Sarah Darkmagic's blog


Sunlight is the Best Disinfectant (NSFW)

Content Note: Rape, Sexual Assault

“Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.” - Justice Louis D. Brandeis

Recently a product was added to DriveThruRPG that has caused quite a bit of controversy. The pdf, "The Tournament of Rapists," claims to detail a group of sexual predators who all participate in contest (with a multi-billion yen fight purse) in which they kill and rape to win.

The Tournament of Rapists details the sadistic Rape Pure Fight circuit, expanding on what you've seen already and introducing dangerous new sexual predators. The sadistic bloodsport takes place in abandoned office buildings and atop Tokyo rooftops. An assortment of superhumanly powerful and inhumanly misogynistic men, and even worse women, step into impromptu fighting arenas, killing and raping the weaker in search of a multi-billion yen fight purse provided by a half-oni billionaire in thrall to dark impulses.

I'm not going to sugarcoat things. This is horrendous in and of itself, and people were right to complain about it, especially when it originally was added to the store with the Pathfinder flag set even though it violates the Pathfinder guidelines. However, as is often the case in situations like these, the response from DriveThruRPG was worse than the original incident.

For days I read comments on social media from an employee at the company. I want to make it clear that he said we as speaking for himself, not the company, and I will not directly quote him here or release his name. However, he was speaking about the concepts that surround this controversy, specifically that people pointing out that this existed were doing the wrong thing and questioning whether or not they or anyone should be gatekeepers of content. That's right, he was blaming the people offended by this pdf. One of the claims he and others made would be that if people didn't comment on it, it would just fade into obscurity and that the creator would realize it wasn't profitable and hopefully stop.

Except there's one glaring issue with this. As the product copy says, this pdf "expand[s] on what you've seen already and introduc[es] dangerous new sexual predators." This means that there are already sexual predators in the setting and this work is just an expansion of that. While it doesn't mention it in the copy, this sourcebook is part of the Black Tokyo setting. It's hard to know exactly which books are part of Black Tokyo on DriveThruRPG, but when I search for Tokyo and Urf, I get 43 items.

One item on the list is Black Tokyo: Chastity and Depravity. The product copy for that book starts with:

Black Tokyo began as a passing whim, evolved into a complete gaming supplement, and somehow, against all the odds, became one of the best selling products ever released by either Skortched Urf Studios or the fledgling Otherverse Games. Despite the extreme subject matter, and adults only purchasing restrictions, Black Tokyo has sold... and sold... and sold some more. So we are now pleased to announce the long-awaited follow up to Black Tokyo

Another work in the game is Black Tokyo Legends -Sex and Story. Here's the product copy for that book.

Sexuality defines Black Tokyo- enjoying wet pleasure with willing (or not) new lovers, exploring the limits of the body and the limits of morality itself are as important of challenges as slaying oni and battling Amakaze minions. Convincing a cute 19 year old bishonen to offer you his virginity is a function of social skills- especially Diplomacy, though less honorable and more sexually predatory characters can try their luck with Bluff or Intimidate.

The Tournament of Rapists is not the first work in which rape is made a part of the game. Across multiple product descriptions, part of the setting is that the PCs don't have to be good people. This is definitely true in The Tournament. The text allows for PCs to join in the bloodsport or otherwise ally with the participants and it's not even clear that they would have to fight the characters listed therein. So people who are trying to position this book as a group of bad guys that the PCs are to fight against are just flat wrong. While groups can decide to use it that way, it's not a position the work itself takes.

Finally, I think it's important to understand what is actually in the book. Especially for people who like to "give the benefit of the doubt," it's easy to argue that what is in the book can't possibly be that bad and believe that like many other works that deal with adult content, there is a fade to black before things get really bad. So here are a few examples.

Phallic Swarm

They have an ability called Triggering:

Phallic Swarms are basically the raw concept of rape incarnated, and are especially fearsome enemies to those who have suffered previous sexual abuse. Any creature that has ever been raped or sexually abused is considered paralyzed for 1 round if it falls victim to the Phallic Swarm's distraction ability.

