Understanding the Racism Implicit in the Comics Code

Recently I shared this post on Facebook. In it, the author explains the absence of black comic book characters before Black Panther. In particular, the role the Comics Code Authority played in banning Black superheroes.

A friend of mine posted this and a response on that post took umbrage with the assertion that black superheroes were censored and banned from comics.

You see, Black Panther premiered in comics in 1966 and was the first Black superhero in mainstream US comics. Prior to Black Panther, Black superheroes were largely banned and censored from US comics by the industry’s governing body, the Comic Code Authority (CCA). It’s not that there wasn’t interest or a market for Black heroes; it’s that they weren’t even allowed to be published and distributed in the first place.

The person's argument was that since the Comics Code didn't literally ban black superheroes, the statement is incorrect. However, such an argument is overly narrow and ignores the cumulative effects of the code and the context of the society at the time. Often this can be explained by understanding the difference between "de jure" discrimination and "de facto" discrimination.

In "de jure" discrimination, the law or regulation literally and explicitly discriminates against a group. A textbook example would be Jim Crow laws that discriminated explicitly against people of color. (In this case, the Comics Code Authority was a voluntary industry regulatory body. While it did not have the force of law, it had a fair bit of power and clout in the industry and many distributors would not carry titles that did not have its stamp of approval.)

Since the Comics Code does not mention skin color, it is not an example of de jure discrimination. It's not particularly surprising that the code didn't explicitly include racial discrimination, especially since the civil rights movement gained a major victory in the same year the authority started, 1954.

However, I'd argue that it was an example of de facto discrimination against people of color, as evidenced in the story surrounding the publication of "Judgement Day" by Entertainment Comics (EC) in 1956.

[A] human astronaut visits another planet and comes to learn that its robot inhabitants live under a rigid racial-caste system. In the final pane of that comic, the astronaut removes his helmet, and the reader finds out that the astronaut is black.

According to the story, Judge Charles Murphy refused to approve the comic if the astronaut was black. There was no way to appeal his decision and not getting his approval meant that the comic would not be carried by a number of distributors and, thus, the ability to earn money (sort of a requirement in a capitalist system) would be incredibly limited. Since the demand from Judge Murphy was not covered by the code, they attempted to argue with him. He eventually said he would approve it if they removed the sweat from the face of the black astronaut. (Note: While this is a common explanation of what happened, other explanations exist.)

EC eventually published without revisions but they also went out of business soon afterward. According to other stories, Judge Murphy specifically wanted them to go out of business and reviewed every submission from them himself.

So how does this request to change the race of the astronaut from black result in the argument that the CCA banned black superheroes? Well first, here Judge Murphy specifically attempts to prevent the publication of a black hero. He wants the race changed. In addition to this rather explicit attempt, it has a chilling effect on others attempting to publish black heroes. Especially when you consider the types of evil many superheroes were attempting to fight at the time. Fighting back against oppression was important for many creators at the time, especially in the postwar era.

But there are also elements of the code that made it even more difficult to have black superheroes at the time. As the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum in their fight against oppression and particularly discriminatory laws and police, the code required "[p]olicemen, judges, Government officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority." Likewise, at a time when activities of people of color were being criminalized without cause, the code required "[c]rimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals." Remember, at the time the code was created, lunch counter sit-ins were considered crimes. These aren't the only items in the code that have effects on stories of marginalized folks, particularly blacks.

So the end result of the way the CCA used its authority combined with the practical reality of many parts of the code themselves, means that many black heroes and stories would likely not pass muster. The actual result is that black heroes (among other things) were banned and censored by the CCA. Trying to make the distinction between whether the code was supposed to lead to this outcome or not is irrelevant since the outcome is more important than the intent.

Additional info:

Crafting Wilderness Maps

As you might remember from my much earlier article about creating homemade dungeon tiles, I love to find ways to combine art playtime with gaming. Over the past couple of years, I've been spending a bunch of time watching papercraft and art journal YouTube videos and recently had the time and supplies to try out something new, papercraft wilderness maps.

D&D wilderness maps tend to be hex based instead of the squares typically used for dungeon/battle maps. Hex maps have a long history in war games as well as a number of board games and computer/video games.

