So...um...hi!

I'll be honest, trying to write, especially here, over the past few years has been a challenge. A LOT has happened to me and, well, everyone, over the past 6 years. Thinking about this site and who I was gives me imposter syndrome something fierce. But I really miss writing and sharing myself, so let's give it a shot.
LEGO OwlLEGO Owl

First, my tech career sort of took a rapid incline. I've made it all the way to Sr Principal Engineer at this point and over the 6 years, I've sat in operations, development, and now security. My job takes a significant portion of my time and I haven't had as much to update this site, etc. Hopefully I can work on that some more now that other areas of my life are getting a little easier.

Speaking of which, the biggest project of my life turned 6 years old last week. I'm not sure who ok'ed that milestone happening, but here we are. He keeps me on my toes, loves games and silly voices and wants to be a YouTuber, so hopefully I can get him rolling some dice soon.

I did art. A fair bit of art. I'm getting...less embarrassed by it, so there's that! :)

And I kept podcasting, as much as I could with what's on my plate.

Speaking of which, the pandemic has been interesting for us. I was able to keep working through it (both kept my job and always found a way to keep an eye on the little dude). We moved to be closer to my parents which has also given some breathing room. We lost some folks in our network and had more who got long COVID, but overall we've made it through with our health and some sanity.

I'm hoping to get back to playing soon. I just got a new laptop which will help with the writing here and playing at least some computer games. Already installed Steam and played Botanicula of all games. Have lots I want to talk and write about. Have you seen the explosion of view points in D&D?

Anyway, thanks for being here.

Continued Conversations

Back when I was freelancing, during the 4e days, it was a fair bit more difficult to self-publish your own material for 4e. The fan policy at the time allowed for some stuff, but if you wanted to actually make money off of your work, you had to know a lot more about copyright law, what they were likely to go after and not, and there wasn't as much art available for the average user to be able to use for free. On the other hand, due both to the pace of release and the online Dungeon and Dragon magazines, it feels like there were more official opportunities. In addition, folks that were in the freelancing group were given a list of articles and other opportunities Wizards wanted writers for and you were allowed to pitch your own ideas. And every so often, they would have an open cycle where anyone could submit pitches.

With DMs Guild, we no longer need Wizards' "official blessing" on a lot of content because the license allows us to use wide swaths of their IP as long as it is published through the guild. This means that there's less gatekeeping and you don't have to convince a central group that there's a market for your material. But it does mean that, at least to me, it's way less clear how people are chosen to write, which feeds into this larger question about accountability and transparency.

In addition, since the DMs Guild has been around for a few years now and a number of people have been producing quality content, we have a group of seasoned, tested writers who are making in demand content but there's nowhere really for them to go. They could keep creating their own content and getting small amounts of money from DMs Guild but often this means that about 50% of what they earn goes to OneBookShelf and Wizards and that's very little overall.

And most of the more lucrative writing jobs, which by the way were stated as a potential reward for folks who wrote for DMs Guild and did well, still don't seem to be going to a lot of the folks who are creating that quality content on DMs Guild. At least, that's a big part of the perception I'm hearing from folks as I listen to them.

This situation is part of what is leading to the Fire Mike Mearls hashtag. Because the community understanding is that the reason why Zak and Pundit ever were listed as consultants is because of a personal relationship between them and Mearls. And due to the lack of transparency and accountability, it at least seems like the only way to get work is if you happen to know (and never piss off) the right people.

The solution to this isn't actually clear, which is not to say we shouldn't do anything, but it means it's hard to know what to do. And given the gravity and implications of the discussion, folks usually react to this by digging further into their respective positions.

One key issue is that there just isn't enough data. For instance, this happened a lot when it came to discussions of representation we were having during 4e and early 5e. People would point out, for instance, about the comparative lack of female characters, and others would respond that they saw a lot of female characters, and it was really hard to discuss because there wasn't actual data, just observations. That's when I started doing posts like Analysis of Gender: Hoard of the Dragon Queen because it became much clearer what I was describing and, perhaps as importantly, it provided a tool kit and approach that writers and companies could use before anything was even published. They could set an overall goal when it came to representation of various genders, and then decide if they had met it.

That's a lot easier when we're talking about the demographic makeup of fictional characters and a lot harder when we're discussing the makeup of creative teams. Part of this has to do with the informal networking nature of our work and how implicit bias and systemic discrimination interact with it, but also, with so few seats available for writing and a much larger number of people seeking to fill those seats, the discussion itself gets harder. In addition, how do we come up with a way of measuring our progress towards a goal that doesn't cause more harm that is necessary.