That's right, they made PTSD into a mechanic. Also note how under Melee, they do 1d8 pleasure damage. WTF?

MRA Woman-Breaker

Oh look, an MRA character that just had to go to Black Tokyo to participate in the competition because it's everything he's ever wanted. Charming! But also notice that none of this description undercuts the MRA. For instance, his sense of fragile superiority gives him an actual bonus against women. It's not included in this screenshot but the text also says he's handsome, even saying "of course he is."

Why go through this exercise? Because it's important to understand the actual product and the fact that it comes from a setting with other products that explore these same concepts before we can discuss the impact of the comments, especially those made on twitter by the CEO of DriveThruRPG. You can see the majority of those comments in this post.

First, notice that the Pathfinder tag and age restrictions were added by DriveThruRPG, I believe after the initial round of complaints. Had no one said anything, I believe it's likely it would have stayed as originally submitted, but I may be wrong on that.

Then we get this interchange between Jessica Price and Steve Wieck.

I'm going to give Steve the benefit of the doubt and suggest that he may have believed the false narrative that this is a book of bad guys for the PCs to beat up. However, that doesn't excuse the actual response in the context of the original question. If that is what he was thinking, then he should have responded, "Hey, I think there's a misunderstanding here..." and stated his understanding of the product. Instead, this seems to perform a false equivalence on the two types of adventures, suggesting that to ban on would necessitate the ban on the other.

This is the comment that made me decide not to use DriveThruRPG or the family of OneBookshelf in the future. The argument here is just maddening and shows that he not only doesn't understand the product he is defending but also that he fails to understand the objections to said product. The Tournament goes multiple standard deviations beyond the Book of Vile Darkness, so much so that the only proper first response to this tweet is to roll on the floor laughing.

I get that with Twitter it's hard to have nuanced arguments, but then the best thing to do is not to get into them on Twitter. And if you decide to anyway, it might be a good idea to make sure you understand both the work and the arguments being made by the other people. In addition, try not to make false equivalencies during your argument or oversimplify if what you are arguing is that the other people are oversimplifying.

Additionally, don't make arguments that ignoring a product will make it go away when it's clear that the product in question is a continuation of previous products that people have ignored that had similar themes. It's already clear that the publisher is not going to cease creating this type of product. And even if it was created solely for the purpose of getting attention (I'd argue that is possible since it seems to be the first work in the series that doesn't have the author's name on the cover), understand that ignoring it doesn't suddenly make our community better. Instead, what will happen is that it will be whispered about among those who are offended and even harmed by it and one day the whispers will get out and everyone else will feel blindsided and argue that such things can't possibly exist.

I care less about the arguments over whether or not the ban the product than I do this hurtful reaction that happens nearly every time something like this happens. Please, stop blaming the people who are harmed by the product and get educated on the issues so you can discuss this without doing even more harm.

Coloring Book Fun - Raspberry Fairy

Lately a lot of my energy has been spent on stress and anxiety relief. One thing I've found that really helps with that is coloring. I spent a few hours a few weeks ago coloring in a coloring book page and enough people liked it that I thought I'd share how I did it here. I'm not an artist (although I had a good art program in school growing up) and there are many ways to color. If it's something that interests you, just remember do what is fun for you!

Work setup and materials


I used a folding tray table in front of the couch as my workspace. My main materials were:

Berries

The first portion of the page that I tackled were the raspberries.

First I started building the color of the raspberries. On the left, I have the raspberry pencil as the first layer and maroon as the shading. On the right, I've gone over the berries on the bottom half of the page with magenta.

Finally, I went over the berries with the red.

Stems

Next I did the stem. The base was done in the color sand, then harvest gold, and next yellow green.

Finally, I went over the right half of the stems with jade green and then the right edge with dark brown.

Leaves

Then onto the leaves. Base of leaves is harvest gold, followed by yellow green, then jade green.

Next the leaf vein. Base is bronze yellow followed by brown and then gone over with a hint of raspberry.

