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.


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 (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:

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
Dharva Scatterheart
Edhelri Lewel
Eldkin Agetul
Frulam Mondath
Green Imsa
Jamna Gleamsilver
Leda Widris
Linan Swift
Orvustia Esseren
Sandesyl Morgia
Talis the White
Tyjit Skesh
Werond Torohar
Zelina Innevar
Male NPCs (52)
Achreny Ulyeltin
Ackyn Selebon
Aldor Urnpoleshurst
Azbara Jos
Beyd Sechepol
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
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
Sergeant Markguth
Severin the Red Silrajin
Sulesdeg the Pole
Szass Tam
Tharm Tharmzid
Trespin the Troll
Varram the White
Wessic the Wizened
Unknown (8)
Angrath Woodwise
Ardred Briferhew
Galvan the Blue
Neronvain the Green

The raw data, along with information about the NPCs' race and background (e.g. veteran, merchant, etc) as well as an index to illustrations can be found here:

Also, be sure to grab the pdf supplement from Wizards of the Coast here:

You can buy Hoard of the Dragon Queen from Amazon.


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

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:

P.S. I am opening comments up on this. However, I will be moderating them.

Hacking as Women

One of the awesome things I did during GenCon was help with the Hacking as Women workshop on Saturday night. As some of you may know, I've been looking into a number of the women-focused initiatives in technology (my professional field) and seeing what we could translate over to the gaming space. For example, I've been a vocal advocate of anti-harassment policies and the Ada Initiative's work in that space.

Another initiative I've taken great interest in is the Boston Python User Group's attempts to get more women involved, including their workshop series for women and their friends. Given that I hear many of the same concerns for getting into tabletop game design as I do for getting into tech, I thought it would be awesome to do something similar for RPGs. However, I am not an organizer and I had no idea how to translate this idea into reality.

Then last winter, Mark Diaz Truman moved away from Boston and offered to have coffee with anyone in Boston who wanted to see him before he was gone. I took him up on the generous offer and we talked about a bunch of stuff. During that talk, I pitched him on the idea of the workshop. With his ties to the Indie Game Developers Network (IGDN) and his experience as an actual real-life organizer, he knew how to make this a reality. We talked a bunch, both over coffee and later over the internet, about how this should happen. We worried about wording. We worried about the influx of trolls (one of the reasons I didn't talk about it more was a fear that I would draw trolls to the project, which is another reason why I was more comfortable not having my involvement overly spotlighted).

We talked it over with the supportive Derek Guder. We decided that having an honor system while making it clear who we wanted to participate (women and non-binary people). We knew we weren't going to get it right. Mark got together an excellent team of coach/mentors. Besides himself, our coaches included Marissa Kelly, Cam Banks, Stras Acimovic, and Brian Engard. (By the way, the honor system worked.)

Since this was the first workshop like this any of us ran, we only had a very loose script. Mark started off by thanking everyone for being there. Then we went through why a number of us felt this was so important. Then we went through a quick introduction of the coaches and which systems they were best at (for this, we focused on FATE, Apocalypse World, and Cortex+ as systems to hack). We also took some time to make the implicit explicit, and worked as a group to set some ground rules for the session, giving everyone the ability to provide input.

We tried to organize groups by who was most excited by which systems but realized that one of the system advocates did a great job explaining one of the systems and many people wanted to do that system, which wouldn't work for the way our knowledge was spread. Instead, we started having people pair up and pitch concepts to each other. Once most of the groups had agreed to a concept, we went through again and the coaches tried to match up systems with the concepts. We had two groups where both members didn't agree on a concept, but they were happy to switch group members so most groups were in favor of the pitched concept and the system.

With four of the five groups having a concept, system, and mentor, they started designing and spent the next hour doing just that. For the fifth group, Mark suggested more concrete steps (sorry, it was even cooler than that but I don't know how to describe it). For instance, Mark suggested that they should figure out a type of story they both like and then left for a bit. When he came back, they had a concept and then he talked about what sort of system would be best for it. Their game felt like FATE would be a great fit, so he gave them a character sheet and talked about the parts of a FATE character. He asked them to consider if the attributes listed on the character sheet encapsulated what the characters were likely to do or need to do and, if not, to suggest alternatives.

After about an hour, it was time to start winding down. He described the pitch process and gave each group a few minutes to pitch their idea to the rest of the group. It was a cool experience. Not only were most of the groups super excited about their idea, but there were some awesome ideas out there that I would never have heard about otherwise. We also talked about how to go forward, suggesting that people create a design document that they could easily share and to not get discouraged if the idea doesn't last. Most if not all of the mentors have game ideas that they start but just never finish for one reason or another.