For an example of what I mean by that, let's say we decide that we want to increase the diversity of the creative staff and we decide gender identity is one of the measures we want to use to see if we have made any progress towards that goal. How do we handle folks who are not out about their identity, either folks who have not yet come out or transitioned or folks who have transitioned but the general population doesn't know that part of their identity.

These are hard problems, but again, they shouldn't stop us. But it would mean that we probably can't design this on Twitter with its short character limit. And maybe that isn't the right data to collect to determine if we are making progress towards our goal.

Some additional thoughts I have is that while it would be nice to have official and high level support from Wizards for this initiative, we could do this ourselves. From what I've been hearing, it also would probably be good for Wizards or OneBookShelf to really talk to the creators about the problems they are having and see if we can't come up with some solutions. Like the #PlayItForward campaign felt like it was addressing some real issues folks are facing and gave folks who are concerned about supporting Wizards directly a way to support third-party creators in the ecosystem.

If we could create some clear metrics for what we would like to see, that could also help folks like streamers or outside collaborators (e.g. Matt Mercer, Penny Arcade, and the like) put pressure on Wizards to make needed changes. We also could apply these same rubrics to other companies in the ecosystem and make things better for everyone.

I'd love to hear what you think. Please feel free to email me at tracy [at] sarahdarkmagic.com.

More Like This Please: Return to the Glory

Return to the Glory is a D&D Adventurer's League (DDAL) legal adventure for four to six orc or half-orc characters levels 6 to 8. All proceeds from the sale of the adventure go to Red Nose Day USA, a charity to help children in poverty. The adventure designers include DMs Guild adepts and members of the D&D Adventurer's League administrative staff.

So, one might ask themselves, what? A DDAL adventure that requires orc or half-orc characters? Why?

Because it's a chance to tell a different story about orcs, one that you might not find in your history books (I'm looking at you Volo).

Imagine that there had been an orc society, one with a bunch of different groups, with different ways of viewing and interacting with the world. That these groups built a large complex that celebrated their cultures, imbuing it with the wisdom and outlooks of each. And that eventually a cataclysm happened, that created an orc diaspora, the loss of identity, and that the history was now written by their enemies. And now, several hundred years after that event, those of orcish descent decide to reunite and reclaim their past. This...this is the story of Return to the Glory.

For some of you, this probably sounds very familiar. There are a lot of echoes here of what happened to many people in Africa, those who were stolen and enslaved. How there is a great sorrow and loss around that loss of continuity of culture and history.

And there was a large conversation recently about how the words and arguments that have been used to describe Black people, to argue for their enslavement or for discrimination against them, were also used to describe orc. And this conversation has been had several times because...because folks often refuse to understand and acknowledge it.

So, at this point, you might ask, what makes this product different?

The biggest difference I can say is intentionality.

We can discuss all day whether or not the various iterations of orcs in D&D and beyond were intended to represent Black people and probably not get anything clear and solid. But once the same arguments and descriptions that have been used as weapons against Black folks were used to also describe orcs; that connection becomes impossible to deny, regardless of intention.

So once we have this connection in at least some folks minds, what do we do with it? How do we move beyond it? The answer for this adventure is by intentionally invoking the connection in an attempt to fundamentally change it.

This adventure rewrites the history of the orcs. It puts orcs in a city of their own construction, a complex city with a story to tell as the characters explore it. It details out a variety of different groups that existed in that city, with their own viewpoints and creeds (here mentioned as omens). It provides a history of orcs that is written by orcs, through what was left behind. It challenges the history written by Volo (who is often known for being at least slightly untrustworthy and biased).

The adventure details 13 sections of the city and introduces an omens pattern that helps describe the creed and/or outlook of the group responsible for that section. The large number of groups with different viewpoints but under the same omen approach is an intentional method for dealing with orcs. There is a shared culture in the broad sense, but a range of diversity and opinions below it. And by incorporating the omens of that group into how the section functions, it reinforces that diversity and story and brings that history alive.

At least one section may have an owlbear.

Additionally, another part of the intentionality here is that there is an editorial assistance credit for Tanya C. DePass, who some might know as Cypher of Tyr, the founder and Director of I Need Diverse Games.

I really enjoyed reading through this adventure because I could see the thought and intentionality that went into creating it. I really enjoyed the application of what makes orcs unique and the omens structure to how different parts of the adventure play out. It made me think a lot.

It's an interesting adventure worthy of adding to a library without all of this of course.

Is it enough to reclaim orcs? I don't get to determine that. But I can't wait to see what discussion and play unfolds because of this adventure.

If you'd like to grab the adventure and discover it for yourself, you can grab it on DMs Guild here: https://www.dmsguild.com/product/314450/Return-to-the-Glory-5e

All proceeds from the sale are going to Red Nose Day, in case it's important for you to know where your money is going.

