In my last post, I talked about my reaction to the female characters in The Godborn. I'd like to talk about my reaction to the male characters today. There will be spoilers as I'll go beyond the prologue for this (although I'll mention now that I haven't finished the book but am about 70% in).
The men in the book follow rather traditional constructions of masculinity, particularly US masculinity. These same constructions can be found in other places at other times and include some of the virtues of say, Roman society. It's a rather patriarchal society where men are the ones who make decisions and they tend to their families and protect them. The groups in the novel show many elements of patriarchal societies including rather strict hierarchy, men holding the positions of authority, and men as providers.
For instance, we can look at the interactions within the Abbey of the Rose. The Oracle, even as he is portrayed as an older, senile man at times, is the shepherd of the flock. He makes the decisions that others obey, often keeping information from those closest to him. Their safety is his concern and he, like father, knows best. Under him we have the blades, men sworn to protect the Oracle and the faith. Within them we even have that same sort of strict hierarchy. Vasen Cale, the first blade, overrules other blades, especially when he decides that he will take Elle and Garuk to the abbey in hopes of healing her and stopping those who threaten the Oracle.
In all of these cases, both on the side we identify as "good" and that we identify as "evil," we have hierarchies and singular men who make decisions without seeking consensus. They will sometimes hear recommendations or advice, but they do not seek consensus on things, especially when women are involved. This bothers me. It feels like it comes from my grandfather's generation. I never met him but overall he was a good man. But I remember my mom telling me how lucky I was because she and my father involved us in family decisions. Her father would often come home and announce to the family (including his wife) that they were moving. No input. No discussion. No agency on the part of my grandmother. Just a firm decision.
We see this multiple times in The Godborn. Varra is barely listened to at first when it comes to her decision to save the life of her own child. Elle and Garuk don't have a discussion about him hunting or them leaving, he has made decisions already and it's more a matter of informing her of what he has decided. Elle, who is the one woman we see make a firm decision so far, is punished horribly for it.
Not only does this decision making setup harm women, but it hurts men too. There's a lot of pressure that comes from making decisions for your family, especially when they aren't going to be the same ones that the rest of the family want to make. This can lead to resentment and viewing others in the family, including those who should be your equal as petulant and perhaps as children.
Besides decision making, the male characters are expected to protect their loved ones. The scene when Vasen comes upon Garuk and Elle is supposed to be heartbreaking because, in this construction, Garuk failed as a man. His duty is to protect his wife and unborn child. We know this because that is why he goes on the hunt in the first place and later why he decides that they must flee his ancestral home. That is why he is there just minutes after the town has been attacked. Just in time to see his wife, his pregnant wife defiled by another man. The two brothers, Sayeed and Zeeahd, even know that he will feel a sense of failure and shame and thus decided that instead of killing him, they'll let him watch as his loved one turns into an abomination.
It's the introduction of Vasen Cale who gives Garuk hope. At first, there is hope that against the odds they'll be able to save Elle if they rush to the Oracle. What this process really seems to do is give Garuk a chance to get over his shock and say goodbye. When that process is complete, that is when he decides to kill her. She is, during this time, nothing but an object that helps propel him from protective husband ready to flee Sembia to an angry man bent on revenge.
She doesn't even get to speak during any of this. No, "Dearest husband, I had hoped to get them to go away before they found you." No honorable or heroic death for the woman who stood up to evil and corruption. With her death, the only way that Garuk can reclaim his masculinity is by destroying those who killed her. It's madness, which the book itself points out when Sayeed and Zeeahd point out that their presence, their corruption, their curse, is the result of the man the townspeople revere. While in this case, destroying those who destroyed her can be framed as a fight against good and evil, in the real world, where this construction of masculinity is used as well, what it really does is set up a neverending cycle of violence and revenge.
(The whole time I read Garuk's attempt to save Elle, all I could think about was Women in Refigerators. Imagine if we did that for these novels!)
This view on the purpose of men, on the sacrifice of men, harms men greatly. They don't understand when their sacrifices, sacrifices that often reduce or reject the agency of the other people in their lives especially women, aren't met with appreciation. It also often leads men to die in situations where it makes no sense, making them feel disposable, and makes at least some of them feel like the only value they bring to the world is their sacrifice.
I honestly think you can have heroic people without it being like this. There is no reason why this has to be so gendered. There's no reason to perpetuate many of these conflicts. It's time for people of all genders to be released from their roles and allowed to be full people, to learn how to communicate with each other, allowed to show valor at times and at other times to seek consensus.
