Sarah Darkmagic's blog
Trigger warning: I talk about harassment and abuse aimed at women online.
Recently, a number of articles have pointed to one of the hard parts of being a woman online; there are a number of people who will say terrible, abusive things to you solely because you are a woman and have an opinion. I recently was interviewed by G*M*S Magazine before the latest round of articles about this phenomena. One of the questions asked was how to get more women into RPG blogging and podcasting and I raised this issue. Please give it a listen when it comes out. For now, this paragraph from another article (written from the male perspective) sums up the situation for me:
I’m a guy who also gets a fair number of abusive emails — I even have a hobby of posting some of them now and then on the web — but there’s a qualitative difference to what I see. I get death threats regularly, but they’re usually of the form “you should get [violent fate] for [hating god, violating crackers, being liberal]“; I don’t get threats of the form, “[Man], I need to [crude sexual assault] you”. As a man, I can get threats for speaking against some cherished dogma, which I can sort of halfway understand, but I don’t get the threats for just being of my sex and speaking out, period. -- Pharyngula
This distinction is usually lost in discussions of the topic. Often the threats come not because the woman says something that threatens the status quo, but because her mere presence, the fact that she has a voice at all, threatens some people. For instance, take this incident of a boy threatening to rape Kat Armstrong's daughter merely because she appeared in a video with her mom.
The video offers further proof of the worry women face by just being active online. The reason her daughter is in the video is because Kat, then community manager at Lockergnome, was loathe to do a video by herself. I empathize with her. During my first GenCon, Trevor Kidd was kind enough to run a few D&D bloggers, including me, through a game of the then-unreleased Castle Ravenloft. At the end, he asked to take a video with our thoughts on the game. I declined because I was so scared that the video would go on YouTube and I would have to deal with the comments. I completely froze up and then apologized profusely. I self-censored myself due to an intense fear of what would be said.
You're just looking for it
Sometimes I get accused of looking for these stories. The problem is, I don't have to look for them. They appear, several times per month, in newspapers and friend's feeds. The people who hurl these abuses often search out women and make themselves known. Take these DMs I received after I asked why someone had a problem with me and then why he followed me if he disliked me so much:
Well, I feel you are just a pretentious bitch. I don't like your feminismistic views and well, I just never liked you.
For the same reason i follow dazedsaveends. Sometimes you guys say shit that makes me angry, and someone has to read it and respond.
If all your followers just kissed your ass all day, it wouldn't be much fun.
How many of these would you have to receive before you questioned if it was all worth it? 5? 10? 20? 100? And then remember that a woman may receive multiples of these when she posts, often more than her male counterparts. Are we really surprised then that women leave the public sphere so often?
The number of women who have come forward, across topics and genres, is also important to note. This isn't just an issue in the geek community but yet it affects the community just the same. If we want to get more women to participate, we need to know this happens and form ways to combat it. Here are some of my suggestions:
- When women, or well anyone, complain about these behaviors, please stop telling them that if they want to blog or podcast, they'll just have to learn how to deal with it. Abuse should not be the price we pay for simply expressing ourselves. If it is, then don't be surprised if people self-censor themselves.
- Learn the facts of rape, sexual assault, and crime in general so you can see the bigger picture. Stop perpetuating old myths that you need to dress modestly in order to lessen your chances of being raped. You aren't doing anything other than making yourself feel better and you make women even more paranoid and hyper-conscious of what they do. It's near impossible to write or be in public, when a woman has to analyze every outfit, every word choice, for fear that this will be the time she somehow invites unwanted attention. Plus the price of admission to the public sphere should not be the hiding of one's sex or gender, just like we should never ask someone to change his skin tone.
- Speak up. If you see someone bashing someone due to their sex or gender, say something. This is not white knighting. This is caring about your community and taking ownership over what happens in your presence. If you feel uncomfortable speaking up, at least find a way to let the victim know that you support him or her.
