One thing I’ve learned over the last three years is that people play Dungeons & Dragons many different ways. Some like sandboxes. Others like rails. Some like meat grinders. Some like tons of story. A few like a little of everything in every game. There really is no one way to rule them all.
Since I love designing adventures, this has led me to thinking a lot about adventure design across editions. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the different ways we produce a dynamic world around the player characters. In general, I see one of three options used:
- Random - The dungeon master uses random tables or percentiles to determine most of the world around the player characters. A common example of this is a random encounter table or a weather percentile table.
- Planned Stages - The dungeon master writes ahead of time what will happen when, such as “the town will riot on the third day unless the player characters capture the rebel leaders.”
- Improvisation - The dungeon master comes up with things on the fly, in reaction to the decisions of the player characters. If she thinks rain would make the atmosphere more appropriate for the scene, it rains.
Each of these has pros and cons associated with them and aren’t appropriate for all groups. For instance, randomness helps ensure the impartiality of the dungeon master, at least to a degree (nothing stops her from including items that aren’t level appropriate) but may make it harder to tell a smooth story. Planned stages risk railroading the players or cause wasted time spent in planning. Improv requires a fair degree of skill on the part of the dungeon master and, if there isn’t enough trust in the group or the group prefers certain play styles, may be interpreted as unfair by the players.
Given that there’s no clear winner, it might be awesome to find a way to serve them all about 80% of the way. In the adventure, Blood Money, Logan Bonner lays the groundwork for such a tactic. The adventure involves the player characters running a caper to steal the treasury of a local tyrant, ensuring that he cannot pay his mercenaries and, thus, freeing the town of Elderwood from his iron grip. Capers can be a bit difficult to run in D&D, satisfying caper stories often have a lot of twist and turns with an ever increasing tension beat. Pure randomness makes maintaining that upward track of tension difficult and the twists make it hard for a DM to plan for all the contingencies. Improv sounds like the best option but many of the guidelines for the DM presuppose planning time; they can be difficult to employ during a fast and furious session.
To aid the DM in responding in a fair manner to player character actions, the adventure gives the DM plot points, currency she can then spend on various defenses or changes to the adventure’s default settings. She spends some before the adventure starts, giving both her and the players enough details to begin play. After play starts, she spends her remaining plot points in response to player character actions and gains additional ones the more they plan. This last point is particularly important. If the PCs decide to do a surprise raid, things will be harder for them overall because the adventure defaults that way, but the reactive defenses will be lower because the DM doesn’t have as many resources to counter the PCs assault. If they take their time, the basic part of the adventure gets easier, sometimes even lowering the DCs, but the reactive defenses increase.
What interests me is that we can do something more general, providing DMs with a plot point currency that she can use in a variety of instances. It’s not for everyone for sure, but might help with those groups where either the DM is newer or the players tend to prefer a more structured or impartial approach to choices in the adventure or among groups that lack trust. Essentially, I see it as a point buy or point array system for the DM.
Here’s my pitch: Have random tables just like in older edition adventures but also provide either plot point costs for the DM in the table or a conversion chart in the adventure. Also provide the rate at which plot points for the DM refresh. In my mind, this does a few things:
- If the plot point refresh is tied to time, as it is in Blood Money, this makes time important without necessarily making time keeping onerous or overly subject to DM fiat.
- Groups that prefer random tables still have them while still providing support to other groups as well, including improv DMs who can use the random tables as inspiration for their own decisions.
- Gives the DM tools for planning things beyond combat.
- Reactive defense capabilities can make the world seem richer and make the PCs a stronger part of the story since their actions have consequences in the game world.
- Planning in points where the adventure can differ, whether randomly or in response to character actions, makes it easier to reuse the adventure.
So what do you think?
Today marks 3 years since I registered SarahDarkmagic.com and started posting about my real-life adventure into gaming. Fortunately, I wrote a bit about what was going through my mind and what happened at my first game session in my very first blog post "So the adventure begins...". A lot has changed in these past 3 years, more than I ever could have imagined.
