rpg


Toy Inspiration - Stonehenge, Penguins, and Puzzles

I enjoy props at a table and I find that toys can often make for wonderful props. For example, at a variety store a few years ago, I bought a miniature Stonehenge set.

Box - Build Your Own StonehengeBox - Build Your Own Stonehenge

Inside the box there are three groups of things: puzzle pieces for creating the base of Stonehenge complete with numbered areas to help you with placement of the pieces, the "stone" pieces, and a booklet of information about the site.

Even without the stone pieces on top, the base could be used to help describe an area in a game. Anything could be in those numbered squares. For instance, they could be statues (or living things turned to stone). You also could hand out the puzzle pieces over time as pieces of a map or an ancient scroll that showed how certain artifacts had to be placed in order to complete an intricate and ancient ritual.

Pieces of the Stonehenge basePieces of the Stonehenge base

In addition to the base, the construction of Stonehenge could be used in multiple ways. For instance, it could be off to the side as a form of clock to show how much progress an adversary has made towards obtaining their goal. Or the PCs could be tasked with finding some or all of the pieces of Stonehenge and put it back together. Or maybe the dragon they fought had knocked the pieces down and it is up to them to set everything up right again. Additionally, the fully finished model could be used as part of a puzzle that involves how light would shine on the location at a certain date and time.

Stonehenge "stone" piecesStonehenge "stone" pieces

The Stonehenge set was made by a company called Running Press. Amazon has a number of their kits.

Similar to this set is another toy I found (although I didn't buy it quite yet). At a local store, I saw a toy penguin that is made up of seven stackable wooden pieces.

Stackable Wooden PenguinStackable Wooden Penguin

As with the Stonehenge set, this could be used as a clock for either the PCs or their adversary and help illustrate their progress towards a goal. Similarly, one could take the image of an important NPC or location in the game and create a puzzle out of it using card stock or cardboard. The nice thing about the puzzle is that it's possible that the players can guess it before the final piece but it helps keeping you from giving too many clues at once. However, if they still can't get it after they have all the pieces, it may be time to allow them access an expert or take 20.

What sorts of toys inspire your games?

Sometimes We Miss The Bigger Picture

When we talk about women fighters in medieval-inspired fantasy games, people will often go on about how we're really trying to reinvent history. In some ways, they are right. Few women fought in organized armies at the time and most of history was written about those armies. However, in many ways they are missing the point.

The Medieval Woman: An Illuminated Calendar for 1993. New York: Workman Publishing: From Working Women in the Middle AgesThe Medieval Woman: An Illuminated Calendar for 1993. New York: Workman Publishing: From Working Women in the Middle Ages

Most Men Didn't Fight

A combination of ancient and modern warfare clouds our understanding of much of Medieval Western European combat and armies. We're used to large standing armies and large drafts to create larger and larger armies, especially in the two World Wars. We're used to large percentages of young men and smaller percentages of young women shipping off to war.

This view of war would have lost many Medieval wars. The simple reason: food. We have much higher crop yields today, coupled with machines to make harvesting easier, and this frees up more hands for the war effort. I read on one site that we're talking about something like 1 in 30 seeds would mature to feed us in Medieval Europe versus 1 in 2 to 1 in 7 today.

Lower crop yields required much more land and labor than today. To send significant numbers of men, especially young men, off to war would have put the fields and harvest in jeopardy. The exception to this would be the sons of nobility. Since one of the defining characteristics of the nobility is that they didn't work with their hands, they often didn't work the fields. And since titles couldn't be shared or split and a titled family often needed as many resources as possible, spares didn't always have much of a future to look forward to.

Since the overwhelming percentage of men were commoners tied to land and were needed to farm it, the vast majority of men simply wouldn't have been involved in the formal military campaigns of the period, the very same campaigns we often rely on for our information about medieval warfare. We ignore this for games like D&D because it's just not exciting. If it's not exciting for male characters to keep to historical realism, I might suggest it's not exciting for female characters either.

