Actually, It’s About Ethics in Media Consumption


Huge Discounts on your Favorite RPGs @ DriveThruRPG.com

Anyone who has ever been part of a subculture knows the bright red sting of controversy.  Sometimes the controversy is low stakes like the general fan rejection of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition. Sometimes controversies go to the core of a community’s values like the ongoing controversy about whitewashing in Hollywood, and more specifically, to the likely interests of this blog’s readers, the continuing whitewashing of Asian characters by Marvel comics.

Boycotts

Over the years I’ve seen a number of calls for boycotts over these types of issues, and I’ve wondered how useful this tactic is.  Recently, I’ve heard similar calls within the role-playing community over a variety of events that have been litigated enough in the public square that I’d rather not discuss them here, but I do think it’s worth talking about the broader concept of “boycotting” work, especially work in a tightly integrated media landscape like the role-playing industry.

While many people find the idea of a dramatic boycott satisfying, how we make day to day media consumption choices within our hobby and why those choices may or may not have an impact on the industry has the potential to be a much more productive conversation.  Think of it like going on a binge diet, or trying to make long term adjustments to the way you promote health through food choices.  Binge diets do more harm than good, but holistically training yourself to eat in a healthy manner one step at a time is a path to healthy consumption habits. The same thing applies to the commercial choices we make.

Does that work for RPGs?

Role-playing games are unusual media beasts in a lot of ways.  With the exception of Dungeons and Dragons, which is in the hands of a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro, RPGs are generally produced by small companies, and in many cases aren’t produced by their IP owners.  The majority of new White Wolf games are produced by Onyx Path Studios, or By Night Studios.  Chill is produced under license by Growling Door Games.  Shadowrun is produced under license by Catalyst Studios.  While there are also plenty of titles being produced that aren’t under license, several of the biggest names in RPGs are developed in this manner.  This complicates any situation where you want to use your economic activity to influence the behavior of a corporation, because it often puts you in a position where you may well be punishing a company you feel behaves in an exemplary manner for the behavior of an only vaguely involved IP owner.

So first let’s address the elephant in the room.  Trying to influence companies through consumption patterns gets a really bad rap because in many cases it’s a lost cause. Ethical consumption is all too often reduced to a marketing opportunity.  Free  Range and/or Pasture Raised chicken, Fair Trade Coffee and Chocolate, and any variety of attempts to patronize kinder, gentler, more labor friendly corporations tend to fall apart upon particularly close inspection.  It takes such massive bad press to impact the bottom line of most big companies that being seen as ethical is at best a matter of appearance and branding for most companies. So the question becomes, why bother?

Ethics?

Setting aside the issues with ethical consumption of non-media products, and even ethical consumption of AAA media, the situation is a little bit different in the world of the RPG. No matter what behavior you want to promote in the industry, it’s fair to say our dollars count for a lot more to a company selling a product like Numenera that had a mere 4,658 backers on its original Kickstarter, or even moreso, a game like Chill that had 793 backers on its original Kickstarter, than Kellog or Dell.  Losing a handful of customers hits most RPG producers in a way it just doesn’t hit the other companies we tend to give our money.

The impact of of our economic choices is amplified for those of us who choose to run games, as opposed to just play in them.  I’m going to be dropping cash on Exalted Charm cards in the near future because a close friend of mine chose to run Exalted and I want to have those cards during game. So, he has effectively made a sale for OPP without spending any money by running that game, and some of my fellow players may follow suit once my cards arrive. The question that has been nagging at the back of my mind is, given the influence we have, what choices will have the most positive impact on our hobby, and how should we interact with those who make different decisions?

Making a Difference

The first question is in many ways easier to answer, though it is far from simple.  The most significant way we can make a difference with the gaming money we spend is by focusing on supporting the creators and narratives we want to see flourish in the world.  Unlike consumption of things like food where we may or may not have the economic affluence to afford the most “ethical” options out there, the money we spend on RPGs is by its very nature disposable and we are not lessened by devoting some of that money to more experimental and inclusive media.  That might mean supporting something entirely new but somewhat traditional, like Ehdrighor because it dramatically expands the potential of big book role playing games, it might be supporting something completely experimental like Bluebeard’s Bride, or it might be supporting a company producing for an established product line telling inclusive stories in a more nuanced way than their lines have been known for in the past. Conscious engagement with these choices help us shape the gaming industry we will enjoy in the future, albeit in small ways.

