On the Shadow Catalyst (Part III)

The Internal War

Bobby Derie, known as "Ancient History" online has a little conversation with some of the new freelancers brought on board in response to the exodus and copyright restriction. The conversation is pasted below

Session Start: Sun Mar 21 11:55:21 2010
Session Ident: DavidAHillJr
01[11:55] If you buy one word Jason is spilling right now, I will hit you with a shoe.
[11:56] lol. I believe that to the best of Jason's knowledge, he's telling the truth. However, I know he's a very uninformed middleman.
01[11:57] No, I mean he's actually lying to you right now.
[11:58] Oh? You think he knows more? Fair enough. But, if they
[11:59] they're unable to pay licensing, why move forward with more products?
01[11:59] They hope to talk Topps down into accepting less money (who knows where they are going to get it from), but at the moment they can't even cut checks to freelancers. THat's a bad sign.
[12:00] But if they can't pay the freelancers to release, then moving forward on new product just isn't a rational path.
01[12:01] Nothing about this is rational. They're keeping a known thief as the company's president.
[12:02] Fair.
01[12:03] All I'm saying is that be aware Jason isn't telling you everything, the situation is probably worse than it is, and it is unlikely you're going to get pad for your ork.
[12:04] Duly noted.
Session Close: Sun Mar 21 12:53:45 2010

Immediately after, Line Developer Jason Hardy banned Bobby from the freelancer forums.Why? Because this transcript was sent to him, presumably by David Hill, because he would be the other person that would have a copy of it. 

Now at the time, Bobby had several drafts in editing and layout for the company. But having been banned from the freelancer forums and waiting along with everyone else for pay that no one was certain would ever appear, Bobby did the only logical thing and terminated his contracts with the company and withheld copyright on his works he had yet to be paid for.

Now I'm going to jump ahead a little here and reference two little things. It's no secret online that Bobby never got on very well with Jason. That said, after this, Bobby released all his current work that he had pulled from Catalyst and posted it online, free, for the fans.

Of course that didn't stop Jason and Catalyst from using his work anyway. Bobby got word from friends that they were given his drafts and told to work from them to write the new material. And when that didn't work, they just used his material in the books they published anyway

I guess that's just the way you do business. Jason claimed these were layout "accidents". I think the sequence of events speak for themselves.

Frank, falling upon a knife already firmly planted in his chest, forwards a letter from an insider written by Randal Bills to the freelancers working for CGL. Here are the relevant parts of the letter, the entirety of the letter can be read here.:

Randal Bills
Hello all,

For those of you who don't know me, my name is Randall Bills and for the last several years I’ve been serving as Catalyst's Creative Manager.

As many of you have undoubtedly noticed, Catalyst has hit a few stumbling blocks under the weight of its dramatic growth over the last several years. As I’ve become the face of the current situation, I felt you all deserved a look at the current situation and some details regarding the steps Catalyst is taking to get all freelancer payments caught up so we can move forward. . . . Over the last several years, Catalyst Game Labs has showed a dramatic growth in terms of demand, increased total revenues and strong sales with an increasing market share in the gaming industry. A huge portion of the credit for that goes to you, the freelancers. After all, without your passion and dedication, there would be no books, no games, no Catalyst.

That growth has not come without its obstacles, however, and by Q4 of 2009 the Catalyst Managers acknowledged that a co-mingling of funds between the personal and business had occurred involving the company’s primary shareholders, the Colemans. We immediately initiated an audit of the company's historical financial records, and designed a comprehensive plan to get Catalyst's production and payments back on schedule. This process took some three months of very long days, and was overseen by our Bookkeeper and Operations Manager, in conjunction with the Colemans. [Editor: Note that both those employees quit during the audit, one clearly on record as for personal ethical reasons]

With the completion of the audit it is clear that the breadth of what occurred was significant, and would require extensive changes to correct. A detailed plan was outlined for changing the organization of the company, as well as many procedures to establish a strong financial oversight and series of checks and balances to ensure this doesn’t happen again in the future. It also included a proposal for how the Colemans will begin paying back the money involved. All of those detailed findings and action plans were delivered to the pertinent parties on the 15th of March as a key step in our efforts to move forward with full disclosure and transparency. A series of discussions are currently underway on how best to proceed.

Last week, while in the process of drafting announcements for the public, as well as our vendors (distributors, printers and so on), licensors (i.e., Topps), Catalyst freelancers, and so on, some information was leaked to the public (and, as is the way of such things, immediately took on a life of its own). Obviously I was forced to deal with that leaking of information and am just now reaching a point where I can be drafting information to share with our freelancers.

There are several critical concerns (in no particular order) that Catalyst is moving to address ASAP.
1. Re-organizing and re-structuring to prevent this situation from occurring again.
2. Finalizing a plan for how the Colemans can repay the money owed to Catalyst.
3. Ensuring the continuity of license with Topps concerning Shadowrun and BattleTech.
4. Finding additional sources of revenue in the short term to help start paying down various debts (including monies owed to all of you).
5. Working with Posthuman (Eclipse Phase) and WildFire (CthulhuTech) to determine if they still wish to work alongside Catalyst. If they do not, we’ll make every effort to spin those games off to those respective companies in a way that will best ensure future growth. . .

