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 
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