Sarah Darkmagic's blog


Unboxing of VISITOR in Blackwood Grove

During PAX East I finally had the chance to play VISITOR in Blackwood Grove. I enjoyed it so much, I got right in line after my game to pick up a copy for home. What did I like about it?

Box of VISITOR in Blackwood GroveBox of VISITOR in Blackwood Grove

Well, besides being a huge fan of Mary Flanagan and the crews of Resonym and Tiltfactor, I love games that make you think of the multiple facets an individual item may have. But to explain that, I need to explain the game.

VISITOR in Blackwood Grove is inspired by those alien visitor movies of the 1980s. You know the ones, where an alien arrives, is friendly but wary, and inevitably we end up in a race between a kid or US federal agents as to who gets to the visitor first. That plot is what drives the game play and mechanics of this game.

The smallest game play size is 3 players. One plays the visitor, another plays the kid, and the remaining person plays an agent. If there are more than 3 players (the max is 6), those additional players also play agents. There are 4 total agencies represented in the tokens, but all the agents have the same mechanics available to them and, importantly, they do not work together (which is also a common theme in movies but also often in real life).

To protect itself, the visitor starts by setting up a force field and a rule about what can make its way through the field. The game box comes with example rules but the player of the visitor can come up with their own as well. During my play through, the rule was larger than a human. All players have access to a set of picture cards that are used to represent various objects.

Examples of cards that are in (match the rule) and ones that are out.Examples of cards that are in (match the rule) and ones that are out.

While both the kid and the agent have the ability to learn more about the rule. At the beginning, the kid has to do everything openly, until it has earned the trust of the visitor. The agent, however, can ask the visitor whether or not a particular item would be in or out under the rule. This is done in secret, however, because, well US federal agents and all.

Eventually, players may have guessed what the rule is and at that point they can attempt to prove the rule. This is where things get interesting. To prove the rule, the player needs to pass a test. They select 4 images and group them according to whether they believe that the item would be in or out. At the same time, behind their screen, the visitor uses tokens as stand ins for the 4 cards and positions the tokens to show whether they would be in or out. If both the visitor and player agree, then the player wins. If they don't, a negative action typically befalls the player.

Example of an attempt to prove the ruleExample of an attempt to prove the rule

Most importantly, at this point no one has said what the rule actually is. Everyone at the table has gained more information and everyone can continue to play.

While it's pretty fun within the game as is, I immediately started to think about other places where I could use this sort of test. I think it would be super interesting in terms of an otherworldly creature in D&D or Starfinder, one that only communicated in symbols and images. The resolution could either be done as a mini game during one game session or could expand across game sessions as player characters unlocked more clues. If one wanted to have more than just player skill involved, limited skill checks could be used to provide guidance.

Either way, I had a lot of fun playing and I hope you get a chance to check it out. You can find information about the original Kickstarter or find out more information about this and other awesome Resonym games at their official site. A special thanks to Sukie for running the demo.

Finally, I have an unboxing video on YouTube.

More Like This Please

Normally in a "More Like This Please" article, I would comment on all the reasons why I want to see more of these. However, most of these are pretty self-explanatory. I tried to share from the artist when possible in hopes you might find some new artists to explore and support.

Chris Rahn

Marwyn, the Nurturer, is a part of Magic: the Gathering's upcoming Dominaria set. I'm not as up on Magic as some of my friends are, so I kindly point you to Quinn Murphy's article all about her. What I would like to say is that while it remains controversial, some women carry children (and are pregnant) while also carrying weapons and well, just working. It's super awesome to see artwork that reinforces that.

Sidharth Chaturvedi

Another upcoming Magic: the Gathering card (you'll see a theme here) is the Audacious/Daring Archaeologist by Sidharth Chaturvedi.

Ryan Pancoast

The Benalish Honor Guard by Ryan Pancoast. The artist also has a number of videos with the creation of the piece, including this one.

Nicole Solis

Anna Steinbauer

Djamila Knopf

Sara Winters

I love all of these pieces. She has more examples on ArtStation.

Joshua Wright

How could I not like a lady stegosaurus archeologist?

Billie Zangewa

Stop FOSTA-SESTA (and Protect Sex Workers and Freedom of Speech)

"Rook," © 2012 Jared von Hindman, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/"Rook," © 2012 Jared von Hindman, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Today I want to talk about the evils of FOSTA-SESTA. I understand it may seem strange for a blog focused on RPGs to cover US legislation that claims to be about stopping sex trafficking but there are a few reasons I feel it's important to talk about this issue on any platform I can.

  • Tabletop RPGs have a history of including sex work and sex workers within games and people who are also sex workers are part of our larger community.
  • While sex workers currently are bearing the brunt of this law, it has wider implications that should be of concern for all of us.
  • The conflation of consensual sex work and non-consensual sex trafficking is an issue for everyone but particularly folks from marginalized backgrounds as is the focus on sex trafficking while ignoring that it is not the majority of human trafficking cases.

So, first, what is FOSTA-SESTA? FOSTA is short for “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" and SESTA stands for the "Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act." They are both named in such a way that makes it harder for folks to be against them. Who wouldn't want to stop Sex Traffickers?