I had been trying to figure out a way to create hex maps using some of the mixed media techniques I learned. Recently I've been able to dig out my Gelli Plate for the first time and I had a bit of a eureka moment. For those who are unfamiliar, Gelli Plates are a gel printing surface used to create monoprints, essentially one time prints. Every print from the plate will be unique. While a variety of media can be used on the plates, I've been using craft acrylic paint. You can also use a wide variety of print surfaces.

The key about Gelli plate based monoprinting is creating layers. In its simplest form, this is done by applying thin coats of paint to the surface of the plate and then putting down the surface to be printed. The paint will transfer from the plate to the paper. While this will provide some visual texture, there are other ways to add texture including using soft tools to make marks in the paint, or as you'll see in the examples, using stencils.

One of the reasons I decided to use this particular technique is that the variances in the print can provide visual interest while reducing the possibility of overthinking things or seeking perfection. Most of the time the plate is a rather blunt instrument.

For this example, I decided to use the pages from a law textbook a neighbor threw away. I decided to create green (for forest), blue (for water), and yellow (for developed land).

I used stencils to provide some patterns on the pages, doing two presses per stencil use. The first press got the paint not covered by the stencil. After removing the stencil, I took a second print which got everything left behind. Here's an example of both pulls on the same piece of tissue paper.

The printing process took about half an hour. I then let them dry. The next day I had some time to test out cutting the hexes. It's possible to cut them out using scissors after drawing a grid, but I recently got a craft die cutting machine and wanted to test it out. I bought a hex die (affiliate link) that fit the machine and cut the pages down to size. Here are some example hexes I cut out:

The top image in the collage are the hexes cut out of the monoprint examples. Notice how some of the text still shows through and the variations in the color, whether through variations in coverage or through the application of the stencil, produce some visual interest. However, given how lightweight the paper is, I might suggest adhering the paper to something thicker before cutting out or cutting out and then gluing down to a thicker medium. I also give some examples of using card stock (in this case, just manilla) and foam sheets (the material I used in the original homemade dungeon tiles post).

In this case, the die is a 1/2 inch one, the smallest I could find during my quick search. However, they do make larger ones. I saw 3/4 inch, 1 inch, and 2 1/4 inch. It looks like they are commonly used by quilters.

One thing to note is that I just did this particular round of examples as a test of how it might come out. This means I didn't concentrate too much on how to make a more "natural" map. So each hex is only one color. In the future I'd love to explore how to do hexes where the colors meet within the hex. I'm also interested in looking into how I can use some of my other dies to perhaps mimic that by cutting the hexes into smaller pieces but not in a straight line.

If you're interested in trying this out but don't have the supplies, talk to your friends to see who likes to scrapbook, quilt, art journal, create mixed media, or create cards. They may have a die cutting machine such as a Sizzix BigShot (what I used) and/or the Gelli Plate. Who knows, if they don't already play, you might be able to convince them to experience the map you create first hand, as a player.

More Like This: The Hidden Halls of Hazakor

I recently backed the Kickstarter campaign, The Hidden Halls of Hazakor, and had the opportunity to interview the designer behind the adventure. I'm enjoying the previews thus far and wanted to share with all of you. At the moment, the campaign has 5 days to go and is almost 95% funded.

What is The Hidden Halls of Hazakor?

This is a starter adventure for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, covering a lot of the same “beginner Dungeon Master” ground as most starter adventures do. But it’s also written specifically with a focus on young beginner Dungeon Masters (an age-12-and-up kind of thing), with the intent of helping those young DMs not got overwhelmed by the experience of running their first games.

Why did you pick 5e D&D?

I went with D&D partly because it’s my go-to game for both work and play. But also partly because as a ruleset, I think 5e has a pretty solid foundation of being welcoming to new players. I love a lot of other games as much as I love 5e, but as part of the idea of doing an adventure to help get young DMs and young players into the game, one wants those DMs and players to then be able to easily keep going with the game. I find that fifth edition has a pretty optimal sense of being self-contained and approachable, and I think that makes it a good fit for younger players.

Why concentrate on writing an adventure for young DMs?

When I first wrote the adventure that has since morphed into “Hidden Halls of Hazakor,” I did it for the RPG club I was running at my daughters’ middle school a few years back. So at the time, it was a reaction to seeing kids in the club trying their hand at running games for the first time. I saw a lot of the same sorts of problems, and the same sorts of questions coming up — but I also saw pretty much every kid dealing with the same general anxiety about how running a game should feel, and how to keep the other players entertained, and what to do if things went off the rails. I remembered how those were all the same uncertainties I experienced when I ran my first D&D games, so I put the initial version of the adventure together quickly as a response to that. I wanted something that would be easy for a first-time DM to get a handle on, and that could incorporate advice for dealing with the broad range of issues that the young DMs in the club were dealing with.

