Comics I Love: Rat Queens

Recently Rat Queens #1 came out. I had seen a lot of ads for this one, especially in the back of Saga. It's what happens when you create a comic around four tabletop RPG characters, all of whom happen to be women. Our cast of characters are Hannah the Rockabilly Elven Mage, Violet the Hipster Dwarven Fighter, Dee the Atheist Human Cleric and Betty the Hippy Hobbit Thief. The quartet are known for causing trouble around town and find themselves thrown in the dungeon yet again. They might be able to secure their release...if they complete a quest. Fail, and they are banned from Palisade forever.

The bargain - © Kurtis J. Wiebe and John UpchurchThe bargain - © Kurtis J. Wiebe and John Upchurch
Of course, they aren't the only group. In addition to the Rat Queens, we have Peaches, Four Daves, Brother Ponies, and Obsidian Darkness. Of course, we soon find out that there's more going on here but I don't want to spoil that for you. Besides, if you don't mind spoilers, Weird Girls did a great review of the issue in this video.

There's also a free preview issue that introduces the characters and gives a sneak peak into their world. There are two pages from that preview that I particularly love.

Betty
Betty - Rat Queens © Kurtis J. Wiebe and John UpchurchBetty - Rat Queens © Kurtis J. Wiebe and John Upchurch

Violet
Violet - © Kurtis J. Wiebe and John UpchurchViolet - © Kurtis J. Wiebe and John Upchurch

As some of the sample images show, this is not a prim and proper comic. The world is dark as is the comedy. There will be swearing, drinking, drugs, and sex. They are adventurers after all! Oh and lots of bad ass women. I also love that the characters, in my opinion, aren't drawn for our viewing pleasure and yet still obviously have sexual desires and sexy fun times. The comic is often self-aware about this at times.

© Kurtis J. Wiebe and John Upchurch© Kurtis J. Wiebe and John Upchurch

So, if any of this sounds appealing to you, I urge you to check it out. You can find the free preview on the Image Comics website or through Comixology. Kurt Wiebe has previews and other information on his site. Issue #2 comes out on October 23rd.

PAX and the sexism behind some anti-boycott rhetoric

Justice: Attribution: Carptrash at the English language WikipediaJustice: Attribution: Carptrash at the English language WikipediaI’ve been watching the debates about PAX quite intently, but the public articles like Polygon, Rock Paper Shotgun, and others, and those that are happening in the communities of people I know. One thing I’ve noticed through it all is that many of the conversations illuminate unquestioned assumptions along with latent sexism even among those who believe that they are all supporting the fight against sexism.

This isn’t surprising. Sexism is deeply engrained in our culture and everyone is going to be sexist sometimes. What bothers me is that often the people engaging in it don’t see it for themselves. I love Polygon's explanation of this situation from their article.

You'd be forgiven for thinking that this is all just the recurrence of a stubbornly persistent gender divide — of straight men refusing to meet anyone else halfway because, even two centuries after Mary Wollstonecraft, it is still pretty much a man's man's man's world. Maybe so, but it's still worth thinking about Tychos and Gabes for the way they reflect what's specific to our particular moment. It may be that an inability or unwillingness to see outside of the context of male social prerogatives is a consistent feature of our cultural history, but the version we're most likely to encounter these days was shaped by a generation of men who, like Tycho, Gabe and their creators, were born in the decade or so after 1975.

That was a critical period in the development of the video game industry, of course, but also for nerd culture in general. Mainstream attitudes toward all manner of geeky media were beginning to shift, paving the way for a 21st century in which comic book adaptations dominate the box office while the short lists for literary awards feature novels about the zombie apocalypse. What ties the men born of that era into one big Penny Arcade generation is the desire for a public venue to call their own. To that end, they've staked out some of the venues that mattered to them most as young men: movies, comic books, video games, the internet.

To a Tycho or a Gabe, part of what makes those venues specifically theirs is the freedom to deal flippantly and without apology with troubles that most of them will never have to face directly. They need not bat an eye at a casual reference to rape, in no small part because rape victims are about nine times less likely to be men than women. They could probably manage the empathetic leap needed in order to see outside their own context, but to do so would compromise their claim on the venue.

While in this post, I talk about this being the actions and reactions of men compared to the actions and reactions of women, I mean this 1) in the general and 2) more as one group being considered the in-group and the other the out-group, even when all members of the group by and large enjoy the same things that should signify group membership. I also want to point out that while gender is presented as a binary in this post, many including myself do not see it as such. Finally, I'm not saying that the arguments and responses I discuss here were intended to be sexist or to reinforce existing patterns, just that they have the effect of doing so, often unintentionally.

Championing Masculine Heroism

First, there are those who are championing masculine heroism. This by the way, is what is behind many of the calls to not boycott. I’ve seen multiple conversations accuse those who might boycott of doing the equivalent of “taking their ball and going home” because they weren’t getting their way. Consider that for a moment? The first time I remember hearing that was when I was a kid and it was often accompanied with language like “don’t be a girl” or “be a man.”

