Unconscious Bias or Why I Write

Discussing bias in terms of gaming is often a difficult task because it's often, but not always, the result of unconscious bias, not active discrimination. Because unconscious bias is the result of societal attitudes and practices, it is both much harder to see and often results in a greater level of defensiveness when people find out that they, too, are contributing to larger social patterns that they might otherwise decry and work against.

I understand this defensiveness because I've lived it. I've always been interested in civil rights issues, especially issues of race. But, like many people out there, I often assumed a rather equal playing field when I approached questions. For instance, when I got a job as an undergraduate advisor (my school's version of residential advisors, fellow students who provided mentorship, especially to first year students), I often worried about what "being fair" would look like on a diverse floor. Would it really be fair to ask someone from the south to take down a Confederate flag they hung in their room? It didn't help that I had grown up relatively poor and much of my extended family lived in poverty, so many of the experiences people of color shared were much like my own and seemed normal.

Eventually I came to see what I couldn't see before. Climbing the class ladder helped a bit. Now when I walk into stores, the clerks want to help me and no longer follow me around, mainly because I buy jeans that cost 3x or more what I did when I was in high school. I probably also walk differently and do other unconscious displays of social status.

I say all that to explain how I got to where I am today and why discussing things like how banshees are portrayed in some book about some elf game matters to me. While I'm forever wary of confirmation bias, my research and my life experiences lead me to a place where I find concepts like privilege, unconscious bias, implicit association, and the like are true. I think we do notice patterns in our lives and the art and media we experience, whether it's fiction or not, and internalize them in ways that we might not like if it's made explicit. And I do agree with research that suggests that the way to counter these biases isn't through censorship but through discussion and that it's through lack of discussion that these things continue. Also, it's not just the dominant group who often has these biases, for instance a research into the hiring of recent science grads showed that women were discriminated by men and women (I believe the research worked within the gender binary).

Now that I've been a bit more explicit about my own approach and biases, I'd like to talk about the Monster Manual a bit more. There is a lot I love about the book. I love that there is a richer history here, things like how hatred simmers below the surface between the azers and the efreeti. I rather enjoy the concept of lair actions and environmental effects, maybe because they remind me of the catastrophic dragons from 4e or my own monster from Lost City. (Aside, I loved Lyndsay's article about how to use these as part of world building.) Likewise, there is a lot of implied world history in the book, as Rob Donoghue points out. I've already used it to help someone knew to the game understand what the monsters we were describing in a discussion look like. Overall, the Monster Manual can be indispensable for a dungeon master as they prepare for their game or campaign and I highly recommend it.

However, that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with all the things it says about the world that we're supposed to play in. One of the goals of this edition of D&D, especially with the way organized play is set up, is that they want us to have a shared experience. I know many of you have had awesome conversations with each other about the older modules. "Man, that Acererak is a real asshole. Why the hell would he ever set up [redacted] in room [redacted]?" "Do you remember when that chick turned out to be a vampire and almost killed our entire party?" These sorts of shared stories help us bond and become our secret handshake of sorts.

Now imagine of that secret handshake left you feeling not only uncomfortable but like your basic humanity was being ignored. When a game starts making one gender the other, makes that gender a symbol for only certain things, that's what happens to many (but not all) members of that gender. Yes, it's true, there are a lot of "strong men" in D&D. But there are also physically weak male wizards who get by on their brains instead of their brawn. There are pudgy men, wise men, evil men, good men, men who lead armies, men who hide in a tower and read books all day, etc. However, women are too often limited to their looks and/or their covetousness of beautiful things. That's why the banshee, in that context, made me take notice. Mythological banshees are none of those things.

It's easy to argue for the existence of any one example or against the inclusion of one example in the pattern. If the banshee were the only example, sure, we need variety. If we had lots of other monsters that were portrayed as explicitly having female members with agency, sure, the fact that the medusa can also be male would be important to note. But those things, in our product today, aren't true. Sometimes, we are missing the forest for the trees.

