This weekend we had to drive out to Pittsburgh for a friend’s wedding. During the ride, I decided that I would get in some of my Tome Show preparation for our upcoming review of the Monster Manual. When I got to the banshee entry, however, I had to stop for a bit and tweeted some of my thoughts about it. Now that I’m not in a moving car, I want to explore my impressions further. I’ll do a fuller discussion of gender and the Monster Manual at a future time, but I thought this RPG.net forum post on the illustrations by gender was interesting followed up by this examination of the artist credits in the book.
Why aren't there male banshees. Why would only female elves blessed with beauty be required to share their gift with the world?
— Tracy Hurley (@SarahDarkmagic) September 26, 2014
Some people were a bit confused by the tweet or its purpose and I understand that. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters or so precludes in depth discussion within one statement. I understand why we banshees are female, due to the mythological origin that the D&D creature derives from. I can even understand the elven origin, with that fantasy race’s connection to faerie which is integral to some tellings of the legend.
Legend has it that for great Gaelic families – the O'Gradys, the O'Neills, the Ó Longs, theMcCnaimhíns, the Ó Briains, the Ó Conchobhairs, and the Caomhánachs – the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing it when a family member died, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death. Source: Wikipedia
What I didn’t really get was the connection to beauty and corruption. In D&D 5e, “[b]anshees are the undead remnants of elves who, blessed with great beauty, failed to use their gift to bring joy to the world. Instead, they used their beauty to corrupt and control others.” Because of their failure they are cursed to “experience no gladness, feeling only distress in the presence of the living.”
This made me uncomfortable. For me, it reminds me of a tendency in our society to believe that female beauty is owned by the public and that women have an obligation to make the world a better place through their beauty. For instance, a common way women are harassed on the street is by telling them to smile, as if it is an obligation they owe to everyone else.
The cause of this curse sets up an obligation all too familiar to many female players. It creates an in world justification for sexist behavior and harassment for anyone who plays a female elf and sets DMs up to view female elf characters, at least ones with high charisma, on a primary access of attractiveness. Is she beautiful? Great, you better do good things or she might become a banshee. Even this obligation wouldn’t be so noticeable if I those sorts of obligations were common, especially among the male-centered monsters.
This emphasis on attractiveness or lack thereof also makes them similar to other monsters in the book. Dryads bound to healthy trees stay “forever youthful and alluring.” Hags are described with “withered faces...framed by long, frayed hair, horrid moles and warts dot their blotchy skin, and their long, skinny fingers are tipped by claws that can slice open flesh with a touch.” Medusas are “as deadly as they are ravishing.” Harpies “tak[e] glee in suffering and death” and are the result of a female elf’s twisted love.
In the 2e Monstrous Manual, there’s no clear indication as to why they are evil elves, just that they are and that such a thing is rare. Instead, the book talks about how the banshees only attack at night, going after any living creature up to 5 miles away from her abode. In addition, it talks about how she, over time, blights the land. I much prefer that, even with its sexist assumptions that knights are male and will be drawn in by her wail (which is nearly impossible to distinguish from the cry of a human or elf woman in pain).
Because the writers too often center on beauty and love when it comes to female characters and monsters, the banshee gets reduced, in my opinion, from what could be an awesome monster that seeks out player characters just when they think they are safe (for instance while making camp in the woods at night) or creates a destination for an adventure, the blighted forest, and instead creates a variation on a overused and tired theme.
I hope that explains my comments on twitter a bit better. I’ll have more analysis soon, but I wanted to get this one out there.
Art: Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banshee#mediaviewer/File:Banshee.jpg
Note: I received a review copy of the Monster Manual from Wizards of the Coast.
Let's continue with our discussion of the first episode of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Since last time, Mike Shea of SlyFlourish made a compelling argument for having the Half-Dragon Champion mission be the last of the evening. I tend to agree with him, especially since there is a good chance that one of the PCs will be a bit beat up after it and may not be able to participate in any further missions, such as Save the Mill. Also, I've heard that quite a few groups had to take at least one short rest during the night, so allow them to take it if they need it.
When I have the luxury of time, I like taking a peek at how other people run the adventure. One of the nice things about living in the future is that a lot of people have slick campaign wikis on places like Obsidian Portal. For instance, Loremaster kept to the 1 hour shifts in describing what happened. WinWizard did something I had been thinking of, giving the PCs a label/reward based on the number of townspeople they saved during the course of the night.
As for me, I know one of the things I struggle with the most when running a game, especially a sandbox one, is keeping information straight, especially when the choices characters make in one encounter could affect an encounter that happens hours if not days later. Also, I dislike bogging down the game for things like XP calculation and other record keeping. As I referenced in the last post, I'm creating a bit of a playbook as I go through this adventure to help me provide a bit more structure to the information and make my job a bit easier. You can see the current version here.
The first part lays out the goals for the episode. What are the key elements to the episode that, as a DM, I want to be sure to highlight? In this case, I know I need to introduce a few important NPCs, both the PCs' main allies and some of the antagonists. In addition, we need to give them a clue that something bigger is going on. This isn't a random raid by a bunch of bandits, cultists, and in particular members of the Cult of the Dragon, are amassing quite a treasure pile. Additionally, we need to put a bit of fear into them, the typical kick down the door approach is likely to get them killed especially since the cultist group has an idea that there are adventurers afoot.
