Comics I Love: Shutter

A comic I've been reading for the past few months that I love is, Shutter. I'm going to give some spoilers because I want to explain why I love it so much. First, the basics. The comic is described as urban fantasy with dash of Indian Jones. It is published by Image Comics and features writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila del Duca.

Shutter CoverShutter Cover

We are first introduced to the main character, Kate Kristopher, while she's on a father-daughter trip to the moon. In fact, she's telling her dad she wants to go now because the moon is boring.

Shutter - Moon is BoringShutter - Moon is Boring

Then we learn she comes from a long line of adventurers. It's a pretty common fantasy that a frequently traveling parent has a secret and interesting job such as a spy or part of a secret military force, but here, it's real for her.

Shutter - LineageShutter - Lineage

These two panels caught my attention. Not only is the main character a woman, a woman of color at that, but she comes from a line of adventurers that include women. Her father's mother and her mother were also adventurers. Kate is special because all adventurers are special in this world, not because she's the first female adventurer. YES!

And this is the world we're introduced to. The caption says New York City but it's futuristic and has non-humans.

Shutter - New York CityShutter - New York City

We see more non-humans in the street scenes, like this one below, but also we see some diversity in the humans pictured as well. There's a person of color and a curvy woman. Plus, her roommate, Alain (more on her later), looks like she's a scientist and is in the middle of doing research.

Shutter - AlainShutter - Alain
We soon learn that her father has been dead for some time and, unbeknownst to her, she's being hunted. She gets hurt and is taken to the hospital. We see Alain again.

Shutter - HospitalShutter - Hospital

Alain is also critical to why I fell in love with the series. We've now met her a few times. There's an explosion in their apartment while they talk. And then, this, a picture of a young Kate and a young Alain, only Alain isn't dressed in the feminine clothes we're accustomed to seeing her in.

Shutter - PhotographShutter - Photograph

Flashback. Kate and Alain as children. Alain being picked on for playing with dolls. The bully hitting Alain with an action figure. Kate stepping in, defending Alain. Kate punching the bully, bloodying his nose. Alain and Kate bonding.

Shutter - DollsShutter - Dolls

Back to the present. An injured Kate desperately searching for her friend, finding her in a room full of fire. Then Kate waiting in a room with other people. Then, well, I'll let you experience that for yourself.

I don't know if this is the perfect way to introduce that a character is transgender, but it is one of the better examples I've seen and had a deep impression on me. What I loved about it is that we had already been introduced to Alain as a woman. There's no concentration on body parts (or plumbing here). Providing the story of how they met also provides a bit of depth to their relationship. Not only are they roommates, they are childhood friends. The reveal about Alain doesn't just focus on her status as a trans woman. It's not about her body or her sexuality or any of those things. It's about people, with a connection to each other.

One reason I'm including so much art in this post is because I think it's absolutely perfect for the story. Also, it's a great example of how to create a full, rich world that acknowledges diversity. Not only are there different humanoids, humans themselves are depicted in a variety of body shapes and skin tones. The art is as much part of the story as the words and plot, drawing us in and pulling at our emotions.

For me, at least, I also think the work plays with so many tropes in urban fantasy and subverts them. The father introducing the child to their birthright is common, but less common is the child being a daughter instead of a son. It's common for a woman to be hurt in order to provide the protagonist's motivation to go forward, but rarely is that woman transgender and the protagonist also female. I admit, I could see some of these notes falling flat with some, but I'm enjoying a story line that breaks with tradition in these ways. Also, how can you not love this?

Shutter - Learn to ShootShutter - Learn to Shoot

I haven't even gotten to the talking cat companion or the skeleton butler or, heck, the mysteries that revolve around Kate. If Indiana Jones-style urban fantasy is something that might strike your fancy, give the comic a try.

Images © 2014 by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca.

The Power of Speaking Up

In addition to the seriously awesome, Hacking as Women event, another thing happened at GenCon that reinforced my faith in D&D. Mike Mearls invited myself and Anna Kreider to have lunch with him. There was no real agenda other than to talk about our experiences and perhaps to help identify things we thought of as problems and maybe offer potential solutions.


This was a big deal to me. I respect Mike a lot. Heck, most of the people I know who work on games, many of whom I count as friends, whether it's Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, or Evil Hat, want to see more diversity in the portrayal of characters. I've known for a long time that the creators themselves wanted these changes, but that it could be unclear if they could or how to do it. A number of people have told me in various conversations that being on panels like "Queer as a Three-Sided Die" helped them see a perspective of themselves and their companies that did not match what they knew or wanted and that became an impetus for change. For instance, in a recent interview, Mike discusses being struck by surprise in the community that a WotC employee could attend a panel on LGBTQ issues.

In 2013, Jeremy and I talked about the Gen Con panel over lunch the following week, and I was struck at how the community was surprised that someone from Wizards of the Coast was able to attend. I had always felt that we were a fairly progressive company, but it drove home that people can’t read our minds. Our intentions don’t mean anything unless we reflect them in our work and our actions. Source: Mary Sue

And we know that they aren't just saying their intentions. They worked to make the art in the Player's Handbook diverse, something that Mike made sure to discuss when we interviewed him on the Tome Show. (Sorry we didn't ask more questions about it Mike, I wasn't sure then if we could.) They included the sex and gender inclusivity text not just in the Player's Handbook but as part of the basic rules. They've done a great job, in my opinion, of talking about D&D in places they might not have before, such as that Mary Sue interview.

And, finally, something that truly humbled me, Mike spent about 2 hours of his very busy Gen Con to talk to Anna Kreider and myself about our experiences in gaming. We talked and talked. Everything from how happy we were to see how they were changing their approach to our fears about being cut off every time we offer a critique of the product. This came at a very stressful time as we were both being harassed for those critiques for over a month before Gen Con. Mike talked about his hopes for the game and the community, the difficulties they've had in the past and during the reorientation, and we talked about some ways that we might be able to get there. He talked about his experiences with the various communities and how that feeds in to what they are trying to do. It was a great conversation, one that fills me with hope.

Look, I know that there is, for some, a lot of pain here when it comes to D&D. I'm definitely not saying that D&D is now perfect or even that we should stop critiquing. However, this sort of thing is why I haven't given up on the game and why I think it could go in even more awesome directions. If you want to be a part of that, let your voice be heard. Write about your experiences! Write about what you love but feel free to temper that with the stuff that gets you down. Play, experiment in your play, and write about that. Let's fill this community with diverse voices. They are listening. These changes were less likely to happen without Anna or myself writing what we write. Or if the community didn't express shock over the participation in panels like Queer as a Three-Sided Die. Or if Mike's coworkers didn't speak up to say that they thought they couldn't do progressive things. It's easy to never name our assumptions, but let's stop doing that.

Read about Anna's version of the lunch here.

Artwork: "Lead to Gold" © 2013 Kaitlynn Peavler and Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games, created for Conquering Corsairs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

P.S. I am opening comments up on this. However, I will be moderating them.

Hacking as Women

One of the awesome things I did during GenCon was help with the Hacking as Women workshop on Saturday night. As some of you may know, I've been looking into a number of the women-focused initiatives in technology (my professional field) and seeing what we could translate over to the gaming space. For example, I've been a vocal advocate of anti-harassment policies and the Ada Initiative's work in that space.

Another initiative I've taken great interest in is the Boston Python User Group's attempts to get more women involved, including their workshop series for women and their friends. Given that I hear many of the same concerns for getting into tabletop game design as I do for getting into tech, I thought it would be awesome to do something similar for RPGs. However, I am not an organizer and I had no idea how to translate this idea into reality.

Then last winter, Mark Diaz Truman moved away from Boston and offered to have coffee with anyone in Boston who wanted to see him before he was gone. I took him up on the generous offer and we talked about a bunch of stuff. During that talk, I pitched him on the idea of the workshop. With his ties to the Indie Game Developers Network (IGDN) and his experience as an actual real-life organizer, he knew how to make this a reality. We talked a bunch, both over coffee and later over the internet, about how this should happen. We worried about wording. We worried about the influx of trolls (one of the reasons I didn't talk about it more was a fear that I would draw trolls to the project, which is another reason why I was more comfortable not having my involvement overly spotlighted).