Recently my husband shared with me an article that helped explain my reactions to both The Companions and The Godborn, the first two novels in the Sundering line. The article, “It Was Like a Pile of Kleenex”: Women Writers on Reading Literature's "Midcentury Misogynists" discusses the reactions of writers who are also women to a lot of the midcentury literature that is held up as good or exemplary. Those reactions are often nuanced, emotion-wrought, and contradictory. But the also point to a deeper problem, one that I often seen in fantasy literature.
There are many reasons why people read books. Sometimes it's pure escapism, an attempt to distract ourselves from the trials and tribulations of this world. Other times it's to find ourselves, to safely explore different aspects of ourselves and the myriad ways to experience life in a way that we still have a modicum of control over and isn't physically dangerous. It might also be experimental, to think through how different ways of living might be perceived and where the negative outcomes might be.
When the books tend towards a masculine point of view, however, this can leave many readers out in the cold. For those women who wish to escape, the books can be near useless, especially if the women in the novel are treated poorly. If it's to safely explore the world, then the books again fall flat. The reader, regardless of gender, will find that they cannot explore certain avenues because none of the novels cover them. Finally, if it's to experiment, the overall message again and again is that it's men who matter, and not women.
And that is the problem I have with The Companions and The Godborn. Both are written to the detriment of their female characters. In The Companions, we have 3 (re)births and childhoods presented. In the end, only one has a two-parent family and that's the one for the female character. For one of the male characters, his new mother is killed in childbirth, her husband's knife clumsily cutting open her womb and slicing off Regis' thumb. It felt like it was written that way purely to drive forward Regis' story. She is nearly entirely meaningless except for the special ability her blood gave Regis and the effect of her absence on his father.
For the other character, Bruenor, his new father is killed soon after he is born. His mother raises him but seems to have little to do directly with him or his training as a warrior, even though it's repeatedly mentioned that she knows how to fight. When Bruenor gets to be too much one night, instead of disciplining him herself, she goes out to get the king to handle the matter. Imagine trying to do that to a father figure. But yet it is done to the mother without blinking an eye.
And then we get to Catti-brie who in her past life had been a warrior. She continues her journey towards magic and faith in this book, even saying that it's probably best that she doesn't go the warrior route because as a girl she would be too weak. Um, really book?
The Companions made me unwilling to read any more Salvatore books and it is with that as a backdrop that I read The Godborn. The prologue opens with a pregnant Varra, a character I had issues with in the Erevis Cale trilogy and I don't like her presentation any more in this novel. She's being chased by legions of undead. A dark man appears, places his hand on her stomach, and she feels a tremendous amount of pain.
Suddenly she is transported 70 years into the future, near an abbey. The guards of the abbey see her, and attempt to ascertain what is going on. One of them, Deregg, finds himself drawn to her immediately. He calls for a midwife and a priest knowledgeable of child birth. This is the first instant I am thrown out of the novel. Why wouldn't the midwife also be a priest, if this is an abbey?
The scene is quickly set that she isn't going to make it. There is too much blood on the makeshift birthing bed. I'm then torn out of the book yet again. The priest, not the midwife, is between Varra's legs trying to save the infant. This makes no sense. That midwife should have been just as capable, if not more so, than the priest. Yet, we don't even learn her name. She's set up like a nurse in some 1950s movie. She's presented as little nonsense, it is her who starts the cut after all to remove child from Varra's body, but it's again and again the priest who is presented as knowledgeable and given the credit for actions. This seems more like reiterating sexist portrayals of midwives rather than actually researching what midwives did throughout history. It bothers me because within the past year I've fallen in love with Call the Midwife, a BBC television series, and a novel called The Midwife's Revolt.
The portrayal of the pregnant woman also bothered me. Varra is first infantilized. She is told she is wrong multiple times during the scene first about whether or not she was going to make it and second regarding her willingness to sacrifice her life for that of her child's. Then the scene is framed with Derreg literally treating her as a child, "Derreg's hand returned to Varra's head, cradling it as he might an infant, as he might a daughter." The feelings he has to her are later presented as romantic feelings but here he views her as a child. After death she's treated as an object, "Derreg had slain many men in combat, had seen battlefields littered with corpses, but he had to force himself to look on Varra's body, at the bloodsoaked bed, at the opening in her abdomen out of which Erdan, the priest, had mined the child." (Emphasis mine)
Later in the novel, we're treated to more infantilization of women. A couple expecting a child live in the Sembian wasteland. The husband decides on his own that he will go out to hunt as they have little food in their larder and his pregnant wife needs something real to eat (not those vegetables she helped grow, but real food). He decides this. He doesn't talk it over with her. She doesn't see the wisdom in it but knows she cannot stop him.