As I play through the episode, I can cross out names and check off boxes after I've addressed the goal. This helps me too in terms of pacing because I really don't want to have a big info dump at the end. If I'm 2 missions in and none of the goals have been addressed, I need to step up with info sharing. It helps in this episode that the missions are meant to help with these goals, so it shouldn't be too hard of a task.
The next section has a empty schedule on the left and the list of detailed missions on the right. While I put down the time schedule, there's no need to keep to it. My big thought here is that it would be nice to know later what order they did things in. Imagine if 6 months from now they are in a bar and hear a bard signing a song about the burning of Greenest and she gets most, but not all, of the details right.
After that I have some key information to record for each mission. This includes information that is used for generating XP or is useful later in the adventure. For instance, the PCs can get XP for each townsperson they bring back during the Seek the Keep mission or their XP might be cut in half during the Sanctuary mission if too many townspeople die. Having a quick place to note this info (and a reminder about what is important to note) can make the process of giving XP, if that's what you're group is doing, much easier.
Finally, I have the list of enemies listed in the episode at the bottom as well as room to keep a tally of the number defeated. Even if you're using the milestone based leveling instead of using XP, this can be useful for things like pulling minis or providing achievements for the group, if that's your style.
I tried to keep it to one-page, in part at Mike's suggestion. However, I could see a slightly longer version being made that helped by listing the DCs and such. So, take a look and tell me what you think. I hope to do them for all the episodes.
Ok, so we discussed the number of characters and representation by gender a bit in the adventure, but let’s get deeper into the adventure itself. One thing to know is that this adventure has a lot of characters and is character-driven. This was a driving force behind creating the index. While the majority of characters are relatively minor, keeping track of them isn’t.
During the course of the adventure, the player characters will uncover the Cult of the Dragon’s secret, they are attempting to free Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells. To do this, they need to gather the five dragon masks and combine them to create the Mask of the Dragon Queen. Several of these masks have already been found. In addition to masks, the cult is gathering riches to present to Tiamat upon her return.
It is this latter goal that drives the cult to raid the town of Greenest, which the player characters just happen to be near. The first episode start assumes that the players are together and outside of town. This can be tricky, since unless the DM has laid the groundwork, there isn’t necessarily a reason for the PCs to defend the town. The adventure even mentions that they may decide to not do so. The Id DM offers advice for how to tie the player characters more closely with the town, ensuring a smoother entry into the story.
Once they get to Greenest, they will be run through a gauntlet of missions to help save as much of the town during the night. This is one area where the organization of the book hinders the DM. Overall, the book feels like it was written to be an enjoyable read more than as a playbook for running the adventure. On my first read through, I got a great picture of what was supposed to happen that night. I could think of at least a dozen movie or book scenes to use as my mental picture of what was going on. But as I read through it again to prepare for this blog post, I realized that I didn’t understand a lot of the expectations of how to actually run the episode, but more on that later.
Greenest in Flames is meant to be run in a sandbox fashion. It has four main goals: introduce the characters to some of the people who will feature prominently over the next few episodes, establish the PCs as hero with some renown, clue the players in that their decisions will have consequences and cause the world to react to them and let the players know that this adventure is not OSHA approved, their characters can and will go through some brutal stuff.
To aid in these goals, the adventure provides example missions that the PCs can undertake. While the book presents this as a sandbox and in theory the order should not matter, the proposed structure for the episode suggests an order. The proposed structure is thus, the PCs arrive at 9 pm and need to survive the night. Sunrise is at 6 am. Most of the raiders will be gone by 4 am, with many leaving before then (leaving in waves is a nice detail to reinforce to help with episode 2 in particular). Each mission should last 1 hour. According to this plan, the PCs could participate in seven missions during the evening. Several of the missions either state that they will happen at a specific time or imply that they need to happen after other missions. For instance, the dragon attack states that it happens slightly before midnight, which would be in slot 4 if we keep to the suggested timing. The suggested reason for the attack is that Mondath knows the adventurers exist and that they are in the keep. This implies that they’ve already had time to be heroic. Likewise, the save the mill mission is a trap set specifically for the PCs. The prisoners mission makes more sense after they have done one or two missions but early enough in the night that the information might be useful. It’s also a good time to tell the PCs that leaving the keep through the front gate is out of the question. However, the mission states that it can be combined with others, so keep that in mind too.
My suggested ordering is:
Option A: keep to the midnight timeline on the Dragon attack (he’s bored and really doesn’t want to be there anyway)
1 Seek the Keep
2 Prisoners/The Old Tunnel
4 Dragon Attack
5 The Sally Port
6 Half-Dragon Champion
7 Save the Mill
Option B: Push the dragon attack back an hour to give the PCs more time to establish themselves as heroes in town
1 Seek the Keep
2 The Sally Port
3 Prisoners/The Old Tunnel
5 Dragon Attack
6 Half-Dragon Champion
7 Save the Mill
I have the half-dragon champion mission right after the dragon attack because it just feels more cinematic that way. The morale in town should be pretty low after the dragon attack. Having the call for a champion right then allows the half-dragon to really gloat. Also, the story implies a stepped withdrawal from the town. Having the mill after that would make sense as a parting blow directed at the PCs and gives them the opportunity for an up beat before the end of the episode. It all depends on how you want to tell the story of course. This is different from SlyFlourish’s suggested order, so I think there’s definitely a degree of flexibility to this.