We talked it over with the supportive Derek Guder. We decided that having an honor system while making it clear who we wanted to participate (women and non-binary people). We knew we weren't going to get it right. Mark got together an excellent team of coach/mentors. Besides himself, our coaches included Marissa Kelly, Cam Banks, Stras Acimovic, and Brian Engard. (By the way, the honor system worked.)

Since this was the first workshop like this any of us ran, we only had a very loose script. Mark started off by thanking everyone for being there. Then we went through why a number of us felt this was so important. Then we went through a quick introduction of the coaches and which systems they were best at (for this, we focused on FATE, Apocalypse World, and Cortex+ as systems to hack). We also took some time to make the implicit explicit, and worked as a group to set some ground rules for the session, giving everyone the ability to provide input.

We tried to organize groups by who was most excited by which systems but realized that one of the system advocates did a great job explaining one of the systems and many people wanted to do that system, which wouldn't work for the way our knowledge was spread. Instead, we started having people pair up and pitch concepts to each other. Once most of the groups had agreed to a concept, we went through again and the coaches tried to match up systems with the concepts. We had two groups where both members didn't agree on a concept, but they were happy to switch group members so most groups were in favor of the pitched concept and the system.

With four of the five groups having a concept, system, and mentor, they started designing and spent the next hour doing just that. For the fifth group, Mark suggested more concrete steps (sorry, it was even cooler than that but I don't know how to describe it). For instance, Mark suggested that they should figure out a type of story they both like and then left for a bit. When he came back, they had a concept and then he talked about what sort of system would be best for it. Their game felt like FATE would be a great fit, so he gave them a character sheet and talked about the parts of a FATE character. He asked them to consider if the attributes listed on the character sheet encapsulated what the characters were likely to do or need to do and, if not, to suggest alternatives.

After about an hour, it was time to start winding down. He described the pitch process and gave each group a few minutes to pitch their idea to the rest of the group. It was a cool experience. Not only were most of the groups super excited about their idea, but there were some awesome ideas out there that I would never have heard about otherwise. We also talked about how to go forward, suggesting that people create a design document that they could easily share and to not get discouraged if the idea doesn't last. Most if not all of the mentors have game ideas that they start but just never finish for one reason or another.

It was my favorite part of GenCon this year and honestly, I'm having a hard time thinking of a convention related experience that beats it. It was great seeing 10 women excited about game design, to watch them go from being nervous about hacking on games (a lot of the intros focused on being nervous or inexperienced) to hacking on games to create they want to see in the world. Afterwards, we collected all of their contact information and shared it to the whole group.

So, if you are at all interested, steal this idea! Seriously. Hack it even! Make it your own. But let's get more women designing and let's build more opportunities for learning, networking, and mentoring. We definitely want to do it again next GenCon and I'd love to see this at other conventions.

Also, don't just take my word for it, here's a description from one of the participants, Sarah Richardson: Con Diary: Gen Con wrap up

Frustrations

Sometimes I feel like I'm in an episode of Medium. For those who have never heard of it, Medium was a tv show that centered around Allison DuBois and all the wonderful things she could do, primarily solve crimes through a supernatural connection to the dead. This happened to hit two of my favorite genres, the supernatural and mysteries, so I often watched and enjoyed it.

However, after the first season, something really started to annoy me. Even though she had solved dozens of cases by this point, the other people in her life, especially her boss, kept starting out from a position of not believing her. They would say things along the lines of, "Look, Allison, sometimes a dream is just a dream" leaving unsaid that the last 10 times they said it, said dream was anything but "just a dream."

Sometimes I feel the same way when it comes to talking about gender, sexism, and misogyny. I point out something that I see as sexist and/or misogynistic. People, often while claiming to be on my "side" or knowing that I've had some valid points in the past, will say, "I remain unconvinced." The counter arguments often raised will be steeped in the same sexism and/or misogyny. I'll point it out, sometimes in an aggressive way but often similar to the rest of the conversation, generally in a neutral but not "nice" way. They'll get defensive and/or angry, often out of fear that what I'm saying could be true or could be accepted by others to be true and they might be called "sexist." Eventually someone with more personal capital with the individual talks to them or they have time to think and they can see my perspective (even if they don't agree with it) and we continue on.

While there is some progress in these interactions, there are two issues I'd like to discuss. First, the amount of progress is small compared to the harm caused by these conversations. I'm not talking about the harm caused to the people who are feel uncomfortable because they are being asked to reexamine their world view, what they consider to be valid critiques and the like. I don't think there's a way out of that discomfort since we're talking about a reevaluation of one's identity much of the time. Rather, the lashing out that happens as a result of that discomfort is downright damaging and abusive and it silences the voices we need in order to enact the change.

Allies can cause way more damage than the strangers. The default questioning has serious issues and it's a hard topic to discuss because the knee-jerk response is, "Well, then you just don't want anyone to question you," which is nonsense. The hardline questioning of feminists or anyone working in a social justice topic is, itself, an issue. We know that many of our current points of view are tainted by a world that held up gender inequality and gender essentialism as good things. We should not accept those things at face value until proven otherwise. Not only does this way of processing arguments have an issue that only one world view would then be considered "true" and all others "false," it gives too much weight to those arguments we know might be problematic and should be re-examined. Plato's Theory of Forms isn't going to help us understand each other here.

Another thing that bothers me sometimes is I've seen way too many people who admit they don't know much about feminism or the like or what it must be like to live as a woman in this society tell women how to get things done. Usually the ways they tell people how to do it are generic cliches of social mores, the same things, that if they did work, should have gotten us out of this mess by now. When I was discussing this with a friend recently, she had some insight that feels like a good analogy for how I feel with this happens. She was discussing someone in her game who told her how to play her character.

I actually had an incident last night. Was playing new D&D (yay) and other player had a new character. I'm playing a Sneaky Rogue with a Criminal "Hired Killer" background that is true neutral. We'd just met on the street during a skirmish and I offered to sell some of the equipment we'd taken from the bodies. I sold the stuff and went to the inn where his character was staying. He said, "Hello friend!" when I walked in, and I dropped off his share of the profits and left. He said, "You're making your character act like a dick. You've got a Charisma of 15, you should have played it more friendly." I said, "Listen, It's my character, I'm playing her as I see fit." He responded with, "I wouldn't play a Charisma 15 like that." So, I had to do that 'girlsplaining', like I haven't been RPing for over 20 years. "She's just met your character, she doesn't know him from Adam. Friendship is very important to her, and you just out of the blue called her friend after barely passing a few words of conversation previously. Besides, when she walked in, a couple of people recognized her and ran out of the room. She has no reason to have conversation with you, she's gone out of her way to deliver you the profits when she could have just kept them, and she's getting the hell out of dodge before those other people jump her." - TheStormCellar

From my point of view, this encapsulated exactly how I feel so much of the time. Clearly one of the issues here is a differing interpretation of what Charisma 15 means in terms of a character. Does it mean the character always needs to "be nice?" Or does it instead point to some leadership or social aspect, like the ability to keep tenuous alliances or read a room? TheStormCellar provides a valid read of the situation and her play of her character makes sense. The guy, on the other hand, made some common assumptions that he shouldn't have. They make sense, but, in the end, he should learn to ask questions rather than tell others how to play their character.

Look, I've been a girl and woman all of my life. I've loved traditionally masculine-coded hobbies for all of that time too, sports, gaming, math, etc. Most of my life has been spent in coed groups and many times, those groups have been overwhelmingly boys and/or men. I may have perspectives and experiences about how to convince those groups about my inherent worth as a human being that people who've never had those experiences don't know about. I may have perspective that shows me that "being nice" and "not rocking the boat" is not a path that leads to me being recognized as an equal. Like the male player in this story, your expectations for how a person with a particular attribute should act may be biased and based on tropes, not anything to do with that character. Please stop trying to play someone else's character.