This doesn't mean that men don't face some of the same issues; that threats of violence or rape aren't used against men or that, in some areas, just being a man isn't seen as a threat to the status quo. For instance, I know a number of men who feel the same way when they enter zones of traditional female power such as child care websites. This, too, is wrong but outside the scope of this discussion.
- Harassment aimed at "Skud" in the Open Source Software community
- Geek Feminism Wiki's timeline of sexist incidents in the geek community
- Tweets of women's experiences with sexism using the #mencallmethings hashtag.
- Reports of a man who made a number of women uncomfortable at World Fantasy Con. Looks like they now are working on a anti-harassment policy for future events
In my last post, I wrote a bit about what's in the new Pathfinder Beginner Box for players. However, my favorite part of the box has to be the GM stuff, especially the Game Master's book. While I love anything that helps new players try out the game, I'm especially interested in products to help new game masters. We need new players in the hobby for sure, but to be honest, it's rare to find someone who wants to play a tabletop RPG who hasn't played a video or computer RPG in the past. Sure, there are differences between the types of RPGs, but if you've played a video or computer RPG, you can probably pick up the basics of a game like Pathfinder pretty easily, especially if you're given a pregenerated character. However, the game master position is unique to tabletop games. There's rarely an analog in the digital world; the computer generally acts as the game master.
The adventure starts on page 3. I love this because it makes the adventure feel more approachable. I happen to love GMing and I spend a fair amount of time convincing others to give it a try. One of the most common excuses I hear is that they don't know the rules well enough. As with the Hero's book, the rules are given as needed. So, in the first encounter they describe how initiative works and the parts of a turn and round in combat. The next three encounters focus on exploration, with instructions on how skill checks, traps, and the like all work. In many ways, the adventure provided works like the intro quest of many video game RPGs. Each introduces a new concept or two and then they build on each other so the GM and players learn the basics of the game.
In addition to providing a great beginner adventure full of what I consider to be iconic beginner monsters (all it's missing are some rats), the included flip mat is wonderful. One side of the mat has a dungeon complex, the same one used in the adventure. However, not all of the features in the adventure are on the map, so the GM gets some practice adding things to a map on the fly. The other side is a basic tan mat, ready for whatever the GM thinks up next.
Speaking of what's next, the adventure ends on page 15 with a list of ideas for future adventures. The adventures themselves are an exercise left to the reader.
Introduction to Game Mastering
After the adventure is a great introduction to game mastering. It defines common terms, outlines the duties of the GM, and discusses how to adjust a prewritten adventure for your group. After that, it explains the details of creating your own adventures, everything from drawing maps (common map symbols are on the inside back cover), types of encounters, types of adventures, and simple world building advice. Then it provides an adventure seed for an adventure of your own design, based in the same area as the included adventure and using the town of Sandpoint as the basis. Sandpoint itself is detailed in the back of the book. Finishing that section is information on the types of environments for an adventure, such as dungeons, forests, cities, and the like, along with traps, terrain, and other tips for each.
After the introduction, the book gives a few more tools for new GMs. Magic items, a mini bestiary with 45 monsters, and a write up of the town of Sandpoint along with some more adventure seeds, are all included. The magic item section details some of the intricacies of potion, scroll, staff and wand use as well as how a character identifies a magic item. in the monster section, the book provides a guide to reading the monster stat block, pictures for each monster, and tables for building random encounters by environment type along with instructions on how to create them. An easy to read conditions table can be found inside the book with the more common conditions on the back cover. With all of these tools and the reusable map, I think new GMs will find a lot to love in the Beginner Box.
Overall, I really love the Pathfinder Beginner Box. I think they did a great job taking a complicated and complex game and boiling it down to something a new player will find more approachable. They also sprinkled lots of advice throughout the book, which is particularly helpful to those of us who don't have an older sibling or cousin to teach us the game.