Overlooked Combat Opportunities

With the focus on formal military campaigns, other sources of combat experience often are overlooked. For instance, we know of a number of peasant uprisings during the period. Rebellions have long recruited whomever they could get and have been a source of opportunity for women who yearned for something more. Likewise, when under attack, women could be employed in a variety of defensive positions. They could pour boiling water from above.

In addition, women have long provided combat support roles throughout history. Wives, daughters, and other women might accompany a military campaign. Some would have been noble women, often attempting to get pregnant since that was their and their husband's duty.

Why Do I Find This Important?

There isn't as much documentations on women in these positions in part because it just wasn't that important to the people at the time. Portraying women as independent and strong went against the typical narrative of the day. But when we look at the vast amount of data from the past 300 years, we see plenty of evidence that the formal narratives of the time often differed from women's lived experiences. We should keep that in mind as well as remind ourselves of the limits of history:

  1. Someone had to find the information important enough to record.
  2. Future generations had to find the information important enough to save.
  3. Our generation has to find the information important enough to seek out.

With all of that said, I'm not arguing for historical realism in the majority of games, such as D&D. Instead, I'm suggesting that we cease using inaccurate "historical realism" as an excuse to perpetuate the gender bias and stereotypes we have today.

Knight Moves in Brookline, MA

To celebrate my birthday, Fred and I decided to try out a new boardgame cafe in Brookline, MA called Knight Moves. We met a coworker and his wife there and played a game of Shadows over Camelot. I had a lot of fun and it's a wonderful space.


The cafe has three rooms. The front room has the cafe area including Equal Exchange coffee, pastries, tea, hot cocoa, and chocolates. There are also at least 4 game tables, the game library, and a chess table in the window. Most of the tables easily sit four, although we had to put two of them together to play the Shadows over Camelot game.


The middle room has a bunch of science decorations including a microscope. It also has a nice looking fireplace with mantle. I didn't take a picture of the table because it was in use but there was one decent sized table in there and room for more. Devon, the owner, said that there were additional tables for the room that he could bring out when needed. There's also a curtain between the front room and middle room so that area of the store can be reserved for special events and the like (more on that later).


The back room has one large table as well as the facility's restroom. One thing to note about this place, they put in a fair bit of time and energy to make it look nice. Since it doesn't serve double-duty as a retail establishment, there's lots of room and the emphasis is on you and you being able to try out a bunch of games. Since they don't have a retail portion, though, that means that there is a cover charge. The price for a single entrance is $10, but for that price they don't mind if you pop out for a bite. As far as I can tell, there's no limit on how long you can stay so compare that to say a movie ticket. If you want to save some money, you can buy a pack of 6 of entrances at once for $50. If you're likely to frequent Knight Moves often, they also have memberships. The casual membership is $15 a month and it lowers the price to $6 per entrance or gets you 3 additional entrances if you buy the multipack. You also get a free coffee per visit. A premium membership is $120 per month but gets you unlimited visits. Additionally, you get a free coffee plus a free snack per visit. At least the casual membership also gives you a 5% discount at Eureka! up the street.

Overall the cafe was inviting and Devon has a love for games and, from what I could tell, was good at explaining them. The selection seemed pretty good although I'm half tempted to get copies of some of the games they don't have. I know the price may seem steep to some, but when I thought about what I spend on other venues, I think it's pretty reasonable and may help keep overcrowding to a minimum while keeping them open. He also mentioned that if I wanted to throw a special event that we could work out a deal, so keep that in mind if you have a monthly get together or if you want to do a launch party for a game you designed. I'm looking forward to visiting again in the future. Next time I'm going to bring Race to Adventure so he can try it out.