Later on, during the hunt, he makes the decision that they are going to leave. He wanted to stay only because it was the land of his family. Strangely, nothing is really said about her connections to the place even though we know she came from there as well. Again, it's the men who make the decisions, the men's lives who matter. He makes this decision because he runs into an foul creature and kills it before realizing that the creature was once a little girl from his village. This changes him. Again, something awful happens to a female character to propel forward the story of a male character.
And thus the even greater problem with the midcentury misogynists and many of the books that are held up as exemplary literature. They often provided a one-sided and misogynistic view of history, one that gets passed on through our literature with each new generation of writers. Both Salvatore and Kemp are likely to have been influenced by these works, just as I know Kemp is heavily influenced by Roman works which also aren't known for their good treatment of women. Both The Companions and The Godborn are rehashings of old stories and the beats around the female characters remain the same. There's a huge disconnect between the female characters in the novels and a large percentage of the women in the real world. Fantasy literature and gaming needs to change that not only if it wants to get more women involved but also just because these are horrible lessons to teach our sons.
I demand more. I don't want to read 1950s novels and movies rehashed into present day fantasy novels. I don't want thinly-veiled misogyny in the Realms. I don't think these authors mean to do it. I just think they haven't really thought about what they've been doing. I want something more.
By the way, I hope to write about this in a separate entry, but Myn Bala: Warriors of the Steppe gives some examples on how women can be presented in a fantasy story without diminishing, sexualizing, or infantilizing them.
Imagine for a moment that we did away with 80% of the male super heroes. Across all media formats, we had just 2 or 3 male characters and any particular year you were lucky to get a movie that headlined just one of them. How would that change your relationship with the characters? Your views on how they were portrayed?
Given the plethora of male characters, this scenario is hard to imagine. However, when it comes to female characters, it's pretty much the status quo. And that, is the problem with Wonder Woman and discussions of which actress is picked to represent her.
For women with geeky interests, Wonder Woman is often THE comic book hero you are taught to honor and revere. With the lack of choice, strong bonds form between many girls and women of all different bodies, interests, outlooks, wants, and desires. These various views on Wonder Women are often diametrically opposed to each other.
Now many of these diverse and divergent groups can find what they need in the myriad of representations of Wonder Woman on the pages of comic books. You can follow her adventures in her swimsuitesque outfit or you can read the books where she wears pants. Maybe she's thinner in some and more muscular in others. You often, but not always, find her presented in a way that matches your relationship with the character.
The same is not true with movies. It's been how long since Wonder Woman has appeared in a movie? (Try never.) So not only do we have the issue of many diverse groups having to agree on a singular representation of a fictional character, we don't have many alternatives to look forward to in order to sooth our souls when our representation of Wonder Woman isn't chosen. It is, for some, even harder when it feels like the woman chosen seems to reinforce certain messages that we receive all the time from Hollywood about which women are suitable to be represented (although in the case of this particular choice, it's even more complicated).
Normally we could just talk about our feelings but speaking about women's bodies is itself problematic. There's an awful lot of body policing out there. Sometimes it's hard to distinguish discussions about the lack of diversity in the representation of women's bodies with those that are intended to police those same bodies, decreasing diversity.
It's tempting to say that we shouldn't talk about women's bodies at all. I mean, isn't the writing and acting so much more important? But that lack of discussion is what allows the lack of diversity to continue.
Yes, I'm saying there are no easy answers. I'm also saying the problem isn't with Wonder Woman but rather the fact that we lack diversity and use her as a crutch. We don't let her be an individual. The lack of other female characters that can gain the same level of broad appeal means that she will continue to be an amalgam rather than a true character in her own right. And that makes me the saddest of all. We need to discuss these limits. We need to both discuss the representation of Wonder Woman for this movie, directly referencing the body of the actress. We also need to talk about how those discussions are also symptomatic of the issue. The complexity of the problem requires a complexity in approaching it.