. . . Some of you have already expressed your inability to be patient with Catalyst as we try and find solutions, and I completely understand your frustration. That frustration was mirrored by several Catalyst full-time employees who felt they simply could not continue with Catalyst after all that has occurred, including Jennifer Harding (Office Manager and Bookkeeper), Dave Stansel (Operation Manager) and Adam Jury (Head of Graphic Design), all of whom have formally left the company. We’re already moving to try to find appropriate people to take on their work and responsibilities. Though I wish their decisions might have been different—as they’re incredibly valuable to what Catalyst has been able to accomplish—I cannot fault them for the choices they’ve made. I’ve worked with them in various capacities for a long time and consider them good friends. I wish them well and hope we’ll have a chance to work together again some time in the future.

During all of this, my decision-making process has been called into question. After all, how can I accept what’s happened? Why are the Colemans still involved at Catalyst if these events occurred? Usually I would have reservations about sharing such personal thoughts. However, since I’m asking for each of you to decide if you’re willing to allow Catalyst some time to address this situation, I feel it only appropriate to give you my thought process so each of you can make up your own mind.

1. Catalyst would not be enjoying its current level of success without Loren’s strategic thinking, or without the connections he’s forged in our industry. We started as a small, internet hobby company in 2003 and only officially formed Catalyst three years ago. Yet as of last Gen Con we “stole the show” and are considered one of the “up-and-coming big boys.” While Catalyst is far more than a single person and is very much a team effort (including all of you), Loren’s contributions have been crucial.
2. Would Catalyst survive if the Colemans were no longer involved? Yes, I believe it would. However, I believe that despite the horrific mistakes made, we will heal faster by keeping Loren involved as part of Catalyst’s ongoing strategic thinking. Last week that belief received a huge chorus of support when we contacted and/or were contacted by numerous people in the industry, including three titans of the industry [Editor: ???] (I’m not at liberty to share their names to this large of a group without asking their permission). Each of those three were given a blunt (albeit very brief) synopsis of what occurred, and yet each still pledged their support to Loren and me in helping move forward (both in the incredible business savvy they possess that made them titans, but also in potential revenues to bring to the company). Furthermore, two of these people are intimately familiar with Topps and with their strong advice in our pocket we’ve already approached Topps. Without getting into details we told Topps of our financial issues and made our case that despite those mistakes we have been fantastic in protecting and expanding the BattleTech and Shadowrun brands and that we are still the best possible stewards of those brands. Topps liked our attitude and appreciated our bluntness and we’re setting up a face-to-face meeting in NY, following the GAMA Trade Show this week, to present a plan for how to move forward with securing those all-important licenses.
3. I believe the best possible way to incentivize someone is to create a recipe for success. Excessively punishing and kicking someone to the curb does not incentivize anyone. Keeping someone involved in the process and invested in seeing Catalyst succeed so they can succeed is a far better path for all involved (and one I’ve seen succeed time and time again at all levels of business).
4. I’m not the only one that has seen and believes in the points above. If all the mangers, employees and investors of Catalyst had lined up in opposition to my thoughts and opinions as outlined above, then I very much believe I would’ve backed away, feeling that my decisions were compromised. However, while some have left and/or decided they can no longer work with Catalyst, we still have a very strong team of investors, managers, employees and freelancers that supports the overall direction of trying to deal with what’s occurred while finding ways to move forward.
5. Considering how long I’ve been involved, and how much blood, sweat and tears I’ve given for Catalyst, I’ve seen a lot of “How can Randall continue to work with Loren?” I’ve obviously known the Colemans for a very, very long time and been involved intimately with the company from the day the idea was born 8 years ago. And after reviewing everything and doing some massive soul searching, I’ve made a personal decision that this was a terrible, terrible series of mistakes; I bear my own weight of guilt in this in that I didn’t pay better attention to the various red flags raised over the years that something wasn’t right. More importantly, I see in the Colemans every indication I need to see in order to make forgiveness seem appropriate. This falls into a “very personal” category, but it’s key to my point of view and if you’re trying to understand my decisions, it’s important you know this. While I may not be the usual image of an LDS church member that comes to most people’s mind, my faith is a bedrock; it is the only reason I’ve survived the stress of the last several months and especially last week. But if I see a person genuinely sorrowful over a mistake (regardless of the size of those mistakes), and see that same person trying hard to make the mistakes right, I personally have to forgive them. Just as this as been the most difficult personal and professional crises of my career, it has been one of the most difficult for my faith, as the rage has had to give way to compassion and forgiveness. Please note, however, that this point is 100% a personal decision, one that deals with whether I can keep a personal relationship with the Colemans. If none of the other points above existed, then I would’ve asked Loren to completely step away from the company and he and I would’ve solved our issues in private. However, those very points are exactly why I’ve stated I believe the Colemans should still intimately be involved with the company (though a host of checks and balance are in the process of being put into place) and why I can set aside my own personal anger and disappointment to try and move forward in what I believe is the best possible way to save the company and to save the games we all love to work on.

I apologize for the length of the email and for the incredibly personal nature of it, but I felt it warranted. Ultimately each of you will need to ask yourselves whether you can still trust Catalyst to treat with you fairly and to pay the debts owed you, while ensuring that such debts do not pile up for the future. We’ve laid strong groundwork to do just that over the last week and GTS this week will give us the opportunity to further cements those plans.

We are also in the process of bringing on a new Bookkeeper who will continue the plan laid out by our previous Bookkeeper to send each of you a thorough audit of what our books show. This will allow us to ensure we’re not missing any work by anyone and will help us build a plan for how to start reducing the debt owed to each of you. However, the original plan called for that to go out by the end of March, but with the changing of the Bookkeeper that’s going to need to be middle to end of April.