Great Insight on Fighting Women

Samantha SwordsSamantha Swords
I recently found a profile of Samantha Swords from the Fight Like a Girl blog (part of Combatant Magazine). For those who are unfamiliar with Samantha Swords, she is a Western Martial Arts (WMA) fighter, actor, prop maker, stuntwoman, and more. Earlier this year she won the long sword competition at the World Jousting Invitational in New Zealand.

I particularly enjoyed her insights into fighting and I think it could be useful to gamers and other creators of fantasy stories. Too often I hear that women are just smaller and, thus, have no chance in combat. She talks about this a bit but points it out as an advantage.

We ladies have a unique advantage over our sword brothers. As well as having a lower centre of gravity, we’re predisposed to be physically inferior, which means that we have to work harder, be accurate and quite cunning to maintain the edge against most of our competition.

It may sound like an illogical advantage, but developing these attributes should happen anyway as a fighter; it’s just necessary for women to get a headstart because we have less to offer in the brawn department. Due to WMA being in the infancy of its revival and having no solid divisions of weight or gender, we’re allowed to be outmatched in competitions. This is good, it teaches humility for learning proper defence. We need to apply tireless dedication to getting things right, because the result is much more obvious when we don’t.

While I know a number of women who are physically bigger and stronger than the vast majority of men out there, I agree with the overall point that not being to fall back on brawn means that women fighters often have to dedicate themselves to their craft. While I don't always find it important to replicate our sexism based on differences in physical size in fantasy literature and games, I do think the concentration on training and practice would be important to anyone of a smaller size regardless of gender and especially among women.

Additionally, Swords points out a number of martial arts that work well for people who aren't as large or physically strong.

I’d advise any female fighters to look at aikido, kumi uchi, goju ryu, and all the fighting guides you can find that use biomechanics to take a pressure or force, and redirect it to compromise your opponent. This will enrich your understanding of historical European combat, because they all point to the same concept: that effective martial arts don’t rely on speed, strength or agility, but an artful understanding of physics and how to apply it to the human body. If your technique doesn’t work because “you’re not fast or strong enough”, you’re doing it wrong!

Often in fantasy stories, we often think that only the strongest or best capable served in combat. The reality was far more complex. We have many different combat styles in part because we were at the mercy of who happened to be available at the time and their capabilities. The challenge put before those responsible for martial maneuvers was how to use what they had to get the result they needed or wanted. We know women have always fought, we just don't always have records of who they were and how they fought.

Edith Garrud Flipping a CopEdith Garrud Flipping a Cop
In a world that didn't tie leadership to combat and/or didn't believe in the natural inferiority of women could easily be set up to teach people of all genders how to fight in a way that used their natural attributes and skills to the best possible advantage. This often didn't happen in the middle ages, at least in the rhetoric, because women's supposed inferiority was an important part of the governance structure, which relied on divine right to rule combined with patrilineal and patriarchal customs. If your fantasy world doesn't have those same strictures, it's harder to argue for the continued lack of women warriors in a society.

I'd like to ask you to consider one further reason why you should include at least athletic girls and women if not women warriors in your stories. Earlier pulp novels could assume an audience that reflected the sexism of the time. This is becoming less and less true. For instance, since the introduction of Title IX in the US, women's athletics has increased dramatically with a 560% increase at the college level and 990% in high schools. Additionally, around that time self-defense courses grew in popularity as a rape counter-measure. Few girls and women my age and younger want to hear that they are physically incapable of defending themselves or others and fewer people, regardless of gender, are used to a world in which girls and women are kept from physical exertion. It does not reflect our reality and will break suspension of disbelief for many, disregarding the fact that many of us want to be strong when we use literature as escapism.

So, if you want to include more women fighters but also want it to make it feel "real" enough given our society's current views of women, this might be a good start. In fantasy literature, Arya from Game of Thrones is a good example of this. If you want more examples of warrior women, especially those who study WMA, the Fight Like a Girl blog highlights more. I also know quite a few women who fight in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) such as Jeanie Davan.

Also, while I'm on the subject of women fighters, I must point out these awesome sketches by Tess Fowler. Here's an example and you can find more here.

