Sarah Darkmagic's blog


Stop FOSTA-SESTA (and Protect Sex Workers and Freedom of Speech)

"Rook," © 2012 Jared von Hindman, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/"Rook," © 2012 Jared von Hindman, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Today I want to talk about the evils of FOSTA-SESTA. I understand it may seem strange for a blog focused on RPGs to cover US legislation that claims to be about stopping sex trafficking but there are a few reasons I feel it's important to talk about this issue on any platform I can.

  • Tabletop RPGs have a history of including sex work and sex workers within games and people who are also sex workers are part of our larger community.
  • While sex workers currently are bearing the brunt of this law, it has wider implications that should be of concern for all of us.
  • The conflation of consensual sex work and non-consensual sex trafficking is an issue for everyone but particularly folks from marginalized backgrounds as is the focus on sex trafficking while ignoring that it is not the majority of human trafficking cases.

So, first, what is FOSTA-SESTA? FOSTA is short for “Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act" and SESTA stands for the "Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act." They are both named in such a way that makes it harder for folks to be against them. Who wouldn't want to stop Sex Traffickers?

But the problem is that it's completely unclear if either set of provisions would actually limit sex trafficking and is completely clear that both bills will curtail consensual sex work. How?

One example is that FOSTA. Until this bill, sites like Backpage were able to host advertisements because the Communications Decency Act didn't hold web site owners liable for content created by their users (speaking in broad terms). So if a person used a "classifieds" section of a website to advertise their services, the site itself was not liable. FOSTA, however, argues that the Communications Decency Act “was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution.” And while that sentence claims unlawfully, the actual passage doesn't even distinguish that:

Whoever, using a facility or means of interstate or foreign commerce or in or affecting interstate or foreign commerce, owns, manages, or operates an interactive computer service (as such term is defined in defined in section 230(f) the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 230(f))), or conspires3 or attempts to do so, with the intent to promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person shall be fined under this title, imprisoned for not more than 10 years, or both.

As a result of that change, along with other aspects of the bills, we've already seen a rapid change in sites. Craigslist pulled their personals section, replacing it with the following note:

US Congress just passed HR 1865, "FOSTA", seeking to subject websites to criminal and civil liability when third parties (users) misuse online personals unlawfully.

Any tool or service can be misused. We can't take such risk without jeopardizing all our other services, so we are regretfully taking craigslist personals offline. Hopefully we can bring them back some day.

To the millions of spouses, partners, and couples who met through craigslist, we wish you every happiness!

Reddit banned a number of forum types including paid services involving physical sexual contact. Some services appear to be closing accounts based on content including Twitter, Instagram, Wordpress, Google, and Skype. A number of sites also just flat shut down including Backpage, The Erotic Review, CityMove.

I hope it's clear about the censorship ramifications of these bills, but I'd like to go a step further and talk about the impact on sex workers. As it is, due to the combination of laws and societal attitudes towards sex work, sex workers are among the least protected workers in our country. Sex work is work and it's often the only work available to some folks as a result of other systemic oppression and lack of resources. I don't say that to paint all sex workers as victims, because that is simply not true and people should be able to decide to be a sex worker, just as folks pick any other career out there.

Additionally, even in the US, not all sex work is illegal and even prostitution isn't illegal in all areas of the country. This is important to remember because too often I hear folks who try to wave these issues away by saying that's what criminals get. In addition, even if it was a crime, that doesn't mean that they deserve everything that happens as a result. Many people take advantage of sex workers because of the stigma and, in some cases, the legal or quasi-legal nature of the situation. This is one of the main reasons why, if we actually wanted to do something about sex trafficking, decriminalization of sex work would likely lead to better results.

But if we're unwilling to do that, removing the tools that sex workers were using to protect themselves and to find clients seems cruel at best, especially when no alternatives are given. For instance, a recent study suggested that Craigslist ads may have reduced female homicide rates by 17 percent. In addition, by further forcing sex trafficking underground, it will become harder to find victims as well as increase the stigma they will face as a survivor.

Sex workers are workers, are people, and are members of our community. We need to stand with them against laws like FOSTA-SESTA.

Way smarter people to listen to (note, some links may contain nudity):

Organizations:

Additional Resources:

Who makes maps and why it's important

Ebstorf MapEbstorf Map
I recently came across this story, "Who Maps the World?" It discusses the importance of who makes the maps in terms of not only if maps are made or not but also what is added to the map. For instance, when we look at maps of the world, there's a bias towards creating and updating maps in areas with more wealth, referenced in the article as "the Starbucks test."

But there's also a bias towards places that are either considered to be genderless or masculine, such as the aforementioned Starbucks as well as sports arenas, strip clubs, and bars, and a dearth of tags and mapping of places that tend to be considered feminine, such as "childcare centers, health clinics, abortion clinics, and specialty clinics that deal with women’s health." For example,

In 2011, the OSM community rejected an appeal to add the “childcare” tag at all. It was finally approved in 2013, and in the time since, it’s been used more than 12,000 times.

