TTRPGS, Blockchains, and NFTs

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When Kickstarter announced recently that it would be investing in blockchain-based infrastructure, there was widespread backlash. Blockchain technology is environmentally damaging and is of limited use. Creators such as Possum Creek Games (Wanderhome) announced their intentions to move off Kickstarter, while companies such as Chaosium and Wizards of the Coast continue to express interested in non-fungible tokens, digital items which exist on a blockchain.

non-fungible-token-g5650c4233_1280.jpg


While I'm writing this article, I do need to point out that I'm not a great person to do so; my understanding of blockchains, NFTs, cryptocurrencies, and related technologies is very, very limited and my attempts to get a handle on the subject have not been entirely successful. I'm sure more informed people will post in the comments.


Kickstarter is not the only tabletop roleplaying game adjacent company delving into such technologies. Call of Cthulhu publisher Chaosium announced in July 2021 that it was working with an NFT company to bring their Mythos content to a digitally collectible market, with specific plans to sell two different models -- the Necromonicon and a bust of Cthulhu -- from the Cthulhu Mythos; and while things went quiet for a while, last week the company tweeted that 'We have more - lots more -- to drop... when the Stars are Right." A Facebook statement from Chaosium's CEO appeared on Twitter talking more about the decision.

D&D producer Wizards of the Coast said in April 2021 that it was considering NFTs for Magic: The Gathering. More recently, an email from WotC's legal representatives to a company planning to use NFT technology in conjunction with M:tG cards, alleging unlawful infringement of its IP, indicated that WotC was "currently evaluating its future plans regarding NFTs and the MAGIC: THE GATHERING cards" but that "no decision has been made at this time."

On Twitter, ErikTheBearik compiled Hasbro/WotC's involvement with NFTs so far.

Gripnr is a '5e based TTRPG NFT protocol' with Stephen Radney-MacFarland (D&D, Star Wars Saga Edition, Pathfinder) as its lead game designer. OK, so that's about as much of that as I understand!

Some company in the TTRPG sphere have taken a stand. DriveThruRPG stated that "In regard to NFTs – We see no use for this technology in our business ever." Itch.io was a bit more emphatic:

A few have asked about our stance on NFTs: NFTs are a scam. If you think they are legitimately useful for anything other than the exploitation of creators, financial scams, and the destruction of the planet the [sic] we ask that [you] please reevaluate your life choices. Peace. [an emoji of a hand making the “Peace” symbol]

Also [expletive deleted] any company that says they support creators and also endorses NFTs in any way. They only care about their own profit and the opportunity for wealth above anyone else. Especially given the now easily available discourse concerning the problems of NFTs.

How can you be so dense?

NFTs -- non-fungible tokens -- and blockchains have been dominating the news recently, and with individuals and companies taking strong stances against them, it's fair to ask why. The environmental impact of the technology has been widely documented - it's inefficient, and the need for blockchains -- a sort of decentralized ledger -- to have multiple users validate and record transactions makes it very energy intensive. In an era when climate change is having more and more devastating effects around the world, use of such technologies attracts considerable backlash.

Other ethical concerns regarding NFTs specifically is that the purchaser of an NFT is not actually purchasing anything, and the value for the digital 'token' they've purchased is speculative. When you buy the NFT of a piece of art (for example) you don't own the art itself; you only own a digital token associated with the art. The whole concept is likened to a 'house of cards' or a 'scam' by its critics.
 

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Russ Morrissey

Russ Morrissey

Parmandur

Book-Friend
Unofficial Magic: The Gathering NFT project interrupted as WotC summon lawyers (PC Gamer Magazine)

"WotC said it's currently looking at Magic-based NFT options of its own."
Well, sure. They have to say that to issue the cease and desist. And any company right now has to tell investors they are looking into it, at least, to seem like they are on the ball.

I wouldn't put it past WotC to actually do it if they think it would help their bottom line. Hence why it is important to clap back on stuff like this and make going down the rabbit hole less attractive for businesses.
 

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Yes, evil. You're using up a lot of energy and processing power (thereby polluting the environment to a very high degree) to produce a completely virtual commodity whose only value is that some day you hope to find a bigger sucker to pay you more money than you spent for it.

If that was the plan of a Captain Planet villain, we'd tell the writer to dial it down a couple of notches because it's too on the nose.
pexels-photo-931317.jpeg
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I think this polishes the origin of crypto way too much. Crypto was designed to be an investment platform first - a currency that increased in value rather than depreciating. It was designed for speculators by speculators and there's a reason that sites like mtgox became the early adopters of the bitcoin trading realm - they were already playing around with speculative markets, it was just a short hop skip and a jump to speculating about digital tokens instead.