It was my favorite part of GenCon this year and honestly, I'm having a hard time thinking of a convention related experience that beats it. It was great seeing 10 women excited about game design, to watch them go from being nervous about hacking on games (a lot of the intros focused on being nervous or inexperienced) to hacking on games to create they want to see in the world. Afterwards, we collected all of their contact information and shared it to the whole group.

So, if you are at all interested, steal this idea! Seriously. Hack it even! Make it your own. But let's get more women designing and let's build more opportunities for learning, networking, and mentoring. We definitely want to do it again next GenCon and I'd love to see this at other conventions.

Also, don't just take my word for it, here's a description from one of the participants, Sarah Richardson: Con Diary: Gen Con wrap up


Sometimes I feel like I'm in an episode of Medium. For those who have never heard of it, Medium was a tv show that centered around Allison DuBois and all the wonderful things she could do, primarily solve crimes through a supernatural connection to the dead. This happened to hit two of my favorite genres, the supernatural and mysteries, so I often watched and enjoyed it.

However, after the first season, something really started to annoy me. Even though she had solved dozens of cases by this point, the other people in her life, especially her boss, kept starting out from a position of not believing her. They would say things along the lines of, "Look, Allison, sometimes a dream is just a dream" leaving unsaid that the last 10 times they said it, said dream was anything but "just a dream."

Sometimes I feel the same way when it comes to talking about gender, sexism, and misogyny. I point out something that I see as sexist and/or misogynistic. People, often while claiming to be on my "side" or knowing that I've had some valid points in the past, will say, "I remain unconvinced." The counter arguments often raised will be steeped in the same sexism and/or misogyny. I'll point it out, sometimes in an aggressive way but often similar to the rest of the conversation, generally in a neutral but not "nice" way. They'll get defensive and/or angry, often out of fear that what I'm saying could be true or could be accepted by others to be true and they might be called "sexist." Eventually someone with more personal capital with the individual talks to them or they have time to think and they can see my perspective (even if they don't agree with it) and we continue on.

While there is some progress in these interactions, there are two issues I'd like to discuss. First, the amount of progress is small compared to the harm caused by these conversations. I'm not talking about the harm caused to the people who are feel uncomfortable because they are being asked to reexamine their world view, what they consider to be valid critiques and the like. I don't think there's a way out of that discomfort since we're talking about a reevaluation of one's identity much of the time. Rather, the lashing out that happens as a result of that discomfort is downright damaging and abusive and it silences the voices we need in order to enact the change.

Allies can cause way more damage than the strangers. The default questioning has serious issues and it's a hard topic to discuss because the knee-jerk response is, "Well, then you just don't want anyone to question you," which is nonsense. The hardline questioning of feminists or anyone working in a social justice topic is, itself, an issue. We know that many of our current points of view are tainted by a world that held up gender inequality and gender essentialism as good things. We should not accept those things at face value until proven otherwise. Not only does this way of processing arguments have an issue that only one world view would then be considered "true" and all others "false," it gives too much weight to those arguments we know might be problematic and should be re-examined. Plato's Theory of Forms isn't going to help us understand each other here.

Another thing that bothers me sometimes is I've seen way too many people who admit they don't know much about feminism or the like or what it must be like to live as a woman in this society tell women how to get things done. Usually the ways they tell people how to do it are generic cliches of social mores, the same things, that if they did work, should have gotten us out of this mess by now. When I was discussing this with a friend recently, she had some insight that feels like a good analogy for how I feel with this happens. She was discussing someone in her game who told her how to play her character.

I actually had an incident last night. Was playing new D&D (yay) and other player had a new character. I'm playing a Sneaky Rogue with a Criminal "Hired Killer" background that is true neutral. We'd just met on the street during a skirmish and I offered to sell some of the equipment we'd taken from the bodies. I sold the stuff and went to the inn where his character was staying. He said, "Hello friend!" when I walked in, and I dropped off his share of the profits and left. He said, "You're making your character act like a dick. You've got a Charisma of 15, you should have played it more friendly." I said, "Listen, It's my character, I'm playing her as I see fit." He responded with, "I wouldn't play a Charisma 15 like that." So, I had to do that 'girlsplaining', like I haven't been RPing for over 20 years. "She's just met your character, she doesn't know him from Adam. Friendship is very important to her, and you just out of the blue called her friend after barely passing a few words of conversation previously. Besides, when she walked in, a couple of people recognized her and ran out of the room. She has no reason to have conversation with you, she's gone out of her way to deliver you the profits when she could have just kept them, and she's getting the hell out of dodge before those other people jump her." - TheStormCellar

From my point of view, this encapsulated exactly how I feel so much of the time. Clearly one of the issues here is a differing interpretation of what Charisma 15 means in terms of a character. Does it mean the character always needs to "be nice?" Or does it instead point to some leadership or social aspect, like the ability to keep tenuous alliances or read a room? TheStormCellar provides a valid read of the situation and her play of her character makes sense. The guy, on the other hand, made some common assumptions that he shouldn't have. They make sense, but, in the end, he should learn to ask questions rather than tell others how to play their character.

