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.

Dark, Deep, and Scary: Horror Games

Huge Discounts on your Favorite RPGs @ DriveThruRPG.com

What’s Wrong With Horror?

Dark horror games often have tropes, concepts, and downright terrible elements that make them rife for abuse by the wrong people. At the same time, games that are willing to address and be open about addressing injustices in our world, through the horror lens, often have created the most inclusive communities in our hobby. These two elements coexist uncomfortably in the same space.

Horror makes us uncomfortable, and that can be an amazing tool to help wake us to systemic problems in society. The recent movie Get Out is a great example of this. This movie is about the visceral fear that many Black members of American society experience in all-white spaces. Some may wish to dismiss that fear, but that will not eliminate it. This method of entertainment allows us to to understand experiences in a way that simply telling may not effectively communicate. Horror games allow us a similar window. For the time in-game, you are living the experience of your character and this can be eye-opening. It can teach through immersive simulation.

Investment

Years ago, Piers Anthony wrote a book called Killobyte, which has a segment that occurs in a digital recreation of Beirut. At the time of writing, Beirut was in the middle of a 15 year civil war which ripped apart society. The characters in the book are stuck in various VR simulations of different worlds. One of them is this digital recreation of Beirut. The players of this game have become invested in their various roles in their simulation. They empathize strongly with the real struggles of the people they are portraying, and even some that empathy bleeds over into the real world.

RPGs may not be Virtual Reality worlds, but they are shared imaginative experiences that allow us to empathize and experience the lives of others. We can experience bleed, having actual emotional and intellectual reactions from our experiences in-character impact us out-of-character. The danger inherent are those players and game masters who use this capacity to abuse, harass, or ignore the real experiences of those they are gaming with. Or, to perpetuate behavior that negatively impacts members of various communities in and out of game spaces.

My Table

We often hear, “it’s my table, don’t tell me what is ok or not ok at my table.” Which, on the surface, is a fair argument. However, if you have 5-6 players and a GM who play to stereotypes, your behavior around that table becomes normalized. If you allow for players to portray stereotypes, they will begin to reinforce those stereotypes in their mind. If you encourage your players to dig deeper and understand the people they are representing, they will either begin to recognize their common connection, or choose not to portray that character’s background because they recognize they are missing some shared experience to connect over. Both appear to be valid learning experiences. Stereotypes and prejudice can be elements of game worlds, but we must endeavor to recognize when we are using them. We must also be able to recognize when they are harming people at or outside of our tables.

Horror games often include violence, abuse, harassment, stereotypes, racism, sexism, body dysmorphia, and many other elements. These elements are present because they are things that scare us as humans. Some people are more impacted by these things than others. Some of these players will enjoy other elements of these games, but will ask not to focus on things that remind them of experiences that were traumatic for them in real life. We need to listen to our players, talk to them, and encourage an open dialogue about what game elements are appropriate for the entire table to investigate.

Some Still Don’t Care

There are some people that will refuse to care about moderating these concerns. They will run scenes with sexual assault without care. They will ignore the triggers of their players and will act abusively if called out on their behavior. If you are reading this article then I’m hoping you are not this type of person, but if you are, let’s talk real quick. By acting like this, you are not being cool, edgy, or artistic. You are making it harder to convince people that horror games are a powerful, beneficial, and fun experience.

There is a fine line between pushing boundaries and negatively impacting people. Talking to your players will help you to modulate that. If you don’t care, then don’t be surprised when people stop playing your games. Don’t be surprised when people that care about player investment and consent disagree with you online and work to limit your involvement in our communities.

It is possible to play horror games and care about consent, investment, and player care. Really. It is possible to ‘tell the story you want to tell’ and do these things. It is possible to scare your players, to make them question what it means to be a monster or human, and to care about your players. It is possible to have your player’s characters breakdown, cry, experience loss, it is possible to have bleed during these events, and it is possible to care about your player’s needs at the same time. I would argue, that is is possible to invest even more of oneself, if you know that your thoughts, expectations, and triggers were taken into account during the creation process of the game.

Moving Forward

It is also possible to fail at doing so, and not lose your players in the future by acknowledging your missteps. During play, elements may come up that you couldn’t account for. Nothing will hurt your game if you stop, talk through what happened, and move forward. If there were a single underlying piece of advice to offer any gaming group? Talk, talk a lot, if something seems off, wrong, or even perfectly right, talk about it. You should talk about the good, the bad, the ugly, and then work together to get more of the good.

Don’t be afraid to write horror games, run horror games, or play in horror games. The issue isn’t horror.

Here are is a short list of horror type games I’d recommend checking out. There are dozens more, some that are better than others.

Urban Shadows
Call of Cthulhu

World of Darkness
Several from Savage Worlds

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

LARPers of Color – Malcom Harris

Welcome to our 5th interview in the series: LARPers of Color. You can find the other articles here, here, here, and here.

