Life Needs Things to Live: A Meditation on the Raven Queen, Reframing via Critical Role and D&D, and Living by Kit Winter

Content Warnings: mentions of suicidal thoughts; depression (mention); death and dying; PTSD mentions

Official art of the Raven Queen’s ascension to godhood, by Jessica Nguyen from “Exandria: An Intimate History” (Sx61) at 3:24

I have had clinical depression and anxiety for about 29 years. Three-fourths of my life, just about: depression shapes my brain and body more persistently than my own cells, as at least my cells die and renew every seven years. I am built out of pressure cookers and emotional trauma, and I say this not out of pride – mental health is still stigmatized immensely – but so people can understand how important it is for me to engage that part of me in a healthier way.

I did not believe I would make it to age twenty, then twenty-five. I spent a couple of years couch-surfing because I would rather risk homelessness, I would rather risk trying to live, than to return to situations where I knew I would want to die every day. Due to my longtime struggle with depression, as a result I have periods in my life where I was not the best to others either. While the process of living accumulates small regrets and things not chosen, or paths accidentally fallen into, a lot of depression advice talks about memory: remember when you were happy, when you were content, when you felt capable. At risk of sounding like an emo poem, the reality of my life is that I do live in memory, in shadows, but also trying to do what I can to value the life I have now. And it is a struggle, make no mistake.

There’s still stigma about mental health but there’s also more awareness of it. Therapy used to be a horrid whisper in the 1990s, and while there are still fears about it, there is more acceptance of a more holistic wellness approach. Medication can work for many people, even though it might take some time to figure out which one works best for that individual. Therapy can add to someone’s tools, and to help over time to add “tools” in a mental and emotional toolbox. But a surprising thing I found came from Vampire the Masquerade, and from the live-play series Critical Role. In this case, I want to draw attention to two things. The first is due to Critical Role: it originally used Pathfinder and then Dungeons and Dragons for its setting (Note 1) and as such used established deities in those settings when appropriate. Within both 5th edition D&D and Critical Role, the depiction of a newer deity called the Raven Queen (Note 2), is what I want to concentrate on here – as the Raven Queen’s domain in Dungeons and Dragons was established as between life and death, a domain of regret and memory (Note 3). The second is reframing the narrative; reframing is exactly what I did, in this case, and is often used under direction as a tool for dialectal therapy, among other therapeutic tools, though due to how ancient storytelling is, similar techniques are often used by individuals without realizing it. After all, if we can read stories about heroes overcoming odds, we start to believe that maybe we can overcome odds in our daily lives too. The adage that if we repeat a story long enough it becomes true is also borne out in marketing and propaganda; the case of the “hot coffee case” in the 1990s is often thought of as a non-therapeutic example of this, the power of story, where people often thought it was a frivolous lawsuit because that was the story McDonalds lawyers were so good at tapping into. Stories are powerful, and not just for entertainment to pass the time.

Fan art of the Raven Queen and Vax’ildan, by Mikael

In Critical Role, the Raven Queen is depicted as neutral. She is not evil. She is enigmatic. She is terrifying also, associated as she is with death and as a result, confronting one’s own mortality, confronting one’s own regrets and farewells. In the depiction from Legend of Vox Machina (specifically Season 2, which is based on the Vox Machina campaign from Critical Role), the Raven Queen is associated with death, blood, and she is always seen masked, as well as associated with the corvids you might expect. But as the story progresses, the Raven Queen is seen more as one of the loneliest of deities – a former mortal who the other deities do not necessarily trust, new to the pantheons of deities.

There is a famous sequence in the story of the live-play, as Campaign 2 wraps to a close, of the new champion of the Raven Queen having snowdrop flowers in his path as he departs the mortal realm and says his goodbyes. This is alluded to in the Tal’Dorei Reborn campaign book set after the events, where the champion Vax’ildan has become a celestial figure guiding souls to whatever might be their next destination after death and tries to make it gentle whenever possible. While scary and shadowy, in the end, these figures are depicted as not evil. Dreadful, maybe, considering their domain; but like other fictional depictions such as Death in Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman books or series, or perhaps Sir Terry Pratchett’s depiction of Death from the Discworld books –  the Raven Queen is seen as empathetic, if harsh.

This depiction of a fictional deity bears a lot of resemblance to the faith of Santa Muerte – while seen as terrifying or suspicious, the real-life faith of Santa Muerte encompasses many more than just people who are involved drug trafficking or law enforcement as might be the initial stereotype. LGBTQ+ people  often also gravitate towards this faith, as death is the great equalizer in many cultures – the archetype of a constant, dread companion. While a deep discussion of Santa Muerte is not within the scope of this article, one of the best books in English is Dr Chesnut’s book “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte the Skeleton Saint” and his articles.

I am not of color, but the archetype of Holy Death, of the shadow of death being a constant companion, is a powerful one. Especially for someone living with depression as long as I have. When you have been shaped by trauma and depression these things are familiar, even if my approach to them needs to change; what served me when I was ten years old, or what served me when I was homeless, is not necessarily the best approach for me now. Using fictional stories as a form of engagement is not new: much research around things like people who are fans of horror or crime procedurals have noted that engaging with even violent or traumatic material on the person’s own terms, in a safer space like fiction (TV, film, games), can be part of an effort to engage with their own concerns. The prime example of this effect is the film Godzilla, which used a lot of material that reminded its original Japanese audiences about air raid sirens, firebombing, and destruction thanks to the atomic bombings; but once Godzilla appeared, it went from traumatic war film to a safer space that it was science fiction, it was entertainment, it was a monster that could be defeated. That, and if your personal demon has a face and in a game you can punch it, there can be some catharsis. I don’t recommend exposure right out of the gate – the important thing here is that the individual retains their agency, engages with the material on their own terms. (Note 4)

I credit Critical Role’s depiction of the Raven Queen – and the inclusion of the figure in 4th and 5th edition of Dungeons and Dragons – as a way for me to engage with the world even when everything seems to be on fire. When I feel like a dumpster, myself- I have sought therapy, I have sought putting more tools into my toolbox for coping mechanisms. And while due to my history certain things might be considered “red flags”, and while there is still a tension between mental health care and affordability, a tension between my own agency and wanting to do things like writing advance health directives (Note 5), I have looked up the Order of the Good Death. I have researched the medieval European idea of memento mori, and while I do not need to be reminded that death comes for us all, and nor am I particularly Christian at all unlike much of the medieval reminders were framed, I can try to use these reminders to live life to the fullest. Instead of living to die, I can try to care about my life now. To tell people I love them, to try and reach out as I can. That, also, comes up sometimes in Critical Role: the bonds and connections we make with others, however unlikely, and that advice and encouragement can come from unlikely or unexpected sources.

