I am coming off the two most insanely busy months I have ever experienced with regards to my work in The Gauntlet. The stretch from September through October of 2018 will be remembered as one of the most important times for the growth and development of our community. I want to use this blog post to talk a little bit about the two most important things that happened, the Codex Volume 1 Kickstarter and Gauntlet Con 2018, as well as speak a bit more generally about the importance of our community in the ttrpg scene.
The Codex Volume 1 Kickstarter
First of all, we funded, which is a relief. Some people will say “Well, of course you funded,” but I don’t think it was a guaranteed thing. The Codex Volume 1 book was a very difficult pitch. In roleplaying games, and especially on Kickstarter, people want simple things, things for which the value proposition is quickly understood. Codex is not that. If we had launched the Volume 1 Kickstarter immediately after Volume 1 was complete in PDF (over a year ago), the KS campaign would have been, at best, a modest success, and likely a failure. “Back this collection of a weird zine you have never heard of and, btw, is only available in hardback,” is an extremely difficult sell. Instead, we decided to take an extra year; we needed the time to continue to develop Codex as a product, to build up the Patreon, and to help people understand what it is. I’m not convinced we have even accomplished that last part yet, but we have done so enough to get 720 backers on Kickstarter, and that feels great. (Mercifully, our next KS project, Hearts of Wulin, will be a very easy pitch: “PbtA Wuxia drama.”)
I do want to express my gratitude to all the people who backed the project and/or helped spread the word on social media. This project saw almost no benefit from Kickstarter traffic; almost all our pledges came from members of The Gauntlet community or people they know. Without the support of our community, this would have been a disaster, and so I want everyone in The Gauntlet (or Gauntlet-adjacent) to know they are seen; I realize how important you were to the success of this project, and I’m going to do my best to deliver a book that is worthy of that effort.
Even more than just spreading the word about the KS, The Gauntlet community did a lot to support me, personally, during the 28 days of hell that was the campaign. There were some days, especially in the beginning, where I was definitely absent, and probably unbearable, but people in the community cared enough to give me the space to deal with that stress in the way I needed to. I never felt judged, only loved, and so I’m grateful for that. Many people sent me encouraging messages or made awesome celebration videos (like the ones embedded below), and that kind of stuff definitely kept me going.
I want to extend particular thanks to Kyle SImons, Fraser Simons, and Mark Diaz Truman who each, in their way, advised and mentored me on the campaign. I also want to thank all the amazing people who volunteered to run games in support of the campaign, as well as our exciting stretch goal authors. You are all truly spectacular and I love you.
Gauntlet Con 2018
Gauntlet Con 2018 also took place in October. Overall, it was a great success, but there were also a few lessons to be learned from our sophomore outing. I was very pleased with the overall number of games that were run. Not including canceled games, we had about 180 sessions, which is a huge increase over last year. As best I can tell, most people were really enjoying the games they got to play in, and the vibe around the Discord was very positive, very caring, very Gauntlet. I saw people discovering what I call “Gauntlet nice,” and that made me happy. The Help Desk was doing a fabulous job fielding questions and directing traffic. Gauntlet Games Now had a very successful launch. The games I ran went very well, probably some of my favorite sessions I’ve ever participated in, and the games where I was a player were also lovely.
But there were also some critical lessons to be learned from Gauntlet Con 2018 that we will hopefully apply to next year. Mainly, I think Gauntlet Con was simply too big this year—too big and too “external.” We had something like 50 guests which, in hindsight, was too many. I’d like to redefine “guest” next year so it has more meaning. This is especially the case because a number of games that got canceled with little or no notification were games being run by guests. In some cases, we never even heard from the guest, and I can’t express enough how disrespectful that feels.
But, overall, it was a very successful second year. My impression is that most attendees had a very positive, even joyous, experience, and that counts as a win. Big thanks to Kate Bullock and her organizational team for pulling off a great Con.
The Time for The Gauntlet is Now
So here we are having just gotten past an extremely busy period, but we have so much more to come. As the principal organizer of the community, it’s my job to always look ahead. Things going on in The Gauntlet right now are things I anticipated 2, 3, 4 years ago. I am a long-term thinker, and that quality helps me (and us) navigate the vicissitudes and petty dramas of the tabletop roleplaying game industry so we can focus on what’s important: playing games and making The Gauntlet truly special. For example, when we first began restricting Gauntlet Hangouts with what is, effectively, a paygate, many people thought that was going to be the death of the platform. “No one will want to pay to play games,” “I feel uncomfortable charging money to have fun,” “Are we just a money-making venture now?”—I heard variations of all these arguments and more. But I was looking ahead: the long-term health and dynamism of the community depended on 1) revenue and 2) people taking what we do seriously. Giving away the shop for free was not a good way of accomplishing either of those things. It was the same with Codex: “No one will understand this,” “It’s too expensive,” and “What are we, a publisher now?” But, again, I was looking around the corner. Codex was, and is, my Trojan horse to move The Gauntlet into publishing. And why publishing? Because I think, for the most part, the current ttrpg publishing model is garbage and we have a chance to fix it. And why do we need to do that? Because I want a fundamentally different hobby and industry for our members. You see how it works? I’m always looking ahead, and always with an eye to what I think is best for Gauntleteers, or to facilitate conversations about what is best for Gauntleteers.
But I certainly don’t have it all figured out. Sometimes the community surprises me, and those surprises are the reason why I keep doing this. A certainty: I know what I know. But also: there are things I don’t know or can’t anticipate. And it’s those little blind spots of mine that the community fills in to make The Gauntlet the best fucking gaming community there is. One of those blind spots is just how important Gauntleteers are to each other right now.
And this leads to my main thought in this post: no matter what we’re doing for the future, the time for The Gauntlet is right now. The world is, increasingly, garbage. We need good spaces—spaces that help you feel supported and sane and whole—more than ever. We need community more than ever. And here I’m not talking about a forum, or some game designer or Twitch streamer’s fan groups, or some passing association at a convention. I’m talking about legit community.
People come to The Gauntlet through lots of different ways: podcasts, Codex, Gauntlet Hangouts, Gauntlet Con and, this month, Kickstarter. Often they hear about the community through a friend. However they get here, they instantly realize that we are a group of people who really cares about each other. We play games together, we encourage each other, and we love each other. When Trump was first elected, The Gauntlet helped me get out of the pit of misery I found myself in. Brazil just elected its own Trump, and one of our Brazilian members was despairing in our Slack, and I was impressed by how many people reached out to him with total kindness and love.
Another example: in the middle of our insanely busy October, the Trump administration leaked a memo outlining how it intended to erase the legal existence of trans people. Many people in The Gauntlet were distraught over this, myself included, and so we set about doing something amazing to both lift the spirits of our queer community members and to show the ttrpg world that we stood behind them. Over the course of a whole day, we used the #QueerGauntlet hashtag to simply celebrate the accomplishments and existence of our queer members, and it was wonderful. It was the power of real community, the power of a group of people who care about each other to spread light during a dark time and to love each other. That single day of unapologetic, loving support for our queer members makes me happier than anything else we did in October.
This blog post has been going for too long already, so I’ll just wrap up quickly with this: the last two months have been crazy (and occasionally hellish), but I am leaving them feeling more confident in The Gauntlet’s purpose than ever before. Gauntleteers fill me with inspiration, and I always hope I am returning it back to them.