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?
My friend Sean come over to my house to tell me about its awesome game he just got into.  I head over to his house to see what it’s all about. He introduces me to some people I don’t know and we start swinging boffer swords… and I’m hooked. I like LARPs with a bit of combat. But I’ll give anything a try. I’m currently In Amtgard (The LARP) my friend introduced me to all those years ago.
I’ve been LARPing since 1989 so…29 years.
Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?
Yes. I’m currently Duke of one of the local Amtgard chapters, I created, ran and helped organized the MACHO larps in the nineties and I’ve had numerous roles in Amtgard in the past.
LARP administration is for me is all about customer service, be it with those involved in other parts of LARP administration, players or mundanes.  It’s your job to make sure everything runs smoothly and everyone’s ideas and grievances are fairly evaluated.
In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

Wow, the big one.
Those players need to stop being afraid to reach out to people who do not look like them. People assume people of color and females don’t have interest and Larps and tend to ignore them  when  they are spectators.   I’ve seen it happen.   Engage everyone and you’ll be surprised.
Also write Larps to be more culturally inclusive or culturally neutral as to give everyone a something to connect with in the LARP or give them a chance to brand the LARP in a way they want.
Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?
Sexist and racist art in rules. None of that please. Also biased opinions being taken as gospel because of who said it.
If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?
For MACHO, longevity, I wish I would have stuck with it more.

For Amtgard, Embracing the RP in LARP. Swinging padded sticks has been pushed to the front by vocal members of the organization.  Those who RP have been marginalized in some places. that needs to change.

From LARPing.com

You are a knight in Amtgard, can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

In Amtgard Knighthood is awarded for excellence and the ability to teach and promote one of what I call the for virtues of Amtgard,  Leadership, Service, Artistry and Combat) I’m a service knight (Flame Knight)  and it’s a very interesting situation.  It’s one that grants a certain amount of prestige, but demands at all time service.As a knight it becomes your job to be a positive example, to uphold your virtue (in my case service) and the others as needed.

Thanks to the internet, I’m the most visible African American knight in the game.  African American players and players of colors come to me asking for advice and validation in what they do in game, me , for them I also have to be an example. On the other end of the spectrum and I found it odd when it was first told,i’m , for a lot of people the first African American they feel they have something in common with, alto that’s less of an issue now then it was twenty years ago.

Amtgard Knights

How Not To Be *That* Gamer: Five Easy Tips

Remember back in the mists of time when you were just learning to play a game, hunched over a table at your Friendly Local Game Store? Trying to absorb the reams of information your friend was pouring into your brain? When you didn’t know what a con save was, or a bluff check, or a dump stat? Maybe this is the first time you had ever learned that dice came with more than six sides, or that there was more than one LOTR-type elf.


Remember when the know-it-all world-weary grognard ambled by and told you everything your friend was telling you was wrong and there is Only One True Way/Edition/Faction? Remember the crushing look of defeat on your friend’s face, and how that one person soured your affection towards the game?

Remember when you really, really wished you could jump in the TARDIS, distract yourself with a phone call, take your own place at the table, and tell that person to take a flying leap into the Pit of Despair?

That happened to some people near and dear to me this week – and someone needs to bring this up, so we as a community can stop this travesty from happening. New players are the lifeblood of our culture, and we have GOT to stop inflicting our own pet peeves and biases on new people, so they can enjoy developing their own.


Here’s a brief checklist of how not to be *That* Gamer:

 

Point the First: If you see someone explaining a game to someone else, and the party of the second part looks confused – mind your own damn business. Let the person doing the explaining do the talking, unless you know them. In that case, ASK IF YOU CAN HELP. Do not, repeat, do not, just assume that everyone wants to hear your opinions.


The one caveat to this follows: If it is a game you love, if there is a natural break in the conversation (Point the Second will address this), you can politely say “Oh, you’re talking about Warbling Mongooses! I love that game! It’s really fun. Welcome to the community. I’m *Name*. Let me know if you’d like a game or if you have any questions.” Then walk away unless invited to comment more – but wait for the invitation.

And for the love of spice, remember to introduce yourself. There’s nothing worse than being approached by a random person that you will likely run into again, but you can only remember them as “that guy in the Metroid T-shirt” or “that lady with the purple hair”.

If you mention this game, and I can hear you… I’ll probably say how much I love it. It’s an awesome game.

Point the Second: Do not interrupt someone explaining a game to a new person, particularly if your interruption involves some obscure bit of trivia that is not relevant. This creates a lot of confusion and, frankly, makes you look like an ass.

Example: “Oh, Warbling Mongooses? You know, in the second errata of the third edition, they ruled that female mongooses can only warble in the contralto register on the second Thursday of a month without an R in it.”

 

If there is a natural lull in the conversation, you can politely (that word again, I know) ask if you can contribute something to the explanation. Be prepared to accept “no” as an answer.

 

“Hey, I heard you guys talking about Warbling Mongooses. New player? That’s great. You’re lucky to be starting now, the rules are so much simpler after the second edition – no more twelve hour game sessions! After you’ve learned the basics, let me know if you’d like to play a game or two. Always glad to meet new people.”

Be positive or be silent.

Take Notes Folks

Point the Third: So, the grizzled veteran (GV) and the eager young convert (EYC) are sitting at the FLGS table, playing a hand of Warbling Mongooses – and the new person looks like they are getting the hang of it. DO NOT walk up to the table and start pointing out how the new person (or the veteran, for that matter) are playing it wrong.