An early photojournalist and photographer, Frances Benjamin Johnston came from a wealthy and well-connected family in West Virginia. She started by taking portraits of friends and family before touring Europe in the 1890s. In 1894 she opened her own studio in Washington, DC. She worked for a number of newspapers and magazines and once was called "Photographer to the American court." In addition to photographing many famous people, including Susan B. Anthony, Mark Twain, Booker T. Washington, Admiral Dewey, and the Roosevelt children, she is well known for her pictures of architecture and gardens. She also used her prominence in her field to encourage other women to enter the craft.
She came from a family of accomplished women. Her mother, Frances Antoinette Johnston, worked for the Baltimore Sun as a congressional journalist and dramatic critic. These political connections helped the younger Johnston gain entry as an official White House photographer for the Harrison, Cleveland, McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, and Taft presidential administrations.
Over three thousand of her images are available online through the Library of Congress Johnston (Frances Benjamin) collection. Many of them are of gardens and historic homes, including over a thousand hand colored photos.
If you're looking for a strong woman who rubbed elbows with the elite and traveled the world, Frances Benjamin Johnston is a great person to look to.
Recently I watched episode four of the PBS series The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross. This episode covered 1897-1940, discussing the development of an African American middle class and black owned businesses. During the episode, Professor Gates mentioned an exhibit by W.E.B. Du Bois at the 1900 Paris Exposition that had pictures of African Americans in a variety of settings, many of them concentrating on the middle class. Curious, I did an internet search and found that many of the pictures, in addition to other pictures gathered by Du Bois, were available through the Library of Congress.
I love these pictures because they contradict the typical narrative spread in the mainstream media at the time and today. While I understand how they can themselves be problematic, I think they help show the diversity and complexity of the African American experience. Due to segregation, many African Americans could seek service only from fellow African Americans. Additionally, by purchasing from black-owned businesses, that helped keep the money in the community.
These pictures could be useful to anyone running or playing in or publishing a late Victorian/early Edwardian US game. They could show that whites weren't the only college students or athletes, that a number of African Americans also studied the sciences, were nuns, etc. Given the time period they are from, they are classified by the Library of Congress as "No known restrictions on publication." This means that they are likely to be in the public domain, although you should always consult an attorney if you are unsure.
The full collection can be found at http://www.loc.gov/pictures/search/?st=grid&co=anedub. Here are some sample images.
Looking for some inspiration for your bard? I recently watched the movie The Sapphires and loved it. It follows the adventure of four singers who happen to be aboriginal women, showing the racism they face in Australia and their dreams of catching their big break by playing for the troops in Vietnam. Three of them are sisters: Gail - the headstrong lead singer, Cynthia - a jilted bride-to-be recently left at the altar, and Julie - a young mother who wants a better life for her and her son. They are joined by their cousin Kay, a woman who had been stolen from her family because her skin was pale enough to pass as white in Australian society. Along the way they are helped by a down-on-his-luck Irishman, Dave Lovelace.
The Bechdel Test
The movie passes the Bechdel Test with flying colors. Not only are there four main characters who are also women, but they rarely talk about men or relationships with each other. Most of the conversations are about their lives and their goals. All of the female characters have their own personalities with relatively complex motivations and backstory. I also love how they handle the women's sexuality. They have sex, fall in love, and everything but those elements to ordinary life are not presented in a negative light. They also are allowed to be sexy and sexual without being sexualized.
Race and Racism
In addition to being featuring four aboriginal women, the film weaves race and racism into its narrative in interesting and compelling ways. The sisters enter a talent contest but are denied the prize due to their background. The relationship between Gail and Kay is strained as result of Kay's upbringing away from the family, a reference to Australia's Stolen Generations. Martin Luther King Jr's assassination is referenced and provides an impetus for them to perform for the troops. Many of the US soldiers are African-American.
While these elements are all presented, they are not the driving force of the story. The primary story is about the adventure of the four women. However, the issues of race are woven in nicely and something that could help game masters and game designers alike.
Based on Real Life
The movie is inspired by the real lives of the original Sapphires: Laurel Robinson, Beverly Briggs and Naomi Mayers. They were a band of three aboriginal women who played at clubs, parties, universities, and more in the Melbourne area. They were asked to perform for the troops in Vietnam, but two of the original members refused to go as a protest against the war. The remaining member, Robinson, went with her sister, Lois Peeler. Robinson's son, Tony Briggs, used their story as inspiration for a play based on their experiences. This play was the basis of the movie. The role of Lovelace was created for the film.