What are some of the areas you want to concentrate on for new DMs?

In a general sense, I wanted to front-load an adventure with as much of the information and tips that come from the experience of running games as I could. So much of being a good DM comes down to the experience of having run games. It’s very much a learn-by-doing scenario on many levels. And that’s daunting enough when you’re a teenager (as I was when I first started gaming) or even as an adult. But when you’re a kid of a certain age, it can be downright scary to suddenly find yourself in a position when you’re responsible for making sure four other people are having fun for three hours a week. And judging from my own experience, at least, that fear can get downright existential when you’re a kid coming from that feeling-like-an-outsider/not-really-that-confident mindset that draws a lot of us into gaming in the first place.

So “Hazakor” first and foremost tries to provide an adventure framework that’s relatively straightforward — a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. Then as that adventure unfolds and things happen, the book explains to the young DM “Here’s how to think about what’s happening.” Talking about different ways to improvise comes up a lot, both in the performance sense of playing NPCs and the more esoteric sense of dealing with the players doing things that are unexpected. Because for a lot of DMs (first-time or otherwise), that remains the hardest thing to get a handle on. And that sense of how to deal with things changing in mid-game extends into a lot of the specific advice any DM can get or give, from thinking about how the environment can alter the conditions of combat, to how to deal with players intentionally trying to wreck the fun for other people, to how to deal with characters dying.

Halls of Hazakor SketchesHalls of Hazakor Sketches

I love the artwork you've released so far for the game, but I may have noticed a theme with it. Want to talk about your philosophy behind the art?

Thank you, and you’re in good company. There’s been a ton of positive feedback about the project so far, and pretty much everyone who’s commented leads off by talking about how much they love Jackie Musto’s illustrations. The underlying idea for the art was first and foremost to provide the main entry point to making running a game feel accessible for a young DM, and to make the adventure feel as welcoming as possible. There’s a fair bit of humor in the adventure, and I approached Jackie initially on the basis of knowing that her style would really suit that tone. I wanted the characters to look young because I wanted young DMs and players to be able to feel a sense of connection to them. And I wanted them to represent a balanced mix of genders and a broad range of ethnicities and cultures because that’s what I want to see in the fantasy I play and read. And though I certainly expected that Jackie would be on board with that, I couldn’t have predicted how amazingly her art would bring all those different parameters to life.

I’m extremely privileged, both in a general socio-cultural sense and in the more specific sense of being a person who gets to work in tabletop games and in fantasy fiction for a living. And I’m finding that the older I get, the less patience I have with fantasy that refuses to break out of the faux-European-Medieval tropes that have driven the genre for way too long. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot of amazing non-Eurocentric fantasy out there, because that clearly isn’t the case. But I think that fantasy in general, and gaming in particular, has a real “fallback position” problem, wherein our first instinct as readers, as players, and as creators is to think about fantasy in terms of the fantasy we already know. And there’s an undeniable bit of a white-male feedback loop in the fantasy that many of us already know, and I’d really like to see that broken.

Where can people find out more about The Hidden Halls of Hazakor?

The Kickstarter campaign page has pretty much all the info on the project, its background, and the questions people have been asking about it. And for anybody who wants any more information, I’m on Facebook and Twitter pretty much anytime.

Game Journaling: Towns

One of the things I'm looking forward to with the gaming journal is the ability to plan my campaign anywhere and anytime, something that is particularly important with a little one. A key part of planning for me has to do with locations, particularly towns.

Here's an example spread for town planning. For the town map, I printed Dyson Logo's New Cresthill map onto a shipping label (Avery 8168) and placed it into my gaming journal. I then figured out a few key elements to be filled out at a future date (when I have some time) and an area for an index. I also colored in the map with some colored pencils.

Example TownExample Town

Some notes for future iterations:

  • I tried both watercolors and alcohol markers on a duplicate of the map but neither worked great. The paper soaks up the wakly to move watercolors around and it seemed to be really thirsty when it came to alcohol markers and it was often causing them to run dry for a moment with any extended coloring.
  • If I want the effect of alcohol markers, I think I would print these on marker paper, color them in, and then use an adhesive such as the Tombow Adhesive Tape Runner.
  • Adding a lot of maps will cause the journal to get wider in that area. I might try to change up where I put the maps so the top of journal doesn't get wider than the bottom or put two maps on one page and use the facing page for the notes.
  • Putting maps in the journal without any information would be a great way to seed future brainstorming sessions.