To polish up the leaf, I used my colorless blending pencil to go over the colors and blend them a bit better together.

Flowers

After finishing up the leaves, I colored in the flowers. The base is white and I used sand and cool gray for shading.

I didn't keep good track of the colors from this point, but I think it gives you a good idea of how I layered colors to get what I want and used different colors for shading.

Body

First a base of sand and then I believe the color is tan.

For the trim (and the leaves right next to the berries), I started with a layer of yellow green, followed by jade green, and then regular green.

Wings

For the wings, I used white as the base. The little sections are done in yellow and I used cool gray for shading.

Hair

For the hair we started off with sand and tan then I used long strokes of light brown, brown, and dark brown.

Finished

After that it was just a few more finishing touches. In particular, I went over the thorny areas on the stems with the raspberry color.

Looking for more?

First, Stan! has a great coloring and adventure book called Dungeoneering 101. The pdf is just $2. Since it's suitable for ages 6 and up, the drawings won't necessarily be as intricate as many adult coloring books, but I had a bunch of fun coloring one of the pages during a recent business trip.

 

There's also a KickStarter for "All the Colors of Magic" volumes 2-4.

Deep Dive: 5E Barbarian

In preparation for my new campaign, I'm taking a look at the various character classes in hopes that I can add moments of cool regardless of which characters my players choose to play and also can sidestep some awkward moments at the table. I'm hoping to go through the core classes (from the 5e player's handbook) in alphabetical order which means we start with the BARBARIAN! (Sorry, couldn't resist the all caps there.)

Barbarian

Winter Barbarian by Kaitlynn Peavler (@thedicegoddess)

The primary mechanic for barbarians is their rage. Rage lasts for up to one minute (essentially an encounter) and how many times per day they can rage is linked to their barbarian level. It ends early if the character is knocked unconscious or if they end their turn and either haven't attacked a hostile creature since their last turn or have taken damage since their last turn. During their rage, barbarians gain access to the following modifications:

  • Advantage on Strength checks and Strength saving throws.
  • Melee weapon attacks that use strength gain a bonus to the damage roll (tied to barbarian level).
  • Resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage.
  • Lack the ability to cast spells or concentrate on spells already cast.

There's a lot here. The first thing I note is how simplified rage is, especially compared with the Pathfinder barbarian. It feels to me like a good middle ground between the Pathfinder and 4e versions.

In Pathfinder, a barbarian gets to rage a number of rounds per day determined by their barbarian level. Here's what happens when they rage:

  • Gain a +4 morale bonus to Strength and Constitution and +2 morale bonus to Will saves.
  • Suffer a -2 penalty to Armor Class.
  • Gain 2 hit points per Hit Dice (due to Constitution increase). They disappear when the rage ends and are not the first lost.
  • Lose access to skills based on Charisma, Dexterity, and Intelligence or abilities that require patience or concentration.
  • When the rage ends, they are fatigued for a number of rounds equal to 2 times the number of rounds spent in the rage.

In 4E, barbarians gained access to special Daily powers with the rage keyword. Once a barbarian used one of the rage dailies, one of the following things happened: the encounter ended, the barbarian chose to end the rage or switched to a different rage, or the character became unconscious. Each rage had an ongoing benefit that was tied to the theme of the rage and other abilities might interact with the rage keyword.

The 5E rage acts a lot like the 4E version in terms of the mechanics of how often one can rage and when it ends. One of the nice things about not tying it to rounds is that it lightens the cognitive load of players trying to determine whether or not *now* is a good time to enter a rage.

What further lightens that load is the lack of penalties for entering a rage and for deciding to come out of it. I know when I played my barbarian gunslinger, most of the time I didn't even bother to rage because determining which rounds were the best to do so in and what I'd give up to do so was often more work than I was prepared to spend.