Instead, if I or any other woman, feminist, etc, do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, step back and think about why it is exactly that you are uncomfortable. Talk to someone you trust. Consider if you would have the same reaction if the person wasn't a woman or didn't identify as feminist. Read the actual words said and try to divorce them from your reaction to them. Are you projecting on them? For instance, a recent study showed a bias in the types of words used in performance reviews of women in tech. Women were more likely to be called abrasive and to be criticized in general (regardless of the gender of the manager). If you're already accusing them of being more loyal to feminism than your friendship or anything like that, you cannot have that conversation with them.

Also consider if you are trying to use your friendship with them in an attempt to soothe your discomfort at the expense of their own. Don't talk about being on the same side or make assumptions about their goals. This is a common behavior that leverages the messages women receive throughout their life that they should "be nice." Sometimes people who might have the same overall objectives may disagree about how to accomplish them. If we are in a gender equal society, their method of obtaining them may be just as valid as your own. The appeal to common purpose with the assumption that your way is the right way can be problematic.

If, after some time, you still feel like you want to discuss this, focus on how the actions made you feel rather than telling the other person how they should act. Think about this in game. When someone tells me to move to x area or to do y thing without any more information, I bristle and feel like I'm being bossed around and/or used. When someone says, "Hey, I have an idea. If you do x, we can create y situation," I feel like an equal and a participant in what gets created.

Addressing gender issues in society and gaming is a long, complicated process. It's going to cause discomfort because the root cause of many of the issues is the latent sexism and misogyny that exists in society. It requires everyone, regardless of their gender, to keep reevaluating how, why, and what they do. We've made a lot of progress thus far, but one of the hurdles I see now is that we need to stop acting like Allison's boss and quit with the kneejerk questioning of feminism in a way that is disproportionate to the way we question other things. We also need to look at our critiques of cultural critics like Anita Sarkeesian and see if perhaps we're really just reiterating anti-feminist rhetoric instead of engaging with her ideas.

By the way, I love this recent article by Doctor Nerdlove, “Yo, Is This Sexist?” – A Conversation About Feminism and Sexism. He does an excellent line-by-line breakdown of common arguments presented by people about sexism, misogyny, and feminism and shows the issues inherent in the arguments.

What happens when you engage - Act 3

First a recap. For weeks I talked to RPGPundit on G+. I debated with him. Disagreed with him. During one of those disagreements I posted something that he is convinced was a dig at him but, in reality, is nothing of the sort, but that was enough to send him on a tirade. I wrote about it, someone else called his behavior out publicly, and then there was an entire thread on his forums that were basically attacks on me. Now enter act 3, the infiltrator.

Since some of the people in the forum thread seemed to think that the two people in the comic page that I shared were male and trying to argue that I was making an insinuation about Pundit's sexual orientation by sharing it, I decided to clear that up by posting on G+.

A person came by who kept making pro-Zak and pro-Pundit posts but in a really vague way. His bias was clearly evident, but in case he was actually being earnest, we chatted for a while. When I woke up the next morning, a friend pointed me to this post by RPGPundit.

I acknowledge that Hurley played a masterful, albeit unbelievably slimy and back-stabbing, strategic trick, and that I fell for it, and let down the team. She's scum, but she's obviously very clever at just how she crafts her lies in order to try to destroy people she considers dangerous, without having to actually beat them in debate.

But, and I know here wishing is pointless, I just wish there weren't so many people out there so fucking stupid as to buy it without questioning; because two seconds of looking into it would immediately reveal just what she did.

The worst thing you can say about me in this scenario is that I lost my temper, because I was disgusted by such a cheap trick and at being deceived by someone who, on the face of it, seemed to be willing to actually (finally) stand up and engage in a meaningful face-to-face debate with me on fair ground (only to turn out to be the worst kind of lying slimeball of all).

The worst thing you can say about her in this scenario is that she's a lying, smarmy hypocritical piece of shit who is willing to stoop to absolutely anything in order to win.

So, here's one problem with dealing with RPGPundit, he thinks everything is about winning and destroying people. But this is the least interesting part of that post.

Person A: I warned you...

Person B: It absolutely was a cheap trick that reminded me of those petty little kids in school who push your button until you react and then try to play the victim.

RPGPundit: +Person A yes, you did. And I fell for her "I'm willing to talk on a fair and level ground"-bit like a complete chump. 

RPGPundit: I am willing to stand and argue with anyone, and it was really very clever of her because it's so so rare that anyone from the Outrage Brigade would ever dare to come and argue on fair and even ground with anyone (what with knowing they've Got Nothing in terms of their fake claims). In retrospect, it's an ideal trap for someone like me.

Person C: Ah. I have heard of this person. She struck me as dangerous imho in that kind of way Glen Close does so well.

Zak Smith: she's fucking with you since fucking with me's got her nowhere.
You gotta relax, man

RPGPundit: It just stuns me that some people can't see through this.

Zak Smith: They're friends.
Think of how boring and dumb you'd have to be to be friends with Tracy Hurley in the first place
Ok? That's the level of dumb you're dealing with.
At this point, all the information is out there. Interested parties are going to just be looking at what you do all day and decide who they trust more.
So be better and more interesting than her. And less obsessive

Infiltrator: Anyone who turns comments off in an incendiary thread is a dick head.
Apparently I am in her circles for some reason. Time to act oblivious

Person D: I hate that fat cunt. I blocked her, mutually, long ago.

Infiltrator: +Person D Woah buddy. Hate her for her brain, not her body

Person D: To be clear, I do not hate fat people and certainly not vaginas.
This individual, however, solely consists of both A) A vagina and B) copious fat with no other apparent qualities.
My logic stands firm.

Zak Smith: Nah. Tracy just says stupid things all the time and is a bad person. If we're gonna talk smack about people for their appearance then we gotta be all fuck Dave Arneson and Stephen Hawking too

Person D: +Zak Smith damn right

Infiltrator: Goddamnit, +RPG Pundit! I can't keep up this pretence if you +1 my posts!

RPGPundit: It's got nothing to do with her gender or physical appearance. It has everything to do with the petit-fascist mentality that obsesses with control, with manipulation, and with getting to control other people's lives.

If Hurley had been born a straight white male she would probably be acting exactly the same way; or maybe would have felt more comfortable being an evangelical campaigner in favor of "reparation therapy" for gays. If she'd been born 30 years earlier she'd likely have campaigned against the toxicity of rock and roll music, or 100 years earlier, she'd have been trying to shut down 'smutty theatre'.
The cause isn't what matters to these people (nor does sex, race, gender or orientation), it's ALL getting their rocks off on the idea that they can stop someone else from doing something they don't personally like.

Infiltrator - Part 4Infiltrator - Part 4

Infiltrator:
This fucking chick.
You've spoiled me for rhetoric, Zak. Here's me trying to think three moves ahead and she's shitting on the board.

Person E: I just spent ten minutes looking for that thread on her feed and uggggghhhhh.

It's all euphemism, vague claims and drama.

Person F: The best revenge is to live well. The haters are always going to hate, because it drives out every other emotion, and then that is all they have left: empty hate

Also, in the theRPGSite thread I linked to yesterday, the disagreement with me went from disagreement to a more organized campaign.

First, a hint that there is a no-hire petition out that is attempting to black-list me.

The context here is that there was some question about why I'm doing this.

Attention is my guess.

VALIDATION.

She's desperate for it.

She is, ironically, insuring that she'll never get anywhere in this industry, however, given the no-hire petition that I've seen going around with her name on it.

Self-blacklisting is just the ironic cherry on this particular shit-cake.

Second, Zak Smith deciding that employers must know about what I say and do, as he links to a post from December 2011.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ****
I'm fine with people (SarahDarkmagic, Pundit, etc.) getting to work on and publish any RPG they want. Other people will then buy it or not. More games, being published, even games I don't like or think are extremely lame, stupid, offesive, or juvenile*, doesn't harm me or anyone else in any way.

