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More Like This Please: Swordsfall and Welcome to Tikor

Swordsfall is an Afropunk Sci-Fantasy setting and future tabletop roleplaying game. It's a world where gods and spirits are real, where mortals can kill a god and the aftermath has world changing consequences.

The action takes place on the world of Tikor, which is heavily influenced by and pulled from the rich and diverse pre-colonial history of Africa. For those who would love to learn more about the world, there are pages upon pages of content on WorldAnvil discussing and detailing it, sometimes in the form of knowledge articles and other times through fiction. The world comes alive through the words and artwork. Currently, there are more than 100 posts and the creation of the lore is supported through the Swordsfall Patreon.

If you are interested in learning more and especially if, like me, you might need a bit more of a clear introduction to the world (it's not easy to read websites with a toddler about), you might be interested in the Welcome to Tikor Kickstarter. The project aims to provide a setting and art book about the world, get a bunch of amazing art produced for this project and future use in the role playing game, and be a springboard for exploration into the world.

Since the project is already at almost $28k, backers will likely get at least 3 pdfs: the setting and art book, a book detailing the 34 professions, the pantheon, and a comic about the pirate Nubia. The lore is from Brandon Dixon. In addition, there will be art from T'umo Mere and Sabina Lewis, and pins from Taylor Ruddle. If additional goals are met, we'll also get art from Jonah Lobe and an additional book, this time on the creatures of Tikor.

For me, this project is important not only because representation matters, but also to undo some of the harm done by colonialism. We need to see this art and explore this lore. With so many ways to support this project (the Kickstarter, the Patreon, and by reading and sharing content from World Anvil), perhaps we can bring more light to the world. I love what I have read and seen thus far, and can't wait to see more.

The Autopsy Scene (Captain Marvel Spoilers)

Just to be clear, I'll be talking about some spoilers for the Captain Marvel movie as well as topics of dehumanization and the overemphasis on genitals.

This past Sunday, I was fortunate enough to go and see Captain Marvel in the theater. I think it's the first movie I've been able to see opening weekend since my child was born. And there was a lot that I loved about the movie.

I had tried to keep reading about spoilers to a minimum before seeing it, but there was one scene I knew was present in the movie. Because the person didn't want to get too specific about it, I knew that someone at some point "peeked" at someone's genitals. That general information and an understanding of how upsetting that can be to some, especially given the history of treatment of trans folks, was about all I knew going in.

For those who haven't seen the movie, and yes, let me remind again, spoiler alert, some folks learn for the first time about the existence of extraterrestrials, notably Fury. He learns this after a Skrull who had been impersonating his partner is killed and reverts form. We see him and his boss in the autopsy room discussing this new information and Fury at one point lifts the sheet to not only look at the alien's genital area (or at least assumed to be the genital area) but to share with his boss the looking at that area.

Most people have reported that at this point the audience laughs.

Ouch.

Part of the issue is that for many trans folks, this is pretty much a nightmare. People's emphasis and curiosity about "plumbing" cause many, many issues. And hearing people laugh at this makes it hurt even more. I want to say that the upset and pain experienced from that scene is valid and real.

I also want to talk about something I saw that I haven't heard discussed (although I admit to not looking too hard to see if anyone had.) I bring it up because I think it underscores how "dehumanizing" the lifting of the cover was. (Yes, I'm also at a loss for the correct terms to use for this since technically the Skrull aren't humans.)

At the moment Fury lifts the cover, we do not yet know that his boss is actually a Skrull in disguise. When we react to that scene the first time, we do so believing that this is about two humans checking out a dead alien's "junk."

However, it is soon revealed to us that what we thought we saw isn't reality since as soon as Fury leaves the room, we find out the boss isn't human after all. We know this because he begins to mourn the fallen alien. Not only does this rehumanize the dead Skrull but allows us to find out that the boss is an imposter as well.

This stood out to me in the theater because it undercut whatever had been built up in the "bonding" moment. It's something that happens to us any day, no? You go around with this assumption that you can guess or assume a lot about another person and then you find out that your assumptions are not only wrong but inconsiderate and callous. And it's not just the bad guys that do it but our heroes as well.

We just watched someone have to "be polite" in an incredibly traumatic and hurtful situation and the film didn't even clue us in before it happened, and thus, we have to live with our individual and collective actions to it.

At least that's what I took away from it. It clearly still centers on cis folks and it seems fundamentally unfair that a film that attempts to be conscious of the effects and history of gender didn't take more care with this. But if it's going to do that anyway, hopefully some folks can take from it an important lesson.

What are your pronouns?