One thing that confuses me about this episode, though, are the random encounters. They are sprinkled throughout the episode description and I’m never sure if the new ones mentioned are supposed to supersede the table at the beginning or not. So let’s explore that aspect a bit more.
The section called “Wandering Encounters” contains a table of random encounters and mechanisms for how to determine when the group encounters one. I say mechanisms because how the characters act determines which one to use.
Skill check If they are being stealthy and careful, each player makes a stealth check for their character. If they are using the stream bed for cover, they gain advantage. For every two failures in the group, the group will have one encounter.
Distance If they aren’t being stealthy, then the DM rolls a 1d8 for every 100 feet traveled. If the result is 5 or higher, then they will have an encounter and the DM rolls on the random encounter chart.
One difficulty with this system is that while there’s a map with scale, very few paths have the distance detailed in advance. So, one suggestion I’d make to DMs is to have a good idea of the distances ahead of time. However, it’s often multiple hundreds of feet between the areas on the map, so it’s clear that being stealthy has a clear advantage here since with a four PC group, the max encounters would be 2 per travel attempt, regardless of distance, where it could easily be a max of 5 or more with the distance based system.
However, a number of the missions have descriptions that vary from this system. For instance, “Seek the Keep” states that there should be a static three groups of raiders between them and the keep. Additionally, they will meet a group of NPCs each time they retreat. If those NPCs join their group, the group will have an additional encounter for every four townspeople. This makes some degree of sense, a large group will attract more attention. Other missions have overrides as well. For instance, the Old Tunnel has its own method for determining if there are some random encounters.
None of this is an issue, but it can make the episode a bit chaotic for the DM. In the next post, I’ll take a quick stab at creating an info sheet for the DM to help limit the chaos.
Art from WikiCommons: Paolo Uccello - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Dragon#mediaviewer/File:Paolo_Uccello_...
Along with a full character name index comes a bit of data. While not perfect (few things are), the frequency of page mentions can provide a hint into the importance of the non-player characters (NPCs) to the game. Frequently mentioned NPCs are more likely to affect the lives of the player characters (PCs). There is a greater likelihood of interaction or of the NPC either aiding or thwarting the characters.
Before I look at the data, I want to take a moment and say that talking about gender representation doesn’t mean that a work is automatically sexist or say anything about creator intent. I know both Wolfgang Bauer and Steve Winter. Wolfgang was one of the first people I did work for and both he and Steve have been supportive of me. I see things in the adventure that speak to conscious intent to be more inclusive of women. It’s actually one of the few published adventures I would run for myself. However, I’m breaking down this adventure into statistics in part because it helps me better understand our culture’s latent biases and how they might be reflected in the work we all do.
With that said, let’s start looking at the numbers. A good starting point is just looking at the number of named characters. Looking at my post yesterday, we have 53 male, 21 female, and 7 of unknown gender. That leaves us at about 26% female characters. That’s higher than the approximate 21% in the starter set adventure and in line with female representation in family movies. As that NY Times article mentions, it’s pretty common to have a Harry and a Ron for every Hermione.
Comparing the total frequencies of page mentions by gender shows that female characters were mentioned more often given their numbers than the male characters did, with approximately 35% of the total. The reason for this is easily found, one female character, Rezmir, had more than triple the number of page mentions, 35, than the highest male characters did individually, Dralmorrer Borngray and Leosin Erlanthar, 11 each. This makes sense, she is the “big bad” of this portion of the adventure.
By moving beyond the characters Rezmir, we can see how much of an outlier she is. For instance, of the 21 female characters, nearly two-thirds of them, 14, are mentioned on just one page. Compare that to about 54% of male characters being mentioned on just one page. If we break up the remaining characters into groups based on page mentions, 2-6 and 7-12 mentions, we find the ratio of male to female in the first group to be approximately 3 to 1 in each group with 17:5 and 7:2 respectively.
I think these numbers support the general feeling I had about the adventure, there are definite attempts at creating a world that is more gender equal, we still haven’t gotten to the place where gender equality in the Forgotten Realms is the norm (Caveat: My experience is by and large post 2009, earlier works may not match this impression). Also, I did leave the adventure with the continued feeling that the “dark side” is where it’s at for women still. It feels like the stereotypical “good” people tend to be more male and the others tend to be more female, but it's a good space for future investigation.
However, I’d like to take the time to talk about some of those attempts at inclusiveness in the adventure. First, as already mentioned, the “big bad” in this adventure is a female half-dragon. Her charisma is her second lowest score, with strength being her highest. She has legendary actions that she can take during her turns. The artwork for her (on page 79) does not have discernible breasts and she is not what humans would consider pretty. She’s intelligent and proactive instead of reactive. She is not fooled by Leosin Erlanthar and astutely moves the camp when he escapes.
Additionally, more than half of the episodes have at least one notable female character in them. Episodes 2 and 3 have Frulam Mondath playing a prominent role. Episode 4 has Jamna Gleamsilver. Episode 7 has Talis and 8 has Rezmir.