True, but if Tracy Hurley makes money in any way for any reason, that's unjust and a bad outcome since she's a bad person and there are a lot of women in RPGs who can do any of the things she does (including analyzing stuff from a feminist perspective) without lying or attacking people unfairly--hire them instead.

Any potential employer of Tracy Hurley/ Sarah Darkmagic should know about her comments here:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/10961606...ts/FAEZkJmVFTc

…and that she has never publicly apologized for them and that Tracy Hurley / Sarah Darkmagic also passed on the known-to-be-fake article ripped apart here:

http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com...tally-not.html

…and never apologized for it to any of the women whose lives she's affected (including the one in the hospital right now), to this day.

Her name needs to be publicly linked to her actions.

Of course, Zak leaves out that I also shared the article written by Mandy Morbid (who by the way is the woman in the hospital now, I hope she gets well soon), but that's neither here nor there. I have no idea if Smith is Zak's real last name or not but a bunch of what he does is not linked to his name. The same thing goes with RPGPundit, who gets mad whenever someone uses his real name. I have been writing for years now under my real name.

Then Pundit decides it's time that people tell Mearls what the "regular gamers" think.


Quote:
Originally Posted by ****************

Problem is there is no evidence of harassment as far as I can see unless you redefine what harassment is. If this thread is evidence of harassment, then close down theRPGsite close down RPG.net close them all down

You make this sound like it's insane; but that is in fact their endgame goal: a hobby where only they get to control any and all speech.

Good analysis, by the way, and thank you for your support. But if you really want to support me in this, make sure Mike Mearls hears about this. Because part of the problem here is that the Outrage Brigade, besides being very good at flamebait as Tracy has shown, are very, very good at making their numbers seem artificially inflated and bombarding people with emails and expressions of their fake-outrage. The other side is usually not so good, because the other side are (with the exception of a couple of us loudmouths), just regular gamers who think that these guys are crazy but can't imagine they'd actually need to go and tell the suits at WoTC as much.

But you do. If you don't want the Tracy Hurleys of the world getting to be the only ones who decide what D&D should look like, then you NEED to go and make clear where you stand on this.

Notice how he accuses me of trying to control everyone else's speech while at the same time trying to marginalize me from the gaming community. The framing that I'm not a regular gamer, I'm part of the Outrage Brigade. There are also accusations in here that are unsubstantiated. I've apparently artificially inflated my numbers and bombarded people with email! I'm apparently not even really outraged, it's all fake and an attempt to exert control. Do you know why that's an accusation? Because that's how he thinks. Everything is about some epic war and contest of wills.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Again, this is why people don't want to come forward.

What happens when you engage - Continued

So on Twitter a few days ago, someone pointed Mearls to my prior article, What happens when you engage. He didn’t have nice things to say about the behavior referenced in that post. Eventually, someone decided to post the Twitter exchange to TheRPGSite in The RPGPundit's Own Forum in the thread “Mike Mearls Just Called RPGPundit Disgusting and Infuriating.” Leaving aside the obvious issue that calling behavior something isn’t the same as calling the person that thing, there’s a few things I’d like to call out here about the thread.

This should, in theory, be a thread about Mike Mearls. Instead, many of the posts are about me. Let’s look at some of these comments.

Comment 3:

Just so I am clear. is this the Sarahdarkmagic here, that is tracing back people through Google analytics and writing about them, the same Sarahdarkmagic that is outraged over people being "outed" for publicly giving a +1 on G+?

Comment 4:

Jesus, this is just the shit storm that won't die isn't it? I find it hilarious that right up front she says she isn't interested in proof and basically takes the "what is proof anyway?" cop out. So basically we got fucking nothing but we aren't going to let a good cluster fuck go to waste.

Edit: a thought occurs, I am too lazy to read everything involved in this so I probably should not venture much in the way of opinions. However I still feel this whole thing is an asinine cluster fuck.

Comment 8:

I'll get the pitch-forks then.

This is why i avoid social media. It's generally anything but social.

I'd also be careful about following links that are being posted just for 'informational' purposes. Who knows what the scamps are up to.

Comment 13:

I also want to point out that it's not just the targets of people like RPGPundit who get attacks. Someone I respect got such hate directed at him too and I'm glad he was willing to post it. We can make our points without doing this. If you threaten someone in the way he was threatened, you are not my ally.

This is the last it from Hurley's blog post that was linked. And seeing as the person she is referring to is someone who has stood up against the BS coming at Zak and Pundit, which she's fully endorsed, I really don't think he's her ally.

Comment 14:

Tracy Hurley is intellectually dishonest to the core, and probably more than intellectually. That is also one person with a forked tongue if I ever saw one-- loves to twist language and perception in ways that frames reality like a twisted mirror (see calling someone a violent person because they "argue violently").

That is some perverse shit. Beware of wolves in social justice clothes.

Comment 15:

Let's be clear:

We all know Pundit is infuriating. That isn't even debatable. He will cop to that.

As for disgusting: a lot of what Pundit says and does disgusts me.

That having been said: Tracy Hurley is, if nothing else, a thousand times either dumber or more dishonest.

Someone sent me the torpedo in the Tracy boat. Here's the headshot:

"Zak tells people to go and directly engage those he disagrees with and [this] is itself a form of harassment"

So, like, debate is harassment. That's Tracy's ideology.

Once you realize that, all the attacks without providing evidence and refusals to engage on the issues raised make sense, all the refusal to contact people accused, all the unquestioned aggression and, of course it explains why they think they could accuse us of harassment in the first place.

On the other hand I'm left wondering: if directly engaging people who disagree with you is harassment. i.e. if debate is harassment (or at least calling for debate) then what the hell is even the point of talking about Issues In Gaming on the internet?

Does Tracy honestly believe the only point of what she does is to notify ignorant people of the latest threat she's discovered, like some living Congestion Ahead sign?

Is that what explains all of this? Do Tracy and Fred Hicks and the rest basically just think communication is supposed to be one-way?

Comment 17:

It seems to me that Tracy, Fred, and those of their ilk think that their subjective points of view are objectively true but unprovable. So "debate" is just a trick that people who deny the truth of their objectively true but unprovable things they believe use to cloud and disguise the objective truth. Since this 'debate' might prevent other people who have not yet been presented with the objective but unprovable truth from being indoctrinated with the objective but unprovable truth, debate is a bad thing. Very bad.

Comment 20:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Ephemerer
Just so I am clear. is this the Sarahdarkmagic here, that is tracing back people through Google analytics and writing about them, the same Sarahdarkmagic that is outraged over people being "outed" for publicly giving a +1 on G+?
Yep that's her.

The Sarah DarkMagic that is one of the core people behind the re-transmission of the attacks against Zak and Pundit wants us to believe...
1. She doesn't know Pundit is in Uruguay
2. She didn't post implying that he looked at one of her comics about sex twice in an attempt to get exactly the kind of response she did.

How do we know the whole thing was manufactured? The title. It shows the intent.

What happens when you engage.

What is that title supposed to mean? The current momentum of the witch-hunt against Zak and Pundit was stalled by lots of people, many of whom in the detractors' own circles asking for a single shred of proof and finding none. They demanded Donjion got taken down, it got taken down. People were supporting Mandy even if they didn't like Zak. Zeea got made a RPG.net mod after saying there was no proof of homo or trans-phobia. No one sent Mearls a single shred of evidence.

In short, things were not going well at all in the lie manufacturing game.

So...the digging up of ten years of quotes didn't show anything, so lets get some new stuff going, by stirring the shit and letting Pundit be Pundit.

Thus having one post in hand, of him being mean and dicklike, she goes into G+ explanations about how a veritable mountain of toxicity lies unsearchable, thus once again, implying that everything said about Zak and Pundit is true, yet unprovable.

The real title was "This is how you can engage in social networking propaganda when an earlier attempt failed."