The other question I posed above is a more difficult one to tackle.  In the past couple months I’ve seen several people upset at events in our community make personal decisions about who they would and would not give their money to and then openly shame others for making different choices.  Often those different choices were well thought out, and a reflection of different ethical priorities.  These choices were not based on willful ignorance or ethical laziness, and even if they were I have yet to see shaming someone for not sharing one’s values change a mind or even inspire greater thoughtfulness on an issue.  I feel that as our hobby grows there is a vital place for discussing our values and who we want to be as a community. While we will never be a monolith, that discourse is a vital part the growth of any community, and with events like the inclusion of game writers in the SFWA, and White Wolf pushing to produce more mainstream World of Darkness related media there is no question that we are growing. We can expect to face several of the same problems other fandoms have struggled with as they have moved out of obscurity and farther into the mainstream.  

Balancing Act

As that happens, it is important to engage with other fans who are thinking about these dynamics in good faith in the spirit of discourse, and not as though they are an enemy. Many people make an unfortunately meager livelihood producing the games we all love so much, and part of our ethical calculus should be the collateral damage of saying we’re going to pull back from supporting a given IP owner and every company that licenses from them.  Some people will care more about drawing a line in the sand based on corporate actions, others will care much more deeply about that collateral damage, and neither group is necessarily wrong.  If we choose to try to effect change through the media we consume then we should try to be aware of the good and ill caused by all our choices, and recognize that the choice to try to effect change through consumption is imperfect, and opinions on its validity will vary.  We should all go forth and be ready to be the change we want in the world, but know our view on that process is not a monolith, much like our community.

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

OFF LIMIT THEMES? SOCIAL CONTRACT – PART 5

kult

Kult is a controversial Swedish RPG

Welcome back to the final installment of this series. If you have been reading each of these much thanks! The topic for this week would not be the last thing you discuss with your group , but will  be discussed multiple times during this whole process. So, the topic I want to cover in the final article is how to have these ( sometimes very intense)  discussions and make sure that the GM is able to run the game they want while respecting any boundaries. Again , as I always say , please comment and let us get a good discussion going!

 

Topics

No, I am not going to list topics that are controversial here. Most of these would be self evident and,  most of the time, the ones that players may have an issue with are ones that may not be so easily identifiable. With that being the case , it’s more of a way to have a discussion, make sure that every player is heard , and the best time is had by all.

The most straightforward way is to open this talk up is to put it out from the get go is to s imply ask your group what topics or themes they don’t want to have present in the game.Be prepared that a lot of people will simply answer that they can’t think of anything that would offend them that needs to be left out. Trust me on this , everyone has something that they don’t want to be included in a pen and paper RPG. The job of the GM is to make sure that they DO answer you.

In my experience ,  the best way to do this is to let them know they can reach out to you privately via text,  Facebook , or other means away from the group , and let you know what they don’t want to see in game. Even in the most close knit groups , people don’t like to be the reason for not having something included. Normally , for my current groups , any time I am running a game (even after all these years) I state the same thing “If anyone has any topics, themes or other things they want left out of the game please let me know. You can do so here or reach out to me privately. I won’t share what is discussed and I won’t say who does or doesn’t reach out to me.”

Surely you may say  ‘Scott , you don’t have to do that every time. Especially with your home groups. They have already answered this before”   I thought that way too friends and I was so very wrong that it taught me to always ask this very question. My group actually has a rotating roster of GM’s , which I have mentioned in previous entries here , and as such , sometimes a good chunk of time may go by before I run a game for my group.

