Mage: Refuge a Prequel

Keep on the Heathlands recently published a review of the new Vampire the Masquerade mobile game from White Wolf Publishing, Vampire: We Eat Blood  All Our Friends Are Dead. After reading his review I was anxious to see what White Wolf did with Mage in Mage: Refuge. For anyone familiar with choose your own adventure books these games will be familiar. The game is fundamentally a piece of short fiction, but at various points during the story you are prompted to make choices about the protagonist’s actions, or decide on aspects of her personality, and those choices impact the outcome of the narrative.

Mage: Refuge is a solid example of a branching narrative game. The story feels urgent, and fairly claustrophobic, which is an appropriate feeling for the World of Darkness. The art and aesthetic does an excellent job of making the game feel immersive, and gives you a sense of just how disconcerting true magick can be. While an engaging experience, some of the design choices introduced accessibility concerns.

During the narrative, there are a few scenes where you find yourself in an altered state of consciousness. The nature of this experience is left intentionally vague but clues are dropped over the course of the game about what is happening. While you’re in this state the text goes from black on a white background to white on a black background, with a blue and yellow shift that moves constantly just behind the white text. I often had difficulty reading these scenes. I cannot imagine how difficult these scenes would be for someone with vision problems or data processing issues. Given the eye strain I experienced during these scenes I sincerely hope that future releases from White Wolf give more consideration to accessible design.

Sigil from Mage: Refuge

In general, despite some shortcomings, Mage: Refugee is a solid branching narrative game, and if you don’t have a history with Mage: The Ascension I think most players will find it very enjoyable. I am much less sold on Refuge as an introduction to the world of the awakened within the World of Darkness. In an early interview about the direction White Wolf would be taking the World of Darkness, Martin Ericsson said the central theme of Mage is the tension between safety and human potential (This is paraphrased, unfortunately worldofdarknessnews.com is no longer online and this interview was not archived in the WayBackMachine). The introduction to the Mage 20th Anniversary edition frames the central themes of Mage around personal responsibility and the fanaticism that comes from believing something so profoundly that you’re able to channel that belief into a magickal act. The horror of Mage often lives in the mirror, and at its core is about the road to hell being paved with good intentions, and the power to act on those intentions.

Through the lens presented in the introduction of M20, the conflict between potential and safety is merely one of many that emerge out of the more complicated soup of zealous belief and power. Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I was sincerely hoping that when we began to see Mage products from the new White Wolf the quote from Ericsson would turn out to be a one off thing, as opposed to an indication of his fundamental understanding of Mage. Mage: Refuge does not focus on the corrupting nature of power at all, and instead focuses on the tension Ericsson emphasized in this early interview. Between the quote, and the narrative expressed in this game, it seems reasonable to expect this focus to be central to future White Wolf Mage releases.

The main character awakens in the story while in a nightclub, after coming to the realization that we are all one, and separation is a lie. It’s a wild awakening with no instruments or action on her part involved in the chaotic correspondence effects that take place during her avatar’s emergence. There is also no pre-existing belief system presented to frame her awakening, just some deep techno beats and a description of correspondence from Mage 1st Edition. This is also the only use of correspondence Julia expresses during the game. Julia spends the rest of the story in an existential dilemma, repeating the refrain of “Is this really happening”. Her awakening feels much less like a dawning understanding of her ability to change the world, and much more like the trauma metaphor commonly used during a werewolf’s first change or a changeling’s chrysalis.

In Mage 20th, it is made very clear that the act of manifesting magick is focused will through the lens of belief. In the game this is called paradigm. This lens is completely absent from Mage: Refuge, as Julia jumps effortlessly from paradigmatic practice to paradigmatic practice during the course of the game. Julia shares several traits with Katniss Everdeen that are commonly critiqued. She never actually manifests any personal inspiration. She is always choosing between which of the other Mages’ takes on reality she wants to support. While the format of choose your own adventure requires a limited set of choices, those choices could have been written as Julia recognizing changes she could make to the world. Instead they are all framed around other character’s visions she could attach herself to. Since the game basically opens with a wild awakening, as opposed to a faction controlled awakening, she needs to have some belief or revelation of her own that her avatar has guided her to, but that is unfortunately nowhere to be found. I have absolutely no idea what her paradigm is, and that’s fundamentally problematic for a Mage story.

The character’s relationship with her avatar is expressed through blog posts “she makes in her sleep”. With the exception of 1 story branch where you sell out the mystics to the Technocracy, all of your working manifests as wild/mystic magic. So, the technological relationship with your avatar feels incredibly out of place. Julia is also never pushed by what her avatar shares with her in these blog posts. They point towards a certain story branch being “correct”, but the description of your character’s state of mind after she reads her avatar’s blog posts never comes back to what her avatar is driving her to do. This is especially frustrating when you follow paths that are obviously in opposition to your avatar’s urging.

If all of these problems weren’t fundamentally concerning enough, the game directly associates the Technocracy with the Sweden Democrats, an anti-immigrant political party. The game presents  arguments made by the Technocracy as “keeping those people with their superstitious ideas out of Sweden”. In game, this reads very much like a thinly veiled cover for xenophobia. When I did some basic reading on the real world Sweden Democrats, it became obvious that while they are not the most extreme xenophobic group in modern politics, the game still softened their message to preserve the aesthetic of “either side of the ascension war COULD be right”. While there are probably people who will disagree, I am uncomfortable using that equal playing field narrative with nationalist xenophobia. If you want to cast the Technocracy as nationalist xenophobes to inspect that theme in our culture, don’t pull any punches. Make a statement. If you choose to aid this group, the game’s epilogue is considerably more compassionate towards refugees than what many members of the Sweden Democrats have called for in real life. While I am a big fan of a more relatable Technocracy, softening xenophobia isn’t a reasonable approach to accomplish that goal, and if the Union is meant to be the unquestionable villain of this story, the choice is even more confusing.

When Mage came out in the early 90’s, the Technocracy were the bad guys. That changed when the 2nd edition Guide to the Technocracy came out. The game line has moved consistently towards a view of the Union as corrupted by hubris and power, but arguably no more than the Traditions who have their own bloody history. Large swaths of the player base considers the Technocracy to be the unsung heroes of the World of Darkness. Even in their darkest interpretations the Union is multicultural, and included the descendants of the Mokteshaf Al Nour, and the Dalou’laoshi. I unfortunately found no trace of that Union in this piece.