Throughout the book, there are sprinkled small vignettes that undercut the numbers. For instance, one of the first encounters of the adventure involves a human family, “father, mother, and three young children,” being attacked by kobolds. However, it’s the father who is injured and the mother who is protecting the family with “a round shield and a broken spear.” There are mentions in a few places reminding that the generic groups of creatures have male and female members, such ast eh mention on page 47 that “[t]he Scaly Death tribe comprises eighty lizardfolk warriors, both male and female.” Also, of the five caravan guards mentioned on pages 32-33, four of them are female.
Finally, while I haven’t had a chance to do a similar break down based on fantasy race and skin tone of the human characters, I really wanted to point out this artwork of Talis the White.
I’m not well-versed enough yet in the ethnic groups of the Realms to know where she is from but she does not look like a stereotypical fantasy European to me. Likewise, I love this illustration of Captain Othelstan.
Wait, this is a gaming site, why talk about online security? Well, over the past few months, there have been a number of hacking attempts of people in the gaming community, whether it’s indie video game developers like Zoe Quinn or tabletop RPG designers like David Hill. Given this atmosphere, it doesn’t hurt to shore up security where one can, especially passwords. One of my friends recently posted with questions on how to do this and I thought I’d write up what I did. This is meant to be an introduction to these concepts and as such, is not meant to be exhaustive.
One of the first things you can do is pick strong, unique passwords for each site and rotate them regularly. This isn’t particularly revolutionary advice, but many people don’t follow it (including myself at times).
How to pick passwords:
Random common words
Probably best known from to this xkcd comic, four random common words that you can use to tell a story is easy to create and remember but difficult to brute force due to the number of combinations. No remembering which “i” character is now a “1” or where exactly you put that punctuation character.
The downside? Many sites require passwords that contain upper and lower case letters along with numerals and punctuation. For those sites, I suggest a tool to create random passwords. For instance, LastPass has a handy extension for browsers such as Chrome that will generate a password for you.
Now that you have all these fancy new passwords, it’s likely that you’ll need somewhere to store them. Three non-OS-based password safes I hear about on a regular basis are:
I haven’t had as much experience with 1Password, but with LastPass you can easily share passwords between your computers by setting up a passphrase. If you forget that password, you have to use a computer that had been successfully used with LastPass in the past in order to reset it. It also supports a number of browsers, filling out login forms for you and recognizing when the password on the account has changed and saving it for you. It will also give you warnings when it notices password reuse.
A potential downside to both 1Password and LastPass is that the information is stored in the cloud and, thus, while decryption tends to happen on a local machine, if you don’t change your passwords that often and someone were to get the encrypted version of your password, they can brute force it at their leisure.
KeePass, on the other hand, only does local storage. Authentication can happen through either a password or with a special file called a key. This puts you in more control of how and where the data is stored but at the price of usability. KeePass doesn’t have browser integration built in although some third-parties evidently have helped there. If you use multiple computers, you will have to find your own way of sharing between them, such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and the like.
At the most basic level, when you log into most sites, you present two items that help validate that you are who you claim to be. The first is usually your username or email address. On many sites, this is something that others either know or could guess about you. The second is a password, something that, in theory, should be known only to you. However, it’s static and over time can either be guessed or, if you reuse the same password, obtained from elsewhere.
One way to increase security is to have you present a second secret token that is not static. That’s where multi-factor authentication comes in. I’ve seen two main methods of providing these tokens:
SMS - The site will send you a text message with the token to use, e.g. Google and PayPal.
Passcode Generator - Either a hardware- or software-based token generator that you need to have with you in order to generate the token.
A few weeks ago when I first heard of some game devs accounts being hacked, I went through and hardened up a bunch of the sites I use. I found a great site, Two Factor Auth, that details what sites allow for multi-factor authentication along with how they implement it and links on info for how to do it. It took a couple of hours, but I worked my way through the list.
Many sites use a software-based token generator, most notably Google Authenticator. I found the process pretty simple. You download Google Authenticator to your device(s). The site presents a QR code that you scan with the camera on your device and the authenticator app handles the rest of it for you. I didn’t know it at the time, but you can only set up multiple devices if you do it at the same time or if you save the QR code to someplace safe and scan it later.
A downside to two-factor authentication is that you then need to have one of those devices with you in order to log in. Many sites offer a way around this by giving you backup codes you can use in case your authenticator or its data ever gets lost. Care should be taken when storing these codes (and the QR codes if you decide to save them as well). Sites that use SMS authentication often ask for a backup phone. I’ve found that Google Voice can work for this.
One thing I have thought about doing, but haven’t tried yet, is taking advantage of plus addressing. Gmail and Google Apps for Business both offer this. What happens is that you can take your normal email and add in extra information. For instance, if I have a netflix account, I could set my email as email@example.com (assuming they also support plus addressing). Then I would have three factors that are likely to be known only to me when I log in. By the way, this can be useful in dealing with spam. I know some people also have a separate email account that they use for accounts as another way to obscure the email from people guessing or brute forcing.
So, if you’re looking into hardening your online accounts, I hope this post pointed you in the right directions. If you want to improve security further, I might suggest reviewing what apps you have given permissions to access your various social media accounts (such as twitter and facebook) and see if you are still using them and are comfortable with their level of access. Happy interwebbing!
