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

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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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Buy Some Dice

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.

LARPers of Color – Michael Underwood

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

amtgard

 

I started LARPing with Amtgard, and have always been a bit more partial to boffer games than parlor ones. About ten years ago I lived near a park where I saw people practicing one Sunday. I wasn’t very good at the game, and the park only had about 10 regulars, so I got discouraged by the skill gap.

I am really fond of games that include real world skill and rules augment interactions, like when you can declare a skill usage in a tabletop RPG.nwm-logo

The game I was most recently involved with was New World Magischola. It was the biggest parlor style LARP I have ever been involved with. I had to save up to attend and am not sure when I will be able to afford to go back. I was a bit surprised by how much I liked the experience and would love to attend more games.

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

I have never been on staff or helped behind the scenes for a game. It kinda seems like you have to know the right people to get into a position like that.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

For a long time in my life  I managed to not really notice being treated differently. Maybe it has to do with most of my family being White, which in turn meant that most of the other families I knew and therefore friends I had growing up were White too. I was the only Black person in my family, and I think that meant I was sheltered from a lot of things. As I have gotten older I tend to notice more when I am the only Black person in a room, when tropes or cliches about race are slipped into a game, or when stories use fantasy races as a stand in for real world ones to tell stories or create conflict.

That last one probably bothers me the most, because it turns something that still happens today into  “fun.” I always get a bit unsettled when a player slips and starts smiling in the middle of what should be a tense or scary scene where they are playing up their characters hate or anger at a fantasy race. I have seen that kind of face on people in real life on people who are aggressing on me who know I can’t do anything about it. It ALWAYS breaks immersion for me, it always takes me out of the game head-space. I wish it didn’t come up as much as it does, but there is always that one person who likes to play the simple and lazy “bad guy” who “hates all” members of any specific fantasy race.

From LARPing.com

From LARPing.com

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

I am not sure there is an easy answer about how to be more inclusive. There are a lot of little things that can add up. Always being open to criticism is one. Far too often I see discussions about problematic parts of a game turn into witch hunts. Speaking up is often treated as an attack on the people who play or the game runners. Th backlash makes even starting the conversations hard.

Not using non-humans as an example of how diverse a game is would be another. If you have to point to the people with pointy ears, the ones with fur, or the ones with green skin to show diversity? Something is off.

Finally, less fixation on “realism” for games that aren’t historical reenactments. The moment that we start playing games, we start using mechanics an rules to shortcut reality. We rarely eat unless it is a long game, we treat bathroom spaces as out of bounds, we use numbers and flags to represent health… The idea that races and by extension race-based conflict and violence are needed for “realism” is a common idea, and one that leads to a lot of shortcuts with writing or thinking about how a game’s reality would be shaped.  If we could start imaging worlds where races exist, but maybe racism didn’t or no longer does? Maybe that idea wouldn’t seem so far fetched in the one anymore.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

Yes. I have been lucky enough to not have seen much personally. The worst was when my race and feelings about a subject out-of-game were used to make a joke in-game that was way bigger and more complicated than it should have been.  I am not sure what was in the head of the person who start the gag, but in the end multiple staff and players were roped into the joke. The worst part was that I didn’t “get it.” My wife got unsettled by what she thought was someone being malicious and poking at us. She start crying, I sat her down away from game and told her she was probably jumping at shadows.

I told her that and then dragged her back into the game. She was still bothered and we ended up leaving the game about an hour later. We only found out about the joke after game was over. Someone reached out to ask about why we had left, and they asked about a part of the joke I had missed. I had been handed an in-game item, and read what it did while missing the name. As upset as the whole thing made my wife, the way that the people involved closed ranks about it afterward was worse. Staff shut us out of the discussion, I don’t think I had ever felt like so much of an outsider among people I thought were friends before.

castle_keep_1

Don’t drive people out

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?

More talk out-of-game about the serious topics people play with in-game. I think LARP has the great potential to teach us of let us explore things that would be a lot harder to talk about in our everyday lives. It doesn’t just happen on its own though, we need to actually work to let it do that. If we treat LARP as only a game, instead of the art or medium that it really is? Then that is all it will ever be. I would love to be able to talk about some of the things I struggle with in real life, and be able to use game as a shared experience that helps others relate.