Some sources for maps:

Game Journaling: Character Sheets for D&D 5e and BubbleGumshoe

In my last post, I talked about the basics of bullet journals and the utility of the concept when it comes to gaming. I even showed examples of how to layout helper charts for running a BubbleGumshoe game. This time, let's explore how we can use any dot grid journal for keeping character sheets.

Just a quick reminder, I use the Rhodia Webnotebook. Each journal manufacturer may have different page measurements as well as placement and spacing on the page.

D&D 5e

One challenge I want to set for myself soon is to make a bunch of characters. I want to make a portfolio of these, so keeping them in a gaming journal makes a ton of sense. If I didn't have a separate journal for gaming, I'd be tempted to keep them in my primary bullet journal because I would have it handy whenever I wanted (no more "where did I put that sheet?" as I look at a pile of at least dozens of sheets).

For the first one, especially since it's meant to be an example, I largely just reworked the character sheet presented in the back of the player's handbook.

D&D Character Sheet StatsD&D Character Sheet Stats
D&D Character Sheet Character InfoD&D Character Sheet Character Info
D&D Character Sheet SpellcastingD&D Character Sheet Spellcasting

Supplies Used:

  • Watercolors (Van Gogh student set)
  • Sakura Pigma Micron pens (.005, .01, .02, .05)
  • Copic Multiliner in Cool Gray
  • White Gelly Pen
  • Faber-Castell Pitt Artist Pen
  • Prismacolor Color Pencils
  • Scotch Washi Tape
  • Tombow Adhesive Tape Runner

One key is that the washi tape on the right hand side can make it super easy to find your character sheet in the future and gives you an additional opportunity to customize for your character.

Of course, this is just the basic character sheet. One of the benefits of the dot journal is that you can customize however you wish. For instance, I might rework this to do the spell casting sheet as the second page if I had a spell caster. I also would come up with trackers for various character classes, such as anything that is limited to a certain number of times between rests or tracking consumables.

After I shared my work in progress, my friend, Chelsea Kerr, rushed to create a version of her own. Here's her version.
D&D Character Sheet by ChelseaD&D Character Sheet by Chelsea

You can find Chelsea online on Twitter @chelseachan.

BubbleGumshoe Character Sheet

After I made the D&D character sheet, I had a cute (to me at least) idea for how to do a BubbleGumshoe character sheet. I thought about some of the items that a high schooler might have in their backpack. (I couldn't find a plain old ballpoint pen in my bag of tricks, but it would have been a great addition).

BubbleGumshoe Character SheetBubbleGumshoe Character Sheet
BubbleGumshoe Character Sheet SecretsBubbleGumshoe Character Sheet Secrets

Supplies Used:

  • Highlighters
  • Small colored notepaper
  • Sakura Pigma Micron pens
  • Sharpie Art pens (from the set of 12)

Where to get inspiration

If you're looking for more inspiration on how to draw your character sheet, here are some great resources:

If you create your own, feel free to share them with me via Twitter, Instagram, or via the contact form on this site.

Character art:
D&D: "Half-Elf Paladin" © 2012 Brian Patterson, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ http://www.prismaticart.com/collection/half-elf-paladin
BubbleGumshoe: From example character sheet available on Evil Hat's website. https://www.evilhat.com/home/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Sleuth-Amanda-Ba...

Game Journaling: BubbleGumshoe

In an earlier post, I talked about the ways in which I was incorporating gaming elements into my bullet journal. In this post, I'd like to start looking at ways to integrating journaling into your gaming. This first post will show an obvious use case, putting some of the charts recommended by the game BubbleGumshoe into a journal (whether it's your normal bullet journal or a separate gaming journal).

The Journal

First, a bit about bullet journals. The system was created by Ryder Carroll. The predominant format for the journals are dot-pages, which are like the grid pages typically used by gamers for drawing maps, but only the intersections are visible, not the lines. I use the Rhodia black webnotebook (Amazon Affiliate Link) but Leuchtturm1917 and Moleskine are two other popular brands. A nice thing I like about the dot grid is that it makes it easy to do layout without being too distracting.

