby Frost once said, “The best way out is always through,” and through is where we’re going, bruised reputations, egos, and wallets notwithstanding.

***

Personally, I appreciate this level of update. We received an honest and fair response. While I was not aware of all the financial hardships that Iron GM Games was experiencing over this project, I am aware of the pitfalls that some campaigns have fallen into. While this project was estimated to be delivered around July 2020, I am still waiting for my physical rewards on 2 other campaigns that were meant to be delivered in March 2018 and February 2019. For what it's worth, these other campaigns have transitioned to a different party actually working to fulfill them.

I do hope that Iron GM Games experiences some good fortune soon. I have been looking forward to my physical rewards for this and am working to create space on my bookshelves for the books.

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