Look, I've been a girl and woman all of my life. I've loved traditionally masculine-coded hobbies for all of that time too, sports, gaming, math, etc. Most of my life has been spent in coed groups and many times, those groups have been overwhelmingly boys and/or men. I may have perspectives and experiences about how to convince those groups about my inherent worth as a human being that people who've never had those experiences don't know about. I may have perspective that shows me that "being nice" and "not rocking the boat" is not a path that leads to me being recognized as an equal. Like the male player in this story, your expectations for how a person with a particular attribute should act may be biased and based on tropes, not anything to do with that character. Please stop trying to play someone else's character.

Instead, if I or any other woman, feminist, etc, do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, step back and think about why it is exactly that you are uncomfortable. Talk to someone you trust. Consider if you would have the same reaction if the person wasn't a woman or didn't identify as feminist. Read the actual words said and try to divorce them from your reaction to them. Are you projecting on them? For instance, a recent study showed a bias in the types of words used in performance reviews of women in tech. Women were more likely to be called abrasive and to be criticized in general (regardless of the gender of the manager). If you're already accusing them of being more loyal to feminism than your friendship or anything like that, you cannot have that conversation with them.

Also consider if you are trying to use your friendship with them in an attempt to soothe your discomfort at the expense of their own. Don't talk about being on the same side or make assumptions about their goals. This is a common behavior that leverages the messages women receive throughout their life that they should "be nice." Sometimes people who might have the same overall objectives may disagree about how to accomplish them. If we are in a gender equal society, their method of obtaining them may be just as valid as your own. The appeal to common purpose with the assumption that your way is the right way can be problematic.

If, after some time, you still feel like you want to discuss this, focus on how the actions made you feel rather than telling the other person how they should act. Think about this in game. When someone tells me to move to x area or to do y thing without any more information, I bristle and feel like I'm being bossed around and/or used. When someone says, "Hey, I have an idea. If you do x, we can create y situation," I feel like an equal and a participant in what gets created.

Addressing gender issues in society and gaming is a long, complicated process. It's going to cause discomfort because the root cause of many of the issues is the latent sexism and misogyny that exists in society. It requires everyone, regardless of their gender, to keep reevaluating how, why, and what they do. We've made a lot of progress thus far, but one of the hurdles I see now is that we need to stop acting like Allison's boss and quit with the kneejerk questioning of feminism in a way that is disproportionate to the way we question other things. We also need to look at our critiques of cultural critics like Anita Sarkeesian and see if perhaps we're really just reiterating anti-feminist rhetoric instead of engaging with her ideas.

By the way, I love this recent article by Doctor Nerdlove, “Yo, Is This Sexist?” – A Conversation About Feminism and Sexism. He does an excellent line-by-line breakdown of common arguments presented by people about sexism, misogyny, and feminism and shows the issues inherent in the arguments.

What happens when you engage - Act 3

First a recap. For weeks I talked to RPGPundit on G+. I debated with him. Disagreed with him. During one of those disagreements I posted something that he is convinced was a dig at him but, in reality, is nothing of the sort, but that was enough to send him on a tirade. I wrote about it, someone else called his behavior out publicly, and then there was an entire thread on his forums that were basically attacks on me. Now enter act 3, the infiltrator.

Since some of the people in the forum thread seemed to think that the two people in the comic page that I shared were male and trying to argue that I was making an insinuation about Pundit's sexual orientation by sharing it, I decided to clear that up by posting on G+.

A person came by who kept making pro-Zak and pro-Pundit posts but in a really vague way. His bias was clearly evident, but in case he was actually being earnest, we chatted for a while. When I woke up the next morning, a friend pointed me to this post by RPGPundit.

I acknowledge that Hurley played a masterful, albeit unbelievably slimy and back-stabbing, strategic trick, and that I fell for it, and let down the team. She's scum, but she's obviously very clever at just how she crafts her lies in order to try to destroy people she considers dangerous, without having to actually beat them in debate.

But, and I know here wishing is pointless, I just wish there weren't so many people out there so fucking stupid as to buy it without questioning; because two seconds of looking into it would immediately reveal just what she did.