- I joined the Lost City Open Design project and got the chance to design a portion of the city after the patrons voted for my pitch.
- I had two other adventures, Sickness in Springdale and Black Rock Bandits, published by PostMortem Studios.
- I wrote for a yet to be released game, Dragon Brigade, by Margaret Weis Productions. They've been a bit busy with this game called Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, but you can get the free Dragon Brigade quickstart.
- My article, "Channel Divinity: Melora," was published in Dragon #401 on the Wizards of the Coast website.
- I wrote an 4e ecology article on Minotaurs for Kobold Quarterly.
- I wrote an essay from the upcoming "GOLD Guide to Competitive Gaming" by Four Winds Fantasy Gaming.
- I've been the co-host of three podcasts, The Tome Show, 4 geeks 4e, and the Dungeon Masters' Round Table. For the last, we even had a panel and live recording at Gen Con.
- After my first year, I received an ENnie honorable mention for best blog, and a full nomination in 2011.
- I have a bi-monthly column on the Wizards of the Coast website, Joining the Party, that shines the spotlight on the awesome contributions by members of the community.
- Brian "d20monkey" Patterson drew me into his comic!
This isn't everything for sure. I'm really proud of what I've done and can't wait to see what happens in the future. Speaking of the future, my current big project is the Prismatic Art Collection. I've talked about it a few times here, but we'll be raising funds to commission works of art depicting diverse heroes and we're dedicated to fielding a diverse group of artists too. I'm working on the website for it, but in the meantime, I have a Google+ page with posts and an album with some of the potential artists and their bios.
While that stuff is pretty awesome, the best part has been meeting so many great and wonderful people through gaming. I feel truly blessed and much of that has to do with all of you. So thanks for making the last 3 years of my life an incredible time and I look forward to the future.
Primal ElkWhat I love:
- Three members of the party are women (or at least could be, it doesn't really matter if they were meant to be that way). They aren't in the back, using magic, but up front, with melee weapons.
- By making the elk larger than life and in the center of the painting, its majesty becomes the center of attention, adding to the wonder and awe of primal magic.
Care and feeding of your small humanWhat I love:
- I think having scenes of parenthood (including fatherhood please) increases the possibility of having PCs that aren't murderous creatures that kill everything that might offer the chance of more XP or loot.
- While I prefer to play humans, I actually like a game that has the diversity of races often offered in science fiction, like Star Trek or Star Wars.
Abby in the LabWhat I love:
- Sorry, she just looks like a fun character. I'd probably use her for an alchemist, one who knows to use safety glasses in the lab!
- So goblins that are obviously evil and do horrible things makes it easier to know to just kill them. I get that. But I love mythological goblins that are more troublemakers than murderous, vile creatures. A playful goblin wearing a human mask sounds like the start of a fair amount of shenanigans.
Legend of Korra
Watch on YouTube
The original Avatar: The Last Airbender tv series on Nickelodeon was awesome and had a lot of great female characters that I love. We even saw previous female avatars. Now we have Korra, a female water bender from the southern water tribe, who is also the avatar. I really like that she's a little older than the previous avatar, Aang, was when he started his adventure. In addition to hopefully connecting with the original audience, it gives the artists the chance to show some muscle tone on her. She's talented and spirited but not without faults. I may be in love.
Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the Boston ENWorld game day. I had a blast and got to try two new games, Night's Black Agents and Leagues of Adventure. I will admit up front that I didn't get a chance to read either rule set or the games they are based on, so there's a chance I misunderstood the rules or misremembered a detail. However, I find it useful to see players' reactions to games and thought I would share mine as well.
Night's Black Agents
The first game I played in was a cinematic spy thriller, Night's Black Agents, designed by Kenneth Hite and published by Pelgrane Press. Based on the GUMSHOE system, the game provides plenty of opportunities for players to do recon, perfect for a spy game. Kevin Kulp, one of my favorite GMs, ran it and the other players were pretty awesome.
