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Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864 - 1952)

An early photojournalist and photographer, Frances Benjamin Johnston came from a wealthy and well-connected family in West Virginia. She started by taking portraits of friends and family before touring Europe in the 1890s. In 1894 she opened her own studio in Washington, DC. She worked for a number of newspapers and magazines and once was called "Photographer to the American court." In addition to photographing many famous people, including Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Admiral Dewey, and the Roosevelt children, she is well known for her pictures of architecture and gardens. She also used her prominence in her field to encourage other women to enter the craft.

Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length portrait: Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-64301Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length portrait: Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-64301
She came from a family of accomplished women. Her mother, Frances Antoinette Johnston, worked for the Baltimore Sun as a congressional journalist and dramatic critic. These political connections helped the younger Johnston gain entry as an official White House photographer for the Harrison, Cleveland, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Taft presidential administrations.

Over three thousand of her images are available online through the Library of Congress Johnston (Frances Benjamin) collection. Many of them are of gardens and historic homes, including over a thousand hand colored photos.

If you're looking for a strong woman who rubbed elbows with the elite and traveled the world, Frances Benjamin Johnston is a great person to look to.

"Glendessary," Robert Cameron Rogers house, Glendessary Lane, Mission Heights, Santa Barbara, California. Fountain: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16006"Glendessary," Robert Cameron Rogers house, Glendessary Lane, Mission Heights, Santa Barbara, California. Fountain: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16006
Mrs. Eldridge Merick Fowler house, 363 Grove Street, Pasadena, California. Wall fountain: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16009Mrs. Eldridge Merick Fowler house, 363 Grove Street, Pasadena, California. Wall fountain: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16009
Michael Cochrane Armour house, 962 Linda Vista Avenue, Pasadena, California. Lily pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16013Michael Cochrane Armour house, 962 Linda Vista Avenue, Pasadena, California. Lily pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16013
William Alexander Spinks, Jr., ranch, Foothill Boulevard, Duarte, California. Lily pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16026William Alexander Spinks, Jr., ranch, Foothill Boulevard, Duarte, California. Lily pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16026
"Inellan," Walter Douglas house, Channel Drive, Montecito, California. View from pergola overlooking the Pacific Ocean: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16029."Inellan," Walter Douglas house, Channel Drive, Montecito, California. View from pergola overlooking the Pacific Ocean: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16029.
"Las Tejas," Oakleigh Thorne house, 170 Picacho Road, Montecito, California. View from swimming pool pavilion to house: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16037"Las Tejas," Oakleigh Thorne house, 170 Picacho Road, Montecito, California. View from swimming pool pavilion to house: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16037
"El Fureidis," James Waldron Gillespie house, Parra Grande Lane, Montecito, California. Italian Cypress: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16038"El Fureidis," James Waldron Gillespie house, Parra Grande Lane, Montecito, California. Italian Cypress: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16038
"Uplands," Charles Templeton Crocker house, 400 Uplands Drive, Hillsborough, California. View to porte cochère terrace: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16063"Uplands," Charles Templeton Crocker house, 400 Uplands Drive, Hillsborough, California. View to porte cochère terrace: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16063
"New Place," William Henry Crocker house, 80 New Place Road, Hillsborough, California. Reflecting pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16072."New Place," William Henry Crocker house, 80 New Place Road, Hillsborough, California. Reflecting pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16072.
"Arcady," George Owen Knapp house, Sycamore Canyon Road, Montecito, California. Lower garden, indoor swimming pool at pool house: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16075"Arcady," George Owen Knapp house, Sycamore Canyon Road, Montecito, California. Lower garden, indoor swimming pool at pool house: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16075
"El Fureidis," James Waldron Gillespie house, Parra Grande Lane, Montecito, California. Circular ornamental pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16081"El Fureidis," James Waldron Gillespie house, Parra Grande Lane, Montecito, California. Circular ornamental pool: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16081
Santa Barbara Mission, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, California. Fountain and entrance façade: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16089Santa Barbara Mission, 2201 Laguna Street, Santa Barbara, California. Fountain and entrance façade: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16089
John Henry Fisher adobe, 765 West Highland Avenue, Redlands, California. Entrance door: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16108.John Henry Fisher adobe, 765 West Highland Avenue, Redlands, California. Entrance door: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16108.
Reproduction of illustration: "Baberton, Midlothian," Scotland, showing the hollow with more formal garden beyond: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16168.Reproduction of illustration: "Baberton, Midlothian," Scotland, showing the hollow with more formal garden beyond: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16168.
"Stratford Hall," 786 Great House Road, Stratford, Westmoreland County, Virginia. Southwest or southeast outhouse: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16194"Stratford Hall," 786 Great House Road, Stratford, Westmoreland County, Virginia. Southwest or southeast outhouse: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16194
"Gray Gardens," Robert Carmer Hill house, Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton, New York. Dovecote: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16226"Gray Gardens," Robert Carmer Hill house, Lily Pond Lane, East Hampton, New York. Dovecote: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-16226
Frances Benjamin Johnston (right), full-length self-portrait dressed as a man with false moustache: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04879Frances Benjamin Johnston (right), full-length self-portrait dressed as a man with false moustache: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04879
Portrait group of Mrs. Frances (Folsom) Cleveland and the ladies of the Cabinet: Olive Harmon, Jane P. Francis, M.J. Carlisle, Agnes P. Olney, Nannie H. Wilson, Juliet K. Lamont, and Leila Herbert. Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-47035Portrait group of Mrs. Frances (Folsom) Cleveland and the ladies of the Cabinet: Olive Harmon, Jane P. Francis, M.J. Carlisle, Agnes P. Olney, Nannie H. Wilson, Juliet K. Lamont, and Leila Herbert. Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-47035
Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length self-portrait dressed as a man with false moustache, posed with bicycle, facing left: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04884Frances Benjamin Johnston, full-length self-portrait dressed as a man with false moustache, posed with bicycle, facing left: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsc-04884
Three African American women, full-length portrait, standing, at the State Fair at Saint Paul, Minn.: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-122410Three African American women, full-length portrait, standing, at the State Fair at Saint Paul, Minn.: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-122410
Mills Thompson, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, posed as toothless old man: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-47066Mills Thompson, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing front, posed as toothless old man: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-47066
Elderly man clasping a cane(?), head-and-shoulders portrait: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC2-5941Elderly man clasping a cane(?), head-and-shoulders portrait: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC2-5941
Newsboy looking at coins in his hand, half-length portrait: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC2-6095Newsboy looking at coins in his hand, half-length portrait: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZC2-6095
Booker T. Washington, half-length portrait, seated: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-J694-255Booker T. Washington, half-length portrait, seated: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-J694-255
American Indian student, half-length portrait, facing right, taken at Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va.: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-94865American Indian student, half-length portrait, facing right, taken at Hampton Institute, Hampton, Va.: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-94865
George Washington Carver, half-length portrait, facing right, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-J601-302George Washington Carver, half-length portrait, facing right, Tuskegee Institute, Tuskegee, Alabama: Johnston (Frances Benjamin) Collection, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-J601-302