A Red Rose on Marble: Review of Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition

vampirethemasquerade1elogo

Introduction

My first experience with Vampire was a LARP at the local State University in my hometown. I was 15 or 16 and I’d been talked into making a character by a friend. By that point, the first edition of Laws of the Night was out, and for a long time I didn’t realize that was effectively the 3rd edition of LARP rules for Vampires in the World of Darkness. When the Revised table-top rules came out, I played with friends and dove head first into the various games. At the time, the only 2nd Edition game I can remember reading was Werewolf, and even that I quickly replaced with its Revised version. So, I ‘grew-up’ with the Revised rule-set for the World of Darkness as my standard and even though I occasionally picked up an older Clanbook, or supplement, the game for me was highly polished and well crafted. That was largely my vision of the WoD until recently.

Martin Ericsson has mentioned his desire to recapture the spirit or essence of the first and second editions of Vampire and I had to admit, I didn’t know what he meant. So, I decided I would do my due diligence as a fan and seek out a copy of the game, as written in those early nights. A friend was generous enough to send me a copy of 1st Edition Vampire: The Masquerade a few months ago and I’ve slowly worked through it while reading about a dozen other gaming books.

My first impression was that it reminded me of quite a few books I loved that were written in the late ‘80s and early 90’s. For example, I was a big Robotech fan, and Palladium’s style was distinctive. V:TM, as different, transgressive, and progressive as it was, still has the vibe of a role-playing game of its era. That is not a negative critique. In fact, some of that vibe is part of its charm. It feels like a bit of a relic, but a relic that is still potent and possibly dangerous. 1st Edition Vampire is like its namesake, a being willing to sap your time and energy. It is a lovely monster able to see into your inner darkness. In some ways, I think it does this much more effectively than the Revised or even 20th Anniversary edition does. Why?

There are a few reasons, but they weren’t really easy to put my finger on at first. There is a lot of similar basic content from edition to edition, and though the rules were tweaked a little here and there, the core Storyteller System is the same. What’s different then? I think answering that question is complex, but I’m going to try and lay out a few of the elements I’ve noticed between the two.

party-conflict_orig

The Center of Conflict

In Revised, we are presented with a centuries long conflict between various clans of vampires. These vampires are split into two larger sects and several smaller, and arguably, equally important groups. The 13 major clans are embroiled in conflict with the Antediluvians, Caine, other Clans, and occasionally other supernatural elements of the World of Darkness. What is missing in this equation? Humanity. The central conflict in Revised is intra-Vampiric. Brujah versus Ventrue, Camarilla vs Sabbat, Inconnu hiding from the Jyhad (the ancient fight between elder and younger Kindred), these conflicts are between other Vampires.

In 1st Edition Vampire, these conflicts are only hinted at. They exist in the background. In 1st edition the central conflicts are, The Beast vs Humanity, Humanity vs Vampires, and Anarchist vs Establishment. These themes are present in Revised, but they are less central to the writing. To be clear, I’m talking only about the core books here, the 1st and 2nd edition adventures frequently focus on Vampire vs Vampire conflict, often conflating Kindred conflicts with mortal ones in a very confusing way. Dark Colony is a great example of this. As a setting, New England is Gothic and during the late 80’s early 90’s had a ton of Punk elements. However, the story lines presented in Dark Colony focused on ‘Armies’ of vampires in conflict with one another. This, in an area of the US where there were at most 100 vampires across New England. I think I’m exaggerating that number too, I am pretty sure it was closer to 40.

Buy at Own Risk

Buy at Own Risk

That being said, the 1st edition Core Book lays out a human focused world. Yes, you are a vampire, but you need to remember your humanity because you have to live with humanity. Based on demographics, you interact with humans more than you do with vampires. Kindred society is written as a slightly intangible element of the unlife of the Kindred. Considering the population density of vampires to humans was suggested to be around 1 to 100,000, that makes sense. Humanity is incredibly important for feeding, for social life, for a sense of belonging. The fight against the Beast is a constant one, because you are constantly surrounded by those whom you feed upon. In Revised, humanity fades into the background. Are they important? Yes, but not in the visceral way in which they are presented in 1st edition.

Story Goals/Motivations

Players and characters have multiple goals and they are presented with several options in all versions of the game. However, keeping in mind the central conflicts we discussed above, the goals of vampires in 1st edition are different from those in Revised. In 1st edition we are presented with several goals that players may focus on. All of them are based on some element of how vampires deal with humanity.

Humanity

Staring on page 129, Vampire 1st edition examines Humanity, the importance of clinging to a version of human behavior that is, honestly, unrealistic. Why is humanity put on a pedestal by vampires? There are a few reasons that I can see for this. Vampires have to contend with frenzy and the closeness of their Beast. The Beast is a visceral manifestation of the inhuman desire for blood that lives just below the surface of the Kindred mind. That’s one explanation at least.