(warning: spoilers ahead) Beyond the accessibility issues, and the problematic relationship to the themes of more recent Mage releases, Mage: Refugee did something else that is a more fundamental red flag for me. Shortly after your character awakens you are approached by another Mage who in your most vulnerable moment pulls you into a private place and takes advantage of you sexually. This act plays a delicate game of skating dangerously close to rape while avoiding making it a clean cut example. The emotional violation is unquestionable though. A brief nod is given to asking for consent, well past the point in the scene where consent was called for. In order to go down the path where actual sex happens, the text implies you are all for what’s going on, but at the end of the branch you have the opportunity to undo what happened as you realize “What happened was wrong. What if you could rewind . . .”. If you make this choice you are taken back to an earlier point in the decision tree by Time Magick, so you have the exquisite joy of getting to read how you wanted it, but nope we’re going to go ahead and make it rape anyway, but you know it never really happened so it’s fine or something.

Vice by Lydia Burris (http://http://www.lydiaburris.com)

The most troublesome thing is you are allowed to think that the character Julia is interacting with during these scenes is an Ecstatic, and these scenes reinforce the most unfortunate player stereotypes about the tradition. Then mid game you find out, SURPRISE, he was a Nephandus the whole time. Ultimately the entire engagement with him is in no way related to the actual plot of the game. He comes up once as an example of “well he was a bad guy and he’s not Syrian”, but aside from that one exchange the entire Nephandus sub-plot could be excised and no damage would be done to the main narrative.

I’m not opposed to inspecting sexual assault through narrative, especially a horror narrative. I am a big fan of Jessica Jones, and works like Bluebeard’s Bride that present the societal horror of sexual assault, while also critiquing the aspects of our culture that it emerges from. Mage: Refuge doesn’t do that. It throws sexual assault into a secondary storyline that isn’t needed for the core plot, it doesn’t inspect the sexual assault as a cultural phenomenon, or critique it’s causes, and it does it all while putting the “player” of the game in a first person framing for the experience.

The problem is if the Nephandus storyline was removed, there wouldn’t be any traditional horror anywhere in the game. There is some unsettling political commentary, but that’s all. I have said on several occasions that the core horror of Mage lives in the mirror. As the introduction to M20 discusses, the primary theme of Mage is the horror that grows from believing something with the zeal necessary to change reality with will alone, and then having the hubris to act on that power. That theme was missing from this game almost entirely, and so, something had to fill the void. The fact that the writers chose to fill the void with sexual assault is more than a little concerning, both in terms of what it reveals about their views on narrative integrity, and their understanding of the fundamental horror intrinsic to the experience of being a Mage.

Mage: Refuge is a solid choose your own adventure game.  It’s well written, and shows an attention to quality and detail.  However, it also provides a lens into the potential future of the Mage property that some will probably enjoy, but for fans of the current edition, represents a fundamental change in thematic focus.  It is worth noting that this is a small example of what White Wolf might do with Mage, and even combined with previous statements,  White Wolf’s vision for future Mage  products may be very different.  I am still in the wait and see what manifests camp, but I have to admit that after playing Mage: Refuge I relate to the concerned fans a bit more.

Mage the Ascension: Refuge

iTunes, Play Store, Steam

$4.99

Author: Karin Tidblad

Co-Authors: Martin Elricsson

Art Direction: Eric Thunfors

Music: Kajsa Lindgren

 

Producer: Jon Svenonius

Programming & VFK: Stefan Svebeck

Scripting: Karim Muammar

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  Victor is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

 

Vampire The Masquerade Prelude


Yesterday we saw the first releases of content from the new White Wolf. Like expected, they tackle some heavy themes. Though I’m only a chapter into the Mage The Ascension: Refuge, I’m enjoying the setting of modern day Sweden and the refugee crisis that is impacting that country. We’ll do a full review of that piece of interactive fiction soon, and I’m already impressed. Both of these games are called preludes, and the style of story should be familiar to many RPG fans. These are introductory stories for new characters being brought into the World of Darkness. White Wolf is  slowly peeling back the shadow curtain, giving us a glimpse into their vision for the One World of Darkness.

All images used are from the game and are the property of White Wolf and our use of them here is simply to help those on the fence decide if they will purchase the product, or not.

Vampires

This is a review of Vampire The Masquerade: We Eat Blood or All Our Friends are Dead. The first thing that hit me was the art style. I’m not art critic, but the image style helped sell this game to me. There is an ambiance it provides a subtle sense of depth and horror, you seem to get a sense of the distorted perception of reality that the narrator, Case, is experiencing.

From the start, the interface for the story is a series of text messages boxes. You have choices of specific responses, much like more advanced RPG dialogue trees. Some of these responses are truncated, but many of the options are pretty clear or fully developed. This creates a surprisingly deep immersive story. You’ll interact with several different individuals throughout, but you’ll mostly talk with Izzy, your close friend, possibly lover (if I read some of the sub-text correctly). The texts back and forth between Izzy and Case set the the scene. You start riding a run-down bus headed from somewhere to somewhere else. There was an event that led to your embrace, but this truth is only slowly revealed through play.

My first death happened during one of the first choice sections of the story. You can choose who you will feed from, and choosing the ‘goose-faced bus driver’ was a terrible decision and I saw the cracked screen and blood droplets that would begin to signal a common sight for me while I was working through the story. In fact, near the end, I was dying much more frequently than not. It might have been interesting to have a few more ‘fail-forward’ story arcs. Of course, that requires more content as well, so there will always be limits in this format.

Themes and Story Elements

There are a lot of subtle horror elements in the story line. There are elements of body horror, images are  slightly askew, hunger and a desire to feed are described vividly, pictures on screen alter with blood during feeding, and there is a bit of splatter horror. If you make it through your first feeding, if you are successful, the story really starts. My goal is to avoid spoilers from here, but I will talk about certain elements I thought were interesting or impactful.

 

The setting is the United States, particularly Seattle, New York, and Los Angeles, though, at times, this feels slightly forced. This may have been due to the decisions I made, but I could easily see this story being set anywhere and it might have been interesting to leave the exact locations a bit more obscure. Some of the NPCs in the story may appear in earlier White Wolf books, I’m not sure, but there appears to be at least one Anarch character from the original LA By Night book. I’ll let you determine who that is yourself.(Editor’s note… I was wrong about Alonzo, not the same character.)

 

You Are What You Eat

White Wolf has gone on record saying they would like to elaborate on some elements of Vampire that focus more on what the Kindred get from mortals. One way they have chosen to focus on this is to have the conditions of feeding impact the disciplines a vampire will have access to. The characters in the story reference this, and this reference is something I find intriguing. See the image below.