I hope each of you will be willing to bear with us during this crisis and give us the chance to make this right. However, if you feel you cannot, I completely understand and of course wish you well. More importantly, even if you feel you cannot do future work for us, of course we still will work to pay the debts owed to you.

Thank you for your time and patience.

Randall N. Bills
Managing Developer
Catalyst Game Labs

Holy moley! Literally!

Let's get something straight:
"I’ve made a personal decision that this was a terrible, terrible series of mistakes" -Randal Bills

No. Let's be clear. A mistake is an action that is misguided. A series of mistakes is a crime. And not a victimless one either.


"I'm glad I could put a face on the situation, hopefully for everyone. But it isn't just me. It's the new dad with a baby and a mortgage who could use the money for medical bills. It's the single mom paying her way through school who could have really used the money for Christmas presents for her daughter. It's the man facing bankruptcy who just lost his job, and could have really used the money to make a few house payments until he found another job, as the bank threatened to take his house. It's the student who desperately wanted to go to GenCon and couldn't. It's the man who's been out of work for 6 months and can't pay rent. It's all the employees of CGL who took late paychecks, or skipped getting paid altogether, because they were told "the money isn't there."

These are a real examples of people, who I won't name, who begged and pleaded with Catalyst for even a portion of their back owed pay.

There are hundreds of people who have freelanced for Catalyst. Writers, artists, editors, layout artists. All of them fans. All of them who provided work for Catalyst in good faith. People who have written pleading letters to Catalyst asking for money, people who have threatened to sue, people who have just walked away, burned by the company.

When you read about what's happening now, think about all those people. Not just me (although I will admit to being far more touched than I could imagine by all the incredible offers of well wishes and support).

Then think about the two people who took that money -- as has been stated in letters released by folks other than me (I wasn't ever even sent that freelancer letter).

If Catalyst can't--and hasn't in years--met it's contractual obligations to all the freelancers who poured their hearts into their work, why can't they? Where did the money go? I know. You know. If they can't even pay a few thousand dollars to get products back into production, how can they pay for the larger debts? How are they supposed to pay tens of thousands of dollars for printing? For shipping? For royalties? For all the other expenses a printing company faces?

Yes, there is a face on this entire debate. It's the face of a hundred people like me, who really could use the money they're owed. And who, most likely, will not see it. There's the true tragedy." (LINK: )

Loren Coleman allegedly committed a crime. His friend covered for him, minimizing his alleged crime, using God and his religious beliefs as justification to do so. Then they used their power and pull in the industry to make sure that they got away with it.

And get away with it they did.


That's what it means to be an industry insider. Who are these "Titans of the Industry" that rushed to his protection? No one knows. I'd hazard a guess and back it with cash that one of them was Jordan Wiseman. As far as the other two, I'm less certain. Perhaps L. Ross Babcock III? I have some guesses, but don't know that I'd call them Titans.

The Path To Victory

How did they get from the execution of an alleged crime to remaining solvent? Both Wildfire and Posthuman studios cut their losses and attempted to recoup their money via lawsuit. Catalyst terminated long-term employee Troy Garner, who handled the shipping and customer service e-mails and gave the job to Randal's wife, Tara. Stephen McQuillian, production manager quits.  With their overhead down, the immediately begin paying freelancers. As much as I'd like to consider this as a step in the right direction, the real cause is because of the Copyright being pulled, they couldn't generate any revenue without these books being in the pipeline.

They called on their "Titanic" industry insiders to interceede with them at Topps, and Topps gave them a limited extension, which was enough time for them to raise the funds for an official license extension.   After the cash started flowing again, they began publishing a new edition of Shadowrun. And thus begins the tragedy of 5th edition Shadowrun.

The Edition Failure

Here are some facts. The 5th edition of Shadowrun is one of the best selling editions of Shadowrun ever. It's also, objectively, one of the worst.

A lot of people might call this standard edition warring, but this is no war. This is a massacre. It's important to realize that there is no canon bible for Shadowrun. There is no reference document that can be handed to new freelancers that says "This is Shadowrun and this is not." And with the exodus of some of the biggest and most knowledgeable fans, this left a pretty big gaping holes in the work.

Now you don't have to take my word for it, you can read "10 things I hate about Shadowrun" which covers a few of the giant absurdities in 5th edition. You can read this post about someone using the .pdf search function to try to figure out the simplest game mechanics  We could mention that the binding on the 5th edition books is terrible and disintegrates.

I'm sure you can find plenty of people who did a review of the core book and gave it a decent score, but in many of those cases, that's what they were doing. Reading through a core book once and writing a review. That isn't relevant to the quality of the game, right? It's about the people who play it. And if you look at the information available about the 5th edition on forums like dumpshock where people have a weekly game, well:

"Simply put: The Core Rulebook is so poorly edited and written that we couldn't find the rules we needed to actually play, and this is after 4 weeks of actual play. The book is confusingly written, the mechanics are clunky and large portions of the book look out of place." -Source 

"SR5 currently has some glaring omissions, inconsistencies, and ambiguously-worded areas that need to be cleared up." - Source 

"I'm trying to give Fifth another look. I liked a lot of the concepts and changes but the poor editing and 'ware hate put me off it." -Source 

"Eh. Half the builds in the game don't work with Priority. Especially Technomancers." - Source 

"This is what happens when huge parts of a new edition are just copy/pasted from a previous edition." -Source