Mandy is not doing well (really sorry to hear that, Zak, you two have my thoughts, wishes, prayers, don't think I can give you any buckets of SJW tears though) so expect some carefully worded passive-aggressive attacks to surface in teh googlez in order to do the same thing to Zak, get him to go Full.Aggro and not be thinking when he posts, and get Zak supporters to go Full.Aggro as well, thus provoking the type of behavior he's accused of.

Mearls isn't responding the way they like, the next step will be to get evidence they can forward up the corporate foodchain in order to get Mike put on the December bye-bye list.

Comment 21:

If I'm getting this right...

Tracy Hurley insinuated that Pundit visited her site, to look at a bad cartoon of a dude blowing a minotaur-esque dude. Not once, but twice.

Pundit went on, and told her to fuck off, and she's a horrible human being.

Tracy then took a screen shot, to say "See? SEE!!! He does harass us! Totes!"

The High School Melodrama continues.

At the time I last visited this thread, there were only 23 posts. At least 8 of them clearly reference me and my supposed intentions, behavior, and misdeeds. Many of them are purely personal attacks. All because someone else read something that happened to me and commented on it. You know how many of them talk about Mearls? Four. Two of those are just quotes of his tweets, one is someone trying to recap the situation, and the fourth is someone alleging that I’m trying to get Mearls, someone I respect and admire, fired.

Still wondering why people didn’t want to talk about their experiences with Zak and Pundit with their names attached?

Update: 7:04 AM August 4, 2014
Total number of comments: 32
New comments: 9
Number mentioning me: 5
Number mentioning Mearls: 3

Comment 24:

Quote:
Originally Posted by Novastar
Tracy Hurley insinuated that Pundit visited her site, to look at a bad cartoon of a dude blowing a minotaur-esque dude.

Thank you Novastar.

So the newest kerfluffle is about Minotaur Blow Jobs?

Who is Tracy Hurley? RPG author? Random blogger? One of RPGPundit's arch enemies he's always warning us about?

Is Mike Mearls pro-MBJs or anti-MBJs in this episode?

Comment 27:

Even the analytics pic she posted could have been easily photo-shopped. I'm kind of seeing it as her: ha ha! Look at me troll Pundit! Then he flames her, and the she is like Oh Noes! /giggle As if she didn't know it was going to happen. Oh course then nothing can happen without a thousand coattail riders on this or the various blogs, trying to drive traffic to their sites.

Comment 28:

Quote:
Originally Posted by CRKrueger
Yep that's her.

The Sarah DarkMagic that is one of the core people behind the re-transmission of the attacks against Zak and Pundit wants us to believe...
1. She doesn't know Pundit is in Uruguay
2. She didn't post implying that he looked at one of her comics about sex twice in an attempt to get exactly the kind of response she did.

Yeah, that wasn't a particularly subtle dogwhistle.

That said. I'm not certain that Mearls' "If you don't agree there are issues bring me your magic wardrobe" is entirely related to the sarahdarkmagic tweet. For one, it's not like Pundit denies there are any issues in his tirade. It's just a tirade about her trolling him. It would not surprise me if, in response to his tweet people sent him private messages or links that led to the later statements.

I mean, it's Twitter. Fantastic for sharing with the world the design the barista put in your banana latte. Absolutely shit for any kind of reasoned discussion.

Also: I'd like to point out that Mearls' called Pundit's response "disgusting and infuriating", not Pundit. Conflating criticism of actions with criticism of the actors is what got this whole shitfest started.

Comment 29:

It's unclear where Mearl's disgust is directed, Hurley or Pundit. However, since Hurley is part of the idiot brigade, I'm assuming Mearls is aware enough to aim it whete jt belongs.

Comment 31:

Quote:
Originally Posted by JamesV
The important thing to remember is that the evidence exists, but if it's shared the sources will be set upon by ravening hordes at the command of Zak or Pundit.

Yeah, it's not like Tom Hatfield or Tracy Hurley could show an email with, like, identifying details redacted or anything.

The only screencaps produced as evidence are Wundergeek presenting the James Des list--which doesn't say "harass people" so that's not evidence and tons of screencaps of me being mean to trolls for being trolls.

And Tracy Hurley and Der Waffle Mous seems to think hearsay and secondary sources _are_ evidence, especially and even when it's from people with long-documented grudges and histories of lying.

But, y'know #NotAllLiars

Examples of Change: Gail Simone's Red Sonja

I find that people often try to reduce things to a binary view of the world. For instance, if I bring up the negative feelings many women feel towards sexualized images, the argument gets reduced to banning all such images or keeping the status quo. In reality, this oversimplification of solutions often leads to silencing and censorship of its own and it leads us to false dilemmas. What we often need to do is find another way, one that doesn’t result in an either/or situation.

One person who has found that other way is Gail Simone, especially in regards to Red Sonja. Last year, Dynamite relaunched the Red Sonja storyline with Simone as the writer and Walter Geovani as the interior artist. What the two have done is taken a character that is widely known for her scale/chain mail bikini, and updated her for today's audience. Just two notes. There will be some spoilers in this article. Also, keep in mind that this is written from the point of view of having read just the first 6 issues of the reboot, so there could be things that happen in other issues that contradict what’s written here.

The Metal Bikini

First, a bit of history. Originally, Red Sonja wore a scale mail shirt and red shorts.

According to Wikipedia, Esteban Maroto first drew Red Sonja in her now signature metal bikini, an outfit that other female characters drawn by the artist also wore. This drawing was an uncommissioned submission, meaning it was not in the original artistic vision for the character. However, it quickly became popular.

Due to that popularity, the bikini became iconic for Red Sonja. There are often mixed reactions to it. For some, it doesn’t seem that much different from what others, like Conan, wear for clothing. She lives in a hot place where lots of people wear little clothing. For others, she often feels objectified, like she’s being drawn for the reader more than as an accurate representation of her character. I think there’s a middle ground here that Simone captures in this quote.

Let's face it, for a period of decades, most female characters in comics were not designed to attract female readers. They were designed to attract male readers. That left us females who loved comics to sort of appropriate these characters for ourselves. And we did.

But out of that pool, some characters refused to just be pin-ups and sex objects. Some captured the imaginations of young girls, and they survived when the others fell into disinterest and disuse.

For me, there's something incredibly appealing of a weary, terrifying Red Sonja under a blood red sun, holding a bloody sword over the bodies of her enemies. That isn't about bikinis, and it's the soul of the character.

Source

One of the ways Simone changes the focus from the bikini to the soul of the character is by having a wide array of female artists create the covers for Red Sonja. The first issue had 6 covers alone, created by Fiona Staples, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Nicola Scott, Stephanie Buscema, and Jenny Frison.

I love this for a number of reasons. For one, it illustrates that women are not a monolith since one character is presented in so many different ways. Looking at these and other covers, I find that they show Red Sonja has multiple facets to her personality and that individual women (as well as people of all genders) may embrace different facets more than others. In addition, contrary to the thoughts of some, in shows that female artists do not need to be relegated to creating only stereotypical “female friendly” content lacking in references to sexuality and sexiness and dealing with what society tends to consider feminine topics.

Alternate Outfits

While Red Sonja wears her scale mail bikini on all of the covers I’ve seen, she has a bit more to her wardrobe than that. When she’s in the mountains in the north, she wears furs to help keep her warm, similar to the outfit she wears when we see her hunting with her father and brothers.

When she’s a prisoner in the slave pits and is forced to fight in the gladiatorial ring, her outfit is made of coarse material.

We also see how uncomfortable she is in formal dress.

In addition, during her big end battle with her sister from the the Zamoran slave pit, Dark Annisia, she’s wearing armor with more coverage. I saw this change of armor as an indication of the skill of Annisia. Most of the time, Red Sonja’s skill versus that of her opponent is great enough that she can wear the bikini and not worry. However, against Dark Annisia, she needs more protection, they are just too closely matched. Likewise, Dark Annisia is in heavier armor. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but it is how I interpretted it.