To me, the Beast is simply the reflection of humanities capacity for inhumanity. Humanity has a beast, all of us have the ability to let slip an anger that cannot be contained, to harm others, to demean others, to lose empathy and murder. The Beast is a mechanic that brings those elements of our character as a species to the forefront. Vampires are monsters because they inherently lose their empathy for other human beings. They have to lose that empathy, if they don’t, they struggle to feed. Feeding from animals will only sustain you for a short time.

the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

Not Following Humanity

This is why Humanity is so important, it represents holding to a higher ideal than real people are capable or even cognizant of, so that the Vampire can attempt to retain their empathy. What if they don’t care about being empathetic to their cattle? In 1st edition the vampire’s choices are Wassail or Golconda, they either embrace their humanity or they descend into complete and utter depravity. This binary is less pressing in later books because of all the various Paths and Roads of Enlightenment that are offered. By removing the central question of humanity or oblivion, one of the central themes of the game is drastically shifted away.

Golconda

This search for enlightenment is presented directly after the section on Humanity. Golconda is presented as a common story line for players to seek. This changes in later versions of the game. This mystical state of being is relegated more and more to rumor, and even the Iconnu that have supposedly reached the state are represented as having probably fallen victim to falsehood by elder Cainites. In Revised, Golconda is played down significantly as a goal for the Kindred, its not impossible to reach, but it doesn’t feel like something you would have in most story lines.

In 1st Edition though, the search for Golconda, presented as difficult and rare, is still something that is achievable and there are specific, if seemingly limited benefits from this state. The vampire no longer experiences frenzy, as they have recognized the Beast is a part of who they are. If you ask me, they realize that the Beast is simply what makes them human, and by accepting that, they return to a state closer to normal people. The other two benefits of Golconda mentioned are a reduced need to feed and the ability for elder vampires to gain sustenance from humans and animals, even if they have the Methuselah’s thirst.

state-of-grace

Diablerie

Between the sections on Golconda and Diablerie is another section, which I’ll touch on last. It’s peculiar to 1st edition and I think that peculiarity makes it special. That being said, Diablerie is the clearest element of Vampire on Vampire conflict in 1st edition. Young vampires hunger for the power of their elders as it brings them closer to Caine and closer to great power. The Diablerist in Revised has a significant social stigma attached to them, and though this is mentioned in passing in 1st edition, it does not appear as strongly in 1st. Diablerie is a valid path for the players, though it might keep them from attaining the last goal we’ll look at.

amaranth_-_alejandro_colucci

The Rebirth

When I came across the Rebirth I actually sat slack jawed for a few minutes. For me, the condition of vampirism presented by White Wolf had always been one of eternal torment. I had no inkling that in the 1st edition of the book the idea of returning to humanity was presented as a central story idea for player characters. “It is possible for a Vampire to escape the curse and become mortal again. Though it is exceedingly difficult, it is a major theme of the game and something that will direct the ambitions and thoughts of many characters.”

Holy… a major theme??! Not even close for any game I’d ever played in. I had never heard of this being a theme of Vampire: The Masquerade. By the time Revised came around it is basically impossible to turn a Kindred into a mortal once more. Yet, at the start, Rein – Hagen and the other writers had intended for Vampire to have this strong kernel of hope as an element of the game. This again is an element that makes humanity important. Wanting to be human again is a theme in a lot of vampire literature, so it makes sense, but it was removed as an element of Vampire through the years. I can’t even imagine wasting time fighting over who was in charge of undead politics if my characters knew this was possible. I can see most of them spending their nights, at least for their first 50-100 years, trying to be Reborn. Of course, this Rebirth isn’t easy, it requires killing one’s sire, or an antediluvian perhaps, sacrificing oneself, performing an arcane ritual, or even reaching Golconda. As a major theme of the game though, it changes things drastically.