Maybe you have seen them in someone’s social media profile. Or on a ribbon someone had attached to their badge at a recent convention. Displaying one’s pronouns is getting rather common and for good reason, it subtly reinforces that we might not want to always assume that we know a person’s gender just from what we (think we) perceive.

Why are so many folks doing it? Part of it is that if only trans folks make their pronouns clear, it subtly (or not so subtly) signals that they are different, because they are being asked to do something that cis folks don’t generally need to do. It also reinforces a general lack of care about pronouns and may even reinforce a belief that folks will always be able to tell gender by appearances.

And so folks of all genders (or no gender at all) began publishing their pronouns in their bios and wearing them proudly with ribbons.

This general acceptance (although by no means universal) got me thinking recently, however, as I was reading through an adventure. I was struck by how odd it felt to read "female human commoner" in regard to an NPC. Clearly this is not the first time I had come across such a phrase because it is a very common way to denote NPCs. But it made a thought start to scratch at the back of my brain and a few different thoughts started to form.

I can understand why the term female is used there, but it seems sort of clinical and makes my skin crawl. On one hand, pointing out gender is super important, especially for folks used to a society a defaults to men in many cases. On the other, it reminds me of TERFs and discussions of gender versus sex and other things that can have harmful implications, especially for folks who aren’t cis.

And this super reminds me of a time during the development of 5e when they were trying to figure out how to make it clear that the D&D world isn’t just full of white folks, without making it similarly clinical and about skin tones. What they decided to do was to make cultures of the D&D world have different skin tones and suggest through the cultural name what people looked like. This lead to the development of a world bible that demonstrated the differences between groups, including skin tone.

Which leads me to wonder if it wouldn’t help to put in pronouns, either in addition to or instead of gender. So human commoner (she/her). Or halfling rogue (they/them). Granted, pronouns aren’t the same as gender. For instance, some folks who are non-binary may still prefer pronouns that are often coded as gendered. But using a range of pronouns would reinforce the diversity of the world (which I would contend is the main use for using male/female). It would further normalize stating one’s pronouns. And it would also allow for a greater range of genders since we wouldn’t be limited to just female/male.

Also, if this post got you thinking about pronouns and, in particular, pronoun ribbons and you want to know more, I highly suggest visiting http://www.pronounribbons.org/.

Steal This: Roman Transport of Live Fish?

A vivarium is an area intended to keep and raise animals or plants in a seminatural state. A common example of a modern vivarium is an aquarium or a terrarium but there are notable examples of aquatic vivaria extending back thousands of years. A number of societies have been known for fish keeping including the Chinese, Egyptians, Hawaiians, Romans, Japanese, and medieval Europeans.

For some, the primary reason for fish keeping was to keep fish fresh for dietary consumption while also showing off one’s wealth. For others, they were able to breed and raise fish. And some kept them for ornamental reasons or for their ability to help process waste.

Most ornamental displays involved fish ponds or opaque tanks in the ground which had to be continuously supplied with fresh or running water. They didn’t know it at the time, but this addition of new water helped keep the oxygen and other gas levels in a healthy range for keeping fish and likely also helped get rid of waste products such as ammonia, nitrite, and nitrate. While they didn’t understand the reasons why adding new water helped, they knew it was important.

Which brings us to an interesting discovery made at the Grado Roman shipwreck site. Researchers found a lead pipe in the shipwreck with holes in it that could have been connected to a pump. This could have brought fresh seawater via the pump into an aquarium within the vessel and keep the fish therein supplied with fresh seawater.

What’s more, contemporary writers report that live fish were in fact moved during this period including a report by Pliny the Elder of live parrotfish being moved around. Now, there is no evidence of the proposed pump or of an aquarium on board.

So, how are some ways we could use this in our games?

  • During a voyage on a vessel, particularly a fishing or merchant vessel, the pump or other element breaks and the crew faces the possibility of a complete loss of inventory.
  • During a voyage, the crew lose a few too many people and there aren’t enough folks to sail the ship and keep the pump going. Can an artificer or tinkerer find a way to keep the pump going without a person to hand pump?
  • A rich noble, wizened wizard, or even one of the PCs wants to bring back a interesting and exotic aquatic specimen and wants a way to keep it alive in transport. Bonus points if this specimen requires a diving deep into the unknown and may be connected to the Old Ones.
  • The PCs catch a ride on a ship that, unbeknownst to them, is transporting a danger creature in its onboard aquarium.

Some further reading:

Image from the book Aquatic Life by Joseph E Bausman and uploaded to Flickr by Internet Archive Book Images.

