Today I worked on my dungeon master's cheat sheet for Hoard of the Dragon Queen Episode 2: The Raider's Camp. I previously wrote about my reasons for creating a DM playbook, mainly that the adventure is a mix of sandbox with a required story line. Personally, I found that hard to approach and was worried about remembering details. So the playbook is a bit of a cheatsheet. While a more detailed one might give you everything you needed to know to run the adventure, this one is meant more to remind dungeon masters of important bits and/or goals for sections of the adventures. You can find the current playbook here.
First, the adventure set up itself. Player characters have two primary motivators for going to the camp. One motivation is gathering information. Governor Nighthill offers some generous rewards for collecting information about the raiders and why they raided Greenest. He also says if you can bring back some of the treasure, that's great, but it's unclear how you would actually get rewarded. The second is provided by a monk by the name of Nesim Waladra, who tempts you with his tale of woe. He was hurt during the battle and is very concerned about his master, Leosin Erlanthar. From his description of Erlanthar, we should realize that he has all the answers to Governor Nighthill's questions, thus guaranteeing us that sweet 250 gold piece apiece reward if we can bring him back alive (although who knows if there's a raise dead spell around if he doesn't survive).
Previously, I had said that the goal was to rescue Leosin Erlanther, but if you read through the adventure, he's quite capable of rescuing himself and, in fact, might fight the party on being rescued. It would be tempting to say that the goal is to then gather as much information as possible, but while each PC gets an XP reward for gathering information, as long as Erlanther lives, the party gains all the information about the raiders that is possible. Also, gaining all of the information provides the same amount of XP as rescuing Erlanther while being smart about it.
Instead, I feel like the real goal of this chapter is a meta game goal, to provide a number of opportunities for role play and exploration while providing a sense of tension at getting caught. Given that, I decided to play up the sub-factions part a bit in my DM cheat sheet, naming six factions that seem obvious from the description of the camp. Mike Shea of SlyFlourish mentions doing this a bit in a recent Behind the DM's Screen episode, but he goes even further with descriptions and names. I figured that this might help with an unclear part of the adventure too, namely, asking too many questions or being too nosy can raise suspicion in the camp (and potentially lead to an alarm). If each of the six factions can give away up to two pieces of information before feeling suspicious, that can help with pacing. And if the PCs ever do get roped into a work duty, you can use that introduce them to various groups that they might not have found a way to meet yet.
Learning that 1) not everyone agrees with everything and 2) that many have their own goals and desires is important for the rest of the adventure since it's a recurring theme. Learning how to navigate those differences can provide an interesting challenge, especially those who like to role play. In fact, several pieces of information you can gather while exploring the camp provide roleplaying hooks, such as the cult's salute and sayings. Having the threat of being caught hanging over them helps the dungeon master with pacing and determining when this part of the adventure is over.
Given that Erlanther doesn't really want to be freed, I was a little concerned about players not feeling heroic enough. I think finding a way to rescue the other 8 prisoners would help with this, so it might make sense to mention it pretty early on arrival to the camp. Also, it's interesting that the episode rewards bold play more, if you are too careful, you are more likely to arouse suspicion.
Leaving aside the purpose for this episode in the overall story arc, I think with the right group, it can provide a bit of fun story telling moments that players will enjoy. If the players enjoy that, please indulge! If your group doesn't like that, I might suggest finding a way to run it more like a big skill challenge.
How did we get here?
It’s something I think about a lot, especially regarding my own experiences as a gamer and with the rise of groups like GamerGate. I know I’ve told parts of my story before, but it might make sense to put them together in hopes of explaining my utter confusion at the rise of GamerGate and specifically, some their claims.
When I first started writing about D&D and gaming in general, I took the stance of the outsider. In some ways, I was. I didn’t roll dice or create a pen & paper character until I was thirty. I was working from home as part of a two-person startup and needed human interaction. The Penny Arcade and PvP Dungeons & Dragons podcasts made me laugh and helped give me to the confidence to try it out, especially since Mike, playing Jim Darkmagic (hm, that last name sounds familiar), was new too.
But I also had been D&D adjacent for most of my life. I grew up playing video games. While poor, we won out during the great gaming collapse of the 80s and had tons of games for the Intellivision and Atari systems. While my dad would play sometimes, my mom loved video games. She would play with us for hours.
One of our favorite games was D&D Treasure of Tarmin. That was the game where we realized that as long as you didn’t trip on the power cord (sorry, mom!) you could "pause" by just not moving. Also, we learned that if you were click on the close door button, you didn’t always have to fight that monster waiting for you when you opened a door. But I digress.