Where Do We Go From Here?

I don't know if this is going to harm or help. I don't know if it's going to mean anything. I'm probably going to mess it up. I may end up being hated by a whole new group in gaming. All I know is I will try. I will try to do something right, knowing I may fail.

July 3

For those who don't know, back in 2014, I made these two tweets

These came after me expressing a bunch of pleasure regarding the inclusion of gender identity, sexual orientation, and a variety of skin tones in the art and text of the basic rules of the new edition.

July 5

I wasn't the first person to mention concern over the consultants list nor was I the last. But I was one of two people Mike Mearls mentioned on July 5th, presumably to Zak.

No worries - I did some digging and everything you cite squares with what I've read.

Basically, I keep getting "Zak hates gays and women" and when I ask for proof, people suddenly shut the fuck up.

Here's what I think is happening: Dudes like Hill or Sarah Darkmagic get really emotional about this stuff. A few people online know that they can bait these folks into forming a lynch mob, so they do. I've had people cite the blog post you linked to, and when I pressed them to actually read it they were like, "Oh, well, I was told he said something nasty, maybe not."

It's been eye opening for a few people.

So leaving that aside for a moment, one of the things we often do when there is an incident in my primary occupation (software development) is a thing called a blameless post mortem. That's where we get the folks involved in an incident and get together, with some rules, to understand what happened. So as I write this, this is about detailing what happened and what could have happened, so hopefully we can do better next time. So try to keep that in mind as I write. I'm not trying to blame folks.

July 3 - August 1

A bunch of discussion happens, mainly on G+ and mostly with RPG Pundit.

August 1

I write a post about what has been happening since I tried to talk to RPG Pundit https://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/content/what-happens-when-you-engage

August 4

https://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/content/what-happens-when-you-engage-cont...

August 5

https://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/content/what-happens-when-you-engage-act-3

August 16

Lunch at Gen Con with Mike Mearls (as detailed here: https://www.sarahdarkmagic.com/content/power-speaking)

So why make this timeline?

Things aren't often what they appear. Since 2014, a few people have come forward and said things about Zak. People that used to be pretty close to him. People who used to say I was lying about him. We know a lot more approximately 6 years later.

But even without knowing all of that, we went from the often referenced remark about how I was just manipulated into saying what I did to having lunch with Mike at Gen Con and discussing D&D and industry stuff. He was the only person I wasn't friends with who extended me that courtesy.

Does that absolve him? Absolutely not. Should that be good enough for other folks? Well, no. I honestly don't know what to do about the situation in that way.

But folks are asking me about what I want, and I don't know how to feel about the whole Fire Mearls thing. And I think when it comes down to it, it's because firing an individual doesn't fix a failed system. And it's the system that failed. In my line of work, when systems fail, they don't get fixed by getting rid of the human but instead by building a better system. That's part of what I thought I was doing at that lunch with Mearls.

Some ideas:

Protections for Freelancers and others

I have no idea how to actually get this done. One of the largest issues is that freelancers have no protection in an industry where fans are often fanatics. I've been asked to be considered part of a larger group where one of the other people in the group had called me a "pretentious bitch" because I had gotten an honorable mention for my blog on 4e. That person was going through some stuff, sure, and we talked through things much later, but at the time, I was still getting harassment from them.

Likewise, I had to watch as someone I admire, Rob Schwalb, kept being brought up as someone to axe so I could get more writing opportunities (like, it doesn't even work that way).

And there's no support for this. There's no paid time off to deal with these incidents. No HR to direct them to (not that that is a panacea). No one cares if you can't make deadlines because of the toll of this even though they want you to keep being in public because it increases the exposure of the company you are working for. (A lot of freelancers are hired because they already have an audience, not just because of their ability to write or draw or edit)

No wonder everyone was scared of reaching out to me and helping me. One of the people we're discussing apparently has Hollywood ties and let's be honest, a good portion of gaming is pretty much the entertainment industry, especially when you consider how many companies are either licensing IP to make games from or licensing IP from games to make movies and tv.

Focus on those harmed

Part of the issue with writing this is that it's going to come across as self-serving and I don't mean it this way. But part of what really hurts me is that folks still believe the lies Zak spread about the situation and about the people involved. Those people still have a hard time getting work. They have had a lot of people turn their backs when things were super dark. They need a path out of oblivion. One that isn't only about retribution and revenge.

Ask Wizards of the Coast how they've changed

They likely won't be able to comment on the situation directly any more than they have. But they might be able to talk about what training they have available for employees. Any policies they might have for working with consultants and the like. If you happen to work in fields with expert knowledge in these areas, it would be wonderful if you were willing to share your insights with the broader community/industry because this isn't just an issue with Wizards of the Coast.