But the problem is that it's completely unclear if either set of provisions would actually limit sex trafficking and is completely clear that both bills will curtail consensual sex work. How?

One example is that FOSTA. Until this bill, sites like Backpage were able to host advertisements because the Communications Decency Act didn't hold web site owners liable for content created by their users (speaking in broad terms). So if a person used a "classifieds" section of a website to advertise their services, the site itself was not liable. FOSTA, however, argues that the Communications Decency Act “was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution.” And while that sentence claims unlawfully, the actual passage doesn't even distinguish that:

Whoever, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (as such term is defined in defined in section 230(f) the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230(f))), or conspires3 or attempts to do so, with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.

As a result of that change, along with other aspects of the bills, we've already seen a rapid change in sites. Craigslist pulled their personals section, replacing it with the following note:

US Congress just passed HR 1865, "FOSTA", seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!

Reddit banned a number of forum types including paid services involving physical sexual contact. Some services appear to be closing accounts based on content including Twitter, Instagram, Wordpress, Google, and Skype. A number of sites also just flat shut down including Backpage, The Erotic Review, CityMove.

I hope it's clear about the censorship ramifications of these bills, but I'd like to go a step further and talk about the impact on sex workers. As it is, due to the combination of laws and societal attitudes towards sex work, sex workers are among the least protected workers in our country. Sex work is work and it's often the only work available to some folks as a result of other systemic oppression and lack of resources. I don't say that to paint all sex workers as victims, because that is simply not true and people should be able to decide to be a sex worker, just as folks pick any other career out there.

Additionally, even in the US, not all sex work is illegal and even prostitution isn't illegal in all areas of the country. This is important to remember because too often I hear folks who try to wave these issues away by saying that's what criminals get. In addition, even if it was a crime, that doesn't mean that they deserve everything that happens as a result. Many people take advantage of sex workers because of the stigma and, in some cases, the legal or quasi-legal nature of the situation. This is one of the main reasons why, if we actually wanted to do something about sex trafficking, decriminalization of sex work would likely lead to better results.

But if we're unwilling to do that, removing the tools that sex workers were using to protect themselves and to find clients seems cruel at best, especially when no alternatives are given. For instance, a recent study suggested that Craigslist ads may have reduced female homicide rates by 17 percent. In addition, by further forcing sex trafficking underground, it will become harder to find victims as well as increase the stigma they will face as a survivor.

Sex workers are workers, are people, and are members of our community. We need to stand with them against laws like FOSTA-SESTA.

Way smarter people to listen to (note, some links may contain nudity):

Organizations:

Additional Resources:

Who makes maps and why it's important

Ebstorf MapEbstorf Map
I recently came across this story, "Who Maps the World?" It discusses the importance of who makes the maps in terms of not only if maps are made or not but also what is added to the map. For instance, when we look at maps of the world, there's a bias towards creating and updating maps in areas with more wealth, referenced in the article as "the Starbucks test."

But there's also a bias towards places that are either considered to be genderless or masculine, such as the aforementioned Starbucks as well as sports arenas, strip clubs, and bars, and a dearth of tags and mapping of places that tend to be considered feminine, such as "childcare centers, health clinics, abortion clinics, and specialty clinics that deal with women’s health." For example,

In 2011, the OSM community rejected an appeal to add the “childcare” tag at all. It was finally approved in 2013, and in the time since, it’s been used more than 12,000 times.

Doctors have been tagged more than 80,000 times, while healthcare facilities that specialize in abortion have been tagged only 10; gynecology, near 1,500; midwife, 233, fertility clinics, none. Only one building has been tagged as a domestic violence facility, and 15 as a gender-based violence facility. That’s not because these facilities don’t exist—it’s because the men mapping them don’t know they do, or don’t care enough to notice.

The article also points out other types of data that tend to be part of maps worked on by women compared to other genders. They are more likely to point out safe and unsafe areas, know where certain types of services are available, such as health clinics, and even where children tend to play. In other words, maps worked on by women tend to have a different focus and, in some ways, a richer data set.

Wage Map by Florence KelleyWage Map by Florence Kelley
So why bring this up in a D&D blog? Well, maps are a common feature not only of individual adventures but also large world-building source books. While it's common to think of them as "unbiased," are they? If they do have bias, what bias might they have? Also, as we see a resurgence of "biased" texts, such as having entire supplements from the point of view of a particular character of the world, might it not make sense to have biased maps?

So here are some quick ideas using the article as a starting point:

  • Have game world maps and/or directory of services be from a particular cartographer or editor and available as handouts to the players. The points of view of the characters can add richness to the world and suggest that there may be more for the players to uncover.
  • When coming up with points of interest, consider what is of interest to various groups? This could be as simple as looking at the types of places discussed in the article as being more likely to be of interest to women. It also could mean thinking about what a giant would look for in terms of accommodations versus say a pixie.
  • Using something like tracing paper or transparencies might help building layers.
  • If the characters tend to be in the same locale, suggest that the characters could keep a map of important events that have happened to them in that area. This could be similar to the location building that is used in games such as Dresden Files RPG.

Interested in learning about some of the women who have shaped our view of the world? Here's a great starting point of women cartographers.

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.

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