My younger brother played D&D growing up. I would often hang out in the same room while he and his friends played. I’d help him find history books at the library for research (especially medieval weaponry books) and help him carry those books up the steep hill to our house. I had my reasons for not rolling dice then (I’m looking at you gender based stats), but I was a big booster for the game, something I carried throughout my life.
In college, many of my friends played, including my then boyfriend and now husband. Another of my friends recently started freelancing in tabletop roleplaying games and a bunch of us meet up at GenCon each year. It still didn’t feel like the right time for me to start (I was worried about falling down the rabbit hole...oops), but again, I hung out and listened while they played. I also found a wonderful game, Avernum by SpiderWeb Software, that gave me much of the fun of D&D without the anxiety.
After I graduated and got married, I encouraged my husband to keep playing, even helping to host his group. I figured out how to get enough table space for all of them and made sure I got back to the apartment in time so none of them would have to wait. I often cooked meals for them, taking requests, and tried to make sure there were snacks and beverages that they liked.
Even though I was playing games during this time and reading and listening to much of the same media as people who gamed and often about games, I was scared to call myself a gamer. You see, the definition of gamer is often used in an exclusionary fashion. To many, it doesn’t matter that I was addicted to games like Avernum or Civilization. They weren’t the right games or I didn’t put in enough hours over a long enough time period. Those are just "casual games" and real gamers make it a lifestyle, but it doesn’t count if you arrange your life around games that you aren’t playing. Trying to explain my complicated but rich connection to games just didn’t seem worth it especially when the reactions to a person who doesn’t fit into the dominante narrative of what a gamer is can be downright demoralizing if not scary. (For instance, just today I was asked why I don’t just create games instead of relating my experiences. While I was looking at books with my name in them.)
But how did we get to that narrative? Why aren’t my experiences, my time, and my dollars enough to be considered a gamer? Why does the narrative revolve around people who play certain types of games on certain types of platforms?
At some point gamer became a term that wasn’t about anyone who played games but about people who played games on particular gaming consoles, such as the Playstation or the Xbox. Originally they were termed "core gamers," implying that they are at the center of the gaming universe, but many have dropped the "core" when talking about them.
Why do we focus on them? Part of it is that at least historically, they were where the money was. If we look back at the 2005 ESA Essential Facts pdf, we'll see that in 2004, computer and video games combined were a $7.3 billion (with a b) business with about $6 spent on video games for every $1 spent on computer games. Looking at units sold, over 72% of video games sold were in genres that tend to be male dominated (Action 30.1%, Sports 17.8%, Shooters 9.6%, Racing 9.4%, and Fighting 5.4%).
Yet the overall statistics of gamers showed that 43% of gamers identified as female and that "women over the age of 18 represented a larger portion of the game-playing population (28%) than boys from ages 6 to 17 (21%)." (If you do the math, that means men 18+ constituted 34% of people playing games, only 6 point difference from the same age group of women.)
In the same year as this report, Douglas Lowenstein, then President of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), presented his plan for world domination by video games. Key to this plan was broadening games to break out of the male focused market it currently found itself almost exclusively associated with. He saw video games becoming an entertainment option as ubiquitous as films; an area where there was something for everyone. In his report on the state of the industry, he explicitly points to how games marketing contributes to this narrow view of games. "It's hard to argue with her complaint that our own industry, mainly through our marketing practices, reinforces the stereotype that most gamers are men."
What is he saying here? Well, he's pointing out that the industry stats don't align with the view many, including people marketing the games, have about the games market. Focusing on where the money is currently makes some sense, we know what we know. But the percentages of women who played games versus where unit sales were suggested to him that there could be an untapped market. He describes why he thinks electronic games still lag behind TV and film as a market.
A partial answer is [TV and film] have done a better job developing products that have truly mass market appeal at mass market prices. That is not to say they create better entertainment necessarily. It suggests, instead, that they are better at creating content with wider appeal. Say what you want about The Passion of the Christ but the fact remains it was the 3rd biggest money maker of all-time, generating $612 million worldwide, and $371 million in the US. Assuming $10 a ticket in the US, that's an astonishing 37 million people who saw the film. The film revealed something Hollywood was missing -that there is an audience that had been largely unseen or ignored who would swarm to cineplexes if they featured movies of particular interest to them, in this case with openly religious themes.
So, in 2005 we have not only a situation where women make up a significant and necessary part of the overall market (I don't know of many games that could deal with a loss of 10% or more of their audience), but that they have been making clear that they feel the market is wanting. We have a leader in the industry reminding members that maybe they are hyperfocusing on an already saturated market and that women, among others, could provide avenues for growth. These are all market-based arguments for changing how some games are made, for making new games we are not making today, and for changing how we market those games.