 

WRONG:

GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: (as GV is opening their mouth to correct their student) Oh hey, you can’t play that, it’s the wrong phase. Contratenors can only be played during waxing crescent. You shouldn’t be playing contratenors anyway. Mezzosopranos are so much better! I’ve got a wicked Mezzosoprano deck that just beats faces all day long. Oh, by the way, if you play that baritone in the next move and follow it up with a second tenor, you’ll win in the next turn.

RIGHT:
GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: *silence*

GV: No, wait, you can’t play that during this phase. See the moon phase icon on the card? You have to match that to the indicator on the table.

EYC: Oh, right. Yeah. My bad.

*Game continues*

 

Most people learn best from one source at a time. If you aren’t that source, wait until you are asked for assistance or a natural break in the game to add a comment. No one likes to be told how to win – part of the joy of gaming is figuring out your own win conditions.

 

Point the Fourth: So the EYC has become a convert to Warbling Mongooses, and you see them playing with their GV mentor. They are doing okay but still making some mistakes, maybe not playing with an optimal deck. You are at your FLGS and see them playing. You approach the table, and:

 

“Dude, that deck sucks, and contratenors are always weak against basses and contraltos. You should be playing mezzosopranos and second bass against that match up. Have you seen my deck? I’ve put like $1,000 and ten years into my deck! It kicks so much ass! Make this play and this play and this play and you’ll win right now.” *

 

*Change the subject of the sentence (sub a particular faction of minis in a popular war game in for the Mongooses) and this is a faithful transcription of what I heard. I wish I was exaggerating.

 

Shut up. Shut up right now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not use your love for a hobby as a brandishing weapon about how much disposable income and free time you have. Go home and rethink your life if you think this kind of behavior is even marginally acceptable.

 

Repeat after me: Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once.

 

Instead, after the game is over, you can walk up to the table, introduce yourself, and offer to help.

 

“Hey, I’m *Name*. Saw you were playing Mongooses and having a little bit of trouble – that was a tough match. I’ve been playing for forever and I might have some extra cards that could help you out. Interested?”

 

Again, be prepared to accept “no, thank you” as an answer. Sometimes people don’t want help. It’s not your place to ram it down their throats. That being said, I have never seen a sincere offer turned down. Often, the new player will ask the person making the offer for advice or suggestions. Voila, there’s a bit of camaraderie to add to the community. Good for you. You get a gold star and/or a cookie.

 

For new players that tend to be a bit on the defensive side (like me): This is the time where you get to mind your manners as well. If someone is legitimately offering to help you, not trying to wave their more-gamer-than-thou card in your face, the least you can do is give them a polite answer.

Unrelated Clouds

Point the Fifth: Thou shalt not condemn anyone’s choice of faction – or means of choosing a faction – especially when they are just getting started! There’s no faster way to crush a tendril of interest than to be told everything they find intriguing is bad or stupid.

 

We’ve all heard of the, poorly named, “girlfriend method” – where the person picks their faction (or equivalent, say, their Commander for M:tG) based on what they think is pretty.

 

There’s not a damn thing wrong with this. In fact, my gaming mentor specifically mentions this method to all people he introduces to his gaming drug of choice. It’s simple logic: you’re going to have to be looking at them while you are playing them, so you might as well choose something you find aesthetically pleasing.

 

Most people get into a game by choosing a faction they loved (or one that was handed to them), using it to learn the game, and then upgrading to a “stronger” faction when/if they decide to become a more competitive player. For example, I learned to play Commander using a prebuilt 2013 Commander deck that I would never willingly choose to play again. Now I’ve built my own and I love it, despite its flaws.  

 

They may never progress beyond a casual player, but they at least will enjoy looking at the models/cards they have chosen. If they ask for advice, and they might, especially if their mentor/teacher shows that your opinion is worth listening to – then you can provide your opinions in a constructive way. “I really love playing contraltos/sopranos, because I love tricksy combos, but if you want a more aggressive, straightforward deck, you might want to look at…”

 

No one, and I mean no one, decides to walk into a game store and become a world-champion player of anything the first time they play it. Let the neophytes choose their doom in whatever manner they choose. It’s no skin off your nose.

 

Bonus Point the Sixth: Compliment a game well played, or a clever play, or a well-painted miniature, or a cool playmat. Say something nice to a new player; don’t cross the creeper line. When you are meeting a new player for the first time, be friendly, offer a compliment, but nothing you wouldn’t say to a stranger on the street.

Also Unrelated, but a cool picture

For those of you in the socially awkward demographic, an example:

 

“That’s an awesome *insert fandom* T-shirt/hat/lanyard/patch!” “That’s a really pretty playmat!” “I haven’t seen that variant of that model before – that’s cool!”

 

These are okay. Any comments on a gamer’s appearance that you wouldn’t say in front of a judge are NOT okay.  Just keep that simple rule in mind and you’ll likely stay out of trouble.