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t times to stand firm, but there are plenty of times when not participating is the answer. Regardless of the work we do at the con, presence there tells other people who look at the numbers that Mike and Jerry still have plenty of support and those gate numbers will continue to undercut the protest. Additionally, people have been conditioned to believe that if you subject yourself to a particular environment, then you are partially to blame for anything bad that happens in that environment, especially if you are female. Finally, the stress that comes from a person subjecting oneself to that environment is a negative and not everyone has to spoons to handle it. Calling them the polite equivalent of a coward or wuss is horrible, just as horrible, in my opinion, as the overt misogynists.

Who gets to be made uncomfortable

Another problem I see crop up in these discussions is who gets to be uncomfortable. Hint, rarely is it men. If a man puts out an opinion like the one above and gets called out on it in any sort of aggressive way, I’ve seen the other men in the conversation suddenly rally around him instead of objectively looking at the arguments being made and addressing both parties in a proportional fashion. “Hey, we’re all learning here, why can’t you be nicer?” is a common response, one that is well known to be a derailing tone argument. “How dare you tell someone that they should be quiet! You’re in the way of discussion” happens even though 1) no discussion has actually taken place because no one has called the original person on the harm of their argument and 2) the original comment was often framed in such a way to make it impossible to actually have a discussion. These and more get followed up with exaggerations of the tone of the responder, especially if the responder is a woman. Even toned responses are angry and emotion filled. Anything with emotions becomes outright hostility and vitriol. The response from the self-appointed peacekeepers is to comfort the man who was “unfairly attacked” and maybe, if we’re all lucky point out that maybe they can see, however, where their arguments went afield.

How these reinforce the status quo

The problem is, underlying all of this, is a reinforcement of male privilege in society. The harmful and hurtful opinions of men can only be challenged as long as the challengers remember their place. In this case, their place is not to be anywhere near as aggressive as the original commenter. So even when the original commenter basically calls anyone who won’t directly confront the issues a coward, the responders can’t directly confront the commenter and must remain more docile and polite compared to the original commenter and often compared to the expected behaviors of their gender group.

This is hugely problematic. First, many times the reason people put forth these theories is because they don’t live in an environment that is often to constantly hostile towards them. They have the ability to “take a break” and, in fact, their participation in an event like PAX may be one of the few times each year that they put themelves in a potentially hostile situation. Also, even when they are at PAX, they often have the choice to not engage. They don’t have to reveal that they are a feminist if they don’t want to, whereas many women constantly have to consider that in terms of what they say and how they say it.

Secondly, I personally feel if you are going to put forth an argument that people have to actively put themselves in a hostile environment in order to enact change or otherwise they are part of the problem, you have to be willing to live it. If you can’t deal with a counter argument that is aggressive but doesn’t actually call you names or use profanity and your immediate reaction is to call to the sympathies of the other men in the conversation, then you should stop making that argument. You have just shown, that when push comes to shove, you are unwilling to take your own advice.

What bothers me is that the other people in the conversation often don’t see this. There are a variety of reasons for this. One of them is the belief that it could have been them who made the misstep and how dare that person not take his feelings into account. But here’s the problem, it’s clear that the original commenter didn’t take the feelings of others into account either. While two wrongs don’t make a right, sometimes being in the other person’s shoes for a bit is actually a good thing, especially in a country like the US where men’s needs and feelings are often catered to far more often than women’s.

At the end of the day, many of these arguments are about the rights and feelings of mainly men in the community. The sympathetic men who attend PAX don’t want to be grouped in with the outright misogynists and will attack anyone who talks about how PAX as a whole makes them feel uncomfortable. The so-called freedom of speech advocates want to say whatever they want without any societal consequences, whether out of fear of misspeaking or a belief that they shouldn’t have to care about anyone but themselves. They will wrap this up in a “America and apple pie” emotional appeal that isn’t based on actual freedom of expression. The misogynists want what they always want, the ability to prey on and terrorize women. They’ll use well-instilled misogynistic beliefs in our society to convince the other two groups to turn on those who might boycott or otherwise standup for themselves to take the pressure off of themselves.

And this needs to stop. I realize it’s difficult when so many of the women have opted-out of these conversations to remember that their voices aren’t being heard and that the arguments being repeated don’t have fair and equal input from all parties, but continuing these arguments in these ways is only going to continue that situation. I realize that many men are worried about being judged for having sexist and misogynistic beliefs, but realize that the way you are treating women is no better. If you don’t want to be expected to be perfect, don’t expect perfection from others. Learn about the biases well-known in our society regarding interpretation of women’s tone and aggressiveness. Learn about systemic and latent sexism.

What to do instead

Seriously, I suggest that whenever someone says that there is only one way to solve this (and pretty much any problem), someone needs to step in and say that’s simply not true and by saying it, the original commenter has framed the discussion in such a way to not only force an antagonistic/confrontational response, but that it really stops discussion.

We also need to start looking past tone to content. Too often we are lulled into a false sense of security when people use polite and distanced language to describe something, especially when that something is how other people should act or feel.

