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Where are they now? A pair of troubled RPG publishers resurface

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The RPG industry is a small place, as I'm sure all of you reading this already know. Everybody seems to know everybody else...and when things go bad, they generally go bad in a public and painful way. Events this week have reminded us of two such meltdowns - though, fortunately, one at least has managed a happy ending.

Of Exchange Rates, Forgotten Freelancers, and the Great White Book

By 2005, Guardians of Order was an up-and-coming RPG publisher with, by modern standards, a wide and diverse catalog. They published BESM (Big Eyes, Small Mouth), Silver Age Sentinels: The Superhero Role-Playing Game, a number of smaller Tri-Stat games, and had A Game of Thrones in the pipeline. They'd even placed as Runner-Up in the 2004 Ennie for Best Publisher.

But all was not well with the Canadian company, thanks largely to the declining value of the US dollar (in which currency most of their books were sold - hence cutting into their profits). So the company, which by 2005 consisted solely of Mark C. MacKinnon, shut down in 2006 - leaving their creditors, including a number of freelancers (who were never paid) and small-press game producers (who had already paid GoO for distribution of some products), unpaid. You can read MacKinnon's account of the debacle here.

But his account is incomplete, according to many of the freelancers (as you can see by reading James Lowder's posts in the same thread, or this blog). Lowder claims that GoO continued to take contracts even after they knew they were unable to pay.

Another sad story is the fate of Nobilis (2nd edition). As described here, GoO had picked up the publication and distribution rights to the classic (and lavishly produced) Nobilis (2nd edition) after the shutdown of Hogshead Publishing in 2002. According to Jenna Katerin Moran (then writing as R. Sean Borgstrom),

Jenna Moran wrote:
...Guardians of Order thought it was fine to sell and then later trash books that I wrote and James Wallis printed, say, without paying anybody anything for them ever...
Nobilis remained out of print until 2011, and the Great White Book that Hogshead produced remains (today) one of the most impressively designed books in the RPG hobby (it won the prestigious Diana Jones Award in 2003), making the loss of any copies, and the failure to honor obligations to its creators, particularly sad.

And then MacKinnon vanished - refusing any contact with said freelancers and RPG designers, at least according to their reports - for many years. The next the community heard from him was January 2012 - when this rpg.net thread led to the discovery that GoO was still selling pdfs for properties to which they no longer held the license (including A Game of Thrones).

Why is this relevant now? MacKinnon has re-entered the game industry with a Kickstarter campaign for his latest design, Upon a Fable - leading to a very public backlash by those who feel ill-used in the past. (He also has a stake in the publishing house created for the game, Dyskami Publishing Company.) The comments are fueled both by anger that MacKinnon can (legally, so far as anyone knows) re-enter the industry without paying past debts and by the crowdfunding model itself - which relies so strongly on trust.

The Rise and Fall and Rise of the Razor Coast

The second story has a happier ending. Nicolas Logue emerged in the D&D 3.5 era as a popular adventure writer, beginning his career in the pages of Dungeon magazine and going on to write full-length adventures for both Wizards of the Coast and Paizo Publishing. He was so successful that he decided to strike out on his own in 2008 and founded the Sinister Adventures imprint. Its flagship product was to be a super-adventure/setting guide called Razor Coast, for which Logue ran a rather successful pre-order campaign.

However, while working on this project, Logue took a new job - and within a few months (you guessed it) he had vanished from the RPG scene. In his own words:

Nicolas Logue wrote:
During my time at East 15 Acting Conservatoire I worked a rough 90-hour-a-week day job. It destroyed me. At night, this sinister side project waited like a creeping terror in my home, just waiting to dig its talons into my heart. I spiraled into financial ruin, alcoholism and depression. I thought I was beyond hope.
His collaborators within the design community, led by the estimable Lou Agresta, continued to work on the project - and act as go-betweens with Logue - but the money was gone, and Razor Coast languished.

Based largely on Logue's past design, several other third-party publishers reached out to him, with public offers to bring the project to completion. But it wasn't until last year when the situation began to resolve. Agresta organized a long-awaited refund to all the backers who wanted one, and that cleared the way for Frog God Games to step in and complete the publication (ultimately also funded through Kickstarter).

The Razor Coast (Pathfinder Version) project finally hit the public this week, with the pdf appearing on DTRPG (as well as several supplements).

Logue's heartfelt apology on the project's Kickstarter page illustrates why this former deadbeat was welcomed back to the community:

Nicolas Logue wrote:
For years I have told everyone in my life, that gamers are the best of us. You are the bravest, the most cunning and wise. You have chosen to walk many paths, live a thousand lives instead of the paltry one that most mortals choose. You are kings and wizards, heroes and murderers, wise men and fools, monsters, angels, and demons. But most of all you are men and women who embrace life as an adventure waiting to be braved. Take pride in that. You are exceptional, and I thank you for being so.

I thank you for this blessing. I thank you for fulfilling the broken promise of Sinister Adventures with your hard-earned dollars and your sheer force of will. I thank you for pulling me from the shadows back into the light.
Let's hope every sad RPG story ends as nicely as this one!

Thanks to RPGG newscaster Bruce (brumcg) for crucial contributions to this article.
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