"So now, a few years and a couple of hundred bucks of (often poorly written) PDFs later... I'm walking away from the flaming wreckage that was one of my bucket list games. . . ultimately, Shadowrun 5th Edition was hostile waters from the start. Even when we where struggling to understand just the CRB . . . Crucial information was overlooked, reasons for rules left unclear, all because it was assumed that we already knew how Shadowrun worked." -Source 

"All of the books are riddled with horrific editing fails, rules that are terribly mangled by the lack of editing process that results in having to spend days on end on their Shadowrun forums . . . trying to divine what their rules are actually meant to be.
They have now had years to get 5e publishing/editing right and issue errata for their many multi-variate fails, none of which they have done."-Source  LINK: ()

"I have a great idea for fixing SR5.
Play Shadowrun 4th Edition, before a pants-on-head retarded brainfucked moron took charge of the line and began vigorously skullfucking it trying to roll things back to the techno-derp of the '80s from the near-future transhumanim of SR4 in a vain idiotic attempt to recapture the grognard neckbeards who were still playing SR1-3. (It failed. They still play SR1-3. It's just that SR5 drove me to Eclipse Phase.)" -Source 

"It's player hate.
SR5 hates giving players viable options and choices, from a bizarre payout system to drastic limits on character generation in the core book to a generally antagonistic idea of GM/Player interaction (including 'friendly banter' in rules texts that directly insults the reader). Where SR4 gave you a lot, maybe too many options, SR5 delights in giving you no viable option at all. You want worthwhile cyberware? Have fun with being hacked without a shred of a chance at defense! (The hotfix daisy chaining ban errata means not even your team decker is any help - good job, CGL). Skillwires are so overpriced they stop being viable at all. There is no skinlink, there is no viable defense for cyber characters. Want to play an infected? Fuck you. Want to play something more exotic? Fuck you very much! Only mages and mystic adepts seem to have a lobby, though they don't thrive, they're just not gimped nearly as bad as other archetypes." -Source 

Is that enough? I mean, I didn't have to look very hard to find all that, and it's repeated over and over when discussed by players of the game.

We could talk about how it was released in 2013 and there is still no errata to cover any of the errors in the core books–like the fact that every character archetype presented has massive errors in their descriptions. Here's Patrick Goodman, freelancer, posting last month:

"We've talked a lot about the state of errata for Shadowrun. It's become something of a sore subject for a lot of us, so much so that fights have erupted, people have quit the game, and any number of unpleasant incidents have occurred. It's a fraught subject." -Source 

Of course this comes on the heels of 22 pages of errata already submitted via the dumpshock forums. Not esoteric errata, but things like dwarves after 4 editions and nearly 30 years just having their thermographic vision not listed as a trait. The Decker pregenerated character has no matrix initiative.

Of course, it's important to mention that Catalyst isn't actually paying them to do the errata

The game, as written is currently unplayable. But not just because the rules are actually a complete shitshow, but because the book is impossible to use at the table. That isn't to say people aren't playing 5th edition and enjoying it. Some are. But they aren't playing it as written. There are some attractive things about 5th edition, but do you want to take on that burden of house ruling, reworking, and trying to fix a complicated rule system with a badly designed book? Most suggestions (if you perused the threads above) involve going back to 3rd or 4th edition Shadowrun, both extensive rulesets with well defined errata.

And that's just the problems with the core book. "War!" is in the running for one of the worst supplements ever released for a role playing game ever. It covers a war in bogota between dragons and mega corps and doesn't contain a single map. You get coverage of conflict hot spots, like Auschwitz where you kill Jewish ghosts to steal Nazi gold. Yeah, not only offensive, but wrong; Shadowrun doesn't have ghosts. Not part of canon.  Check out the reviews on DrivethruRPG. "In the end, the feeling I got from reading this part of the book is that it went through no editing at all."

You're free to follow up on your own, but the combination of the lack of a canon bible, freelancers who are unfamiliar with the setting, amateur layout artists, total lack of proofreading, and Catalyst Game Lab's complete disregard for the product after its hit the market, 5th edition has been a disappointment.

So why did it sell so well? Because you and I both know that RPG fans are like Magpies. We all play one, two, or maybe three games on the regular and yet we still buy every new shiny that comes along. We like the setting or played a game once that gave us a good memory, and we buy the book and put it on the shelf. That's just how a significant portion of the industry works. The aesthetic brings out the collector in us. If you only kept games you actually play regularly, what would your gaming shelf actually look like?

And that's the story behind Catalyst games, who aggressively pursued the license, allegedly had money disappear leaving single mothers, college students, and people in crisis abandoned, used insider power and leverage to minimize their actions and end up being rewarded with a jaunt into the origins hall of fame.

That's the inside scoop, or as much as I could dig up of it anyway. There's not much that can be done. I'm going to keep playing Shadowrun, and since Catalyst owns the license if I need a book or .pdf, they get the money for it. That's just the way the world works for people who aren't you and I. I'm used to it chummer. That's just life in the shadows.

Hack & Slash 

On the Shadow Catalyst (Part II)

Living in the Shadows

One of the differences between Shadowrun and Dungeons & Dragons is that Shadowrun is a more difficult game to run. It's not because of the usual complaints about managing spotlight time between classes or Deckers overtaking the game. It's because fundamentally, you are playing someone who is not you; the primary way in which they are distinguished from you is that they are a criminal by definition.

It's actually one of the most poetic parts of Shadowrun. Every wage slave, every corporate employees is given a System Identification Number. It is this number that both allows them to live a life of slavery dominated by the corps and gives them their legal rights. However Shadowrunners by their very nature are SINless; it is how they can commit crimes and not be tracked.