I've seen some folks call for changes in how this community works and I'm definitely in favor of that. Not just relying on informal social networks for hiring or freelancers. Finding ways to give folks who get attacked like I did for years the ability to earn back trust and maybe freelance again.

Otherwise, what we'll see is a continuation of people being scared professionally to say something. And we'll see folks from marginalized groups saying its not worth it and burning out those who try to speak up.

I don't know if any of this will help anyone. I just know that I've never been a scorched earth person and, honestly, it feels too much like what Zak wanted to do to me for me to be comfortable with it. But I honestly mean this. Other people will feel differently and those views are valid as well. What's super important to me is that people listen to one another and find ways to try to move forward. Say what you feel and why you feel that way and maybe, just maybe, some healing will occur.

Part of the mermaid was done using a stamp by Jane Davenport.https://janedavenport.com/shop/supplies/stamps/jdmm-new-acrylic-stamps-mermaid/

Notes: The Haunting of Lobsterclaw Island


So, the story that I sort of have in my mind for Lobsterclaw Island is really getting to me, and so I'm trying to work out how I might create an adventure for it. But it's been a super long time since I've had a chance to run something other than a published adventure and I'm still catching up on all the changes to 5e since my child was born, so these are super rough notes.

One thing I want to tap into is the idea that some people lived on this island and that they were stolen from the land (enslaved). I think I want to make those who were enslaved humans and those who captured them orcs (but with slight twist). And I think I want this to have a huge impact on the land itself, culminating in a part of the story that I'm calling The Long Walk. My thought is to rely on undead and particularly haunting to make it work.

Random Encounters

  1. shadow + 1d4 skeletons
  2. specter + 2d4 skeletons
  3. poltergeist + 1d4 shadows
  4. Will-o'-wisp + 1d4 skeletons
  5. Specter + 1d4 shadows
  6. Legendary ghost - I'm thinking here a leader of the group that was captured and force marched, killed while protecting a grandchild. Her goal is to seek the proper burial of the grandchild and the return of an amulet that fell with the child to its rightful home in their town.

    For lair actions: I was thinking of producing shadows (1), skeletons (1), or specters (1) but I'm not sure because I'm not sure. I could also use the flavor text from the ghost and have the lair produce effects like cold or moving objects.

    For legendary actions (2 actions):

    • Recharge possession and immediate use (Costs 2 actions) - Her goal here isn't to fight the PCs. She wants to possess them to tell a bit of her story and to find the closest she can to peace.
    • Etherealness - Thinking this gives her an out if somehow the party traps her
  7. Eventually I'd like to move random encounters away from groups of "monsters" and more like scenes that would be available.

    Sleeping in the Woods

    Another idea I have is that any night they spend in the woods, they have a chance of a dream or vision. Some things that they might experience or see include:

    • Walking through intense dark, seeing pig faces by torch [My thought is to make the orcs pig-like and have pink skin]
    • Attempting to descend a dense forest during a downpour, wake up soaked to the bone
    • Vision of a young child beneath a large old ash tree with white delicate white flowers
    • Vision of the amulet

    Things to find

    Another idea I have is of "trinkets" to find while walking through the woods

    • Simple grave marked by a pile of rocks, someone who died on The Long Walk
    • Crude and decayed weapon of the orcs that attacked the folks of Lobster Claw Island
    • Intense chill that causes shivers for 1d4 minutes

    Other Ideas

    I think it would be interesting to have a background or two or some other way to signify characters who descend from those who once lived on Lobsterclaw Island and then have some of these parts of the adventure interact with that.

More Like This Please: DMs Guild Titles - Part 4

On April 27th, OneBookShelf, in conjunction with Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Grounds, and White Wolf, announced a Play It Forward Event, running from May 4th (Star Wars Day) until May 17th. During the event, community-created products on those companies will forgo their royalties on products sold on DMs Guild and Story Vault and instead, the creators of the content will get 100% of all revenue. This is intended to help the creators, many of who are struggling due to Covid-19.

In addition to this change of revenue sharing, the sites will be having a 20% sale on titles at least 30 days old and temporarily suspending the affiliate program.

Perhaps you, like me, are wondering about some titles to invest in and explore during this event. I did some exploring and would like to recommend the following:

Triple Murder Most Fowl

Cover of Triple Murder Most Fowl

It is Highharvesttide and your character (along with two to four 10th-12th level characters) is invited to dinner. Soon after arrival, however, the characters learn that they don't have a Clue about what is going on. The matriarch was found dead, just that morning! And now they must figure out who did it, how, and where!