It definitely has, in my case.

To add to this, in the past couple of years, there have been efforts to use directed tabletop gaming in therapeutic environments, often guided by a therapist or social worker who also holds the relevant licensures for their area (as well as often trainings in using such games for therapeutic reasons). The focus might range from improving social skills to addressing mental health or life changes, from an intended audience of kids and teens to an intended audience of adults. While my experience was not one of these directed experiences, the following resources may be useful to those wanting more information on directed therapy:

While the quotation attributed to G.K Chesterton about dragons and that dragons can be beaten would fit here, instead I’ll use another unexpected Critical Role quote: “Life needs things to live”. And despite all the everyday pains that life brings, Critical Role and D&D have helped me reframe my depression. It is still there, but it has gone from a terrible and persistent dragon to something of a known entity; gone from a nightmare to something I can put a label on, to something I can approach differently with the power of story.

-Kit Winter


“Liebeck vs McDonalds’: the Hot Coffee Case”. American Museum of Tort Law.

  • Note 1: Critical Role is a live-play/actual-play which originally derived from a Pathfinder 1st edition game among the voice actors; they switched to using Dungeons and Dragons for their system and setting, modifying it to suit the world of Tal’Dorei. More information can be found via Darrington Press itself. There is also the Legend of Vox Machina animated series on Amazon Prime, which is adapting (as of this writing) two storylines from Campaign 1 of the live play (Vox Machina – Campaign 1). For more information on Critical Role and its various endeavors, including Darrington Press, please go to the official Critical Role site:
  • Note 2: There are differences between how the Raven Queen is depicted from 4th edition to 5th However, the persistent lore depictions depict her as a mysterious figure in a shadowy realm associated primarily with regrets, memories, and the spaces between life and death. She is also associated with souls, even though a longstanding deity in D&D lore is also associated with being a neutral deity of death/the afterlives (Kelemvor).
  • Note 3: This association is even called out in several official 5th edition adventures, such as the Riddle of the Raven Queen adventure, with “Shadowfell effects” – among which may include persistently feeling like all is hopeless, which is extremely evocative of depression and despair to those who already live with it.
  • Note 4: This kind of approach requires agency and intention. Exposure therapy of just shoving someone dealing with depression and trauma into a dangerous situation often backfires, especially if it is not from the person themselves. This is also why content warnings are a thing, as are safety tools, in tabletop gaming (and growing more common in TV and video games as well).

Note 5: Writing wills and advance directives are typically included in good advice, but people with a history of depression are often flagged or involuntary put in crisis care if they pursue such advice, due to writing wills/advance health directives and related paperwork sometimes being a sign of immediate suicide plans.

Enter the Midnight World- Mental Health and Gaming

I remember the first time I was depressed. Not sad, not down, legitimately and medically depressed. It was one of the worst phases of my life, but so has every other episode of serious depression. What I don’t remember was the first manic episode. I don’t know if it was in high school or before that. The great times of all kinds of energy and obsession likely seemed positive. Why dig in and reflect when you’re getting everything out of the way?

Check out The Midnight World on Kickstarter

I don’t remember when I recognized the trouble breathing and the overwhelming oppression of the world as anxiety. Honestly, that was likely only in the last few years, maybe months. Whenever it was, I finally realized that these periods of time where nothing worked right, even the good things, those weren’t normal. I’ve got anxiety and borderline bipolar disorder, and I’m finally medicated and using my supports in a way that is moving me forward, rather than spinning in my head for months on end.


You’re likely wondering what that has to do with TTRPGs and this site. The reason I’m so excited about The Midnight World is I can see the value in this game as a tool for working through my mental health and working with others through their mental health struggles. On top of that, the idea of a really good horror TTRPG with none of the baggage of the other similar games I love… well, that’s damn enticing.


Full disclosure: I’m friends with James and Jim, the creators and I’ve been hired to do a small amount of writing for the team on this project. Even without that, the moment I heard about the game my ears perked up. 


Imagine a world like ours, but the Veil that protects the world from chthonic beings is broken, failing, and under pressure. Those Beyonders, Dread Beings, Elder Gods have existed since the Big Bang, having arisen in universes similar to our own but which failed to fully form. These Corpse Universes are the essential enemy of our universe, or, the dark reflection of our world found in the Midnight World. 


That pitch was enough for me. But on top of that, I knew that Jim and James were combat veterans with PTSD. While not directly relevant to all games, it’s hyper-relevant to this game. These are two folks that understand trauma, they understand the sources of trauma and the treatments for trauma. They understand the brutal creeping nature of anxiety and stress. They understand the fear of the small things that remind you of the trauma and they understand the creeping, slippery, intrusive nature of anxiety and depression, and how you can’t stop it when you know you need to. They get it. They get it intimately and they get it as people who have worked in medical health. 

Midnight World

So, here you have a game where you take on the role of survivors of trauma. This trauma is supernatural in origin, in the game, allowing for a step away from real trauma, a screen over the realities that cause PTSD in our own world. But, still, they represent the creeping increase of pressure from anxiety and persistent trauma in a realistic way that helps to explain, distill, and conceptualize those issues for those without similar mental health wounds. They do this with the Clock mechanic, which represents a pushing creep and an increase of stress. One you can push back using medicine and therapy, but also one that’s harder and harder to push back the longer you let things go. The clock ticks by 12, 12 hours, 12 minutes, and 12 seconds, always pushing as you face the Dread Beings and their minions.


The Dread Beings are not your monster of the Week, they are the creatures who those beings worship. They are the ones who are so… massive… incomprehensible and intense that it’s hard to wrap one’s mind around their motivations. Those are the big bad guys here. They are, in many ways, extensions of trauma and fear, and hatred, and need, and they are both hard to fathom and yet easy to see their influence on the world. We have all these fears around us, these pressures, and the lingering force of these beings is a part of the Midnight World’s horror setting. 


On top of all this, you have a dice pool system that works well for various games. Targets with no stress are easy to hit if you’re a skilled person, it’s when the stress hits that things go haywire. When you aren’t in perfect control any longer, that’s when it becomes difficult to focus and your dice pool is eaten away by a mechanic stripping you of skill and confidence. That’s the writer’s block, the imposter syndrome, the sense of failure even as people are calling for more and praising your name.


The concepts this game hits are hard, and the creators know they have to get it right. They understand the language they are using, they understand the methods of therapy and support for these challenges, and they understand that a game should also be fun. So, they encourage you to take The Midnight World and make it the game you want it to be. Play superheroes with horror creatures. That’s ok! Play a serious therapeutic session, play a fun game, do what works for you to enjoy yourself in their world! That’s the awesome thing about games that allow you space to find the angle which excites and grabs you. 


