Posted by : David Guyll August 01, 2014

UPDATE: And my comment on the FAE version was removed. For me it still says Discussions (1), which was where it used to be. The review comments are still up on both versions, for now anyway. Again, just going to caution against shelling out $15 for a very mediocre product (which seems to be working given that it is currently not even a Best Copper Seller).

UPDATE (2/16/2015): Wanna hear the latest bout of shit that Jake and a few of his buddies are slinging? Head on over here.

I've been very critical of Inverse World, but as an indie publisher myself I find that constructive criticism is invaluable for helping me improve what I do. I also believe that when other indie-publishers crank out overpriced, amateur work supported with hyperbolic reviews it can make it difficult for people to justify risking another purchase.

This is why I show my playbooks and adventures to people ahead of time, and also why I am posting the entire pdf document that I have written so far for Sundered World: I want people to know what they are getting before money changes hands, as well as to tell me what I am doing wrong, could do better, or even just do differently, because I don't want to just rush something out the door in order to make a quick buck.

There was a post on G+ about Inverse World a while back, where someone shared someone else's review of sorts, and since I consider any public post as something open to criticism and dialogue, I said that I not only disagreed with the review, but told them why (lack of content, uninspired setting and races, etc). The response I got was largely directed at my issues with the page dimensions and count—which was just one of many issues, mind you—and it is quite telling that everything else was either dismissed or ignored.

Since I had unfortunately backed the thing I did use my freebie coupon to buy it, if for no other reason than to have a "Verified Purchaser" by my name when I commented on it. It was then that I noticed that someone from a blog called Gamer XP had linked a review to it, because for some reason they were not given a coupon to actually purchase it. If you have not read the review already you can find it here. I'm not going to analyze it in its entirely (not there there is much), but I will address a few of the highlights.

It claims that the setting is "entirely alien", which is to put it lightly a huge exaggeration. The setting is a hollow world with floating islands inside. The idea of a hollow world has been done numerous times before, as have floating islands. If you want some recent examples, 4th Edition's Forgotten Realms and the movie Avatar both feature them. The only thing somewhat unique, to me, is that the sun (or at least a sun god), is located at the center. I specify that I find this somewhat unique because I wrote about a city of stone islands built around an exploded sun god some two and a half years ago, but I am not aware of this elsewhere.

Now, maybe there is more to it than that, but the author only put in about 22 pages in the actual setting, and I am going to bring up the page dimensions again because frankly that does matter: the pages of the pdf are only 4.5 x 6 inches.

So, you aren't getting 22 letter-sized pages of content, or even 22 digest-sized pages, both of which can contain more words (which sounds obvious, but apparently some people do not understand that a bigger page can hold more words). No, you are getting 22 4.5 x 6 inch pages. Each region only gets about two pages of explanation (including rumors), before giving you a small bullet list on building a city there, and providing a very anemic example of one (which is not formatted at all like a steading from Dungeon World).

Here, I'll just give you an example of how deep and rich and wondrous this setting is:


That is the entire description for the Cloud Seas. Both of those are 4.5 x 6 inch pages. Here is the one page on building a Cloud City "complete" with an example of one:


Just three pages for an entire region of this neck of the woods in Invells, and the example city is a fucking joke: there are no steading tags, which is what I would consider to be a bare minimum, and what is with the questions? Does every cloud city have some bullshit law about a "petty activity" or accept some strange alternative to coin? Also, what about world/custom moves, noteworthy NPCs, or places within it?

With this incredibly shallow and lazy example, it is ironic (almost of the being to being dishonest) that the author then goes on to claim that "every bit of this world was lovingly created", and that the races "show little resemblance to anything one might expect to find when they sit down for a tabletop game". Really? Here are some examples of the "diverse" and "fresh" races you can expect to run into:

I can't make out much detail, but those look perfectly human to me.

Aaand we have humanoids with floppy ears. Way to, uh, push that envelope, there.


Such original. Much innovation. Fins.