This was my first introduction to a GUMSHOE game but I had heard great things about it previously and I'm a fan of Robin D Laws. I really enjoyed the diversity of skills, although they didn't come up much in our game. (Our players seemed to be very action oriented.) And having flirting as a skill will always appeal to me even if I don't use it right away. It acknowledges that there are many ways to accomplish tasks.
I'm not sure of the level of experience of the rest of the table, but within the 4 hours or so for the game, we were able to learn the rules and tell a rather thrilling spy story involving suitcase nukes, Russian arms deals, Colombian drug cartels, and, at the very end, learning the truth about the existence of vampires. We opened with a car chase, guns blazing, and closed with helicopter explosion on a hotel rooftop and diffusing the nuke at the last possible second. The table particularly enjoyed my character walking out of the room while the nuke continued its countdown because she had a score to settle. Her teammate tried to get her to stay by pulling on her heart strings, mistakenly claiming that she was going to let her hometown blow up and kill thousands of innocent people. She coldly replied, "This is not my hometown."
While I enjoyed the game, I think it shines even better after a few run throughs and with groups who know each other a bit better. I'm still rather new to the art of improv and I know between trying to figure out the rules and being around new people, I often forgot to make my statements and scenes into something that could easily be built upon by others. So, it sometimes felt like we had a series of threads that were only barely connected.
Another difficulty I had was with the recharge mechanic. The way the game works is that you have some number of points available in certain skills. I interpreted this as how skilled your character is in those things. While you can roll for any skill, any time you roll in one of the skills with points, you may deduct some of the points from your pool to add to your die roll (the game uses a 1d6). There are periods when you may refresh your points, but in between those times, characters have traits that let them refresh points by saying something in character that's related. So I had the parkour trait that would allow me to refresh my Athletics point pool if I described one of my physical tricks in a cool way (at the GM's discretion). On one hand, this is really cool and encourages people to say cool stuff in character.
On the other, I found myself really reluctant to use it. Some of the reasons can be found in the article Game Design and Sexism: Player Feedback Mechanics. Both of my refresh traits were related to traditionally masculine things, parkour and guns. I don't think anyone at the table would have questioned anything I said if I decided to try to use technobabble or jargon. I know that people would be fine with movie logic and that movies often just invent this stuff to sound cool. I know Kevin would have helped me out and in fact did when I decided to describe what I would say instead of saying it directly, but it's one of those things I'd like to point out more for the general audience. One thing that might have helped would be a list of phrases I could have used as building blocks, similar to the Thieves' Cant article in DDI (subscription required).
The other observation I had is that it would be really cool to have Leverage-style flashback mechanics in the game rather than the preparedness check that the game had. I like that in Leverage, anyone with a plot point can trigger a flashback, even if they aren't in the current scene. I think this helps to both make the story formed in the game more focused on action (rather than spending much of the session preparing for what we think might happen) and integrated together because we're not all trying to establish the cool for our character. Also, not all characters had preparedness, including mine, so I felt more reluctant to put my character in a position where she might not have something she needed.
Leagues of Adventure
The afternoon game I played in was Leagues of Adventure, a yet-to-be-released (coming later this year) Victorian steampunk game by Triple Ace Games. It uses the Ubiquity roleplaying system and we used the Hollow Earth Expedition books as reference. We played a mix of fictional and real life charcters, Sherlock Holmes and his trusty assistant Watson, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, H. G. Wells, and Nellie Bly. I played the last one which was a pretty good fit.
As with Night's Black Agent, the system has rules for rewarding players who play in character. Each character backstory has a number of goals or specific role play elements that, if triggered, get the player a style point he or she may use later in a number of ways. I played Nellie Bly and I would get style points if she dissuaded Holmes from commenting on her appearance, if she tried to get Bill and Jane back together, or if she chatted about wordsmithing with Wells. As with Night's Black Agents, I sometimes felt out of place with it because I sometimes felt like I didn't know enough details about how to make those things happen and it wasn't obvious to me how to stop someone from commenting on Nellie's appearance.