In addition to this people change from day to day , not to mention from year to year. This means that a topic or subjec t that may once have been ok, could now be an issue. It’s just a polite and considerate thing to ask. Let me explain this in context of a story . Out of respect for the people mentioned I am changing names of those involved.

fire

A few years back , I was running a particular splat in the Chronicles of Darkness world. I had worked with the players on making the characters , and as such I mentioned , as I always do , “If anyone has any topics, themes , or other things they want left out of the game  please let me know. You can do so here , or reach out to me privately. I won’t share what is discussed , and I won’t say who does or doesn’t reach out to me ..None of the players mentioned anything at the table, and no one reached out to me afterwards

We come to the game and , after making the characters, we had one character who had a very graphic scene in their backstories. Now I do want to make it noted this didn’t happen in game it was completely in the backstory , before the game even began. So, with all that being said we start the game. Towards the end of the session in an attempt to bring the PC’s together I corner them and make it so that they are not able to leave a room they are all in.

One PC at this time starts to lash out , and is very adamant  in getting out of the room. Explaining to the player the reason  behind the scenes backfired, as they felt the group as a whole,  and this included me, were attacking them and making them feel like they didn’t have freedom of choice.

We ended the session shortly thereafter. The next day  I reached out to the player and asked what the issue was to make sure that it didn’t happen again. What they told me was that the graphic act that occurred in the other players backstory made them uncomfortable and they felt like that was going to happen to them when they were not allowed to leave the room during that session.
This was not at all my intention of this scene
  and was not anything close to the feeling I was trying to invoke. I assured the player that this was not my intention. Building off of this , I asked why they didn’t mention this topic being off limits at the beginning of the game when I asked the group  and    said “it didn’t occur to me as something that would come up.”

That last statement should be repeated  “it didn’t occur to me as something that would come up.” This is why i always ask. Always. Also, this goes to show you that no matter how much you give people the ability to speak up , they still may not until the are directly confronted with a topic or issue.

Compromise

compromise

So we have a discussion going. That is great.How do we make sure that all parties are equally heard?  Well , that is where compromise comes in. This,  from time to time, will mean that we have to drop a theme or plot thread if absolutely needed. However , let’s not jump to such  a extreme conclusion right  off the bat.

This really becomes a bit of a negotiation in which you will have to use active listening to ensure that both parties (GM and Player) are on the same page. Ask the players what themes they want to avoid. Once they have provided a list ask followup questions in regards to those themes.

“Ok, I’m hearing you want to avoid sexual assault and violence in this game, keep in mind some of these elements are part of the Vampire world, do you want to avoid these completely, or do you want to avoid those interactions with your character?” “Just my character, I’m fine if they happen off-screen with someone else.” “Ok, I can work with that, how do you feel about feeding as a scene we run occasionally?” “Well, I’d like to avoid that usually, but I think my character would try and find willing victims, so if we did run a scene like that I’d like to have consent be important.”

The important thing to remember is during this entire exchange you want to get active consent. This means getting a firm yes from a player. If there is any wavering, be prepared to listen to concerns and if needed remove the theme. If you can’t get active consent, you can present the themes as you play, and then ask again before we delve fully into a scene to ensure a player is comfortable.

When I last ran a Vampire: The Requiem  mini campaign , I had a player who was very against having to roleplay out the scenes were their character would feed. The player decided that, to get around this, they  would have a herd , which in Vampire means they have a group who is willing to let the PC feed off of them.

I explained to the player that I would not make them roll out every single feeding , however I did mention to them that at times I wanted to have them try it out , as feeding in Vampire is a core part of that mood and theme the game presents.I asked that they allowed me to do at least the first feeding for them to set a tone. T  and over time got more acclimated to roleplaying out the feeding scenes.  I still didn’t have it at the forefront as I did with other players , and at times did push back on the player to still play out the scene  as per the rules Herd, just gave him a bonus on feeding ROLLS it didn’t give him a guaranteed to feeding with no issues.

The above example shows active listening. It shows that I addressed the players concerns with feeding and made sure to set an expectation with the overall theme. This also shows getting active consent during the scenes we would run with this player. I would downplay more of the sexual violence of the feeding while still playing up the theme of being a monster.

