Tales From the Tavern with AJ Pickett
Note: opinions expressed in interviews are those of opur guests, not necessarily those of shadomain.com
Welcome to Tales From the Tavern – web edition! Today we talk with TTRPG creator and YouTuber AJ Pickett. You can find his videos at https://www.youtube.com/@AJPickett
Now let’s hear from AJ!
How did you get started in TTRPGs?
I think the first choose your own adventure books I discovered was from a books in schools program, and it was love at first sight when I begged my grandmother to purchase the Red Box basic Dungeons & Dragons set for me (for the outrageous price of $11 according to my Gran) back in 1983 when I was ten years old, ironically, I didn’t play Basic with other people, but it did get me together with folks in my school who also knew about RPG’s and so my first group games were Advanced D&D, but I didn’t DM any games of AD&D, my first DMing was with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles RPG and in my group, it was most common for me to run Palladium megaversal rules system games, another friend ran mainly Traveller, two others ran mostly AD&D and so on. For me, its always been normal to play all sorts of different RPGs.
What’s your favorite TTRPG?
Heroes Unlimited by Palladium books, and just the combination of the various titles by Palladium all sharing a complex, gritty universal game system. It has it’s detractors, true, but for me, it will always be my first and most cherished RPG.
Do you have any TTRPGs that you especially enjoy and would recommend to others?
My recommendation is just to not discount old RPG’s just because they were published a long time ago, they were amazing then, they are amazing now, a couple I would suggest would be original Traveller and also Paranoia, oh and if you have never played Tunnels & Trolls, you probably should.
How did you get started with YouTube videos? What’s the current focus of your YouTube channel?
At the time I was an admin for a miniatures and terrain crafting community centered around Dungeon Master Scotty’s YouTube channel, his innovative use of cheap, recycled material for practical tabletop roleplaying games is still quite excellent. In my activities I organised monthly crafting competitions and my first few YouTube videos are just me addressing people in that community and talking about the crafting hobby. I then started sharing my crafting activities and demonstrating techniques, a lot of which involved hotglue guns and cardboard, but also a system I invented for modular dungeon terrain where I used printed out maps, cut them up and used recycled cardboard and a gluestick to stick the map printout on top of elevated cardboard layers, which gave me the nickname “The Mighty Gluestick” which ironically stuck with me. It was not until I was crafting a monster called a Roper one day when a friend suggested I talk about the lore and monster ecology of the creatures I was sculpting, and the rest is history, gradually the crafting side of things faded away and thanks to viewer feedback, I dedicated my content to D&D lore, particularly monster ecologies and the lore of the Forgottem Realms setting for D&D.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to create a YouTube channel?
The best advice I can give is to be yourself, do what you love, interact with your viewers and write a script for all your video dialog, it really helps a lot.
You’ve taken a strong stance about the latest Wizards of the Coast Open License controversy. Given the latest developments, what are your thoughts going forward?
I had been losing interest in D&D for a while because I could see Wizards of the Coast was not supporting the super valuable archive of 50 years worth of literature the game has behind it. Something was wrong and it was becoming increasingly clear that the company was planning to move completely out of printed book products and into a completely digital product, which is still very much their plan. I polled my viewers at the end of December 2022 and asked if they wanted me to continue talking about D&D lore, particularly if they were actually interested in D&D game mechanics being included in the videos, or if I should just move away from D&D the RPG and instead just make my content about fantasy lore and narrating stories on my channel. Over 70% of the viewers who responded voted for me to leave D&D, and so I was already on the way out the door when the whole Open Gaming License drama happened. As my content is almost entirely video based, the OGL actually doesn’t impact me a lot, as I operate under the Fan Content Policy, which has always been much more restrictive, but not really enforced by Wizards of the Coast as far as I know. The proposed changes the company was planning though were a direct attack on all content creators like me and certainly would impact my full time job as a Youtuber (over the month of January the backlash against WotC has seen all my content marked as Dungeons & Dragons lore receiving far less views and that hit me in the wallet pretty hard, but, moreso it was the principle of the thing. I was very sick and tired of the attitude from Wizards of the Coast towards the customers, the teasing of new books only to deliver very shoddy and shallow content, there was something deeply bothersome going on; it seemed to me the company was deliberately manufacturing physical product that were obsolete the moment you purchased them, the Spelljammer book was where I figured out what they were doing. When they came out of nowhere with the ‘lore’ behind the Hadozee playable