Art: "Smuggler" © 2013 Kaitlynn Peavler and Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games, created for Conquering Corsairs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
This past week we recorded The Tome Show review of Tyranny of Dragons: Hoard of the Dragon Queen. During that review, we talked about how information dense the book can be and I know in preparing for it, I wished that there was an index of named NPCs. So, I decided to spend some time this afternoon creating one. (By the way, I was fortunate enough to get a free copy from Wizards of the Coast for review.)
|Azbara Jos||31, 37, 38, 39, 48, 54, 62, 77, 80|
|Blagothkus||75, 77, 78, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85|
|Bog Luck||40,41, 42|
|Captain Othelstan||63, 72, 73, 75|
|Castellan Escobert the Red||7, 8, 9, 12|
|Craggnor the Dwarf||66|
|Dralmorrer Borngray||45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 56, 58, 61|
|Esclarotta||75, 82, 83, 84|
|Frulam Mondath||9, 10, 15, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 27, 30|
|Galvan the Blue||68|
|Glazhael the Cloudchaser||68, 77, 83, 85, 86|
|Governor Tarbaw Nighthill||7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 19, 28|
|Gundalin the Wheelwright||73, 75|
|Hulde||77, 78, 79|
|Jamna Gleamsilver||31, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42|
|Langdedrosa Cyanwrath||12, 15, 17, 18, 21, 24, 27|
|Lasfelro the Silent||32|
|Leosin Erlanthar||6, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 27, 28, 29, 30, 80|
|Lord Marsten||67, 74|
|Neronvain the Green||68|
|Nesim Waladra||13, 14|
|Ontharr Frume||20, 27, 28, 29, 30, 80|
|Pharblex Spattergoo||46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 59, 60, 61|
|Rath Modar||5, 48, 64, 77, 80, 83|
|Rezmir||10, 15, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 27, 31, 33, 34, 39, 45, 46, 47, 48, 50, 53, 54, 55, 56, 57, 58, 61, 62, 63, 68, 72, 73, 77, 78, 79, 80|
|Samardag the Hoper||33|
|Sandesyl Morgia||77, 81, 82|
|Severin the Red Silrajin||5, 68, 80, 81|
|Snapjaw||44, 45, 47, 49, 53|
|Sulesdeg the Pole||33|
|Szass Tam||5, 31|
|Talis the White||5, 48, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72|
|Trespin the Troll||63, 64, 67, 69|
|Varram the White||62, 66, 68|
|Voaraghamanthar||45, 46, 47, 48, 58|
|Wessic the Wizened||69|
|Wigluf||77, 78, 79|
Named Characters by Gender
|Female NPCs (21)
Talis the White
Male NPCs (52)
Castellan Escobert the Red
Craggnor the Dwarf
Glazhael the Cloudchaser
Governor Tarbaw Nighthill
Gundalin the Wheelwright
Lasfelro the Silent
Samardag the Hoper
Severin the Red Silrajin
Sulesdeg the Pole
Trespin the Troll
Varram the White
Wessic the Wizened
Galvan the Blue
Neronvain the Green
The raw data, along with information about the NPCs' race and background (e.g. veteran, merchant, etc) as well as an index to illustrations can be found here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1e-S_GU0ihGHuSb7-McU9rwS4esD2WBsG...
Also, be sure to grab the pdf supplement from Wizards of the Coast here: https://dnd.wizards.com/products/tabletop-games/rpg-products/hoard-drago...
You can buy Hoard of the Dragon Queen from Amazon.
- Tim Eagon pointed out that Sammaster is an NPC in the Forgotten Realms and is male.
A comic I've been reading for the past few months that I love is, Shutter. I'm going to give some spoilers because I want to explain why I love it so much. First, the basics. The comic is described as urban fantasy with dash of Indian Jones. It is published by Image Comics and features writer Joe Keatinge and artist Leila del Duca.
We are first introduced to the main character, Kate Kristopher, while she's on a father-daughter trip to the moon. In fact, she's telling her dad she wants to go now because the moon is boring.
Then we learn she comes from a long line of adventurers. It's a pretty common fantasy that a frequently traveling parent has a secret and interesting job such as a spy or part of a secret military force, but here, it's real for her.
These two panels caught my attention. Not only is the main character a woman, a woman of color at that, but she comes from a line of adventurers that include women. Her father's mother and her mother were also adventurers. Kate is special because all adventurers are special in this world, not because she's the first female adventurer. YES!
And this is the world we're introduced to. The caption says New York City but it's futuristic and has non-humans.
We see more non-humans in the street scenes, like this one below, but also we see some diversity in the humans pictured as well. There's a person of color and a curvy woman. Plus, her roommate, Alain (more on her later), looks like she's a scientist and is in the middle of doing research.
We soon learn that her father has been dead for some time and, unbeknownst to her, she's being hunted. She gets hurt and is taken to the hospital. We see Alain again.
Alain is also critical to why I fell in love with the series. We've now met her a few times. There's an explosion in their apartment while they talk. And then, this, a picture of a young Kate and a young Alain, only Alain isn't dressed in the feminine clothes we're accustomed to seeing her in.
Flashback. Kate and Alain as children. Alain being picked on for playing with dolls. The bully hitting Alain with an action figure. Kate stepping in, defending Alain. Kate punching the bully, bloodying his nose. Alain and Kate bonding.
Back to the present. An injured Kate desperately searching for her friend, finding her in a room full of fire. Then Kate waiting in a room with other people. Then, well, I'll let you experience that for yourself.