 

In Conclusion

So, that will wrap up this topic and series. I again appreciate anyone that took the time to read even part of these , and for those of you who read all of them through , thanks very much.

The contract that is made in a gaming group is very interesting and rewarding. By having these discussions , you will see your games become enriched for the better. As mentioned , please let me know thoughts or any questions and let’s get a discussion going.

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.

SUPPORTING INCLUSIVITY IN GAMING

werewolf-coverLast Thursday I received my advance PDF of Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this post was informed by some preliminary reading of that book which made me happy with some of what the writers addressed. The rest of this post will not exclusively be about By Night Studios, but I want to call them out for moving things in the right direction and striving to be one of the more inclusive gaming companies on the market. I think this comes from the form of gaming in question. In some ways, LARP is an atmosphere where inclusivity, and safety, are much more present. You have larger groups, and often groups engaged in physical storytelling.

I got asked the other day what inclusivity in gaming means to me.

Inclusivity means having a game world that reflects reality in its diversity. Inclusivity means an openness to thought, to writing, to characters that walk a spectrum of identities. Inclusivity means a game culture that welcomes players and encourages them to engage in world building in a self-reflective way, but also in a way that acknowledges a plurality of vision about the purpose of gaming. Inclusivity means trying to find a way to engage, support, and empower any player that walks through the door, if their goal is to support the collaborative process.

inclusivity

Borrowed from Dreadful Games

Storytelling and gaming are essential elements of our being. When I engage in stories that challenge my perceptions, that encourage me to think, to expand, to reflect, that is what I search for. I want everyone to have that chance, to be included if they want to be included. I want anyone that picks up a book I write, or a plays a game I play, to feel like they could make that their core pastime. Collaboration requires maneuvering with, and for people. Inclusivity embraces that challenge with the goal of trying to open the door so that all people, voices, and thoughts are heard, considered, and added to the collective memory, the shared myth.

Inclusivity in gaming is a process that can start from the ground up, or, from the top down. What, in this case, do I mean by top down? I’m talking about from the game company themselves. From choosing writers, to tapping artists, all the way up to developers, a desire for and a strong commitment to inclusivity impacts their games in ways that ripple throughout their fan communities. That isn’t to say the job of inclusivity is only on the developer side, but they have a role to play. (hah, no pun was intended but I’m going to keep it now I’ve noticed it)

Actions both subtle and obvious help to encourage an atmosphere of inclusion in a game. Let’s run through a few of them.

PRONOUN USAGE: White Wolf was one of the first companies to use the female pronoun in their books. This is one of those subtle decisions that can have a huge impact. Having she sets the tone that women, just as much as men, can be the standard gender for roles in the World of Darkness. That was 1991, and a pretty big deal in that day and age. Today using she is less trendsetting, and is still powerful. At the same time, using gender neutral and gender ambiguous pronouns can indicate an attitude of acceptance of all gender identities, both for players and for characters. If reading through a book and a signature character is a 3-dimensional figure who happens to be gender queer as part of their identity, it represents some of the diversity within our world.

SAFETY AND CONSENT RULES/STANDARDS: Consent is an important part of the social contract of gaming. Players consent to sit around your table, or embody characters in LARP, and they need to continually be provided the option to opt-in or out of story elements that could hurt them as players. By Night Studios is doing well in this department, in the MET Vampire book this concept is treated with respect and given decent coverage. In Werewolf? They’ve done even better, pages 19-20 cover several concepts that are essential to supporting player safety and encouraging behavior that ensures it. They discuss Bleed, Personal Responsibility, Sportsmanship, and techniques of storytelling that support player comfort like Fade to Black and Time Stops. For those of us who have been around the LARP world for a while we’ve seen a lot of discussion on these things, and it is essential to have them front in center in a game book.

kadira

Kadira by Bryan Sime: From Ki Khanga

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGES: Recently Wizards of the Coast received some soft praise for having one of their signature characters be a black woman. This is good, and needs to continue. What is also praise worthy is that the character is wearing, basically, sensible armor. There is also the awesome new game, Ki Khanga which is set in a fantasy world based on Africa. Games like this, and games that incorporate honest representation are part of the process to make games more inclusive. Representation matters, just as with gender, characters with similar looks and ethnic identities to players help to give them role models. They also give players with different identities a chance to see awesome characters that do not look like them, which I believe has an impact on how people are seen in one’s day to day life as well.