One thing I hope they do is produce some instructions for the next step, helping new players transition from the beginner box model of the game to the full version. Obviously, with just 64 pages for the Hero's Handbook and 96 for the Game Master's Guide, not everything in the core rulebook made the jump. Existing players and game masters welcoming in players who learned the game through the Beginner Box should have an idea of what parts of the game rules they might not know. But, overall, that's a relatively small matter.
While I was out in Seattle after Geek Girl Con, I stopped by the Paizo offices. Somehow I was able to talk my way into some sweet loot, the Pathfinder beginner's Box. I haven't had the chance to do a full review yet, in part because I'm fairly new to Pathfinder and 3.5 but I want to share some of my initial thoughts.
Choose Your Own Adventure
The box includes a choose your own adventure to introduce new players to the game and its conceits about the world. One of the interesting effects of the depth of the rules is that even relatively small choices, such as the type of weapon one uses against a creature, can matter. For someone unfamiliar with that style of play, the first time she faces a skeleton with a sword can be a frustrating experience. The included adventure highlights that the game includes concepts such as this one in a safe environment.
In addition to introducing the player to a number of specific game concepts, the choose your own adventure does a great job in introducing the player to roleplaying games in general. I really enjoyed that it followed up the solo adventure with an example of play, showing how the story in the solo adventure gets translated to play at the table and how a group works together.
Concise Directions for Building a Character
After a brief introduction to the game rules and an explanation of the dice, the book continues with directions on how to build a character. They did a great job on this. The character sheets provided in the box are coded with letters that correspond to the instructions to make it easy for players to identify where on the character sheet they should put their information. This is something I've struggled with since I started playing D&D. They added these letters not only to the blank character sheets, but also to the pregens. So if a new player is confused about something, he can reference the pregens as an example.
Suggestions for the Finishing Touches
Not only does the book provide a simplified list of skills, feats, and equipment for new players, it provides class-specific suggestions for each of those sections. For a new player who isn't quite sure and is worried that her group will tease her if she makes a poor decision, the suggestions are wonderful. I was nervous about that when I created my first character. Like the rest of the book, these sections have a lot of graphics. Each equipment item has a picture next to it. For some established players or people who grew up looking everything up, this might seem silly. But for a new players and especially younger kids, anything keeps them in the book and not distracted sounds great to me. Plus, sometimes seeing the physical representation right there can fuel the imagination or provide words to a nervous player.
Just What You Need
After that the book has a section on more game rules. At 14 pages, it includes enough information to get a good feel for the game and to play, without being overwhelming. It even includes information for leveling up. One thing I love about this boxed set is that it covers levels 1-5 for the basic classes.
I didn't go over everything, but I hope this gives a good idea of what's in the Beginner's Box for players. I'll write about the DM side of the equation soon. In the meantime, if you'd like to see how they handled character classes, see what the pregens look like, or look at the extra player and DM content they provide (including a beginner's version of the barbarian) check out the Beginner's Box page on their website.
After Geek Girl Con, I spent a week hanging out with my friends in Seattle and was able to get in 3 games while out there, The One Ring, 4e, and Pathfinder. Both The One Ring and Pathfinder games had a higher danger threshold than the 4e game and most of the 4e games I've been in in general. In particular, both had their share of save rolls. I know this is something that used to be a bigger part of D&D but my experiences over the week left me feeling a bit mixed on them.
The One Ring
In The One Ring, I played a wood elf. We were chasing down some dwarves and the trail led to a pool's edge where the tracks mysteriously stopped. A bell began to ring and my character fell victim to its enchantments. Down into the pool she went.
This is the first time I've played a character that was compelled to do something. Since this was a one shot for me and I trust the GM completely (Hi Chris!), it really wasn't a big deal. Out into the hallway we went and he quickly described what was happening. I had a few choices to make, do I wait for my party (not knowing if they would come rescue me, I was a new character after all)? Do I try to swim out of there the way I came in? Or do I open the dark door I found down there? None of these choices are an obvious "right" choice but at least the one I chose, wait for the rest of the party, wasn't an instant death sentence, although some of the players in the room thought my character might be dead already.