The entire structure of Bitcoin, for example, makes it a horrible currency. You want currency to be easy to spend, bitcoin is designed to be hard to spend. The "mining" structure around bitcoin was specifically to make it easy for early adopters to accumulate tokens and harder for later adopters - keeping the value of earlier tokens artificially high. It was attempting to replicate gold or silver except without the sudden shocks that would come to a metal-based economy when a new vein of ore is found so that the early adopters would never have to worry about a resource shock destabilizing their economy.

All the talk about having a government free currency is to attract noble-minded libertarian folks to buy into the idea. It's a terrible currency and it's not going to be a currency any more than gold is a currency. At best it's a commodity that someone could base a currency around, except that as a commodity it's the most ridiculous commodity anyone has ever dreamed up. Commodities are supposed to be raw materials, bitcoin and other crypto are literally the byproducts of burning commodities but are useless themselves.
All money is speculative. Creating something that has potential increase in value is kinda important if you want to introduce a currency that is not backed by a nation state. If it didn't, then what's the point -- you lose value as soon as you touch it? Of course it was built as something that could be invested in. Your argument here attacks stock markets as well -- it's either political in nature or is ignoring how money works. One of the reasons that nations whole-heartedly adopted fiat currency one after the other was, in part, because it creates a speculative currency market and encourages investment in the host countries. The US dollar is the premier (for now) investment currency in the world not because it's not part of a speculative market but because it is! You're casting a requirement for any non-commodity backed currency as an evil, and again go over the top.
 

Abstruse

Legend
All money is speculative. Creating something that has potential increase in value is kinda important if you want to introduce a currency that is not backed by a nation state. If it didn't, then what's the point -- you lose value as soon as you touch it? Of course it was built as something that could be invested in.
Except people don't invest in currency. Nobody is going on financial advice shows saying "Now's the time to invest in the Yen!" They invest in stocks, bonds, securities, commodities, etc. A currency needs to have a value that does not radically change over a short period of time. In fact, if the value of a currency fluctuates greatly over a short period - which is defined in terms of months - that is a sign that there are significant issues with what is backing the currency in question (in the case of the majority of fiat currency, that would mean the economy of the country issuing the currency).

Cryptocurrencies fluctuate wildly in value over the course of a single day. This is why companies that previously accepted cryptocurrencies for payment in exchange for goods and services (like the electronics retailer Newegg) have stopped doing so because the value of cryptocurrency would fluctuate in value wildly in between the time the buyer clicked the purchase button on the website and the payment was processed. Which, for a retailer, it is a very bad thing if you never know if you're selling a high-end laptop for $2400 or $3100 because the transaction medium (the cryptocurrency) changes value randomly depending on what time of day the purchase is made.
 

Wolfram stout

Adventurer
Except people don't invest in currency. Nobody is going on financial advice shows saying "Now's the time to invest in the Yen!" They invest in stocks, bonds, securities, commodities, etc. A currency needs to have a value that does not radically change over a short period of time. In fact, if the value of a currency fluctuates greatly over a short period - which is defined in terms of months - that is a sign that there are significant issues with what is backing the currency in question (in the case of the majority of fiat currency, that would mean the economy of the country issuing the currency).

Cryptocurrencies fluctuate wildly in value over the course of a single day. This is why companies that previously accepted cryptocurrencies for payment in exchange for goods and services (like the electronics retailer Newegg) have stopped doing so because the value of cryptocurrency would fluctuate in value wildly in between the time the buyer clicked the purchase button on the website and the payment was processed. Which, for a retailer, it is a very bad thing if you never know if you're selling a high-end laptop for $2400 or $3100 because the transaction medium (the cryptocurrency) changes value randomly depending on what time of day the purchase is made.
Actually currency investing is huge. For both hedging and for speculation. The licensing for selling currency investments is part of the same license as commodity investing.