The worst thing you can say about me in this scenario is that I lost my temper, because I was disgusted by such a cheap trick and at being deceived by someone who, on the face of it, seemed to be willing to actually (finally) stand up and engage in a meaningful face-to-face debate with me on fair ground (only to turn out to be the worst kind of lying slimeball of all).

The worst thing you can say about her in this scenario is that she's a lying, smarmy hypocritical piece of shit who is willing to stoop to absolutely anything in order to win.

So, here's one problem with dealing with RPGPundit, he thinks everything is about winning and destroying people. But this is the least interesting part of that post.

Person A: I warned you...

Person B: It absolutely was a cheap trick that reminded me of those petty little kids in school who push your button until you react and then try to play the victim.

RPGPundit: +Person A yes, you did. And I fell for her "I'm willing to talk on a fair and level ground"-bit like a complete chump. 

RPGPundit: I am willing to stand and argue with anyone, and it was really very clever of her because it's so so rare that anyone from the Outrage Brigade would ever dare to come and argue on fair and even ground with anyone (what with knowing they've Got Nothing in terms of their fake claims). In retrospect, it's an ideal trap for someone like me.

Person C: Ah. I have heard of this person. She struck me as dangerous imho in that kind of way Glen Close does so well.

Zak Smith: she's fucking with you since fucking with me's got her nowhere.
You gotta relax, man

RPGPundit: It just stuns me that some people can't see through this.

Zak Smith: They're friends.
Think of how boring and dumb you'd have to be to be friends with Tracy Hurley in the first place
Ok? That's the level of dumb you're dealing with.
At this point, all the information is out there. Interested parties are going to just be looking at what you do all day and decide who they trust more.
So be better and more interesting than her. And less obsessive

Infiltrator: Anyone who turns comments off in an incendiary thread is a dick head.
Apparently I am in her circles for some reason. Time to act oblivious

Person D: I hate that fat cunt. I blocked her, mutually, long ago.

Infiltrator: +Person D Woah buddy. Hate her for her brain, not her body

Person D: To be clear, I do not hate fat people and certainly not vaginas.
This individual, however, solely consists of both A) A vagina and B) copious fat with no other apparent qualities.
My logic stands firm.

Zak Smith: Nah. Tracy just says stupid things all the time and is a bad person. If we're gonna talk smack about people for their appearance then we gotta be all fuck Dave Arneson and Stephen Hawking too

Person D: +Zak Smith damn right

Infiltrator: Goddamnit, +RPG Pundit! I can't keep up this pretence if you +1 my posts!

RPGPundit: It's got nothing to do with her gender or physical appearance. It has everything to do with the petit-fascist mentality that obsesses with control, with manipulation, and with getting to control other people's lives.

If Hurley had been born a straight white male she would probably be acting exactly the same way; or maybe would have felt more comfortable being an evangelical campaigner in favor of "reparation therapy" for gays. If she'd been born 30 years earlier she'd likely have campaigned against the toxicity of rock and roll music, or 100 years earlier, she'd have been trying to shut down 'smutty theatre'.
The cause isn't what matters to these people (nor does sex, race, gender or orientation), it's ALL getting their rocks off on the idea that they can stop someone else from doing something they don't personally like.

Infiltrator - Part 4Infiltrator - Part 4

This fucking chick.
You've spoiled me for rhetoric, Zak. Here's me trying to think three moves ahead and she's shitting on the board.

Person E: I just spent ten minutes looking for that thread on her feed and uggggghhhhh.

It's all euphemism, vague claims and drama.

Person F: The best revenge is to live well. The haters are always going to hate, because it drives out every other emotion, and then that is all they have left: empty hate

Also, in the theRPGSite thread I linked to yesterday, the disagreement with me went from disagreement to a more organized campaign.

First, a hint that there is a no-hire petition out that is attempting to black-list me.

The context here is that there was some question about why I'm doing this.

Attention is my guess.


She's desperate for it.

She is, ironically, insuring that she'll never get anywhere in this industry, however, given the no-hire petition that I've seen going around with her name on it.

Self-blacklisting is just the ironic cherry on this particular shit-cake.

Second, Zak Smith deciding that employers must know about what I say and do, as he links to a post from December 2011.

Originally Posted by ****
I'm fine with people (SarahDarkmagic, Pundit, etc.) getting to work on and publish any RPG they want. Other people will then buy it or not. More games, being published, even games I don't like or think are extremely lame, stupid, offesive, or juvenile*, doesn't harm me or anyone else in any way.

True, but if Tracy Hurley makes money in any way for any reason, that's unjust and a bad outcome since she's a bad person and there are a lot of women in RPGs who can do any of the things she does (including analyzing stuff from a feminist perspective) without lying or attacking people unfairly--hire them instead.