Sometimes telling someone to not be part of a discussion at this moment in time is a good thing. I get that some people feel like this is the ultimate worst thing that could possiblly happen, but that’s simply not true, especially when the person feels like nothing they say in that situation will be taken in a positive manner or in the way they intend it. This should be a huge flag to anyone that shutting up is a good course of action. Shutting up gives them time to think and reflect.

It might also be a big flag if everyone in the conversation is attacking the woman for being aggressive and most are not looking over the triggering comments and pointing out where they were problematic. I hope that people can see where this would further lead people to be concerned about attending a convention when the people who are claiming, “Don’t worry, we’ll make it a safe space for you,” can’t do that outside of the convention in an overall safer environment.

Conquering Corsairs: Celebrate Talk Like A Pirate Day with Art

In the most recent Prismatic Art update, we mentioned that Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games and Kaitlynn Peavler donated the art created for Conquering Corsairs to the Prismatic Art Collection. Today I've uploaded the last batch of the 48 images. Here's a gallery with them all.

The original images can all be found on the Prismatic Art Collection website, many with the original PSD files. In addition, they can be found on G+, Flickr, and Pinterest.

More information about the game can be found on the Conquering Corsairs website. Additional art by the talented Kaitlynn Peavler can be found on her deviantArt page.

"Master Gunner" © 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/

Dear PAR: Focus on the victims, not the attackers

Penny Arcade Report wrote an article about the recent reporting on racist tweets post the crowning of the recent Miss America winner, Nina Davuluri. The author is very much against these so-called shaming articles for a number of reasons. I'd like to break down where I disagree with his framing and arguments.

Racist tweets are a search away, they’re always going to happen after most big events, and you get big clicks from people who like to see how terrible their fellow citizens are and then they get to feel superior for not being racist.

I'd like to suggest that for at least some people, this is not what this is about. I mean, first, it assumes that the "you" referenced is part of the dominant group, right? In fact, this description is part of the issue, it leaves out that the people targeted by these tweets are our fellow citizens. Furthermore, they don't get to "feel superior for not being racist," they get to see in print something that may happen to them or those they care about on a rather frequent basis. While the public discussion can often seem messy, the private conversations can be enhanced by these pieces as people realize that this stuff still does happen in 2013.

First off, because we’re raising up the voices of a crazy group of people and giving them way more power than they deserve, and thus give the illusion that America is filled with vile racism.

It may be that's the reality. It may not. Tracking how Americans, as if it was even possible to lump a country into one homogenous group, feel about those of different ethnicities, backgrounds, and skin tones is damned near impossible, and doing a quick search for racist terms isn’t going to teach you anything about what the average American thinks, or how they act.

This emphasizes the abstract reputation and image of America over the effects those words have on actual people. I watched the reaction to the news that morning on my feeds. Among those I followed, many expressed positive words regarding those stories since finally their stories were being told, what it's like to be a person of color in America and get the spotlight shone on you for a few moments. What it's like to have some Americans lump everyone with a darker skin tone together regardless of background. The vile racism that they have experienced and the anger that many people attempt to sweep it under the rug.

Are there people of color who also disliked those articles? Of course! People are going to have mixed opinions about these things. But to the assertion that there is no value appears to be dubious at best.

Furthermore, if this is an illusion and you want to fight it, you don't do that by fighting these articles. It feels like you are expressing a fear that no matter what we do, it will never be good enough. But that is about our thoughts and feelings and not the thoughts and feelings of those who are the subjected to these attacks. Stop worrying about America's reputation and start worrying about those people.

This also isn't about the average American. To make this about the perceived reputation of the average American is to tell the people harmed by this behavior that the feelings of an imaginary person is more important than the feelings of the group harmed by this behavior.

Finding people who say vile things online is easy, it doesn’t tell us much of anything, and if we continually focus on those groups of people they'll begin to dominate the conversation and give a skewed outlook on how the United States actually deals with race.

Again, the emphasis is on how the United States deals with race and how the US is viewed, not with how the people who are attacked due to their race feel or are affected by these tweets. The racists are going to dominate the conversation so long as we focus on changing them rather than supporting the victims of their attacks.

And it makes sense that people victimized by this sort of speech are going to focus on it. Think of it this way. Every minute of my day is awesome but one. During that minute, I have to walk through jets of highly pressurized, extremely hot water. What part of my day am I likely to remember? What part of my day is likely to have the most affect on my planning? Don't you think I'm going to spend a portion of my day trying to devise ways to not get hit with the water for the day?

There is also the case that in many situations the names on the accounts don’t match up with the person doing the posting, and the video embedded below gives you some good information about why this is so problematic on so many levels.

So now we're supposed to feel bad because some accounts are not only anonymous but they may use real people's names in a false manner, thereby ruining the lives of innocent people? First, calling out these tweets does not have to involve people then writing letters to business, schools, homes, etc. It can in part because those are the tactics the racists use against their targets and humans are humans. It should stop but to say that it's inevitable is a bit of hyperbole. Second, again, the concern here is placed on the potential innocent or not innocent people who may or may not be harmed and not on the actual innocent people who are actually being harmed. I understand the argument that calling these people out raises their platform above what they would normally have. But in attacking those who point out racist speech online, the author shores up the power of the attackers. Also, perhaps we could start comparing the harm done by all the acts rather than automatically saying one is a matter of "journalistic ethics" and the other is "just life."