I don't know if this is the perfect way to introduce that a character is transgender, but it is one of the better examples I've seen and had a deep impression on me. What I loved about it is that we had already been introduced to Alain as a woman. There's no concentration on body parts (or plumbing here). Providing the story of how they met also provides a bit of depth to their relationship. Not only are they roommates, they are childhood friends. The reveal about Alain doesn't just focus on her status as a trans woman. It's not about her body or her sexuality or any of those things. It's about people, with a connection to each other.
One reason I'm including so much art in this post is because I think it's absolutely perfect for the story. Also, it's a great example of how to create a full, rich world that acknowledges diversity. Not only are there different humanoids, humans themselves are depicted in a variety of body shapes and skin tones. The art is as much part of the story as the words and plot, drawing us in and pulling at our emotions.
For me, at least, I also think the work plays with so many tropes in urban fantasy and subverts them. The father introducing the child to their birthright is common, but less common is the child being a daughter instead of a son. It's common for a woman to be hurt in order to provide the protagonist's motivation to go forward, but rarely is that woman transgender and the protagonist also female. I admit, I could see some of these notes falling flat with some, but I'm enjoying a story line that breaks with tradition in these ways. Also, how can you not love this?
I haven't even gotten to the talking cat companion or the skeleton butler or, heck, the mysteries that revolve around Kate. If Indiana Jones-style urban fantasy is something that might strike your fancy, give the comic a try.
Images © 2014 by Joe Keatinge and Leila del Duca.
In addition to the seriously awesome, Hacking as Women event, another thing happened at GenCon that reinforced my faith in D&D. Mike Mearls invited myself and Anna Kreider to have lunch with him. There was no real agenda other than to talk about our experiences and perhaps to help identify things we thought of as problems and maybe offer potential solutions.
This was a big deal to me. I respect Mike a lot. Heck, most of the people I know who work on games, many of whom I count as friends, whether it's Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, or Evil Hat, want to see more diversity in the portrayal of characters. I've known for a long time that the creators themselves wanted these changes, but that it could be unclear if they could or how to do it. A number of people have told me in various conversations that being on panels like "Queer as a Three-Sided Die" helped them see a perspective of themselves and their companies that did not match what they knew or wanted and that became an impetus for change. For instance, in a recent interview, Mike discusses being struck by surprise in the community that a WotC employee could attend a panel on LGBTQ issues.
In 2013, Jeremy and I talked about the Gen Con panel over lunch the following week, and I was struck at how the community was surprised that someone from Wizards of the Coast was able to attend. I had always felt that we were a fairly progressive company, but it drove home that people can’t read our minds. Our intentions don’t mean anything unless we reflect them in our work and our actions. Source: Mary Sue
And we know that they aren't just saying their intentions. They worked to make the art in the Player's Handbook diverse, something that Mike made sure to discuss when we interviewed him on the Tome Show. (Sorry we didn't ask more questions about it Mike, I wasn't sure then if we could.) They included the sex and gender inclusivity text not just in the Player's Handbook but as part of the basic rules. They've done a great job, in my opinion, of talking about D&D in places they might not have before, such as that Mary Sue interview.
And, finally, something that truly humbled me, Mike spent about 2 hours of his very busy Gen Con to talk to Anna Kreider and myself about our experiences in gaming. We talked and talked. Everything from how happy we were to see how they were changing their approach to our fears about being cut off every time we offer a critique of the product. This came at a very stressful time as we were both being harassed for those critiques for over a month before Gen Con. Mike talked about his hopes for the game and the community, the difficulties they've had in the past and during the reorientation, and we talked about some ways that we might be able to get there. He talked about his experiences with the various communities and how that feeds in to what they are trying to do. It was a great conversation, one that fills me with hope.
Look, I know that there is, for some, a lot of pain here when it comes to D&D. I'm definitely not saying that D&D is now perfect or even that we should stop critiquing. However, this sort of thing is why I haven't given up on the game and why I think it could go in even more awesome directions. If you want to be a part of that, let your voice be heard. Write about your experiences! Write about what you love but feel free to temper that with the stuff that gets you down. Play, experiment in your play, and write about that. Let's fill this community with diverse voices. They are listening. These changes were less likely to happen without Anna or myself writing what we write. Or if the community didn't express shock over the participation in panels like Queer as a Three-Sided Die. Or if Mike's coworkers didn't speak up to say that they thought they couldn't do progressive things. It's easy to never name our assumptions, but let's stop doing that.
Read about Anna's version of the lunch here.
Artwork: "Lead to Gold" © 2013 Kaitlynn Peavler and Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games, created for Conquering Corsairs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/
P.S. I am opening comments up on this. However, I will be moderating them.
One of the awesome things I did during GenCon was help with the Hacking as Women workshop on Saturday night. As some of you may know, I've been looking into a number of the women-focused initiatives in technology (my professional field) and seeing what we could translate over to the gaming space. For example, I've been a vocal advocate of anti-harassment policies and the Ada Initiative's work in that space.
Another initiative I've taken great interest in is the Boston Python User Group's attempts to get more women involved, including their workshop series for women and their friends. Given that I hear many of the same concerns for getting into tabletop game design as I do for getting into tech, I thought it would be awesome to do something similar for RPGs. However, I am not an organizer and I had no idea how to translate this idea into reality.