Any potential employer of Tracy Hurley/ Sarah Darkmagic should know about her comments here:

…and that she has never publicly apologized for them and that Tracy Hurley / Sarah Darkmagic also passed on the known-to-be-fake article ripped apart here:

…and never apologized for it to any of the women whose lives she's affected (including the one in the hospital right now), to this day.

Her name needs to be publicly linked to her actions.

Of course, Zak leaves out that I also shared the article written by Mandy Morbid (who by the way is the woman in the hospital now, I hope she gets well soon), but that's neither here nor there. I have no idea if Smith is Zak's real last name or not but a bunch of what he does is not linked to his name. The same thing goes with RPGPundit, who gets mad whenever someone uses his real name. I have been writing for years now under my real name.

Then Pundit decides it's time that people tell Mearls what the "regular gamers" think.

Originally Posted by ****************

Problem is there is no evidence of harassment as far as I can see unless you redefine what harassment is. If this thread is evidence of harassment, then close down theRPGsite close down close them all down

You make this sound like it's insane; but that is in fact their endgame goal: a hobby where only they get to control any and all speech.

Good analysis, by the way, and thank you for your support. But if you really want to support me in this, make sure Mike Mearls hears about this. Because part of the problem here is that the Outrage Brigade, besides being very good at flamebait as Tracy has shown, are very, very good at making their numbers seem artificially inflated and bombarding people with emails and expressions of their fake-outrage. The other side is usually not so good, because the other side are (with the exception of a couple of us loudmouths), just regular gamers who think that these guys are crazy but can't imagine they'd actually need to go and tell the suits at WoTC as much.

But you do. If you don't want the Tracy Hurleys of the world getting to be the only ones who decide what D&D should look like, then you NEED to go and make clear where you stand on this.

Notice how he accuses me of trying to control everyone else's speech while at the same time trying to marginalize me from the gaming community. The framing that I'm not a regular gamer, I'm part of the Outrage Brigade. There are also accusations in here that are unsubstantiated. I've apparently artificially inflated my numbers and bombarded people with email! I'm apparently not even really outraged, it's all fake and an attempt to exert control. Do you know why that's an accusation? Because that's how he thinks. Everything is about some epic war and contest of wills.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Again, this is why people don't want to come forward.

What happens when you engage - Continued

So on Twitter a few days ago, someone pointed Mearls to my prior article, What happens when you engage. He didn’t have nice things to say about the behavior referenced in that post. Eventually, someone decided to post the Twitter exchange to TheRPGSite in The RPGPundit's Own Forum in the thread “Mike Mearls Just Called RPGPundit Disgusting and Infuriating.” Leaving aside the obvious issue that calling behavior something isn’t the same as calling the person that thing, there’s a few things I’d like to call out here about the thread.

This should, in theory, be a thread about Mike Mearls. Instead, many of the posts are about me. Let’s look at some of these comments.

Comment 3:

Just so I am clear. is this the Sarahdarkmagic here, that is tracing back people through Google analytics and writing about them, the same Sarahdarkmagic that is outraged over people being "outed" for publicly giving a +1 on G+?

Comment 4:

Jesus, this is just the shit storm that won't die isn't it? I find it hilarious that right up front she says she isn't interested in proof and basically takes the "what is proof anyway?" cop out. So basically we got fucking nothing but we aren't going to let a good cluster fuck go to waste.

Edit: a thought occurs, I am too lazy to read everything involved in this so I probably should not venture much in the way of opinions. However I still feel this whole thing is an asinine cluster fuck.

Comment 8:

I'll get the pitch-forks then.

This is why i avoid social media. It's generally anything but social.

I'd also be careful about following links that are being posted just for 'informational' purposes. Who knows what the scamps are up to.

Comment 13:

I also want to point out that it's not just the targets of people like RPGPundit who get attacks. Someone I respect got such hate directed at him too and I'm glad he was willing to post it. We can make our points without doing this. If you threaten someone in the way he was threatened, you are not my ally.

This is the last it from Hurley's blog post that was linked. And seeing as the person she is referring to is someone who has stood up against the BS coming at Zak and Pundit, which she's fully endorsed, I really don't think he's her ally.

Comment 14:

Tracy Hurley is intellectually dishonest to the core, and probably more than intellectually. That is also one person with a forked tongue if I ever saw one-- loves to twist language and perception in ways that frames reality like a twisted mirror (see calling someone a violent person because they "argue violently").

That is some perverse shit. Beware of wolves in social justice clothes.

Comment 15:

Let's be clear:

We all know Pundit is infuriating. That isn't even debatable. He will cop to that.

As for disgusting: a lot of what Pundit says and does disgusts me.