Now, if my failed save had led to instant character death, I'm not sure how happy I would have been. I mean, there are times where I wouldn't really care and sometimes games with instant death can be fun. A fair number of video games have that type of behavior, where the fun of the game is more in mastering it than playing through an awesome story. But in this case, there wasn't anything that was obvious to me about what I should do. It would have felt arbitrary and unfulfilling. I guess what I mean is that the setback was nice, but being able to recover from it, even if it meant fighting more monsters, was even better.
My host Stephen was nice enough to run a Pathfinder dungeon crawl/delve for me during my stay at his house. While I hadn't played Pathfinder before, I had been in a few sessions of a 3/3.5 house-ruled game. However, my character really hadn't had to deal with many save situations and definitely none that involved conditions like paralysis or blindness. The Fellowship of the Tweet had dealt with paralysis (and my cleric's inability to Turn Undead versus some ghouls) but I'm still a little scarred by that encounter.
If I'm being honest, I found the save situations in that game a bit more frustrating. Our barbarian became blinded for an hour after he failed his saving throw versus the blindheim and another character got sucked into a gelatinous cube at one point. While I think I can see what the mechanics were trying to model/accomplish and there is nothing inherently wrong about them, they just aren't my preferred way of doing it.
That said, I did see how they encouraged more creative play (although it's not the first time I've noticed it). Particularly in the case of the blindheim, where you have some options to overcome its gaze attack (which in 4e terms can be used both as an aura and as a ranged at-will). Although the dice weren't in my favor, Stephen said yes to my idea of trying to cover the blindheim's eyes with my cloak, which would have helped my party kill it faster.
I wouldn't mind making it clearer in 4e that DMs could allow creative solutions like that in their games, perhaps even in the monster's statblock. We already have this to a degree. For instance, the wraith loses its insubstantial trait until the start of its next turn whenever it takes radiant damage. This might encourage a divine character to choose a less powerful attack with the radiant keyword to give the party a better chance of hitting and killing the creature. However, we could expand this even more and make it more like a trap or hazard where the PCs can take countermeasures to avoid a particularly damaging attack or stop a buff. Spend a standard action and one part of the monster's special powers goes away for a turn.
This might also give space for the people who like to play helper characters. Instead of making certain classes be helpers, individual players can decide how to play out those classes. And while not everyone can necessarily help with every monster, helping isn't limited to a particular class type. This might be more fun and rewarding than the existing aid another rules.
So how would this work? Let's take the blindheim as an example. In 4e, I would make its gaze attack into an aura. Entering or starting your turn in the aura causes you to grant combat advantage and provides a -2 to attack rolls since the creature's gaze is so distracting. If you end the turn in the aura, you have to make a saving throw against becoming blind. (Alternatively, we could do this when you start or enter, with a successful saving throw meaning you grant CA and have the -2 penalty instead of being blinded.)
Since Gaze attacks can't be done while the creature is blinded, players could find ways to blind the creature. Perhaps they have a power that causes blindness or they decide to put a cloth over the creature's eyes. The type of action required (standard or minor) should be determined by the benefit they gain from the action. In the terms of this aura, I'd say they were gaining a pretty big benefit on success, and would require a standard action, since not only would they as an individual benefit but the whole party as well.
What Do You Think?
So, let's say you were faced with a creature like the blindheim. How would you overcome its special powers? How far can we push this while still keeping the rules fairly light? Would you allow someone to spend their standard action, no check, to try to blind the blindheim?
As many of you know, I went to Geek Girl Con last weekend. I had a lot of fun and I thought it went pretty well for a first year con.