Goals in Revised

Revised provides different goals. Kindred in revised are focused more on Vampiric politics, fighting against or for the Elders, and though Golconda is mentioned as something that some Vampires strive toward, it isn’t as immediate of a goal as it seems in 1st edition. The Rebirth was removed as a plot motivation early in Vampire. Which makes sense if you are focusing on the theme of eternal horror that Revised Vampire seems to express better than its earliest incarnation.

convention-of-thorns

That is one area in which Revised provides something that 1st doesn’t capture well. In Revised, the idea that you have become forced into a society of monsters in which you will never escape is visceral. This is the battle of humanity in Revised. Camarilla society may espouse the values of Humanitas, but most Kindred lose their connection to those whom they feed upon. Killing becomes commonplace, normalized, and this disconnection, this lack of empathy is a central element the Beast can play upon. Manipulating younger vampires becomes natural to Elders, it’s how they survive, and being a childer to one of these elders is a curse. Imagine being forced to work for an abusive boss, now imagine you can never quit, never find another job, and never get promoted. That is one of the core horror elements that Revised develops excellently. It’s simply a different horror than 1st edition Vampire.

Other Elements

Introduction

Both editions start off with a story that explains the world of Vampire. Revised presents a narrative, a sire explaining the world of the Kindred to their childe to be. 1st is written as a note from a vampire to a human associate where they explain the hidden world of Vampires. The story in 1st has shades of Interview with the Vampire, and in some ways so does the story in Revised. Each is quite obvious in its exposition. Revised though, is accompanied by well crafted background images, art, and evocative pages. 1st is accompanied by a bit of Tim Bradstreet art, and pages that evoke a worn well crafted letter or journal. Both are awesome, but different. Revised speaks to a slightly sexy, exciting, powerfully impactful game were you play the Monster in the Dark. 1st speaks to a gritty, personal, slightly unfinished game that has a ton of hidden lore where you play the monster who wishes they were still human.

Font

Both editions use a different font at times, but the main font in Revised is small, maybe 11 point at the largest. Its readable, but at times almost too small. 1st edition is larger but overall the font styles seem similar between editions. This is a subtle thing though, the font for Revised is very late 90’s and the font in 1st is clearly early 90’s and they obviously fit into the era they are from. Maybe I’m the only font geek that would care, but this is something that set the tone for the book for me.

Art

The art in Revised is polished, beautiful, well drawn. I could go on and on about how awesome it is. Bradstreet is amazing, an artist that everyone should appreciate and admire. Bradstreet’s art in 1st edition, though? Iconic, but not the art I was really drawn to while I was reading through the book.

No, ironically the art that interested me the most was the single image story that was placed throughout the book. This story tells a tale of a woman who becomes embraced, proceeds through torpor, conflict, and power to the modern age. She then follows a similar predatory path to the one in which her existence began. She embraces a man that resembles her sire. Ultimately, she is killed, and the man she embraced is freed from the Curse of Caine and he returns to his mortal life. This story is compelling for the humanity lost by the woman in question as she proceeds through her unlife, and just as compelling for the way in which she steals the life of the man she embraces and the way he fights to regain that life. I’m not sure who the artist for that story is, it doesn’t look like Bradstreet’s art, but I’d love to give whomever they are credit.

My favorite Bradstreet Art - Check out his website

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website by clicking the Nosferatu

Character Options

1st edition Vampire assumes the 7 Camarilla clans are the only options for characters. This reduces the amount of conflicts possible with this rule set. Revised provides us with the 13 clans from the beginning, including the pillar Sabbat clans and the Independents, whom were only hinted at in 1st edition’s core book. This limited set of options focuses the story more on the nuances between Kindred and humans. Of course the conflict between Brujah anarchs and Ventrue bluebloods is present, as are other elements of conflict between the Camarilla clans. However, it doesn’t feel like powerful creatures fighting against one another is the central theme of the game. In Revised, the camera lens is firmly on the world of the Kindred, in 1st, the story is shot from the shoulder of the vampire, as they gaze upon the herds of humanity on which they prey.

When I read 1st edition I could see why people wanted to play this game so much. I wanted to play Revised when I read it as well. Vampire: The Masquerade has changed a lot over the years, and if you ask me, one is not better than the other. They are simply different. I can respect the desire of the new White Wolf to try and recapture some of the themes in 1st edition. Those themes are important. Humanity should be important to the Vampire. Humanity sustains them, humanity is the essential element which they must draw upon to survive. Finding ways to refocus the camera on humanity, will have an interesting impact upon the games that people craft together. I look forward to 5th edition Vampire, if it finds a way to capture the essence of 1st edition, and the skillful hand of Revised and the 20th anniversary edition, then it will be a wonderful game to add to my collection.

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) the admin of this spectacular website. Consider donating to our Patreon if you would like to support other columnists.

*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.