Fast forward about five years, to about 2010. In the intervening years, we see an increase in the divide between male and female gamers, largely a decrease in the percentage of female gamers under the age of 18 and an increase in male gamers 18+, but this year we have 52% of gamers identifying as male and 42% as female. Women 18+ now constitute 37% of the overall market and males 18+ are 45%. The computer and video games market has grown to $10.1 billion.
If you keep to these high level looks at the industry, it's hard to see the change that's happening. In particular, two events occur that disrupt the console gamers are the "core gamers" narrative, the addition of digital delivery and the ability to play games on new platforms, including mobile phones.
Starting in the 2011 Essential Facts report, we get data on a brand new category of sales. The category is called "other" which stands for "other delivery formats includ[ing] subscriptions, digital full games, digital add-on content, mobile apps, social network gaming, and other physical delivery." This category alone adds an additional $5.4 billion to the $10.1 billion mentioned earlier. Think about that, a good ⅓ of the sales for 2010 are in this new category. However, unlike the physical sales, less is known about that market. We don't have the breakout by genre for this group that we do for computer or video games.
Let's talk a bit more about that increase in digital delivery. In 2010, digital format was at 24%. This is important because previously, physical stores could act as gatekeepers for game sales. Not only did they get to decide whether or not a game was stocked and where it was placed, but the act of going to a video game store could cause a higher degree of friction to female and non-binary customers. I know that once I found out about Steam (and they started supporting macs), my game consumption increased dramatically. The same is true of comic books in regards to applications like Comixology. I went from a person who never bought comics to someone who regularly buys somewhere around a dozen titles or more per month.
By 2013, that "other" division is larger than the video game market, now at $9 billion versus video game sales of $6.1 billion. Digital formats are now at 53%. Oh, and the gender divide? Women are 48% compared to 52% male and women 18+ constitute 36% of the market, surpassing the male 18+ group (35%).
Many in GamerGate like to put forward a narrative that suggests a conspiracy led by so-called Social Justice Warriors to force change from outside. I don't think this data supports it. Yes, the data supports their underlying awareness of a change in the games market. There is a larger spread in game genres now versus 2004. Gender composition has changed over the years.
However, instead of their narrative, I'd suggest the data raises the question about whether or not those who play console games can really be considered the "core" of the market anymore. I'd suggest that perhaps games media outlets have been diversifying their content (if less than half of a percent of articles using certain feminist words counts as diversifying) not because they are being forced to but because their market too is changing. That women are and have always been gamers with a significant investment in the market and now are starting to get their consumer voices heard.
That is why I have such a hard time with the narrative from GamerGate that this is about a consumer revolt, because at the end of the day, the people they are supposedly revolting against are also consumers, ones that they have tried to marginalize for over a decade. The numbers also suggest that instead of being infiltrated from outside, people within are voting with their dollars and that is causing the diversification they see. I don't think we are going to go back to where the market focuses on what was previously called the core gamer market.
Edit: My dad wanted me to update the photo because his collection has grown since then. This shows only one side of the room. :)
This weekend I had a rather depressing conversation about GamerGate. During that conversation, someone made an equivalence between feminism and GamerGate. The argument went something like this:
Person A: Get a new tag.
Person B: Find a new term for feminism.
Person C: But feminism is a field of academic study with decades of research.
Person B: But some feminists emasculate men!
Person A: What are you talking about?
Person B: ::Provides a link to a book of satire with a woman with scissors on the cover::
Person B ::Brings up the one segment on The View where they joked about a woman cutting off her husband's penis.::
While I'd love to talk about all of this, in particular, I want to talk about how messed up the claim that feminists emasculate men is.
First, let's explore definitions. The literal and archaic definition refers to castrating a man. There are also the metaphorical meanings.
make (a person, idea, or piece of legislation) weaker or less effective
deprive (a man) of his male role or identity
Think on this a bit. If a person weakens the argument of another, one can argue that the person making the argument has been emasculated. Or, if society says that male gender roles revolve around "being in charge," a woman who is not submissive is then emasculating the man. In this world view, there is no place for gender equality and actually, there's not much place for debate because challenging the idea can be seen as challenging the masculinity of the person presenting the idea.