One of the difficulties with playing Nellie is that she was the team leader and her character story suggested that she would do whatever she could to get the team to work together, although sometimes she would have to put her foot down in regards to Bill's misogyny and sexism. On one hand, this seems like a good fit for me, because well, that's sort of how I am. On the other, it could get frustrating in game. Many of the characters were written to have a romantic interest in Nellie and I often was at a loss about how to deal with male characters who wanted to be chivalrous (which is pretty period) while still giving Nellie the room to be, well, Nellie. Also, while most of the group knew each other, I was a bit new and I both felt reluctance to play up the sexism and misogyny, and sensed that reluctance from others (for good reason). I think it's a great subject to explore with friends but I felt a bit unsure what to do among a group of people that I was meeting for the first or second time.
The other thing that was a bit strange to me was the dice system, ubiquity. While the system is relatively easy to understand once you get it, it took a few tries for me to understand it. We played with the Ubiquity dice which means we had 3 sets of 3 dice, white, blue, and red. One set, the 1s, has 0s and 1s, a second, the 2s, has 0s, 1s, and 2s, and the third, the 3s, has 0s, 1s, 2s, and 3s. Next to your skills is a rating number. For instance, I had brawling 8. To roll my brawling, I would pick up a dice pool equal to the number of the rating, in this case two 3s and one 2, and add up the result to see if I got enough successes. While cool in that you could theoretically use any dice to accomplish this, I have to admit having to do that much math all the time (since I used a variety of skills) grated on me after a bit, especially as I tired from a full day of gaming.
Of course, this has much more to do with me than the GM, the group, or the game, all of which were awesome. My husband showed up as we were finishing the game and hearing our snippet of the game and looking at the character backstory convinced him he wants to give it a try when I can get a copy of the book.
I enjoyed both games, both the systems and the people I played with, and would love to play again.
I know, two blog posts in one day. Craziness! But I wanted to share this letter I received in hopes it illustrates the need for a project like Prismatic Art. The author, Charles, contacted me on Twitter because he and his daughters are very interested in the project. I had mentioned that my hope for the project would be that not only would his daughters find artwork they enjoyed but it would encourage them to create their own too.
It turns out they already do and want to share some of it as part of the project. I asked them to send along some samples so I could get an idea of their level of experience (the main project will be for professional art) and this is the reply. Awesome stuff and I'll admit it made me tear up a bit last night when I read it. And don't worry, I will find a home for their art and the art of others even if it's not in the way I originally planned.
Thank you, Tracy!
I read your email to our daughters and they are excited for the challenge. (My daughter J even narrowed her eyes, rubbed her hands together, and declared in her best evil villainess voice, “‘Level of experience?’ I’ll show her my level of experience!” :)
We’re all very excited with what you’re doing both with Prismatic Art and with trying to shift the gaming community to a more respectful place in general. They began playing 4e from the moment I introduced it to them when they were 8 years old, and have probably read every 4e book that WoTC has published, except for the first two Essentials “Heroes of…” books. (They turned their noses up at Essentials until they got over their “edition-ism.” :) They’ve built countless 4e characters and they’ve read the first Dragonlance trilogy multiple times (Laurana is their favorite character) and are still hoping that someday Dragonlance comes back and unseats Forgotten Realms as a D&D setting. (Yeah, I know, not likely…) They’ve also branched out into other RPGs and even had their letters published in Daniel Solis’ “Do: The Book of Letters.”
RPGs and drawing are our daughters’ favorite activities. The majority of what they read is probably gaming books, fantasy novels and articles from D&D Insider (including yours!). I have to admit that we're not always happy with the way female characters are portrayed in what they read, or in the art they’re seeing on WoTC’s site and on DDO (where they spend most of their allowed online gaming time). According to S, “There are too many scantily-clad female characters out there, and not enough in actual armor." Still, instead of censoring, my wife and I have chosen to use such content as springboards for discussion. (I usually join in their party when they play DDO, and I also run a monthly tabletop 4e game for them and three of their closest girlfriends.) We're happy that our daughters have retained their strong self-image despite some of the messages which they’ve been receiving from the gaming culture at large, but we’d rather they just be able to enjoy the culture without those messages. I think you know what we mean.