Gnoll Barbarian

Gnoll Barbarian by Jared von Hindman

Some people will enjoy that sort of decision making and they'll still have the opportunity to make those sorts of decisions. Instead of making the penalties part of the core raging mechanic, 5e separates them out into additional decisions. For example, at 2nd level, they gain access to Reckless Attack, which allows them to decide on the first attack of their turn to throw caution to the wind, gaining advantage on melee weapon attacks that use Strength during the turn, but granting advantage to any attack rolls against them until their next turn. I need to play it to find out, but this version feels much more dramatic to me than the +4 bonuses to Strength and Constitution and the -2 penalty to Armor Class (but your mileage may vary).

Moving penalties to more precise decisions, with their own carrots, gives the player more control over the risk they are willing to take. Additionally, the added risk due to the resistance to bludgeoning, piercing, and slashing damage a barbarian gets while in a rage (Note to DMs, make note of the resistance rules at 1st level if you have a barbarian in the party). Obviously, there are plenty of monsters, especially at higher levels, that do other types of damage, but this combination sounds like it can set up some great scenes with a cinematic feel to them.

For those who like the ongoing penalty after the rage, the Path of the Berserker offers players the opportunity to go into a frenzy starting at 3rd level. While in a frenzy, barbarians can make a single melee attack as a bonus action on each turn after entering the frenzy. When the rage ends, the barbarian suffers one level of exhaustion (which is some potent stuff). Again, this feels a bit bolder to me.

Also, by not providing default penalties to Charisma, Dexterity, or Intelligence skills, the barbarian is less likely to be turned into a caricature during play. Other options are still available during the encounter. For instance, in 5E barbarians also gain a danger sense at 2nd level that boosts their Dexterity saving throws. This sort of dodging figures strongly in many barbarian stories I've read, it just never was as iconic as strength.

However, I think there are a few complexities to the 5e barbarian that players should be aware of. In addition to the resistance, I'd like to pay particular attention to tracking barbarian resources during play. For instance, there's a bunch of information to keep track of that resets each round while the character is in a rage. The player needs to know if they took damage and/or attacked a hostile creature since the end of their last turn. If they haven't, then they will lose the rage. Also, the damage done by attacks differs depending on whether or not the barbarian is in the rage. The generic character sheets don't really help with this record keeping. (Fortunately, the record keeping ends at 15th level.)

Another area to keep in mind is that the Path of the Totem Warrior gives the barbarian access to some spells, allowing them to cast them as a ritual. At 3rd level, the barbarian may cast beast sense and speak with animals spells as a ritual. For DMs who want to make non-combat encounters an important part of their game, they may want to plan in opportunities where these spells are one way to gain a favorable outcome in the game. They may also want to prepare for clever players who use these spells to gain what could be considered "too much" information about a combat encounter ahead of time.

I'm not going to look at everything that gets added at higher levels, at least not in this post. I hope this helps illustrate some of the cool things about the 5E barbarian as well as some of the areas to be wary of, especially for DMs. One last thing, however. During the design of 5E, there was some talk about wanting to make ability scores important again. One area in the barbarian class where that comes up is with the 18th level barbarian class ability called Indomitable Might. This ability allows the player to substitute in their Strength score if the total for a Strength check is less than their score. That's pretty cool!

Note: There's one thing I'd like to point out regarding the barbarian, in particular the Path of the Totem Warrior. Barbarians that follow this path pick a spirit animal as a guide. There has been a lot of discussion about the spirit animal meme online and I think it's something to be aware of. Here's an Atlantic article the discusses some of the appropriative nature of this concept. This is also a great discussion of usage of the term "spirit animal" and counters some of the arguments that the term is not tied to Native Americans and/or First Peoples.

Steal This: La Cité à travers les âges (Paris)

Last week, I mentioned the art and story of Goblin Market, written by Christina Rossetti and illustrated by Laurence Housman. This week, I'm sharing another book from the British Library collection, La Cité à travers les âges, as far as I can ascertain a book about the history of Paris. I'll be up front, I don't know enough French to read the book, but I thought some of the illustrations from the book were well worth sharing. Just a quick note, I don't know how historically accurate the book is but I also don't think that's as important for our purposes here.