Doctors have been tagged more than 80,000 times, while healthcare facilities that specialize in abortion have been tagged only 10; gynecology, near 1,500; midwife, 233, fertility clinics, none. Only one building has been tagged as a domestic violence facility, and 15 as a gender-based violence facility. That’s not because these facilities don’t exist—it’s because the men mapping them don’t know they do, or don’t care enough to notice.

The article also points out other types of data that tend to be part of maps worked on by women compared to other genders. They are more likely to point out safe and unsafe areas, know where certain types of services are available, such as health clinics, and even where children tend to play. In other words, maps worked on by women tend to have a different focus and, in some ways, a richer data set.

Wage Map by Florence KelleyWage Map by Florence Kelley
So why bring this up in a D&D blog? Well, maps are a common feature not only of individual adventures but also large world-building source books. While it's common to think of them as "unbiased," are they? If they do have bias, what bias might they have? Also, as we see a resurgence of "biased" texts, such as having entire supplements from the point of view of a particular character of the world, might it not make sense to have biased maps?

So here are some quick ideas using the article as a starting point:

  • Have game world maps and/or directory of services be from a particular cartographer or editor and available as handouts to the players. The points of view of the characters can add richness to the world and suggest that there may be more for the players to uncover.
  • When coming up with points of interest, consider what is of interest to various groups? This could be as simple as looking at the types of places discussed in the article as being more likely to be of interest to women. It also could mean thinking about what a giant would look for in terms of accommodations versus say a pixie.
  • Using something like tracing paper or transparencies might help building layers.
  • If the characters tend to be in the same locale, suggest that the characters could keep a map of important events that have happened to them in that area. This could be similar to the location building that is used in games such as Dresden Files RPG.

Interested in learning about some of the women who have shaped our view of the world? Here's a great starting point of women cartographers.

Understanding the Racism Implicit in the Comics Code

Recently I shared this post on Facebook. In it, the author explains the absence of black comic book characters before Black Panther. In particular, the role the Comics Code Authority played in banning Black superheroes.

A friend of mine posted this and a response on that post took umbrage with the assertion that black superheroes were censored and banned from comics.

You see, Black Panther premiered in comics in 1966 and was the first Black superhero in mainstream US comics. Prior to Black Panther, Black superheroes were largely banned and censored from US comics by the industry’s governing body, the Comic Code Authority (CCA). It’s not that there wasn’t interest or a market for Black heroes; it’s that they weren’t even allowed to be published and distributed in the first place.

The person's argument was that since the Comics Code didn't literally ban black superheroes, the statement is incorrect. However, such an argument is overly narrow and ignores the cumulative effects of the code and the context of the society at the time. Often this can be explained by understanding the difference between "de jure" discrimination and "de facto" discrimination.

In "de jure" discrimination, the law or regulation literally and explicitly discriminates against a group. A textbook example would be Jim Crow laws that discriminated explicitly against people of color. (In this case, the Comics Code Authority was a voluntary industry regulatory body. While it did not have the force of law, it had a fair bit of power and clout in the industry and many distributors would not carry titles that did not have its stamp of approval.)

Since the Comics Code does not mention skin color, it is not an example of de jure discrimination. It's not particularly surprising that the code didn't explicitly include racial discrimination, especially since the civil rights movement gained a major victory in the same year the authority started, 1954.

However, I'd argue that it was an example of de facto discrimination against people of color, as evidenced in the story surrounding the publication of "Judgement Day" by Entertainment Comics (EC) in 1956.

[A] human astronaut visits another planet and comes to learn that its robot inhabitants live under a rigid racial-caste system. In the final pane of that comic, the astronaut removes his helmet, and the reader finds out that the astronaut is black.

According to the story, Judge Charles Murphy refused to approve the comic if the astronaut was black. There was no way to appeal his decision and not getting his approval meant that the comic would not be carried by a number of distributors and, thus, the ability to earn money (sort of a requirement in a capitalist system) would be incredibly limited. Since the demand from Judge Murphy was not covered by the code, they attempted to argue with him. He eventually said he would approve it if they removed the sweat from the face of the black astronaut. (Note: While this is a common explanation of what happened, other explanations exist.)

EC eventually published without revisions but they also went out of business soon afterward. According to other stories, Judge Murphy specifically wanted them to go out of business and reviewed every submission from them himself.

So how does this request to change the race of the astronaut from black result in the argument that the CCA banned black superheroes? Well first, here Judge Murphy specifically attempts to prevent the publication of a black hero. He wants the race changed. In addition to this rather explicit attempt, it has a chilling effect on others attempting to publish black heroes. Especially when you consider the types of evil many superheroes were attempting to fight at the time. Fighting back against oppression was important for many creators at the time, especially in the postwar era.