The Midnight World is on Kickstarter now. You should back it.


Game by James Davey, Jim Beverley and other writers.

Gardens of Fog – By Take This.Org

Welcome back!

It’s been a while since we’ve updated this page. You can find more of our work happening at

Keep on the Heathlands is now officially a part of High Level Games and we recommend you check the site out for great content from great people.

Over the years Keep on the Heathlands has done media with and for several groups and the other day we got the notification that a mental health focused module was being released by Take on the DMs Guild.

Gardens of Fog

From the Press Release

This new charity D&D adventure module was created in collaboration between Dr. Raffael Boccamazzo, Clinical Director for Take This; Bill Benham, associate producer for Wizards of the Coast; and Hannah Rose, best-selling author of such Dungeon Master Guild material as the College of the Opera and Cartographer subclasses. In “Gardens of Fog,” a dear friend lies stricken, a prisoner in their own mind. The locals are baffled, unable to provide aid, and without your intervention, your companion is surely lost. Steel yourself, enter the realm of the mind, and face the struggles within. This D&D module contains a complete adventure, monster encounters, information on how to take on anxiety and depression in the real world, and a new character subclass inspired by Take This’ mascot: the psychomancer! It’s dangerous to go alone, so grab your party and face these challenges together! Win or lose, Wizards of the Coast and Take This strive to aid gamers, and game makers alike, who face their own monsters.”

This sounds like it is right up our alley!

You can watch groups stream the game here.

  • Rival of the Waterdeep on June 22nd, 12pm-3pm PDT.  Joining moderator Surena Marie will be Carlos Luna, Cicero Holmes, Tanya DePass, Shareef Jackson, and Brandon Stennis

  • Clinical Roll on June 24th 5pm – 6pm PDT.  Clinical Roll will feature mental health professionals in the games community. They include Megan Connell, PsyD, ABPP; Adam Davis, MEd; Adam Johns, MA, LMFT; Jack Berkenstock, MHS; Rachel Kowert, PhD; and Raffael Boccamazzo, PsyD.

“About Take This Inc.

Take This is a mental health non-profit that provides resources, guidelines, training, and support that is tailored for the unique needs of the game development community and embraces the diverse cultures and issues of the game community.  Take This helps those who suffer by letting them know that they are not alone and providing information on treatment options and how to find help. Take This’ key programs are its AFK Room Program at conventions, its mental health consulting program for game developers, and its ambassador program for streamers.  For more information, visit

Serious Game Industry 17$ Billion By 2023

We’ll be involved in running HLG Con in Atlantic City in October. Please buy tickets and come hang-out with us! Then learn about the Serious Game industry below.

And now, for something completely different.

A few months ago we were invited to participate in the Serious Play Conference as press. When we received this invitation I almost exploded with joy. I had wanted to attend the event and couldn’t quite afford the cost this year. Then, I had a minor health crisis that required some surgery. AND, that surgery was scheduled right in the middle of the Serious Play Conference, so we had to miss this amazing event. Which was a shame.

So, what is this event, why is important to Keep, and why would you want to know about them and some of the information that came out of the event? Well, the Serious Play Conference is about those organizations that create simulations and ‘games’ that focus on real world issues. These games might be Military Simulations, training programs, and educational gamification. There were dozens of panels in 2018 that look at gaming from angles that we touch on here but often don’t dive deeply into. The biggest news to come out of the event is that there is evidence to suggest that the industry of serious games will be valued at $17 Billion dollars by 2023, which is a serious bit of business.

What is unclear in the METAARI Report is if the use of the types of games we cover on this blog most frequently are an element in the impact of that market. To be clear, reports indicate that the TT RPG and Larp only constitute a minor fraction of the Hobby Games Industry per year, as little as $50 million per year is likely close to accurate for 2017. So, if the METAARI Report does include the small amount of the industry using D&D and other ttrpgs as art and recreational therapy and other cognitive behavioral support, they are likely a very small fraction of the total impact that the report focuses upon.

Does this mean anything for us as creators of analog games in the long-run? Potentially. If the serious impact potential of analog games can be tapped, this creates a potential for large investment unseen previously. However, the largest issue is that the market that takes games seriously are not looking at analog games, but frequently, are looking at ways to digitize, and incorporate AR and VR into their work. There are oppourtunities but also challenges in explaining why analog gaming can be a force for social change, and the METARRI Report and the Serious Play Conference are not focused on looking at how our games fit into that large pie. When they do, then there could be increased investment and growth in our industry in ways that work to create social impact.

The other side of the coin is, does the RPG industry want to be seen as “Serious” and that’s a hard question to answer. The large majority of RPG gamers play these games as a form of entertainment. Yes, entertainment has all the layers of ‘deep media’ etc, but escapism and pure entertainment are the focuses of RPGs for most people. The fraction of companies, organizations, and practitioners utilizing analog gaming for purpose is dramatically small. On top of that, the majority of conversations on social media about games are focused on the fun elements. Of course, Larp creators and players are more focused on the academic import of their part of the hobby. See Living Games Conference as an example of the academic focuses larp creators dive head first into.

The future of games is bright and the future of analog gaming is brighter than I would ever have anticipated back in the 90s. This is the time to invest heavily into this small segment of the entertainment and ‘Play’ communities. The impact of gaming on all fronts is going to increase. The question will be: Does this medium survives the transition in a way that we all feel is healthy in the long-term?

Josh is the owner of this blog and his opinion may not be the opinion of others that have posted articles here. 

Darkness in WoD/RPGs/V5

*This started as a Facebook post and I realized it was too long for that.

Hey, I appreciate folks that put well-reasoned opinions out there on the V5 preview, White Wolf in general, and the direction that Vampire is headed. I know that there are concerns, frustrations, and conflicting interpretations of the actions of the company. I know that I’m listening to your critiques and trying to find ways to internalize them and help my future work. When I craft dark narratives I want to ensure I’m thread a needle of darkness with respect to the people whose lives I impact. I admit I might never do so perfectly, but I’m trying and I know that others are trying.

I also don’t agree with the interpretation of all the criticism I’m seeing. I think some of it is valid critique, but there is hyperbole and personal attacks that frustrate me that go alongside the valid and helpful critique. We should remember that there are people on the other side of the screen, and that nearly all of them want to see OUR world be better. They want to see a healthy, whole, strong world. They want to see a world where people can be who they are and not be harmed for that element of their identity. There are legitimate questions around platforming and the psychological impact of playing evil, I’m more curious to address those in relation to this new edition.