You can quote these tweets without posting links to the accounts writing the content, which will go a long way to stop the spread of fighting racism with harassment, and should keep minors and those whose numbers were used to sign up for the account safer from the Internet mob.

We can then use the racist tweets as a jumping-off point to discuss how to actually stop the thinking behind these messages, instead of going straight to calling the perpetrators terrible names and trying to get them fired, or worse.

Except this doesn't actually work. The reason why the actual tweets and other messages are included isn't centered on people being able to hunt down these accounts, at least in most of the cases I've seen. It's because people will demand proof. They will want to know when it happened. They will want to see it with their own eyes. They will want to see what messages the person wrote before and after it. In other words, they want citations.

When people don't use names or enough identifying information, people say it didn't really happen and they won't believe it until they see it for themselves. This is especially true when it comes from members of the group being targeted because our society tends to reinforce this belief that "those people" must be biased and those not harmed (mostly white men) are the only ones capable of being objective. Yet, provide that information and now you're potentially ruining a person's life. There's no winning in this cite/don't cite game and lack of citations run into so many issues. No one is stopping to think of the primary victim here or the secondary victims (those in the same targetted group), we're still concentrated on the attacker or a potential third victim.

Additionally, this issue with these types of posts isn't logically consistent with the writer's own points. To say that all those who read will go on these "witch hunts" is to commit the same fallacy as believing that all Americans are vile racists based on tweets gathered because they are the most vile. He objects to the collateral damage of the response but fails to put it into context of the original damage. We can only talk about the original damage if we are careful enough and moderate enough. This is how journalistic ethics can reinforce existing issues in society.

This is a very different situation than someone who had 50 followers a year ago suddenly having their message blasted in front of a few million people, and suddenly finding themselves the target of abuse and harassment. I don't really care if they have ignorant feelings on race, the answer is not putting people in a situation where they face very real physical harm.

People say these things because we allow them to say them. We allow them to say them by not providing them unfettered access to their targets. Also, what is the chance of them facing real physical harm versus say their victims? Why do we care more about them and their safety and feelings of comfort than those they are victimizing?

These stories don’t help anyone, they don’t spread awareness of any important issue, and the chances for collateral damage are high. There are ways to react to racist use of social media without feeding into the negative, hateful worst instincts of the Internet, but it takes more time and effort to do so, and that doesn’t really lead to advertisement buys, so it’s unlikely that a more measured approach will become popular.

Here are some ways posts like these have helped me.

1. Block lists. Look, it's clear that these people should not be allowed to reach the mentions list of some people. For people like me, these lists help me proactively block so that the next time I get a little attention, I'm not going to get messages from them. This is an awesome use of these sorts of posts that does not engage in aggressive behavior.

2. Support and Bystander Intervention. The other weekend I was at a post-con party when someone rather aggressively decided that they needed my take on the Feminist Frequency videos on video games. Had no one in the room spoken up, I would have walked away with the belief that I was the odd person out. What is important in person can be important online as well. Is it always perfect? Heck, no. But maybe instead of tearing down these sorts of posts assuming that they cause more harm than help, perhaps write an article talking about good ways to respond to them?

3. Identifying trends. By citing the original tweets in these articles, people who keep up on these trends might see some patterns in names, avatar use, etc, that they can use in a responsible manner to help the victims of these attacks. This sort of information gathering and reporting was important in the troll that was going after women in comics, for instance.

I get that this sort of thing can make people uncomfortable. But I feel that the arguments made in the Penny Arcade Report gives more weight to the comfort of the attackers and those groups that tend to have privilege in our society over those who are being attacked.

Time for Action, Not Words

Talking about PAX and Penny Arcade is never easy for me. The D&D podcasts with the Penny Arcade/PvP crew are what convinced me to finally play D&D after watching it be played and supporting others playing it for nearly 2 decades. While I'm not ok with every joke they make, I'm actually a big fan of irreverent humor amongst friends, as long as that humor isn't used to punch down. As someone who wasn't always great with understanding how to deal with racism, transphobia, homophobia, and the like, I have some amount of sympathy for those struggling through it and not being sure what to do. I was going to sit this out in part because everyone else is doing such a great job covering it.

However, after Mike's clarification, I've noticed a few things that I'd like to address and, yeah, I'm going to take advantage of my platform to say them. First, for those of you who don't know about the Dickwolves situation, here's a very short explanation. Penny Arcade released a comic that intended to demonstrate how messed up MMO morality is if you really think it through. Most quests rely on you doing something x number of times and forget about anyone hurt by the x+1 thing you didn't have to do. They decided to make this point by using rape through a made-up monster called the dickwolf.