SUPPORT FOR PLAYERS WITH DISABILITIES: This I feel, is at times the area that we have the most opportunity for growth and development of new strategies for support. One of the concerns I’ve had with the newer White Wolf books is their size. These books are 500, 600, 700 pages long in one volume. I struggle to hold him in my hands and this is due to a very moderate problem with grip, probably caused from my military service. Thankfully I have pdfs and other electronic versions of these books I can read as well, but it would be amazing to have some other technology to support our gamers with other disability concerns. Some of this is built into our new devices, but that only goes so far. I’d like to hear some feedback on what sort of devices, support, or ideas could help in this area.

Here is my take-away. We are doing better as a community, partly due to the benefit of Kickstarter and other forms of crowd-funding that allow for smaller projects to get off the ground. We can do better, though. That should not be taken as a critique, just a fact, we can always do better, we can always work to be compassionate and supportive and inclusive and we should always strive to be so. What games do you think are the most inclusive? How do you ensure a sense of inclusivity in the games you create or the games you play?

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

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

LET’S TALK ABOUT THIS CON GAME THING PART 1 THE ELEVATION OF THE ONE SHOT GAME

the_players_guide_to_the_sabbatPart 2, Part 3
Most gamers with meaningful RPG experience have done one-shot games at some point in their gaming career. You and your friends are hanging out, you want to role-play, but no one has a game prepped. So you either pull out a quick module or someone says, “Eh I can wing it, slap some characters together”. My first one shot was a Sabbat game where we rolled dice to randomly choose a pre gen from the first edition Sabbat Player’s Guide. I ended up pulling the Ventrue Know It All. I have never been quite so frustrated with a stat sheet before, but it did push me to creatively work with the resources at my disposal.

One-shot games tend to be light on narrative, and heavy on ham fisted quest givers because everyone wants to get right to the meat of the session. You only have one night to enjoy the experience after all. That said, one-shot games do vary in composition. If everyone is experienced, maybe they make their own characters very quickly. Maybe you end up using something like the new Ready Made Character books from Onyx Path and already have structured character relationships, something that was never available back in the day. Ultimately, they tend to be fast, loose, epic romps; because, who cares if you die, you weren’t going to play that character again anyway.

That was my experience with one-shot games until this past August when I attended Gen Con for the first time. Gen Con was my first full blown game convention, and I played in two con games that weekend. The first was a Changeling: The Dreaming session, and the second was a Numenera game. In many ways they couldn’t have been more different, but in a few specific respects they were more similar to each other than any other one-shot games I had ever played before.

The first, and most obvious similarity that separated these games from my previous one-shot experiences was the majority of the players did not know the game world. Cons provide a unique opportunity to have someone else teach you a new game system. When you’re somewhere like Gen Con you can get a lesson in just about any game system you want. For the Changeling game I was the only person with direct Changeling: The Dreaming experience, though everyone was familiar with the Storyteller system in one form or another. At the Numenera table I was in the I know nothing about this game camp, and I believe only two of the 5 player troupe had direct Numenera game experience.

gen-con-logo

I believe the other similarities between these games were related to this dynamic. The players at both tables threw themselves into the game in a way I had never experienced before. I am used to the player makeup that tends to come together in a home tabletop environment, the standout domineering player, the rules lawyer, the timid player who doesn’t really know how to influence the narrative, the stat obsessed character stereotype. We’ve all had players at our tables that fall into these all too familiar archetypes. Neither of these con games worked that way, though. In each con game, every player found a space to have really standout moments, and everyone kept up with the breakneck pace of the sessions. I immediately knew I was hooked on this format.