 

Elders dismiss the “You Are What You Eat,” concept, which makes me wonder if there will be some form of mechanic in the 5th edition rules based on generation or on length of time as a vampire that will allow for some impact? Perhaps you’ll be able to retain the ability for certain disciplines longer the older you are? This is complete conjecture, but it is an interesting idea and I’m looking forward to how it might be implemented. At the very least, it gives me some plot hooks to build into games.

 

The Beckoning

This is referenced very briefly, and may be a plot line only applicable to a specific clan. That being said… this sounds cool. Something is pulling elder vampires away from their territory leaving a power vacuum. Whatever sort of story element this offers in game, I’m excited to hear more about it. The brief reference in this story is a great hook. It’s got me interested.

 

Masquerade Meta-Plot

 

Most of the early story takes place focused around Case, Izzy, and their transition into vampirism. As you dive deeper into the story, elements of the Vampire meta-plot begin filtering in. We are granted a few references to the Book of Nod, mentions of a few of the great clans, one magical one in particular, and references are made to the Anarchs. All in all, this is a prelude and we are not force fed information on the World of Darkness and this is great. This is a hint at some of the awesome story elements that we will see in 5th edition Vampire and the other new products in the One World of Darkness.

 

This Prelude and the Mage prelude are a great way to get reacquainted with the World of Darkness. Are you ready for it?

 

Vampire the Masquerade: We Eat Blood And All Our Friends Are Dead

iTunes, Play Store, Steam

$4.99

Author: Zak Sabbath

Co-Authors: Sarah Horrocks

Martin Elricsson

Music: Lola Zaza

Audio: Björn Iverson

Game Design: Martin Elricsson

Editor: Karim Muammar

Producer: Jon Svenonius

Programming: Stefan Svebeck

Art Direction: Anders Davén

Technical Artist: Staffan Norling

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Narrative Dissonance and Humanity in the World of Darkness

World of Darkness

Who is the true, underlying villain in the original “big five” games of the World of Darkness?  I can’t really think of a more loaded question related to White Wolf’s flagship IP.  At first glance, it seems as though every game has its own villain: Werewolf has the Wyrm; Mage has the Nephandi, and in some editions the Technocracy; Wraith has, well, everyone; and Changeling has humanity itself.  Some editions of Changeling shied away from the Humanity-as-villain narrative, but whether the enemy was the Shadow Court or uncaring nobles, those foes can be traced back to what humanity’s abuses have done to the Fae.

If you look closely, the theme of humanity-as-villain is central to most of the game lines, with Vampire being the one exception.  In Wraith, Oblivion historically is a more productive force than it is today.  Every description of harrowings talks about how they were once a critical part of attaining transcendence, but over the centuries have become increasingly dark and twisted.  When you look at how Oblivion has manifested in the other dark kingdoms, such as the Dark Kingdom of Ivory, where there is no great human administrative infrastructure, the “sins” of Oblivion seem less cosmological and more the result of humanity’s relationship with their darker impulses.  This is hardly the only game where we see these tropes.

Mage is an even more acute example.  As the Technocracy-as-villain narrative has been intentionally subverted over time, we have seen the horror of Mage shift, holding up a dark mirror.  Mage is a game about a human being displaying enough hubris to believe they have the power to change reality and the wisdom to do it properly, and then act on that belief.  In many ways, the greatest enemy in Mage are the main characters, and every time you spend experience you are giving that villain more power.  While some view mages as a class of “others” like vampires or werewolves, they are arguably the most distilled expression of human existence in White Wolf’s canon of work.

When the villain lives in the mirror, the villain is humanity.

PentexartIt’s a little harder to see this theme in Werewolf. When you trace the Wyrm’s story, it doesn’t take  long to see the paragon of destruction as a victim, and that leaves the Weaver as the real villain. No matter how much emphasis you put on pattern spiders, or the Weaver’s other spirit minions, her greatest avatars are humans.  Pentex is seen as doing the Wyrm’s work, but they function as a strictly controlled and organized corporation.  I can’t think of anything more Weaver-like or symbolic of modern human advancement than the corporation.

That leaves Vampire, the largest and most financially successful game in the World of Darkness.  This is where these themes fall apart.  Humanity isn’t the primary villain in Vampire; Humanity is idealized in the system as its primary morality trait.  The hierarchy of sins for Humanity, which acts as an in-game guide to which actions will send a character into a crisis of morality, reveals a collection of scolds that elevate Christian moralism more than they reflect anything true about innate humanity.

The humanity dynamic is obviously inspired in part or whole by the challenges faced by Louis in Interview With the Vampire. The Embrace, the struggle with shame and guilt, and many of the social/political themes of Masquerade draw heavily on Anne Rice’s early work, and as a standalone piece inspired by and inspecting some of the questions Rice posed in her books, Masquerade holds up very well.  The problem is that White Wolf then published 4 more games that present a much less flattering view of humanity, and the new White Wolf has publicly stated they want to engage more fully with events from the real world.  In a world where Duterte not only exists but has a non-antagonistic relationship with America’s President, I have a hard time envisioning White Wolf engaging with real world events and political themes while presenting Humanity as a glorified ideal to which Vampires cling.

Are Paths the answer?

Vampire provides an alternative to Humanity in the form of the Paths of Enlightenment, which serve as alternate moralities a vampire can use to hold their beastly hunger in check.  In my personal experience, the Paths of Enlightenment become a way to get around tracking morality far more often than they prompt players to meaningfully inspect themes of self justification, which is how they were originally framed.  The burden of calling for morality checks falls on the ST, and in a Sabbat or Independent game where five players each have a different path of Enlightenment, knowing when a given player has violated their path is cumbersome enough that it is often ignored.

It is also wortTuskegee_University_sealh noting that the current relationship between speculative fiction and the idea of “The Other” is very different than it was in the early 90’s when the first edition of Vampire the Masquerade came out.  Vampire swept several issues related to humanity’s less savory tendencies under the rug.  Vampires aren’t sexist, because why would you care about gender when you are an immortal entity with no sex drive?  Young vampires wouldn’t enter the early days of their unlife with that perspective, though they might shift their views on gender after their first run in with a 500 year old female Tremere – assuming they survived the encounter.  