By the way, thank you for your post here. You have really shored up a lot of my understanding of the NFT issue.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Except people don't invest in currency. Nobody is going on financial advice shows saying "Now's the time to invest in the Yen!" They invest in stocks, bonds, securities, commodities, etc. A currency needs to have a value that does not radically change over a short period of time. In fact, if the value of a currency fluctuates greatly over a short period - which is defined in terms of months - that is a sign that there are significant issues with what is backing the currency in question (in the case of the majority of fiat currency, that would mean the economy of the country issuing the currency).
Um, what? No, speculation in currency is huge. The dollar is traded in massive amounts daily. This is very incorrect.
Cryptocurrencies fluctuate wildly in value over the course of a single day. This is why companies that previously accepted cryptocurrencies for payment in exchange for goods and services (like the electronics retailer Newegg) have stopped doing so because the value of cryptocurrency would fluctuate in value wildly in between the time the buyer clicked the purchase button on the website and the payment was processed. Which, for a retailer, it is a very bad thing if you never know if you're selling a high-end laptop for $2400 or $3100 because the transaction medium (the cryptocurrency) changes value randomly depending on what time of day the purchase is made.
Yes, I've mentioned the volatility of crypto a few times as a major issue. Honestly, though, what you're pointing to here isn't really volatility so much as it is the delay in transaction time. Functionally, this is what high speed trading is about -- making trades fractions of a second faster so as to capitalize on micro movements in the market. Bitcoin has the opposite problem in that you cannot make fast trades. This is a serious flaw and drawback.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
The thing that really messes up and ruins the communication about this topic, for me, are the folks who've got a vested interest in selling you that smoking monkey image they paid $500 for. Oh and the folks that sold it to them. That super duper ruins it for me.
Who are these people? Are they here? I haven't seen anyone pitch an NFT for sale here, but I did skim some and a few people have me blocked that are posting (judging by the responses). If they aren't here, what's the use in complaining about how those people ruin discussion which can be had right here without them?

And, no, they aren't selling you the image. The image is almost irrelevant. They're selling you the privilege of being the only person that can say they own the token for that image. This is weird, for sure, but there's some interesting concepts in there. I'm not sure how tokens really got associated with digital art, though, as that seems an odd mix and one ripe for terrible misunderstandings. The Bored Apes are an interesting example, though -- owning an NFT for an Ape doesn't give you any rights to the image at all, but that NFT does give you access to a special club with special privileges in the real world -- it's a passport of a kind. NFTs used this way make a kind of sense -- limited, transparent, hard to forge tokens that give a specific privilege or access. But not paired with such value? I'll admit I am not one that sees any kind of draw, here.

Full disclosure: I have a close friend that is gaga over NFTs. I mostly make fun of him. I wish him well -- hell, I wish I'd have bought a bitcon at the bottom for the novelty so I could be fully financially independent these days and maybe he gets lucky. That's the nature of speculation. I'm just not willing to engage, and I don't have any burning money around at the moment. He does have some (it's allocated in his investment plan), and is disciplined enough to only spend burning money. Maybe in a few years I'll free up some high risk investment dollars and burn a few to see what I get, but I'm honestly more likely to just buy lottery tickets. Seems about the same to me -- a terrible idea.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Mod Note:

Mod Note:

That phrasing is dangerously close to dog-whistle territory. Based on the number and nature of reports you’re generating, I strongly recommend you consider re-evaluating how you’re communicating in this thread if you wish to continue communicating in this thread.

AtomicPope chose to challenge moderation by using the laughing emoji to comment on this post regarding HIS posting habits. The intent was immediately clear to the moderation staff; there was a discussion of how to handle it.

This has earned him a warning point.
 

Staffan

Legend
Crypto currency, at least the early ones, wasn't at all the edifice of evil you're constructing here. There were a legitimate attempt to free currency from ownership by nations and instead have a useful currency that's decentralized (unowned by a single entity, nation or corporate) and have a more secure and transparent accounting for transaction with that currency. These aren't evil goals, even if their persuasiveness is going to be contingent on whatever political ideology you might favor.
"We should make our own currency beyond the control of nation states so we can use it to pay for crime and not have to pay taxes" is not the moral flex you seem to think it is.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
"We should make our own currency beyond the control of nation states so we can use it to pay for crime and not have to pay taxes" is not the moral flex you seem to think it is.
Eh. I'm generally in favor of the concept of government, but some laws are immoral and many of the things governments spend taxes are too. 🤷‍♂️
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
"We should make our own currency beyond the control of nation states so we can use it to pay for crime and not have to pay taxes" is not the moral flex you seem to think it is.
I'd think that an absolutely horrible moral flex. Are you saying it's not, that it's a good thing? Very weird.

Still, crypto was not created for either of these goals. Nations have long figured out how to tax money made in different currencies, and the absolute king of criminal currency is US dollars, by absolute volume and by percentage of volume. Crypto, with open ledgers, is actually easier to trace criminal activity once identified. As shown by how thoroughly the Silk Road was rolled up, where the crypto ledger was an absolute goldmine for investigators, this seems an odd claim to make, much less use as a rhetorical bludgeon to strawman someone else.