Tess Fowler SketchTess Fowler Sketch

Understanding Patriarchy

Patriarchy seems to be a difficult concept for some and so I’d like to present what it means to me and, in particular, how it influences fantasy literature and games, particularly those influenced by medieval Europe.

First, I want to say that this article by Finally, a Feminism 101 Blog has an excellent breakdown not only of patriarchy but also kyriarchy. Both are ways of organizing the power structure of a society in an hierarchical manner. Here are the definitions for both that the article references.

Kyriarchy – a neologism coined by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza and derived from the Greek words for “lord” or “master” (kyrios) and “to rule or dominate” (archein) which seeks to redefine the analytic category of patriarchy in terms of multiplicative intersecting structures of domination…Kyriarchy is best theorized as a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.
Patriarchy – Literally means the rule of the father and is generally understood within feminist discourses in a dualistic sense as asserting the domination of all men over all women in equal terms. The theoretical adequacy of patriarchy has been challenged because, for instance, black men to not have control over white wo/men and some women (slave/mistresses) have power over subaltern women and men (slaves).
- Glossary, Wisdom Ways, Orbis Books New York 2001

So basically, patriarchy represents the preference of men as a group over women as a group, especially in terms of power and authority. When we look at history, it’s hard to argue against this being an element of most if not all of the civilizations referenced commonly used as inspiration in fantasy games and literature. For instance, in many sects of Christianity women are often forbidden from holding leadership positions, especially over men. We talk about founding or town fathers but rarely founding or town mothers. Until relatively recently, male heirs were preferred over female heirs when it came to succession for the British throne, and other titles still follow that preference structure.
From WikipediaFrom Wikipedia

However, it is also easy for it to be argued that this view is incomplete. The English didn’t go through every living man before settling on a woman as regent, women were still allowed to rule. Better someone with royal blood rule than a commoner after all! Likewise, African-American males in the US often had a lower social status than white women, especially white women of the upper class. That is why it’s important to look just beyond gender, which is part of the concept of kyriarchy.

Examples of the influences of a patriarchal system

Now, for me, it’s quite obvious that we have lived, and continue to live, in a patriarchal culture. Take, for instance, the founding of a city. A group of people, often lead by one person or a small group of people, travel from one place to another and decide to set up a community. Many times the leader or leaders are married men and their wives perform duties expected of them due to their status as spouse of a founder. However, the history books often don’t record what both of them did, but rather record the man’s name as the founder. Both of them were there at the same time. Both of them were often instrumental to the success of the endeavor, and yet the man is the person who gets the credit, the statues, etc.

Likewise, if you ever do genealogical research, especially in the US, you’ll see that it is often difficult if not impossible to trace female lines. Wives often were referred to only by the husband’s name. I have one obituary for my great-great-grandmother and her surviving family is listed as follows: “She is survived by a sister, Mrs. Frederick Westphal and three daughters and one son: Mrs. Herman Schnoor; Miss Dora Gandesbergen, of Bremen, Germany, and Mrs. William Puetz and William Fillmer of Newburgh Gardens, also by three grandchildren.“

Similarly, if you look at the US Census before 1840, you’ll notice that the only name listed is the “Head of Household.” There are columns for males and females where census takers were expected to enter the number of each age group living under the head of household, who was usually male. Slaves were kept under a separate list and, of course, were listed under a white head of household.

Additionally, sayings like “it’s a man’s world,” “who wears the pants in the family,” and the like point to an assumed male head and female subordinate. In a gender equal world, no gender could claim ownership and, even if clothing was gendered, it wouldn’t matter who wore what.

But many men don’t have it easy!

Besides arguments that patriarchy does not, and has never existed, the second most common argument I get is that many men don’t have it easy and, therefore, I need to stop talking about how women have it so bad as if it’s men’s fault. There are multiple issues with that argument. First, no one says that only men reinforce patriarchal systems. We’re all raised in them from the time we are young and we have a bias to the status quo.