Late Victorian Pictures of African Americans

Recently I watched episode four of the PBS series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. This episode covered 1897-1940, discussing the development of an African American middle class and black owned businesses. During the episode, Professor Gates mentioned an exhibit by W.E.B. Du Bois at the 1900 Paris Exposition that had pictures of African Americans in a variety of settings, many of them concentrating on the middle class. Curious, I did an internet search and found that many of the pictures, in addition to other pictures gathered by Du Bois, were available through the Library of Congress.

I love these pictures because they contradict the typical narrative spread in the mainstream media at the time and today. While I understand how they can themselves be problematic, I think they help show the diversity and complexity of the African American experience. Due to segregation, many African Americans could seek service only from fellow African Americans. Additionally, by purchasing from black-owned businesses, that helped keep the money in the community.

These pictures could be useful to anyone running or playing in or publishing a late Victorian/early Edwardian US game. They could show that whites weren't the only college students or athletes, that a number of African Americans also studied the sciences, were nuns, etc. Given the time period they are from, they are classified by the Library of Congress as "No known restrictions on publication." This means that they are likely to be in the public domain, although you should always consult an attorney if you are unsure.

The full collection can be found at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?st=grid&co=anedub. Here are some sample images.

Portrait group of African American Carpenters union, Jacksonville, Florida: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-35753Portrait group of African American Carpenters union, Jacksonville, Florida: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-35753

Portrait group of African American Bricklayers union, Jacksonville, Florida: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-35754.Portrait group of African American Bricklayers union, Jacksonville, Florida: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-35754.

Claflin Univ., Orangeburg, S.C. ca. 1900: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-35749.Claflin Univ., Orangeburg, S.C. ca. 1900: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-35749.

Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., 1900 - morning prayers: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-38623.Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., 1900 - morning prayers: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-38623.

Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., 1900 - library interior: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-38625Fisk University, Nashville, Tenn., 1900 - library interior: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-38625

Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 - sewing class: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-40467Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 - sewing class: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-40467

Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 - elementary school students exercise: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-40471.Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 - elementary school students exercise: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-40471.

Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 - class in bacteriology laboratory: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-40472.Howard Univ., Washington, D.C., ca. 1900 - class in bacteriology laboratory: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-40472.

Home of C.C. Dodson, Knoxville, Tenn.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-49479.Home of C.C. Dodson, Knoxville, Tenn.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-49479.

"Lumpers" at the T.B. Williams Tobacco Co., Richmond, Virginia, 1899?: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-51004."Lumpers" at the T.B. Williams Tobacco Co., Richmond, Virginia, 1899?: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-51004.

5 female African American officers of Women's League, Newport, R.I.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-51555.5 female African American officers of Women's League, Newport, R.I.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-51555.

Interior of African American store, Buffalo, N.Y.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-51557.Interior of African American store, Buffalo, N.Y.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-51557.

Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans, La.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-53509.Sisters of the Holy Family, New Orleans, La.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-53509.

Only African American store of its kind in the U.S., at 2933 State St., Chicago, Ill.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-61736Only African American store of its kind in the U.S., at 2933 State St., Chicago, Ill.: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-61736

Agricultural and Mechanical College, Greensboro, N.C. Biological laboratory: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-61855Agricultural and Mechanical College, Greensboro, N.C. Biological laboratory: African American Photographs Assembled for 1900 Paris Exposition, Prints & Photographs Division, Library of Congress, LC-USZ62-61855

More Like This: The Sapphires

Looking for some inspiration for your bard? I recently watched the movie The Sapphires and loved it. It follows the adventure of four singers who happen to be aboriginal women, showing the racism they face in Australia and their dreams of catching their big break by playing for the troops in Vietnam. Three of them are sisters: Gail - the headstrong lead singer, Cynthia - a jilted bride-to-be recently left at the altar, and Julie - a young mother who wants a better life for her and her son. They are joined by their cousin Kay, a woman who had been stolen from her family because her skin was pale enough to pass as white in Australian society. Along the way they are helped by a down-on-his-luck Irishman, Dave Lovelace.

The Sapphires - Actors: Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda TapsellThe Sapphires - Actors: Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell

The Bechdel Test

The movie passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Not only are there four main characters who are also women, but they rarely talk about men or relationships with each other. Most of the conversations are about their lives and their goals. All of the female characters have their own personalities with relatively complex motivations and backstory. I also love how they handle the women's sexuality. They have sex, fall in love, and everything but those elements to ordinary life are not presented in a negative light. They also are allowed to be sexy and sexual without being sexualized.

Race and Racism

In addition to being featuring four aboriginal women, the film weaves race and racism into its narrative in interesting and compelling ways. The sisters enter a talent contest but are denied the prize due to their background. The relationship between Gail and Kay is strained as result of Kay's upbringing away from the family, a reference to Australia's Stolen Generations. Martin Luther King Jr's assassination is referenced and provides an impetus for them to perform for the troops. Many of the US soldiers are African-American.

While these elements are all presented, they are not the driving force of the story. The primary story is about the adventure of the four women. However, the issues of race are woven in nicely and something that could help game masters and game designers alike.

Based on Real Life

The movie is inspired by the real lives of the original Sapphires: Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs and Naomi Mayers. They were a band of three aboriginal women who played at clubs, parties, universities, and more in the Melbourne area. They were asked to perform for the troops in Vietnam, but two of the original members refused to go as a protest against the war. The remaining member, Robinson, went with her sister, Lois Peeler. Robinson's son, Tony Briggs, used their story as inspiration for a play based on their experiences. This play was the basis of the movie. The role of Lovelace was created for the film.