Additionally, our conversations around prejudice have become more nuanced. Claiming vampires become nothing more than ravaging beasts if they victimize people, regardless of their races, genders, sexual orientations, etc., while allowing humans to take similar actions with no repercussions creates some messy narrative dynamics.  A Kindred held to the sins of the path of humanity would fall to their Beast long before they got around to internalizing the “more enlightened” philosophies that allow them to resist that fall if you allow vampires to demonstrate the kind of monstrosity mortals have perpetrated during the Tuskeegee Syphilis Trials, or the Trail of Tears. As many players have pointed out, we shouldn’t minimize these horrors by pretending that only supernaturals are responsible for such acts in the World of Darkness.  In 2017 it’s hard to ignore these reflections of humanity and if we try to play Vampire without them the game ends up being reduced to little more than the urban fantasy escapism that the new White Wolf has said they want to avoid.

The Future

downloadWhite Wolf has announced that Vampire 5th Edition is slated for 2018, and they are planning on making some pretty dramatic changes to the systems, including changes to what the Beast represents.  If the Beast changes, then the relationship between the Kindred and their morality could change as well.  Personally, I’d like to see a core morality mechanic that emphasizes the creeping alien nature of immortality.  I would like to see a mechanic that accommodates what happens when a genocidal despot or a mass murderer styled after the likes of Dylan Roof is embraced without invoking a Path of Enlightenment that exists only in Vampiric society.  I want to see an edition of Vampire that joins the rest of the World of Darkness in forcing us to stare into the mirror to find our horror instead of allowing us to pretend that some alien other is the true monster in the night.

This may be a tall order, and I know that, like all changes to an established and loved product, a large swath of fans would protest a change to Vampire this drastic.  However, Twenty years of thematic development in the rest of the line and the goals laid out by the new White Wolf necessitate some shifts.  I can’t pretend to know exactly what this change would need to look like, but I think while Vampire 5th ed is in development it’s important to talk about our future hopes for the line, because White Wolf has reached out to their fans and by all indications is really listening to what we have to say.  Instead of just posing a solution, I would like to ask the question: “What morality dynamics would you like to see for Vampire 5th ed, and how can the game more acutely focus on the horror of the human condition instead of the evil of the alien vampire other?”

 

Victor Kinzer has been roleplaying since he first picked up Vampire Dark Ages in high school.  He nabbed it as soon as it was released (he might have been lusting after other Vampire books for a while at that point) and hasn’t looked back since.  He role plays his way through the vast and treacherous waters of north Chicago, and is hacking away at the next great cyberpunk saga at http://redcircuitry.blogspot.com/.  He is an occasional guest on Tempus Tenebrarum (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCvNp2le5EGWW5jY0lQ9G39Q/feed), and is working to get in on the con game master circuit.  During the rest of his life he works in Research Compliance IT, which might inform more of his World of Darkness storylines than he readily admits.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Bennies/Inspiration Points

Bennies in action

Selection from: ‘An Orange Juice Chaser,’ By Joshua Heath

Bobby screamed to his mooks and I focused on running. I tore through a side alley, but like I said, Lady Luck had it in for me that Tuesday morning. There was the damn garbage truck, pulled back and collecting from the alley at that very moment. I looked up… and well, I wasn’t the least lucky I’ve ever been because one of the fire escapes was hanging low. I jumped, grabbed it, and probably looked like a damn rat scurrying away. Rats seemed to be a thing that day.

The gang was right behind me. I scrabbled to the top of the building and looked around. If I was dumb, I might be able to make it to the next building, I could see their roof door was propped open a little. Well, I ran, I jumped, and somehow, I made it, barely…

Bennies

In Savage World, a Benny is a mechanical benefit that allows players to alter the narrative or save themselves from a terrible roll. Now, this sort of mechanic is hardly new to Savage Worlds. The 3.5 edition Eberron setting introduced Action Points, Adventure! also had Action Points, Paizo’s Pathfinder has Hero Points, and D&D 5th Edition has Inspiration. These points are often used in pulp action games, because they represent the ability of heroes to succeed at tasks that appear to be impossible or highly improbable. The traditional method of representing this effect is to give a numerical increase to a roll, either as an additional die or a straight +X bonus.

savage

Savage

For the Savage system, Bennies allow players to also choose to edit how a story progresses. This sort of narrative editing is one of the hallmarks collaborative RPGs. So, I might be in a fight and instead of being restricted to the items I wrote down on my sheet, I could spend a benny to pull out a gun that I hid earlier. I didn’t really have the gun planned, I alter the narrative to say I did. Or, we are in a crowded bar looking for clues to solve a mysterious murder. I spend a benny to say, “there is a shifty guy in one of the back booths that has some information on the murder.” The GM takes that benny and adds in this character.

Talking Gentlemen

Style Matters

Bennies, Action Points, Hero Points, whatever we call them, these are little ways we encourage our players to assist us in crafting the narrative. Now, some game masters hate this sort of mechanic, because they view it as impinging upon their ability to effectively structure and design their worlds and narratives. I think that is fair, these sort of tools do not always work in every style of game. I like the idea, but I’m also a lot more flexible in my personal story design. I can often incorporate outside ideas fairly fluidly. Both styles have potential to be great games and it is important for everyone involved to discuss their preferences when choosing a game system.

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

X-Card and Fade to Black Mechanics

*Trigger Warning: violence, and clowns

Crack… slurp… slarhp… shoooweekk

As I creeped down the hall, I couldn’t close my ears. The sounds surrounded me, like a bag thrown over my head. I had to step around the corner, I had to face this thing. Yet, the longer I waited the longer I felt like I had a chance to escape the horror I knew would be on the other side. I knew what I was stalking, I knew what my chances would be that those sounds were just… chicken bones.

As a player, I reached out and tapped the X card. I knew what the description was going to be, we were hunting down a killer clown and the description of the sounds were bad enough. I couldn’t handle a deep description that I knew the Storyteller was about to provide. The ST saw me, nodded her head and shifted the narrative. The clown ran out from his hiding place, and we fought. When the fight ended, she gave an overview of what we found and excluded the gorier details based on the discussion we had about descriptive preference before we started playing.

X–Card

X-Card

What is the X card? The X Card was created by John Stavropoulos. It’s a mechanic that allows players to opt-out of something in a scene that is uncomfortable. Even the Game Master/Storyteller can perform this edit if a player is adding description that they would prefer not to engage with. This is a great mechanic for convention games, and that is where it sees the most use. In a public game its less likely that you’ve had significant conversations about needs, wants, and gaming interests, so the X card helps to control the game content in an easy to understand way. Now, some folks worry about this mechanic being misused by players hoping to avoid in-character consequences for their actions.

From my experience with similar mechanics, I usually ask a few follow-up questions if I think someone is trying to take advantage of ANY situation or mechanic in an unhealthy way. I don’t ask these questions in an interrogative way, just in a clarifying way. “I’m happy to edit the scene, which elements would you like me to remove or cut out? Is this a player comfort concern or a character comfort problem? How would you run this in a way that you would be comfortable? I think we can work together to make the scene work for everyone.”