The creators behind slash: romance without boundaries were kind enough to send me a demo copy of their game. For those who haven't heard about it, the goal is to create the best fan-fiction romantic couples. Game play is similar to Apples to Apples, Cards Against Humanity. One person, the matchmaker, chooses a person card in their hand and the rest of the group chooses a person from theirs that they think would make a great pairing. Of course, great is highly subjective. In some versions of game play, the matchmaker may ask players to "defend" their choice by asking them to create fanfiction on the spot, often according to a prompt. For instance, the player might be asked to describe the first date between the two.
For some of my friends, this game would be absolutely perfect. They love fanfiction and this game is a natural fit for them. But I like it for a number of additional reasons. First, I find that this sort of knowledge doesn't get rewarded as often as it should. Being able to converse about a wide range of people and characters - everyone from pop culture to historical figures to characters from literature are included. In the version of the game where you have to create fanfic, you probably could use more than passing familiarity with a name to make it truly epic.
Additionally, I think overall it might break some barriers (although it doesn't have to). There's no gender, sexual orientation, or other barriers to suggesting a match.
Beyond the game itself, I want to use this for character generation, especially NPCs. When I want to create a new character, I could just pull a card from the rather large deck and use some elements from that person to create a character. It might even be cool to pull two or three and create a character that combines aspects of those people.
Currently, the cards are available for download through the game website. Games by Playdate also have a Kickstarter for the game. Filamena Young has a great interview with Meg about the game on Gaming as Women.
Thanks to Meg McGinley-Crowe, Glenn Givens, and Dan Brian for putting this on my radar. It's awesome.
This past weekend I was honored to attend CarnageCon as a special guest. It's a wonderful con held this year in Killington, VT and previously at Lake Morey. I ran 12 hours of a D&D Next version of Reclaim Riverbend. Now, because it was a con, we didn't run with any crunchy rules for the exploration section, but we played with the premise of rebuilding after a war, playing in a sandbox, and having player driven stories.
I think it was a great success. A couple of the players played the whole 12 hours, and a number more played 8 hours worth. As a DM, I was really happy. Here's a picture from the second 4-hour slot.
So the first thing about the game is that the set up really helped ease play. I started by giving each player character one NPC character they could bring with them. As an example, the cleric chose an underling acolyte and the rogue chose to know the military commander in the town. This helped in a number of ways. First, I think it helped the players feel like they had a bit of the world that they knew and could interact with. Additionally, as they played, they had someone else that they could also make up stories about. The cleric, for instance, named his acolyte Ned and would add flavor by talking about the types of sermons Ned was making and the reactions of the townspeople to them. He also set up Ned in the church after they cleared it of the undead and a dark priest. He even decided to create his own sect, the Order of the Radiant Heart.
In addition to the one NPC to start, each PC had 10 commoners each who came with them. These would be the people who did the basic chores of the town. They also served another purpose. As the PCs cleared out areas, one of the commoners would often step forward and take over a job. So, after they had cleared one of the small forests, one of the commoners stepped forward to become a forester. Likewise, when they cleared out the brewery, one of the townspeople had skills as a brewer and stepped forward.
Also, having a map helped them figure out where they wanted to go and what they wanted to do. I used the map from Village of Hommlet, and just described how every place except the Inn of the Welcome Wench was more or less rendered uninhabitable. They were concerned about where the villagers and decided to check out the old cottages first, which turned out to be a good thing because one of them was haunted by the ghost of any angry former inhabitant who had been killed in the great raid. Likewise, they often would balance where they went with the needs of the town. They cleared out the cottages and the docks (so people could be come fishermen) but also decided they needed better ale and cleared out the brewery. Then it was the mill so the town could grind flour.
Obviously I have a bunch more to do before I can make it a thing and I need to develop my own town map if I want to publish it, but being able to run 12 hours of gaming on this premise was a great confidence boost.
As a note, we played mostly theater of the mind style. I used the Noteboard product to draw rough maps to help the players visualize areas. This worked well with D&D Next but obviously might not work well for every game.
The main thing I'd love to work on before I did it again would be interactive environments. The setup worked well in showing the players that what their PCs did had an effect on the town, but I wish I had more traps, rituals, other interactive elements (like a complex arcane machine), and maybe some friendly NPCs in various areas that the PCs could interact with. More food for thought.