Shortly after GenCon I found out my hometown of Chicago had a brand new game convention called ValorCon, just moving into its second year and they were still accepting Game Runner applications. So I decided to take a stab at running a couple con games. My pitches were accepted after almost being lost to form submission limbo, which I was phenomenally excited about. The two GenCon sessions I attended suffered from opposite extremes in terms of what was good and bad about them, and I wanted to try to capture the best things about both sessions.

Changeling the Dreaming

At the Changeling session we all made our own characters, the only hard copy of the book was brought by a player out of pure luck. The storyteller only had a copy of the game on his phone that he passed around the table. Needless to say this made going through character creation and gaming with players new to Changeling difficult. However, he was a stellar storyteller who thought incredibly well on his feet. We went very off the rails compared to previous groups that he had run the same scenario for but he was always ready with solid scenes and an excellent dramatic dynamic.

Numenera

The Numenera game I attended had an incredibly well prepped GM. He had character templates, and all the powers were on our stat sheets. Our characters had pre-existing relationships with each other which made diving into the session very smooth. The problem was, when we went off the planned course of the module he was completely thrown for a loop. The players in the Numenera group were energetic and dynamic, and we were raucous and disrespectful to his NPCs in a way he was not prepared for. The game didn’t fall apart due to his more structured GM style, but it definitely hurt his ability to keep the pace of the session moving.

bar-and-logo

My ValorCon Sessions

When I sat down to create my modules I wanted to craft something that would let me get the most use out of my 4 hour sessions, and let people focus on really learning the system without books and character creation getting in the way, but I also didn’t want a module so rigid that the players wouldn’t feel like they had agency. So I decided that instead of using a pre made module, like the Numenera game I played in, I’d create the setting and modules myself, with characters that really fit in that setting. I put together character packets that included backstory, the character sheets, and printouts of the powers the characters had access to. However, I did not plan any scenes past the first two of each session. I laid out what was happening in the background for myself, and the player’s’ relationships to the action of the game, but I left the direction of that action to the players.

The resulting game was incredibly accessible. I had at least one player in each game with no prior White Wolf experience, though everyone was an experienced role-player. I gave a crash course introduction to the dice systems, including a house rule I use for initiative and defensive actions. All of the players took to their roles immediately, and even the ones who had never thrown a fistfull of D10s before made dynamic use of all of their powers. Especially in the Wraith game, where the players were juggling mixed motivations due to their shadows, and two sets of powers, I was incredibly impressed at how smooth game play was when I provided each player with exactly what they needed to play.

Having now played and run con games, I can say if you haven’t taken the dive and attended a game con you should make it a priority. They create a unique space for gaming experimentation and provide really dynamic opportunities to experience new game systems. While running my ValorCon games I encountered some very unique challenges related to the public nature of the sessions, and being unfamiliar with my players that I will be detailing in later installments of this series.

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.

SOCIAL CONTRACT PART 2: WHERE WILL THE GAME BE PLAYED AND WHO WILL HOST THE GAME?

openerWelcome back to part two of the ongoing discussion on the social contract that exists in starting up a new tabletop RPG game. Last week we discussed the means in how to help determine the length and frequency that a game group will meet. So let’s recap that very briefly and then build off of that for this week’s topic: Where will the game be played and who will host the game?

 

Last week the topic focused on understanding how often and how long a group would meet. These broke down into three separate questions

  • How many days per week/month will the group meet
  • How long is each session going to last
  • How long will the story run for

 

These revolve around the availability of the group and the amount of commitment each member is willing to put in. So, with an understanding and agreement on that; let’s look at the next portion of this contract. I will break this into two sections

  • Where will the game be played
  • Who will host the game

 

As in Part 1 of this series of articles, I will break out examples of how the groups that I game with came to these agreements to create a fun environment for everyone involved.

Where will the game be played?

home-table

Before I get into the details, keep in mind that really this boils down to either a playing in a public game or a private/home game. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each, shall we?

 

Public games

flgs

Many groups have access to a Friendly Local Game Store often abbreviated as FLGS. These locations overall are great. From having a place to get your gaming gear to meeting likeminded gaming fans they help provide for and grow the community. Many even have space set aside for people to play games. Oftentimes for free. However, there are some things to look at when considering running at a local shop. Let look at those shall we.