 

Also, as a side note: remember and respect personal space. You’re at a FLGS, not squeezed on a Tokyo subway. Give people room to breathe and to not feel like you are cornering them or pinning them against a table. Be aware of your presence.  

 

I know this sounds like a lot of “mind your own business”, and that sounds antisocial. It’s not, really. You want new players to feel comfortable in your gaming locale of choice, and it can be intimidating as hell to be in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers. If that new player walks into a store to laughter and people having fun, gets greeted by smiles and open acceptance – well, a good first impression works wonders, as they say.

 

Remember, everyone was new once. We should always be open to inviting new people into our hobbies and our gaming dens – and we need to police our own. If an LGS isn’t welcoming to new players, or tolerates behavior that ostracizes players, vote with your feet and your dollars and go somewhere else. We are all responsible for our community and the members within it.

 

May all your 20’s be natural,

 

Georgia

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

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

Weather Engine – Worldbuilding 1

Previously we’ve spent some time together talking at a high level about being a godling in a technological universe.  Now let’s look at just being Gawd and creating your own world to run or play your game in.  The art of world creation isn’t easy or for the faint of heart.  Sure, any fella out there can throw together some two-bit town with a single road and a donkey but I’m talking about real world building.  They always say write what you know and so I’ll be approaching this from the angle of how I build a setting.  Please note that my method may not fit you or the type of world you want to create.  That’s ok; if any of this is useful than I’ve succeeded at my job..err..position…no…favor for a friend?  Whatever this gig is.  

weathermh47

I’m going to convince you that weather is the most important element of your world building.  Weather drives so much about a place, and a people, and it’s always my starting position for world building.  Is it rainy or dry?  Is it neutral?  Are there the usual four seasons?  Any of them particularly long?  If the land is windy all the time the trees will be short and twisted, shrubs and tough grass will cover the land.  If it’s a long winter you’ll have fast growing plants and animals adapted for cold more than heat.  The weather can also drive how technologically advanced a people can be.  A land where nothing grows like Arctic tundra or desert dunes will encourage a people towards hunting and nomadic life-styles with an emphasis on weapon and travel technologies.  While a land with sunny days and green lush land with plenty of water will develop farming and fortification technologies.  

From Weather we can draw direct connections to technological orientation but we can also draw direct lines to diet based on the kinds of animals and plants to be found in an environment with those weather patterns.  A desert dwelling people are some of the heaviest users of spice for their foods as what they’re consuming tends toward bland and they have the right environment for growing many of these spices at the edges of said desert. If you wished to dive deep you could take a look at the types of spices used in various environments and use those flavors to, ahem, flavor your flavor text.  A people’s diet can also inform things like average height and weight with heavier meat filled diets lending people height and weight while a primarily vegetarian people would be shorter and sparser of frame.  

fuji

Weather and food connect directly to clothing choices and the materials to make those clothes.  This also informs what kind of armor they likely favor, weaponry preferences, and even the type of building materials and designs they favor.  An area like Japan, a hilly forested island doesn’t lend itself towards large herds of animals, nor are large herds of animals the most efficient ratio of land use to calories, so an agrarian society with very little red meat creates a population of shorter and smaller framed people.  As a place with few mineral resources the use of plant materials for construction, clothing, armor, etc. becomes the next logical step.  These lines of thought can be very sparse, a sketch of a region and its people, to help a GM add a little character to a small village. They can also be very complicated interconnected webs, the decision is completely up to you.     

An important note to remember, culture; the culmination of spiritual, religious, superstitious, entertainment, and traditional practices; is not the same as what we’ve laid out so far.  A culture is certainly influenced by region, weather, and environment but is equally affected by interactions with other cultures, politics, and the murky origins of a people’s faith.  That’s right, religion conversation, full steam ahead!

key-compa

The spirituality of a nation grows out of a desire to explain things and to some extent to tell stories.  A father tells his son how those bright lights in the sky make the shape of a horse and comes with up some tale to entertain the lad.  He tells his son, then onto the next son, and the next until it becomes a corner of spirituality.  The gods put the first horse into the sky to pull the night behind him as he gallops across. This tale grows and either finds it way into a manuscript on the origins of the names of the constellations or as part of a religion; the steed of Zaphaeus, archangel of wrath of the creator god Eloi!

Religion and to a lesser extent spirituality is where we can really see formalized politics developing.  Imagine a tribe, stone age, barely getting by.  They’re led by the strongest male who is either great at hunting or great getting others motivated to hunt.  As spirituality develops, a separate position of power forms in the group; the shaman.  Or medicine man, priest, magus, seer, etc.  This creates two positions of influence in a group that previously had only one.  The first formalized politics form.  Just as religious practices can severely alter a nation; for example, a land with miles and miles of coast with a religious proscription against eating shellfish, due to them eating carrion; so can political upheavals and power shifts.

industrial-rev

Once a nation passes a technological threshold, say late medieval to early renaissance, weather loses impact as a driving societal force.  There are obviously exceptions for extreme circumstances and some environments discourage ever reaching that technological level naturally.  A desert, for example, does not encourage cities nor generally produces the food resources necessary for a large idle population, which is a must for a nation to innovate, technologically speaking.  