This upset and hurt some people. I get that not everyone understands how this can happen. To some, in a perfect world, people would read a comic like this and not do the internet equivalent of scream obscenities at the creator. I'd argue that in a perfect world we wouldn't live in a world that constantly trivialized rape and creators wouldn't use it as a punchline in a joke that doesn't address the very real issues surrounding rape that many people face, especially without warning them first, but the main thing to remember is, we don't live in a perfect world and when people are hurt, they are allowed to express that anger, at least to a point. I'm not trying to defend all expressions of anger here; I know that some people said some rather nasty things about Mike, Jerry, and their families.

So, we had this wide range of response to the comic. Some brought up points in a calm manner, some brought up the same points in a more impassioned tone, others threw feces. In response, Mike and Jerry went after those they felt were throwing feces but in a way that included everyone speaking up. They went pretty nuclear. They weaponized the dickwolves concept. It now became not a symbol of how utterly fucked up MMO morality is and became a battle standard in...something. I still haven't quite figured out what. To add to this, t-shirts were created and there was a movement in the message boards for the Penny Arcade supporters to wear those shirts to PAX East to show those...those...PEOPLE that they weren't welcome. Because, in the end, that's what it was about. It was a statement to even people like me, who merely wrote about why the topic of rape is such a sensitive matter, that we weren't really welcome there.

When people pointed this out to Penny Arcade, it appeared that they decided to pull the merchandise. I thought that it was because they could see that it would mean that PAX would no longer be the inclusive space they claimed they wanted (and the apology supports this). I felt comfortable attending because even though I knew that there was this group who would hate me on sight if they knew who I was, I wouldn't be surrounded with messages. I wouldn't be forced to run games for people wearing the shirts. I wouldn't see them in my panels as I was trying to speak. It was a big deal.

Fast forward to just a couple of days ago. There have been other issues with Mike, but people have always been trying to give him the benefit of the doubt by and large. And now he says on stage that pulling those shirts was a mistake. And the crowd cheers. Not only does the crowd cheer, but someone feels confident enough to then ask for the shirts to be brought back. (Yes, both Mike and Khoo said no to that on stage). I get that Mike wishes he had said more. I even believe that he didn't mean to make it sound like that was the only thing he regretted. These things happen although I'd like to think that he has grown enough as a professional to have a full response to the dickwolves thing rehearsed. But it is what it is.

But I'm also tired of apologies and token efforts to make amends without real change and what our community needs is change. So Mike, I'm asking you as a person, as a fellow gamer, as someone who loved your work enough to name her first character after one of yours, please, please learn to be a better person. Not because people expect you to be a role model and not because you were thrust into a leadership role that you don't necessarily want. Change because right now, you are attracting to you the exact people you claim to dislike, the type of people who cheer like that over your misspoken comment because they assumed you meant that the only mistake was in removing the merchandise. You are attracting to you the types of people you lampooned in your League of Legends comic. You didn't ask to be their mascot but your actions have made you it nonetheless.

For everyone else, if you want to support Mike's clarification and apology and spread its good will, I might suggest this. Those people who heard Mike's initial comment, felt hurt by it, and spoke up are being hounded by some of the worst elements of the internet. They are getting all sorts of threats. Instead of defending Mike to everyone and anyone who might say even the slightest negative thing, how about standing up for those members of our family and giving them support? How about allowing them their pain and not trying to police them for once? If Mike actually made a mistake and he claims he did, we need people to be able to express their pain at it. But right now, Penny Arcade surrounds itself with a community that makes that impossible.

D&D Idea: Reclaim Riverbend

Over the past year, I've spent a lot of time consuming books, movies, comics, and games, trying to figure out what it is that I would love to create next. My most recent idea can be summed up by the title of the games I plan to run at Carnage Con in November, Reclaim Riverbend. The fantasy game is set post-war. The dark forces have been pushed back and towns that had been under their control for the past 25 years are open for resettlement. Your leader, Commander Blackwell, is happy to learn that her ancestral home has been awarded to her. She last saw it when she was five. She's putting together an exploratory and settlement force to rebuild the town.

City Streets by Kaitlynn PeavlerCity Streets by Kaitlynn Peavler

I've settled on this particular scenario for a few reasons:

  • The characters should have some familiarity with the land but twenty-five years under not only foreign but potentially alien rule can really change a place. Similar to the Lord of the Rings when they decide to go into the mines.
  • The enemies could have left behind valuable journals with information about long lost artifacts or temples that they had been hoping to get their hands on for centuries but couldn't because they didn't have access to the area. They still might have been lacking crucial information when they got here, information that the PCs' side has.
  • The characters all have a purpose but that purpose can co-exist with the normal sort of D&D game where you go out and kill monsters and steal their loot. More on that later.
  • The party will be larger than the player characters but still limited without resorting to game master fiat. Only so many people can go in the initial group. Also, the players and game master can build that group together, along with all of the connections between members and stuff. If the group wants it, there can be children and spouses as well.
  • When they get there, some resources will be limited, again without game master fiat. However, many of them can be unlocked through player choices. More on that later as well.
  • Specific to Commander Blackwell, I can add a mystery to the town or her family without making her good or bad since she left when she was too young to really understand things. This can give a more typical story arc to the setting while retaining much of the sandbox feel.