Until we fix this worldview, one where making an idea seem weaker or less effective is a metaphorical castration, we're going to see these same toxic discussions happen again and again. Until we fix the view that men have a particular role or identity and that depriving them of that is akin to mutilating their genitalia, we cannot have equality. I cannot safely present my point of view and argue the same way men do if it's seen as an attack on their manhood. It's just not possible. It will continue to be seen as an attack rather than as a discussion.
Combine this with the frequent messages of "don't let a girl beat you!" If a woman bests someone who is male in an argument, a person who buys into this word and its worldview is likely to feel not only emasculated by the argument but also by the fact they were defeated by a woman. And rather than attacking the world view (which often feels overwhelming and impossible to change), the rage and anger will be focused at the woman. I see this again and again. It's part of the reason why women's words are received differently by men, the bit truth behind the quote from Margaret Atwood that, "Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them."
We need to call this out. We need to talk about this.
Photo by ralphbijker https://www.flickr.com/photos/17258892@N05/2588342742/in/photostream/
An image has been going around that I think helps show one of the fundamental disconnects. Someone, while talking about Anita Sarkeesian, says the following:
my biggest problem with anita, is that if I used her logic i could see sexism everywhere.
For myself and my friends, the reaction is often along the lines of "so close but so far." However, this very real disagreement on the meanings of words and the reasons for critique form is part of the so-called "culture war." I'd like to go into it further.
Let me first say, I think there's something to what they are saying, although not the way they usually mean it. It's a well known issue among academics, and Sarkeesian is one, that one's training leads to certain biases. Now, that doesn't mean one is in some sort of unbiased state before training, but rather, political science majors are more likely to want to explain the world in terms of social structures and power, economists want to explain it in terms of markets and capital, etc, etc. So, it's true that Sarkeesian's critique focuses on one fraction of the academic spectrum and that alternate lenses could be used to view the same material and conclusions. All that really means is that we shouldn't be surprised when someone who focuses on the academic framework of gender studies and especially feminism produces an argument that focuses on gender and sexism. I mean, when I listen to the Freakonomics or Planet Money podcasts, I don't rage quit because they don't use other frames for looking at the world.
Crash Course recently had a rather interesting look into these biases, this time by looking at the often taught concept of "The Rise of the West and Historical Methodology." In addition to talking about biases likely to be developed by political scientists, economists, and the like, he even deconstructs the issues with calling any location by its cardinal direction. I also enjoy that he breaks down the false division between science as facts and literature as fiction and shows that different people, even within the same discipline, can come up with different theories.
While I've been talking about separate disciplines to this point, one of the more interesting things to me is that while Sarkeesian does rely heavily on the academic work of women's and gender study research, she attempts to bring in more interdisciplinary approaches throughout her work. The research and literature that supports her points comes from a wide array of academic fields of study. She integrates psychology, especially the work on stereotype threat, she looks at history, comparative literature, film studies, and more. I often get the feeling that many people view women's and gender studies programs as existing outside of academia instead of being integrated within other lenses.
What all of this means is that while I understand the complaints about "one-sidedness" in Sarkeesian's arguments these are 1) not a bad thing, we live in a complex world that sometimes needs to be simplified, 2) are neither uncommon nor outliers, and 3) merely pointing it out isn't really a critique of her work. That last point in particular needs to be emphasized. Pointing out that people who specialize in a particular academic discipline are likely to frame the world in the terms of that discipline is not a critique of the work produced. That's why criticisms of "she's biased!" so often fall on deaf ears.
With that understanding out of the way, I'd like to delve a bit more into the meat of the disagreement. People like the one in the above referenced tweet often are working from a different definition than people like Sarkeesian are working from. It's one that generally centers on the intent of the person being accused of sexism and/or emphasizes overt acts of sexism. It tends be more literal and lacks nuance. I will admit here that this definition is what I, myself, had used for much of my life, even after taking multiple cross-disciplinary women's studies courses, so I don't lack familiarity with it.
Sarkeesian works from a different model, one that generally emphasizes subtext, power dynamics, and outcomes. It's not enough to say that women are powerful in a game; they both can be power and the game can still have elements of sexism, it's all about whether that power comes from societal stereotypes or if people can have their own agency. Sexism isn't merely gender discrimination, the use of gendered terms, and the like, it's about the power to enforce gender discrimination beyond the individual basis. It's about outcomes. For instance, explain away however you like the fact that women in the same jobs often earn less than men in those jobs, the fact that jobs that are traditionally female are paid less than jobs that are traditionally male is also an issue. This frame of the world is the one that I generally hold today.