What we are seeing is difficult work. Crafting stories in a World of Darkness is hard because many see the world around them as being as dark, if not darker than the WoD itself. When we see and hear things that keep us up at night in our games we react viscerally to them. I respect people that are saying, “I can’t play these games any longer. They exist in a space which doesn’t help me fight the darkness any longer.”

I’ve always seen the WoD as a wakeup call. This universe could be ours, if we aren’t careful. We have to learn how to stand against the darkness by understanding where it comes from, why it creeps into people’s hearts, and to see that such darkness is an insidious system that is difficult to dismantle. In the WoD systemic problems are nearly impossible to deconstruct, in our world they are hard, perhaps nearly improbable to deconstruct. That’s a big gulf, if we can stand up, protest, find ways to connect with our communities and unite for common purpose, we can change the world.

For my part, I’m not asking people to get on the bandwagon for this game if it doesn’t resonate with them. I’m not supportive of saying, “Get out if you don’t like it,” either. I think it is valid to critique, evaluate, and seek better of ourselves and the games we create and play. Try and remember that there are real people struggling with these same topics on the other side of the screen. They are trying to find a way to address the horrors of our world in a way that helps us fight them. That fight may not be the same for each of us. There are new tools to help modulate those in this game. For me, that’s where a lot of my focus is. I want tools that help me craft a narrative that I’m engaged by, that nourishes my skills, my toolbox for change.

The Feminist critique is valid. It is valid in context of this game because the creators have strived, and occasionally failed, to utilize this critique to poke at the darkness, to pull it apart and to be progressive. Failure should not be the end of the question, it should be the start of a new level of critique and consideration. We have to be able to identify the enemy, the Beast, if you will. That is the Beast that all humanity has within. By seeing how those fall to the Beast, by watching their descent, removed a hand through a game, we can spot warning signs in others. We can see the failures and reach down and grab them, haul them up and say, “You’re acting like a Brujah that’s a Pepe-meme sharing neckbeard.”

We shouldn’t only be playing World of Darkness games, or games that focus in on evil and the impending personal destruction and social collapse of society. We should play these games alongside Star Trek, Monsterhearts, Pugmire, and others that teach us different skills, that play to different needs in our lives. We should learn to be hopeful and learn how to resist. Those are two skills that speak to the needs we have as humans. We should be willing to communicate our needs to one another, to listen, to offer feedback, and to get what we need from the activities we place before ourselves.

I don’t have all the answers; I don’t want you to think I do. I’m meandering through trying to find the best ways to collaborate, lift other voices, and put my money where my mouth is in creating a better world and create a better gaming community. That’s the mission of HLG Con. That is why we’ve chosen to work with the creators we are working with. That is why we’ve focused on highlighting the guests we are highlighting. From there, we’ll see where and how things develop. I’m always listening, reading, and learning. If you have a critique of my work, of the world of others, or ideas on how to make those things better I pay attention because I care.

I care enough to take this Facebook post that was way too long and make a blog post about it. I care because games help change people, and I feel like we have opportunities before us to create change. Let’s treat one another well, and gain by doing so.

This article was written by Joshua Heath and represents his opinions and only his opinion and may not reflect the opinion of any other contributors of this blog. He prefers he, him, and his pronouns. You can also find his work over at

Vampire 5th Edition Preview

Today, 6/28/2018, White Wolf Released their first preview of actual pages from Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition. Which you can find on This release is exciting, both for the content and what it means for the final product being close to completion. You’ll notice this is the first post from this blog in a considerable amount of time. I’ve been quite busy with freelance writing work, and planning for which you should check out.



We’ve discussed the Humanity system before on Keep on the Heathlands, but it has never been a system that I thought actually helped sell the genre. Vampire is known as a game that helps you focus on your struggle between humanity and the hunger(Beast) of being a bloodsucking leech, but it’s fallen short in previous editions for various reasons. We were excited for the introduction of Touchstones (a concept pulled from Vampire: The Requiem) and the other layers from the preview are also interesting and engaging.

Beliefs, Convictions, and Tenets and more

Vampire: The Masquerade has always had a relatively strict expectation of how it could be played, but not every troupe chooses to play the game in the same manner. There are various themes, moods, and concepts that players might find uncomfortable of disinteresting. In earlier editions, altering this had no real impact on the mechanics of the game, which sometimes dropped their importance session to session.

Chronicle Tenets

V5 gives us a new concept that helps to adjust the game to meet the needs of the troupe. This is the Chronicle Tenets system that creates a set of Morality elements for the game you’re running. These can be adjusted every chronicle, or they can be set as a house standard. This allows for customization and focus on story elements that allows you to run the game you want to run at your table.


Convictions are human values that you choose prior to game start. They are the rules you play by to retain your sense of morality. These can change if you want to portray an inhuman monster, they play by their own rules. The Tzimisce following the Path of Metamorphosis has rules they follow, and that system is no longer complicated by the sense that Judeo-Christian thought is the default human morality. Creating a Buddhist, Humanist, or atheist is easier to do with the new system of Convictions than previous editions.


Humans are important to the Kindred, both as a source of blood and a reminder of who they were when mortal. By focusing on building and keeping bonds with particular humans, Kindred retain a sense of connection to the world around them. This is probably the only area where I’m not thrilled that each Touchstone MUST be a living person, but I think there are ways to adjust this at the table that would be easy to facilitate for Elder characters and I think it’s a good starting point for individual table customization.

Ambition and Desire

You want things, as a Vampire. Desire is a way to set goals for yourself game to game, things you want, things you want from people, or other Kindred, it’s part of the reason that Vampires steal from one another. They have a sense of ownership of the things they see and want, and they try and take them. Of course, your Desire doesn’t have to be owned by someone else and you can customize this to fit your chronicle design. I like this, because its provides incentive to create and seek goals. There are mechanical benefits referred to as Willpower damage being healed. I’m not sure what these systems will look like in the end, but they are intriguing.

Ambition is the macro level things that keep you moving night to night, and these two concepts act as short term and long-term goal creation.


The preview only touches on this concept, but it appears as if Stains will be something equivalent to sins against one’s road or path in earlier editions. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of this, but it appears to allow for additional customization that supports a diverse religious and moral compass that previous versions of the game were incompatible with, or required a strange road adherence to mimic.

Buy The Book


There are two clans presented in the preview. The Toreador and the Brujah. So far, these amazing clans are the same nuanced and interesting concepts they were in previous editions. The Banes, or new weaknesses are a little more nuanced than they once were, and the systems for them sound active and in-tune with the mechanical adjustments we’ve seen from the Alpha and the rest of the preview. They’ll always be pertinent and in most scenes they’ll come into effect or could come into effect easily. Keeping concepts like these central to the story helps cement the clan identity as you’re playing.