Reading through the adventure, I sense a lot of chances for jokes and just fun role play opportunities. I also wonder if it would be a good adventure if you have folks who want to participate in a D&D game by playing an NPC. It's exactly the sort of adventure I'd love to play.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

Eat the Rich | Volume 1

Cover of Eat the Rich | Volume 1

Eat the Rich, the anti-tyranny adventure anthology, contains 17 adventures for tiers 1-4. Like many of the adventures I've spotlighted, these attempt to explore real world topics through the guise of fantasy; allowing us to see the world around us in new ways. As such, some of the adventures deal with heavy topics like exploitation of workers, marginalized folks, and more.

Also, the pdf is gorgeous. I love the use of monotype and the art is decadent. The visual callbacks to zines fill me with a warm and fuzzy feeling.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

UNBRIDLED

Cover of UNBRIDLED /></p>
<p>Are. You. F*ing. Kidding. Me.</p>
<p>Yes, I love the above title, Eat the Rich. But, like, I want to know why no one told me about UNBRIDLED. I get it, it dropped while many of us were stuck at home and dealing with some heavy stuff, but seriously. Next time just <a href=@ me, ok?

Where to start?

Boring voice: Unbridled is a collection of 19 adventures for 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons featuring hags and…unicorns?

Yes, folks, let's take the most of iconic of D&D monsters, hags and unicorns, and mix them up all over the place. Let's make it bizarre. Let's throw a bunch of stuff into a jar, add some glitter and water, and shake that sh*t up and play through whatever happens. That is what this book is all about. And if you think the cover art is catchy, wait until you see the unicorn on page 16. That's ok. I'll wait. Go have a look.

Ok, time to get back on topic. Another book where the art is gorgeous and on point and where the energy is amazing.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

More Like This Please: DMs Guild Titles - Part 3

On April 27th, OneBookShelf, in conjunction with Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Grounds, and White Wolf, announced a Play It Forward Event, running from May 4th (Star Wars Day) until May 17th. During the event, community-created products on those companies will forgo their royalties on products sold on DMs Guild and Story Vault and instead, the creators of the content will get 100% of all revenue. This is intended to help the creators, many of who are struggling due to Covid-19.

In addition to this change of revenue sharing, the sites will be having a 20% sale on titles at least 30 days old and temporarily suspending the affiliate program.

Perhaps you, like me, are wondering about some titles to invest in and explore during this event. I did some exploring and would like to recommend the following:

The Corruption of Skyhorn Lighthouse

Cover of The Corruption of Skyhorn Lighthouse

The Corruption of Skyhorn Lighthouse is an adventure for 8th-level characters expected to take about 5-7 hours. It may be run as a follow up adventure to The Secrets of Skyhorn Lighthouse, a 5th-level adventure that is available for free.

There's a lot to talk about with this adventure, specifically that it takes a bit of a different approach than most of the ones I've seen. Encounters by and large are kept to one page (with hyperlinks or printables to help cut down on page flipping). Embellishments and details are kept to a minimum. The idea is to allow a dungeon master to "run at a glance with minimal preparation and a natural delivery." To further aid with this, there is a short video walkthrough of the adventure.

Encounters are set up to resolve a dramatic question. Sometimes the expectation is that this will be around combat but often it includes a non-combat way to resolve the question. Once it is resolved, the idea is to move forward to the transition, which helps wrap up the current scene and kickstart the next. This is my first introduction to this approach and I rather like it.

If this interests you but you'd love to learn more before purchasing, the free 5th-level adventure follows a similar format.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

Exit Pursued by Owlbear

Cover of Exit Pursued by Owlbear

Exit Pursued by Owlbear is an anthology of five adventures all inspired by the bard, Shakespeare. The Rose of the Fair State is inspired by Hamlet and is for a party of four 5th-level characters.

A Shrew’s Vengeance is for a party of four 3rd-5th level characters (with an average party level of 4) and is inspired by The Taming of the Shrew.

If We Shadows Have Offended explores A Midsummer Night’s Dream through a game.

Much Ado About Cookies takes its inspiration from Much Ado About Nothing and is for a party of four to six 3rd-level characters.

Finally, Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble delves into the world of Macbeth and is for a party of four 5th-level characters.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

Budding Baba's Growing Hut

Cover of Budding Baba's Growing Hut

Have you ever wanted to have your own wandering hut like Baba Yaga's? If so, this is the title for you (and if you read this blog, I hope the answer is yes for you and your character!) This product contains rules for growing a hut including advancements, quirks, personality traits, some special abilities (like the ability to kick out unwanted guests!). I absolutely adore this one.
To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

More Like This Please: DMs Guild Titles - Part 2

On April 27th, OneBookShelf, in conjunction with Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Grounds, and White Wolf, announced a Play It Forward Event, running from May 4th (Star Wars Day) until May 17th. During the event, community-created products on those companies will forgo their royalties on products sold on DMs Guild and Story Vault and instead, the creators of the content will get 100% of all revenue. This is intended to help the creators, many of who are struggling due to Covid-19.