LARPers of Color -2 Ron Leota

Our second interview in the LARPers of Color series. Please feel free to share these interviews and contact Keep if you are interested in sharing your experience with everyone. You can email us at admin@keepontheheathlands.com

Keep: Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

Ron: Hi, I’m Ron Leota and I am a larp creator and huge supporter of the hobby. I’ve been larping for about 8 years, roleplaying for 20. I started larping as a way to lose weight and explore deeper narratives in role-playing. I love all forms of larp but tend to play full weekend immersion boffer games. I prefer games that have some combat but make story the focal point. I am not a huge fan of boffer sports but think they’re great for those who enjoy them.

I am currently playing World of Oz full time and occasionally play Alliance LARP. I am currently running Spite: A Science-fiction LARP, Battle!, and a few other unreleased projects with my company NW RPGs. I also host and produce the NW Nerdcast, a podcast all about role-playing.

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Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

I have been running larps for 6 years. I love that experience but it’s also caused me a ton of stress and heart ache over the years. Running games is a fantastic creative outlet and has allowed me to tell stories and present certain levels of activism to my community via the themes explored. Most players are fantastic people but we occasionally see problem players that don’t respect the boundaries of staff and that’s probably the hardest thing for me.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

In the Pacific Northwest it’s been pretty good. There are still microaggressions, culturally appropriative costuming, and things I’d like to see change but there has been a major cultural shift to weed out some of the worst behaviors. The community is strong and becoming much more diverse. I find that being a PoC isn’t as much of an “exclusive club” as it once was. I tend to do much better than some folks because I am what you call, “white passing”, which affords me some luxuries my more obvious PoC friends don’t have.

On a national level it’s been incredibly hard. Some players have disheartened me to the point of never wanting to run games in certain states as I genuinely fear that I could not harbor the safe and diverse environment that I so highly value in the games I currently run. The stories some of my fellow PoCs have shared about being attacked for voicing a concerns make me thankful I have the community that I do.

Many PoCs felt that discussion groups like Larp Haven were so toxic that we’ve splintered off into our own group to find the support we’re looking for. Horrendous vitriol is thrown at PoCs for “daring to question” things in the community. Even posing questions about diversity has been met with outcry of “trying to take our games” and “SJWs are trying to kill fun”. It’s very sad and has a lot to do with the dominant white male culture of larping in the US.

Fortunately, this very vocal outcry come from a loud minority of players. Unfortunately, this behavior is allowed and condoned by the other members of the community, who’d rather sit silent than stand up for marginalized players.  This harbors a feeling of being an “other” rather than a peer and creates the appearance that we’re just not welcome because we aren’t the “right color”.

self-reflection

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

Listen when people with wildly different life experiences speak about something you may disagree with but doesn’t necessarily affect you. White players can be great allies if they’d just listen and understand that PoCs face things (daily) that they will never have to face. Learning about those woes and how they bleed into larp is important. Stop using the excuse that “it’s just a game, it’s supposed to be fun.” That’s neat but when your fun is at the expense of other’s cultures you’re not being a very good person and are putting a sign out there that essentially says, “whites only”. That’s what many of us see.

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

I’d love to see blatant racism removed from games. Too often “races” in games are nothing more than offensive stereotypes. I feel if your IG races mirror offensive stereotypes of real-world ethnicities than you have creatively failed as a game creator. You’ve taken the lazy way out at the expense of real people and that’s a game I won’t play and will vocally denounce.

We also need to eradicate toxic positivity in the community. Some larpers are devout and faithful to their games, to the point that they won’t just condone but fight for blatantly racist behavior to exist in the game. It’s heart breaking to watch good people be sucked into the mentality that anything negative said about their game is an attempt to destroy it and we must get the torches to attack the “invader”.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?

I was the head rules writer for the game I actively play and currently run all the others I’m involved in. I kinda already added the things I want. =)

Is She Hot? The Question Female Gamers Dread

As a female bodied gamer, character creation can be difficult sometimes. No, I’m not talking about the sexist view that women are bad at math, or that complex rules are too hard. I am talking about the answer to the question that I feel most female gamers or female presenting gamers dread. This loaded six word question that means something different when it is asked of a female presenting gamer.

 

Question: What Does Your Character Look Like?

Yes, when a male presenting gamer is asked this question it means exactly what it means, no hidden subtext. Does Valeros have brown hair or black hair? What armor is Harsk wearing? What instrument is Lem carrying today? All of these are perfectly normal questions with normal answers. However when this question is asked of female presenting gamers, it usually does not just mean ‘What does your character look like’ but another question instead.

 

Real Question: Is She Hot/Attractive?