In addition to the choice of journal, a key element of the bullet journal system is numbering all of the pages and creating an index. Here for each topic, you list the pages the topic appears on. This helps you not only quickly find the information in your journal but also is incredibly agile. Did you create an NPC a month ago and realize you don't have enough room to add notes related to the NPC's appearance in last night's session? Create a new page and just add the page number to the index.


BubbleGumshoe is an RPG that adapts the Gumshoe ruleset to the genre of teenagers solving mysteries. Think Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Veronica Mars, and the like. The book presents a few charts to help the GM run the game and they seemed obvious elements to add to a gaming journal.

Sleuth Ability Matrix

BubbleGumshoe - Sleuth Ability MatrixBubbleGumshoe - Sleuth Ability Matrix
Knowing which sleuths have which skills can be important for the GM to keep the game going since sleuths who show up to the scene with a clue and have the correct investigative ability get the clue without rolling or spending. Additionally, an ability matrix can be useful for the group to understand if they have enough abilities covered and that the spotlight can be divided between all sleuths.

For this chart, I used Sakura Pigma Micron pens including a brush pen (for the black colored in areas). The white text was done with a white gel pen and the light coloring for rows was done with Prismacolor color pencils.

Supporting Cast Checklist

BubbleGumshoe - Supporting Cast ChecklistBubbleGumshoe - Supporting Cast Checklist
Another example is the supporting cast checklist which is intended to help the Game Master ensure that they are spreading around the spotlight when it comes to NPCs in the game. Here I did this as one page, but it is a bit space constrained given that choice. It would be easy to convert it to a multi-page spread and give more area for notes.

For this chart, I again used the Sakura Pigma Micron pens and Prismacolor color pencils.

These are just two examples of how a journal could be used for the game and there are many other elements to incorporate.

D&D Rules for Pregnancy: Why the hate?

Yeah, it’s been awhile since my first post. Right after I finished it, little dude started to get his 12 month molars in and boy are they a doozy. After a number of low sleep nights and then Gen Con, we’re here. Last time we talked about what motivations folks might have for roleplaying pregnancy in RPGs, now I’d like to talk a bit why the thought makes some of us want to run away as fast as possible.

The birth of Saint Edmund, he is being nursed by a midwife w Wellcome V0014976

One of the big reasons, society (at least society in the US), isn’t always great in regards to pregnancy. We have the worst maternal death rate of the “developed world.” We lack all manner of assistance for new parents, including dismal parental leave policies and child care assistance (for instance, I pay more than my rent for day care). We have a weird fetishization of fetuses, to the point where it often feels like the pregnant person is no longer a person but rather just a womb. While it’s changing in some circles, there’s a huge amount of pressure to not talk about pregnancy loss, especially miscarriages or abortions, and many folks who are having infertility issues suffer in silence. We still don’t have great terminology for talking about pregnancy in a world where we acknowledge the existence of people who are trans, non-binary, agender, and the like, not to mention same-sex households. And this is just the beginning of the issues that can come up.

So, when one introduces pregnancy into a D&D game, they are walking into a minefield and not only does the game not offer any tools to help address this issue, the way D&D works can exacerbate issues. Why? Because D&D grew out of war gaming, and both are attempts to simulate/model a world, applying the average to the individual. Thus, what we often get then when folks attempt to bring pregnancy into a D&D game is a bunch of random roll tables (some of which may be based on how actual human pregnancy works on average, but many are instead based on pure fiction, superstition, and the outdated views of human reproduction), stereotypes, and something that acts as salt in the wounds (at best) if not causing hurt and trauma while often not even addressing the motivations of folks at the table who want to have pregnancy in their games.

So, what’s a person to do?

First and foremost, if you know that the topic is likely to come up in the game, talk to your players, preferably individually and in an empathetic manner, about how they feel about it. If your group tends to veer towards riskier topics, perhaps set up a system (such as the X card) where people can say that they are uncomfortable in a manner that feels safe to them and everyone agrees to accept). If you think it might come up in a con(vention) game, use something like the X card from the start. Find out what boundaries folks have, e.g. pregnancy is fine but can we not deal with miscarriage, etc. If these sorts of conversations seem unnecessary to you, consider if you are the right kind of GM for this type of content.