There’s a barrier between survival level culture and knowledge and the level beyond with idle urban populations and farms producing far more than they can consume.  Some environments actively assist crossing this barrier in the case of temperate, plains, and deciduous forests.  Others can actively oppose such development such as deserts, rain forests, and heavily mountainous terrain.  As an additional note I understand that terrain doesn’t actively oppose or assist anything; just a word choice people, put away the literary knives.  

Exotic environment can be treated much the same way; frozen glaciers, deserts made of glass, underground tunnels, floating islands, and undersea kingdoms can all be sketched out and then filled out using the same ideas.  Let’s take a look at an undersea kingdom.

Weather is non-stop rain.  Did you hear the drum and cymbal in the background?  No?  Fine then.  An undersea kingdom has very limited “weather”; but there are consistent weather like effects.  The tides would act like a highway system creating the option for extensive trade networks and/or expansive kingdoms.  The diet would be exclusively fish, crustacean, and some plant matter.  While fish scales would be useful for little more than ornamentation, the hides of sharks and cloth made of kelp would be common materials for clothing.  There would be no concept of fire and little to no metal or wood working.

atlantis

Unless of course this nation bordered land and the people were amphibious.  The population wouldn’t be afraid of the dark and be would very resistant to cold and pressure.  The artifacts of the surface world would have variable value determined by how isolated this undersea nation is.  The spear would be the most popular weapon, anything else would be slowed on a swing by the water and not very effective.


In one paragraph I’ve shaped an undersea culture and I did so by establishing my weather, an interesting incidental effect of that weather, the type of animal and the type of plant most often eaten, what they would make clothes out of, a scarce resource, a common resource, a note on the psychology, and the popular weapon of choice.  In nine words; undersea, tides, fish, kelp, metal, wood, dark, cold, and spear we can create a skeleton to remind the GM of the kind of people these are and the place they inhabit.  A description is a powerful tool for creating a mood or enforcing a theme and world creation is all about the description and more specifically the description words.  

As a final note; always remember that while national borders can and do influence people and segregate cultures it’s the land, the place, the world these nations rose out of that are the start point and the land is a result of the weather.  Weather begets land, land begets resources, resources begets technology, and all of them combine mark a culture.  Good luck, and may Eloi watch over you.

 

Justin has been playing, running, and designing games since he was 14.  He enjoys reading, writing, eating, and sleeping.  He also enjoys a good think but not too often as he’s very heat sensitive and doesn’t want his brain to boil over.

*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.

HOW THE DARKNESS CAN LEAD US TO THE LIGHT

Preface to this article. I started this in the hours after I left The Grand Masquerade, and finished working on it after reading extensive responses in the community discussing our interview with White Wolf and the Keynote and Q&A at The Grand Masquerade.

gmlogo

What is the value of darkness? Darkness teaches us to value the light.

 What is the value of difficult literature? It teaches us things about ourselves, as human beings.

What is the value of media that addresses dark themes? It can teach us about a side of life we do not witness. It can teach us about lives unlike our own at every level.

These questions and answers are at the core of what the World of Darkness can teach us, if we let it. I want to preface this article with this, we need to be sensitive to everyone involved in discussions surrounding themes in WoD games. Player comfort and safety, and consent to address dark, mature themes are essential. That being said, I might pose more questions than answers here and I want to help encourage a healthy dialogue.

I would hesitantly say the goal of role-playing in the World of Darkness is to generate an understanding of the dark things that occur in our world, and to find ways to address that darkness and ways to change our world. Vampire is essentially a game of immortal parasites that dominate and leech off humanity. By playing one of these monsters we can see the dark aspects of our society reflected back to us. If I play a woman in these games, if those games are run by a sensitive storyteller, I can hopefully begin to understand some of the layers of systemic sexism inherent in the real world. I will never be an expert on that experience, and such a thing should not be played for *shock* factor, but it can have deeper impacts. These games may be one stage in understanding, perhaps a strong first step into embracing feminism and striving to make the world a more gender equal place. By addressing gender inequality, in a place that is safe (with fellow gamers that I trust to respect my consent) I can find tools to identify actions or thoughts I take that tacitly support the sexist world we live in.

self-reflection

Some players don’t want to play games that address societal faults. They enjoy other aspects of Vampire’s mythology, they like the clan politics, or monster’s hiding in the darkness of society. Whatever it is about Vampire, they like the game, they enjoy spending time in the World of Darkness. This style of play is totally understandable. Not everyone looks to games as literature. Like enjoyable fiction, sometimes you read something because the story is fun, it makes you smile, perhaps it makes you excited. The World of Darkness can be played in both ways.

white_wolf_publishingWhite Wolf’s new leadership says they want to create books that address the first style, they want to write books that address the darkness in the World of Darkness. They also want to support players that choose either style of play. Are these goals incompatible? I, for one, don’t think so. White Wolf wants to create books that can be used to run games that are fun, or self-reflective, or both. They want to engage writers that are looking to explore elements of the world that they know intimately. By doing so, they can hopefully create a true reflection of the power of their experiences. At the same time, for those gamers who wish to play for fun, they will have materials that are truer to life, alive with those experiences and that will reflect in the games played. By providing the best material, all of us gain.

