dnd


D&D and Bullet Journal Mashup

Over the past year, I've been watching a lot of art videos on YouTube. Originally I started with videos about art journaling but over time the algorithms started adding in bullet journalling as well. At first I wasn't sure that the videos were for me but as I saw more examples of what people were doing with them, I got hooked and decided to give it a try this year.

Here's the description of what bullet journaling is from the website, BulletJournal.com:

The Bullet Journal is a customizable and forgiving organization system. It can be your to-do list, sketchbook, notebook, and diary, but most likely, it will be all of the above. It will teach you to do more with less.

One of the keys is to number each of your pages and to leave a few pages at the start of the journal to use as a table of contents. What you decide to put on each page is up to you. Also key is that you never go too far in advance. This allows you to experiment with new ways of recording and presenting information as well as figuring out what your style is.

At first, I did some really basic page setups, drawing boxes for the three types of daily items: tasks, events, and notes. For example, here's a Sunday from January.

Attempt at BuJo Dungeon

Drawing these boxes reminded me of creating dungeon maps, so the next week, I decided to draw a dungeon instead.

First, I decided the path through the "rooms," the various sections on the page that I will later do my planning within. All of the lines are done with Pigma Micron pens in black ink and various nib widths.

Next I went through and added the typical journal information, in this case the days and dates of the week. I also started some of the decoration, such as creating the chessboard pattern room. The days of the week were written with a Pigma Micron pen and the dates, headers, and coloring were done with Faber Castell Pitt Artist brush pens.

Finally, I decided to add some stamping to the page. I used Tombow markers to "ink" the stamps and then applied them to the page. Most of the stamps were from the Lawn Fawn Critters Ever After set (affiliate link).

BuJo Resort Town

The next week I decided to go with a town map instead of a dungeon. I wanted to do a resort town with a large hotel with attendant stables and carriage house. First, I drew in the corners of the planning boxes and penciled in the town map.

Next I went through and started inking the buildings and environment. For this I used Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens, trying to keep to colors that would be easy to write over without interfering with readability.

Finally, I colored in with colored pencil the areas that I had inked with the Fineliner pens. I also used stamps inked with my Tombow markers to add some additional features and added dates and headers with Pitt artist brush pens.

BuJo Cliffside Town

This week, I went with a town map again, but this time I decided to explore a cliffside town. Again I only drew the corners of my planning areas. I had an idea of a society where people built octagonal houses. When their children were old enough to start a family, they built off of one of the walls of their home, so that the homes were interconnected. My inspiration for this was spending last week with my parents with my little one. While I worked during the day in the garage, they took care of little dude in their home, which gave me the idea of what if we could live in separate but connected homes that made this sort of community care easier.

I didn't have as much time to spend on this map as I had my previous ones, so it's a bit simpler. All of the map inking is done with the Fineliner pens and instead of coloring in areas, I drew lines to delineate areas such as woods, water, and beach.

So why do this? I've found that as I spent more time designing my bullet journal pages, I've been more likely to use it to plan and record information. Also, this is a good way to get in map design practice. Finally, much like coloring, I find it relaxing and a nice creative outlet while not requiring a ton of time, important when I'm taking care of a seven-month old in addition to working full time.

While I've concentrated on my weekly/daily spread, there are many other ways that a bullet journal could be useful for someone who likes to play tabletop roleplaying games. I could just as easily use a page or two to create random tables or plan my next campaign. Having the table of contents at the front makes it easier to not lose that information.

Blogs I Love: Dyson’s Dodecahedron


I've been admiring Dyson Logos' maps for quite some time now. When I eventually get back to creating and publishing my own adventures, my dream is to have some of his maps accompany my work. In case you haven't seen them yet, here are examples:

The Three Tombs of Acker cartography by Dyson LogosThe Three Tombs of Acker cartography by Dyson Logos
Clayfield Village Cartography by Dyson LogosClayfield Village Cartography by Dyson Logos

Ink sketches and drawings of all sorts are among my favorite types of art but are among the type that I personally am not particularly good at. And I love a good map.

Fortunately, Dyson's site is full of them, over 460 of them actually. He has them organized on his blog in a variety of categories including by location type, adventure type, and drawing style. While the vast majority of them are for personal use only, he has put approximately 96 of them under a no-cost, royalty-free Creative Commons Attributions license that includes commercial use.

He is also quite active on social media including Facebook, G+, and Twitter. I've been lurking around on his posts for a while because he's just so willing to provide important information and tips not only on drawing maps but also getting them printed. For instance, his hints about using engineering prints from places like Staples has been filed away for my own art projects as well.

If you want to support Dyson Logos creating even more maps, check out his Patreon. He also has published a few books. They are available as pdfs from RPG Now and hard copy via Lulu. Finally, if like me you dream of commissioning a map from him, his commission rates are available here. No guarantees that he'll have time to work on them.

P.S. If you haven't seen it yet, some of Dyson's work was used in the Dungeons & Dragons Monsters and Heroes of the Realms Coloring Book (Amazon Affiliate Link).

Deep Dive: 5E Barbarian

In preparation for my new campaign, I'm taking a look at the various character classes in hopes that I can add moments of cool regardless of which characters my players choose to play and also can sidestep some awkward moments at the table. I'm hoping to go through the core classes (from the 5e player's handbook) in alphabetical order which means we start with the BARBARIAN! (Sorry, couldn't resist the all caps there.)

Barbarian

Winter Barbarian by Kaitlynn Peavler (@thedicegoddess)

The primary mechanic for barbarians is their rage. Rage lasts for up to one minute (essentially an encounter) and how many times per day they can rage is linked to their barbarian level. It ends early if the character is knocked unconscious or if they end their turn and either haven't attacked a hostile creature since their last turn or have taken damage since their last turn. During their rage, barbarians gain access to the following modifications:

  • Advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • Melee weapon attacks that use strength gain a bonus to the damage roll (tied to barbarian level).
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
  • Lack the ability to cast spells or concentrate on spells already cast.

