Red Opera and Sirens RPG writer Rick Heinz discusses the tribulations of working at Apotheosis.
Heinz alleges shady contracts, long overdue payment and a work culture of distrust and ego-stroking.
When writer Rick Heinz first approached Jamison Stone in January 2020, he was searching for a publisher to help bring The Red Opera: Last Days of the Warlock to fruition. The tabletop RPG setting book had been co-written by Heinz and Pat Edwards over two years and was based on an album of the same name by DiaMorte, a symphonic metal band with a taste for Gothic fantasy aesthetic.
In the beginning, Heinz said, Stone praised the book - a concept album transformed into a Dungeons & Dragons 5E class exploration - and expressed plenty of excitement for the upcoming Kickstarter campaign. Everyone agreed to a joint team venture: Apotheosis, the studio of which Stone is founder and creative director, would print and distribute The Red Opera that Heinz’ team had effectively finished, and everyone would split the profit. As the campaign drew closer, Stone insisted on increased promotion, marketing and public effort from everyone involved “to do more for the company, do more for Apotheosis,” Heinz said.
Stone allegedly called DiaMorte without Heinz or Edwards’ knowledge to arrange a larger percentage of money to Apotheosis to adequately pay illustrators David Granjo and Carlos Osorio. Edwards raised an objection to what Heinz called a hasty conversation that felt more like “holding the project hostage under a revised addendum agreement”. Stone then allegedly expressed that the project could move forward without him or his writing.
The team eventually relented and signed the revised addendum agreement, and the Kickstarter project launched on September 1st, 2020. During the month it took to reach the $160,000 goal, Heinz said Stone’s behaviour shifted to make “every aspect be about him”. He would receive late-night phone calls wherein Stone would yell and berate him over the project and how he wasn’t doing enough promotion, occasionally followed by effusive praise the next day.
Heinz said Stone attempted to isolate the members of the original team through conversations in which he would alternate between preening the individual with compliments and denigrating the other two, talking about their supposed failures and how they were allegedly breaching their contract. “He would start crossing these dividing lines, not realising that all of us are actually a team on our side,” Heinz said.
In an interview with Dicebreaker, Stone apologised for this specific behaviour and attributed it to an “aggressive stance” generally affecting his relationships. “It is absolutely clear to me that the mode that I personally and historically interacted with the world was a fear-based perspective,” he said. “And that's not fair to them.”
During the campaign, Heinz invited tabletop actual play personality Satine Phoenix to take part in a promotional episode using The Red Opera. The two were working acquaintances from their time with streaming studio Gilding Light and tabletop channel Geek & Sundry, and Phoenix readily agreed. Stone and Phoenix began dating about a week after the campaign ended, according to Heinz, and the two stepped away from creative work on the project around the same time.
Heinz said he was informed by Stone that the studio would not reveal the percentage royalty cut that he, Edwards and DiaMorte had earned from the now long-finished Kickstarter campaign, saying “last time it caused a lot of problems”. He would keep those numbers - which essentially amounted to the team’s profits from the joint venture - private until after the book had been fulfilled. Stone and Apotheosis have called these claims “factually inaccurate” and denied them.
#TTRPG Experiences I had in co-creating The Red Opera, focusing on how the creatives were mistreated & under-credited:— A Scribe Called Pat (@ThePatEdwards) June 10, 2022
Did y’all know The Red Opera is an adaption? There’s this great band called DiAmorte, fronted by Drake Meffesta. The Red Opera is an album & stage show… 1/
Heinz said he felt as though his money was being held hostage, which was especially galling after he paid all of the writers on the book - an amount close to $13,000 - from his personal accounts. Stone, Heinz claimed, softened this blow with compliments and an invitation to work with him and Phoenix as they became “the power couple of D&D”. He even offered to publish Heinz's long-held passion project of a book that taught children and young people how to be storytellers. Heinz flatly denied and instead countered with an offer to write a book similar to The Red Opera but featuring the Bard class.
He says things like, ‘You put a gun to my head’ and ‘You're done in the industry. I'm gonna cancel you. You're out,’
This idea spoke to Phoenix, who previously ran an all-bard actual play campaign called Sirens of the Realm on Dungeons & Dragons’ official Twitch channel. The new book progressed well, which Heinz attributed to the lack of crowdfunding pressure. Stone and Phoenix allowed the studio to flourish as a positive and collaborative environment when not stuck in what Heinz called “promotion mode.”
It didn’t last long - The Red Opera’s proofs returned from the printer and were approved by Stone without Heinz ever reviewing them. He attributes this oversight to a Stone-mandated shortened development cycle so that Sirens: Battle of the Bards’ Kickstarter campaign ended on Phoenix’s birthday. Stone denied this claim via email.
This resulted in a glut of typos, errors and outdated information throughout the first 32 pages of The Red Opera. Heinz attributed this oversight to Stone, the creative director, lopping off the last chunk of the development cycle. The errors were corrected in the digital version, and the studio ate a rough $4,000 loss by replacing pages in the already printed copies.
“Rather than admit that [Stone] was pushing too fast and cut the development cycle, he turned around and blamed everybody: publicly calling out editors, publicly shaming the layout artists and publicly deriding me about how this was all my fault and I'm going to bear the cost of a full reprint run because it is embarrassing to him, personally, that there are mistakes in this project,” Heinz said, adding that he still has not been paid for his work on the book at this point.
So many cruises, so many events, so many promotions, so much going out. At the end of the day, some part of the work does fall upon them to just finish the book.
Stone again denied these allegations, saying: “Professional Partners submitted the final text with these aforementioned errors and we have clear documentation showing who was responsible for these errors. Lastly, PDF proofs were given.”