Every power level of Celerity does something different, and it appears that you have either multiple options or multiple powers in several of the levels. That should allow for interesting customization and personalization. Again, this is a theme I’m seeing in this edition. Playing how you want to play is important to the creators and it shows in the design of the product. Check out the powers for yourself, and see what you like the most.


These are deeper history connections to the meta-plot of VtM. The Lore-Sheet appears to be something akin to a Background that you purchase, that provides you benefits that fit your clan or character concept. Theo Bell and Helena are referenced and if you’re a long-time fan you’ll know who they are. Also, the Week of Nightmares makes an appearance, meaning that concerns about the late stage lore from previous editions is basically moot. This seems like a great way to again, customize your character and chronicle, and tie it into the awesome meta-narratives that have existed in VtM for the last 30 years. That, honestly, is fantastic and is something I’m happy to see. This isn’t a reboot of the World of Darkness, it’s a celebration of new ways to engage with the world and build games that are interesting, engaging, and emotionally powerful.

You can pre-order Vampire 5th Edition here. So far, I’ve seen nothing that makes me regret my decision to back it on the day it was released for pre-order.

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. Opinions may also turn out to be wrong in the future, and we are more than willing to discuss based on future information.

The Night In Question Interview – Matthew Webb

No one familiar with Keep should be shocked that this Blockbuster LARP caught our attention. In fact, if I wasn’t involved in running a Convention in Atlantic City the month prior, I’d be all over the event. The Night In Question is a Sabbat focused Vampire LARP experience in the Nordic Style. That’s a lot of jargon words slapped together in a sentence. So, we wanted to ask the creators of the event, especially Matthew Webb, to describe the game and describe how they are creating an immersive horror experience while ensuring player safety and consent are central to the experience. Mr. Webb and Jackalope Live Action Studios were involved with the amazing War of Our Own Charity LARP Event that happened in February 2018. These folks know how to work with heavy material.


1 – Can you tell us a little bit about the premise of the game?


The Night In Question is set at an illegal rave outside of Austin, Texas during the late 1990s. Most of the characters will begin the night as mortals attending the party, but as the night goes on, it is revealed that the rave was a lure created by the Sabbat, for a mass embrace and blood feast as a prelude to an assault on the Camarilla in Austin. We’re calling the general style “Texas splatterpunk”, where we are emphasizing a visceral high-quality horror experience full of great props, buckets of fake blood and great physicality that really emphasizes the monstrous nature of the sect. It’s something that we don’t get to see typically in Vampire LARP – even those games which feature the Sabbat don’t usually have the location or the resources to do a huge bloody experience.


It will run the night of November 17th, 2018 at a concert site outside of Austin, TX.




2) Why the Sabbat? Why Vampire?


I love the setting and the sect. I’ve loved Vampire: the Masquerade since my introduction to it in 1999, and I have been playing in Sabbat games since 2001. It is actually my favorite form of Vampire LARP, though I love playing Camarilla and Anarch games as well. The ritualism, the playing with shadows, the anti-hero aspects of the sect have always appealed to me. And how they served as a counter-weight to the Camarilla’s hypocrisy by embracing their dark natures, and how they showed the problems that come from that.


It remains one of the most evocative and powerful role-playing settings, and it has influenced so many LARPers that it is really exciting to be working on something truly unique and new for a company whose products I grew up with.


3) How did getting an official license from White Wolf Entertainment to do this come about?


After playing and advising on End of the Line in New Orleans, the first bespoke-style Vampire LARP licensed by White Wolf, I became more involved with White Wolf’s efforts to support these new blockbuster-style big games that took lessons from the Nordic and immersive style. I ended up developing the online tool Larpweaver for the amazing Enlightenment in Blood LARP at World of Darkness Berlin, and became good friends with several of the White Wolf staff. And that began the conversation that eventually led to The Night In Question.




White Wolf gave us the license because they loved the idea and the energy we brought to the table. They saw us as a group of American creators who loved their setting and had learned the lessons of the Nordic-style games, but also liked how we were bringing our own energy, and dare I say, swagger to the ideas. And when we said, we wanted to do Sabbat, they really leaned forward and wanted to know what we had to say.


I have to say, White Wolf has been incredibly supportive, and they took a chance with us as a young studio. It’s going to be an amazing event.


4) Considering the source material, ensuring player safety and consent seems difficult. The Sabbat are a visceral horrific sect of vampires. Tell us about how you are creating an environment that allows you to tackle that material while ensuring all of your players are taken care of out-of-character? You’ve got a great list of dos and don’ts on the site, but how do you ensure players internalize these rules?


Safety is our number one priority. If players do not feel safe at our event, we cannot achieve what we want to achieve. We want a visceral physical event where people are immersed in the monstrosity of these creatures; not where they are worried that anyone is in real danger. This goes for being safe from physical harm, and being safe from harassment and violation of consent.


The event starts at noon, though the actual game does not start until sundown, because we will being doing player preparation and workshopping. We have a large conference space reserved near the game site, and attendance is required at our safety and consent workshopping. We’re partnering with Participation Design Agency, who created both Enlightenment in Blood and End of the Line, to workshop and structure consent training.




5) You’ve focused on the early edition version of the Sect, where the horror of what they are is more present. Are you tying in the religiosity elements of the sect from Revised at all?


Where we are planting ourselves with the Sabbat has been a very lengthy discussion. We actually ended up publishing two blog posts, the first outlining all the changes that the Sabbat have gone through and the second outlining our vision for them in our particular game. That was just to give our players a baseline, so we could all understand why so many people have so many different visions for the Sabbat. I have even called the sect the single most revised and constantly altered part of the World of Darkness.


The Sabbat always had a religious aspect, and the Revised Guide to the Sabbat struck an excellent balance. But as I spoke about in the blog, the trend became they were more and more religious fanatics and less reckless rebels and anti-heroes pursuing their own form of freedom. But the Sabbat always revered Caine as the founder of their sect, the Dark Father; but our Sabbat will see him as a role model, a hero, not as a god. But there will be dark rites and praises being said to him.


The phrase we are encouraging among our Sabbat will not be “Praise Caine”, but “May Caine guide you.” It’s a subtle change, but an important one. Caine will be treated as a figure that guides a vampire to their pinnacle, like a guiding but harsh parent or a role model; not as a figure who wishes to be worshipped in the same manner as the Abrahamic God.



The Sabbat are ultimately ancestor worshippers. It’s important to note that.