More Like This Please: The Ring of the Battle Maiden

Recently the DMs Guild offered a number of bundles to raise money for RAINN. I bought all of the bundles and started going through the content offered. One of the first items to stand out to me is an introductory adventure called The Ring of the Battle Maiden by Ashley Warren. It’s a 5e adventure for 2-6 first level characters set in the Moonshae Isles.

This isn’t a review exactly but my response to reading through the adventure. It will contain spoilers about the adventure.

At a high level, it’s a rather straightforward adventure. Ashley provides a number of adventure hooks to give ideas on how to get the player characters interested the ring of the battle maiden, a reference to the famed battle maiden Dagmar the Unyielding, and currently protected by the Daughters of the Gray. As the adventure points out pretty quickly, the ring isn’t an ornament to be worn on a finger but rather an arena for combat and proving one’s worth. The ring is located on the northern coast of Norland and so options for travel to the location are also provided.

So, at its core it’s a tournament adventure complete with bracket and some additional opponents. That’s not typically my style but there are a lot of items within the adventure that I really love.

Most obviously, it’s full of female characters. I only noticed one character that is described with male pronouns, and that was in one of the adventure hooks. Ashley writes at the end of the module that she wanted a female-dominated adventure because why not? Which I happen to think is pretty awesome.

To get a full understanding of what I mean when I say it’s full of female characters, here is a list of said characters:

Non-player characters:

  • Dagmar the Unyielding
  • Baron Hossenfeffer
  • Helmi
  • Korina Kodex
  • Tora Hrafnkelsdottir
  • Sarya Skaya
  • Gunnar
  • Korja Kodex
  • Noel
  • Freya
  • Honey
  • Petra
  • Ayla
  • Marya
  • Gritte
  • Kas the Cutthroat
  • Ariadne the Demondancer
  • Eliana the Keen-Eyed
  • Baywar the Stormbringer
  • Fela the Fiery
  • Mazoga the Doomslayer

That’s 21 named NPCs, at least 19 of which are women.

For the monsters, we have:

  • harpy
  • troll

Harpies are female by definition in D&D. The gender of the troll is unknown.

And for the gods, we have:

  • Umberlee
  • Selûne

What’s interesting to me about this module is that nothing about it is stereotypically gendered. There’s a diverse number of women and even their depictions in the art are fairly diverse. The adventure itself could easily also be full of men, but it just happens to be full of women this time. Given the sheer number of women, the sheer number of roles that women fulfill in the story, etc, we’re not risking reinforcing most stereotypes about women.

In fact, the strongest argument along those veins that I could see, is the common complaint that women have to be "like men" in order to be seen as strong. But even there, I’m not sure the module falls completely in that trap. For instance, Freya and Honey are also there in town and are not directly part of the tournaments. It’s unclear that Freya is a Daughter. And to be a Daughter, one just needs to prove bravery, not necessarily martial strength.

Another thing I enjoy about the way it is written is that while the ring is intended to test folks so that they can see what they are made of, it’s also a nurturing and supportive community where folks give to each other what they can and try to make it as safe as possible for that exploration of self.

I also super enjoyed the song list and other advice given to run the adventure. And, the art. Let’s talk about the art.

There are 14 different depictions of women in the 24 pages of the pdf. Let that sink in for a moment. We get a fairly awesome cover.

The Ring of the Battle Maiden CoverThe Ring of the Battle Maiden Cover

Ok, so this might take a moment to explain and why this is not a review, but my reaction to the adventure. Yes, I noticed what could be called the "panty shot," the uncovered hip and thighs, and what reminds me of garter belts. Yes, the cover made me nervous about the rest of the content since it’s the first adventure I read from this author.

I sat with those reactions for a moment and then also noticed the abstraction to the art, the amount of muscle, and the fact that her face is determined and fierce. I also went through the rest of the art. While Ashley calls the adventure campy, it doesn’t feel exploitative to me and just seems comfortable and fun.

The cover wasn’t the only piece I enjoyed. In particular, I’d like to call attention to the Kas the Cutthroat.

Kas the CutthroatKas the Cutthroat

Finally, sitting back and taking a look at the adventure as a whole (which I get is short and intended to be simple), I love the fact that Daughters can be of any gender but the terminology centers on women and that by using it as an introductory adventure, the players will start out with a strong group of women that they can potentially ally with throughout the Realms.

The only thing I might say that is more critical is that some of the read aloud text is fairly long so DMs might want to consider how they want to handle those. I only bring it up because I get super self-conscious when I speak for too long, especially when it’s due to read aloud text. But that is the smallest of issues and is a matter of opinion and style.

I highly suggest checking out the adventure and keeping it ready to run whenever you want something simple and straightforward for folks to check out. You can find it here (affiliate link).

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

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