J even had one of her “rants” published by New Moon Girls magazine:
> I was on a gaming website and saw a game called “Nerdy Girl Makeover.” The description of the game is this: “School is out! Put those books away and give this girl a hot new look!” I find this really offensive. The girl wore glasses, was reading, and had a T-shirt with an atom on it. Why do so many people think that smart, intellectual girls who like reading and academic subjects are “wrong” and “ugly”?
> J, Washington
In any event, both our daughters' first love in gaming has remained D&D and powerful fantasy heroines and villainesses are still their favorite subjects for drawing. (They’ve drawn for hours every day since they could hold a crayon.) J’s favorite characters to play and draw (in no particular order) are barbarians, rangers, sorceresses and rogues. S said that her favorites are wizards, witches and mages which led to an argument about whether those three are all the same or not so you see, our daughters really are gamers! :) We're looking forward to seeing what they draw for you. I’ll scan it and send it along and we’ll go from there. If their art doesn’t fit with Prismatic Art, then perhaps we can collaborate on something else in the future.
Above all, please know that you have a family of supporters out here in the Pacific Northwest! You are an inspiration to our daughters and as parents of girls who are passionate about D&D, we wholeheartedly support your initiative!
All the best,
Both Charles and his wife Jung game with their daughters and they write about their experiences.
For those who missed Monday's announcement, I'm working on a new project, Prismatic Art Collection, with Daniel Solis. Our hope is to use Kickstarter to raise enough money to commission artists to create works of art that push the boundaries of what a fantasy hero is and can be. We want to pay the artists reasonable rates for the work and then turn the art over to the Creative Commons, using a license that allows the work to be used in personal as well as commercial projects.
Our hopes are the following:
- Artists will respond to the economic incentive to create inclusive fantasy artwork that can be used in role-playing games.
- Increase awareness of the diversity within the artist community with the hopes of getting artists from traditionally underrepresented groups more exposure.
- Publishers will have a list of artists eager to create this type of art.
- Publishers, blogs, and other efforts will have stock art images for women and people of color that aren't cheesecake or caricatures.
- The RPG fan community will have more art that they love and feel embraced by.
I came up with these goals after talking with people publicly and privately about this topic for going on three years now. I've listened to a lot of people from many different circles within the fantasy role-playing games community. Most people recognized the issues while a few served as stark examples of what the issues are. Some have told me for a while now to stop complaining and do something so with Daniel's help, that's what I'm trying to do.
Tackling the issue of lack of diversity in the art isn't that controversial. With more and more stories like the teenage girl who convinced EA Sports to include a female avatar in the NHL video game, the need for diversity and artwork becomes apparent. That doesn't include the large number of messages I get from parents who want game books they can share with their children, especially their daughters. While some people, including commenters on this site, will try to say that we can't change the art, the truth is they are just incorrect. Fantasy literature and tales appear across cultures, ethnicities, and genders. The hero's tale knows no limit. The only limit is our own desires and imaginations.
The other issue, the lack of diversity in the artists on projects, is much harder to tackle. There's no easy answer. The overall landscape is one that is tilted in a direction against diversity. There are lots of reasons for that, some understandable, some not. The problem could be approached in two ways, one excluding the other. I could make this project an example of egalitarian hiring and hope a diverse group of artists contact me, or I could say specifically that I'm interested in having a diverse group of artists working on this project. I went with the latter and I stand by that decision.
One of the issues with a general call to artists is that the artists I most want to work on this project will often self-select out of the project for a number of reasons.
- One reason for the lack of diversity is because parts of the community (and sometimes people who seem like leaders within it) tell them that they are not really wanted. I've lost count of the number of times I have been told that D&D is a game for men, particularly those of European descent, and that I should just accept that. These artists have been told that too. For many of them to respond to a call for artists, they need to know that it's ok, that this project is a safe space that embraces their ideas of what fantasy is and can be too.