That having been said: Tracy Hurley is, if nothing else, a thousand times either dumber or more dishonest.

Someone sent me the torpedo in the Tracy boat. Here's the headshot:

"Zak tells people to go and directly engage those he disagrees with and [this] is itself a form of harassment"

So, like, debate is harassment. That's Tracy's ideology.

Once you realize that, all the attacks without providing evidence and refusals to engage on the issues raised make sense, all the refusal to contact people accused, all the unquestioned aggression and, of course it explains why they think they could accuse us of harassment in the first place.

On the other hand I'm left wondering: if directly engaging people who disagree with you is harassment. i.e. if debate is harassment (or at least calling for debate) then what the hell is even the point of talking about Issues In Gaming on the internet?

Does Tracy honestly believe the only point of what she does is to notify ignorant people of the latest threat she's discovered, like some living Congestion Ahead sign?

Is that what explains all of this? Do Tracy and Fred Hicks and the rest basically just think communication is supposed to be one-way?

Comment 17:

It seems to me that Tracy, Fred, and those of their ilk think that their subjective points of view are objectively true but unprovable. So "debate" is just a trick that people who deny the truth of their objectively true but unprovable things they believe use to cloud and disguise the objective truth. Since this 'debate' might prevent other people who have not yet been presented with the objective but unprovable truth from being indoctrinated with the objective but unprovable truth, debate is a bad thing. Very bad.

Comment 20:

Originally Posted by Ephemerer
Just so I am clear. is this the Sarahdarkmagic here, that is tracing back people through Google analytics and writing about them, the same Sarahdarkmagic that is outraged over people being "outed" for publicly giving a +1 on G+?
Yep that's her.

The Sarah DarkMagic that is one of the core people behind the re-transmission of the attacks against Zak and Pundit wants us to believe...
1. She doesn't know Pundit is in Uruguay
2. She didn't post implying that he looked at one of her comics about sex twice in an attempt to get exactly the kind of response she did.

How do we know the whole thing was manufactured? The title. It shows the intent.

What happens when you engage.

What is that title supposed to mean? The current momentum of the witch-hunt against Zak and Pundit was stalled by lots of people, many of whom in the detractors' own circles asking for a single shred of proof and finding none. They demanded Donjion got taken down, it got taken down. People were supporting Mandy even if they didn't like Zak. Zeea got made a mod after saying there was no proof of homo or trans-phobia. No one sent Mearls a single shred of evidence.

In short, things were not going well at all in the lie manufacturing game.

So...the digging up of ten years of quotes didn't show anything, so lets get some new stuff going, by stirring the shit and letting Pundit be Pundit.

Thus having one post in hand, of him being mean and dicklike, she goes into G+ explanations about how a veritable mountain of toxicity lies unsearchable, thus once again, implying that everything said about Zak and Pundit is true, yet unprovable.

The real title was "This is how you can engage in social networking propaganda when an earlier attempt failed."

Mandy is not doing well (really sorry to hear that, Zak, you two have my thoughts, wishes, prayers, don't think I can give you any buckets of SJW tears though) so expect some carefully worded passive-aggressive attacks to surface in teh googlez in order to do the same thing to Zak, get him to go Full.Aggro and not be thinking when he posts, and get Zak supporters to go Full.Aggro as well, thus provoking the type of behavior he's accused of.

Mearls isn't responding the way they like, the next step will be to get evidence they can forward up the corporate foodchain in order to get Mike put on the December bye-bye list.

Comment 21:

If I'm getting this right...

Tracy Hurley insinuated that Pundit visited her site, to look at a bad cartoon of a dude blowing a minotaur-esque dude. Not once, but twice.

Pundit went on, and told her to fuck off, and she's a horrible human being.

Tracy then took a screen shot, to say "See? SEE!!! He does harass us! Totes!"

The High School Melodrama continues.

At the time I last visited this thread, there were only 23 posts. At least 8 of them clearly reference me and my supposed intentions, behavior, and misdeeds. Many of them are purely personal attacks. All because someone else read something that happened to me and commented on it. You know how many of them talk about Mearls? Four. Two of those are just quotes of his tweets, one is someone trying to recap the situation, and the fourth is someone alleging that I’m trying to get Mearls, someone I respect and admire, fired.

Still wondering why people didn’t want to talk about their experiences with Zak and Pundit with their names attached?

Update: 7:04 AM August 4, 2014
Total number of comments: 32
New comments: 9
Number mentioning me: 5
Number mentioning Mearls: 3

Comment 24:

Originally Posted by Novastar
Tracy Hurley insinuated that Pundit visited her site, to look at a bad cartoon of a dude blowing a minotaur-esque dude.