In addition to this change of revenue sharing, the sites will be having a 20% sale on titles at least 30 days old and temporarily suspending the affiliate program.

Perhaps you, like me, are wondering about some titles to invest in and explore during this event. I did some exploring and would like to recommend the following:

Wanted: Dead or Alive - A Collection of Dastardly Criminals for Fifth Edition Dungeons & Dragons

Cover of Wanted: Dead or Alive

Wanted: Dead or Alive is a book of NPCs, presented as a series of wanted posters. In addition to the poster, we get some background of each character including their "crimes" and background on their life, special items they may have, plot hooks, tactics, and a stat block. The book includes 18 characters. There are content warnings where appropriate. In addition, each character has the name of its author, helping readers to track down other works written by their favorites.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

The Princess Project

Cover of The Princess Project

The Princess Project is an anthology of adventures. Each focuses on fairy tale and mythological princesses, aiming and subverting tropes and the patriarchy. The title includes magic items, spells, and more.

I particularly enjoyed "Tying the Knot," especially the list of items that need to be collected before the wedding as well as the locations. I may steal some of them for my own games as well.

In addition to the adventures, there are several random tables in the appendix, including trinkets and wild magic, as well as themed items and spells.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

i've been

Cover of i've been

i've been is an adventure for four 3rd-level characters that explores themes around mental health, particularly "depression, self-loathing, and isolation." As a person who has faced depression and anxiety and has had a number of friends and others in my life who have done the same, I super appreciate this adventure. In particular, I liked the metaphor for what it's like for some to have depression and similar. Like a number of the titles I'm featuring, creating this module helps the designer (and also potentially us) to explore these issues. At the end there are resources for safety tools to use if you decide to run the adventure as well as a number of crisis lines for the US.

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

College of Acapella

Cover of College of Acapella

College of Acapella contains player options for bards including a bard college along with some spells and feats. In particular, I love the concept of the chorus of harmony, which gives your character a number of duplicates (allowing you to be a one-person acapella group!).

To purchase: DMs Guild affiliate non-affiliate

More Like This Please: DMs Guild Titles - Part 1

On April 27th, OneBookShelf, in conjunction with Wizards of the Coast, Fantasy Grounds, and White Wolf, announced a Play It Forward Event, running from May 4th (Star Wars Day) until May 17th. During the event, community-created products on those companies will forgo their royalties on products sold on DMs Guild and Story Vault and instead, the creators of the content will get 100% of all revenue. This is intended to help the creators, many of who are struggling due to Covid-19.

In addition to this change of revenue sharing, the sites will be having a 20% sale on titles at least 30 days old and temporarily suspending the affiliate program.

Perhaps you, like me, are wondering about some titles to invest in and explore during this event. I did some exploring and would like to recommend the following:

The Adventurer's Domestic Handbook

Cover of the adventurers domestic handbook

The Adventurer's Domestic Handbook is a supplement for all things hearth and home including love, marriage, children, household upkeep, divorce, and more. The book has 153 pages and includes new subclasses, stat blocks, marriage ceremonies, vehicles and upgrades, feats, and backgrounds. In addition, it has a whole section full of romanceable NPCs.

I haven't had a chance to read it in depth enough for a full review but one of the things that really stuck out to me is the care taken in terms of language and presentation. For example, multiple times gender is left out of pregnancy, preferring the wording of pregnant person. Likewise the book makes no assumptions on who might be rearing the child or children.

The apprenticing section also looks interesting, with slightly different mechanics depending on how old the character becoming an apprentice is. Likewise, the romanceable NPCs section provides a lot of inspiration for how to approach character design in a way that enables or enhances that direction of play. The non-romanceable NPCs are also interesting. For instance the idea of engagement tracks for employees seems useful for a dungeon master.

Finally, I really enjoyed reading through the marriage ceremonies section, especially since it's a great way to do world building and add variance to the world. And a number of the magic items made me smile, especially the Bassinet of Following (hello, Mandolorian).

Preview: Google Docs

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Tales of Thelanis, Vol 1: "The Child and the Guardian"

Cover of Tales of Thelanis, Vol 1

"The Child and the Guardian" is the first volume in the series Tales of Thelanis, which explores areas within the Faerie Court in Eberron. Each volume in the series is expected to "explor[e] different story-themed domains in Thelanis and their archfey" with this one covering the Burning Grove and the Green Giant. In addition, it adds a new race and two subclasses.