Even though Shadowrunners are without sin, they are still, to put a fine point on it, hyper-violent criminals. But what is a criminal?

One of the most interesting things about research into criminal behavior is that from the criminals perspective, crimes are rational responses to the environment. Violent criminals often have personal space bubbles that are meters larger than non-violent people. Thieves believe that everyone steals and if they don't steal then they will be falling behind. They justify their illegal behavior due to a misperception of the reality of the situation. 

But the Shadowrunners (at least those that are alive and minimally competent) are supposed to represent the people on the outside, those who can act to make a difference. Meaning although they aren't simple criminals, they do vary somewhat on their moral reasoning ability. Most of us are instinctually aware of moral reasoning.

When you are very young, your moral choices are about what doesn't get you into trouble. As you grow and develop, you look at how your decisions can benefit you. Eventually you move forward into "fitting in" and moral behavior being about what's acceptable and what's not. Eventually most people move beyond that phase into moral authority. This is the law and it's the law because it maintains the social order.

Criminals usually have stunted moral reasoning. They aren't concerned about an abstract like social order. They are still reasoning based off of what they can get away with that meets their needs.

Conversely some people move beyond social order and begin to view morality as something that is part of what is owed for being human, or even basing their choices on ethical principles. You've seen this in a movies, where the rogue decides to leave, but eventually goes against his "better judgement" and puts himself at risk to help his friends because "it's the right thing to do".

This is what is challenging about running Shadowrun. The players have to all be on board with the possibility that the other player's characters are untrustworthy criminals. Of course, what goes around comes around. The need to have players being able to separate out the behavior of other players characters from the player is challenging in a way Dungeons & Dragons is not.

This little sidebar brings out the question though: If because of your job you had access to money, would you take it without the consent of your business partners? I can unequivocally answer for myself that I would not. Why? Because it's objectively wrong.

Like FASA and FanPro, Catalyst Labs frequently had cash flow problems, and didn't pay its bills. Catalyst didn't pay bills to single mother freelancers and people who had already done work for them. They didn't get paid. Would you take the money? Would you say "It doesn't matter, other people will get paid eventually." Or "Really, I'm entitled to it, it's my money, I'm an owner."? I can only speak to what I would do. I'd like to think about what you might do and why as we move forward.

The Buildup and Fallout of the Draws

This above is the core of the alleged crime, but the actual process of how it developed is a drama fit for a Greek play. We are going to go step by step through the process of how this all came about. In this story, you'll find heroes and villains, bad actors and whistleblowers, victims and martyrs.

InMediaRes was founded in 2003. The graphs indicate that the first large scale draws began in 2006. On January 3rd, 2010, Wildfire LLC terminated their relationship with Catalyst Game Labs primarily due to non-payment of royalties. Rumors about late payments to freelancers and printers, issues with restocking books, and other money issues had been going around before this point in time, but this is the first action anyone took.

Following this, an exodus of employees begins at Catalyst Game Labs. First Dave Stansel-Garner, Operations Manager left for unstated reasons in early March. Then Jennifer Harding resigned on the 15th. The reason for her resignation? I'll let her own words speak to that;

"As for myself, I left for the reasons I stated - I was told by Loren Coleman to hide foreign royalties from Topps. I was told by Randall that if I could not work with Loren, I should leave." -Jennifer Harding 

The following day, Frank Trollman posted the following, at which point the issue became public:
"OK, as you may well have been able to surmise from release schedules, Catalyst Game Labs is in a bit of a financial pickle, and it is somewhat unlikely that they will retain the license to make Shadowrun products. This is not because Shadowrun hasn't been selling enough to cover expenses, but merely because a significant quantity of money is missing outright. Reliable sources put this figure at roughly $850,000. Which sounds like a lot, and it is. It is roughly 40% of Catalyst's entire sales for last year, missing over a three year period. There will of course be lawsuits, and there are already people drawing up legal documents accusing Loren Coleman of having hired people to construct an extension on his house through the company as "freelance writers" and somehow reporting an estimated $100,000 of convention sales as $6,000. Whether that is actually true or not is - of course - a matter for the courts to decide. And decide they presumably will.

. . .

Many SR writers are quitting, have already quit, or have handed in notices contingent on demands which - word on the street - will not be met. And CGL does not even own Shadowrun, it leases the intellectual property from Topps. . . .

-Frank" Link to unedited version here.

Now the post is edited, because Frank Trollman (yes that's his real name) has a bit of an axe to grind with CGL. That said, he posted this and other information given to him by insiders knowing that it would mean being blacklisted. He said he had nothing to lose by doing so, and so made the sacrifice.

After this Adam Jury of Eclipse Phase fame quits Catalyst. Later, walking out became something of a habit apparently.

Now the secret is out, the public relations machine goes into overdrive. InMediaRes releases this statement on the 15th of March:

"For Immediate Release

Catalyst Game Labs recently completed a detailed financial review of the company. We learned that over the past several years the company has achieved dramatic growth in terms of demand, increased total revenues and strong sales with an increasing market share in the gaming industry, despite a lackluster economy. We are thrilled by that news and are eager to move forward with our upcoming original game Leviathans, along with our other new casual games. We also remain committed to plans for our beloved licensed games: Shadowrun, BattleTech, Eclipse Phase, and CthuluTech.