There are other reasons I'm sure I'm forgetting but these are a good start. Now let's look at the bigger picture. I know this sort of build the town subsystem/mini game has been done before. Pathfinder has something in Ultimate Campaign for instance, although I feel that system is meant to be more of a simulation and, while it fits into Pathfinder quite well, I'm hoping for something that's lighter and is meant more to drive story and be a way to simplify and connect the typical parts of a D&D-style game. It's probably easier to explain that by giving some examples of what I'm exploring.

Dungeon Treasure Adds Influence

So, I remember seeing a bunch of D&D loot charts that would include things like gems, object d'art, etc instead of just coins. This was meant to break up the monotony a bit and maybe make the world seem a bit richer. Sometimes they would serve as convenient hooks for getting players to role play or interact with things, but often they just got recorded on the group's balance sheet and by-and-large forgotten.

What if, instead, the group got the gold (or equivalent barter) for them, and the town created a museum to hold them? People might come to the town to see the artifacts as tourists, research them as sages, or seek healing from holy relics. Industries could develop around them if they are special enough and schools could even be built.

I haven't decided yet, but one idea would be to add to certain types of loot the idea of influence points, similar to experience points for players. I could build out a whole leveling system for the town, pegging population growth to it, giving advancement trees and feats. Influence points could also be given for things that are not tied to murdering monsters and stealing their loot, such as discovering natural wonders like the Great Falls or the Singing Rocks. I'm not 100% sold on a leveling system yet, but I do love the idea being able to layer on existing elements of the typical D&D game.

NPCs as Important Resources and Influencers

Likewise, many games have you save kidnapped people. Those people easily could become important NPCs in the town. They along with the NPCs attracted due to the town's influence, could be resources the PCs turn to when they need something or when they need to hire a role not filled by the party. Part of me is attracted to them being a once-per-session resource the party can use, something I've seen in a lot of non-D&D games, but I realize that clashes a bit with D&D. Session lengths can vary widely in D&D and I think that's one of the main reasons many of the refreshes are tied to in game time (along with the expectations some have of verisimilitude). Alternatively, asking an NPC to do a task could cost in-game time units but that would require a bit of bookkeeping. Offering both might help but would be more work for me.

Luxury Items as Currency

However, this leads me to another point I'm really excited about, making all sorts of non-combat, mundane items potentially important. Want to recruit higher-level hirelings and henchmen? Get the things they want in town. Want to increase their morale when they are out with you? Buy some of the luxury goods crafted by those NPCs who fell in love with Riverbend. I personally find this much more satisfying than the reliance on charisma (although I realize that part of the history of that was to make that ability score meaningful) and your mileage may vary. But I find this a decent way to make building the town important and giving PCs access to important resources without limiting their access to essential items like weapons.

I still have a ton more to write about this, but I think it's a good stopping point for today. I admit, I've always loved those challenges in school where you had to take random stuff and create something cool and useful out of them, similar to the Apollo 13 air filter challenge, so that's driving my desire for more NPC interaction and crafting. I also love building things and playing Don't Starve and Terraria has rekindled that a bit.

Image: City Streets by Kaitlynn Peavler. It's from her Deck of Legends Kickstarter project that has about 50 hours left. Due to the generosity of the backers, all of the art will be released to the Creative Commons. Check it out: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/thedandmom/deck-of-legends

Discussion: A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa

I recently finished A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa by Steve Kemper. The book tells the story of Heinrich Barth, a German scientist who joined a British expedition tasked with exploring Islamic North and Central Africa. Over time, his two other companions on this trip died and he went on alone, eventually reaching the famed city of Timbuktu. Starting in 1849, the expedition took five and a half years and covered 10,000 miles.

What is amazing to me is how this expedition appears to be forgotten by history. As Kemper argues, part of this may be due to timing. The expedition happened at the tail end of the error of discovering the unknown and at the dawning of imperialism and some of Barth's research and findings undercut the beliefs required for imperialism. These include that at least the parts of Africa he visited had governance systems and histories, including some written. These were not exactly lawless lands full of people with no sense of history. Part of it is also Barth himself. He is a character and was not always as adept at navigating European politics as he was dealing with those he met on the trail.

While some might not appreciate the level of detail in the book, I enjoyed it, especially since one of the great values in Barth's work is that he took a snapshot of Africa before colonialism came through and made that impossible. I also found the details important in dispelling many myths about Africa and in presenting many of the historical figures as complex individuals making rational decisions given the reality of their world. Along with other works, I wonder if the details of the Barth's original books could be used to create an interesting historical setting that explains the world outlook in a way that makes sense to outsiders.

For instance, I loved the description of harems in some of the cultures. Concubines were part of a consumption culture. The women were an outward sign of wealth because 1) it took money to feed and house the women and 2) any children that resulted were entitled to full rights, the same as any of the other children. The women were concubines instead of wives because Islam limited men to a much smaller number of wives. Barth describes one man who collected women from each of the tribes and was interested when he heard about a new group because it meant he could add a new woman to his collection. Another man discusses with Barth how strange it is the European men drink alcohol so much to which Barth replies that since Europeans are limited to one woman, they must get their pleasures somewhere.