6) Talk to us more about calibration mechanics, physicality in LARP, and how your team is building out methods to do this well?


We have our official Jackalope signal guide up on our site (, outlining the calibration methods we are using, but we will be going over them extensively before the game. In addition, we also have physical safety workshopping, including how to safely stage-fight and the like. Our special effects and environment teams are all veterans of haunted houses or similar events, so they know how to produce safe but terrifying experiences.


During the actual game, we have a team of safety monitors who will not be participating who will be patrolling the site constantly, who will be trained to spot situations, enforce the consent and safety rules, and are empowered to end situations at any time. I would not want to be on their bad side – they include two professional bouncers and an off-duty police officer – and they have zero tolerance for anyone messing with anyone else. In addition, we have a safety team with a dedicated email and contacts that can be contacted before or after the game with concerns at


We want a physical experience. Once the night throws into high gear, I want to hear screaming, I want mortals falling to the ground being fed on in a frenzy. But I also want to know this is all safe play-acting by people who have been empowered with the tools to do it right.


7) I’ve seen you describe this as an “American World of Darkness Immersive-Style LARP”. What do you mean by that? What separates this from games like Convention of Thorns or End of the Line?


The joke among our staff is that the relationship between this game and the European Vampire Nordic LARPs is like someone with a revving chainsaw kicking down the door of a nice cocktail party and screaming, “Let’s do this!” And there’s some truth in that.


We are foregoing the term Nordic, if only because it means too many things to too many people. and has a lot of baggage attached to it. Instead, we’re using the terms bespoke and immersive, because it says clearly what we are going for. We owe a lot to the Nordic tradition, but the term has a jumbled history that makes us want to go for something more exact and less loaded.




Saying we’re American, we’re the first completely American studio to do a World of Darkness bespoke LARP. And there’s the setting, an illegal rave set among oil pumps in the backwoods , which is such a great image in American horror. There’s this idea of rural America, especially Texas, being so large that you can be in the backwoods under the big Texas night sky where no one is around to hear you scream.


But beyond even that, The Night In Question is written with an outlaw cowboy in-your-face attitude. It is going to be loud, it’s going to be unashamed and a little over the top. We’re determined to have a lot of fun and make a mess while doing so. We’re going to paint the walls red. And we’re taking a bunch of different traditions and putting them together to make something unique and great that is truly our own. There’s something quintessentially American about that approach to art and creativity, and it’s a great part of our artistic tradition.


8) What is the goal of The Night In Question? Who are you trying to reach? What experience do you want your players to tell stories about for the next twenty years?


I want new players who’ve never seen the World of Darkness before to walk out having the most fun and blood-soaked night of their lives. I want veterans of the World of Darkness to walk away saying and thinking they’ve never understood the Sabbat truly until now. I want anyone to come – experienced or not knowing anything – and have a complete blast. I want there to be stories about blood-filled rituals, fire-ringed duels, savage double-crosses, sinister betrayals and hideous indoctrination.


I want everyone who was there, when they play Vampire from now on, to know exactly what makes these vampires scary and also, what makes them awesome.


9) How do you make an event like this inclusive? Who do you have on your design staff that brings diverse world experience to this game?


You make it inclusive by rolling up your sleeves and doing it! It’s not hard! You recognize talent comes from everywhere; you treat people like adults and don’t patronize them; and you recognize everyone’s input has value. You focus on being fair, circumspect and unwavering on the idea that no one should feel like a target at your games or in your community. And when you see anyone making anyone else into a target, a punchline or a punching bag – you put an end to it, right there and right then.


I don’t need any toxic people dumping their sewage into my water supply. No amount of money is worth that. Any one person’s well-being is more important than my LARP.


All three of our primary teams – safety, writing and art – are led by women or gender-fluid people. We recognized talent and we put them in charge. Each are one of the most talented, driven and incredible people I have ever met. Our contributors have backgrounds including LGBT, African American, Hispanic, Asian, Native American and more. Our team ranges in age from 20 to 62 years old. We’re very fortunate to have amazing people working with us, and it’s all the better by the variety of voices and backgrounds that have become involved.


We’ve also removed themes that would do little to enhance our experience that would result in people of color or women feeling unsafe or uncomfortable. Sexual assault, homophobia, transphobia, sexism, racism, etc. are not allowed themes in the game. We’re not making a game about those, and they add nothing, so they are out. We are already asking people to deal with a lot with the visceral and physical nature of this game. I’m not going to act like it doesn’t add an additional burden to already underrepresented people in our hobby to allow those topics to be used as a cheap shock.


And I can’t emphasize how much stock we put in our safety team and methods to make sure those who do not have the privilege of feeling safe by default – e.g. women, trans individuals and people of color – feel safe at our events.


10) What’s next for Jackalope?


Bigger and better. We’re already planning our games for 2019, and there are going to be some cool announcements on the horizon. This is certainly not going to be the last World of Darkness project for us. I want to do Werewolf, I want to do Mage, and I want to do other cool things with Vampire. But I can’t tell you any distinct plans yet.


But our interest goes beyond that. We’re fans of horror games, of science fiction, of historical drama and even just parlor art games. We have a dream team doing The Night In Question, and we want to keep doing more and pushing the envelope. We want Texas to be one of the hot spots for LARP in America and the world.


Please check out the Vampire products created by Joshua Heath on the ST Vault, he was the interviewer for this article.

Aberrant OpNet Update

Novas, baselines, and everyone in between!

I’m really excited for Aberrant 2nd Edition, if you can’t tell. So much so that I’ve been thinking about how certain elements of the setting will be updated for 2018. 1st ed came out nearly 20 years ago. Much of the world has changed in that time. Below are some thoughts on the OpNet and some fiction for how it could be presented looking into the Nova age of 2028. The OpNet was originally an upgraded fiber optic network that was made of Eufiber, which is described below. That doesn’t make as much sense in the world where the smart phone and table revolution has taken the world by storm.

Aberrant is set 10 years into the future, which in 1998 when it was being written was 2008, with the Galatea Explosion as the awakening of a new age. The setting reflects a lot of the hopes and dreams, horrors and nightmares, and expectations of the future of the mid-to late 90s. In the last vignette I published, we mimicked the OpNet discussions from the original book, using Twitter as the more familiar medium we would use today. Aberrant was prescient about several things, and one was the extent to how important the internet would be in 2008. In setting, the internet becomes as integral to life as it does because of Novas and the creation of hyper speed internet is laid at the feet of Eufiber.