Oh hey, wait, a picture of a mermaid and an...elf, I guess? Yeah yeah, I know from reading the book that the guy on the left is probably a goblin, and the one on the right is a cloud-blessed or whatever (not that the races have any meaningful impact), but if you showed me this picture out of its context that's what I would assume: elf and mermaid. To be fair while nothing about this is original or innovative by any stretch, at least we have something without legs, right?

Even the monsters deliver nothing inspiring (spiders and a handful of aquatic critters, because flying fish and turtles is deep, original, inspiring, etc), and in most cases are not even correctly statted. Take the devil for example (I guess devils are a thing in this world!): it has 5 hit points and deals "Damage: d8" (no mention of how it attacks, but it has the reach tag) despite being Solitary, which should give it 12 HP and d10 for damage. The baby khesat spider only has 2 HP and deals 1d4 damage, when the Small and Horde tags give a base of 3 HP and a d6 respectively. It's like he just looked at other monsters and pulled numbers out of his ass.

The review goes so far beyond being too generous that it becomes blatantly misleading. There was absolutely nothing negative to say about it, not even a nitpick or an "it would have been nice if". They praised the depth of the material, the races, the classes, everything. This is the sort of thing that I read, and can only conclude that this person either has incredibly low standards, is a close friend of the author (maybe a friend of a friend), or had been paid to write such a one-sided review (after all, that $18,000 budget had to go somewhere, and it certainly wasn't editing, layout, or art).

I posted a link to my own review, just so that people could get two very diverse reactions and hopefully be able to better make a judgement call (or at least not be so shocked when the reality did not match up with their expectations).

Yesterday I got an email about a coupon for getting $15 off a print copy, which for some reason costs the same as Dungeon World and almost the same as professional hardback books despite having far less content, lazy layout, and art that is both sparse and of poor quality. Of course this means I am not going to use it, and I wholeheartedly caution everyone else against it, too. I mean $10 sounds good if you are just looking at the page-count, but when it comes to the stuff that matters—you know, the content—you're still not getting your money's worth.

The main point is that having been reminded that it is a thing that exists, I decided to check out my post in case anyone responded to it, and was only somewhat surprised to find that it had been removed (though the review is still up, for now anyway). I say somewhat because I had posted it a while ago, and the last time I had checked (which was the last time I got an Inverse World update where the author was still having trouble sussing out why the margins on the pdf were screwed up) it was still there: I guess I assumed that if it was going to get removed, that it would have been removed a while ago.

What did surprise me was the fact that, despite all of its positive review that someone had actually given it two stars. Now I still think that it is a bit generous, but at least unlike the guy crapping out a 5-star review—that claimed all of the art was top notch, and that it has at least as much content as a $40 release from a big publisher—it comes across as honest. Mikael did not have much to say about it, and I can't blame him, but still criticized it for its lightweight content and lazy layout, stating as I have that other Kickstarter projects have delivered much more and at a higher production quality on the same budget.

I want to thank Mikael for the succinct, harsh, honest words even if the people that need to hear them certainly won't. I have been burned by games plastered with buzzwords and canned phrases, boasting "reviews" proclaiming it to be a 9/10, 5/5, 100% or however they score it, only to find that, no, it's not. It's not even close. I tend to get 4 star reviews, and I appreciate them because they tell me that I am good, maybe great, but not perfect, and that's fine. They are another channel that lets me know how I can make my next product even better.

I can find flaws both in things—from books to games to movies—and people that I love, and as long as what I like outweighs the flaws then I can still find enjoyment. The fact that the author—and the handful of others I have seen gushing about it—can collectively find nothing wrong at all tells me something. Not that it is good, or innovative, or inspiring, or deep, or high quality or whatever, because if it was I am sure one of them would have tried actually defending it instead of just largely dismissing every criticism I had (except for the page thing), deleting my posts, and then either uncircling or blocking me.

No, it tells me that I frankly cannot trust their opinions. It's safe to say that what I and others like me have said is not what Jacob wants to hear, and I've been on the internet long enough to know that a lot of times people get really angry when you say something bad about something they like. But, if he ever wants to make something truly rich, deep, inspiring, and deserving of acclaim that it is what he needs to hear.