But there are also elements of the code that made it even more difficult to have black superheroes at the time. As the Civil Rights Movement was gaining momentum in their fight against oppression and particularly discriminatory laws and police, the code required "[p]olicemen, judges, Government officials and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority." Likewise, at a time when activities of people of color were being criminalized without cause, the code required "[c]rimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal, to promote distrust of the forces of law and justice, or to inspire others with a desire to imitate criminals." Remember, at the time the code was created, lunch counter sit-ins were considered crimes. These aren't the only items in the code that have effects on stories of marginalized folks, particularly blacks.

So the end result of the way the CCA used its authority combined with the practical reality of many parts of the code themselves, means that many black heroes and stories would likely not pass muster. The actual result is that black heroes (among other things) were banned and censored by the CCA. Trying to make the distinction between whether the code was supposed to lead to this outcome or not is irrelevant since the outcome is more important than the intent.

Additional info:

Crafting Wilderness Maps

As you might remember from my much earlier article about creating homemade dungeon tiles, I love to find ways to combine art playtime with gaming. Over the past couple of years, I've been spending a bunch of time watching papercraft and art journal YouTube videos and recently had the time and supplies to try out something new, papercraft wilderness maps.

D&D wilderness maps tend to be hex based instead of the squares typically used for dungeon/battle maps. Hex maps have a long history in war games as well as a number of board games and computer/video games.

I had been trying to figure out a way to create hex maps using some of the mixed media techniques I learned. Recently I've been able to dig out my Gelli Plate for the first time and I had a bit of a eureka moment. For those who are unfamiliar, Gelli Plates are a gel printing surface used to create monoprints, essentially one time prints. Every print from the plate will be unique. While a variety of media can be used on the plates, I've been using craft acrylic paint. You can also use a wide variety of print surfaces.

The key about Gelli plate based monoprinting is creating layers. In its simplest form, this is done by applying thin coats of paint to the surface of the plate and then putting down the surface to be printed. The paint will transfer from the plate to the paper. While this will provide some visual texture, there are other ways to add texture including using soft tools to make marks in the paint, or as you'll see in the examples, using stencils.

One of the reasons I decided to use this particular technique is that the variances in the print can provide visual interest while reducing the possibility of overthinking things or seeking perfection. Most of the time the plate is a rather blunt instrument.

For this example, I decided to use the pages from a law textbook a neighbor threw away. I decided to create green (for forest), blue (for water), and yellow (for developed land).

I used stencils to provide some patterns on the pages, doing two presses per stencil use. The first press got the paint not covered by the stencil. After removing the stencil, I took a second print which got everything left behind. Here's an example of both pulls on the same piece of tissue paper.

The printing process took about half an hour. I then let them dry. The next day I had some time to test out cutting the hexes. It's possible to cut them out using scissors after drawing a grid, but I recently got a craft die cutting machine and wanted to test it out. I bought a hex die (affiliate link) that fit the machine and cut the pages down to size. Here are some example hexes I cut out:

The top image in the collage are the hexes cut out of the monoprint examples. Notice how some of the text still shows through and the variations in the color, whether through variations in coverage or through the application of the stencil, produce some visual interest. However, given how lightweight the paper is, I might suggest adhering the paper to something thicker before cutting out or cutting out and then gluing down to a thicker medium. I also give some examples of using card stock (in this case, just manilla) and foam sheets (the material I used in the original homemade dungeon tiles post).

In this case, the die is a 1/2 inch one, the smallest I could find during my quick search. However, they do make larger ones. I saw 3/4 inch, 1 inch, and 2 1/4 inch. It looks like they are commonly used by quilters.

One thing to note is that I just did this particular round of examples as a test of how it might come out. This means I didn't concentrate too much on how to make a more "natural" map. So each hex is only one color. In the future I'd love to explore how to do hexes where the colors meet within the hex. I'm also interested in looking into how I can use some of my other dies to perhaps mimic that by cutting the hexes into smaller pieces but not in a straight line.

If you're interested in trying this out but don't have the supplies, talk to your friends to see who likes to scrapbook, quilt, art journal, create mixed media, or create cards. They may have a die cutting machine such as a Sizzix BigShot (what I used) and/or the Gelli Plate. Who knows, if they don't already play, you might be able to convince them to experience the map you create first hand, as a player.

More Like This: The Hidden Halls of Hazakor

I recently backed the Kickstarter campaign, The Hidden Halls of Hazakor, and had the opportunity to interview the designer behind the adventure. I'm enjoying the previews thus far and wanted to share with all of you. At the moment, the campaign has 5 days to go and is almost 95% funded.

What is The Hidden Halls of Hazakor?