Thank you Novastar.

So the newest kerfluffle is about Minotaur Blow Jobs?

Who is Tracy Hurley? RPG author? Random blogger? One of RPGPundit's arch enemies he's always warning us about?

Is Mike Mearls pro-MBJs or anti-MBJs in this episode?

Comment 27:

Even the analytics pic she posted could have been easily photo-shopped. I'm kind of seeing it as her: ha ha! Look at me troll Pundit! Then he flames her, and the she is like Oh Noes! /giggle As if she didn't know it was going to happen. Oh course then nothing can happen without a thousand coattail riders on this or the various blogs, trying to drive traffic to their sites.

Comment 28:

Originally Posted by CRKrueger
Yep that's her.

The Sarah DarkMagic that is one of the core people behind the re-transmission of the attacks against Zak and Pundit wants us to believe...
1. She doesn't know Pundit is in Uruguay
2. She didn't post implying that he looked at one of her comics about sex twice in an attempt to get exactly the kind of response she did.

Yeah, that wasn't a particularly subtle dogwhistle.

That said. I'm not certain that Mearls' "If you don't agree there are issues bring me your magic wardrobe" is entirely related to the sarahdarkmagic tweet. For one, it's not like Pundit denies there are any issues in his tirade. It's just a tirade about her trolling him. It would not surprise me if, in response to his tweet people sent him private messages or links that led to the later statements.

I mean, it's Twitter. Fantastic for sharing with the world the design the barista put in your banana latte. Absolutely shit for any kind of reasoned discussion.

Also: I'd like to point out that Mearls' called Pundit's response "disgusting and infuriating", not Pundit. Conflating criticism of actions with criticism of the actors is what got this whole shitfest started.

Comment 29:

It's unclear where Mearl's disgust is directed, Hurley or Pundit. However, since Hurley is part of the idiot brigade, I'm assuming Mearls is aware enough to aim it whete jt belongs.

Comment 31:

Originally Posted by JamesV
The important thing to remember is that the evidence exists, but if it's shared the sources will be set upon by ravening hordes at the command of Zak or Pundit.

Yeah, it's not like Tom Hatfield or Tracy Hurley could show an email with, like, identifying details redacted or anything.

The only screencaps produced as evidence are Wundergeek presenting the James Des list--which doesn't say "harass people" so that's not evidence and tons of screencaps of me being mean to trolls for being trolls.

And Tracy Hurley and Der Waffle Mous seems to think hearsay and secondary sources _are_ evidence, especially and even when it's from people with long-documented grudges and histories of lying.

But, y'know #NotAllLiars

Examples of Change: Gail Simone's Red Sonja

I find that people often try to reduce things to a binary view of the world. For instance, if I bring up the negative feelings many women feel towards sexualized images, the argument gets reduced to banning all such images or keeping the status quo. In reality, this oversimplification of solutions often leads to silencing and censorship of its own and it leads us to false dilemmas. What we often need to do is find another way, one that doesn’t result in an either/or situation.

One person who has found that other way is Gail Simone, especially in regards to Red Sonja. Last year, Dynamite relaunched the Red Sonja storyline with Simone as the writer and Walter Geovani as the interior artist. What the two have done is taken a character that is widely known for her scale/chain mail bikini, and updated her for today's audience. Just two notes. There will be some spoilers in this article. Also, keep in mind that this is written from the point of view of having read just the first 6 issues of the reboot, so there could be things that happen in other issues that contradict what’s written here.

The Metal Bikini

First, a bit of history. Originally, Red Sonja wore a scale mail shirt and red shorts.

According to Wikipedia, Esteban Maroto first drew Red Sonja in her now signature metal bikini, an outfit that other female characters drawn by the artist also wore. This drawing was an uncommissioned submission, meaning it was not in the original artistic vision for the character. However, it quickly became popular.

Due to that popularity, the bikini became iconic for Red Sonja. There are often mixed reactions to it. For some, it doesn’t seem that much different from what others, like Conan, wear for clothing. She lives in a hot place where lots of people wear little clothing. For others, she often feels objectified, like she’s being drawn for the reader more than as an accurate representation of her character. I think there’s a middle ground here that Simone captures in this quote.

Let's face it, for a period of decades, most female characters in comics were not designed to attract female readers. They were designed to attract male readers. That left us females who loved comics to sort of appropriate these characters for ourselves. And we did.

But out of that pool, some characters refused to just be pin-ups and sex objects. Some captured the imaginations of young girls, and they survived when the others fell into disinterest and disuse.

For me, there's something incredibly appealing of a weary, terrifying Red Sonja under a blood red sun, holding a bloody sword over the bodies of her enemies. That isn't about bikinis, and it's the soul of the character.