- Another reason is a fear of a lack of talent. Now I realize this isn't just limited to these groups, but when combined with the above, it means it's harder for me to find and recruit a diverse artist pool. If I didn't put the limit on the first round, my notoriety would likely elicit a strong response from established artists, many of whom are white men. In fact, a fair number of these artists approached me individually to see if there was something they could do to help. Their gender isn't a problem, but I wouldn't be surprised if their responses made the people who are traditionally underrepresented feel like they were not good enough. I mean, it wouldn't be surprising for some of them to think if I get well-known artists wanting to do work for me, why would I want to work with someone lesser known. Even with wording it the way that I did, I had women reply with "well, I'm not really professional, I mean, I did some work for a few RPG books, but..." It's heart breaking and is a result of how we socialize women and think about their contributions to society. I want to change that.
- Without specifically noting my desire to hear from artists from those groups, people might not remember to recommend members of those groups or ask them to participate. I learned this lesson from the tech conference scene. We tend to think of our friends and the people who get the most attention first. I'll be honest, I have a pretty decent list of artists I could go to for this project already, but I really want this project to expand the diversity and knowledge of diversity not only in the art, but in the artist community as well.
- Many of the people in these groups have either been brought up that it's proper to wait to be asked or have heard no so often they are afraid to put themselves out again. Without knowing each individual artist, this was the best way for me to invite them in a way that was as clear as possible that I was interested in them.
These are the main reasons I made the decision I made. Another one is that I want this to be a safe space led by people we don't normally see in positions of leadership. I use the word "partnership" in describing the relationship with the community and the artists and I really mean that. This is going to be as much their project as it is Daniel's and mine. So while I decided to call specifically to certain groups during the initial call for artists, I'm not excluding anyone from the project, but diversity in the artist pool is going to be just as important to me as diversity in the art itself.
I created a twitter account for this project, @PrismaticArt. Feel free to follow it to stay up to date on news and announcements. I'm hard at work on getting the business backend set up as well as recruiting artists. More soon.
The kind folks over at i4e gave us some codes to giveaway to the fans of SarahDarkmagic.com and The Tome Show. The application runs on iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, allowing you to build your a character through the app (no DDI account needed) or upload your character builder files and view your character sheets on those devices. The app lets you track things like hit points and conditions at the table. They have a number of tutorials on their website.
- Multiple characters (never be without your favorite character again as long as you have your iPhone with you).
- Import characters from D&D Insider Character Builder .dnd4e files using the fully editable import site
- Easily enter and track hit points, healing surges, power points, temporary hit points, milestones, action points, and item usage.
- Track powers attack bonus, damage, and calculated critical damage.
- Track power usage (All types of powers, as well as ones that burn healing surges or return hit points from their usage).
- Easily accessible list of skills with the bonuses for your level and current ability scores.
- Track Conditions, treasure, and experience
So, how do you enter our contest? Thanks for asking! Between now and March 11th at 11:59 pm ET, answer the quiz questions below, enter your name and email address, and submit! We'll pick 4 lucky winners on or about March 12th. As a hint, the answer to question number 3 can be found over at The Tome Show website. Keep an eye out for more hints on Temporary Hit Points, my twitter account, @SarahDarkmagic, and Jeff's twitter account, @squach.
If the quiz doesn't load for you, you can also take it here: http://app.snapapp.com/tome_show_i4e_giveaway
A few weeks ago, Daniel Solis and I mentioned that we are working on a new Kickstarter project. We aren't quite ready to release all the details yet, but since it's an art project, we wanted to put out a call for artists now so we could have a list for the announcement. So, without further ado, here are the main details of the project.
Prismatic Art Collection is a free library of art representing heroes of all backgrounds.
In geek culture, there are plenty of Lukes, but not enough Landos or Leias. We want to change that. We'll be raising funds to hire female and ethnically diverse artists to create fantasy art depicting heroes of all backgrounds. Together, we want to make it easier for underrepresented artists to find work and for everyone to find more varied depictions of heroes. We want to pay the artists reasonable rates and release the art to the Creative Commons under the Attribution Share-Alike license.