Finally, a tweet from one of the players after the game:
— Geoff Duke (@gcd) November 10, 2013
Also, I had the honor of being the first DM for a young boy and we had three other teenagers join in. That felt good too.
I wanted to give some more concrete examples of where my thoughts around Reclaim Riverbend are currently. Since it's a well known module and fits pretty well, I'm going to use The Village of Hommlet as an example.
Village of Hommlet is great because it lays out an entire village complete with a village map as well as maps of a few of the buildings. My thought is that much of the town would have been destroyed by a combination of neglect by the evil forces that inhabited it (they did not agree that cleanliness is next to godliness) and the battles for control of the town. I think I would set everything except either the walled manor house (27) or the Inn of the Welcome Wench (7) as being in some state of being too broken to be immediately useful. I haven't figured out the mechanics of repair, but it would be something like filthy, cosmetic damage, structural damage, and beyond repair. Filthy buildings could be repaired without access to resources beyond labor. Cosmetic damage would require access to wood, either from other homes or a forest. Structural damage might require a carpenter. Beyond repair would require labor to remove the rubble before it could be built on again.
A nice thing about using something like Village of Hommlet as the underpinning is that we can tell the story of that village through this game even if we don't use everything from it. The people still existed and we can tell their story in the background elements and in the items left behind.
Let's ignore the ability to harvest wood from the forest for now and only rely on reusing materials found in the town. Let's say each destroyed house provides 10 wood. Cosmetic damage requires 1 wood, structural damage requires 3, and new construction of a modest cottage requires 5. (I'm not sure how fine-grained I'll be when I get further along, so take this all with a grain of salt.) Repairing buildings with cosmetic damage doesn't require specialization and takes less wood. The issue is that the building the group really wants might not be one of the ones that are the cheapest to fix. Do the players focus on fixing the easiest to fix buildings first? Do they try to adapt the building to a different use than intended, costing them perhaps a few more resources and more time? Or do they focus their resources on the buildings they think would best serve them?
These are decisions constantly being made after a catastrophe. What do we have? What can we save? What is the cost of saving it?
One of the issues after war is that many of the trade routes are disrupted. A village like Riverbend couldn't expect regular deliveries of resources from other places. First, the area is still far too dangerous for all but the least risk averse merchants. Second, many towns and cities need goods after a war and Riverbend isn't exactly a thriving place full of coin. It needs to make itself better known for that. So currently, the town can except a visiting merchant only about every month or three. I might increase the frequency if I specialize the merchants though. Additionally, costs might be higher for even basic goods that have to be imported from elsewhere. For now, let's say that there is a 50% rise in prices.
The Village of Hommlet module works well for this because it faces trade issues. In the case of the module, a bunch of bandits have been attacking trade caravans. They are holed up in the ruins of the moathouse, a complete adventure already written for DMs. Since Reclaim Riverbend is a post war game, I might change some of the bandit characters to fit into that theme better. Maybe they deserted during the war or they grew cynical from their experiences and decided to live for themselves after the war. They also could be left over enemies who didn't want to go home.
Defeating the bandits would improve trade through Riverbend in addition to potentially giving real items as treasure. So after they are dealt with, let's say the additional cost of goods gets reduced to 25%.
An additional benefit to The Village of Hommlet is that it's tied to the Temple of Elemental Evil. I might have in one of the buildings some writings from one of the evil clerics or wizards that mentioned ruins in the area of the town. By this point, between the overturn in inhabitants and the amount of time that has passed, it's quite possible that none of the current inhabitants remembers the temple. This diary could talk about how the cleric or wizard wants to find the legendary ruin and increase their reputation. The PCs might decide to see if the other side was unable to uncover the ruin or decide that they don't care, they want to see it for themselves.
You could even run Temple of Elemental Evil as a flashback before they discover it in the present. You could then modify the ruins to take into account the decisions of your group and, who knows, maybe the past adventurers left something behind that could be used by those in the present.
So that's my thought on how the concept of Reclaim Riverbend can be used to tie together published adventures in a way that reinforces the core story being told and organically changes the world around the characters. I fully acknowledge it might not be for everyone. Obviously, if I were to create my own Reclaim Riverbend for publishing, I couldn't use Village of Hommlet as a base but it's a perfect fit as an example of what could be done. Additionally, the framework doesn't need to be limited to D&D as a resolution mechanism. Other games, such as Fiasco, could be used for certain types of adventures or scenes and still have an impact on the world. For instance, perhaps the players want to convince a wizard to take up residence in the tower but he wants the PCs to prove that they are worth his presence. A Fiasco-style playset could be a fun way of determining if they succeed at the task of wooing him.