If there’s consent for the topic (enthusiastic consent would be great here), then consider how your and/or the table’s plan for simulating pregnancy might come across to folks. Is one of your players or their significant others someone who has been (or is) pregnant and is tired of everyone analyzing everything they eat to the point where they can’t even get a small coffee without getting epic side eye? (Yes, moderate amounts of caffeine are now considered ok again for many pregnant folks.) Are they or someone they know tired of morning sickness jokes or of how we treat pregnancy as a disability? Have you considered that many pregnant folks are quite active well into their pregnancy and that the guidelines for activity level are tied to how active they were before pregnancy (complications notwithstanding)?

Also, please run what you plan to do past more than you significant other. I have lost count of the number of times I’ve resisted doing anything more than glare when I shared how I felt about something and had to hear about how their significant other was totally ok with what I just objected to so I should be ok with it too. The fact that some are ok with something doesn’t override someone else’s objection, especially when that something is happening to the character of the person objecting.

In addition, remember that the averages of a bunch of discrete measurements (existence of morning sickness, appearance of the linea nigra, etc) taken together is not the same as the average pregnancy and every pregnancy is unique. I think this is probably one of the hardest things for everyone involved in pregnancy (including doctors), because we tend to publicize and judge ourselves and other people’s pregnancies based on averages. The number of questions where someone is obviously stressed because they have not developed a particular symptom of pregnancy or met an average milestone is so heartbreaking. And it’s one of the largest issues I have with attempting to portray pregnancy in D&D because it often can’t help but reinforce it.

Along those lines, try to be conscious of how your rules for pregnancy in D&D might reinforce other things that you may not expect. For instance, fifth edition did a great job in making explicit that there are many variations of characters, especially in regards to gender and sexuality. Are your rules heteronormative? How do they handle trans characters? Do you only ever mention intercourse as a means for conception? How do you refer to the pregnant person? The partner? Do your rules potentially force players to out their trans characters?

There’s a lot to unpack here and often not a lot of good examples for discussion because sadly, it’s often at the cutting edge of where we’re trying to go as a society. For instance, I have listened to a fair number of trans people discuss how poor medicine is at properly treating them. Everything from getting misgendered when needing gynecological services to not getting proper medical care due to assumptions, not to mention the issues with attempting to keep up a sex versus a gender classification system, where trans men are told that they have female bodies and vice versa. Many now believe that trans men have male bodies regardless of their plumbing just as trans women have female bodies (not to mention intersex, non-binary, and agender) and any medical attention that should be based on the existence of certain organs should be specific to that organ and not tied up in notions of an artificial sex/gender binary.

If I could do a tl;dr of this article, it would be this. If you want to have pregnancy in your D&D game, then try to be kind and listen to one another.

D&D Rules for Pregnancy: Motivations

I have taken part in conversations regarding pregnancy in D&D for about as long as I have been talking about D&D. My general guideline about it is this, any subject that is incredibly difficult to have a conversation about in real life is likely to be nigh impossible to create rules for within D&D.

At this point, someone is likely to pipe in, "But it's hard to have a discussion about killing goblins in real life but the game handles that just fine," to which I'd reply that 1) clearly you don't have enough fantasy and gaming nerds as friends and 2) if goblins existed in real life such discussions would likely be a lot harder (but not impossible as ongoing bigotry demonstrates).

But I digress.

The birth of Saint Edmund, he is being nursed by a midwife w Wellcome V0014976

A more apt follow up question might be, "If it's so hard, why are you here talking about it?" And in some ways it's a really good point. It is likely that at some point in the following paragraphs I will mess something up. I will offend someone. At the same time, if I were to stay silent, what then will be the result? It's not like my silence will silence others.

Besides, as some of you may know, I've spent the past 18 months or so being pregnant and then taking care of a small human. And all parents have a need to give unsolicited advice to strangers. ;)

I kid.

I spent a lot of the time over the past 18 months thinking about pregnancy and parenthood in games, especially D&D. I planned to write about those thoughts anyway but at some future date when I didn't have to steal 5 minutes at a time to write a thing. But then two things happened. First, I realized that that future date was likely years away and, second, someone posted their homebrew pregnancy rules to a Pathfinder group and I realized I had things to say.

Before anything, I'd like to give a bit of a disclaimer. Any criticism and/or critique I give here is not intended to be a blanket banishment or condemnation of D&D rules regarding pregnancy in general or in specific. Also I will keep my conversation to D&D (including Pathfinder) in contrast to games with more narrative focused rules. I do not intend to suggest that pregnancy in D&D should be forbidden or that people who include it are bad because they include the topic of pregnancy.