A World Full of Women

The world of Red Sonja is full of women. For me, it seems silly to have to point this out, but too often when it comes to fantasy literature, women are only included when their gender is needed to make a particular statement and are often excluded even when I know that they should be there. That’s simply not the case here.

One of our first indications of this is that the king sends two women to find Red Sonja and request her presence. We also quickly learn that many of the men are gone. Wars have been going on and the soldiers keep dying. There are very few men in town but many women. When she arrives, she remarks that there are no guards. In fact we see just one woman at the gate, holding a sword that, to my eye, seems to heavy for her. At the party, the background seems to have many women. The same is true when we see her conscripts.

Red Sonja - TrainingRed Sonja - Training

Before they are gathered, they are called mostly farmers and craftsmen, not women, not mothers, wives, and daughters. King Dimath also wishes for his people that they die fighting instead of being burned. I really like that they are not presented as weak and incapable but rather that there simply isn’t enough time to train them properly and there isn’t enough equipment.

Additionally, the “terrifying general” of the Zamorans is a woman, the previously mentioned Dark Annisia. She has a kick ass outfit that I love. She’s also one of Red Sonja’s first teachers of the art of battle (her father focused primarily on the hunt). Before their first day in the gladiatorial arena, Annisia gives Red Sonja advice about how to fight and what weapon to pick.

Modifications to the Back Story

Older versions of Red Sonja’s origin story focused on elements that may not sit as well with today’s audience.

During the Hyborian Age, a red-haired girl named Sonja lived with her family in a humble home in the western Hyrkanian steppes. When Sonja had just turned seventeen years old, a gang of cruel mercenaries killed her father Ivor, her mother and two younger brothers, and burned their house and all their possessions. She survived, but at the cost of her own virginity after she was brutally raped by the leader of the group, leaving her in shame.

Answering Sonja's cry for revenge, the red goddess Scathach appeared to her, and offered to bestow upon her unparalleled skill in battle on the condition that she would never lie with a man unless he defeated her in fair combat. Sonja gladly accepted the offer. She grew to womanhood as a wandering adventurer, and as she journeyed her legend grew as well. She became known as Red Sonja, due to her flame-red hair, fiery personality, and uncanny ability to spill the blood of her enemies wherever she went.

Source

While the new version makes clear what could have happened, at least in the first six issues, I don’t think she’s ever raped. Instead she fights off the person who tries to kidnap her and, over the course of several hours, hunts down the people who destroyed her village and killed her family.

Her own cunning and skill, not the gift of a goddess, is what gets her through. This has the added benefit that, as far as I know, Red Sonja will not lose her abilities if she sleeps with a man who hasn’t bested her (potentially also meaning that if she takes male lovers, they won’t have to be warriors).

Overall, I think Gail Simone’s Red Sonja illustrates that with skill, forethought, and attention to detail, it’s possible to take a long-standing character like Red Sonja and tell her story in a way that is, in my opinion, more inclusive, a character that many people, especially women, are less likely to feel that they have to make compromises to love. I thank her for that.

All images are copyrighted under their respective owners.

What happens when you engage

Much digital ink has been spilled over the D&D consultants controversy. There have been a lot of demands for proof, but what proof would actually entail seems to be rather vague and mostly defined by the fans of the two people involved. I don't care about that, what I do want to explain is what happens if you engage one of these two people in an ongoing discussion in which there is a fundamental disagreement.

The Fail Forward blog had a post about the controversy, How Dungeons and Dragons is endorsing the darkest parts of the RPG community. I shared it on G+, stating explicitly that I wasn't sure how I felt about the title. Personally, I don't think hiring someone endorses everything about them, just as I don't think adding a +1 to a G+ post is an endorsement of everything said in the post, but I know that there are people who disagree. There was a long, heated conversation.

During the conversation, I found another post, by someone who wrote the following: "What the heck? Someone found my blog by googling for pregnant rpg porn games?! O_o" In between games of Hearthstone with Jared, I decided to check out my own analytics to see what search terms people used to find my blog. I posted a tweet about it.

Analytics information is always interesting and I looked at where in the world hits were coming from. I looked at a few and then noticed something that I thought was pretty funny. Some person decided to check out a particular page on my site, not once, but twice, and it seems like the person hadn't visited any other pages. The page only has the image on it, no text, no commentary.

I thought this was funny so I posted on G+ a link to my blog along with the context of why I found it funny. The individual in Uruguay hit the page not once, but twice. What happened next is a good illustration of what happens if you engage with one of the two people and then do something that they assume is an attack.

The text:

Seriously, fuck +Tracy Hurley and her lying shitsack Character Assassination. This is utterly fucking pathetic, even by Swine standards. How low, how desperate, can you get?

Also, Tracy, your porn sucks ass. But what should we expect from a fucking prude? The very proof of you being a fucking prude is that you think a sad pathetic lie like this is what will somehow work, because you know, looking at porn is supposed to be shameful, so one way to discredit enemies is to claim they're looking at your porn... how fucked up is that?

I never visited your fucking site once, and certainly wouldn't waste my time on sub-par shit like this. I'd go to Suicide Girls... which is what really pisses you off, isn't it? That things done by people you envy are more successful than anything you've ever had a crack at? How sad.

Go fuck yourself.

The guy making the post is RPGPundit. He makes a number of key assumptions:

  • That I know and/or remember that he lives in Uruguay.
  • That any reference to Uruguay must therefore be a reference to him.
  • That this is porn.
  • That, even if it was porn, that I would use the fact that someone likes porn to shame or discredit "my enemies."

This is nothing but vile and filled with the same old sad personal attacks. This is the response people get when they dare to share their experiences with others. Everything you do, write, or say is analyzed to see if it's really just a veiled attack against one of them. If they find something that can be twisted into an attack, a post like the above goes up, and you get comments like this.

[+Someone else in conversation] So the best option is to act like a passive-aggressive little shit, like +Tracy Hurley ?

She pointed it out she had a webpage visitor from said country for a reason. Considering the history between her and Pundit it's ringing fucking alarm bells. Why would she do that? Seems pretty loaded.

And the "holier than thou" attitude of the other commenters is the most pathetic sight I have seen is many years. 

But I want to point you to something else as well. See the part at the top, where he shares it just with his extended circles? So what does that mean?

When you click on the "extended circles" label, a dialog box appears informing you that the post is "visible to everyone in [the original sharer's] circles, plus all the people in their circles." Meaning that it's shared with those up to 2 degrees away from the original sharer.

Source

So this means that only those who are in his circles and the people in their circles will be able to see it. Now, it's possible he did this because he was trying to let loose on me without bringing down the wrath of the internet, I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. But this is also an example of why it's so hard to provide screenshots and other proof of this sort of behavior. Much of this is not said in public. It's not easily searchable. This is a big reason why so many people never see it and why calls to link to this are seen as onerous.

Compared to some of the things on the internet I've been through and my friends have been through, this is relatively mild. I'm (sadly) used to people raging at me. I laughed at Pundit's post. Mistaking an Eisner winning comic for porn was a bit interesting (although I can see it). Once he assumed it was that, I can almost see his argument although it's not one I would ever make. Seeing that he was really arguing with the image of me that he's concocted in his head made it much easier to deal with his anger.

It's easy, though, to laugh off this one incident. However, it comes after weeks of having him, on my posts, call a coward anyone who refuses to argue in his proscribed way. Weeks of him asking me to defend arguments I've never made because apparently my side (whatever that means) made them. Of him decrying certain behaviors in one part of his post, only to engage in those same behaviors himself.

It's tiring. It's toxic. It's made people afraid to share their concerns and their experiences in public. It's why the people who are anonymous in the Fail Forward blog don't want to be named. I'm not asking you to agree with them. I am asking you to understand their point of view.

Addendum:
I had also shared on G+ Mandy Morbid's version of the controversy.

I also want to point out that it's not just the targets of people like RPGPundit who get attacks. Someone I respect got such hate directed at him too and I'm glad he was willing to post it. We can make our points without doing this. If you threaten someone in the way he was threatened, you are not my ally.