I personally think we, as people, have to challenge ourselves if we wish to grow. We can use a lot of various media to work this growth. We can read works by great authors, we can watch great movies, and we can play great games. Great games allow us to learn skills we can apply to our world. There is academic evidence to suggest that gamers either have more or gain empathy skills from gaming. At the same time, I believe gaming can be used as an effective method to perform inter-cultural dialogue. Gaming, in my humble opinion, can be a force of individual and cultural benefit. Sometimes the method to that growth is through the darkness of the world. Yet, darkness is not the only element of the World of Darkness.

Iconoclasm, Punk, and Anarchist mentality are also themes in Vampire the Masquerade. Why? Because they are methods of challenging the status-quo. In the World of Darkness, we see a world run by the patriarchy (in this case immortal or with powerful magic), entrenched in systemic racism, mired in conflict on every side, we have a world beset by severe income inequality, and a devastated ecology. At the same time, many Vampires have tossed mortal concerns around gender roles, Avatars choose Mages regardless of social status, Werewolves exist of every race. These characters have the ability to challenge the systemic problems of the world.the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

These themes, though changed to some degree, have not left our world since 1991, when Vampire first addressed them. I would argue, as others have, that White Wolf games were essentially subversive at heart. They sought to dismantle the constructs of the world we live in, by making some of the worst aspects of our world stark. I wouldn’t say these elements were eliminated in later editions, but they were tempered, they were certainly more nuanced. Understanding the underlying reality of those themes is important in our modern world, we need to understand how to challenge the status-quo, how to stand up against oppression, and how to advocate for positive change. The World of Darkness can help teach us effective methods of doing so.

At the same time as investigating darkness to understand light, we need to be cognizant of individual player buy-in and acceptance of the topics being addressed. How do we work with darkness, even playing elements of the darkness with respect to real player backgrounds? Consent. Consent is integral to running White Wolf games. If your players want to play a game that only peripherally touches on the darkest themes in the World of Darkness, LISTEN to them. If a woman at your table says stop, stop. If a man in your LARP asks not to run a scene with rape involved, listen to them, fade-to-black, ask for feedback and adjust where appropriate. If you have a player that wants to explore their gender identity, find ways to do so with respect and with their investment.

One way to do this well is to ask for feedback ahead of time before you run plots. For example, I recently asked my players if they wanted to move our Dark Ages game a few years in time in between sessions. I did this to get a feel for what they wanted. They didn’t want a time jump, they still have things they want their characters to learn and do. This helped me to develop the next 5-10 game sessions (give or take). This wasn’t an issue of dealing with dark elements, but it is a good example of how to work with your players to give them an experience you enjoy facilitating and that reflects their gaming interests.

castle_keep_1

I will do this with other aspects of the game, as well. If I wanted to run a plot where the characters have to kill an entire family (a possibility in the Medieval era), or a plot where children were killed, I would check with the players to ensure that such a plot would not be a surprise and would not cause any trauma related triggers. I ended up running a side scene with one player where I had initially planned to have his ghoul betray him. Both characters are young, both around 12, one a vampire and the other his childhood friend who he had ghouled. The ghoul felt his friend was putting himself in danger, and though he was betraying him, it was for his best friend’s safety. However, the emotional intensity of the scene between player character and NPC changed my mind. There was too much power in keeping their bond strong, in ensuring that no betrayal occurred. I knew some of the needs of this player, and I know a bit of his personal history and I’m glad we chose the route we did. This scene created a powerful resonance for my player, who thanked me for the scene later. There were still very dark elements of this scene, horror, danger for friends loved and loved deeply, but it didn’t cross over into a territory that would have hurt my friend.

vtm-banner

During Grand Masquerade, fans made it clear that they want more representation in White Wolf game products. They want sensitivity in dealing with dark storylines and themes, and they want players to feel welcome playing games in the World of Darkness. Particularly in LARP, because of concerns for player safety in the LARP community. From my perspective, White Wolf is listening, but I think we are in a sensitive era in the gaming hobby, and this has caused some strong emotion to boil to the surface. This emotion is not a negative thing. This emotion is a call for us all to take these concerns seriously and ensure that darkness is not simply inserted for some misunderstood shock attempt.

wod-gypsiesIn our recent interview with White Wolf, Martin Ericsson, Lead Storyteller of the new White Wolf, stated his interest in re-investigating one of the most controversial of books ever produced by White Wolf, World of Darkness: Gypsies. However, Martin’s comments about wanting writers to write about topics they know should illuminate some of his deeper thinking. He mentions perhaps calling the new book, Opre Roma. This is an alternative name for the Romani anthem Gelem, Gelem and has been used as a rallying call by Roma movements for equality and representation in Europe. Some have expressed concern about rewriting a book that has a lot of negative implications and has been fairly accused of othering a people that have experienced severe and consistent discrimination.
That being said, if White Wolf can investigate the history of the Roma in Europe, using the lens of the World of Darkness to show their common humanity and to help understand how they have been persecuted over the years, isn’t this something that could be beneficial? I think we can see that there is value about writing what one knows, and if White Wolf can engage a writer or writers of Roma descent who are interested in producing a book that encourages understanding of the Roma, I’m all for giving it a try.

