Sarah Darkmagic's blog
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
— Geoff Duke (@gcd) November 10, 2013
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.
I wanted to give some more concrete examples of where my thoughts around Reclaim Riverbend are currently. Since it's a well known module and fits pretty well, I'm going to use The Village of Hommlet as an example.
Village of Hommlet is great because it lays out an entire village complete with a village map as well as maps of a few of the buildings. My thought is that much of the town would have been destroyed by a combination of neglect by the evil forces that inhabited it (they did not agree that cleanliness is next to godliness) and the battles for control of the town. I think I would set everything except either the walled manor house (27) or the Inn of the Welcome Wench (7) as being in some state of being too broken to be immediately useful. I haven't figured out the mechanics of repair, but it would be something like filthy, cosmetic damage, structural damage, and beyond repair. Filthy buildings could be repaired without access to resources beyond labor. Cosmetic damage would require access to wood, either from other homes or a forest. Structural damage might require a carpenter. Beyond repair would require labor to remove the rubble before it could be built on again.
A nice thing about using something like Village of Hommlet as the underpinning is that we can tell the story of that village through this game even if we don't use everything from it. The people still existed and we can tell their story in the background elements and in the items left behind.
Let's ignore the ability to harvest wood from the forest for now and only rely on reusing materials found in the town. Let's say each destroyed house provides 10 wood. Cosmetic damage requires 1 wood, structural damage requires 3, and new construction of a modest cottage requires 5. (I'm not sure how fine-grained I'll be when I get further along, so take this all with a grain of salt.) Repairing buildings with cosmetic damage doesn't require specialization and takes less wood. The issue is that the building the group really wants might not be one of the ones that are the cheapest to fix. Do the players focus on fixing the easiest to fix buildings first? Do they try to adapt the building to a different use than intended, costing them perhaps a few more resources and more time? Or do they focus their resources on the buildings they think would best serve them?
These are decisions constantly being made after a catastrophe. What do we have? What can we save? What is the cost of saving it?
One of the issues after war is that many of the trade routes are disrupted. A village like Riverbend couldn't expect regular deliveries of resources from other places. First, the area is still far too dangerous for all but the least risk averse merchants. Second, many towns and cities need goods after a war and Riverbend isn't exactly a thriving place full of coin. It needs to make itself better known for that. So currently, the town can except a visiting merchant only about every month or three. I might increase the frequency if I specialize the merchants though. Additionally, costs might be higher for even basic goods that have to be imported from elsewhere. For now, let's say that there is a 50% rise in prices.
The Village of Hommlet module works well for this because it faces trade issues. In the case of the module, a bunch of bandits have been attacking trade caravans. They are holed up in the ruins of the moathouse, a complete adventure already written for DMs. Since Reclaim Riverbend is a post war game, I might change some of the bandit characters to fit into that theme better. Maybe they deserted during the war or they grew cynical from their experiences and decided to live for themselves after the war. They also could be left over enemies who didn't want to go home.
Defeating the bandits would improve trade through Riverbend in addition to potentially giving real items as treasure. So after they are dealt with, let's say the additional cost of goods gets reduced to 25%.
An additional benefit to The Village of Hommlet is that it's tied to the Temple of Elemental Evil. I might have in one of the buildings some writings from one of the evil clerics or wizards that mentioned ruins in the area of the town. By this point, between the overturn in inhabitants and the amount of time that has passed, it's quite possible that none of the current inhabitants remembers the temple. This diary could talk about how the cleric or wizard wants to find the legendary ruin and increase their reputation. The PCs might decide to see if the other side was unable to uncover the ruin or decide that they don't care, they want to see it for themselves.
You could even run Temple of Elemental Evil as a flashback before they discover it in the present. You could then modify the ruins to take into account the decisions of your group and, who knows, maybe the past adventurers left something behind that could be used by those in the present.
So that's my thought on how the concept of Reclaim Riverbend can be used to tie together published adventures in a way that reinforces the core story being told and organically changes the world around the characters. I fully acknowledge it might not be for everyone. Obviously, if I were to create my own Reclaim Riverbend for publishing, I couldn't use Village of Hommlet as a base but it's a perfect fit as an example of what could be done. Additionally, the framework doesn't need to be limited to D&D as a resolution mechanism. Other games, such as Fiasco, could be used for certain types of adventures or scenes and still have an impact on the world. For instance, perhaps the players want to convince a wizard to take up residence in the tower but he wants the PCs to prove that they are worth his presence. A Fiasco-style playset could be a fun way of determining if they succeed at the task of wooing him.