{ 7 comments... read them below or Comment }

  1. I think a large problem with the fan following of Inverse world comes from its development, which was widely shared with the Something Awful Community (and possibly the DW Tavern, too.) There is a lot of content that was explained in far more detail in the discussions than actually appeared in the book; which is sad to think it didn't make it into the book at all.

    I read a lot of the Inverse content and widely agree with you, although I do think some of your break-downs may be a little harsh. In the case of things like unoriginal races and locations, Dungeon World is meant to be interpreted, and many things, while not necessarily 'original thoughts' are not things players typically consider when you think of a Fantasy setting, especially when you come from a background of Forgotten Realms or Tolkien. The idea was that nothing in the book would be "normal."

    Now,m that said, I read it and knew it was not going to be the right book for me, I never bought it because a lot of the content falls into gaming categories I don't care about. Inverse world reminds me of a lot of things I dislike about Eberron. (I feel like Eberron is fairly juvenile, and it is still a highly regarded and popular setting.) The overall idea, I think, was to inspire thinking outside fantasy norms. Unfortunately, this is not something people who write their own game content, like yourself, typically need a book to do, which results in a lot of the value being lost. I did, however, enjoy many of the playbooks, at least half would be something I would likely play in a game.

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    1. "I think a large problem with the fan following of Inverse world comes from its development, which was widely shared with the Something Awful Community (and possibly the DW Tavern, too.) There is a lot of content that was explained in far more detail in the discussions than actually appeared in the book; which is sad to think it didn't make it into the book at all."

      I agree that the fans are a problem: they seem inclined to not only misdirect and exaggerate the quality of the book (both its content and production value), but also shoot down anyone with an opposing opinion without even bothering to defend it. I have had my comments removed both from the DTRPG page AND online "discussions".

      "I read a lot of the Inverse content and widely agree with you, although I do think some of your break-downs may be a little harsh. In the case of things like unoriginal races and locations, Dungeon World is meant to be interpreted, and many things, while not necessarily 'original thoughts' are not things players typically consider when you think of a Fantasy setting, especially when you come from a background of Forgotten Realms or Tolkien. The idea was that nothing in the book would be "normal.""

      Good adventures and settings give you some solid building blocks to work with. The building blocks of Inverse World--floating islands and airships--are neither original or inspiring, and they are not well fleshed out (each region is only three pages). I would also argue that most people nowadays do not come from a background of purely Forgotten Realm or Tolkien, especially since information and media is so prevalent and easily accessed nowadays.

      Even if it was original, the information setting content is very shallow and not at all what I would expect from a Dungeon World product (no tags, sample NPCs, world moves, etc). I think that the content can be used in a creative way, but nothing the author peddled supports that: anyone can make a setting with floating islands and airships.

      Now if the author had said that the setting would merely be different from assumed the Dungeon World default, that would be one thing, but it was billed as "making fantasy fantastical again", as well as bunch of other hyperbolic statements, all of which it missed by a very wide mark.

      "Now,m that said, I read it and knew it was not going to be the right book for me, I never bought it because a lot of the content falls into gaming categories I don't care about."

      I backed it because I expected the author to back up his statements, and what I got was a bunch of rehashed, anemic content, when content was even present. Like I showed above, every area got about three pages of content each, and there were no tags, NPCs, or anything of the sort that you would expect from a Dungeon World supplement. It read as very lazy and rushed, which is doubly surprising given how late it was.

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    2. "Inverse world reminds me of a lot of things I dislike about Eberron. (I feel like Eberron is fairly juvenile, and it is still a highly regarded and popular setting.)"

      The difference is that Eberron never made a bunch of claims like that. I recall the Dragon magazine excerpts talking about content, but never saying that it was going to revolutionize anything or be super unique and fresh and awesome. If he had just been honest in that it was a setting in the world, with a few (unnecessary) tweaks like Drives and Backgrounds, that would have been one thing. If he had been clear that there were only going to be a few magic items, a handful of monsters (none original or inspiring), and sparse setting content, I would not have been upset.