One of the ways Simone changes the focus from the bikini to the soul of the character is by having a wide array of female artists create the covers for Red Sonja. The first issue had 6 covers alone, created by Fiona Staples, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Nicola Scott, Stephanie Buscema, and Jenny Frison.

I love this for a number of reasons. For one, it illustrates that women are not a monolith since one character is presented in so many different ways. Looking at these and other covers, I find that they show Red Sonja has multiple facets to her personality and that individual women (as well as people of all genders) may embrace different facets more than others. In addition, contrary to the thoughts of some, in shows that female artists do not need to be relegated to creating only stereotypical “female friendly” content lacking in references to sexuality and sexiness and dealing with what society tends to consider feminine topics.

Alternate Outfits

While Red Sonja wears her scale mail bikini on all of the covers I’ve seen, she has a bit more to her wardrobe than that. When she’s in the mountains in the north, she wears furs to help keep her warm, similar to the outfit she wears when we see her hunting with her father and brothers.

When she’s a prisoner in the slave pits and is forced to fight in the gladiatorial ring, her outfit is made of coarse material.

We also see how uncomfortable she is in formal dress.

In addition, during her big end battle with her sister from the the Zamoran slave pit, Dark Annisia, she’s wearing armor with more coverage. I saw this change of armor as an indication of the skill of Annisia. Most of the time, Red Sonja’s skill versus that of her opponent is great enough that she can wear the bikini and not worry. However, against Dark Annisia, she needs more protection, they are just too closely matched. Likewise, Dark Annisia is in heavier armor. I’m not sure if that was the intent, but it is how I interpretted it.

A World Full of Women

The world of Red Sonja is full of women. For me, it seems silly to have to point this out, but too often when it comes to fantasy literature, women are only included when their gender is needed to make a particular statement and are often excluded even when I know that they should be there. That’s simply not the case here.

One of our first indications of this is that the king sends two women to find Red Sonja and request her presence. We also quickly learn that many of the men are gone. Wars have been going on and the soldiers keep dying. There are very few men in town but many women. When she arrives, she remarks that there are no guards. In fact we see just one woman at the gate, holding a sword that, to my eye, seems to heavy for her. At the party, the background seems to have many women. The same is true when we see her conscripts.

Red Sonja - TrainingRed Sonja - Training

Before they are gathered, they are called mostly farmers and craftsmen, not women, not mothers, wives, and daughters. King Dimath also wishes for his people that they die fighting instead of being burned. I really like that they are not presented as weak and incapable but rather that there simply isn’t enough time to train them properly and there isn’t enough equipment.

Additionally, the “terrifying general” of the Zamorans is a woman, the previously mentioned Dark Annisia. She has a kick ass outfit that I love. She’s also one of Red Sonja’s first teachers of the art of battle (her father focused primarily on the hunt). Before their first day in the gladiatorial arena, Annisia gives Red Sonja advice about how to fight and what weapon to pick.

Modifications to the Back Story

Older versions of Red Sonja’s origin story focused on elements that may not sit as well with today’s audience.

During the Hyborian Age, a red-haired girl named Sonja lived with her family in a humble home in the western Hyrkanian steppes. When Sonja had just turned seventeen years old, a gang of cruel mercenaries killed her father Ivor, her mother and two younger brothers, and burned their house and all their possessions. She survived, but at the cost of her own virginity after she was brutally raped by the leader of the group, leaving her in shame.

Answering Sonja's cry for revenge, the red goddess Scathach appeared to her, and offered to bestow upon her unparalleled skill in battle on the condition that she would never lie with a man unless he defeated her in fair combat. Sonja gladly accepted the offer. She grew to womanhood as a wandering adventurer, and as she journeyed her legend grew as well. She became known as Red Sonja, due to her flame-red hair, fiery personality, and uncanny ability to spill the blood of her enemies wherever she went.


While the new version makes clear what could have happened, at least in the first six issues, I don’t think she’s ever raped. Instead she fights off the person who tries to kidnap her and, over the course of several hours, hunts down the people who destroyed her village and killed her family.

Her own cunning and skill, not the gift of a goddess, is what gets her through. This has the added benefit that, as far as I know, Red Sonja will not lose her abilities if she sleeps with a man who hasn’t bested her (potentially also meaning that if she takes male lovers, they won’t have to be warriors).

Overall, I think Gail Simone’s Red Sonja illustrates that with skill, forethought, and attention to detail, it’s possible to take a long-standing character like Red Sonja and tell her story in a way that is, in my opinion, more inclusive, a character that many people, especially women, are less likely to feel that they have to make compromises to love. I thank her for that.

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