Additionally, while patriarchal systems tend to favor men as a group over women as a group, there is still a hierarchy and not all men are going to come out at the same level in that hierarchy. For instance, sons are also expected to be subservient to their fathers (“Honor thy father and mother”). Men without families of their own might never find a time in their lives when they rule the roost. Likewise, if you read Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages, you’ll see that too much subdivision of property meant that a resource such as farm land or manors would cease to support the family. Thus, often the eldest son would inherit the land and other sons may be left out.

By the way, if you’ve ever heard of concepts such as the disposable male (the belief that men’s lives are expendable whereas women’s lives are not), this is where it comes from, meaning the blame rests on the natural results of a patriarchal/kyriarchial system, not feminism. But the belief that we would have to get rid of all of the negatives groups of men face as a result of these hierarchies before we can start on women’s equality is also a result of patriarchal thinking which values male interests above those of other genders.

But this woman I’ve heard of supports patriarchy!

If the system was set up to favor men in these ways and you were a woman, it was in your best interest to reinforce the hierarchy in ways that provided benefits to you and/or your male guardian. When we wonder how it is that women can reinforce a system that restricts them, it’s important to remember this.

What does this have to do with fantasy games and literature?

Understanding how our society’s hierarchies formed and function is important when creating new worlds that make good on their promises. For instance, I’m often told that the Forgotten Realms is a gender equal place. But as I look through the content being created for that world, I see the content often doesn’t match that vision.

The difficulty of course is that it can be difficult to write fantasy worlds for readers in a way where they feel at home and can identify with the characters. Books can’t give us every detail for life and when details are left out, we substitute our own experience in. Since these products serve a wide range of backgrounds, especially ages, and we’ve had a fair amount of change since the end of World War II until now, it’s hard to create the worlds that each broad group expects.

For instance, someone born in the US before the women’s lib movement might find it disconcerting to be in a world where one’s gender wasn’t called into question when it came to business, education, or combat. On the other hand, someone who grew up with stories of the Night Witches and the other women who fought in WWII might find it difficult to believe that women would be excluded purely on their gender alone. People like me might find it unsurprising that some people question whether or not a woman can do “x” but may also dislike highly gendered occupations and societies, especially when we’re asked by the writer to identify with characters who espouse those beliefs. I know many people much younger than me find the gendered messages in early D&D modules strange and disconcerting. Details that were provided as hints that a woman was evil, for instance, don’t resonate with them in the same way.

By understanding how the patriarchal and kyriarchial nature of our society influences us, we can more easily separate out what is reliant on those beliefs being commonly held and which are truly based on sex-based or gender-based differences. I believe that can help us in providing content that speaks to a wider range of audiences and also helps us create worlds closer to what we say we want.

For a closer examination of the lives of women in the Middle Ages, I highly recommend Terry Jones' Medieval Lives : S1 Ep 3 - The Damsel and Women in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies. I've also found a bunch of examples of warrior women from the time period in Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism. Also, after my last post, David Donnelly recommended Nancy Godstone's Four Queens: The Provincial Sisters who Ruled Europe, Helen Castor's She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England Before Elizabeth, and Susan Ronald's Heretic Queen: Queen Elizabeth I and the Wars of Religion.

British Library Photostream: Sketches of England

Recently the British Library released over a million images to the public domain. They were taken from 17th, 18th and 19th century books that Microsoft digitized and released via Flickr Commons. These images should be free of copyright restrictions although it doesn't hurt to consult a lawyer if there are any concerns.