I really enjoyed how the story weaved throughout the entire 12 pages. In particular, I loved the lair actions and regional effects that are tied to the archfey as well as the important figures for the area.

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Harps and Harpies

Cover of Harps and Harpies

Harps and Harpies is an adventure for 3-5 level 4 characters (tier 1) with an expected playtime of about 5 hours. It concentrates on the story of Stonetide, "a coastal town with a harpy problem." One of the townsfolk, Aegis Roulade, wants to learn what happened to his great-aunt, a person who used to keep the harpies at bay, and to return to his family her legendary harp.

I don't want to give away too much about the adventure, but, of course, there is more to the story than appears. The story promotes a large amount of exploration of a nearby island and includes aquatic-themed encounters and skill challenges. Finally, it asks us what family means.

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A Dire Dalliance

Cover of A Dire Dalliance

In "A Dire Dalliance," a local noble woman asks the group to help her uncover the secret of a pair of guests at her recent balls. Both times, the guest left the party before answering her questions about their identity. Inspired by the story of Cinderella, the adventure unveils the truth behind their hurried escapes.

The adventure is designed for 4 characters of levels 3-5 and is intended as a short adventure. As with the above adventure, Harps and Harpies, it explores a number of themes including "love, identity, and breaking free from poisonous family ties." It carries a content warning of transphobia.

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Thoughts on the Love Domain Cleric

As I looked through a bunch of the discussion around the Love Domain cleric, it became clear that the criticism of some of the powers removing consent wasn't clear, especially concerning the criticism made that it could be referred to as the "'roofie' domain."

I appreciate that discussion was fast and often furious and folks might not want to discuss the details anymore. Having a full-time job and a three-year-old makes it hard to participate in the conversation in a more timely manner, but I'd like to give the conversation a try.

First, I want to say it's clear that through some of the design that thought was put in, especially in the area of the bonds. My gut tells me some portion of the folks involved in the design were going for an Aphrodite/Eros/Cupid vibe and particularly their tendency to use mind control and those folks either weren't aware or chose to ignore the problematic aspects to those stories.

I don't say that to shame or otherwise assign blame. Just that we live in a culture that tends to minimize the importance of consent and sometimes make excuses for stories that involve in removing the ability to willingly and enthusiastically consent.

Second, while it's important at some point to discuss the role of consent when it comes to sex (especially with regards to a Love Domain), for the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to keep the conversation more centered on the idea of what it means to remove consent and how some types of drugs make that easier. I won't talk about instances of sexual assault or rape but will use the story of someone who was drugged but didn't have anything additionally negative happen to them.

With all that said, let's dig in, shall we?

Understanding Roofies

One of the first things that stood out to me reflecting on the response is that a lot of folks don't understand the group of drugs called "date rape drugs" or "roofies." For instance, I recently had a conversation with someone under the impression that roofies knocked the victim out, rendering them unconscious. That was because the expected usage is to help people unable to fall asleep do so.

However, when these drugs are used in an off-label way (often on unknowing or unwilling participants), it's the combination of the following reactions that the administrators of the drug are looking for: reduce inhibitions, sedate folks, and cause memory loss. It's also important to note here that while "roofies" are often used to facilitate sexual assault and rape (along with other substances such as alcohol), there have actually been many cases of people just adding these substances to people's drink for what they consider to be fun.

Because people are sometimes unwittingly drugged by an unconnected third party, we have situations where reliable third parties are present during the episode. For instance, I found this description in an article by Jordan Kisner, describing what happened when she was drugged while at a bar with her then-boyfriend, John.

Twelve hours after being drugged, I woke up shaking in John’s bed, fully clothed, and on top of the covers. My knowledge of the interim is pieced together mostly from what he told me. Apparently, I’d grown radiantly happy and then quickly, dramatically incapacitated. I’d stopped talking, and then walking. I ran into walls. He took me back to his apartment to put me to bed, but I managed to lock myself in his bathroom for 30 minutes and either wouldn’t or couldn’t respond to his attempts to coax me out. When I finally emerged, he suggested I sit down, and I sat. He told me I should drink water, and I wordlessly accepted the cup. This was what unnerved him the most in the retelling: how pliable I had been. “You would do things, but you weren’t there,” he said.

https://www.thecut.com/2014/10/what-you-might-not-know-about-getting-roo...

What we can get from this description is that for at least some folks, the response is not to turn into an unconscious log but rather someone who clearly has an altered mental state and may become more "pliable" or compliant. It's important to keep that in mind as we look at the components of the domain.

Comparison to Charm Person

Now let's quickly look at Charm Person and Charmed.