When you aren't part of the core audience that the book due to explicit and/or implicit bias, which would include people of all genders who like and are well served by current societal attitudes towards gender, it's often easier to see that forest, to see that general pattern that even if it doesn't say stay away, says that you're not exactly welcome either. And that is why I write these things. Not because I hate games or because I want to tell other people that they are bad, but because if I stay quiet, if I don't mention these things, no one will ever know. People will still ask the questions, "Why is it so hard to get this person I care about to play? Are women really just not interested in this?" and no understanding will come of it because the real reasons are never allowed to be spoken, the sentiments censored.

Now, I'm not asking for total agreement. Plenty of people disagree with me on some things much of the time. Disagreement is not only good, it's going to be a fact of life. Humans are incredibly diverse in their tastes and their opinions. Just look at the full spectrum of kinks! But if you want to discuss gender essentialism or how applying the stereotype or the average to the individual is actually a good thing, well, you won't find purchase for your arguments here. That's not censorship, I just hear those opinions way too often as it is.

For those who have supported me through the years, many hearty thanks.

Art: "Scroll Raider" © 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/

Fighting female goblins isn't necessarily violence against women

Also in preparation for The Tome Show review of the 5e Monster Manual, I've been reading other people’s reviews and reactions to reviews. One strange argument I’ve read suggests that we shouldn’t have more female combatant NPCs in Dungeons & Dragons because violence against women is a thing. I’d like to address this argument because I see too many people accepting it at face value and I think that actually ends up perpetuating sexism and violence against women.

I don’t know about you, but I know many boys during my childhood were told “don’t hit a girl.” When a local girl joined the middle or high school football team, I read article after article that worried that the boys would get all confused about whether or not they could hit girls if they had to compete with one on the playing field. My own principal in middle school declared at an assembly that it would be over his dead body that any girl in his school earned a position on the football team.

Controlled violence between equals was forbidden if one of the participants was a girl and the other was a boy. However, when the boys snapped my bra or threatened to rape me when the monitors weren’t looking or dragged me around the playground because I had taken out the classroom ball and the boys didn’t want me to play or when a boy blocked my exit from a room unless I gave him a kiss, these things were just boys being boys. When a boy got a little too rough with a girl, it’s because he was too frustrated and just didn’t know any better.

The latter, while many are relatively mild forms of this, illustrate how violence against women is different from people, some of whom happen to be women, being involved in violence. Not every act of violence that involves a woman is included in the term violence against women. It has more specific meanings. For instance, in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women from the United Nations General Assembly, it’s defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

When we’re in a goblin cave fulfilling our destiny as murder hobos, killing female goblins does not make our acts violence against women. Supporting gender diversity when it comes to what enemies we fight is not a vote in favor of violence against women.

In fact, I’d argue that restricting female combatants only to the common female stereotypes and tropes is a much stronger argument that something supports violence against women. For instance, having the few female monsters be overwhelmingly the ones that charm you, something that real life women are commonly accused of, such that you have to get them down to zero hit points to break the spell, that reinforces myths that encourage violence against women. And yes, I get that charming others isn’t limited to women, there are some male creatures do it as well, but there are far many other male creatures that use other methods of challenge.

By having so few female-centered creatures (ones where the description limits the creature to only the female sex or the text and/or artwork suggests that the female version is much more likely) and having the majority of them tied to female stereotypes, we create a world in which when we fight female creatures, it is often tied to some corruption of their femininity, making it implicitly if not explicitly gender-based.

Fighting against the corruption isn’t in itself bad, but when the only time we fight female creatures is because they are not meeting gendered expectations, I’d argue that not only reinforces those stereotypes, it is violence against women.

We change that by broadening where we use female monsters and by finding other ways than enslaving the females of the race to denote that a monster race is evil. For instance, I loved this scene from the Rat Queens.

The Rat Queens had killed the troll lady’s boyfriend and she’s there for revenge.