Kickstarter: Hero Chest

Some of you may know about my recent foray into reading and enjoying comics. It wasn't easy at first to figure out where to start and I was led down some dead ends. Recently one of my friends from college contacted me about an idea she had for a business venture and I fell in love with it because of my experiences. What if someone sent me every month a box of new comics for me to explore, perfect for someone new to a particular title or character? I recently received a Hero Chest beta box in the mail and I think the box delivers on this promise.

Hero Chest lootHero Chest loot

Here's what I got in the box:

  • Superman He'l on Earth (trade paperback)
  • Outcast 1
  • Legendary Starlord 1
  • Grayson 1
  • Avengers Silicone Tray
  • Marvel Vinyl Bobble Head mystery mini
  • Original Sin bouncy ball
  • Comic Shop News 1409-1412 and summer preview 2014
  • All-New Young Guns
  • Some small posters and other promotional material
  • Write ups of each of the included comics including any backstory you might need to jump right in and why the curators thought it was awesome.

In the past, I've talked about some of my experiences with comic book shops, some good, some bad. The way I view this box is like a comic shop in a box. I get the great recommendations from people who love and care about comics, comic shop news which can help point me in new directions, and the ability to dip my toes in a variety of comics to see what else I might like whether it be a character, story line, writer, or artist.

For me, the star of the group was Outcast, the first issue of a new project by Robert Kirkman, of The Walking Dead fame. This issue came bagged and boarded because the book sold out nationwide. It's a dark book, with a fair bit of blood, but an interesting story line. The other two issues, Grayson and Legendary Starlord, are both interesting though veer on being a bit too similar to me since both involve rather young men who are off seeking adventure, the former as a spy and the latter as a vagabond hero. I haven't had a chance to delve into the Superman trade paperback yet, but I'm interested that Supergirl is included and that the writing and art is supposed to be strong. The All-New Young Guns is fun and I think it is an neat way for people newer to comics to find artists they like.

In addition to the comics, there were a few fun items. The bouncy ball feels really nice to me as a foot massager. I keep rolling it around under my foot. The silicone tray is awesome and I can't wait to make a bunch of little Mjolnir ice cubes for a party (although I better get started now). The timing was particularly fun because I received it not long before the announcement that a woman will be Thor (again) soon. I got the Green Goblin as the mystery Marvel Vinyl Bobble Head.

If getting a curated collection of comics and geeky accessories appeals to you, check out their kickstarter.

A More Inclusive D&D?

Contains spoilers for the D&D Starter Set adventure, Lost Mines of Phandelver

For those who haven't heard, Basic D&D 5e is out as a free pdf download and some friendly local gaming stores already have the Starter Set (everyone else can get it starting July 15th). I was fortunate enough to get a press-preview copy of the Starter Set for review. There's a lot I want to talk about but since Mike Mearls was kind enough to give us some hints about inclusivity in the new edition when we interviewed him on the Tome Show, I want to talk about that today, focussing on gender.

There are two obvious big things in the Basic D&D pdf rules that I'd like to mention upfront. The first is the inclusion of a comparatively progressive discussion of sex, gender, gender identity, and sexual orientation, in the game. Found on page 33, here is the full text:

You can play a male or female character without gaining any special benefits or hindrances. Think about how your character does or does not conform to the broader culture’s expectations of sex, gender, and sexual behavior. For example, a male drow cleric defies the traditional gender divisions of drow society, which could be a reason for your character to leave that society and come to the surface.

You don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender. The elf god Corellon Larethian is often seen as androgynous or hermaphroditic, for example, and some elves in the multiverse are made in Corellon’s image. You could also play a female character who presents herself as a man, a man who feels trapped in a female body, or a bearded female dwarf who hates being mistaken for male. Likewise, your character’s sexual orientation is for you to decide.

Some Opinions on the Wording

First things first. The intent here is nice. I mentioned the existence of this passage to one of my nonbinary friends over dinner and her eyes lit up. The fact that a game company the size of Wizard of the Coast was willing to start the discussion of these topics is important to me. That said, there is definitely room for improvement. Many people who don't feel quite comfortable with the way it was presented have been saying great things. I implore you to go out and listen to them. For instance, one person I admire, Avery Mcdaldno, wrote this:

First off: if that "X trapped in an X body" narrative works for your friend, that's great. We all find different narratives helpful.

The trouble isn't that the narrative exists, but that it has been used for decades as a single story. If the phrase single story doesn't mean anything in particular to you, this is a really good video: http://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story

So, there are a couple reasons why this narrative is a harmful one to perpetuate as the single story about trans bodies.

The first is that it implies that total medical transition is necessary in order to belong to your body. In my case, that would mean: collarbone restructuring, jawline shaving (the face is opened up and the bones are scraped down), tracheal shaving, full-body electrolysis, vaginoplasty, breast augmentation, hormone replacement therapy, and more. At the end of it I'd still be trapped in a testosterone-sculpted bone structure. The "trapped" narrative suggests that every trans person needs to commit $10,000-$120,000 toward rehabilitating their body... and that until they do, it's still a wo/man's body.

The thing is: if you identify as a woman, your body is a woman's body.

To say that trans people are "trapped" in the "wrong body" implies a limited range of solutions for finding happiness: pay endless dollars or kill yourself.

Again, if it's a narrative that individuals adopt to make sense of themselves / their lives, that's awesome. I 100% support them. But it's different when others push it on you as a monolothic trans narrative, and lots of people see it as exclusionary / reductive / regressive.

"X trapped in an X body" puts the burden of change upon individual trans people, who are presumed to be broken and then instructed to fix themselves. We need a new narrative. One that says, "Navigate gender on your own terms, ask for the support you want, demand the resources you need, break the binary where you ought to."

There's a really important piece of writing by Little Light, Elena Sims - http://takingsteps.blogspot.ca/2007/01/seam-of-skin-and-scales.html

Another person, Caoimhe Snow, said this:

I will add that as far as I know, this is the first time that Corellon has been called "hermaphroditic" -- previous descriptions of the god referred to something like (from memory) "he, she, both, or neither" which is an example of genderfluidity (and/or divine shapechanging powers), and not of intersex genitals.

There's a lot of other problems with it, ranging from possible confusion of the "female character who presents herself as a man" with a trans man to the fact that most trans people aren't themselves outside of the gender binary.

They had good intentions, but it's clearly written from a cis perspective to a cis audience in way that casts trans people as outsiders -- even explicitly so by referring to intersex magic elves.

Some people pointed out that they would love to see a rewording of the text instead. neongrey posted this new wording:

Gender Roles

You can play a character of any gender without any mechanical effect, but you can consider how that might affect your roleplay. You might think about how your character's gender and personality relate to their culture's expectations of them. Do people think it's unusual that your fighter is a woman? Did your drow cleric leave for the surface because his temple wouldn't accept him?

Neither do you need to conform to binary notions of gender. Elves and dwarves are often perceived as androgynous in two very different ways, for example. You could also play a character who feels no gender applies to them, or a woman unhappy with the body she was born with. Don't forget the prevalence of magic lets you explore these possibilities in ways you couldn't in real life, no matter what your own gender is. Your character's identity is entirely up to you!

I hope Wizards of the Coast listens to these various perspectives on the language and updates it in future versions to be even more inclusive and welcoming. I loved that it was pointed out that this is not the first time D&D attempted to address these issues, for instance I believe it was 3e who said you can play a male or female character. Unfortunately, that inclusive left out others because it reinforced the gender binary.

Does the product meet its stated goal?

So, leaving aside where the wording definitely can be improved, let's look at whether or not the promise of the section is matched with the reality of these two products. I've read over both the Starter Set and the basic rules a few times. I think the hints Mike gave about the inclusivity in the art hold true, at least when it comes to gender. There's only one piece of art in the basic rules. While I think there could still be some critiques regarding it, it can be read as having parity between male and female genders and the female characters aren't the only ones not on the front line.