Cryptocurrency crime increased to it's highest volume last year, but it's a tiny fraction of the total volume -- a shockingly tiny fraction, about 0.15%. And the vast majority of those crimes are theft of cryptocurrency and scams run using cryptocurrency. So, not even really related to crypto as an enabler of large crime, but more entirely crime aimed at cryptocurrency itself. This is like saying that the largest criminal acts, by far, using US dollars are people stealing US dollars (not goods, straight up dollars) in non-violent thefts and people getting tricked out of their US dollars (not goods, just dollars). What an absolute hotbed of criminal activity cryptocurrencies are!
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Eh. I'm generally in favor of the concept of government, but some laws are immoral and many of the things governments spend taxes are too. 🤷‍♂️

That's a good reason to work to change the laws.

It's not a good reason to say, "I don't like the consent of the governed. I'd much rather live in a lawless society where the very wealthy have absolutely no constraints whatsoever."

The trouble with cryptocurrency isn't simply that it's used to "buy drugs" and "evade taxes." I mean- you can already do that (as has been pointed out, cryptocurrency doesn't "solve" any problems that need solving, it just provides a bad solution to problems that have already been solved.).

What it does provide, and a predominant use-case scenario, is a digital medium that enables non-traceable and non-refundable/voidable payments for illicit activities across distance- which is why it's the preferred medium for ransomware, for extortion, for kidnapping, and is a major driver of criminal syndicates (both state-sponsored and otherwise).

Another popular use is, of course, for those countries and individuals that have been removed from the international financial markets- so while laws and government aren't always moral, cryptocurrency enables the most immoral of them.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
It's not a good reason to say, "I don't like the consent of the governed. I'd much rather live in a lawless society where the very wealthy have absolutely no constraints whatsoever."
I was thinking more along the lines of "I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” :)

I can work to change the laws while at the same time reserving and/or exercising the right to break the ones I find morally offensive or onerous, conscious of the potential consequences of so doing.
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I was thinking more along the lines of "I am free, no matter what rules surround me. If I find them tolerable, I tolerate them; if I find them too obnoxious, I break them. I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.” :)

I prefer to use the formulation -

Anyone driving slower than me is a moron. Anyone driving faster than me is a maniac.
 



Jer

Legend
Supporter
All money is speculative. Creating something that has potential increase in value is kinda important if you want to introduce a currency that is not backed by a nation state. If it didn't, then what's the point -- you lose value as soon as you touch it? Of course it was built as something that could be invested in. Your argument here attacks stock markets as well -- it's either political in nature or is ignoring how money works. One of the reasons that nations whole-heartedly adopted fiat currency one after the other was, in part, because it creates a speculative currency market and encourages investment in the host countries. The US dollar is the premier (for now) investment currency in the world not because it's not part of a speculative market but because it is! You're casting a requirement for any non-commodity backed currency as an evil, and again go over the top.
All money is speculative, but not everything that is speculative is money. Cryptocurrency is not money - it's not built to be money.

Cryptocurrency is built to be gold. Or more realistically, cryptocurrency was intended to be gold but is actually more like baseball cards. It's a speculative enterprise not a currency. People are trying their darndest to make it an actual currency but it's still too hard to spend by design and that's a huge flaw in the system. It's like trying to pay for your dinner with baseball cards.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
When the users are anonymous, there's no real transparency.
They aren't anonymous, they're pseudonymous. This is the key way that law enforcement tracks and dismantles criminal activity with crypto. If I make a buy with a known dealer using my bitcoin, I can now track that all the way through the system, and when it exits, I can look there. While a number of exits are not easily tracked, eventually one is, and then the whole network is laid out via the blockchain and I have a piece of it. From there, normal footwork gets huge information because I can expand what I know. This is vastly more open to law enforcement (especially with more recent changes) than traditional currency laundering. The pseudonymous nature of crypto appears to hide things, but is actually fairly easily manipulated. Now that governments are requiring more reporting of crypto transactions, it's utility to hide transactions is rapidly diminishing, and it wasn't any better (worse actually) than traditional currencies which have known but still useable methods to launder huge amounts of money because it is so easy to hide transactions.

In other words, crypto isn't better than traditional currencies for hiding money. It had a few loopholes due to governments not adapting reporting laws that were useful, but still not more useful that other currencies. Even at it's height, Silk Road was still only a low-middling player in criminal enterprises, and it totally unraveled by tracking bitcoin transactions. You can't even set that kind of enterprise up these days because it's so easy to take them down by tracking transactions. It took a surprisingly small time for law enforcement to get savvy to cryptocurrency, and now it's much less useful for criminal activities than it was, which was not more than traditional currencies. There's a reason that the US dollar is not about to be supplanted as the criminal currency of choice.
 

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