This is a starter adventure for fifth edition Dungeons & Dragons, covering a lot of the same “beginner Dungeon Master” ground as most starter adventures do. But it’s also written specifically with a focus on young beginner Dungeon Masters (an age-12-and-up kind of thing), with the intent of helping those young DMs not got overwhelmed by the experience of running their first games.

Why did you pick 5e D&D?

I went with D&D partly because it’s my go-to game for both work and play. But also partly because as a ruleset, I think 5e has a pretty solid foundation of being welcoming to new players. I love a lot of other games as much as I love 5e, but as part of the idea of doing an adventure to help get young DMs and young players into the game, one wants those DMs and players to then be able to easily keep going with the game. I find that fifth edition has a pretty optimal sense of being self-contained and approachable, and I think that makes it a good fit for younger players.

Why concentrate on writing an adventure for young DMs?

When I first wrote the adventure that has since morphed into “Hidden Halls of Hazakor,” I did it for the RPG club I was running at my daughters’ middle school a few years back. So at the time, it was a reaction to seeing kids in the club trying their hand at running games for the first time. I saw a lot of the same sorts of problems, and the same sorts of questions coming up — but I also saw pretty much every kid dealing with the same general anxiety about how running a game should feel, and how to keep the other players entertained, and what to do if things went off the rails. I remembered how those were all the same uncertainties I experienced when I ran my first D&D games, so I put the initial version of the adventure together quickly as a response to that. I wanted something that would be easy for a first-time DM to get a handle on, and that could incorporate advice for dealing with the broad range of issues that the young DMs in the club were dealing with.

What are some of the areas you want to concentrate on for new DMs?

In a general sense, I wanted to front-load an adventure with as much of the information and tips that come from the experience of running games as I could. So much of being a good DM comes down to the experience of having run games. It’s very much a learn-by-doing scenario on many levels. And that’s daunting enough when you’re a teenager (as I was when I first started gaming) or even as an adult. But when you’re a kid of a certain age, it can be downright scary to suddenly find yourself in a position when you’re responsible for making sure four other people are having fun for three hours a week. And judging from my own experience, at least, that fear can get downright existential when you’re a kid coming from that feeling-like-an-outsider/not-really-that-confident mindset that draws a lot of us into gaming in the first place.

So “Hazakor” first and foremost tries to provide an adventure framework that’s relatively straightforward — a good old-fashioned dungeon crawl. Then as that adventure unfolds and things happen, the book explains to the young DM “Here’s how to think about what’s happening.” Talking about different ways to improvise comes up a lot, both in the performance sense of playing NPCs and the more esoteric sense of dealing with the players doing things that are unexpected. Because for a lot of DMs (first-time or otherwise), that remains the hardest thing to get a handle on. And that sense of how to deal with things changing in mid-game extends into a lot of the specific advice any DM can get or give, from thinking about how the environment can alter the conditions of combat, to how to deal with players intentionally trying to wreck the fun for other people, to how to deal with characters dying.

Halls of Hazakor SketchesHalls of Hazakor Sketches

I love the artwork you've released so far for the game, but I may have noticed a theme with it. Want to talk about your philosophy behind the art?

Thank you, and you’re in good company. There’s been a ton of positive feedback about the project so far, and pretty much everyone who’s commented leads off by talking about how much they love Jackie Musto’s illustrations. The underlying idea for the art was first and foremost to provide the main entry point to making running a game feel accessible for a young DM, and to make the adventure feel as welcoming as possible. There’s a fair bit of humor in the adventure, and I approached Jackie initially on the basis of knowing that her style would really suit that tone. I wanted the characters to look young because I wanted young DMs and players to be able to feel a sense of connection to them. And I wanted them to represent a balanced mix of genders and a broad range of ethnicities and cultures because that’s what I want to see in the fantasy I play and read. And though I certainly expected that Jackie would be on board with that, I couldn’t have predicted how amazingly her art would bring all those different parameters to life.

I’m extremely privileged, both in a general socio-cultural sense and in the more specific sense of being a person who gets to work in tabletop games and in fantasy fiction for a living. And I’m finding that the older I get, the less patience I have with fantasy that refuses to break out of the faux-European-Medieval tropes that have driven the genre for way too long. Now, I’m not saying that there isn’t a lot of amazing non-Eurocentric fantasy out there, because that clearly isn’t the case. But I think that fantasy in general, and gaming in particular, has a real “fallback position” problem, wherein our first instinct as readers, as players, and as creators is to think about fantasy in terms of the fantasy we already know. And there’s an undeniable bit of a white-male feedback loop in the fantasy that many of us already know, and I’d really like to see that broken.

Where can people find out more about The Hidden Halls of Hazakor?

The Kickstarter campaign page has pretty much all the info on the project, its background, and the questions people have been asking about it. And for anybody who wants any more information, I’m on Facebook and Twitter pretty much anytime.

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

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