Charm Person
You attempt to charm a humanoid you can see within range. It must make a Wisdom saving throw, and does so with advantage if you or your companions are fighting it. If it fails the saving throw, it is charmed by you until the spell ends or until you or your companions do anything harmful to it. The charmed creature regards you as a friendly acquaintance. When the spell ends, the creature knows it was charmed by you.

Charmed
A charmed creature can’t Attack the charmer or target the charmer with harmful Abilities or magical Effects.
The charmer has advantage on any ability check to interact socially with the creature.

Right away I see a few things here that line up with the criticism. Charm person can take someone who is hostile to you and make them a friendly acquaintance. It doesn't say it here, but I think it's common knowledge that the reason why this spell exists and used is to make the target more agreeable to the person. This could be relatively benign, for instance a character could use it to counter someone who is under a different mind control spell. Or it could be more malicious, make someone more likely to do something that is in the caster's favor at the expense of the person who would have benefited from the target's free will.

Most importantly, this sort of modification, typically for the benefit of the administrator of the substance, of a person's mental state is the purpose of these drugs. And yes, there are additional protections here that don't apply in real life, the caster and their companions can't do anything that the DM would rule as harm to the target and amnesia isn't part of the spell. But I hope that folks can at least see where this criticism is still valid. The intent of both is to alter someone's mental state and make them more likely to do things they wouldn't otherwise do.

Comparison of Hypnotic Pattern, Confusion, and Hold Monster

Hypnotic pattern
You create a twisting pattern of colors that weaves through the air inside a 30-foot cube within range. The pattern appears for a moment and vanishes. Each creature in the area who sees the pattern must make a Wisdom saving throw. On a failed save, the creature becomes charmed for the duration. While charmed by this spell, the creature is incapacitated and has a speed of 0.
The spell ends for an affected creature if it takes any damage or if someone else uses an action to shake the creature out of its stupor.

I hope by now, this is an easy one to see the comparisons. As with charm person, the creature becomes charmed, making the target more pliable. And now, we've added incapacitation which can be an outcome of many of the date rape drugs.

Confusion
This spell assaults and twists creatures' minds, spawning delusions and provoking uncontrolled action. Each creature in a 10-foot-radius sphere centered on a point you choose within range must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw when you cast this spell or be affected by it.

More mind control, this one honestly feels eerily similar to what happens with some abusers.

Hold monster
Choose a creature that you can see within range. The target must succeed on a Wisdom saving throw or be paralyzed for the duration. This spell has no effect on undead. At the end of each of its turns, the target can make another Wisdom saving throw. On a success, the spell ends on the target.

Another incapacitation outcome.

Comparison to Channel Divinity: Impulsive Infatuation

You can use your Channel Divinity to overwhelm a creature with a flash of short-lived but intense admiration for you, driving them to rash action in your defense. As an action, you present your holy symbol and choose one creature you can see within 30 feet of you. That creature must make a Wisdom saving throw; a creature can choose to fail this saving throw if it wishes. On a success, the creature is unaffected. On a failure, the creature is charmed by you until the start of your next turn, and it must immediately use its reaction to make a weapon attack against a target you designate. If there are no valid targets, it uses its reaction to admire you.

Here again, we are overriding a creature's free-will and consent in hopes of influencing the outcome of an event and making that part of a "love domain." It's a bit harder here because the issues are only implicit in the text. By and large, the reason this class feature exists is to force a creature to do something it would not do such as attack one of its allies or something in the environment that would be helpful to hostile enemies.

Not only do the same critiques of charm person apply, but not only are we engaging in removing consent, it's a domain feature. Unlike charm person, which is just part of the game (not saying there aren't issues there, just the issues get highly magnified when packaging with the Love domain), this domain feature should, in part, be key to telling us what this domain is about. This should be iconoclastic. And what we end up getting is tightly tying the domain to removing consent.

Thoughts

Do I think this is easy to forget when designing something? Abso-f*ing-lutely. Especially when combined with all of the other criticism of the game, right? I mean, the bond powers are nice, but a lot of folks have been upset when clerics don't get enough damage dealing powers, right? And we definitely want to be careful of that with the love domain because it often gets thought of as feminine, right? Add into that a healthy serving of stories where this makes sense (looking at you Aphrodite/Eros/Cupid) and I totally get how someone gets to this place in writing.

But moving from there to publishing is super hard. We know the time we live in. Where we're still in the position of having to say "Cosplay is not consent" and even trying to get the public at large to live by the fact that consent can be withdrawn at any time. We live in a time of #MeToo. To put this as a domain feature of the love domain is, well, it's hard to process and feels, from the outside, like a failure somewhere in the chain.

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

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