Fade To Black

This is one version of what I consider, Fade to Black mechanics. These are mechanics that support player enjoyment and safety. Fade to Black is a movie trope that cuts away from horrific elements. These elements are known, there are enough hints that explain what is happening, but they are never stated explicitly, to ensure that viewers do not have to see something particularly heinous. In some ways, there is more positive emotional impact from keeping certain elements off-screen, and this is true in games as much as movies and TV.

Fade-to-Black

A great article was released today that talks about using consent strategies in LARP, and I think these are wonderful and can also be used in table-top environments. In the end, we want our players to keep player, right? Working with things like the X card will help us to build our community which means more gaming!

What Fade to Black mechanics have you used?

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Advantage/Disadvantage in D&D 5th Edition

D&D_Transparent

Marlaa

I’ve always been a good shot with a bow. Even as an Elven child growing up in Evermeet, I was exceptional. Yesterday was no exception, but I think I’ve taken my archery skill to a new level. We were taking out a hive of Ankheg’s and I was hitting eye shot after eye shot. It was pretty satisfying and though it took us about 3 hours to clear out the entire hive, I didn’t miss a single shot. I wonder if I can talk Marcus and the rest of the crew to head to Waterdeep for the annual Faire. I could use the money and it would be a ton of fun to claim a golden arrow in that kind of event.

Farn

Luck just isn’t with me at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m taking on challenges I’m not ready for, of if I’ve pissed off some cosmic being. Worst was when I was trying to convince that local guard to let us pass through the gate without having permit papers. Most of the time, slip a few gold coins in their paws, and walk on through. Well, it was my bad luck to get the one Towney that felt he was making enough cash on his regular salary. Hopefully I get out of prison tomorrow. I think my employer is willing to pay bail… again.

Advantage and Disadvantage

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Here’s the easiest mechanic in the world. Roll x dice and if you hit this number, you succeed. It’s the basic premise 90% of role-playing games have used since day 1. Now, games adjust this mechanic in a lot of ways. Skill points give you a bonus, because you have a skill. Obviously, right? There are dozens of ways to complicate this to try and be more realistic or nuanced.

Advantage and Disadvantage still blew me away as an idea when I read it. I’d been gaming for like 18 years when 5th Edition D&D came out and I’d played a lot of different systems, so I really never expected I’d be surprised by something like this. I was. It is a simple, obvious mechanic, and yet, it floored me when I first read about it.

If you don’t know, Advantage works like this, you get two d20s for things you are particularly good at. You roll both, use the better roll to see if you succeed. Disadvantage, roll two d20, take the lowest roll to see if you succeed.

I’m still trying to figure out why this was mind-blowing, but it was. This is a super simple mechanic that says, I should succeed or fail, but there is still a chance I might not. I might have help; GM gives me Advantage. I might have a background that makes it obvious I should be good at something, have Advantage. My life sucks, and I’ve been hamstrung (maybe literally), cool, Disadvantage on your rolls, mate. This is a simple system. The mechanic can be used in a 1000 different situations for 1000 different reasons. That’s what makes it awesome to me.

How do you feel about Advantage?

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

The Curse in MES Werewolf: The Apocalypse

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My Boss is Great, Scary, but Great

I love my boss, but he scares the crap out of me at the same time. Our meetings are usually only 10-15 minutes. We’ll be sitting around the table, running through power points, and he’ll drop in. “Mark, you’ve got 2 minutes today, 1 up, 1 down, 1 action,” is a common opening for him. We’ve trained for this, over and over again, generating quick highlights outside of our regular reports. He reads everything, it seems like, and there is no point in covering the minutiae. In fact, if you try, he’ll often scoff and glare. For some reason… his expression is enough to stop any of us mid-sentence.

I make it sound like he’s mean, or an asshole, but none of this is true. He listens with the time he has, he takes action, and he does everything he can to take care of those who work for him. He sent one person’s wife overseas for experimental surgery when she got cancer. She’s fine now. This is the type of man that will literally drop everything to help, but he’s never around physically for long. He’s got too much going on.

What would it take for me to leave this job? I’m not sure I would, even for triple my salary and 20 weeks of vacation. It’s weird working for someone like our boss, but he’s loyal to us, and I feel like he’s the best type of alpha leadership everyone asks for. That makes a lot of the odd behavior worth it.

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From W20

What is The Curse?

In Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Curse is a reaction that humanity as to the innate Rage which the Garou emit. Humanity is always uneasy around the Garou, instinctively cowering in fear or trying to leave their presence as soon as possible. The curse has less impact if a Garou had not gained Rage in the last 24 hours.

There are 5 stages to this version of The Curse. Introduction, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes. Introduction raises the anxiety of all normal humans in the room. 5 minutes leads to stuttering and stress behaviors, like avoiding eye contact or hair pulling. 30 minutes leads to early panic attack behavior. In 60 minutes, humans and wolves become hostile to the Garou, and 90 minutes causes full Delirium. Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers double the time before they cause these effects in humans, and the same for Red Talons with wolves.

What does this mean, mechanically and story-wise for Werewolf LARP using these rules? It is hard, almost impossible to be a Garou and interact successfully with human society. This is part of the reason Garou retreat into their Septs and focus so much on their own communities. The easiest way for a Garou to effect the normal world is to use Kinfolk intermediaries. That will require a lot of trust, and trust issues run deep in people with a lot of pent up anger (from personal experience). When crafting a backstory, it is possible for a character to have spent time in either human or wolf society, but they would have to have a lot of control over their Rage. That’s not easy, but it can happen. Garou can be great leaders. Rage and anger can be fantastic motivating forces from a leader in a team. Garou have to be careful how much they interact with people, but they can still be leaders to humans if they do so in a backroom leadership sort of way.

How do you build The Curse into your games?

 

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Playing Fair: Investigative Tabletop With the Gumshoe System

One of my favorite game is Call of Cthulhu. It brings a great mix of horror, mystery and clue gathering with the bonus of pulling from the H.P. Lovecraft Cthulhu Mythos. However, one of the failings of that same system is the fact that it is possible, and very likely, that should you fail a role, you will miss a clue that is vital to understanding the overall story. It’s happened to me, both as a player and as a GM.

Pretty sure the lady in the back doesn’t notice the tentacles and is more involved in her book.

Pretty sure the lady in the back doesn’t notice the tentacles and is more involved in her book.