While we wish the review had only uncovered positive news, we also discovered our accounting procedures had not been updated as the company continued to grow. The result was that business funds had been co-mingled with the personal funds of one of the owners. We believe the missing funds were the result of bad habits that began alongside the creation of the company, which was initially a small hobby group. Upon further investigation, in which the owner has willingly participated, the owner in question now owes the company a significant balance and is working to help rectify the situation.

The current group of owners was presented with this information on Monday. Administrative organization for the company is under review, and accounting procedures have been restructured, to correct the situation and provide more stringent oversight. We feel the management team at Catalyst did the responsible thing by seeking this financial review and we will continue to restructure as needed. We are in discussions with our partners and freelancers to remedy any back payments that may also be due as a result of this review.

We are embarrassed that this situation did occur but we hope our eagerness to make these changes, along with our reputation for making great games, will encourage you to stand by us. We understand that for a few employees the news was too stressful and we wish them all the best in their new endeavors. However, the majority of the team remains and will continue to bring great entertainment to you all. We appreciate the support our friends, freelancers, and fans have provided us in the past and look forward to a successful future." -Source

What a spin, what a spin. It's pretty clear to me, observing these facts and posts that "being too stressful" was explicitly not the reason employees left. Aw, shucks, it's just bad habits, right? We'll get to minimizing that crime in a bit.

Once the news went public and the freelancers suddenly understood why they were not being paid, They pulled copyright from their works.

"Quite a few freelancers, from what other freelancers are telling me. Of the products I've heard from my freelance friends (because we all work together on these products), the list includes: Running Wild, Seattle 2072, Vice, Dusk, and Midnight. Ebooks might be affected, as well; I haven't heard yet about those. I've also heard a rumor about Unwired." -Jennifer Harding 

The logical response follows. CGL can no longer legally sell those books, so they pulled them from the market, ICv2 Reports

This sequence of events is all pretty straightforward and logical, but now things are about to take a left turn. More bad actors acting badly? What are the chances?

Continued Tomorrow. . .

On the Shadow Catalyst (Part I)

Corporate malfeasance and rumors of sabotage float through the air. Freelancers are shut out of online data stores. Employees are extracted to other companies. Shadowy corporate bigwigs commit alleged fraud and embezzlement. A duped public conned into buying substandard product. Nearly 1 million dollars goes missing. Ex-employees with axes to grind stir the fires on the matrix. Mysterious industry 'Titans' coming forward to protect their own. All while corporation A is engaged in intense license negations with Corporation B.

I wish I were talking about Shadowrun instead of the company that produces it.

The Buzz

I wish I were lying to you chummer. There's as many sides to this as there are to an insect shamans eyes. We'll drill down into who did what with plenty of paydata and direct links here in a minute. But in spite of the tale of enormity and woe, this story isn't about that. This story is about my love of Shadowrun, the power of the corporations, and what it means to be an industry outsider.

The cast to this story is big, and it covers nearly 30 years of chaos, success, failure, and drama, that I'm sure more than one or two people might like to stay buried. But you're here for the inside scoop. And that's what you're going to get.

The Track Record

Shadowrun is a great game. Created by FASA in 1989, set 61 years in the future after the end of the Mayan calendar reintroduced magic in the world. The world is ruled by corporations and players take the role of their pawns, shadowrunners; seeking their place in the 6th world.

It's been awesome since day one. Well, the setting anyway. FASA as a company only had the license for the game from 1989 to 2001, covering the first to third editions, and they did business like any small company might do business.

Badly.  

That isn't to say that they made bad products. FASA didn't. They aren't villains. But everyone has worked for or knows someone who works for "that kind" of business. The kind that doesn't pay people it owes until they make a big deal about it. The kind where the checkbook is managed by one person and records are spread around a desk. The kind where the owner let's people use their own personal electronic hardware to save a few dollars.

Don't take my word for it. Take New York Times Bestselling novelist and game designer MikeStackpole's in his blog post Last Call II.

"I first started working with FASA on Btech novels in the summer of 1987, writing on the Warrior trilogy. FASA is a game company, and “game company” is pretty much synonymous with a company that is chronically underfunded and always in a tight cashflow situation. FASA has always been slow to pay and throughout my history with them has owed me money. When I needed money, I’d call and see what they could send. Back in the early days, when I had no health insurance, no house, no car payments, no IRA; getting $300 or $500 here and there was what I needed to get by.

This is not to say that FASA did not, at other times, get me some money and, for a long time, were diligent in getting me the advance money for books (without which they would not have gotten the books).

In 1996, when I needed money for the down-payment on a house, FASA did come up with $6300 very quickly for me, but aside from that payment, I got nothing from them between 1994 and 1999. By January of 1999, FASA’s own incomplete accounting of what they owed me totaled just shy $90,000.00. [Ed. Emphasis added] In fact, this total did not take into account foreign royalty payments that would have put the total over $100,000.00. With the sale of FASA Interactive to Microsoft, FASA did get a huge influx of cash and did wipe out the $90,000.00 debt they owed me.

By the summer of 1999, no royalties had been paid for book sales in the latter half of 1998. At that time I asked and was sent an accounting that showed FASA owed me about $6,000.00. I was told a check request had been sent in to accounting for payment. None was forthcoming; nor was there any word of explanation.

In early 2000 I got royalty statements from FASA that, because of a computer glitch, indicated that none of my books had sold a single copy in the whole of 2000. I pointed out to FASA that I refused to believe this. At the same time I pointed out that the royalty statements also did not cover foreign editions of books–copies of which I had sitting on my shelves. . . ."