All submissions will depict women, people of color, or differently abled people in fantasy heroic roles. No cheesecake, ethnic sidekicks, or caricatures, please. Just straight-up fantasy heroes in settings full of swords, dragons, dungeons, wizards, and the like.
If you're a female or ethnically diverse artist and are interested in this project, we want to hear from you. Please contact us at email@example.com. We're open to all styles of art, but we want professional-grade quality stuff. In all cases, accepted submissions will be released to the Creative Commons under an Attribution Share-Alike license.
If you're interested in supporting the project, keep an eye out for the upcoming Kickstarter. We have a twitter account for this project, @PrismaticArt
I've been struggling for a while to figure out how to write this post. While I'm someone who often requests that we talk about sex and sexuality openly and honestly, I'm still unsure of how to do that in a culture that might judge or silence me, especially given the lack of examples we have for such discussions. At the same time, I've found that it's getting increasingly difficult for me not to talk about it, particularly with the way some are misinterpreting the bits I do let out.
In researching this, I found an article that sums out a lot of how I feel about the topic, On Men's Sexualization in Video Games. That article has a great explanation of the trend that I often refer to as the "male gaze." In my discussions with friends, I realize the short phrase often gets misinterpreted so I hope to clear the air on that a bit. The "male gaze" is a label applied to media framed in a way that suggests that a male, more notably a hypothetical, stereotypical heterosexual male, is the viewer. Scenes are composed and framed to highlight those aspects that the composer believes men would find attractive and quite possibly finds attractive as well. Some, including friends, who have never heard of the term before and maybe haven't studied media or art, believe that by using that term that I am attempting to make a statement about men, heterosexual men, the actual viewers, or them as individuals where it's often the composer who is making those statements, not me.
For me, the issue isn't the existence of the "male gaze." I think there are contexts and environments where people can and should enjoy sexual imagery for its full on, unbridled sensualness and sexuality. I'm just not sure the base D&D game is one of those contexts. I know both opinions put me squarely against some groups, but, that's honestly how I feel. What often bothers me is how pervasive it is and, with the focus on that one point of view, how little we see other gazes in our media. The pervasiveness, in my opinion, is sexist, against all genders. It represses and overly simplifies the full complexity and nuances of human sexuality. It also normalizes one masculine viewpoint, allowing it to dominate above all others, feminine and masculine.
As a woman, I often feel oppressed under it. Its constant presence reinforces messages I get from many places that my worth is tied into my body and my looks and my ability to please men. Hell, the uncomfortable comments I get about this, the refrain that I should shut up and just accept it shows how ingrained this point of view is. Yes, I get mad that scenes depicting female pleasure or that use a female gaze are often left out of our culture, especially in games. That those perspectives are often seen as more "mature" than similar topics from the male gaze. Yes, I get mad that more often than not, the woman is presented as a sexual object to be consumed by the viewer. It's not political correctness, it's the breaking of suspension of disbelief since this is not how I see the world.
But I also get mad about what those images say about men. My husband is a wonderful, complex individual full of lots of emotions. Many of my male friends are that way as well. The constant messages they get from these images hurts them as well. They need to know that it's ok if they aren't always sexually available. That men aren't always attracted to women. They care about women as people, not just as a source of sex or as wombs. It's ok to turn down sex with a woman if you don't want to because a woman doesn't have to have sex to confirm her self-worth. It's ok to appreciate a woman's beauty, but women have more to offer than just that.
If we lived in a society where images that conformed to the "male gaze" were a small portion of the overall images, if they were just one thread in the rich tapestry of life, my message too, would probably seem more nuanced and broad. But that's not the world I feel I'm in. Instead, by seeking a more balanced portrayal of human sex and sexuality, I'm painted as a conservative who wants all women in burkas which is utter and complete bullshit. It's the sort of accusation made by people who are used to having their whims catered to and are afraid that perhaps that privilege will end.