 

My First exposure to the Gumshoe system was through Trail of Cthulhu. It’s style of always finding the clue and putting the focus on interrupting said clues over just finding them really struck home for me.  Many games do investigation and they do them in different ways. D&D has its notice checks and White Wolf and Chronicles of Darkness have their social tests and test of wills. Still, all of these rely on success of the dice to find the clue in the first place.

The Gumshoe game system from Pelgrane Press  takes this weakness and has a great fix. Clues are a given. You will find them if they are needed to progress the narrative. No need to roll. Let’s take a detailed look at the system, how it approaches characters and the games that utilize its core mechanic.

 

Gumshoe system

Gumshoe

The Gumshoe system was created by Robin D. Laws. You create characters using build points. The number of points given depends on the size of the group playing. Once you have determined the number of build points you then start putting points into two kinds of abilities. The two types of abilities in this system are:

Investigative abilities: These succeed no matter what. If you have them you succeed and don’t have to roll a die. You can make a spend to gain more information.

General abilities: You have to roll, and there is a degree of failure possible.

Gumshoe is built around the spy thriller concept. In these stories there is no true failure, only the story being driven forward. The rule book for Night’s Black Agents gives the following example.

 

When you do see information withheld from characters, it’s seldom portrayed as a failure on the part of the competent, fact-gathering heroes. Instead the writers show an external force preventing them from applying their abilities. In a spy thriller, you might get the stonewall from your enigmatic boss, or find a witness dead when you return to question her. Information is only withheld when it makes the story more interesting —usually by placing the heroes at a handicap while they move forward in the storyline. In GUMSHOE terms, they’re not trying to get an available clue and failing; they’re either using an ability for which no clue is available, or the failure itself is the clue:the boss’ stonewall is a Bureaucracy clue that your own agency is involved, the dead witness provides information on his killers’ methods via Forensic Pathology.

So this means that you truly never fail or in other terms you can only fail forward. So when do the abilities both General and Investigative come into play? When three factors come into play:

 

  • When you are in a scene that has relevant information which can be gathered.
  • You have the right ability to discover the clue
  • You tell the Director (GM) you are using the ability to find said clue

 

If you are able to meet these three requirements you will never fail to find a piece of necessary information. Again in italics YOU WILL NEVER FAIL TO FIND A PIECE OF NECESSARY INFORMATION!  In other words, finding the information is not dependent on a die roll. If you ask for it, you get it. Simple as that.

Really

Yes really. Well, almost..

Shocked Face

The above is for investigative abilities. If you have them and it pertains to a clue or scene then you get it. The numbers you have in  abilities are used for spends which we will cover in a minute. However, if a task calls for something out of your General Abilities list then a roll is required, along with a spend.

In Gumshoe rolls use a single d6. The director will set a target number, usually between 2 and 8, with 4 being standard. You roll the ability in question, and if you meet or succeed the target number you succeed.

This is were spends come into play.

poker-chips

Most of your general abilities will have a higher pool of points then your investigative abilities. In game terms, most investigative abilities have  3 points put into them. Even a 1 in an investigative ability shows a highly skilled and trained professional. General abilities, on the other hand, have no real limit on the max number you can have. The only real stipulation to this is during character creation your 2nd highest rating must be at least half of your highest rating.

Spends are done two different ways. This reflects the way Investigative and General abilities work.

As stated before, an investigative ability will never require a roll. If you have the skill, you succeed. However, what if you want to know a bit more than the basic info given by the Director? Then you need to make a spend. Normally a spend for Investigative abilities will only spend 1 or 2 points at a time. This will allow you to gather more details about the clue in question, if there is anything to know.

For General abilities you have to spend points in order to roll. You must state how many points you are spending prior to rolling. The points spent are added to your d6 roll. If you pass, then you succeed.

Should you run out of points, for either General or Investigative abilities, the abilities are still usable. You just can’t spend points to better the roll or gain further insight . The points refresh fully at the end of each session or at the end of each operation.

These are the core mechanics of Gumshoe. This does a few things which I really like. First, it guarantees that there is no frustration from the players when they need information to move the plot along. From the Director’s seat ,this is great. You don’t have to figure out a way to provide the clue in a different way. For the player, you can be assured that you are being given the information to solve the story. In mystery terms this means the game is playing fair. Second, it makes for a rules light system and makes sure that everyone has a part to play. No getting bogged down in rolls or hours of consulting tables and charts.

Even when facing off against enemies no real dice are rolled. 90% of the time the rules simply add a modifier of some sort to the roll. Nice. Simple. Elegant. Putting dice in the player’s hands is one of the core themes of Gumshoe and it works very well.

 

History of Releases

Since it came out in 2007 there have been a number of games that utilize the Gumshoe system. All of these have been released by Pelgrane Press. The above primer is shared between the games below. Some have different takes on what abilities are called, most notable is Bullshit Detector was changed to Falsehood Detector in TimeWatch. These small changes add to the theme of the individual game.

EsoterroristsThe Esoterrorists (2007)

This game focuses on investigators fighting against occult terrorists who are trying to rip a hole in the fabric of the world.  This game was created by Robin Laws.

 

 

Fear ItselfFear Itself (2007)

Set in the same world as The Esoterrorists this game focuses on ordinary people fighting the creatures brought over from the fabric rip. It also introduced rules for psychic powers into the Gumshoe system. This game was created by Robin Laws.

 

 

Trail of CthuluTrail of Cthulhu (2008)

This game uses the investigative style of Gumshoe and uses it with regards to the cults, critters and deities of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos. This game was created by Ken Hite.

 

Mutant City BluesMutant City Blues (2008)

This game line deals with a world where 1% of the population has gotten mutant powers and as such police procedure has changed.

 

Ashen StarsAshen Stars (2011)

This game has  players as troubleshooters in a space opera setting working in a region known as the Bleed. This game was created by Robin Laws.

 

 

NBANight’s Black Agents (2012)

This game is a vampire spy thriller. Players are highly trained operatives who fight against the vampire conspiracy. This game was created by Kevin Hite.

 

Timewatch

Timewatch (2016)

The newest game using the Gumshoe system, Timewatch has players take the role of Timewatch operatives stopping rips from occurring in time. It was created by Kevin Kulp.

 

In Conclusion

Gumshoe is a relatively new system being  7 years old this year. However, in that time it is already making a name for itself having multiple titles nominated for an ENNIE award in the same year. All titles listed above are available from Pelgrane’s website http://site.pelgranepress.com/. Find one that suits your style of play and let me know what you think in the comments.