character option, they deliberately included objectionable references that were carefully guaged to get an immediate outcry on social media from what I would call “outrage mobs” who tend to make a lot of noise, but don’t really do anything else about it. The response from WotC was suspiciously immediate, yet a far cry from the previous policy they had of replacing defective books (when they printed the first 5th edition core rulebooks a huge number of them had serious manufacturing flaws, a red flag for things to come), their response was to only update the digital version of the book, on the D&DBeyond web site. The objective, of course, was to erode confidence in print products entirely. This is also evident in the latest miniatures game from Wizkids, called ‘Onslaught’ the physical product is seriously flawed and basically broken unless you go online and get the correct rules and such. I don’t like lies and deception like that and the OGL contract leak fully revealed what the company was planning to do, which was not only confirmation of what I suspected, it was a whole lot worse. So, I got pretty vocal about it and did my part to inspire and mobilise as many people as I could to take direct and targeted protest in a way the company would not ignore; we hit them right in the wallet and we dominated social media in a way I don’t think they had any idea we could. Thanks to that effort by thousands of people across the world, Hasbro was forced to back off from their plan to cripple the third party content industry and become a total monopoly. The long delay before WotC made a public response to this issue is a stark contrast to the Hadozee response don’t you think? Going forward, the company will not deviate from their plan to kill D&D as a primarily print product and attempt to change it to a purely digital product, but it seems clear now the damage done to the company reputation is extremely severe and they will likely never again return to a position of dominance in the RPG industry, it just takes a while for that to become clear. As for their digital products, well I already pay for things I don’t own, its called taxes. My reply to that is to create an entirely free Super Heroes style game called Super Atomic which will be presented as a video RPG book, no PDF, no kickstarter, quite a different take on what a non-physical RPG product can be; it’s well under way now with a lot of great and talented people getting involved, so I am very excited about it. I also signed a deal with Trollhalla Press to create a Science Fantasy gaming book based on the Monsters! Monsters! RPG, a game that uses the classic rules from Tunnels & Trolls, the oldest non-D&D roleplaying game in the world.
What are some things you’re interested in outside of TTRPGs?
My passions are for literature, art, product design and just sharing what I love and what I create with everyone. Although it was not a financial success, I ran a kickstarter that produced the best Silicone TTRPG Battlemats in th world. The Big Pockets battlemats, generic character sheets and combat tracker sheets are nigh invulnerable, can dry erase permanent market, everything except superglue just peels off the surface and you can even use them for baking a pizza in the oven. I was just a bit annoyed at all the plastic, overpriced, landfill clogging plastic coated and vinyl battlemats out there and decided to make something that would last at least one lifetime and would never harm the environment, plus, they are just superior to use and people who managed to get some absolutely love them. Pity that Covid struck just as I was about to ship them to all the kickstarter backers and shipping costs skyrocketed, so, all my earnings and then some went into ensuring everyone got the products they had ordered, and everything was quality checked by hand, by actual people. It was a good lesson anyway and I achieved my goal.
How often do you get to play/run TTRPGs lately?
Very rarely, due to where I live and what I do, I live quite a solitairy life and don’t get to play online games as often as I would like. If it was possible, I would play TTRPGs every day, and wargames! Thankfully I know a few Youtubers who can occasionally get together to play games, most of those we don’t record as content online, we just play because we love it.
What’s your latest project?
Aside from the two RPG books I am writing this year, my video content has concentrated more and more lately on an alter ego fictional character, kind of the in world narrator who is a D&D character who has quested for an attained immortality and is now exploring the greater multiverse of Rolelaying game lore. People tend to like the relaxed, narrative, story style videos I make, and also the very in depth and researched videos on broader RPG topics such as my complete guide to metallurgy and mining. I have no plans of slowing down in making Youtube videos, I really love my job!
What would you like to mention that we haven’t asked about?
I’d just like to remind everyone that, nobody can take our passion, our love for each other and our love for these games away from us. We may boycott the company and speak out on lies and toxicity online, but please, never attack other people in our community who are still playing games with books they have already purchased, making content about the game they love and creating new content for everyone else who also loves the game. That is not good for the hobby, that is not a protest, that is just being a bully, the very thing we have and will continue to stand against, together.