There's a lot here. The first thing I note is how simplified rage is, especially compared with the Pathfinder barbarian. It feels to me like a good middle ground between the Pathfinder and 4e versions.

In Pathfinder, a barbarian gets to rage a number of rounds per day determined by their barbarian level. Here's what happens when they rage:

  • Gain a +4 morale bonus to Strength and Constitution and +2 morale bonus to Will saves.
  • Suffer a -2 penalty to Armor Class.
  • Gain 2 hit points per Hit Dice (due to Constitution increase). They disappear when the rage ends and are not the first lost.
  • Lose access to skills based on Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence or abilities that require patience or concentration.
  • When the rage ends, they are fatigued for a number of rounds equal to 2 times the number of rounds spent in the rage.

In 4E, barbarians gained access to special Daily powers with the rage keyword. Once a barbarian used one of the rage dailies, one of the following things happened: the encounter ended, the barbarian chose to end the rage or switched to a different rage, or the character became unconscious. Each rage had an ongoing benefit that was tied to the theme of the rage and other abilities might interact with the rage keyword.

The 5E rage acts a lot like the 4E version in terms of the mechanics of how often one can rage and when it ends. One of the nice things about not tying it to rounds is that it lightens the cognitive load of players trying to determine whether or not *now* is a good time to enter a rage.

What further lightens that load is the lack of penalties for entering a rage and for deciding to come out of it. I know when I played my barbarian gunslinger, most of the time I didn't even bother to rage because determining which rounds were the best to do so in and what I'd give up to do so was often more work than I was prepared to spend.

Gnoll Barbarian

Gnoll Barbarian by Jared von Hindman

Some people will enjoy that sort of decision making and they'll still have the opportunity to make those sorts of decisions. Instead of making the penalties part of the core raging mechanic, 5e separates them out into additional decisions. For example, at 2nd level, they gain access to Reckless Attack, which allows them to decide on the first attack of their turn to throw caution to the wind, gaining advantage on melee weapon attacks that use Strength during the turn, but granting advantage to any attack rolls against them until their next turn. I need to play it to find out, but this version feels much more dramatic to me than the +4 bonuses to Strength and Constitution and the -2 penalty to Armor Class (but your mileage may vary).

Moving penalties to more precise decisions, with their own carrots, gives the player more control over the risk they are willing to take. Additionally, the added risk due to the resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage a barbarian gets while in a rage (Note to DMs, make note of the resistance rules at 1st level if you have a barbarian in the party). Obviously, there are plenty of monsters, especially at higher levels, that do other types of damage, but this combination sounds like it can set up some great scenes with a cinematic feel to them.

For those who like the ongoing penalty after the rage, the Path of the Berserker offers players the opportunity to go into a frenzy starting at 3rd level. While in a frenzy, barbarians can make a single melee attack as a bonus action on each turn after entering the frenzy. When the rage ends, the barbarian suffers one level of exhaustion (which is some potent stuff). Again, this feels a bit bolder to me.

Also, by not providing default penalties to Charisma, Dexterity, or Intelligence skills, the barbarian is less likely to be turned into a caricature during play. Other options are still available during the encounter. For instance, in 5E barbarians also gain a danger sense at 2nd level that boosts their Dexterity saving throws. This sort of dodging figures strongly in many barbarian stories I've read, it just never was as iconic as strength.

However, I think there are a few complexities to the 5e barbarian that players should be aware of. In addition to the resistance, I'd like to pay particular attention to tracking barbarian resources during play. For instance, there's a bunch of information to keep track of that resets each round while the character is in a rage. The player needs to know if they took damage and/or attacked a hostile creature since the end of their last turn. If they haven't, then they will lose the rage. Also, the damage done by attacks differs depending on whether or not the barbarian is in the rage. The generic character sheets don't really help with this record keeping. (Fortunately, the record keeping ends at 15th level.)

Another area to keep in mind is that the Path of the Totem Warrior gives the barbarian access to some spells, allowing them to cast them as a ritual. At 3rd level, the barbarian may cast beast sense and speak with animals spells as a ritual. For DMs who want to make non-combat encounters an important part of their game, they may want to plan in opportunities where these spells are one way to gain a favorable outcome in the game. They may also want to prepare for clever players who use these spells to gain what could be considered "too much" information about a combat encounter ahead of time.

I'm not going to look at everything that gets added at higher levels, at least not in this post. I hope this helps illustrate some of the cool things about the 5E barbarian as well as some of the areas to be wary of, especially for DMs. One last thing, however. During the design of 5E, there was some talk about wanting to make ability scores important again. One area in the barbarian class where that comes up is with the 18th level barbarian class ability called Indomitable Might. This ability allows the player to substitute in their Strength score if the total for a Strength check is less than their score. That's pretty cool!

Note: There's one thing I'd like to point out regarding the barbarian, in particular the Path of the Totem Warrior. Barbarians that follow this path pick a spirit animal as a guide. There has been a lot of discussion about the spirit animal meme online and I think it's something to be aware of. Here's an Atlantic article the discusses some of the appropriative nature of this concept. This is also a great discussion of usage of the term "spirit animal" and counters some of the arguments that the term is not tied to Native Americans and/or First Peoples.

Steal This: La Cité à travers les âges (Paris)

Last week, I mentioned the art and story of Goblin Market, written by Christina Rossetti and illustrated by Laurence Housman. This week, I'm sharing another book from the British Library collection, La Cité à travers les âges, as far as I can ascertain a book about the history of Paris. I'll be up front, I don't know enough French to read the book, but I thought some of the illustrations from the book were well worth sharing. Just a quick note, I don't know how historically accurate the book is but I also don't think that's as important for our purposes here.