The World of Darkness has had 25 years to make an impact on role-playing. I think it has done so. I won’t say that White Wolf is the only reason that we now have deeper themes in gaming, but their emergence into the world of gaming 25 years ago helped to create the gaming landscape we have today. White Wolf is waking up from torpor, there are a lot of great ideas hiding in the darkness still and we have much to learn before we can step into a world that is more light than dark. For now, let’s strive together to learn about ourselves, our world, and each other by looking at the darkest element of our lives. Let us examine the darkness and find it within ourselves, and root it out.

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.

SOCIAL CONTRACT PART 3: WHAT GAME WILL THE GROUP RUN?

Welcome back! Last weeks article! This week we finally cover the all-important question of what game the group will sit down and play. For me this mainly comes down to knowing the amount of player “buy-in” that each person is willing to give for the game. This buy-in will vary between each game. Some games require more than others. Each game has the same basic types of buy-in:

games

So many games so little time

  • What game are we going to run?
  • Cost of the game.
  • Prep time for both GM and Player
  • Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the game

Let’s break down each of these four points and see what each means in terms of buy-in.

As always I will give examples in italics with regards to my home groups.

What game are we going to play?

 

Let’s get to the meat and potatoes of this week’s topic on the Social Contract. What game will we play? This will depend on group preference. With so many genres and different styles to choose from it’s easy to get lost in the sheer vastness of games currently available. In fact, let me break it down like this. Let’s look at three generic genres and I will give a list under each for five types of games. The three genres we will use will be very generic but the games under each will vary, while still falling under the parent genre.

Fantasy

  • D&D (Pick your edition)
  • Houses of the Bloodedchoices
  • Burning Wheel
  • Within the Ring of Fire
  • Homecoming

Sci-Fi

  • Shadowrun
  • Era: The Consortium
  • Coriolis
  • Paranoia
  • Eclipse Phase

Horror

  • Wraith: The Oblivion
  • Kult
  • Sins of the Father
  • Call of Cthulhu
  • Night’s Black Agents

Now I would expect most people (gamers) have heard of some, if not most of these games. However, this shows the multitude of options for games to choose from. D&D is an obvious choice and I could whip up a 5th edition character in about 10 minutes and a 2nd edition character in maybe half an hour or so (it’s been awhile since I messed with 2nd edition). So that doesn’t take much investment on my part to make a character. From a GM standpoint it isn’t a big thing to pull together a game either. Give me about 10 minutes and I can do a one shot session for D&D no problem. In fact, if I don’t want to do that, I can go onto Wizards of the Coasts’ site and get one directly from them for not much money.

Now on the opposite end, I would put Burning Wheel. Burning Wheel has one of the most interesting dice mechanic and character creation processes I have personally seen, and I am a big fan. For a lot of people, it can take a bit of time to wrap their head around how the system works. A character in Burning Wheel still takes me about 2 or 3 hours if I make them all in one go. More often than not, I will sweat over details and nitpick different aspects of what I can possibly do. From a GM standpoint, most of the time for a Burning Wheel game I can only sketch out a rough plot before my players have their characters made, or burned, in Burning Wheel parlance.

Also, an important topic is type of game. This not only covers what people find enjoyable, but also covers what people might be uncomfortable with. This is a delicate subject and one that may need to be discussed in private, however, these discussions must occur.

A couple of years ago I ran a Wraith: The Oblivion game at Gen Con. The game had a caution on that the game would contain mature subject matter, as it was taking place during the days leading up to the liberation of prisoners at Auschwitz. The players were recently deceased who had to keep their remaining family members safe until the liberation. That is very heavy in terms of theme and subject matter. It’s not for everyone. So please, make sure to discuss the type of game you want to play with your group.

paranoia

One of the pricier gems of my collection

Cost of the Game

When it comes to game cost in regards to buy-in, the real question at hand is how much will each person have to spend to play the game. Let’s be honest here and now though, in reality only one person NEEDS to buy the books. However, it will often better suit the group to have multiple copies of the book for rules reference.

In fact, Victor had a wonderful write up on just this sort of topic a while ago in regards to the cost of the recent Invisible Sun Kickstarter. http://keepontheheathlands.com/2016/09/13/invisible-sun-a-study-in-the-tension-between-accessibility-in-price-and-design/
In this he excellently breaks down the cost for modern gaming. I highly encourage you to read it. I’ll wait.

Please take your time….

Please take your time….

 

Okay now that you have read that, let’s continue. Most books will run about 60.00 US dollars. Add into this dice… which… you can never have too many dice.

Dice normally will run about 10-12 dollars for a standard set. Copies of character sheets and pencils are honestly very small cost and negligible. So at the very minimum, if each person buys a main book and only one set of dice, they are looking at about 75 dollars’ investment. Add in pencils and paper for copies and let’s round-up to 80 dollars.