Now that a big writing project is done, I have more time to focus on this again. As a refresher, Reclaim Riverbend is my idea for a sandbox adventure that concentrates on the PCs building their community. In this particular case, a long 25 year war has ended and Commander Blackwell seeks to reclaim her ancestral home. Players build the town as a result of their adventures. Collect enough objets d'art and the town creates an art gallery or museum. Uncover enough gems and gain a jeweler. These NPCs in turn, provide benefits back to the PCs.
A reason I started with Reclaim Riverbend is because I want to explore concepts of colony building and exploration while minimizing the issues of othering. This was their land. Absent the past 25 years, it had been in their families for generations. I haven't figured out what to do about the invaders yet, if they are going to be some concept of true evil or if they might seem that way at first but overtime become more understandable. I think for the first version, they are just going to be evil.
I've also been thinking a lot about how to do the community building. Some people pointed out the Pathfinder downtime system. I like the system and will draw inspiration from parts of it but, to me, it still seems a bit too distanced. It's also focuses a bit on the individual's influence where I'm not sure that fits with what I would like.
The other inspiration point I know about is Flatpack. This game features a lot of what I want, it's about overcoming obstacles and fixing the future. PCs go out, find flatpacks, and bring them home. These flatpacks provide resources to the town. They are buildings that you can put together and give the PCs access to specialists. In some ways, that's part of what's going on in Reclaim Riverbend but there's a bit more that I'd like to accomplish. I know sometimes DMs sometimes struggle with players who keep killing their hirelings or assume an unlimited supply of things. My thought is that this setup can address those issues. You can gain unlimited supplies of some things, but it requires building the town up enough to gain them. Likewise, you can kill as many hirelings as you want, but you might not then have enough people come harvest time. There are choices and those choices have consequences.
My thought is that players would start off with their initial expedition party. This will include the PCs, a number of unskilled laborers, and I'm thinking one or two skilled laborers per PC. I contemplated making these families instead of individuals but that might work better as an optional rule. Since the entire kingdom is in a rebuilding phase, it will be a while before they get reinforcements or more supplies. So they are pretty much on their own for at least 3 months.
In looking at the D&D Next rules, many of the backgrounds fit in naturally with this. Commoners form the lowest level and most plentiful type of human resource. They provide most of the raw resources for the town such as food, lumber, animal skins, and the like. The Artisans form the next level. They transform the raw materials into products and they require a certain number of Commoners to support them. So, we might not get a carpenter until we have 10 foresters because otherwise there wouldn't be enough lumber.
I might make one change though. You can't gain access to certain types of Commoners until you have the natural resources to support them. One way to unlock natural resources will be to explore the hex map. So, explore enough forest squares and you can unlock a forester. Your exploration gives the forester confidence that the woods will be safe for him and his crew. Likewise, want fishers? Explore the waterways and determine their level of safety.
Gaining these more experienced laborers can happen in a few different ways. They can be part of the adventures. For instance, maybe you uncover a humanoid trafficking ring run by orcs that passes through the territory. As a result of raiding it, the PCs might gain a skilled laborer from the captives. Another way is inspired by Terraria. If you have an available storefront and uncover enough gems, either through treasure or as a result of uncovering a mine that has a vein of them, a jeweler might be enticed to live in your town. Or, if you uncover enough forest land, a laborer might decide to become a forester. Finally, as the town grows, the PCs might be able to pick particular types of skilled laborer that they would like to see more of and gain benefits from.
Another thing I'd like to focus on in this is that everyone has a role and is necessary for the functioning of the town. Food production is just as important as being a silversmith, even if it doesn't pay the same. Additionally, when the town suffers a catastrophe such as a natural disaster or a siege, each of these people are your resources for defense and recovery. My hope is that this would be closer to the reality of life in the middle ages. Adventuring brings great rewards but at a cost. You can decide to not teach the women basic defense skills but when you are attacked, you might find yourself at a disadvantage.
To summarize, here are some basic details and principles that I'm confident about.
- Hex exploration uncovers resources to use, both general ones like wood and adventuring areas where more specialized goods and advanced technology can be found.
- Simulate in a general way the hierarchy of resources and the people who refine them.
- Resource limitations are tied to the town and its inhabitants, making people the most important resource.
More info soon!