With that out of the way. Let's start at the beginning.

Why do some people want pregnancy related rules in D&D?

There are plenty of motivations here.

  • Some folks live in cultures that are family and child focused and they can't imagine a world without pregnancy and children.
    Some can't get pregnant and want the chance to experience something in game that they will never be able to experience in life.
  • Some want to be pregnant at some point in their lives and use games like D&D (a form of play) to process and understand their feelings, fears, etc regarding pregnancy.
  • Some people would like to use the safety of a game to deal experiencing a infertility, miscarriage, stillbirth, or the death of a child.
  • Some people have been pregnant, loved it, and would love to recreate those feelings within a game.
  • Some people think pregnancy should be in the game but it feels less real to them if there aren't mechanics (crunch) that accompanies the story.
  • Some people desire a fuller model of the world so if their game has sex, they feel it should also have pregnancy.
  • Some people can't think of women without thinking of pregnancy and want to bring their real world baggage regarding female sexuality into the game.

Some of these motivations, to me at least, are more positive than others. The first five in particular show compelling positive reasons for including pregnancy in D&D and show that it can be a positive experience. The last three, however, tend to be the more common drivers and why a lot of D&D rules for pregnancy make some people, such as myself, want to run away from any discussion involving the topic.

More importantly, it's nearly impossible to design rules that meet all of these motivations and it's the last three that make it particularly hard to do so. For example, in order to have pregnancy mechanics, there often has to be an oversimplification of pregnancy. In movies and literature in the US, for instance, we often "show" early pregnancy by portraying a woman throwing up right after waking, commonly known as "morning sickness."

This oversimplification, however, is a common issue because while nausea is a common sign of pregnancy, it is not universal and for many pregnant people, it comes at a different time of the day. Most pregnancy mechanics that can fit on one piece of paper are likely to insufficiently recreate the experience for people who love being pregnant and want their characters to have the same experience. They are also unlikely to help a person prepare for pregnancy or to help them really understand what it is like to be pregnant. They might work ok for someone who can't be pregnant and wants to experience something like it in a game since it might feel "right" to them if most of their experience of pregnant people has come through fiction. For those that come from more family focused cultures, whether or not the mechanics feel "right" comes down to what the pregnant people in their life have experienced.

Now that we have a bit of understanding of the motivations, next time I'd like to explore prioritizing them, especially when it comes to conflicts between them. In the meantime, here's something real about pregnancy.

Pregnancy Fact:

A common test, at least in the US, for newborns is called the Apgar score. The test is done to measure the physical condition of a newborn child based on 5 criteria: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, and Respiration. It is also named after the person who developed it, Dr. Virginia Apgar, an anesthesiologist. More info on the Apgar score

Visit to Capital City

Last week we were in Washington D.C. for our first vacation as a family. One of the things that struck me about the city is just how many groups have offices of various types within the city. Obviously the various lawmakers, government officials, and their staff need to have face time within the city, but I did not realize the diversity and extent of such offices until I visited.


Let's start with a rather obvious one. Our hotel was in an area known as Embassy Row. It was interesting seeing all the various embassies, especially comparing their relative sizes. A fair number had sculptures outside, sometimes commemorating famous immigrants or just celebrating their culture.

The presence (or not) of an embassy can suggest a fair bit of how relations are between the powers. What is the size of the embassy? Is the building old or new? Do they house all of their staff (possibly due to safety) or do they allow their staff to live, work, and play among the capital's residents? May diplomats and other foreign staff bring their children?

Labor and Trade Unions

Another common occupant type I saw were unions. Laws often have various effects on labor and trade, both planned and unplanned. Groups often form to protect and advocate for their interests and just as with foreign powers, it helps to have your own space to do so. Not only does the space give your group a place to meet and work, it could also house permanent staff and/or provide temporary housing to visitors who are members of your union. The building itself can also be a form of advertisement for the group. Which unions have permanent space in the city? Did they decorate their facade? If so, how?

Social and Civic Groups

I found it rather interesting that the Daughters of the American Revolution has a large building facing The Ellipse. On each street I visited, it seemed like I found yet another social or civic group. One whose building caught my eye is called "Defenders of Wildlife."

What social and/or civic groups might have representation? What do their buildings look like?