Clothing

One of the things I liked about it were the small sketches about clothing through the centuries. Not only does it look at clothing from the 13th through 18th centuries, but the work provides examples of clothing commonly worn by people of different socio-economic ranks. So we see a paysan (peasant) in the same group as a dame noble (noblewoman).

Understanding the differences in dress can make campaigns richer. How far in detail you go depends on you and your group but even just mentioning that noblewomen seem to have more decoration to their dresses and the material seems more flowing or less bulky can help.

Additionally, the various accoutrements can lead provide inspiration for other NPCs in town, someone is either making them or bringing them to the area. Also, if you tire of yet another side quest that could be summed up as a beer run, a necessary item of clothing that was ruined or is unexpectedly needed can provide a diversion.

13th Century Clothing
14th Century Clothing
15th Century Clothing
15th Century Clothing
16th Century Clothing
16th Century Clothing
Clothing during the reign of King Louis XIII
Clothing during the reign of King Louis XIV
18th Century Clothing

Items

In addition to clothing, there are a few illustrations of various items including architectural details and furniture. As with clothes, how various items look often change through time, whether due to fashion or advancements (or declines) in technology. In addition to adding richer details, variance in styles, especially in game art, can help show the story of an area in ways that there might not be space to write.

Architecture details
Armor and Weapons
Furniture
Music instruments

Maps

Books like this can provide nice illustrations of maps that can be reused in a variety of games.

Earlier map of Paris
Later map of Paris

Buildings and Landmarks

Buildings and other landmarks are a common subject for historical illustrations. This book has some that are rougher and older from earlier in the history and others that are more refined (for instance, a cathedral without little to no Christian iconography could be useful as a temple to a god of civilization or knowledge).

La Tour de Nesle
Le Pilori des Halles
Ancienne Porte Saint-Martin
Le Petit Chalet
Moulin a Vent
Porte Montmartre

Scenes

This book has a number of scenes illustrated as well. Taking the art out of context can provide inspiration for events and NPCs in your game as well. One of the things I liked about this work is the number of women present as key players in some of the illustrations of historical events.

Catherine de Medicis et son astrologue
La duchesse de montpensier et Jacques Clement

So if you're looking for inspiration, looking at the pictures of old books, even ones written in a language you don't read, can be fruitful. Happy searching!

Steal This: Goblin Market

As mentioned in a previous post, the British Library released over a million images from its collection for public use. I happen to love illustrations so every so often I love to revisit the collection to see what I can find. In this case, I found images from a book called Goblin Market, a narrative poem written by Christina Rossetti about two close sisters. This edition of the book is illustrated by Laurence Housman.

Things to Steal:

  • Random encounter: The story describes how a young woman decides to partake in the feast offered by the goblins, even though she doesn't have any money. This feast turns into a curse, however, as she finds that not only is she pining for the delicious fruit the goblins offered but also that she can no longer hear them and the seeds she saved from the feast will not grow. This curse could be used in many game systems.
  • A story of a resourceful and brave woman. Lizzie, seeing her sister near death, goes out to find the goblins and attempts to buy some fruit to bring home to her. This angers the goblins and they assault her, including trying to force feed her the fruits. Eventually they relent and Lizzie returns home covered in pulp and juices. Having nothing else, she gets her sister to eat these which at first causes Laura to be repulsed and to act wildly. But when she awakes the next morning, she is cured.
  • The art! Seriously, this art is fantastical and well done. Here's a gallery with some of it.

There's a lot more to the work to discuss, such as what appear to be strongly feminist themes and Housman's own work for the womens' suffrage movement. However, I leave it to you to find out more about that stuff if you wish.

One thing I will point out is that the art might be fun to color in and if you find enough other art of a similar style, you could use color palettes to tie the various works together. As an example, I quickly printed out one of the scenes this morning and began coloring in the woman's dress. To deal with the yellowing of the paper, I used an image editor called Pixelmator and did a combination of desaturation and setting contrast to 50%. I created a zip file with the images I processed in this manner that you can get here.

Understanding Constitution Damage/Drain

One of the first things I noticed flipping through the new Southlands Bestiary (Pathfinder) by Kobold Press is the number of monsters that do Constitution ability damage. Over the years I've heard so many complaints from players regarding ability damage and drain, this surprised me a bit. However, I think a well-informed GM can use these monsters to good effect at the table.

Cover of Southlands Bestiary from Kobold Press

First, let's explore what ability damage and drain mean. Ability damage is damage done to one's ability score. Rather than subtracting from the score, you keep track of the damage separately. Get enough damage and you accrue penalties to your checks. Specifically, for every two points of damage done to an ability, you apply a -1 penalty to skills and statistics listed with the relevant penalty. However, your actual ability score remains the same, meaning you don't lose access to spells, feats, and the like.

Ability drain, on the other hand, reduces the relevant ability score. Instead of applying a penalty, you go through your entire character sheet and readjust all skills and statistics related to this ability. Additionally, points lost through ability drain tend to be harder to regain than healing from ability damage. Unless otherwise noted, a character can regain 1 point of ability damage per day. No such natural healing happens with ability drain.

Given how central ability scores are to the game, these general rules help explain why ability damage and drain in general can make players a bit upset but it's important to note that Constitution drain can be particularly thorny. For example, both ability damage and drain can have the effect of lowering one's Fortitude save modifier, often the save type needed to end ongoing Constitution damage or drain or to protect oneself from future reductions. Additionally, Constitution damage or drain reduces both current and total hit points, which means even if the character can deal with the reductions to Constitution abilities, their survivability is lessened. These hit points do not refresh until the ability score damage is healed or the drain reversed. Oh, and unlike the five other ability scores, being reduced to 0 Constitution through ability damage or drain results in character death.