This trend also carries through to the art in the Starter Set. (Sorry about the quality, as far as I can tell they didn't release the art online and I'm not near my scanner.)

Lots of women who are by and large similarly posed and dressed to the male characters. There's another image where I'm not even sure if one of the characters is of a particular gender. At least two of the female characters in the Player's Handbook continues this trend according to previews sent out by Wizards of the Coast.

I'm happy so far with the way the art has been done and I think it meets the promise of the sex and gender section of the Basic Rules. So what about the writing?

First, let's look at how gender is portrayed in the races section of the Basic Rules.

[Elves] Males and females are about the same height, and males are only marginally heavier than females.

Halfling men often sport long sideburns, but beards are rare among them and mustaches even more so.

Male dwarves value their beards highly and groom them carefully.

Human skin shades range from nearly black to very pale, and hair colors from black to blond (curly, kinky, or straight); males might sport facial hair that is sparse or thick.

So, first, let's acknowledge that they had very little space to talk about these races and that none of the descriptions are sexist. However, they do start to reinforce the gender-binary and cisgender norms, no? Also, the inclusivity text asks us to think about how our characters act in accordance with or in contrast with the gender expectations of where they are from yet the only gender expectations set here are for the male characters. It doesn't intend to, but it can give the impression of the male character traits being more important. I've discussed this in more depth in a previous post.

Also in the Basic Rules, they talk a bit about two fighters from D&D novels and how they can both be the same class and yet very different. It's great that they give a male and a female example. However, both examples have elements that are stereotypical when it comes to gender:

Tika Waylan is innocent, almost childlike, believing in the value of life and the importance of appreciating everyone. Neutral good in alignment, she cleaves to ideals of life and respect. Artemis Entreri never allows his emotions to master him, and he constantly challenges himself to improve his skills. His lawful evil alignment gives him ideals of impartiality and a lust for power.

Tika Waylan is naive and emotionally vulnerable, younger than her companions and annoyed that they still think of her as the kid they knew years ago.

Artemis Entreri is completely walled off from any personal relationships and just wants to be left alone.

I think it's important to say here that part of the issue is dealing with the history of D&D is that it has a checkered past when it comes to gender. As with the inclusivity statement, I believe Tika was likely added in an attempt to counteract gender stereotypes but, also like the statement, there may have been some blindspots during her creation and development and in the way that the examples were picked and presented in the Basic Rules.

While the Starter Set rules are also pretty neutral when it comes to sex and gender, the adventure, in my opinion is a mixed bag. Let's start with named characters where the gender is known from the text.

Female characters
Sister Gareale
Elsa
Trilena
Qeline Alderleaf
Linene
Halia Thornton
Agatha
Grista
Mirna Dendar

Male characters
Nezznar/Black Spider
Gundren Rockseeker
Klarg
King Grol
Sildar Hallwinter
Yeemik
Toblen Stonehill
Thel Dendar
Pip
Carp
Elmar Barthen
Nundro Rockseeker
Tharden Rockseeker
Daran Edermath
Harbin Wester
Iarno Albrek/Glasstaff
Sir Aldith Tresendar
Mosk
Droop
Hamun Kost
Reidoth
Venomfang
Favric
Yegg
Lhupo
Mormesk
Dumathoin

There are a few other characters that I wasn't quite sure how to categorize: Tsernoth, Palien, Ander, Thistle, the dopplegangers Vyerith and Vhalak, and Tergon. Now, not all characters need to have a clear gender designation, but the gender ambiguity on some of these characters leads to further issues. Let's look at some of the +1 weapons one can obtain through the adventure:

The chest also holds a +1 longsword in a silver-chased scabbard. The sword is inscribed with the name “Talon,” and its hilt is worked in the shape of a bird of prey with outspread wings. It once belonged to a great knight named Aldith Tresendar, known as the Black Hawk. A character who succeeds on a DC 15 Intelligence (History) check recognizes the sword and recalls this lore.

Beneath the coins is a rusty old battleaxe of dwarven manufacture. Runes in Dwarvish on the axe head read, “Hew,” and the rust is misleading. Hew is a +1 battleaxe that deals maximum damage when the wielder hits a plant creature or an object made of wood. The axe’s creator was a dwarf smith who feuded with the dryads of the forest where he cut firewood.

This +1 mace was made for a cleric of Lathander, the god of dawn. The head of the mace is shaped like a sunburst and made of solid brass.

This +1 breastplate has a gold dragon motif worked into its design. Created for a human hero of Neverwinter named Tergon, it grants its wearer advantage of saving throws against the breath weapons of creatures that have the dragon type.

None of these items are directly connected to an obviously female character (I'm holding out slight hope that Tergon turns out to be a female character). In fact, one of the +1 weapons appears to be connected to killing dryads, a race that is specifically tied to the female.

There's also an uncomfortable plot line in Phandalin. One of the male characters, Thel Dendar, was killed for standing up to the Redbrands after some of them leered at his wife.

Thel Dendar, a local woodcarver, stood up to the Redbrands a tenday ago when they came by his shop and leered at his wife. The ruffians murdered him. Several townsfolk saw it happen. The Redbrands grabbed his body, and now his wife, daughter, and son have gone missing too.

It's not their shop. They didn't stand up against the Redbrands together. He wasn't killed during a fight after she stood up to them. Only he counteracted the leering. She and their two children are then kidnapped by the Redbrands, who also turn out to be slavers. Mirna, the wife, and their daughter are in one cell and the son in another.

A pair of disheveled human women are held in a cell to the south, while a human boy is confined the north. All are dressed in plain gray tunics and have iron collars fitted around their necks.

I'm willing to bet no one thought about it, but this feels uncomfortable to me. Redbrands leered at her, she is kidnapped by them, they are slavers, the two women are in their own cell, and only they are described as disheveled.

Let's also look at how some of the female characters are described:

Elsa, a gossipy barmaid
Trilena, the innkeeper’s wife
Linene Graywind, sharp-tongued
Halia Thornton, ambitious and calculating
Qeline Alderleaf, wise
Agatha (a banshee), vanity

None of these are necessarily a problem on their own and in a diverse world with lots of examples of women, they wouldn't raise an eyebrow. But to me, they don't really push gender stereotypes much. Why is Trilena a wife of an innkeeper and not an innkeeper herself? Why have the banshee be vain, a trait commonly associated with women? Also, where are the women who are described like Sildar?

Sildar Hallwinter is a kindhearted human male of nearly fifty years who holds a place of honor in the famous griffon cavalry of the great city of Waterdeep. He is an agent of the Lords’ Alliance, a group of allied political powers concerned with mutual security and prosperity. Members of the order ensure the safety of cities and other settlements by proactively eliminating threats by any means, while bringing honor and glory to their leaders and homelands.

or Daran?

Daran Edermath is a retired adventurer who lives in a tidy little cottage beside an apple orchard. A fit, silver-haired half-elf well over a hundred years old, Daran is a fighter who served as a marshal and herald for many years…

It's also important to note that none of the women are/were adventurers. While a few serve as liaisons for larger groups in the Realms, many of them exist to do nothing more than point the PCs in the right direction to get more information or help with many of those destinations being male characters. Now sure, some of the male characters are presented in stereotypical or negative ways, such as the townmaster.

The current townmaster is a male human banker named Harbin Wester--a fat, pompous fool. Completely intimidated by the Redbrands, he claims that they’re “just a mercenary guild, and not all that much trouble, really.”

But we also have men in the town who are actively standing up to the Redbrands, something that the women aren't doing.

I want to acknowledge that they are trying. There are parts where we can tell that. For instance, the list of important NPCs has parity. But there are still quite a few blind spots. No one of the items I brought up above are necessarily an issue on their own, but the overall trend is. I have faith that they will continue to work on it.

As for the question asked in the title: Yes, I feel like it is a more inclusive D&D, but that doesn't mean that there isn't still work to do. We need to iterate and improve.

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