The book also touches on slavery, something that was important at the time. Abolitionists feature at times, although Barth often points out the issues with their schemes. He describes the devastation wrought by the razzia or raids, sometimes for livestock or other plunder but often for slaves. The whole system often relied on a neverending loop, plunder to get money for guns to protect yourselves from other groups doing the same things, all the while feeding the gun manufacturers. He also describes the differences between slavery as practiced in Africa and the chattel slavery practiced mainly in the Americas.

I also find the work important because it's an example not only of the fact that there were people arguing against the racism of the time, the same sort of racism we find in the foundational works of fantasy, but also what happened to those who stood up against that train of thought. Often when I try to discuss how our history is political, people try to argue that there wasn't a group trying to keep these sorts of arguments out. This book points out that the truth is probably at least a little more complex than that. Additionally, it means that for those who lived at the time and afterwards can't claim complete ignorance. These books and ideas existed. Barth did have some degree of popularity.

There are lots of interesting insights and contradictions with frequently repeated "facts" about Africa. Between the adventuring, politics, and descriptions of the land and peoples, there's bound to be a bunch of inspiration for games.

New Pathfinder book: Mythic Adventures

Last fall I had the great fortune of writing for new Mythic Adventures book from Paizo. The companion book provides ways to give a more mythic feel to your game, allowing for heroes and villains that break the mould. The system is meant to lay on top of the current structures of the game, allowing access at any level, even 1st, and tying it in with the deeds and actions of the characters. While I haven't had a chance to read the final book yet, this concept is one I was excited about from the first email I received and that interest hasn't waned.

In addition to the public playtest, Paizo recently released two previews of the Mythic Adventures content. The first has some of the path abilities. Mythic paths, to me, are meant to tie in to the notion of the hero's journey. During their ascension phases, the heroes discover something that sets them on a separate and distinct path from those around them. The way I see it, unlike a character class, a character can have just one path to walk, one archetype to fill in our common stories. The path abilities help to set them apart from all others and make them truly legendary.

Here's an example:

Guardian, 6th Tier:
Invincible Stand (Su): You can expend one use of mythic power as a swift action to make yourself nearly invincible for a short period of time. You gain DR 20/— for a number of rounds equal to your tier. If you choose to move or are moved by another creature during this time, this protection immediately ends.

More can be found Mythic Preview—Path Abilities Mythic heroes need proper enemies. The book has a few monsters and there's a preview of the Mythic Lich.

As for me, I contributed a couple monsters along with some of the mythic adventure themes and adventure ideas. I had a lot of fun trying to come up with different levels of using mythic levels in a game. In my experience, it's not meant to be an on-off switch, but as a way of adding flavor and some additional mechanics in ways that suit the type of experience you want to build. Setting regular characters against mythic monsters will give a different feel from a game where mythic characters constantly fight other mythic beings. I also loved coming up with adventure ideas that played with some traditional tropes.

If you're at GenCon, the books are there! Jason Bulmahn posted this on his Facebook fan page. I couldn't make it this year, but be sure to say hi to the lovely folks in the Paizo booth.

Mythic Adventures at GenConMythic Adventures at GenCon

And here are the full credits:

Lead Designer • Jason Bulmahn
Design Team • Stephen Radney-MacFarland and Sean K Reynolds
Authors • Dennis Baker, Jesse Benner, Ben Bruck, Jim Groves, Tim Hitchcock, Tracy Hurley, Jonathan Keith, Jason Nelson, Tom Phillips, Ryan Macklin, F. Wesley Schneider, Amber Scott, Tork Shaw, Russ Taylor, and Ray Vallese
Cover Artist • Wayne Reynolds
Interior Artists • Rayph Beisner, Eric Belisle, Eric Braddock, Dmitry Burmak, Anna Christenson, Jorge Fares, Taylor Fischer, Grafit Studios, Tim Kings-Lynne, Diana Martinez, Brynn Metheney, Roberto Pitturru, Klaus Scherwinski and Luisa Preissler, Jason Rainville, Denman Rooke, Chris Seaman, Bryan Sola, Matteo Spirito, Sandara Tang, Tyler Walpole, and Ben Wootten Cartographer • Robert Lazzaretti
Creative Director • James Jacobs Editor-in-Chief • F. Wesley Schneider Senior Editor • James L. Sutter
Development Team • Logan Bonner, John Compton, Adam Daigle, Rob McCreary, Mark Moreland, and Patrick Renie
Editorial Team • Judy Bauer, Christopher Carey, and Ryan Macklin
Editorial Interns • Jay Loomis and Cassidy Werner
Senior Art Director • Sarah E. Robinson Art Director • Andrew Vallas Graphic Designer • Sonja Morris
Production Specialist • Crystal Frasier
Publisher • Erik Mona
Paizo CEO • Lisa Stevens
Chief Operations Officer • Jeffrey Alvarez
Director of Sales • Pierce Watters
Sales Associate • Cosmo Eisele
Marketing Director • Jenny Bendel
Finance Manager • Christopher Self
Staff Accountant • Kunji Sedo
Chief Technical Officer • Vic Wertz
Senior Software Developer • Gary Teter
Campaign Coordinator • Mike Brock
Project Manager • Jessica Price
Licensing Coordinator • Michael Kenway
Customer Service Team • Erik Keith, Justin Riddler, and Sara Marie Teter
Warehouse Team • Will Chase, Heather Payne, Jeff Strand, and Kevin Underwood
Website Team • Ross Byers, Liz Courts, Lissa Guillet, and Chris Lambertz
Special Thanks • Ryan Dancey, Clark Peterson, and the proud participants of the Open Gaming Movement.

