Burning Wheel and Luke Crane

Content warning: This post is tangential to a lot of abuse topics, including power dynamics and other things that I'd rather not directly go into. Please feel free to skip this post if you don't want to read about those kinds of topics. Note that linked posts go into way more detail about the situation than I will.

So, Luke Crane.

I won't go into the details of what happened over this past weekend. Many other folks have written way better and much more nuanced things than I ever could. What I want to do is write about my own experience and how I hope to change things around here.

I'm not on Twitter so I don't get the full blast of what's going on in the RPG community like I did on Google+, so my first encounter with what happened was on Jeremy Friesen's blog post on Giving Platform. I have had an on-again-off-again relationship with Luke Crane and Burning Wheel, having purchased, sold, re-purchased, and finally selling away my core Burning Wheel books. It never really clicked with me. I kept Mouse Guard and participated in several of Luke's other Kickstarters because even though I wasn't the target audience I could at least appreciate the product. Burning Wheel, Mouse Guard, and all of Luke's products are tight and well-presented.

What I read in Jeremy's post made my blood boil.

The short of it is that Luke Crane took what was ostensibly a joke project (making a "Perfect RPG") and used his platform (Kickstarter, for which Luke is a high-ranking employee) and his friends (all well-regarded game designers) to do something that at best was a poorly thought out joke, and at worst was trying to bring an abusive person back into the RPG community without letting the other game designers know he was doing so.

He did this without the knowledge of his fellow contributors (three game designers left the project before it was canceled), and offered a "Well, that ended well" non-apology.

At breakfast I was incensed. By dinner-time the remaining books I had were in post-office boxes winging their way somewhere else. I'm fucking done with this shit.

Part of why I'm done is the same reason I have bounced off of Burning Wheel for a long time. I couldn't quite put my finger on it but the events of this past weekend made it abundantly clear why I had such a hard time not only with this system but everything that has come from Luke since then.

Burning Wheel is opinionated. Very opinionated. It's a system that provides a certain form of play that is streamlined and honed to get certain experiences from you. It is designed to break down your character and make you the player have to make hard choices. Most game systems are more modular. D&D won't break down if you decide not to use the encumbrance rules as written or decide to use a different approach for initiative. Burning Wheel resists these changes. It's the equivalent of a streamlined car that requires you to take it back to the dealership for oil changes because it uses special versions of everything to make it run at peak efficiency. It works, but don't go trying to tweak things or you'll void your warranty.

Luke Crane and Jared Sorensen did a presentation about how game design is mind control. Jeremy highlighted this presentation in his blog post (above) and made the connection that what Luke did to his audience and his fellow game designers was mind control. He withheld information from them (the participation of a known abuser) until someone noticed the big reveal. His language around his own game designs is that you're not good enough to be able to hack his designs, so don't even bother trying. Just enjoy the ride and leave the details to the qualified professionals.

I've been a fan of game systems that allow tweaking and hacking. Systems like Fudge and Fate are designed to allow folks to add and remove stuff without breaking the system. They don't try to weld the hood shut and keep you out (both systems are liberally licensed under the Open Gaming License and Creative Commons license, respectively). These systems encourage you to be a designer and be part of the fun of game design.

I've made a quick list of these systems.

What I saw this past weekend was Luke Crane being disrespectful not only to his fellow game designers but to the RPG community itself. But this is a pattern; a pattern of being more clever, more hip, and more better than you. Luke has the privilege of being a famous game designer, and he uses that privilege to manipulate folks to do what is convenient for him and his brand.

What sucks is realizing that you're complicit in this and that you've enabled it. I gave him the platform by respecting his work and buying into it. I'll do better to not get caught up in cults of personality like this.

As to where I shipped those books, let's just say that I hope they put them to good use for the public good. God knows we've had a lot of bad in one weekend.