 

Before looking at the issues that may arise, I want to stress it behooves your group to try and game at your FLGS when/if able. This accomplishes many things. First, you will find others who are into the games you are into. I have lost count of the times I have been running a game and someone comes up and says “I didn’t even know that [insert game title] was still available or even in print.” Second, it provides the FLGS business. Should they charge for the game space extend your group’s social contract to the FLGS by showing your support and patronage, if they don’t seeing bodies in the store is good for both the hobby and for business.

 

Speaking of business; when it comes down to it your FLGS is a business and as such is looking to profit. Support them when possible. Game there, purchase your gaming supplies from books to dice and such directly from them when able. Yes, it can be more expensive; however you are supporting local business and one that is supplying a service you enjoy.

 

This I plan on covering in more detail in a future article, but needless to say I feel very strongly on this topic.

 

So, there are the reasons why it is good to game at your FLGS. What are some of distractions one may encounter?

 

I want it to be noted that a simple lookup on a web site, a call, or even a quick visit during your Lunch Hour to the store can answer most if not all of the following questions.However, I want to point them out as they may not be readily apparent to new groups.

closed

 

First is hours of availability.If your local shop offers space for people to come and game. Especially, if the store hosts other events. On special occasion days open free gaming may not be a possibility. Really this should be a quick determination if any hours offered will work based on the answer to what days of the week or month the group will meet and for how long.

 

As an example there are a few stores in my area that offer different times of availability. The main store we frequent is open Monday through Saturday,  11AM until Midnight. They have a great big open area for gaming. You can see half of the area in the above picture at the start of this section… However, looking over their calendar they have many days that are not open for gaming or may be limited.  Take a look at a recent week’s list of events:

schedule

 

That is pretty packed. Which is good. However, you would want to reach out to the store and make sure open gaming is okay and that space if available. In fact, Wednesday’s from 6PM to 10PM it even says RPG; however, I can tell you that table space is very limited. So make sure to check before just showing up. Depending on store policy, the staff may even hold a table for your group.

take-my-money

Second is cost. Yes cost. Most stores offer free open gaming, but not all do. Please be sure to check.

 

There are two stores in my area that do charge for gaming, each in a different way. One charges a day fee. This fee is overall very reasonable and actually very good for groups who like long marathon sessions that can take a whole day. Your group pays the fee and they will give you your own private room that can be securely locked in case your group wants to take a meal break without having to worry about leaving your gear unattended. Of course if you don’t want to pay for this premium treatment, the store does have free, open space.

 

The second store does charges for any sort of gaming. You can pay a flat daily rate or hourly rate. Each table is semi-private and the staff will watch your things at the counter should you need to leave. Also, this store is open later than any other in my immediate area (until 3AM) which can make it perfect for night owl-style groups. Do note that this store does *NOT* offer any free/open gaming as an alternate option.

noise

NOW FOR THE ISSUE OF NOISE! Woops didn’t mean to yell there. Let’s face it, when you get large of groups of people together things tend to get LOUD! Add in that as other groups get loud that makes every other group raise their volume to be heard as well. This can be a problem for GM’s and players who are sitting next to each other to be heard properly. Both need to hear each other and for the GM especially this can lead to a hoarse voices had by all at the end of a session.
What can be done to fight the noise? Well, looking ahead at the calendar can be the best bet for open gaming area style stores as this will hopefully allow you to schedule around the high traffic days of a store. This may have your group making renegotiations as to how often your FLGS can accommodate your game.

 

Noise is the main reason why my weekly Tuesday group moved from being at our FLGS to one of the player’s homes. It was so loud that it became a distraction and hard for anyone to really concentrate and overall took away the fun of the game.

 

Last thing I want to mention here is the subject matter of the game you will be running. Most FLGS are family friendly and as such most will have rules for what kind of conduct is allowed. This can include language, types of games, food and drink to name just a few. So make sure that the game you are running is not going to break any of those rules. I want to stress here also is that what may offend one person may not offend another. So do your homework and cover your bases.