Scott is a true analog gamer doing everything from pen and paper RPG’s to board games and everything in-between. He started out with Advanced D&D 2nd edition at the age of 10. From there he likes all genres and types, from the well known big names to smaller indie print publishers. Scott is Vice-President of The Wrecking Crew

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

Crash Course in Terminology for LGBTQ People and Characters: 5 Things To Keep In Mind

Article is Reposted from High Level Games and Posted to Keep on the Heathlands with permission from the Author.

inclusivity

Since HLG is interested in promoting ways in which we can make gaming experiences more inclusive for all players, I’m here to teach you a thing or two about how to do that for LGBTQ folks. Step one is familiarizing yourself with terminology that’s often used to describe gender and sexual orientation. As I’m sure you’re aware, using the “wrong” terminology for a group of people can be quite embarrassing if you’re the one making the faux pas, and cringe-worthy if you’re a witness (think of grandma still referring to Asian people as “Orientals”), and pretty hurtful if you’re a member of a marginalized group.

Intentionally or unintentionally using the wrong terminology for a person in casual conversation is called a “micro-aggression” – it still causes harm, but is less severe than, say, housing discrimination. However, a steady stream of micro-aggressions combined with the threat or lived experience of physical harm is like “very small drops of acid falling on a stone” (Brown, 2008). Each drop may not do much harm on its own, but further weakens the integrity of the stone to the next drop. Micro-aggressions also exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems in marginalized groups; and as many studies (Haas, et al., 2011; Mustanski, et al., 2010; Almeida, et al., 2008; Bostwick, et al., 2014) have shown, LGBTQ folks have higher rates of traumatic experiences (e.g. sexual assault, physical violence, other forms of discrimination) and mental health problems than heterosexual, cisgender people.

So if you care about your LGBTQ players, perpetuating micro-aggressions at your table is probably not the cool thing to do. If you don’t, then perhaps go find another article. If you’re writing LGBTQ characters, you want them to be believable, which means getting into their fictional headspace. But, the situation in the LGBTQ community is pretty much a minefield when it comes to terminology. So here’s a fancy-pants guide from your resident queer lady gamer based off of American Psychological Association guidelines to help you through! Note: even after reading this article, you will probably mess some things up. The best course of action in this scenario is to make a brief apology and move on.

1). Use Whatever Terms and Pronouns Your Player Asks You to Use For Them.
If you’re writing a character, it’s probably best for you to use the “non-controversial” terms to describe them, especially if there’s someone at the table who’s LGBTQ. Read: don’t use queer or other “reclaimed slurs” as labels for your NPCs/PCs if you’re not of that persuasion in real life and LGBTQ players at the table haven’t indicated whether they’re cool with those terms or not. Having storylines around changing someone’s sexual orientation without their consent using magic (I’m looking at you, Fire Emblem), or including tropey “predatory LGBTQ” characters probably isn’t the best idea if your goal is to not perpetuate societal harms against LGBTQ folks in your games.

2). Dat Acronym:
LGBTQ stands for “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer” but there have been some pushes to change it around quite a bit (either by making it a double “Q” to separately denote queer and questioning, an “I” for intersex, a double “A” for asexual and agender, and a “P” for pansexual). I affectionately refer to it as alphabet soup for this reason. Personally, I think it’s fine as it stands, because transgender and queer are umbrella terms & encompass what people want to add. But, if you see the expanded version(s), now you know what these terms stand for.

3). Gender Stuff:
Now that we’ve covered what each thing in the acronym stands for, we’ll unpack the gender stuff. Transgender, like I said before, is an umbrella term, and encompasses people who don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. So brief review; sex and gender are two separate, but related, things. Sex or “biological sex” usually refers to chromosomes, primary and secondary sex characteristics, and gender is the set of societal expectations for behavior that we place on people based on their perceived sex. People whose gender identity matches up with the “biological sex” they were assigned at birth are known as “cisgender,” from the Latin “on this side of”; those whose gender does not match with their biological sex are called “transgender.” These are often abbreviated as “cis” and “trans.”

However, things with sex are not as cut and dry as you think they are! Occasionally, people are born with “ambiguous” sex; that is, they might have chromosomes of one sex, but the primary sex characteristics of the opposite sex. These people are known as “intersex.” Even among non-intersex people, the things that “make” us one sex or the other can vary greatly; women with polycystic ovarian syndrome have elevated androgen or “male” hormone levels but we still consider them “women.” The transgender umbrella encompasses people who want to pursue medical sex reassignment (sometimes these folks are called transsexual, but, this can be a loaded term for some), people who don’t identify with any gender (also known as agender), and people whose gender identity fluctuates (genderqueer or genderfluid). Side note: use of the singular “they” is now back in vogue (shout-out to the OG Bard, Shakespeare for the use of this); if you’re not sure of someone’s preferred pronouns you can always refer to them by the singular “they” to avoid misgendering them.

4). Sexuality Stuff:
The term “lesbian” refers to women (both cis and trans) who are exclusively attracted to women. “Gay” refers to men, (both cis and trans) who are exclusively attracted to men. Gay is also sometimes used by non-heterosexual women to describe themselves, but this use is less common. Homosexual is a bit of a loaded term because the APA used this term to define same-sex attraction as a mental illness. Some folks don’t have a problem with it and others do. Ask your players what they’re comfortable with, particularly if their character shares their real-life sexuality.

“Bisexual” (with bi meaning two) refers to people of any gender who are attracted to both men and women, but not every bisexual person experiences attraction as a 50-50 split; some bisexual folks prefer women 90% of the time and men 10% and anywhere in between. “Pansexual” (with pan meaning all) refers to people who form romantic attraction regardless of gender; and developed as kind of a political response to criticisms of “bisexual” assuming that there are only two genders/being transphobic. Some bi folks just say that for them, bi means “two or more” genders. “Queer” is a loaded term for older folks in particular because it was the slur of choice during the early days of the LGBTQ rights movement. Younger folks are using this former slur as an umbrella term to encompass anyone who is not exclusively heterosexual/straight, people who don’t like labels, and people who are still figuring things out but know that they’re definitely not straight.

5). Ice-Cream Analogy:
“Asexual,” like transgender, it’s an umbrella term (also abbreviated as ace). If you think of sexual orientation as sexual preference, think of asexuality as sexual appetite. Or, in ice-cream analogy terms; I have preferences for mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ice cream, but will actively pursue eating ice cream in general because I have a stupid strong sweet tooth. Other people may not have an appetite to pursue eating ice cream, but if it’s offered to them, they’ll eat it. Some people will eat ice cream under certain conditions (must have rainbow jimmies or all bets are off), and some just don’t like ice cream at all. Some asexual folks do not experience romantic or sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of gender. Other asexual folks may experience romantic attraction to other people, but not sexual attraction. Some asexual folks might only experience sexual attraction once they’re in a committed relationship. Most of these identities are called gray or demi-asexuality (demi meaning partial). There’s heated debate on whether or not to include asexual as part of the LGBTQ acronym but that’s a can of worms I’m not going to open.