So, how does this all relate to gaming and what would I change if I could? The first, is that I would argue that there are contexts within gaming, even a game such as D&D. I've read some of the Forgotten Realms novels. In my experience, there is a diverse array of groups, including some who seek healing and divine guidance through the flesh while others are a bit more chaste. This is great. By including the latter group in your game, you're making it clear that sexuality may be a topic in your game. Players can know in advance, boundaries can be set, and we can have informed consent before the first die roll. By setting the game in a place where sexism exists or by having a character from such an area, you are signifying those topics are something you are interested in exploring.
But, I don't think by sitting down to a D&D game in general that I'm agreeing to cover adult themes such as sexism, sexuality, and pregnancy. It might be a fun mental exercise for a person who hasn't experienced sexism to want to play through a sexist society, but, honestly, I have enough of that crap in my real life that I want my gaming to be an escape from that. I don't want the general, the statistical, to inform what my character may or may not do or attain. In a world with magic, we should just have reliable birth control, for men and women, and allow players to decide if they don't want it or if pregnancy and father- or motherhood is something they want to explore without forcing them to keep chaste. I want a world where men and women are equal and can attain the same goals. Make half the guards women and make half the healers men, or at the very least, don't make it a deal when characters break out of the gender roles that confine us in the real world.
But most of all, let's create a richer tapestry full of different portrayals of sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, and depictions of the masculine and the feminine. Let's provide easy ways for DMs to make clear that they want to include those subjects in their games, at their home tables, and for players to provide consent to those topics and set boundaries. Let's understand that what is considered normal might not be normal for everyone and that we leave out so much when we concentrate and emphasize images that fit under the "male gaze." Most importantly, let's talk about the issue.
- She's a warrior, doing warrior things. Sometimes the warrior thing to do is wait out a barrage of arrows under your shield. If it was good enough for King Leonidas and his men in 300, it's good enough for the Queen of the Amazons.
- The javelin through the shield makes the piece. Without it, I'm scared for her, but not too much so since her shield seems to handle the arrows fairly well. With the javelin through the shield, I'm afraid for her life and whether or not she'll make it out of battle. This fear is heightened by the dead bodies around her.
- The blood on her spear shows that she's probably killed already in this battle. She isn't there merely for show.
- The smoke from the fire in the background adds to the feeling of uncertainty and grimness.
Old Woman vs Demon BW
- I've seen depictions of older men fighting, but rarely do I see one of an older woman. I love how this drawing breaks the mold in that area.
- I also love the Japanese feel I get from the artwork. I'm not quite sure if that's the style the artist intended, but the swirling clouds and the characters remind me of that country.
As Old as Your Fears
- This is another example of a story in a painting which will often get a +1 from me. But in this example, it's a story that often is heavily tied to women. With our culture's emphasis on women's beauty, and the belief it fades with time, women often feel the pressure of time in a way that I feel that men do not. I've also felt the loss that we seem to forget about women in the middle of their lives, although that is changing too.
- I love the symbols used in the work. The watch carried by the crow, representing the in my mind the feeling that time is often stolen from us or at least always fleeting. The dog, to me, means she's not friendless but yet her presence in the woods makes her seem all alone.
- The work has a fairy tale feel to it that I love, especially the mirror in the woods and the darkness of the location.
- Dragons! Not just a big, mean dragon, but a baby dragon learning to fly from a parent. What a cute and wonderful story. I wonder what would happen if some adventurers stumbled into this moment.
- Not only is it a cool snapshot into the life of a dragon, it gives some depth the creatures, something that I feel is missing in a lot of D&D. I understand the pressures that word count and space have on the game, especially in the monster manuals, but if we want to tell fuller stories, ones where the PCs don't always murder everything in sight, the monsters need to have a little more something to them then a desire to kill all that is good and yummy.
- Since it's a frequently asked question, yes, I know about the Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor Tumblr. It's a great site and I sometimes add artwork from my Pinterest from there.
- After my last post, someone left a comment pointing out issues about the artwork and putting down my desire to not critique the art. I understand his points but critique is not the point of these posts. If people want to critique or say negative things about the art, they can do it elsewhere as that's outside the bounds of these discussions.