Statues, Memorials, and Monuments

Everywhere we walked we came across another statue, memorial, and/or monument. Many were either former civil government officials or military leaders. Some were relatively small; a stone bench with some nice plants and a small plaque. Other times they were large, such as the Jefferson memorial. What statues, memorials, and/or monuments might exist? Who built them? What people and/or events do they commemorate? How do other groups feel about them? Are there groups that consistently aren't the subject of such commemoration?


Washington, D.C. is home to an abundance of museums. Part of this is due to the natural accumulation of governments of artifacts (think the Tower of London), but a large part is due to a conscious decision to build important collections and make them available to everyone (Smithsonian museums are free for instance). Museums can hold all sorts of items and which subjects are catered to as well as their proximity to common traffic tells us a fair bit about parts of that culture. Which collections exist? Whose life is enshrined in the exhibits? Which communities are often left out?

There's more that I experienced on my vacation than I can do justice in this blog post. But inspiration for your setting can come from anywhere, including something as simple as your family vacation.

D&D and Bullet Journal Mashup

Over the past year, I've been watching a lot of art videos on YouTube. Originally I started with videos about art journaling but over time the algorithms started adding in bullet journalling as well. At first I wasn't sure that the videos were for me but as I saw more examples of what people were doing with them, I got hooked and decided to give it a try this year.

Here's the description of what bullet journaling is from the website, BulletJournal.com:

The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.

One of the keys is to number each of your pages and to leave a few pages at the start of the journal to use as a table of contents. What you decide to put on each page is up to you. Also key is that you never go too far in advance. This allows you to experiment with new ways of recording and presenting information as well as figuring out what your style is.

At first, I did some really basic page setups, drawing boxes for the three types of daily items: tasks, events, and notes. For example, here's a Sunday from January.

Attempt at BuJo Dungeon

Drawing these boxes reminded me of creating dungeon maps, so the next week, I decided to draw a dungeon instead.

First, I decided the path through the "rooms," the various sections on the page that I will later do my planning within. All of the lines are done with Pigma Micron pens in black ink and various nib widths.

Next I went through and added the typical journal information, in this case the days and dates of the week. I also started some of the decoration, such as creating the chessboard pattern room. The days of the week were written with a Pigma Micron pen and the dates, headers, and coloring were done with Faber Castell Pitt Artist brush pens.

Finally, I decided to add some stamping to the page. I used Tombow markers to "ink" the stamps and then applied them to the page. Most of the stamps were from the Lawn Fawn Critters Ever After set (affiliate link).

BuJo Resort Town

The next week I decided to go with a town map instead of a dungeon. I wanted to do a resort town with a large hotel with attendant stables and carriage house. First, I drew in the corners of the planning boxes and penciled in the town map.

Next I went through and started inking the buildings and environment. For this I used Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens, trying to keep to colors that would be easy to write over without interfering with readability.

Finally, I colored in with colored pencil the areas that I had inked with the Fineliner pens. I also used stamps inked with my Tombow markers to add some additional features and added dates and headers with Pitt artist brush pens.

BuJo Cliffside Town

This week, I went with a town map again, but this time I decided to explore a cliffside town. Again I only drew the corners of my planning areas. I had an idea of a society where people built octagonal houses. When their children were old enough to start a family, they built off of one of the walls of their home, so that the homes were interconnected. My inspiration for this was spending last week with my parents with my little one. While I worked during the day in the garage, they took care of little dude in their home, which gave me the idea of what if we could live in separate but connected homes that made this sort of community care easier.

I didn't have as much time to spend on this map as I had my previous ones, so it's a bit simpler. All of the map inking is done with the Fineliner pens and instead of coloring in areas, I drew lines to delineate areas such as woods, water, and beach.

So why do this? I've found that as I spent more time designing my bullet journal pages, I've been more likely to use it to plan and record information. Also, this is a good way to get in map design practice. Finally, much like coloring, I find it relaxing and a nice creative outlet while not requiring a ton of time, important when I'm taking care of a seven-month old in addition to working full time.

While I've concentrated on my weekly/daily spread, there are many other ways that a bullet journal could be useful for someone who likes to play tabletop roleplaying games. I could just as easily use a page or two to create random tables or plan my next campaign. Having the table of contents at the front makes it easier to not lose that information.

Send feedback using the contact form or through twitter, @sarahdarkmagic.

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