T-shirt #3: Wherein Jason rambles a bit

Day 3 of T-shirt week has arrived, and the overriding thought on my mind is this: “Wow, I’ve actually posted 3 days in a row?” I am, it should be noted, more excited about this fact than about the job interview I had earlier today. That probably says something unfortunate about me, but given that I’m used to unfortunate things being true, I’m okay with that.

So, here’s today’s installment:

Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.
Look on his works, ye mighty, and despair.
Look on my dorkiness, ye much cooler people, and laugh.
Look on my dorkiness, ye much cooler people, and laugh.


What it is: That, my friends, is one Belkar Bitterleaf, a halfling of some renown. He has just slain approximately 4,350 hobgoblins (all Level 1, of course) and he appears to be rather pleased with himself. Unfortunately, he is also about to discover that due to a rules revision, he collected essentially no experience for this great feat, and in the next panel some swearing will likely take place.

If none of that makes a damn bit of sense to you, then you should not be reading Order of the Stick, a wonderful webcomic by Rich Burlew. Order of the Stick (which can be found here) seeks to answer the important question, “What if a Dungeons & Dragons game was literally true, in that the tropes of the game actually happened to the characters, and said characters actually lived by those rules? Oh, and what if they were stick figures?” Or at least, that’s how it started, back in 2003. By 2012, it’s moved on to rather larger questions…but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Why it’s awesome: I picked this shirt up at least 4 or 5 years ago, and it’s one of those that doesn’t really get worn that often. It does, however, come with me to Gencon each year that I’m able to go, and it makes me inordinately happy when I have a chance to wear it. Also, it’s black. I mentioned the other day that black t-shirts are always a good thing.

All right…look. It’s a great t-shirt and all, but here’s the real thing. Rich Burlew recently did something amazing (or, more accurately, Rich Burlew and a community of people did something amazing), and I was legitimately excited that this shirt came up in the random draw so I could talk about that awesome thing.

If you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s essentially a platform that allows individuals and groups to solicit donations, primarily for creative project. Creators can and often do offer rewards for various donation levels, and one really critical thing (to me, at least) is that if the project isn’t successfully funded, nobody is charged for their donation. This challenges the creator to set realistic goals – not to ask for less than what they need, but to ask for what they actually need. And for backers, there’s a greater sense that the individual or group really intends to follow through. I know I’m more likely to donate money to a group that says, “Here’s what we’re going to use your money for, and here’s how much we need,” rather than one that says, “Give us money so we can publish our new book!” without any sense of what is actually needed or what they’ve gotten so far. One other neat outcome is that backers are often motivated to talk up the project, particularly as it gets close to its funding deadline. For instance, I recently pledged $20 to a local theater company for a production they have coming up. When I saw that they were still a few hundred bucks short and only had a day or two left to get the project funded, I emailed several of my friends to see if they would pitch in. I know that I probably wouldn’t have taken that extra step if I didn’t know how close they were and that the deadline was fast approaching. Anyway. Kickstarter is awesome, and if you haven’t checked it out before, you should do so.

In January, Rich Burlew set up a Kickstarter project with a pretty aggressive goal. He wanted to raise $57,750 so he could reprint some of his books that were out of stock. Let’s look at Burlew’s words from the initial Kickstarter post:

Problem is, we ran out of copies sometime in 2010. That means that many readers (especially those who only discovered the comic in the last two years) have had no opportunity to get it. Because it’s such a long book (288 full color pages, the longest OOTS book yet), the cost of a second print run has been too high for me to raise on my own. Readers ask me every week when it will be available again, and thanks to Kickstarter, I now have an answer: Now (or never).

The goal…represents the amount of money we need to raise to print the minimum number of copies of War and XPs to place it back in stock on our website and in local gaming shops around the world (plus enough extra to cover domestic shipping for the pledge rewards and such). If we reach that goal, then I’ll call the printer up at the end of this pledge drive and begin printing almost immediately. If we don’t reach that goal within 30 days, though, no one will be charged anything; you only pay if the project is successful. (Obviously, if the drive is not successful, the book will also stay out of print for the foreseeable future.)

Simple enough, right? I’m sure that almost 60 grand seemed like a rather crazy goal to him when he started the project, but hey – better to be bold than not, right? Apparently Burlew’s fans agree with this theory, because they responded rather…impressively. At the end of the first day, he had raised more than $47,000, or 83% of his goal. And then things got a little crazy.

You can read the whole story here, but let’s just skip ahead to the end. Burlew’s community of fans helped him meet his goal of $57,750, and then they kept giving. And giving. And giving. By the end of the month, he had received pledges totaling $1,254,120.

You read that right. One point two five million dollars, pledged by just less than 15,000 backers. They changed Rich Burlew’s life because they believed in what he did and because they enjoyed his creative work, and because they wanted to be a part of it.

My housemate Phillip referred to Kickstarter as “micro-patronage” recently, and I think that’s a really good way of describing it. A project like this allows people to contribute to individuals and groups they want to support, and more specifically to support projects that put a premium on transparency. This is one unbelievable success story from Kickstarter, but there are many others. What I love about this story isn’t so much that a guy who makes a webcomic that I like got a bunch of money to continue to do that (and, incidentally, to reprint those pesky books he originally set out to reprint). Rather, it’s the fact that 15,000 people came together to do this thing. More than a million dollars was raised here, and the average pledge was just over 80 bucks.

People can do kind of amazing things, can’t they?