Overall this is not much more than a video game these days. So I don’t see the need to balk at this. However, there is more to this really than just a main book and some dice. At least with regards to the buy-in aspect of a game.

Prep time for both GM and players

work

This is a lot like work!

The time from when a game is chosen and when it starts really is the time for the GM to get their story down on paper and make notes. This honestly can only be done to a certain degree. Most games recommend (and in the case of some, require) that you do a character creation session with all the players and the GM as a group. So, prior to this it is a good idea for all involved to read up on any pertinent details. The game world (if one exists), overall game rules and especially character creation rules.

Reading up on this is no different than studying for a class. You are learning how the game is run and how the system works. Now I can hear a lot of you saying that “can’t I just have this taught to me during character creation?”

Yes…you can and if your GM offers pre-made characters this may be an option to try a game out. However, when making characters for a game it is a good idea to know the rules at least as they pertain to your character.

A great example I like to give of knowing the rules as they pertain to your character is from Shadowrun. Shadowrun is a very crunchy simulationist system at its heart. As such, the different types of characters you can play use different rule sets. When running this game, I let my players know that they are responsible for knowing their character and the rules governing them. This helps speed up combat especially, and keeps the game moving overall.

So, take the time to read and learn the game. Do your homework, so to speak. Invest the time to know and understand the game system, the world, and special rules. I promise you will be happier for it in the long run. One thing I like to do is read up on character creation and mark down any questions I have for the GM during the character creation session. Simple things like this can go a long way to making the game more fun for you, the other players, and the GM.

For the GM prepping requires even more work. They have to know the system, and have to plan out how the characters are involved in this story. PC’s are the main protagonists in a story, so, it is important to have the story revolve around them. This means that the GM can honestly only do so much planning and prepping prior to running a homemade game as opposed to a published scenario.

All of this means that the GM needs to sit down with the players and be an active part of character creation. Doing so allows them to flesh their story out around the players and this is essential.

charcter-creationCharacter Creation

This is a special portion of buy-in. Different games have different levels of character creation. Some are more involved than others. The reason this is something to discuss is not every player wants to spend 4 hours poring over a character they may only play 3 or 4 times. So know what kind of time character creation can leech. Most games ask that the first real session of a game be entirely comprised of character creation. This is a great idea. It allows for the group to discuss what each other wants to play and to build off of that.

Discussion and dialogue is what this process is really about. From what race/roles each player will fill in the game, to defining parts of the game world, this process helps to make the players really feel invested in the world. Questions can be answered as well, both in terms of rules or related to character creation choices that will require GM approval.

Amount of shared (or not shared) duties when playing the gameshared-duties

Finally, when speaking about buy-in aspects of a game, there is the discussion of how many shared or not shared duties exist when playing the game. This can take a couple of forms. The main concern is the amount of time a player will need to engage in a game each session.

Different people role-play for different reasons: to socialize, to escape from the mundane every day, to challenge themselves mentally, among many other reasons. This also can mean that not every player will be engaged during every scene of the game. Especially if their player is not in the scene, or center stage. When this happens, some players may start side conversations, pull out their phones, or use the time to take a bio break, or grab a snack. None of these are bad per se. However, different games require players to be more engaged on different levels.

From a D&D perspective this is easy, as the party usually with one another. Fostering a sense of duty to keep the party together is something that D&D does extremely well. Even when simply looking over the map and figures and trying to figure out the best way to approach the new room of the castle, players are all discussing and talking out plans. This is great.

On the other side of this is Shadowrun. Shadowrun combat can have different players in different places during a scene: from being in a physical fight, to hacking into a security system, or even doing spirit combat in the astral plane. This can take time and can (and in my experience will) will cause players to become disengaged.

Now neither D&D nor Shadowrun award XP for always being engaged. That is not a slight to the games, it’s just a fact. Yes, a GM could (and I think should) award good role-playing. It doesn’t normally happen, though. However, Let’s look at two other games that handle XP in a different way: Burning Wheel and Within the Ring of Fire. Both of these games use votes from the group to determine XP awards.

Burning Wheel asks for different votes based on who did the most work for the session, to who had a skill that was needed at the right time. It even goes farther than that, rewarding players to play up their Beliefs and Instincts. Doing so is an integral part of the game and one the drives the story forward. This also means that players have to be more invested and engaged in the game at all times looking for and making opportunities to play up these aspects of their characters.

Within the Ring of Fire is similar as it also uses a vote system to determine who is awarded XP. Here each person is asked to select one other player (not themselves) and explain how the exemplified their character in that session. Simple. Again this means that players will be having to pay attention to each other even when they are not in the scene.

So, how we have discussed what sort of game we are all comfortable playing and how much we all want to be involved with the game from a session perspective. We can move into our next question: Who will run the game? Normally, this will be determined during this step of the process, as the one who recommends a game usually will be the one who runs it. We will look at the process to decide to run, or not run a game. We will take a deeper look into planning a game and the GM’s role before, during and after a session.

As always, please comment and let me know your thoughts and let’s talk about things you feel I may have missed or that you liked. Until next week, may your dice always roll true.

picard

Make It So

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.

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.