Clothing

One of the things I liked about it were the small sketches about clothing through the centuries. Not only does it look at clothing from the 13th through 18th centuries, but the work provides examples of clothing commonly worn by people of different socio-economic ranks. So we see a paysan (peasant) in the same group as a dame noble (noblewoman).

Understanding the differences in dress can make campaigns richer. How far in detail you go depends on you and your group but even just mentioning that noblewomen seem to have more decoration to their dresses and the material seems more flowing or less bulky can help.

Additionally, the various accoutrements can lead provide inspiration for other NPCs in town, someone is either making them or bringing them to the area. Also, if you tire of yet another side quest that could be summed up as a beer run, a necessary item of clothing that was ruined or is unexpectedly needed can provide a diversion.

13th Century Clothing
14th Century Clothing
15th Century Clothing
15th Century Clothing
16th Century Clothing
16th Century Clothing
Clothing during the reign of King Louis XIII
Clothing during the reign of King Louis XIV
18th Century Clothing

Items

In addition to clothing, there are a few illustrations of various items including architectural details and furniture. As with clothes, how various items look often change through time, whether due to fashion or advancements (or declines) in technology. In addition to adding richer details, variance in styles, especially in game art, can help show the story of an area in ways that there might not be space to write.

Architecture details
Armor and Weapons
Furniture
Music instruments

Maps

Books like this can provide nice illustrations of maps that can be reused in a variety of games.

Earlier map of Paris
Later map of Paris

Buildings and Landmarks

Buildings and other landmarks are a common subject for historical illustrations. This book has some that are rougher and older from earlier in the history and others that are more refined (for instance, a cathedral without little to no Christian iconography could be useful as a temple to a god of civilization or knowledge).

La Tour de Nesle
Le Pilori des Halles
Ancienne Porte Saint-Martin
Le Petit Chalet
Moulin a Vent
Porte Montmartre

Scenes

This book has a number of scenes illustrated as well. Taking the art out of context can provide inspiration for events and NPCs in your game as well. One of the things I liked about this work is the number of women present as key players in some of the illustrations of historical events.

Catherine de Medicis et son astrologue
La duchesse de montpensier et Jacques Clement

So if you're looking for inspiration, looking at the pictures of old books, even ones written in a language you don't read, can be fruitful. Happy searching!

Steal This: Goblin Market

As mentioned in a previous post, the British Library released over a million images from its collection for public use. I happen to love illustrations so every so often I love to revisit the collection to see what I can find. In this case, I found images from a book called Goblin Market, a narrative poem written by Christina Rossetti about two close sisters. This edition of the book is illustrated by Laurence Housman.

Things to Steal:

  • Random encounter: The story describes how a young woman decides to partake in the feast offered by the goblins, even though she doesn't have any money. This feast turns into a curse, however, as she finds that not only is she pining for the delicious fruit the goblins offered but also that she can no longer hear them and the seeds she saved from the feast will not grow. This curse could be used in many game systems.
  • A story of a resourceful and brave woman. Lizzie, seeing her sister near death, goes out to find the goblins and attempts to buy some fruit to bring home to her. This angers the goblins and they assault her, including trying to force feed her the fruits. Eventually they relent and Lizzie returns home covered in pulp and juices. Having nothing else, she gets her sister to eat these which at first causes Laura to be repulsed and to act wildly. But when she awakes the next morning, she is cured.
  • The art! Seriously, this art is fantastical and well done. Here's a gallery with some of it.

There's a lot more to the work to discuss, such as what appear to be strongly feminist themes and Housman's own work for the womens' suffrage movement. However, I leave it to you to find out more about that stuff if you wish.

One thing I will point out is that the art might be fun to color in and if you find enough other art of a similar style, you could use color palettes to tie the various works together. As an example, I quickly printed out one of the scenes this morning and began coloring in the woman's dress. To deal with the yellowing of the paper, I used an image editor called Pixelmator and did a combination of desaturation and setting contrast to 50%. I created a zip file with the images I processed in this manner that you can get here.

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

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