This disagreement over the word "sexism" causes many, many problems. Because the first group believes it should only apply in overt circumstances and often that people who perpetuate such overt acts should be punished, the more nuanced use causes them to become defensive. For some men, this often manifests since "defending one's honor," a widely held masculine virtue. Not defending one's honor is seen as weakness and, by some, questions that person's masculinity. For some women, the distrust the more nuanced view generates can cause greater issues, either for them personally or for the men that they care about, and they will fight against it. Some women profit from or internalize the messages sexism in our society tells them, leading them to defend the status quo.
Much of this is further complicated by two things. First, we have an issue where men in general, are often not allowed to complain about the status quo, aren't allowed to change things. I had to go through this as a kid when I wanted to play "boy games" in elementary school. In particular, we played a game that was like everyone-for-themselves dodge ball. The boys didn't really want me to play, so they would do things like slam the ball down on my head. If I complained, they would point to it as a reason why I really shouldn't be playing. If I "took it," then I was accepted into the group. While my gender had something to do with the treatment I received, they would have done the same to any child who did not show the values, masculine values, that the rest of the group accepted. The bullying of "sensitive" boys comes from the same roots. Boys and men are often taught at a young age in our society that they cannot complain, that they must "take it like a man." This leads to those accusations that Sarkeesian, Quinn, Wu, and others are professional victims.
Second, it leads to a situation where many of the consequences of sexism in society remain beyond our reach to address. While overt sexism has consequences, I think they are dwarfed by the consequences of implicit sexism. The amount of money people earn has a tremendous effect on their lives, not only in the immediate term of what they can afford, but when it comes to retirement, bonuses, and other long-term financial planning. Whether or not people can get jobs in an industry affects what gets produced in that industry. This belief that the only real harm comes from the people who tell me what my place and role as a woman is hides the real costs of sexism. Much more harm was done to me over the past few years by the people who tried to tell me what sexism should mean or what I should write about than any of those other people have done. It did lead me to not want to write for a time and to withdraw from the community. I understand why that happened and I don't fault the people who did it, but I think it's something worth bringing up.
So why write this at all? Sure, I wanted to present my arguments for why maybe we should be at least willing to see sexism everywhere, but also because until we find a way to address this fundamental disagreement, I think our path will continue to be full of adversity and harm. I keep trying to find ways to reduce this harm, but I can't do it alone.
Yesterday I received a tweet from someone about the article I did on the Dynamite! Magazine image of three teens playing Dungeons & Dragons. It turns out that he runs a D&D group at school and that his students adopted that image as part of the official flyer for the group. I asked him to tell me his story via email. It's really awesome and I'm glad he agreed to let me share it with all of you.
I teach middle school science at a small private school in Seminole, Florida. I started a board games club after school and a few people came for a couple of weeks and it was fun. Then two of the girls started asking me about D&D because they knew I played with some teachers and they knew it from the Big Bang Theory. Many kids their age seem to only know the game from that show. So I said we could try it in the next session to see if they liked it. So I made some characters for them and we played the next week. At first three girls showed up. Three of the quieter girls. We had a really good time. And that was the end of board games club. The next week two more showed up and the week after that two more. So now we've leveled off at seven and it's officially Dungeons and Dragons Club. I bought each of them a set of dice to use in whatever color they wanted. They love them. It's all about the color.
One of the really quiet girls really got into the game. She told me specifically what she wanted her character to be and wrote a whole back story for her and her character's family. It was great. A few weeks in she told me her dad used to play and they started having these huge conversations about his experiences when he was her age. He dug into his old keepsakes boxes and found his old set of dice. He passed them on to her so she could use them, and now she plays with them in our games.
There are some boys that I can tell who want to get into D&D too but they can't get past the stigma of being a "geek." I work at a very sports-centric school. The girls all get along and support each other so there wasn't an issue with them. In class the other day, a "cool" boy started giving the group a hard time, saying "that game is for people with no friends." To which one of them replied in front of everyone, "No friends? There were 8 of us playing yesterday. Who did you hang out with after school that wasn't your mom." I have to admit I laughed out loud. And that was the end of that attempt at bullying.
Like I said, I started with the Dungeon Delve and moved on to my own stuff. I used to teach English, so I've been loving the writing. Two of the girls already want to learn how to DM and are developing some side quests for us.
It's been by far the most rewarding after school thing I've done. The social interaction and imagination and cooperation and confidence I've seen in the girls is really fantastic.
Anyway. Thanks for listening to my completely random story. I like what you do and will be an avid reader starting today!
This is awesome, Steven, and thanks so much for sharing!
How about the rest of you? Do you have a story like this you'd love to share? If so, send an email to mygroup at sarahdarkmagic dot com.