Eufiber is based on the natural excretions of a Nova, Anibál Buendia. An artificial version of eufiber is available now, but it is this Quantum powered fiber that creates the second internet boom. Social media was inevitable, but the social media of Aberrant shows its age to some degree. Networks work much as they did in the 90s, and TV is still a major presence. The iPhone and other smart devices were not yet a thing, and the cellphone I had in 1999 was barely able to make phone calls on a regular basis. Project Utopia is also said to have fixed the hole in the ozone layer and eliminated all air pollution. Other 90s kids know how scary that was for many at the time, younger folks are probably googling right now to figure out what is going on. Below is a suggestion that ties both concepts together.

OpNet 2.0

Utopia Yesterday: A History of Project Utopia

In 2020, Project Utopia made its first great leap onto the world stage, showing how they would work to Guide Humanity to a Better Tomorrow. They set their teams of Novas to cleaning up the rampant pollution throughout the world. Operation: Clean Sweep was organized with the goal of returning the Earth to pre-Industrial Revolution air and water quality by 2026. The operation was completed successfully in April 2025. How was this process completed so quickly? There were several stages to the success of this project.

1) Teams of Novas

The first stage in the clean-up was putting to task Novas with the ability to move quickly and efficiently in multiple environments. Working alongside other Novas who had the ability to sense pollution, toxins, etc. these teams would drop into a region and begin the process of scrubbing the area. “I would go in and identify areas where the soil was covered in petroleum waste. Then Marcos (Tornado) would come in and pull those particles out of the ground. We would then put them in a normal oil drum. The good thing is that much of that oil could be reclaimed, and though we were pushing to get away from fossil fuels, as you know it took awhile to get everyone onto the electric standard.” – Sandra “The Finder” M’benka

2) Microbes

Though Novas themselves were essential to the success of Operation: Clean Sweep, it was a much smaller organism that played a big role in the speed in which the project was completed. Levia Mindel was instrumental in the development of a bacterium that safely devoured water pollutants. Her work led to the creation of the Zushima microbe. These two microorganisms work diligently in the background of our world, consuming pollution and turning it into water and inert waste. “Designing the Mindel microbe was actually a lot of fun. We’d seen bacteria converting toxic waste previously in nature, but it was pretty rare. I kickstarted the process and encouraged a few hundred generations to focus on the task at hand. It sounds easy, but the hardest part of ensuring that all of the harmful elements were absorbed and converted. When we got that, we were golden.” – Dr. Levia Mindel, Microbiologist


The distribution of the Zushima microbe into the atmosphere offered an amazing opportunity to do something no one thought possible up until that point. Working alongside Buendia, the creator of stylish Eufiber, Project Utopia was able to develop a natural WiFi network. This is why you have OpNet access anywhere you go these days! The Zushima microbes at like miniature satellites communicating between one another and your mobile device. In the old days, people would talk about The Cloud, the virtual space where computers stored data. Well, now we have a literal cloud where all of our data transfers occur.

Coverage Everywhere – New Network Nova 4/4/2022

Even five years ago I remember having trouble finding a signal for my phone when I’d leave D.C. Some of the more rural parts of Maryland, West Virginia, and Virginia where I would hike would be hit or miss on if I’d be able to post my hiking selfie. Now, all of that is in the past. Now we have the Zushima microbe to thank for granting us internet wherever we go in the world!

Project Utopia deployed the OpNet into the atmosphere. A helpful byproduct of the Zushima microbe that cleans the air is a small amount of electricity. This spark of power is used to power a small thread of Eufiber in every microbe. This thread creates a web of powerful wireless signal that blankets the region that falls under the invisible cloud of microorganisms. That’s the layman’s explanation of the OpNet, as the engineer I interviewed dived into quantum entanglement to explain the way the OpNet Cloud is created.

As we know, Utopia sublets access to the OpNet to companies like AT&T and Verizon. However, they also have also required that those companies provide a low-cost access price point of no more than $20/month, to ensure that as many people have access to the OpNet as possible. Utopia has run into a series of negotiation issues with the telecom companies over the last year, and rumors abound that a subsidiary company is being prepared to offer direct OpNet access and plans. Such a move would likely destroy the stranglehold these companies have had upon the market for the last several decades.

We polled the NNN OpNet Community this is what some of them had to say.

Matt from NY: You know, I wasn’t too sure I was happy about having bugs in the atmosphere, but I gotta tell you having OpNet access wherever I go is just amazing. Gotta keep up on the N! feed, man. InstaNova #CaestusPax4Life

Nkenge from Lagos: Nigeria had good internet before this, but you know, having OpNet is much better I must say. My phone is linked to my laptop, so if I must do work while I am on the run, I can do so with no problem. #FrancoisMyMan

MalDivas69 from Toronto: I’m sure the OpNet is downloading Utopian propaganda into my brain, but I’ll stand with my Terangen brethren against PU oppression. I haven’t erupted yet, but when I do, I’m joining up with my man Divas Mal! #TeragenKeK4Chan

The OpNet is changing the world, just like the internet revolution and the smart phone revolution changed the world. Let’s see what happens, but I see a bright future for humanity looming on the horizon.

This is all one fans musing on how these concepts could be presented in 2nd Ed. All images belong to Onyx Path Publishing now, and I hope we get some super cool new art in the new edition. 

Are Novas Human? Aberrant – 2027

What does it mean to be Human in 2027? The advent of the Nova Age has caused a lot of philosophical concerns about who is human and what does it mean to be human? Melissanda Estevez (Team Tomorrow) wrote an article for the Op-Ed section of the New York Times that caused a major stir. In her article, she focuses on the importance of the Catholic proclamation and the UN Resolution on the humanity of Novas. Her personal and heartfelt story about her faith and her reaction to the turmoil in her native Colombia in the wake of the Galatea’s explosion. Twitter exploded in the wake of this article, and we’ve collected a few of the major responses.

Responses were both supportive and combative.



Teragen spokesman and sympathizer Count Raoul Orzaiz came out against Estevez’ article, shocking no one with his anarchic view of Nova’s in human society. Tweets in support and tweets calling for the spokesman’s arrest flew back and forth.

The world’s sweetheart, Jennifer ‘Slider’ Landers, came out in support of her friend’s article. Many of her fellow team members in Team Tomorrow also came out to support Estevez on social media. Even Caestus Pax was filmed grunting in approval at the article, which is pretty eloquent for the TT leader in response to something of this nature.


Far-right demagogue, Jordan McDevitt added to his list of slander against Novas by coming out in seeming support of Orzaiz’ statement. Of course, that support helped him focus on his attempts to rile up violence and protests against Novas and their family members. Though McDevitt was taken off the air for several months, he recently reemerged hosting his show out of Ireland, a country willing to allow him to spread his hate.