So there you have it! Your crash course is complete and now you can go off into the world armed with your SHINY NEW KNOWLEDGE!

FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & WordPress.  

Citations:
Almeida, J., Johnson, R.M., Corless, H.L., Molnar, B.E. & Azrael, D. (2008). Emotional

distress among LGBT youth: The influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 38, 1001-1014. 

American Psychological Association (2012). Guidelines for psychological practice with
lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. American Psychologist, 67(1), 10-42. doi:
10.1037/a0024659

American Psychological Association (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with
transgender and gender non-conforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9),
832-864. doi: 4 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039906

Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., & West, B. (2014). Discrimination and
mental health among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 35-45.

Brown, L. S. (2008). Cultural competence in trauma therapy: Beyond the flashback.
American Psychological Association: Washington, D. C.

Haas, A. P., Eliason, M., Mays, V. M., Mathy, R. M., Cochran, S. D., D’Augelli, A. R.,
& … Clayton, P. J. (2011). Suicide and suicide risk in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations: Review and recommendations. Journal Of Homosexuality, 58(1), 10-51. doi:10.1080/00918369.2011.534038

Mustanski, B. S., Garofalo, R., & Emerson, E. M. (2010). Mental health disorders,
psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal Of Public Health,100(12), 2426-2432. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.178319

Deadline Express 5

Howdy, amigo!  

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We’ve been talking quite a bit about who your character is, and by now you’ve either come up with a great concept, or at least are toying around with a few.  So let’s take a little bit of time to kick around some thoughts on who your people are.

 

The Weird West isn’t a unified nation with gradients of civilization as you move west; it’s a fractured jigsaw of nations, territories, and independent fiefdoms.  It’s likely your character is part of one of these groups, by birth or by choice.  Even if your character holds themselves independent of any of the larger groups, it’s still likely they’ll have an opinion or two about the major political players in the region.  So let’s run through some of them, shall we?

union-flag

Union

The good ol’ U-S-of-A, although, not so good these days.  With the Civil War still grinding on relentlessly and the government feeling the pressure from the Reckoning, the United States has had to place the entire nation under martial law, bringing the advancement of civil liberty in the exact opposite direction than was originally intended!  While the CSA may hold many advantages, the Union enjoys a greater degree of industry, which in turn translates directly into an arms advantage when it comes to ghost-rock powered war machines.  Although their resolve was strong when the war began, the abolition of slavery even in the south has led some to opine that the war may no longer be necessary.  As the war slogs on, its crushing influence touches every facet of US society, and many wonder how long the Union can maintain the will to fight.

dixie

Confederacy

The CSA has already far outlasted its real-world counterpart.  Partly through the influence of the Reckoning, and partly through shrewd foreign recognition, the Confederacy is standing on its own, however shakily.  While the war is still the predominant influence on Confederate society, in the CSA it’s a much more tangible influence, since the majority of fighting has occurred south of the Mason-Dixon line.  With many of the political structures newer than the ones in the North, political corruption is a bit more open (after all, there are fewer centuries-old institutions for it to hide behind!) but no less common.  

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Click to Buy the Book

Sioux Nations

The return of the spirits has heralded a second wind in the Indian Wars.  Although the magics of the natives are no more potent than those wielded by white hucksters or blessed, the Indian nations boast a much higher percentage of those with an Arcane Background.  Further, the shamans have a far stronger unity of purpose, giving them a greater edge when dealing with white forces.  This unity has allowed the Sioux to carve out a sizeable territory that they can claim as their own.  This strength, coupled with the ongoing war, has forced the Union to deal with the Sioux Nations as a legitimate entity, ceding their right to administer their own lands.  This has caused a great deal of friction with the predominantly white mining town of Deadwood, but so far the two groups have managed not to kill one another. Internal tensions are extremely high, however, and likely to remain so.

Book Linked

Book Linked

Coyote Confederacy

Not to be left out, several tribes in the southwest have banded together to form their own nation, smaller in size but not necessarily in influence to the Sioux Nations.  Occupying most of Oklahoma, the Coyote Confederacy doesn’t have the problem of white settlers on their borders.  Instead, they contend with some vigorous politicking from within their own ranks, as well as a number of external threats, including the nearby experimental science bases of both the USA and CSA as well as the numerous conflicts that threaten to spill over from the disputed lands to the north.

deseret-flag

Deseret

When the Mormon church established their own community in Salt Lake and proclaimed themselves a free and independent nation, many were outraged.  Although Brigham Young has publicly stated that Deseret will rejoin the Union once the Civil War has ended, many consider them to be no better than secessionists. The animosity at their unusual religious practices which drove them westward hasn’t died down.  Only the fact that Salt Lake City boasts two of the three premier institutions for mad science, Hellstromme Industries and Smith & Robards, gives them enough of an edge to survive in the Weird West.  Although the tensions between Mormons and non-Mormons threaten at times to spill over into outright violence, the tiny city-state continues to hold its own, for the time being.

 

Lost Angels

In the shattered remains of the California coastline, food and water are incredibly scarce.  The few places they are available are natural hubs for human activity, but even in these communities there is rarely enough to go around.  Fortunately, the largest of these communities has a beneficiary: the good Reverend Grimme, who is more than willing to provide for the sustenance of the members of his church, so long as they obey his edicts and help prop up the theocracy he’s running out there.  Both the USA and CSA would love to see him destroyed, but so long as the church continues to buy the loyalty of the populace with free meals (complete with lots of nice, fresh meat) they have an uphill battle.

 

Conclusion

Of course, that’s not taking into account the vast swathes of territory not under a single national jurisdiction, or the dozens of tiny fiefdoms that have popped up and answer to a single local authority.  Of course, nowhere is safe from the horrors of the Reckoning.  Really, all that changes is the faces of the bad guys and the shapes of the monsters.
Until next time, amigo!

 

Jim Stearns is a one-armed gunslinger from the swamps of Southern Illinois.  In addition to the Ravenloft Corner column at High Level Games, his mad scribblings can frequently be found in Quoth the Raven, as well as anthologies like Selfies from the End of the World and Fitting In, both by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him @jcstearnswriter on Twitter.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.