Finally, Constitution is rarely the first or even second most important ability score for most classes. While it's generally advisable to not make it your dump stat (hit points are useful for everyone after all), it's going to be rare for it to be the highest ability score. (For more information on classes that use the various ability scores, see this great Google doc https://docs.google.com/document/d/1o91Z-s0R7Vf2Ujj1lFqGC5W--9JOyU0I6uC9...) While it's true that getting enough ability damage or drain in the five other score types will still take you out for a while, with Constitution it will kill you dead.

What this all means is that Constitution ability damage and drain easily can lead to an unintended death spiral. To understand, let's look at one of the monsters in Southlands Bestiary, the venomous mummy, a CR 5 monster. It has two abilities that do Constitution damage. One, toxic smoke, happens when the mummy is suffers a particular type of damage. It essentially creates an aura around the creature and any character within it must make a Fortitude check with a DC of 17. If a character fails, it takes 1 Constitution drain or 1d3 Con damage and faces making Fortitude saves for the next 5 rounds. To cure, it must make 2 consecutive saves.

Venomous mummy on fire.

If the effect is drain instead of damage, with every failure the player may need to rework their character sheet. If their ability score was even, this would kick them down one modifier tier. In addition, if there are any feats, spells, or other abilities they have that have a Constitution ability score prerequisite AND your ability score falls below that, you lose access to those items. Thus, the next round when you make a check, you are likely to be in a worse position than you started and yet have to make the same DC.

If the effect is damage instead and the 1d3 gets maxed, you are facing a situation where after two rounds you are taking a -3 penalty to your Fortitude saves plus dealing with a 3 times your hit dice reduction in hit points, and since it's from your current, it's as if the enemy had hit you for damage. And remember, the 2 saves must be consecutive.

Also, it's essentially a 10' aura which means multiple party members could be affected by this. This doesn't even take into account that the mummy has a second ability that also does Con damage, Selket's Venom. This affliction is spread by touch, including through the mummy's slam attack. The effect is 1d6 Con and 1d6 Dex. With an onset of 1 minute, it's unlikely to affect the current encounter but unlike toxic smoke, it continues until cured and no number of consecutive saves will cure it, only the removal of the curse will. The frequency is 1/minute and it requires that both the curse and the poison be removed, and I believe the curse has to be lifted first. While it doesn't say so explicitly, similar scenarios in the Core Rulebook say both spells must be done within 1 minute.

So imagine this scenario, the characters are in a tight crypt when they awaken the venomous mummy. Figuring that "burn it with fire" is always a good response to such foul creatures (hey, it's vulnerable to fire, right?), they light the mummy on fire. This releases the toxic smoke. Half the party is exposed, in particular the melee fighters. Two of them fail their saving throw, starting the up to six rounds of Con drain or damage. At least one of them also gets venom on them, meaning after the combat, that character is facing making a saving throw every minute. Their Fortitude save may already be penalized or reduced due to the toxic smoke and now they are facing the likelihood of an additional -1 penalty each minute, and possibly -2 or -3. Plus, they only have so many Constitution ability points to begin with and when they hit zero they are dead.

Venomous mummy begging to be on fire.

The main spells required in this case are remove curse and neutralize poison. Remove curse is a third level spell for bards, clerics, and paladins, and a fourth level spell for sorcerers and wizards. Neutralize poison is a third level spell for druids and rangers and a fourth level spell for alchemists, bards, clerics, oracles, inquisitors, paladins, shamans, and witches. Thus, unless you have a bard, cleric, or paladin in the party, it is unlikely that one character can both end the curse and neutralize the poison. Additionally, clerics don't get fourth level spells until 7th level and they'll only have two 3rd level spells at that level (perhaps more with a high Wisdom score). Paladins don't get 4th level spells until they are level 14 and bards don't get them until 10th level. That's not to say that there aren't other ways potentially to overcome this, but remember this is listed as a CR 5 monster.

If you want to revert the damage or drain, you have a few options available to you. Lesser restoration will cure 1d4 points of ability damage to one ability score. It's a first level spell for paladins and a second level spell for alchemists, clerics, oracles, druids, inquisitors, and shamans. However, it does nothing for ability drain. Restoration will cure all ability damage and restores all points permanently drained from a single ability score. It's a fourth level spell for alchemists, clerics, oracles, inquisitors, paladins, and shamans and requires diamond dust worth 100 gp. Greater restoration will cure all temporary ability damage and restores all points permanently drained from all ability scores. It's a level 7 spell for clerics, oracles, and shamans and requires diamond dust worth 5000 gp.

Spell Class Spell Level Class Level
Remove Curse Bard 3 7
Cleric 3 5
Paladin 3 11
Sorcerer 4 8
Wizard 4 7
Neutralize Poison Druid 3 5
Ranger 3 11
Alchemist 4 10
Bard 4 10
Cleric/Oracle 4 7
Inquisitor 4 10
Paladin 4 14
Shaman 4 7
Witch 4 7
Lesser Restoration Paladin 1 5
Alchemist 2 4
Cleric/Oracle 2 3
Druid 2 3
Inquisitor 2 4
Shaman 2 3
Restoration Alchemist 4 10
Cleric/Oracle 4 7
Druid 4 7
Inquisitor 4 10
Paladin 4 14
Shaman 4 7
Greater Restoration Cleric/Oracle 7 13
Shaman 7 13

Another option is for a character to spend 8 or more hours providing long-term care. It requires a heal check. If it is successful, 8 hours will help up to 6 characters recover 2 ability points and 24 hours will allow them to recover up to 4. However, you cannot give long term care to yourself.

Additionally this isn't the only creature that does Constitution ability damage or drain. Out of the 99 monsters listed in the table of contents, I counted 23 that have some ability to affect a character's Constitution. One example, the Dau (CR 5) require a Fortitude save after a touch attack. Failure results in 1d6 points of Constitution drain. The amphiptere (CR 3) attempts to poison creatures it bites or stings. Poisoned creatures that fail their Fortitude save take 1d2 Con damage until they save. Any creature that takes 4 or more points of Con damage are also fatigued until at least one of those damage points are healed.