- To hear a diversity of viewpoints In many of my more geeky pursuits, of which gaming is just one, there tends to be a lack of women. That leads to the unfortunate tendency of labeling the person by her gender; she becomes the "woman" of the group and the views she expresses tend to represent her group. While this can be problematic in pretty narrow groups, like the "sports guy" or the "optimizer," I find it even harder to deal with when one person comes to represent about half of the population. The great part about having so many women in the room is that it becomes impossible to label women by their gender. We have to look beyond their gender to find their unique trait. As a result, the diversity of opinions and viewpoints among women really comes to the forefront. To me, as someone who works and plays in male-dominated spheres, that was freaking awesome. The con had about 1500 attendees and with approximately 70% of the attendees being women.
- To see women presented as experts and leaders In technology and gaming, it feels that women tend not to be out there in leadership roles. At something like Geek Girl Con, they need to be. In addition, at least in US society we often undervalue the contributions of women or think they are incapable of doing things. For instance, in Bossy Pants, Tina Fey discusses a number of stereotypes about women that she had to actively work against including a belief that women could not be funny or that you couldn't put two women comedians out on the stage at the same time. Sometimes similar tendencies crop up in the geeky hobbies. Often, many of the women work behind the scenes, not getting the spotlight for their contributions. Having them step out into the spotlight and show that they know their stuff and are comfortable in their own skin helps change this perception among elements of geekdom that women aren't in geeky pursuits or that they can't hold their own against their male counterparts.
- To learn about some pretty awesome books, movies, and projects I have to admit, I hadn't heard of Ink-Stained Amazon before the con. I went to the panel by Jennifer Kate Stuller and it was really good and I can't wait to buy her book, Ink-Stained Amazons and Cinematic Warriors: Superwomen in Modern Mythology. Womanthology also presented at the con.
- Building networks One thing that often gets overlooked in the discussions of how to get more women into designing is how people get encouragement to put themselves out there. Among my friends who work for gaming companies, I hear a lot of informal encouragement such as "Well, my buddy from high school or college or the guy I hang out with happens to work for the company and encouraged me to apply." In my experience, those groups tend to be more single sex and since many of the designers and developers currently are men, sometimes it's harder for women to break in. Of course, there is a lot of human nature to this, why would you want to work with complete strangers when you can work with friends, but encouraging expanded friendship circles through a con like this seems awesome to me.
Sure, there were some downsides to the con. As a first year con, they had some issues with logistics. Since most people had to pick up their badge the morning of the con, the lines were long. Also, walking between the two main areas made it hard to get to panels on time. Some of the panels were hit and miss. I went to the women of Star Wars panel not realizing they would focus mainly on costuming and parts of the Expanded Universe, which while cool, isn't really my thing. The gaming and exhibitor rooms were pretty small.
I also noticed a lack of gaming companies represented there, which, I have to be honest, made me a little sad. I would have loved to see a panel with women who work in the tabletop industry talk about their experiences and answer questions. Although I missed out on attending it, I loved that there was a Bioware panel and its existence felt like a warm, welcoming hug.
Finally, I wish there were more areas to break out and form ad hoc groups and panels. Among the tech conferences I go to, a favorite thing is "Birds of a Feather" groups. Basically a few rooms are left open for groups to sign out as they desire. If a group wants to get together to talk about say, tabletop gaming or finding and encouraging female artists, they can totally do that. The informal setting sometimes works better for certain topics and gives groups that form during a panel to go to continue the discussion.
Personally, it was awesome seeing a bunch of people, including Logan Bonner ( @loganbonner ), Susan J Morris ( @susanjmorris ) , Liz Smith ( @dammit_liz ), Mike Robles ( @michaelrobles ) and Erin Evans ( @erinmevans ). I also met up with Cathé ( @gamermom1_0 ) and Tim ( @timsmartini ) Post and their adorable daughter who is now my BFF. Meeting Meris ( @merismullaley ) (also my host for the weekend), Michelle, Genevieve ( @thestormycellar ), Tanis, and Jennifer was really awesome. Overall, the best part of the con was just meeting and seeing people while we discussed what happened in the panels. I really enjoyed my time there and hope to go next year.