However, I’d feel bad if I didn’t point out one thing. When creating scenes where violence is being done to a woman by a man, it would be good if it didn’t look like it came from a 1980s slasher film or an episode of Criminal Minds. For instance, this scene from the Magic the Gathering card, Triumph of Ferocity.

(Note: Wizards of the Coast has apologized for this image.)

Now, I get it, they need to fight each other. But the specific setup, him holding her down and choking her with his knee between her legs, that’s a common pose in the scary “he’s going to rape you” scenes in movies. That’s part of the reason some people reacted to the card the way that they did. It’s not that they were fighting, it’s the pose. Contrast that with this scene from Rat Queens.

Sure, we can make jokes about how that’s a mighty big sword he has pointed at her, but there’s nothing that sexual about the composition of the scene.

Finally, just because I think it’s awesome that Polygon published this post, it’s important to note that these sorts of discussions about our media and our art are nothing new. Back in the 1980s, Siskel and Ebert talked about what they saw as a disturbing trend in how violence against women was being portrayed in some sorts of movies.

Art: Rat Queens © 2014 Kurtis J Wiebe and Roc Upchurch. Magic the Gathering © Wizards of the Coast.

Explaining my issues with the 5e Banshee

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.

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.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Greenest in Flames - Part 2

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.

Example of PlaybookExample of Playbook
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.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Greenest in Flames - Part 1

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.


For this part of the article series, I will spend a post or two on each episode. This means that there will be spoilers. The adventure as a whole contains eight episodes.

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
3 Sanctuary
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
4 Sanctuary
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_...

Analysis of Gender: Hoard of the Dragon Queen

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.

Talis the WhiteTalis 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.

Captain OthelstanCaptain Othelstan.

Online Account Security through Two-Factor Authentication

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.

Passwords

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.

Mixed characters

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.

Password Safes/Managers

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:

LastPass - Cloud-based.
1Password - Local installation but can share via the cloud with other computers.
KeePass - Local installation only.

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.

Multi-Factor Authentication

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 tracy+netflix@sarahdarkmagic.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/

Named NPCs in Tyranny of Dragons: Hoard of the Dragon Queen

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.)

Hoard of the Dragon QueenHoard of the Dragon Queen

Alphabetical Index

NPC Pages
Achreny Ulyeltin 32
Ackyn Selebon 30
Aldor Urnpoleshurst 32
Angrath Woodwise 67
Ardred Briferhew 40
Arietta Innevar 36
Arlaenga 67
Azbara Jos 31, 37, 38, 39, 48, 54, 62, 77, 80
Beyd Sechepol 32
Blagothkus 75, 77, 78, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84, 85
Bog Luck 40,41, 42
Brother Caemon 67
Captain Othelstan 63, 72, 73, 75
Carlon Amoffel 36
Castellan Escobert the Red 7, 8, 9, 12
Craggnor the Dwarf 66
Cuth Swift 8
Dharva Scatterheart 6
Dralmorrer Borngray 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 56, 58, 61
Eadyan Falconmoon 11
Edhelri Lewel 32
Eldkin Agetul 32
Enom Tobun 32
Esclarotta 75, 82, 83, 84
Frulam Mondath 9, 10, 15, 17, 18, 21, 25, 26, 27, 30
Galvan the Blue 68
Gastyn 67
Glazhael the Cloudchaser 68, 77, 83, 85, 86
Governor Tarbaw Nighthill 7, 8, 9, 10, 12, 13, 19, 28
Green Imsa 32
Gristle Pete 42
Gundalin the Wheelwright 73, 75
Hulde 77, 78, 79
Jamna Gleamsilver 31, 37, 38, 39, 40, 42
Kusphia 68
Lai Anglesstun 32
Langdedrosa Cyanwrath 12, 15, 17, 18, 21, 24, 27
Larion Keenblade 42
Lasfelro the Silent 32
Leda Widris 32
Lennithon 9
Leosin Erlanthar 6, 13, 14, 18, 19, 20, 27, 28, 29, 30, 80
Linan Swift 8
Lord Marsten 67, 74
Lord Neverember 40
Losvius Longnose 32
Maelgot 68
Miresella 66
Neronvain the Green 68
Nesim Waladra 13, 14
Noohar Serelim 32
Nyerwhite Verther 33
Ontharr Frume 20, 27, 28, 29, 30, 80
Orvustia Esseren 33
Oyn Evenmor 33
Pharblex Spattergoo 46, 47, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 59, 60, 61
Radecere Perethun 33
Raggnar Redtooth 74
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
Sammaster 81
Sandesyl Morgia 77, 81, 82
Sergeant Markguth 12
Severin the Red Silrajin 5, 68, 80, 81
Snapjaw 44, 45, 47, 49, 53
Sorvic 68
Sulesdeg the Pole 33
Szass Tam 5, 31
Talis the White 5, 48, 62, 63, 64, 65, 66, 67, 68, 69, 71, 72
Tharm Tharmzid 53
Trespin the Troll 63, 64, 67, 69
Tyjit Skesh 33
Varram the White 62, 66, 68
Voaraghamanthar 45, 46, 47, 48, 58
Waervaerendor 48, 59
Werond Torohar 33
Wessic the Wizened 69
Wigluf 77, 78, 79
Wump 41
Zelina Innevar 36