      I blame him for not backing up his statements, and reviewers for not being honest in their assessments. It feels like a bunch of friends pimping their friends shit because they want him to succeed without really trying.

      "The overall idea, I think, was to inspire thinking outside fantasy norms."

      That would have also been fine, great even, but what he delivered--floating islands and airships--was the sort of thing that most people have likely already thought of doing in their early GMing years, especially if you've ever played any other fantasy games.

      "Unfortunately, this is not something people who write their own game content, like yourself, typically need a book to do, which results in a lot of the value being lost. I did, however, enjoy many of the playbooks, at least half would be something I would likely play in a game."

      I compare it to Eberron, which had lots of solid building blocks that helped paint the world and give you plenty of hooks to plan games with. Whether or not you enjoyed it, the world had a clear identity and I can easily read through a region and start planning adventures. Reading Inverse World, no picture is painted, and no hooks are forthcoming. Its a bunch of shallow, uninspired content that was obviously rushed out. The author tries to excuse the lack of content as "nothing is set in stone", but I am inclined to believe that the project had some hiccups, then it ran out of time and ideas, and something had to be delivered.

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  2. The sun-inside-the-world thing always reminds me of Mystara's Hollow World. There, it was a gate to the... positive energy plane, I think. There was an interesting subplot about a vampire cult trying to get their hands on a spell to close gates at line-of-sight-range so they could /turn off the sun/.

    As to the rest... sometimes it's best to just disengage. Even if people buy a product in advance that turns out to be terrible, many will try to convince themselves it was awesome.

    Criticizing a game is always a bit like kicking a hornet's nest (see: all your posts on 5e), but it's all the more so if it's Kickstarters have their own doubts. Because then you have to be wrong or they made a mistake...

    Cheers!
    Kinak

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    1. I'd somehow forgotten about the sun. Not sure why, because all my memories of Hollow World art had light. Also, vampires trying to seal it off? That sounds way more creative than anything in Inverse World.

      I know that a handful of people are trying to convince everyone else that it is awesome (they are friends, want to keep getting review freebies, go with the flow to gain popularity, or don't want to be "wrong" by backing a shitty product), so these blog posts have been a kind of balancing act to point out another perspective (as well as to actually back up my criticisms).

      I want creators to be held accountable for their actions, because I think that if people routinely crank out amateur content through DTRPG and Kickstarter that it can turn people off. It certainly has made me very wary of what I buy and back. The only recent thing I backed was Servants of the Cinder Queen, and that is because I had gone over the adventure months ago and the guy made it freely available.

      This is why I share my adventures and playbooks with a wide audience, and why I have made my stuff freely available: I don't want to make a bunch of hyperbolic promises to people. Rather, I'll let them read it and judge for themselves. This is why I changed Something Stirs to Pay What You Want: people can download it and then pay me what they think it is worth to them.

      Now normally I'd rely on reviews for this sort of thing, but they are obviously not going to be fully honest for various reasons, so if you can't trust the creator or reviewers, then who CAN you trust?

      Also, if Kyle and Bruce and the others had actually engaged me in a discussion about this, I wouldn't have made this post. It is because they blocked me and deleted my comments that I made this post, which they not only cannot delete or squash, but ironically has probably made my opinion even more widespread than before.

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  3. "The only thing somewhat unique, to me, is that the sun (or at least a sun god), is located at the center. I specify that I find this somewhat unique because I wrote about a city of stone islands built around an exploded sun god some two and a half years ago, but I am not aware of this elsewhere."

    As far as I know, the idea of a central sun illuminating the Hollow Earth has its origins in the 1908 novel, The Smoky God. (The natives refer to the central sun as "The Smoky God," hence the story's name.) I will admit that I did not come across the novel independently — the old Sons of Ether Traditionbook for Mage: the Ascension, Second Edition, referenced several pulp tales, including The Smoky God. Although you may have been unfamiliar with the story, I'm going to assume that someone involved with the team behind Inverse World would be acquainted with the concept.

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    1. Others on G+ have mentioned other hollow-world-with-sun stuff, too, so I am guessing that with all of that out there is NO way any of the authors came up with it on their own.

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