 

I ran a Demon: The Descent game for about 6 months or so at my FLGS. The game had some mature themes and touched on some adult(ish) subjects. As we were meeting at the store I made sure to convey these subtlety. For my group this worked and we didn’t have any issues with the store in this regard.

On the opposite side of this coin, my Wednesday open gaming table had a few players who while waiting for game to start, had a tendency to make some off-color jokes. When the store brought this issue to my attention I made a announcement to my table about it. It then became a non-issue.

 

Private/Home Games

game-table

Not all groups has an FLGS close to them and, when they do the there is the potential that play space doesn’t sync up with your group’s wishes, or it is just darn noisy. At that point your group will be looking to have a game at someone’s residence. These games are usually referred to as private home games as they are at a private home. This just like a open FLGS game has it’s pros and cons and some other considerations to take into account.

 

The big one here  is who’s house will be hosting the event. Normally the person hosting will have a space that fits everyone and is as close to centrally located for the group. These two things may not always be the case, however.

 

When my Tuesday group decided that the local shop was just too loud for us we decided to move the game to one of the player’s homes. Luckily, the distance was not much overall for any other players. The space was overall more accommodating and the noise was a moot point as we only had to worry about our own volume.

 

Note that the Host and the GM are not always the same person. The GM usually wants to arrive before the players to set up the area and get any notes ready for the session. When the GM and the Host are different people, setting a time with the Host as to when players and GM can arrive prior to game start will need to be established.

 

Expanding on the Tuesday game our Host is not our GM. As such they ask that no one arrive prior to 6:30 pm. This gives them time to unwind from work, eat Dinner and get the area prepared for the game.

 

Content for the most part with home games is a bit more open. I will cover this more in detail in question five Are there any topics or themes that are to be off limits in the roleplaying setting?

For now just understand that home groups can be a bit more overtly out with adult themes and language, assuming that all present are agreeable.

 

Finally, one thing I have found among many home groups is that since the host is well….hosting everyone is asked to bring a snack or drinks. Now I am not saying this is always the case it just tends to be the norm more often than not. This is different for each group but something to consider.

 

My Tuesday game used to rotate who sprung for pizza or would split costs of the pizza and sodas. This assured that food was plentiful and at hand. No need for food runs mid-session or running late due to grabbing Dinner.

 

As an aside one other thing that really separates a open gaming FLGS group from a private home group is ‘randoms’. What I mean by that is people not regulars to the group joining your game… In a FLGS I promise you people will come up and either watch you play or just simply ask what game you are playing. Do your best to accommodate them, as long as it does not break the stride of the session. This is good. It brings more players into the hobby.

 

When it comes to inviting people into one’s Home though, most people tend to like to know and trust those people. So, be aware that should someone want to join the group and they are not known to everyone, especially the host it is good manners to check with the group as a whole.

 

Who will host the game?

hosting

This is really about who will provide the space and area for the game. It really has been covered in a roundabout way above. If you find that you are playing in an FLGS, the Host normally will be the GM. They will want to arrive a bit early to make sure that the gaming area is ready to go and set up any maps, get their notes and such in order before the players arrive.

 

When the the game is being held at a home the Host normally will be the owner of the house the game is taking place at. In these cases, the Host will let everyone know when they can arrive and set expectations on food, beverages, noise and such as well.

 

Well time and place as well as host have been decided. Man can we please get to just playing the game already?

 

gygax

Hold onto your dice, there Mr. Gygax!

We need to cover a few more topics… The big one in fact is next. What game are we going to even run? After all this work finding a place and deciding on how long it will last. It is up to everyone to decide via group discussion what setting we will be adventuring in. That shall be decided next week, in Part 3 of this 5 Part series..

Please let me know if you have any questions or comments. I would love to hear your thoughts on pros and cons of FLGS games versus home games. Any points you feel I missed or disagree with? Let me know. Any points you liked? Let’s get a discussion going and as always thanks for reading.

 

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.