Sirens: Battle of the Bards’ Kickstarter campaign launched on April 22nd, 2021. Heinz said Stone almost immediately began displaying the same behaviour that he, Edwards and DiaMorte endured the year before. He and other writers received more late night phone calls with Stone “screaming about how ungrateful we are and how there are other writers jumping out of the ocean to work for him and Satine because of her name,” Heinz said.
This is the period of time - April and December 2021 - during which the majority of the other allegations against both Stone and Phoenix for their alleged verbal harassment, manipulation and abuses of power reportedly occurred, often during the heavy promotional run for Sirens. Additional accounts surfaced throughout June and July of this year pertaining to Phoenix’s time at Gilding Light. She is also embroiled in a lawsuit with a former member of streaming network Maze Arcana for allegedly misappropriating $40,000 of that company’s funds. Dicebreaker attempted to contact Phoenix for comment but did not receive any response.
So should I just drop every screenshot and toxic message I have? All the numbers and proof of books being cooked? Or should I keep fighting this good fight of being patient. Wanting to get out all the stories we wrote and art that was done? 1/— Rick Heinz ┗(•ˇ_ˇ•)―→@ConnectiCon (@crankybolt) June 27, 2022
The Red Opera was released in September 2021 to high acclaim amongst backers and fans. Heinz asked Stone to finally sit down with him and talk about payment but was delayed until after the Sirens campaign closed. “It was almost like the money from the Sirens Kickstarter finally hit their accounts, and then they were ready to talk to me about payment for The Red Opera,” Heinz said.
Heinz was surprised and outraged to discover that Stone had paid a personal salary of $62,000 to himself and the studio for the last year of work. “That's you taking profit from a project, and they're also using it for marketing and other things,” Heinz said. “Basically, the Kickstarter for the project I was on was used to help fund the studio for the creation of another project.” Heinz alleged that Stone paid himself a wage for work on The Red Opera, but neither him nor anyone else in the joint venture was given the same opportunity.
Stone categorically denied this allegation and accused Heinz of “misrepresenting facts so profoundly”. “We took this project to Kickstarter so we could gain funds to make this project. This is what Kickstarter is for,” he said.
It was at this point in late 2021 that Heinz said he “made the worst mistake anyone can make to Jamison Stone” - he hired an attorney. He wanted a professional to review the joint venture agreement and other contracts he had signed with Apotheosis, including opting out of a royalty share of Sirens in hope of quicker payment. When Stone found out, Heinz said he reacted as if he’d personally brought down Armageddon.
“He is entirely toxic and abusive. He says things like, ‘You put a gun to my head’ and ‘You're done in the industry. I'm gonna cancel you. You're out,’ and ‘You're gonna accept these options,’” Heinz said. He asked Stone why he couldn’t just keep his original contract and go to court. “[Stone]'s like, ‘If you do that, you're done. You have no idea. I have more money than you. I will do whatever is necessary to fight that case.’”
Our voices didn't matter. We’re just a bunch of people that had already been silenced and siloed from sort of the rest of the world.
“It is deeply saddening to me that lies are being propagated like this,” Stone said, denying this latest allegation. “Yes, I was upset about this situation, however, I did not say the things [Heinz] is accusing me of, except that if it came to it, our legal counsel would defend us in the court of law, as outlined in our written agreement.”
Heinz admitted he relented to Stone’s threats and counter-accusations that he, Edwards and DiaMorte had all somehow breached their own contracts. He was, at this point, still in debt from paying the writers who worked on The Red Opera. The disagreement was settled behind the scenes, and Heinz was removed from public places where Stone had access - Heinz believes this was a retaliatory move. When Sirens promotion picked back up, Heinz said Stone and Phoenix centred themselves as the book’s creators and writers.
Meanwhile, the team pulled all-nighters to hit internal deadlines often structured around cruises, tours and other promotional events that Stone and Phoenix were attending. The team - most of them freelancers - submitted invoices for final work in November 2021. Heinz said those payments, including his first payout for The Red Opera, were internally delayed until after Apotheosis completed a campaign for a Red Opera-themed tarot deck. As multiple freelancers who worked on Sirens have alleged, Stone and Phoenix were extremely reticent in honouring these invoices. Heinz said he circumvented Stone and appealed directly to then-COO Sarah Urfer, telling her that if Apotheosis did not pay these freelance writers, it would not have a company in a handful of months.
Heinz still hasn’t been paid for Sirens: Battle of the Bards because his contract is contingent on the book’s release, but all of the freelancers have reportedly received money owed. Apotheosis responded to the multiple allegations against both Stone and Phoenix by citing freelancers submitting work late and over budget, thus forcing the studio to delay book fulfilment. At time of writing, Sirens still has no release date, and Apotheosis simply said it will “provide additional updates on fulfilment as we know more.” Heinz attests that the book is 90% complete, and has been for some time.
“So many cruises, so many events, so many promotions, so much going out. At the end of the day, some part of the work does fall upon them to just finish the book,” Heinz said. “And now it's going to be really hard for them to do that without a layout artist or editors.”
Apotheosis still holds the rights to The Red Opera, a book created mostly by individuals who have now brought serious allegations against the studio. Heinz said negotiations to transfer ownership are ongoing, but he’s anxious to put this fraught and draining work experience behind him.
“Our voices didn't matter. We’re just a bunch of people that had already been silenced and siloed from sort of the rest of the world. We wanted to get this thing out there so we could get credit for an actually badass book,” he said. “They want to talk about apologies and making amends to the community? The right thing to do is to give the rights back to the creators and close down the studio.”