So this is how the company ran. Part of the reason for this is Jordan Weisman, serial entrepreneur. You may be familiar with a recent kickstarted game that raised 1.8 million dollars by the name of Shadowrun Returns. Not all of his endeavors have been successful. One of the reasons money was so tight at FASA was how much money was being put into development of the Battletech centers,which although were critical successes, did not achieve the same success commercially.

A Tangled Skien

Enter Randal Bills and Loren L. Coleman (not the cryptozoologist Loren Coleman). Are they con men or just two guys trying to get by any way they can? It isn't for me to say. Let's look at how they enter our sordid tale.

FASA didn't say solvent for long. They eventually closed in 2001 and Jordan Weisman founded Wizkids. Wizkids did great for a while! It focused on skirmish games with miniatures that have clicky spinny bottoms. It didn't focus on role-playing games. So those were licensed out to FanPro, a German publisher and subsidiary of Fantasy Productions. Randal Bills, the Battletech line developer was hired by FanPro.

Living in the here and now, you know that the future for clicky spinny bottom games wasn't very bright. In 2003 Topps acquired Wizkids along with all of their licenses. Eventually Wizkids was shut down in 2008.

Fanpro released the somewhat well-received Shadowrun 4th edition in 2005, but soon had some troubles of their own. They had few staff and used Fast Forward Entertainment as a fulfillment company. Fast Forward entertainment went under, in no small part to producing D20 books with trademarked information in them.  Fanpro's parent company Fantasy Productions had to sell of a lot of their properties (including The Dark Eye, a wildly popular German RPG) and were in fact depending on FanPro Gaming stock to support them.

Loren L. Coleman
Don't look at me, he's the
one who put this picture on
the internet.
This wasn't all that was happening at the time, however. In 2003 Loren L. Coleman founded a new company called InMediaRes Productions with his wife Heather Coleman, Randal Bills and his wife Tara Bills, and Phillip DeLuca.

In 2007, InMediaRes tried to buy FanPro right out from under Fantasy Productions. They were turned down, and then threatened to leave; with the implicit message that they would be bidding against Fantasy Productions for the licenses for Shadowrun and Battletech. One year before Topps shut them down, Wizkids stepped into mediate and allowed InMediaRes to acquire the titles. InMediaRes created Catalyst Game Labs to handle their new RPG properties and immediately hired Randal Bills as Managing Director.

And so the property entered the hands of Catalyst Game Labs, under the control of Loren and Randal.

A Shadow Crime

Success! Right?
You and your buddy just started a company with your wives and a friend and acquired the rights to your favorite games. You've got income and you're living the dream. Right?

Well, they certainly can't keep working out of Loren's home. His old home was turned into the Catalyst offices and Loren got a new one. Several more employees were hired and freelancers began producing materials. Everything seemed perfect, only. . .

There were issues with freelancers getting paid. Books that Catalyst was supposed to provide were going out of print and the printers weren't printing any more, because their wasn't any money. Yet the company was profitable. Sure it's just a cash flow problem.

What do you do next? Well, if you're Loren Coleman, you just take some money out of the company:

"The graphs are just visual representations of a long spreadsheet detailing all of the "draws" (still using that term, since that's what it was billed as by IMR) IMR claims were made by Loren L. Coleman. There were 15 positive contributions in there as well, but the net was overwhelmingly negative (in terms of draws vs. "deposits"). I could already picture the draws this way, but to see it made me feel a bit angry and quite disgusted. Understandable, I think, although I remain amazed at how little anger many of the the other members expressed and especially at their continued support of the Colemans and Randall N. Bills." (Link: )

Some of these draws were paid to contractors working on the Coleman's new house and listed as payments made to freelancers. Is this the full story?

Continued Tomorrow. . .



Hack & Slash 



On Stranger Harmon Quest Things

Stranger Things, right? It's a show on Netflix that's all about the 80's and D&D! I've got to write about it?

Well, no, I don't have to write about it and that's kind of the point.

There's the meta-level where I actually am writing about it right now in this blog post, but I'm not really. And we are just going to ignore any arguments to the contrary, that leads us to surreal territory pretty quickly.

Dungeons and Dragons is indeed part of Stranger Things. It's part of stranger things in the same way bicycles, corded telephones, and Christmas lights are. It's just a part of the setting, not more or less notable for its inclusion. Ham radios take a similar precedence and importance to the plot.

It isn't notable, because Dungeons and Dragons isn't notable. It's just a thing that people do. It comes up on network television as frequently as, say, crossfit might.

Now, of course, the Duffer brothers are obviously fans of Dungeons & Dragons, being that it comes up in about half the episodes of the series. So that's nice. The series itself is ok. I mean I enjoyed watching it, because I'm the target audience. It's shot in the old way, no quick jump cuts or handicams. It hearkens back to my childhood; both in the freedom we had to play and travel outside and the types of bonds and activities we did with friends.

This is the value in a company who doesn't have the sole motive of maximizing profit. The show is not made to appeal to the broadest audience. Most of their shows aren't. Creators are given the freedom to have shows appeal strongly to their target audience instead of trying to water it down to appeal to the most number of people possible. I mean, I have no interest in Fuller House or whatever crazy Adam Sandler vehicle Netflix gives people money to produce. But for some people, it's exactly what they want.

An environment where creatives are free to create what they want for the target audience they want is, you know, a good secondary motive for a corporation. I wondered if I was just imagining this secondary motive, but it turns out, I'm not. Netflix offers unlimited leave for parents in the first year after birth, unlimited vacation for salaried employees, they don't have yearly performance reviews and they don't need approval for the use of their expense accounts. They say they hire only "Fully Formed Adults". It shows.