Creature Name CR
Lemurfolk 1/2
Beetle, Bellyborer 1
Snake, Swamp Adder 2
Amphiptere 3
Clockwork, Imy-ut Ushabti 3
Scorpion, Stygian Fat-Tailed 3
Cactid 4
Dipsa 4
Snake, Zanskaran Viper 4
Asanbosams 5
Dau 5
Edimmu 5
Mirager 5
Mummy, Venomous 5
Rotting Wind 5
Sarcophagus Slime 6
Spider, Sand 7
White Ape 7
Clockwork, Shabti 8
Dingonek 10
Ia’Affrat 15
Arbeyach 21
Demon Lord, Camazotz 24

One thing to keep in mind is that the three people who heard me describe these monsters wanted to go up against them. So don't take this post as being negative on the product, it's definitely useful and will scratch the itch of some players. In fact, here are some game types where this sort of bestiary might be well-received:

  • Some types of tournament play
  • Games with experienced players who crave a challenge and/or something new
  • Adventures that use the Mythic Adventures rules since it often gives player characters resources they wouldn't otherwise get. For example, cure light wounds heals some ability score damage in addition to increasing the healing.
  • Campaigns that are more liberal about giving out items, especially as a reward for exploration. For instance, maybe parts of the area where a venomous mummy can be found have staves or potions to give the party more resources. However, I'd still suggest talking about this upfront rather than surprising players with it after they've dealt with something they feel is unfair.

So don't be afraid to use monsters like these, just try to go in with eyes wide open. Have fun! And if you have a story about ability damage/drain monsters you'd like to share, feel free to do so in the comments.

Notes: A huge thanks to Michael Phillips (Twitter|Website) for being willing to review my rough draft and do a quick soundness check. Venomous mummy artwork by the always awesome Jared von Hindman.

Artists I Love: Emily Fiegenschuh

One of the parts of Gen Con I love is Artist Alley, the portion of the exhibitor floor reserved for those who bring our fictional worlds to (visual) life. Among those present this year is Emily Fiegenshuh (Wikipedia, Website). In terms of game art, she has done work for Paizo and Wizards of the Coast. In addition, she provided character designs and illustrations for multiple fantasy stories published by Cricket Magazine and illustrations for Inuit mythology magazines and books published by Inhabit Media. Finally, she created The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures, a how-to-draw book (more on that in a bit).

Examples of Emily's work.

left: Call of the Forest Cover illustration for the Pathfinder Player Companion Animal Archive, published by Paizo, Inc. ©2013 Paizo, Inc.
top-right: Cymbril to the Resuce, Illustration for "The Star Shard" published by Cricket Magazine, October 2008. ©2008 Carus Publishing Company
bottom-right: Hogoren Character illustration for Unrestrained Games. ©2013 Unrestrained Games

Emily's art has a style that reminds me of the fairy tale books I grew up with. I love her balance between things that exist in the natural world and the fantastic. Additionally, I get from her artwork that she likes to do world building and is making conscious choices with both what she chooses to present and how she does so. This comes through in her book, The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures. Here are some example images of the book.

  • Discussions of creating personality in a character, including determining what type of food it eats.
  • Where to get inspiration from for fantasy creatures.
  • Details on how to draw monster hands.
  • An example of one of the complete monster drawing pages.

I can't wait to dig into this book more and give drawing a try.

From my brief conversation with her at Gen Con, it sounded like she would love to do more RPG work. I don't know her rates, but if you are interested, please contact her. Her contact info is emily at e-figart.com and her website is www.e-figart.com. Also, I love her card.

Emily's business card. Email is emily at e-figart.com and website is www.e-figart.com.

Also, here's what we picked up from her table at Gen Con.

Our loot from Gen Con, a print and The Explorer's Guide to Drawing Fantasy Creatures.

Looking Back: Aleena

As I look forward to 2015, there's one thing left from 2014 that I feel the need to write about. Back when I was getting a bunch of hate directed at me over the summer, leading to the "What happens when you engage" series of posts, Stuart Robertson, who had a disagreement with me in the past, decided to not only drag up the old disagreement, but misrepresent my positions. This led not only to more attacks and harassment along the same type discussed in the engage series, but as recently as a month ago I had two different people reference the distorted and incorrect arguments as if they were true.

So what is this all about? Why Aleena the cleric?

The original discussion started because I pointed out that the D&D art I saw growing up didn't make me feel welcomed, especially when combined with things like the gender-based attribute score stuff. Someone, I forget who, decided that since Aleena existed, my argument was incorrect, as if my lived-experience is something that can be disproved. This led to a long discussions, some of which I recorded here.

But let's say, for the sake of argument, that we could disprove lived-experiences. The argument still falls flat on a number of levels.

  • Even if Aleena was a character that would have made me feel welcomed, they admit that she is an outlier in regards to the art at the time.
  • Likewise, they ignore that Aleena came out when I was 2 or 3 and around the time that my brother was born. Since he was my conduit to the published D&D stuff, by the time he was ready to play, there's a good chance I don't see Aleena, especially with the lack of ebay and online pdfs.
  • They make the argument that since she is so much closer to what I suggest I would like in female representation for D&D, I must then be happy with her. This would be akin to saying that because most things are red and I love blue, I have to be content with green because it's closer on the color spectrum or else there is just no pleasing me. They go even further to allege that I wouldn't be happy until everything was blue.

The above is the actual image they chose to make their argument. It has some things going for it. She in a more active pose. She's actually standing up to a bad guy. She is covered nearly head to toe.