Il Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle)

The Getty Museum recently made about 4600 items available as Open Content, meaning they are freely available for any use. While looking through the collection, I found a series of images that appear to be training information on different forms of combat. Through further research, I found out that they were actually part of the Il Fior di Battaglia (The Flower of Battle), by Italian master Fiore dei Liberi.

Fiore dei Liberi was a late 14th Century knight, diplomat and master-at-arms. This work is the third oldest European fencing manual to be discovered.

Here are some example images.

Equestrian Combat with Sword
Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco, author (Italian, about 1340/1350 - before 1450)
Equestrian Combat with Sword, about 1410, Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 44

Combat with Lance
Fiore Furlan dei Liberi da Premariacco, author (Italian, about 1340/1350 - before 1450)
Combat with Lance, about 1410, Tempera colors, gold leaf, silver leaf, and ink on parchment
Leaf: 27.9 x 20.6 cm (11 x 8 1/8 in.)
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, Ms. Ludwig XV 13, fol. 40

The full manuscript covers topics such as unarmed combat, sword fighting, daggers, pollaxes, lances, mounted combat, and more. Since I found the Getty website a bit cumbersome to use, I created a Pinterest board with the images, all of which link back to the original.

Il Fior di Battaglia from Getty Museum

Uses

Beyond just being cool to look at or inserted into publications, here are a few ways to use this in games:

  • For martial characters, what about having a life goal of becoming one of these masters. With the Game Master, you could work on developing and mastering your own sets of techniques. As you did so, you could create your own treatise of techniques that your character would be known for.
  • Background artwork in NPC's houses or shops to give clues about previous experiences.
  • In some types of games, where you might have expertise in a particular weapon instead of class of weapon, you could give expertise as a boon or reward for certain types of quests. Giving the player an "illuminated" sheet might be a nice way to record this.
  • Assistance in visualizing and describing training scenes in towns and elsewhere, a staple of fantasy fiction.

Solidarity is For White Women

It's not often that I talk about a Twitter hashtag that isn't directly connected to gaming, but this is an important one. The hashtag is #solidarityisforwhitewomen and it was started by Mikki Kendall aka @Karnythia on Twitter.

The backstory appears to be this. There was a man who for years identified as a male feminist and who, even though he did a number of things that didn't seem very feminist, apparently being involved with a planned murder-suicide, allegations of sleeping with students, and allegedly standing in the way of some women's careers, women in power in feminist circles supported and even promoted him. Race comes into this because he and those who sided with him were predominantly white whereas those he harmed were women of color.

It gets even more difficult because this particular case isn't the only example of the women in the positions of power not understanding intersectionality, that is, not understanding how they were using racism and racist imagery to their benefits. For instance, in 2008, Amanda Marcotte released a book that used artwork of "natives" to talk about represent battling against the forces of "fundamentalists and antichoicers."

So what we have is a feeling that the experiences of one group of women, in this case those of upper-class white women, are universalized to those of all women. You are either with that program or you are not. If you are, it's easier to rise through the ranks and perhaps even earn a coveted paying gig in all of this. If you're not, you are told that not only are you not good enough, but that you are "hurting the cause." To add further insult to injury, it appears easier for a man to climb those ranks than for a woman who doesn't fit the predominant narrative, this in a movement that claims it's for equality.

And yes, I know that means it's been, for the most part easier for me. I know this because once I could compartmentalize some of my lower class outlooks and ways of thinking, I was able to go pretty far before hitting the next big road bump. This is not the case for everyone as a number of my fellow classmates from Dartmouth remind me every day.

And so, Kendall created the awesome hashtag #solidarityisforwhitewomen because regardless of how I or other (mostly) white women might feel about it, that's the feeling that's out there. And it's way important to know it's there and to see how we can make ourselves better. But to do that, we need to listen.

HuffPost Live did a great interview with Tara Conley ( @taralconley ) and Mikki Kendall ( @Karnythia ).

Other resources:

What can people like me do?

Often during times like this, people want to know what they can do. Here are some suggestions:

  • Over the next few days or weeks, look at those who used the hash tag and see if any of them share interests with you. If they do, why not follow them? I've been doing this for about a year or so now and I've found all sorts of awesome stuff and new perspectives as a result.
  • As much as possible, if you are part of the group that finds it easy to get an outlet for your voice, use your voice to magnify those who have a harder time. Do your best to not use your voice as an attempt to silence them.
  • Read up on primary sources of history. Seriously, you might find out that what you think of as "historical fact" is actually someone's "historical fiction" or perhaps even "historical fantasy."

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

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