Then last winter, Mark Diaz Truman moved away from Boston and offered to have coffee with anyone in Boston who wanted to see him before he was gone. I took him up on the generous offer and we talked about a bunch of stuff. During that talk, I pitched him on the idea of the workshop. With his ties to the Indie Game Developers Network (IGDN) and his experience as an actual real-life organizer, he knew how to make this a reality. We talked a bunch, both over coffee and later over the internet, about how this should happen. We worried about wording. We worried about the influx of trolls (one of the reasons I didn't talk about it more was a fear that I would draw trolls to the project, which is another reason why I was more comfortable not having my involvement overly spotlighted).
We talked it over with the supportive Derek Guder. We decided that having an honor system while making it clear who we wanted to participate (women and non-binary people). We knew we weren't going to get it right. Mark got together an excellent team of coach/mentors. Besides himself, our coaches included Marissa Kelly, Cam Banks, Stras Acimovic, and Brian Engard. (By the way, the honor system worked.)
Since this was the first workshop like this any of us ran, we only had a very loose script. Mark started off by thanking everyone for being there. Then we went through why a number of us felt this was so important. Then we went through a quick introduction of the coaches and which systems they were best at (for this, we focused on FATE, Apocalypse World, and Cortex+ as systems to hack). We also took some time to make the implicit explicit, and worked as a group to set some ground rules for the session, giving everyone the ability to provide input.
We tried to organize groups by who was most excited by which systems but realized that one of the system advocates did a great job explaining one of the systems and many people wanted to do that system, which wouldn't work for the way our knowledge was spread. Instead, we started having people pair up and pitch concepts to each other. Once most of the groups had agreed to a concept, we went through again and the coaches tried to match up systems with the concepts. We had two groups where both members didn't agree on a concept, but they were happy to switch group members so most groups were in favor of the pitched concept and the system.
With four of the five groups having a concept, system, and mentor, they started designing and spent the next hour doing just that. For the fifth group, Mark suggested more concrete steps (sorry, it was even cooler than that but I don't know how to describe it). For instance, Mark suggested that they should figure out a type of story they both like and then left for a bit. When he came back, they had a concept and then he talked about what sort of system would be best for it. Their game felt like FATE would be a great fit, so he gave them a character sheet and talked about the parts of a FATE character. He asked them to consider if the attributes listed on the character sheet encapsulated what the characters were likely to do or need to do and, if not, to suggest alternatives.
After about an hour, it was time to start winding down. He described the pitch process and gave each group a few minutes to pitch their idea to the rest of the group. It was a cool experience. Not only were most of the groups super excited about their idea, but there were some awesome ideas out there that I would never have heard about otherwise. We also talked about how to go forward, suggesting that people create a design document that they could easily share and to not get discouraged if the idea doesn't last. Most if not all of the mentors have game ideas that they start but just never finish for one reason or another.
It was my favorite part of GenCon this year and honestly, I'm having a hard time thinking of a convention related experience that beats it. It was great seeing 10 women excited about game design, to watch them go from being nervous about hacking on games (a lot of the intros focused on being nervous or inexperienced) to hacking on games to create they want to see in the world. Afterwards, we collected all of their contact information and shared it to the whole group.
So, if you are at all interested, steal this idea! Seriously. Hack it even! Make it your own. But let's get more women designing and let's build more opportunities for learning, networking, and mentoring. We definitely want to do it again next GenCon and I'd love to see this at other conventions.
Also, don't just take my word for it, here's a description from one of the participants, Sarah Richardson: Con Diary: Gen Con wrap up
Sometimes I feel like I'm in an episode of Medium. For those who have never heard of it, Medium was a tv show that centered around Allison DuBois and all the wonderful things she could do, primarily solve crimes through a supernatural connection to the dead. This happened to hit two of my favorite genres, the supernatural and mysteries, so I often watched and enjoyed it.
However, after the first season, something really started to annoy me. Even though she had solved dozens of cases by this point, the other people in her life, especially her boss, kept starting out from a position of not believing her. They would say things along the lines of, "Look, Allison, sometimes a dream is just a dream" leaving unsaid that the last 10 times they said it, said dream was anything but "just a dream."
Sometimes I feel the same way when it comes to talking about gender, sexism, and misogyny. I point out something that I see as sexist and/or misogynistic. People, often while claiming to be on my "side" or knowing that I've had some valid points in the past, will say, "I remain unconvinced." The counter arguments often raised will be steeped in the same sexism and/or misogyny. I'll point it out, sometimes in an aggressive way but often similar to the rest of the conversation, generally in a neutral but not "nice" way. They'll get defensive and/or angry, often out of fear that what I'm saying could be true or could be accepted by others to be true and they might be called "sexist." Eventually someone with more personal capital with the individual talks to them or they have time to think and they can see my perspective (even if they don't agree with it) and we continue on.
While there is some progress in these interactions, there are two issues I'd like to discuss. First, the amount of progress is small compared to the harm caused by these conversations. I'm not talking about the harm caused to the people who are feel uncomfortable because they are being asked to reexamine their world view, what they consider to be valid critiques and the like. I don't think there's a way out of that discomfort since we're talking about a reevaluation of one's identity much of the time. Rather, the lashing out that happens as a result of that discomfort is downright damaging and abusive and it silences the voices we need in order to enact the change.