Turns out, most people I ask have a Netflix account. Weird how that works.

It's in stark contrast to the health company I work for. In 2014, they profited after all expenses (payroll, expansion, interest, leave, etc.) net 5 billion dollars. That's 5,000,000,000$. Great right? Except for a non-trivial number of employees are below the poverty line. Guess who pays for that? People who actually pay taxes.

This isn't political, but it's clearly completely shitty of a company to increase profit by exploiting taxpayers who don't work for them by shortfall. To be clear, they could raise the pay of every single employee by 8$ an hour all year long, from the custodial staff, to the kitchen staff, to the doctors and nurses, and still have 4 billion dollars left. But better that those that are paid below a living wage make that up with public aid to further increase the profit.

I mean, we could end the public aid and just let those people working 40 hours a week with families go hungry or get evicted maybe? Some of these are licensed and educated personal in positions that require a license and education, so this isn't lowest common denominator unskilled labor. These are skilled, trained, specialized employees.

And we pay better than the competition!

You'll have to forgive me, I've been thinking about Shadowrun a lot lately. That's a game about a corporate dystopia. The fact is we aren't in one. Everyone I work with does have health insurance. Everyone I work with does make ends meet with the aid of social programs like the ACA and Food Stamps and Earned Work Credit. Things across the world are good and getting better all the time, in spite of news designed to inflame us to the worst possibilities.

Not so in Stranger Things. It is one of those worlds of shadowy government agents and mystical powers.  (Spoilers follow).

Here are the things I thought about Stranger Things:

  • The soundtrack and Synth was an excellent choice. As was the title font, community, and casting choices. I watched for maybe 10 minutes before I figured out that it was Wynona Rider. And being my age, that is to say her age, I'm very familiar with her.
  • They named the girl child "God". Eleven shortened to El, with El being theSemtic word for Diety , I found this to be silly and too on the nose. When they did that, I snorted and got up and did dishes.
  • The teens actually do attack the Demogoron with a sword (bat with nails) and then hit it with a fireball.
  • The heel/face turn of Steve Harrington was one of the best parts of the series. It's touches like that, that move it out of the realm of schlock into something interesting and watchable.
  • I continue to enjoy the advancement modern television has made, where you just tell the story and don't hem and haw for umpteen hours waiting for someone to believe the main cast. It makes them feel competent. As soon as the sheriff finds the corpse he tells Joyce he believes her. As soon as Joyce finds out Lonnie is just there for the money, she kicks him out. It moves.
  • On the other hand, it needs to move, it's a 10 hour movie.
  • Upside down and its introduction and use were very cool.

It's not about Dungeons & Dragons. But it has Dungeons & Dragons in it, and that's cool.
But, even though Dungeons and Dragons now is just a thing that shows up sometimes in media, doesn't mean that there isn't media that's about Dungeons & Dragons.

Harmonquest is a show that's about Dungeons & Dragons (but can't say the word).


The firstepisode is on YouTube and you should watch it. Basically, Dan Harmon of Community and Rick and Morty fame, plays Dungeons & Dragons in front of a live studio audience and the in-world fiction is animated.

Yeah. It's good. But man, oh man, do I have a lot to say about it.

First, they are clearly playing Pathfinder. This must be the rules-lightest version of Pathfinder ever in the history of ever. I just don't understand it. Secondly, each show is apparently filmed on a different day (as evidenced by the guest stars and clothing changes), so what exactly is happening outside of the 20 minute episodes we are witnessing? Third, it is entertaining to watch entertainers play Dungeons & Dragons. It is not entertaining to watch people play Dungeons and Dragons.

I write about games and play games. That's what I do. My gaming schedule at any given time has a minimum of 2 to a maximum of 4 days in which I play tabletop role-playing games for 4-8 hours. I draw pictures for role-playing games. I write modules for role-playing games. I write role-playing games.

Unsurprisingly, I watch people play role-playing games online and it is a process involving stabbing flaming toothpicks in your eyes. Watch as the Dungeon Master spends literally four minutes looking in the rulebook while the rest of the players say nothing and act awkward. Listen to people have awkward ignorant side-conversations showing prejudice and bigotry. Gaze upon the predominantly pasty white bearded males. Claw at yourself as the "celebrity" dungeon master spends entirely too long reading boxed about the weather trying to set the mood, only to repeat it again as the players have to ask for all the relevant information because they tuned out. Scream inside your fleshy prison as freedom is taken away from the players again and again, invalidating their choices in the name of the Dungeon Master's ego.

That said, Harmonquest is entertaining because it's a group of comedians and comedic guest stars playing Dungeons & Dragons, where the good parts are animated into a cartoon.

It is it a railroad? Hell yes. At one point this is even lampshaded by Harmon, when he says "Really? We're all restrained?" and the Dungeon Master makes some comment about their low reflex save. It's pretty clear that the Big Bad Evil Guy is significantly more powerful than the players, and it Pathfinder that means something more serious then in other editions in the game. 

Does it matter that it's a railroad? Not really, because it's just a forum for comedians to be funny. And it's very funny at times. Watching the first season just left me with a lot of questions. Like, how did Dan Harmon grow up with the Dungeon Master always rolling all the dice? Why does the audience cheer every time someone deals damage? Why are they playing Pathfinder? When does season 2 come out?


Hack & Slash 



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