More info:
Reel deal: singing Sapphires shine in the afterglow
The Sapphires Press Kit

Game Spotlight: slash - romance without boundaries

The creators behind slash: romance without boundaries were kind enough to send me a demo copy of their game. For those who haven't heard about it, the goal is to create the best fan-fiction romantic couples. Game play is similar to Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity. One person, the matchmaker, chooses a person card in their hand and the rest of the group chooses a person from theirs that they think would make a great pairing. Of course, great is highly subjective. In some versions of game play, the matchmaker may ask players to "defend" their choice by asking them to create fanfiction on the spot, often according to a prompt. For instance, the player might be asked to describe the first date between the two.

slash: romance without boundariesslash: romance without boundaries
For some of my friends, this game would be absolutely perfect. They love fanfiction and this game is a natural fit for them. But I like it for a number of additional reasons. First, I find that this sort of knowledge doesn't get rewarded as often as it should. Being able to converse about a wide range of people and characters - everyone from pop culture to historical figures to characters from literature are included. In the version of the game where you have to create fanfic, you probably could use more than passing familiarity with a name to make it truly epic.

Additionally, I think overall it might break some barriers (although it doesn't have to). There's no gender, sexual orientation, or other barriers to suggesting a match.

Beyond the game itself, I want to use this for character generation, especially NPCs. When I want to create a new character, I could just pull a card from the rather large deck and use some elements from that person to create a character. It might even be cool to pull two or three and create a character that combines aspects of those people.

Currently, the cards are available for download through the game website. Games by Playdate also have a Kickstarter for the game. Filamena Young has a great interview with Meg about the game on Gaming as Women.

Thanks to Meg McGinley-Crowe, Glenn Givens, and Dan Brian for putting this on my radar. It's awesome.

Reclaim Riverbend: Early Run

This past weekend I was honored to attend CarnageCon as a special guest. It's a wonderful con held this year in Killington, VT and previously at Lake Morey. I ran 12 hours of a D&D Next version of Reclaim Riverbend. Now, because it was a con, we didn't run with any crunchy rules for the exploration section, but we played with the premise of rebuilding after a war, playing in a sandbox, and having player driven stories.

I think it was a great success. A couple of the players played the whole 12 hours, and a number more played 8 hours worth. As a DM, I was really happy. Here's a picture from the second 4-hour slot.

Reclaim Riverbend: Carnage Con: Picture by Geoff Duke (@gcd)Reclaim Riverbend: Carnage Con: Picture by Geoff Duke (@gcd)

So the first thing about the game is that the set up really helped ease play. I started by giving each player character one NPC character they could bring with them. As an example, the cleric chose an underling acolyte and the rogue chose to know the military commander in the town. This helped in a number of ways. First, I think it helped the players feel like they had a bit of the world that they knew and could interact with. Additionally, as they played, they had someone else that they could also make up stories about. The cleric, for instance, named his acolyte Ned and would add flavor by talking about the types of sermons Ned was making and the reactions of the townspeople to them. He also set up Ned in the church after they cleared it of the undead and a dark priest. He even decided to create his own sect, the Order of the Radiant Heart.

In addition to the one NPC to start, each PC had 10 commoners each who came with them. These would be the people who did the basic chores of the town. They also served another purpose. As the PCs cleared out areas, one of the commoners would often step forward and take over a job. So, after they had cleared one of the small forests, one of the commoners stepped forward to become a forester. Likewise, when they cleared out the brewery, one of the townspeople had skills as a brewer and stepped forward.

Also, having a map helped them figure out where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. I used the map from Village of Hommlet, and just described how every place except the Inn of the Welcome Wench was more or less rendered uninhabitable. They were concerned about where the villagers and decided to check out the old cottages first, which turned out to be a good thing because one of them was haunted by the ghost of any angry former inhabitant who had been killed in the great raid. Likewise, they often would balance where they went with the needs of the town. They cleared out the cottages and the docks (so people could be come fishermen) but also decided they needed better ale and cleared out the brewery. Then it was the mill so the town could grind flour.

Obviously I have a bunch more to do before I can make it a thing and I need to develop my own town map if I want to publish it, but being able to run 12 hours of gaming on this premise was a great confidence boost.

As a note, we played mostly theater of the mind style. I used the Noteboard product to draw rough maps to help the players visualize areas. This worked well with D&D Next but obviously might not work well for every game.

The main thing I'd love to work on before I did it again would be interactive environments. The setup worked well in showing the players that what their PCs did had an effect on the town, but I wish I had more traps, rituals, other interactive elements (like a complex arcane machine), and maybe some friendly NPCs in various areas that the PCs could interact with. More food for thought.

Finally, a tweet from one of the players after the game:

Also, I had the honor of being the first DM for a young boy and we had three other teenagers join in. That felt good too.

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

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