Please share your feelings about Novas and humanity in the comments below!

This is a fan article based on the Aberrant setting of the Trinity Continuum owned by Onyx Path Publishing. They own the IP, go support them! Characters utilized above are the property of that company. The NY Times is also owned by those folks, and our use here is used under fair use and satire rules. Also, gosh darn it is hard to find a fake twitter creator that isn’t trying to take over your computer.

Stamped From the Beginning: The Chthonic Nature of Racism in America: A Review of Harlem Unbound

This post is probably going to be a bit of a ramble. Over the last few months I’ve read, and re-read, Harlem Unbound a few times to give it a good review. I have met and respect Chris Spivey, the creator of Harlem Unbound, and I have wanted to do my part in helping him succeed. While I’ve been contemplating how exactly I would gush about that wonderful RPG supplement, I’ve been reading Ibram X. Kendi’s work, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America. And honestly, it was my desire to finish that book that has held me off from reviewing Harlem Unbound. To be clear, I’m still working through it, but I came to the conclusion that I basically knew what I wanted to say on the topic.

The Deep Ones

Racism is a chthonic horror. The roots of racism (as Kendi tracks them) extend as far back as the Ancient Greeks. Now, the prejudices of the Greeks to their own cultural perfection is not peculiar to their culture. Most human cultures have had some view of their own greatness in the sea of other peoples that call this planet home. However, it was the confluence of the Greek idea of climate theory on intelligence (and humanness), the trans-Atlantic slave trade, the concepts of Limpieza de Sangre (purity of the blood) that the Spanish developed in the wake of the Reconquista, and the Puritan belief that they were granted the American continent by God that gave us the foundation for the racism that our country still faces on a daily basis. Kendi discusses the twisting, blending, and disagreements of three major concepts, assimilation, segregation, and anti-racism in the context of all of these foundational elements.

The focus on Greek and Latin texts as essential to the learned English (and European) mind helped reinforce climate theory in the mind of Europeans and colonial Euro-Americans. This theory boils down to the idea that some climates in the world produce a naturally superior people, and anyone outside of that climate band will be inferior in one form or another. This idea, as well as the theories of polygenesis or monogenesis (whether or not humans derive from a common ancestor or evolved/were created as separate beings) are at the core of Kendi’s discussion on racism in America. They, in many ways, are also at the core of the Lovecraftian Mythos.

Think about what this can represent in a Mythos influenced RPG setting. The idea that old, ancient even, ideas can re-surface and begin to infiltrate and corrupt people’s minds is essentially Lovecraftian. Of course, Lovecraft is a product of the centuries of reinforced racism that America had experienced up until his lifetime. He was terrified of other human beings that were unlike him. He was a believer in eugenics (a racist view of breeding to achieve human ‘perfection’) and viewed through the context of his overwhelming racism his weird fiction takes on a malaise that inhibits many from wanting to engage with his world. In our game worlds, oftentimes the Other has become the ever present enemy, and the enemy that it is always acceptable to kill.

Racism is a reflection of the dark gods that sleep but never die. Once it was crafted out of the ephemera of hate and harm, it has become a creature alive like any other gnawing at the heart of the human soul.

What Does Harlem Have to Say?

Harlem Unbound is set during the heart of the Harlem Renaissance. The Mythos percolates behind this time of great hope, and great despair for African-Americans. The hope for emancipation had been crushed under Jim Crow for nearly 40 years by this point, and Black America was still faced with racism both overt and covert throughout the United States. The Great War had passed, and with it a glimmer of equality and respect had begun to shine, but was quickly crushed by White politicians, leaders, and even African-American leaders who had absorbed the racist ideas around them. I will not say anything negative about W.E.B. DuBois myself here, but I recommend reading the chapter on Mr. DuBois in Professor Kendi’s book. It is enlightening.

This is the world in which characters are thrust. They are present in the most economically advantaged location in the United States for African-Americans at that point in history. They are also surrounded by the horror of a world that seeks at every turn to denigrate and dehumanize those same people. This is an exemplary location to reflect on the chthonic similarities between racism and creatures that make the Mythos their home. What does it mean to be Black in America in the 1920s?  What does it mean to be stalked by creatures that harbor hostility to all of mankind? Does this bring people together? Does it become a situation where White residents of New York blame their Black neighbors for the deaths caused by such creatures? How do we reflect on the realities of African-American deaths today in our modern world by looking through the lens of a historical horror role-playing game? Do we learn to value life more? Do we begin to see the ever creeping and still constantly present and pressing elements of segregation, assimilation, and do we strive to find ways to be anti-racist in facing the menace of ‘that which shall not be named?’

Can I run this?

Anyone with the mechanical capacity to understand the way the rules work for this supplement can run this game. That doesn’t mean you should. Spivey doesn’t discount the ability of anyone to run and use his supplement. Quite the opposite. He provides the suggestions and tools for anyone to pick up this game and tell a compelling and terrifying tale. He cautions against doing things that reinforce racism as a storyteller, and instead provides a series of suggestions and advice that allow you the game runner to see how you can work to be anti-racist through the lens of this text. So you can. You have the tools, but it doesn’t answer the real question you should consider.

The color scheme of the book is red and black, and the art screams. From a visual standpoint you’re going to want to run this. There wasn’t another good place to put this statement in this article, but I wanted to be clear that the themes of the book are only heightened by the color scheme at play here.

Should I run this?

I’ve got to be honest, this is the real question here. Should you? Are you prepared to consider the implications of racism and its impact on the day to day horrors of a people? That question underpins this game. Harlem Unbound provides a framework for you to run horror stories. You can run them face value in Harlem without really delving into the background that Kendi provides in Stamped from the Beginning. But I have to ask you, why? Are you reinforcing tropes about Black people by doing so without trying to at least acknowledge the reality of our country’s history? Running this supplement offers you a moment to start chipping away at your own mind, to see where segregation and assimilation run counter to the goals of anti-racism. This is a chance to explore where your Great Old Ones live in your own mind, and then to destroy them. That choice is yours.

I wouldn’t want to run this game without any people of color at my table. Heck, I probably wouldn’t be the best person to run this full-stop, but I’d play. I’d challenge my brain. I’d chip away at the systemic racism I’ve been fed my entire life. I’d face the darkness. If that ends up with me screaming on the floor, having seen a horror that cannot be unseen, well… that’s a danger I’ll have to deal with when I get there. We have to be able to face those faceless horrors. If we cannot bring ourselves to do so, we will continue to perpetuate a system that harms us all.

Check Out Harlem Unbound

Written and Developed by Chris Spivey