When I was looking through the collection, one book caught my notice pretty quickly, Sketches of England. By a Foreign Artist, Mons. Myrbach ... and a Foreign Author, Mons P. Villars, etc. Published in 1891, the book features a number of sketches from England, including a fair number of crowd scenes. What caught my eye was the number of women in them. For example:

From what I can tell from just the images (I haven't had time to read the book yet), women make up a decent percentage of the crowd scenes and a number of the smaller group pictures. While I realize this is just one book, I still found it interesting in comparison to a recent report that among the 101 top grossing G-rated movies from 1990 to January 31st, 2005, just 17% of the crowds were female. That would be approximately 1 in 6. While I haven't sat down and counted every person represented in these sketches, it seems like women constitute a much higher proportion of the crowd than that. In my quick count of the first 19 images with people in them, I counted approximately 60 people who appeared to be male and 47 that appeared to be female.

For more info on the research on the numbers of female characters in media aimed at children, check out this video by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media.

I think these images could be useful in a number of gaming encounters set in the 1890s, especially in England. They also can serve as inspiration for people seeking to draw more gender inclusive crowd scenes.

Historical Misinformation

Sometimes I feel lied to.

I'm still trying to formulate more coherent thoughts on this, but I recently read Women in the Middle Ages by Frances and Joseph Gies and am reading their Cathedral, Forge and Waterwheel: Technology and Invention in the Middle Ages. Both talk about women, their roles in their societies, and the like, although obviously the latter focuses more on general topics with some references to women's contributions to technology and the effects of technological innovation on women's lives.

Christine de Pizan: from WikipediaChristine de Pizan: from Wikipedia
The more I read, the more I feel lied to. My primary and secondary school education all focused on the limited role of women particularly upper class women. It primarily focused on their reproductive roles and often, if not always, left out their roles as overseers of the household and often of the estate when their husbands were not present. It left out their education, the importance of the arts they produced, and more. Furthermore, while it mentioned the dowery system, it left out that many girls and younger women worked to earn their own doweries, thank you very much.

In addition to just leaving out the lives of women lived, it left out many of the philosophical movements at various times during the Middle Ages that advocated for better lives for women, for education, for seeking their council and the like. It left out that there were in fact women's guilds and that women could be members of mixed or men's guilds, especially after the death of their husbands. It left out that women at times could be apprentices and could take on apprentices themselves. It tried to masculinize the women they called exceptional while leaving out hundreds if not thousands of women who also threatened the tidy narrative.

When I got to college, it was not much better. We read the works of what were called the early feminists. They talked about things that would have been important to those medieval women, sure, but they also left out that many of these same ideas had been uttered before. That this hasn't been a struggle of the last 150 years or so but one of many thousands of years.

Now, some might say, "Tracy, these books are so new, how could you possibly expect people to have known?" The problem with that line of reasoning is that the book on medieval women had a first edition printing of March 1978. It's also decently sourced with other books and papers, meaning that the scholarship behind it had gone on for a while. Christine de Pizan wrote about women's contributions to society during her career that spanned from 1399-1429. Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman in 1792. The histories of many of the women in Warrior Women: 3000 Years of Courage and Heroism have long been known. Much of this research was available during the fairly early years of D&D and definitely would have been available when my later elementary, middle, and high school textbooks were all written.

Today I live in a world where we constantly find new "exceptions" that lead, at least me, to question what I was told was the status quo. Yes, the society was patriarchal. Yes, men were favored over women except for in limited circumstances. But this fallacy that it was due to women's nature or lack of women's skill or interest is, in my opinion, being shown for the farce that it is. It's important to recognize this when we try to give excuses for others behavior. Yes, they might not know about these books or this research, but that is on them. It's there to find it if they want to. But it's more convenient, I think, to hold on to false notions of historical accuracy than it is to question one's education and upbringing.

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864 - 1952)

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

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

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

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

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

Late Victorian Pictures of African Americans

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Like This: The Sapphires

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

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

The Bechdel Test

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

Race and Racism

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

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

Based on Real Life

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

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

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

Resources for FAQs

Prismatic Art Collection

Search

Syndicate

Syndicate content


2011 ENnie Nominee for Best Blog2011 ENnie Nominee for Best Blog