Allies can cause way more damage than the strangers. The default questioning has serious issues and it's a hard topic to discuss because the knee-jerk response is, "Well, then you just don't want anyone to question you," which is nonsense. The hardline questioning of feminists or anyone working in a social justice topic is, itself, an issue. We know that many of our current points of view are tainted by a world that held up gender inequality and gender essentialism as good things. We should not accept those things at face value until proven otherwise. Not only does this way of processing arguments have an issue that only one world view would then be considered "true" and all others "false," it gives too much weight to those arguments we know might be problematic and should be re-examined. Plato's Theory of Forms isn't going to help us understand each other here.
Another thing that bothers me sometimes is I've seen way too many people who admit they don't know much about feminism or the like or what it must be like to live as a woman in this society tell women how to get things done. Usually the ways they tell people how to do it are generic cliches of social mores, the same things, that if they did work, should have gotten us out of this mess by now. When I was discussing this with a friend recently, she had some insight that feels like a good analogy for how I feel with this happens. She was discussing someone in her game who told her how to play her character.
I actually had an incident last night. Was playing new D&D (yay) and other player had a new character. I'm playing a Sneaky Rogue with a Criminal "Hired Killer" background that is true neutral. We'd just met on the street during a skirmish and I offered to sell some of the equipment we'd taken from the bodies. I sold the stuff and went to the inn where his character was staying. He said, "Hello friend!" when I walked in, and I dropped off his share of the profits and left. He said, "You're making your character act like a dick. You've got a Charisma of 15, you should have played it more friendly." I said, "Listen, It's my character, I'm playing her as I see fit." He responded with, "I wouldn't play a Charisma 15 like that." So, I had to do that 'girlsplaining', like I haven't been RPing for over 20 years. "She's just met your character, she doesn't know him from Adam. Friendship is very important to her, and you just out of the blue called her friend after barely passing a few words of conversation previously. Besides, when she walked in, a couple of people recognized her and ran out of the room. She has no reason to have conversation with you, she's gone out of her way to deliver you the profits when she could have just kept them, and she's getting the hell out of dodge before those other people jump her." - TheStormCellar
From my point of view, this encapsulated exactly how I feel so much of the time. Clearly one of the issues here is a differing interpretation of what Charisma 15 means in terms of a character. Does it mean the character always needs to "be nice?" Or does it instead point to some leadership or social aspect, like the ability to keep tenuous alliances or read a room? TheStormCellar provides a valid read of the situation and her play of her character makes sense. The guy, on the other hand, made some common assumptions that he shouldn't have. They make sense, but, in the end, he should learn to ask questions rather than tell others how to play their character.
Look, I've been a girl and woman all of my life. I've loved traditionally masculine-coded hobbies for all of that time too, sports, gaming, math, etc. Most of my life has been spent in coed groups and many times, those groups have been overwhelmingly boys and/or men. I may have perspectives and experiences about how to convince those groups about my inherent worth as a human being that people who've never had those experiences don't know about. I may have perspective that shows me that "being nice" and "not rocking the boat" is not a path that leads to me being recognized as an equal. Like the male player in this story, your expectations for how a person with a particular attribute should act may be biased and based on tropes, not anything to do with that character. Please stop trying to play someone else's character.
Instead, if I or any other woman, feminist, etc, do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, step back and think about why it is exactly that you are uncomfortable. Talk to someone you trust. Consider if you would have the same reaction if the person wasn't a woman or didn't identify as feminist. Read the actual words said and try to divorce them from your reaction to them. Are you projecting on them? For instance, a recent study showed a bias in the types of words used in performance reviews of women in tech. Women were more likely to be called abrasive and to be criticized in general (regardless of the gender of the manager). If you're already accusing them of being more loyal to feminism than your friendship or anything like that, you cannot have that conversation with them.
Also consider if you are trying to use your friendship with them in an attempt to soothe your discomfort at the expense of their own. Don't talk about being on the same side or make assumptions about their goals. This is a common behavior that leverages the messages women receive throughout their life that they should "be nice." Sometimes people who might have the same overall objectives may disagree about how to accomplish them. If we are in a gender equal society, their method of obtaining them may be just as valid as your own. The appeal to common purpose with the assumption that your way is the right way can be problematic.
If, after some time, you still feel like you want to discuss this, focus on how the actions made you feel rather than telling the other person how they should act. Think about this in game. When someone tells me to move to x area or to do y thing without any more information, I bristle and feel like I'm being bossed around and/or used. When someone says, "Hey, I have an idea. If you do x, we can create y situation," I feel like an equal and a participant in what gets created.
Addressing gender issues in society and gaming is a long, complicated process. It's going to cause discomfort because the root cause of many of the issues is the latent sexism and misogyny that exists in society. It requires everyone, regardless of their gender, to keep reevaluating how, why, and what they do. We've made a lot of progress thus far, but one of the hurdles I see now is that we need to stop acting like Allison's boss and quit with the kneejerk questioning of feminism in a way that is disproportionate to the way we question other things. We also need to look at our critiques of cultural critics like Anita Sarkeesian and see if perhaps we're really just reiterating anti-feminist rhetoric instead of engaging with her ideas.
By the way, I love this recent article by Doctor Nerdlove, “Yo, Is This Sexist?” – A Conversation About Feminism and Sexism. He does an excellent line-by-line breakdown of common arguments presented by people about sexism, misogyny, and feminism and shows the issues inherent in the arguments.