Named Characters by Gender

Female NPCs (21)
Arietta Innevar
Arlaenga
Dharva Scatterheart
Edhelri Lewel
Eldkin Agetul
Esclarotta
Frulam Mondath
Green Imsa
Hulde
Jamna Gleamsilver
Kusphia
Leda Widris
Linan Swift
Miresella
Orvustia Esseren
Rezmir
Sandesyl Morgia
Talis the White
Tyjit Skesh
Werond Torohar
Zelina Innevar
Male NPCs (52)
Achreny Ulyeltin
Ackyn Selebon
Aldor Urnpoleshurst
Azbara Jos
Beyd Sechepol
Blagothkus
Bog Luck
Brother Caemon
Captain Othelstan
Carlon Amoffel
Castellan Escobert the Red
Craggnor the Dwarf
Cuth Swift
Dralmorrer Borngray
Eadyan Falconmoon
Enom Tobun
Glazhael the Cloudchaser
Governor Tarbaw Nighthill
Gristle Pete
Gundalin the Wheelwright
Lai Anglesstun
Langdedrosa Cyanwrath
Larion Keenblade
Lasfelro the Silent
Lennithon
Leosin Erlanthar
Lord Marsten
Lord Neverember
Losvius Longnose
Nesim Waladra
Noohar Serelim
Nyerwhite Verther
Ontharr Frume
Oyn Evenmor
Pharblex Spattergoo
Radecere Perethun
Raggnar Redtooth
Rath Modar
Samardag the Hoper
Sammaster
Sergeant Markguth
Severin the Red Silrajin
Snapjaw
Sulesdeg the Pole
Szass Tam
Tharm Tharmzid
Trespin the Troll
Varram the White
Voaraghamanthar
Waervaerendor
Wessic the Wizened
Wigluf
Wump
Unknown (8)
Angrath Woodwise
Ardred Briferhew
Galvan the Blue
Gastyn
Maelgot
Neronvain the Green
Sorvic

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.

Edits:

  • Tim Eagon pointed out that Sammaster is an NPC in the Forgotten Realms and is male.

Comics I Love: Shutter

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.

Shutter CoverShutter Cover

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.

Shutter - Moon is BoringShutter - 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.

Shutter - LineageShutter - Lineage

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.

Shutter - New York CityShutter - New York City

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.

Shutter - AlainShutter - Alain
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.

Shutter - HospitalShutter - Hospital

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.

Shutter - PhotographShutter - Photograph

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.

Shutter - DollsShutter - Dolls

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?

Shutter - Learn to ShootShutter - Learn to Shoot

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.

The Power of Speaking Up

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.

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

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