How much skin is Seoni showing? What size are Feiya’s breasts? Is Alahazra’s Charisma high? These are a few of the many subtext questions asked of female presenting gamers. Everyone at the table wants to know if our characters are sexually attractive, and if their characters can get with ours. A fantasy takes over in their minds where they feel if they can befriend our character and get with them, that they can get with us in real life. I know many relationships have come about from first starting an in game friendship (including my own!) but that relies on attraction between the parties being mutual, instead of one sided.

 

Perils of Attractive Characters:

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

My PFS character Kita (and crappy photoshop skills!)

Take for example my character Kita. Kita was a Sorcerer in the Pathfinder rules set, so it was beneficial for Charisma to be my highest stat. My first PFS module was The Overflow Archives and I was excited to play in a game at my local gaming shop. In the module there was a section with some fey characters that you could either talk to or fight, and I chose to talk. It was then the party at the table realized my character had high Charisma, and even though they were annoyed I chose to talk instead of fight I was suddenly much more popular. One of the orcs gave me a ride on his shoulders in a flooded part of the dungeon. I got healed almost instantly when I was hurt by the party Cleric.

After the game was over, the Orc player asked me to coffee. I told him I don’t drink coffee so I’d have to decline. Then it was lunch at a restaurant I luckily did not like, so I said no again. Then he asked where I’d like to eat and I walked away, and have not returned to that gaming group. At no point did I learn anything beyond this player’s name, and they knew nothing of me other than my name and that I played a cute female character. They didn’t even ask if I was in a relationship or anything else before making it clear they were looking for a date.

 

Freedom of Unattractive Characters

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Ragin Jane Scarlett, the Woman With No Neck

Conversely to the above, I once played a pirate in the Skulls and Shackles adventure path named Ragin’ Jane Scarlett. She was a Barbarian and guard of her male friend and partner in crime Thomas Stringer. It was often said of Jane that she had no neck, just muscle. She was gruff and unattractive, and had no romantic interest or motherly feelings, and was nothing but platonic towards her adventuring partner. They formed a strong pirate crew and made terror on the high seas for those unfortunate enough to cross them.

No one at this group asked me to coffee, no one flirted with me in character as a veil for out of character. The only ones who made passes at me were a couple NPCs that I scared into submission. It was freeing and refreshing. I’ve played several more unattractive or not specifically attractive tabletop characters, including just playing men instead.  I find that most GMs and players leave alone male characters when it comes to their looks and don’t bring it up as often if at all.

 

Attractive/Unattractive Characters and LARP

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

Rook (and more crappy photoshop!)

At one point in my LARP career, I played an attractive Brujah named Gianna (not pictured) who was a prostitute in her mortal life, inspired by Ros on the Game of Thrones show. Gigi, as her coterie and bloodline called her, wore short shorts that I shyly wore to game with tights under. I posted a selfie in the shorts after game, proud of wearing them. Almost instantly there were comments from the other players about the naughty thoughts they had and what they wanted to do with me. I did not ask for a review of how I looked or how nice the shorts and tights made my butt look. I deleted the picture because of how uncomfortable the comments made me, but I and many female presenting gamers deal with these comments constantly. Some can’t even post pictures of new Pokemon slippers without commenters asking for nude pictures.

I currently play Rook (pictured above), a Nosferatu that I have written about before. Once when visiting a game, I showed up already in costume. No one flirted with me in character because they found me or my character attractive. I looked unattractive with a gaunt face and giant cloak. I enjoyed an evening being able to be unharassed. Once the game was over, I stood up straight and revealed that my body is in fact female. I had several people whom I did not talk to all game tell me that the RP with me was good. They were all male presenting with surprised looks on their faces that I was female bodied. Up to that moment they disregarded me because they couldn’t see my female body, and I loved it.

 

The Answer: It Doesn’t Matter!

When I’m asked what my character looks like, I sigh.  I am always ready for them to follow up with “Is She Hot?” when I fail (on purpose usually) to mention their attractiveness. I tend to ask them why it matters and most of the time I find that it doesn’t actually matter. These are my experiences, and yours may be different. I feel that if you ask your female presenting friends you’ll find similar patterns of behavior towards their characters. When they play ugly or unattractive characters they will be treated normally. Female characters that are attractive are targeted by others who want to push their fantasies on the character. Perhaps keep this and the follow up article in mind next time you want to ask “Is She Hot?”


Anna uses she/her pronouns and is an avid LARPer.. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community. She’s a console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats. She can be found on Twitter at https://twitter.com/squeenoodles

*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.