But there are some things that are, in my opinion, rather silly too. Her chainmail is rather form fitting (which we'll see even more in the image they didn't share with me that day). To me, she's in a rather strange stance for someone facing a magic flying arrow. It reminds me of a batter's stance from baseball, but seems all wrong for the perspective. The long tabard seems impractical and she seems more like a model than someone actively going up against an enemy. While the phrase "women in refrigerators" hadn't been coined yet, Aleena exists solely to die and be a reason for the player character to continue on. Her main role is to teach and heal the player character.

And they don't argue with most of these criticisms, not really. They'll say things, like "What do you expect, the artist is Elmore, king of fantasy cheesecake?" Or they'll take issue with the desire for "realism" even though many of them prefer certain other games for their "grittiness" or verisimilitude. If you read a number of forum posts about her, you'll see that a number of men fell in love with her when they were boys and some fantasize about her in a sexual way. None of these things would have made me feel welcome as a kid and they still make me feel unwelcome now, especially the exasperated "well, obviously" tone that accompanies a number of the arguments.

Of course, a number of them felt the need to take an argument calling for a diversity in art (yeah, she doesn't go far enough) into an argument against diversity (she shouldn't exist). That's why they try to force me into a yes or no answer on whether or not she's sexist and, when I refuse to play their game, claim my lack of yes or no answer is a statement that she is. Sorry, boys, it doesn't work that way. In addition to not engaging with what I'm actually saying, they are oversimplifying and presenting a false dichotomy. Let's explore this.

Whether or not Aleena is sexist has nothing to do with the question of whether or not I felt welcomed by the art. To turn it around, let's say we got rid of all female characters in art who were sexy. Even if that were the same as eradicating sexism, we would still have a problem of some women not feeling welcomed by the art. The sexism comes in the frequency of representation and lack of other types of female characters which leads to the feelings of not being welcomed by women who aren't interested in the limited representations offered. Making it about whether or not I think the individual character is sexist is an example of pitting women against each other.

Additionally, things don't have to be sexist or not sexist. Many of the those who try to enforce this binary are the same people who claim that saying something is sexist is the same as saying it shouldn't exist or that the creator intended it to be sexist. Most people I know who try to talk about issues of sexism and representation consider sexism to be more of a spectrum (ok, some of us get even more complicated than that, but that's beyond the scope of this post). So, while I think there are a number of elements of how Aleena is presented in the work that are problematic and the fact that she is the outlier is an example of the sexism common at the time, I don't see the need to reduce the discussion to a yes or no checkbox.

Finally, saying I have to accept her is an attempt at control and dominance. When I refused, they have spent multiple years attempting to marginalize me by misrepresenting and libeling me. Others accept their lies as truth because it fits with the societal narrative about feminists and spread them further, reinforcing them.

Whether or not I see her as sexist is one of the least interesting questions out there to ask. It's asked not because my answer has any chance of being interesting but rather because if I answer no, they get to dismiss the issues with her being the best case they can make about the art at the time and if I say yes, they get to spin this narrative about insatiable man-hating, sex-negative feminists who want nothing more than censor cheesecake. They get to look like they are having a rational discussion while really making it about me.

And we see this same sort of reductionist argument style again and again. The follow up to the lie that I said it was sexist was to say that I won't be happy until all female characters wear burkas. When it was pointed out that I've said positive things about both Saga and Gail Simone's Red Sonja, the argument was twisted that I wouldn't be happy until everyone dressed like me. This is more of what happens when you engage with them, which is why I've decided to block the bunch of them.

This isn't the first time they've done this and it won't be the last as long as people allow it to continue. Aleena is important to discuss both because of how far ahead she was for the time but also for how far she had to go.

P.S. Some interesting facts about Aleena.

  • The character art is based on one of Frank Mentzer's ex-girlfriends.
  • While we do hear her voice before we see her, the very first thing we learn about Aleena is that she is a "beautiful woman."

    You carefully start down the corridor into the unknown, your lantern held high and sword ready.

    The corridor leads to another small cave. As you approach, you hear a voice, and see a light.

    You pull the shutters closed on your lantern, so you can hide better, and care- fully peek around the corner. To your right, sitting by the cave wall, is a beautiful woman, wearing armor like yours. She has no sword, but has a rod with a metal ball on one end; this is a weapon called a mace. A lit lantern is on the floor next to her. She seems to be meditating or praying.

  • I'm pretty sure chainmail wouldn't hug one's rear the way it does in the picture of her dead.

P.S.S. Here are some descriptions of her I found on the internet. Yeah, my reaction to her was sooooo off.

I met Aleena, the cleric, her long blond hair flowing from beneath her finely crafted helm, her luminous eyes. . . err, where was I? Sorry.

-- source: "Mentzer Reflections, Part 4: Bargle and Aleena"

For those of you who may have forgotten, we meet the blonde-haired cleric shortly after wounding a goblin in a cave. As we cautiously pursue the fleeing goblin, we come upon her silently meditating in a corner of a cavern chamber. She is drawn to our high charisma and invites us to join her for a rest. After instructing us on several aspects of an adventurer's life, the cleric not only joins our expedition but kindly offers to heal us as well (that 16 charisma really pays off). Aleena becomes a mentor of sorts as we explore the remainder of the caves together but she can do more than just offer instruction. She exhibits her skill and power as she uses her clerical abilities once again, this time turning the undead ghouls that block our route. We are beginning to fall in love with this woman!
But our love affair is not meant to be. Bargle, the roguish magic-user that has been terrorizing the countryside around Threshold slays the beautiful young cleric with a deadly spell. She falls in battle and no matter what we do, we cannot alter that fate. We either kill the evil Bargle after making our saving throw or unwittingly aid him while under a charm spell. Either way, Aleena the cleric is no more.
With either outcome, we do manage to recover Aleena's body and return her to the local church. Hearts are broken, both in the game and in real life over the death of the cleric. No matter how many times we play the scenario or what we do, we cannot save her. The cleric's fate is preordained. It is with great remorse for her loss that we begin our adventuring careers in the world of D&D. But with her loss comes wisdom and the understanding that death is real in the game and the hero does not always win. We are shown just how dangerous the adventuring life can be. This would have been a profound lesson to those new to the game and perhaps this is why the Metzer boxed set remains so ingrained in the collective memory of D&D players worldwide.

-- source: "Aleena the Cleric

I liked Elmore's art, always have. That alone seems invalidate my Old School street cred. I love his witches (no surprise) and love how he draws women. So when I finally got my hands on a Mentzer basic set, I loved the art and yes, I found Aleena. Though there was no emotional connection there with me. I felt that killing her was a cheap attempt to get the players involved. This is called a "Women in Refrigerators" effect and its a cliché.

That all aside, it also worked.
People to this very day still remember Aleena and hate Bargle.

-- source: "Aleena, doomed cleric for D&D 4 Essentials

Aleena and the Bargle incident are often remembered with tongue in cheek fondness by many gamers, and for good reason, she's a memorable NPC, it's a cool campaign starter adventure hook, and Larry Elmore's art for her is D&D cheesecake gold.

--source: "Aleena, and the fine art of annoying the party with their hirelings"

If the original red box basic set was your first experience with Dungeons and Dragons, then chances are you will remember this cleric. The introduction solo adventure was a great way to ease into what D&D was about if you did not have friends to play with just yet. And who could forget the beautiful illustration of the first non player character you run across. She saves you from a pack of undead and chances are she ends up dying in the final battle. She was probably a level 2 cleric then, but no stats were provided. Later on, she was described in the gazetteer for Karameikos and given a last name. Some time must have passed as she is a level 12 cleric and active in church politics of the town of Threshold.

--source: "Iconic Basic Dungeons and Dragons Characters Part 1

havard wrote:
Bargle and Aleena... Were they from Frank's campaign or just created for the purpose of the introductory adventure?

Just for this. There are analogues in my own campaign of course, especially of Bargle. But none of my clerics are as foxy as Aleena. ;>

--source: Mentzer, Bargle and Aleena

Frank Mentzer wrote:
Just for this. There are analogues in my own campaign of course, especially of Bargle. But none of my clerics are as foxy as Aleena. ;>

Too bad. I was hoping I could leech some information about Aleena from you. Ofcourse, foxier Clerics than her would be hard to come by wouldn't they? :)

It is weird. When I pick up an RPG these days, I rarely even read through the introductory adventures. But this was the game that introduced me to RPGs. I guess that is why I will never forget those characters. Elmore's illustrations probably helped too!

--source Mentzer, Bargle and Aleena

Quote:
Does anyone else have as strong memories of Aleena and Bargle?

Hmmm.... Bargle? Aleena? Never heard of em'.

Okay, Okay, I might have seen them before.

I was introduced to RPGs through the Epic Hotness of Aleena, and the Evil Bargle. Elmore's illustrations aside, I will always remember that intro adventure.

--source: Mentzer, Bargle and Aleena

So just imagine you are the clerics at the church where the fighter returns Aleena's body...

Are YOU going to let someone that hot stay dead?

--source: Mentzer, Bargle and Aleena

Stop Pitting Women Against Each Other

Discussing female representation in gaming art, especially tabletop role-playing games is complicated by a number of factors. One of the first issues is that it's often presented as a zero-sum discussion, leading people to react as if it's a conflict situation over limited resources rather than a cooperation situation where we could be improving things for everyone and even end up with more art.

It reminds me a lot of the Robbers Cave experiment done in the 1950s. During this experiment, boys were invited to camp out in a park. The first phase of the experiment involved the boys getting to know each other and forming a group. Unbeknownst to them, they were not the only group invited and during the second stage, they not only found out about each other, but were put into positions of conflict over limited resources. During this phase, they grew hostile to one another, especially when there was something that only one group could "win."

While there are definitely more than two groups when it comes to how female characters should be represented in art, I do think there's a generally feeling of limited resources when it comes to those representations. There are only so many books printed per year by the larger companies after all and while there's theoretically no cap on what small publishers can produce, there is a bit of a limit to how much money is available in the market.

We also know that a fair number of the marketing axioms over the past several decades, in particular the narrowing in on measurable demographics, tends to reinforce and add to the market for certain consumers while limiting the market of others. This trend is what Douglas Lowenstein, then President of the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), was referencing in his 2005 state of the industry speech. People in public relations and marketing would continuously focus on a certain portion of the audience, reinforcing the belief that that audience was "core" and representative of the audience as a whole when the truth was that the audience targeted was 1) incapable of supporting the market on their own and 2) may not even constitute a plurality of the market. In fact, there's an argument to be made that the group they picked happened to be easier to market to and people from the other markets didn't complain enough for them to be forced to broaden their focus.

This combination of factors leads to a situation where people who feel adequately served by the status quo find it easier to be involved in the hobby and often feel that other people who want something different are their competition. It gets even more complicated because often the people currently here, especially in this case women, aren't even necessarily well-served by the current content but they are afraid of losing what they already have.

Add into this that women (at least in the US) are often taught to see each other as competition anyway and that ways of thinking and acting that fit into the feminine stereotype are often denigrated, and the situation has all the required elements to become intractable if not downright explosive. The conversation becomes hostile and combative rather than cooperative.

Take for instance how my arguments for a wider representation of female characters are often received as requests to exclude certain types of representation. I remember a few years ago on Twitter someone was arguing with me from the point of view that I was saying "no sexy art evah" and was surprised when I took a step back and said, "No, it's about the percentage of art that is sexy." He was further surprised when the percentage I said that would make me happy, say about 20% of female character art being meant to emphasize sexiness, was higher than his own.

The problem, as I see it, is that sexiness for female characters is still the default. This isn't some big controversial opinion. My detractors argue that this default setting is why we have it. They'll write long pseudo-scientific supposedly evo-psych treatises on it. Or often they just don't see anything wrong with it and, even when they do believe it's something that maybe should be changed, they suggest that asking artists to be aware of their own biases is a step too far (self-censorship!). No, no, in order to change the percentage we just need to hire artists who think in other ways, but heavens forbid that anyone point out that a particular artist has a tendency to draw characters in that way.

They often then point to the women who are seemingly satisfied by the status quo as a sword against those who are not being served by the market. Since we're artificially being limited to just one female viewpoint, those women then feel the need to defend what they already have. Thus the conversation gets derailed from the larger issue of how do we broaden representation to one where we're arguing for the existence of any one piece of art. Any attempt to explain the pattern using particular pieces of art as references becomes a fight over defending the existence of that piece (this, by the way, is why Anita Sarkeesian didn't list 3 games when asked to on the Colbert Report). The women who do like the piece feel attacked and lash out.

Another example of this had to do with Team Unicorn. The public face of Team Unicorn is conventionally attractive. This isn't a problem but in my extended circles became an issue when people started using them as the norm for how other women should think, act, and look. In fact, some people I know decided to use Team Narwhal as a counter, insinuating that unlike Team Unicorn, they were real.

These situations for a no win situation that those who want to continue the status quo continuously exploit. They set up certain women, those who they see as supportive of their position, as the "good ones," further reinforcing the us vs them mentality. We all know what happens to those women who stand up to this.

It needs to stop. We need to stop taking the bait when these people set up women as being in competition to one another. We need to learn to recognize when we are being baited like this. By doing this we can grow the pie. We can have a bigger market, potentially with more overall number of illustrations and chances for a diversity in representation. We can start cooperating and listening to one another.

We can even improve the existing representations. Take for instance how sex workers are often portrayed in games. I don't know many people who are sex workers who like how they are portrayed. But they also don't want to be erased. What if we could get to the point where we improve the depictions of sex workers while also diversifying how women are portrayed? Wouldn't that be an all-around win?

Let's stop setting women against each other and instead work together on meeting everyone's needs. Maybe we could have a world that looks something like this instead. (Love this t-shirt by the way) We will still have disagreements and even fights, but they will be because of irreconcilable views, not because we start off the conversation pitting women against each other.

PS: While not directly related, I thought this article about scheduling in polyamorous relationships is an interesting example of how what initially can look like a competition for limited resources can become a cooperative and even more fulfilling way of viewing the world.

Moving Beyond Scorched Earth

Recently I talked about the dueling definitions of sexism. I'd like to talk about a related issue I encounter frequently, the belief that we should limit the use of the word sexist to those offenses egregious enough that we should take a scorched earth policy towards the action or event.

AtaculdeNoapte

There are a few issues with this approach:

  • It leaves us without a term to use to describe arbitrary decisions or trends based on sex and/or gender that don't rise to the level of require a scorched earth policy.
  • It conflates labeling the behavior with how to respond to the behavior.
  • We're left with one response to sexist behavior, without any insight into whether or not that response has a positive impact.

This definition of sexism causes much of the defensive behavior we often complain about because the originator is now anticipating a scorched earth response towards them.

Others, including myself, would prefer that we label behavior what it is and then decide the best way to deal with that behavior. Basically, we would decide whether or not the behavior is sexist and then determine what to do. The decisions on both the definitions and the remediation (if any) can be decided by individuals as they see fit.

This would accomplish a few things:

  • Lower defensiveness because potential punishment is not implicit in the argument. I can say, "Yeah, I did a sexist thing" without worrying about people automatically ostracizing me.
  • Allow for us to more easily see the more insidious forms of sexism since we will no longer be concerned about whether or not they meet a certain threshold of severity. This could help in areas of institutionalized sexism.
  • Allow for a wider range of fixes. For instance, sometimes just talking about the issue can help. Additionally, acknowledging that something is sexist can help with another common issue, that when people eventually do speak up, the response to them often feels worse the original incident.

Being able to talk about the issues without implying punishment or requiring it to meet a arbitrary threshold of severity, we can start to identify the parts of our media and our society that create or amplify sex- and gender-based discrimination and oppression.

While we're on the subject of punishment, something else that often annoys me in these conversations is the conflation of ethical with legal. While there can be overlap between the two, for instance murder is both unethical and illegal, there are plenty that are separate. Many incidents of sexism are unethical but not illegal. Legality is often, but not always, tied to the seriousness of the event. Does it make sense for the full force of the government to be brought to bear against the perpetrator? That doesn't mean that incidents that fail that test should be done without community repercussions.

Also, I'd like to point out that sexist opinions and actions exist throughout our culture and 1) are often reinforced by people regardless of their own gender and 2) often harm people regardless of their gender. For instance, a recent study on hiring practices showed that using a female name on an otherwise identical resume resulted in lower salary offers and a more common expectation of incompetence. Many gender role expectations that automatically place men, especially fathers, in positions of authority (patriarchy) harm people of all genders even if that harm is felt disproportionately by some groups.

In addition to allowing gradations in severity when it comes to sexism, removing the implicit response allows us to talk about works and people as the complex entities that they are. Rarely can we reduce a work or a person to one label, such as sexist. Take, for instance, two female characters that many who identify as geeks would know: Princess Leia and Eowyn. Both characters have what can be viewed as empowering moments. Leia participates in her own rescuing. Eowyn kills Lord of the Nazgul. Yet there are times when they are used to reinforce gender stereotypes such as when Leia is enslaved and when Eowyn sets aside her sword. In both Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, we can also point to the lack of other female characters as being sexist. We can talk about these elements of the thing without necessarily declaring the thing as a whole sexist.

We can't move forward if we continue to enforce the "if sexist then scorched earth response" definition of the word sexism. We need to move past introductory understandings of sexism and get to that more nuanced discussion. We need more responses than "kill it with fire." There will still be times for scorched earth, but we should not think it is implied anytime someone says something is sexist.

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

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