Adventures in Spying and Steampunk Investigation

Saturday I was lucky enough to attend the Boston ENWorld game day. I had a blast and got to try two new games, Night's Black Agents and Leagues of Adventure. I will admit up front that I didn't get a chance to read either rule set or the games they are based on, so there's a chance I misunderstood the rules or misremembered a detail. However, I find it useful to see players' reactions to games and thought I would share mine as well.

Night's Black Agents

The first game I played in was a cinematic spy thriller, Night's Black Agents, designed by Kenneth Hite and published by Pelgrane Press. Based on the GUMSHOE system, the game provides plenty of opportunities for players to do recon, perfect for a spy game. Kevin Kulp, one of my favorite GMs, ran it and the other players were pretty awesome.

This was my first introduction to a GUMSHOE game but I had heard great things about it previously and I'm a fan of Robin D Laws. I really enjoyed the diversity of skills, although they didn't come up much in our game. (Our players seemed to be very action oriented.) And having flirting as a skill will always appeal to me even if I don't use it right away. It acknowledges that there are many ways to accomplish tasks.

I'm not sure of the level of experience of the rest of the table, but within the 4 hours or so for the game, we were able to learn the rules and tell a rather thrilling spy story involving suitcase nukes, Russian arms deals, Colombian drug cartels, and, at the very end, learning the truth about the existence of vampires. We opened with a car chase, guns blazing, and closed with helicopter explosion on a hotel rooftop and diffusing the nuke at the last possible second. The table particularly enjoyed my character walking out of the room while the nuke continued its countdown because she had a score to settle. Her teammate tried to get her to stay by pulling on her heart strings, mistakenly claiming that she was going to let her hometown blow up and kill thousands of innocent people. She coldly replied, "This is not my hometown."

While I enjoyed the game, I think it shines even better after a few run throughs and with groups who know each other a bit better. I'm still rather new to the art of improv and I know between trying to figure out the rules and being around new people, I often forgot to make my statements and scenes into something that could easily be built upon by others. So, it sometimes felt like we had a series of threads that were only barely connected.

Another difficulty I had was with the recharge mechanic. The way the game works is that you have some number of points available in certain skills. I interpreted this as how skilled your character is in those things. While you can roll for any skill, any time you roll in one of the skills with points, you may deduct some of the points from your pool to add to your die roll (the game uses a 1d6). There are periods when you may refresh your points, but in between those times, characters have traits that let them refresh points by saying something in character that's related. So I had the parkour trait that would allow me to refresh my Athletics point pool if I described one of my physical tricks in a cool way (at the GM's discretion). On one hand, this is really cool and encourages people to say cool stuff in character.

On the other, I found myself really reluctant to use it. Some of the reasons can be found in the article Game Design and Sexism: Player Feedback Mechanics. Both of my refresh traits were related to traditionally masculine things, parkour and guns. I don't think anyone at the table would have questioned anything I said if I decided to try to use technobabble or jargon. I know that people would be fine with movie logic and that movies often just invent this stuff to sound cool. I know Kevin would have helped me out and in fact did when I decided to describe what I would say instead of saying it directly, but it's one of those things I'd like to point out more for the general audience. One thing that might have helped would be a list of phrases I could have used as building blocks, similar to the Thieves' Cant article in DDI (subscription required).

The other observation I had is that it would be really cool to have Leverage-style flashback mechanics in the game rather than the preparedness check that the game had. I like that in Leverage, anyone with a plot point can trigger a flashback, even if they aren't in the current scene. I think this helps to both make the story formed in the game more focused on action (rather than spending much of the session preparing for what we think might happen) and integrated together because we're not all trying to establish the cool for our character. Also, not all characters had preparedness, including mine, so I felt more reluctant to put my character in a position where she might not have something she needed.

Leagues of Adventure

The afternoon game I played in was Leagues of Adventure, a yet-to-be-released (coming later this year) Victorian steampunk game by Triple Ace Games. It uses the Ubiquity roleplaying system and we used the Hollow Earth Expedition books as reference. We played a mix of fictional and real life charcters, Sherlock Holmes and his trusty assistant Watson, Wild Bill Hickok and Calamity Jane, H. G. Wells, and Nellie Bly. I played the last one which was a pretty good fit.

As with Night's Black Agent, the system has rules for rewarding players who play in character. Each character backstory has a number of goals or specific role play elements that, if triggered, get the player a style point he or she may use later in a number of ways. I played Nellie Bly and I would get style points if she dissuaded Holmes from commenting on her appearance, if she tried to get Bill and Jane back together, or if she chatted about wordsmithing with Wells. As with Night's Black Agents, I sometimes felt out of place with it because I sometimes felt like I didn't know enough details about how to make those things happen and it wasn't obvious to me how to stop someone from commenting on Nellie's appearance.

One of the difficulties with playing Nellie is that she was the team leader and her character story suggested that she would do whatever she could to get the team to work together, although sometimes she would have to put her foot down in regards to Bill's misogyny and sexism. On one hand, this seems like a good fit for me, because well, that's sort of how I am. On the other, it could get frustrating in game. Many of the characters were written to have a romantic interest in Nellie and I often was at a loss about how to deal with male characters who wanted to be chivalrous (which is pretty period) while still giving Nellie the room to be, well, Nellie. Also, while most of the group knew each other, I was a bit new and I both felt reluctance to play up the sexism and misogyny, and sensed that reluctance from others (for good reason). I think it's a great subject to explore with friends but I felt a bit unsure what to do among a group of people that I was meeting for the first or second time.

The other thing that was a bit strange to me was the dice system, ubiquity. While the system is relatively easy to understand once you get it, it took a few tries for me to understand it. We played with the Ubiquity dice which means we had 3 sets of 3 dice, white, blue, and red. One set, the 1s, has 0s and 1s, a second, the 2s, has 0s, 1s, and 2s, and the third, the 3s, has 0s, 1s, 2s, and 3s. Next to your skills is a rating number. For instance, I had brawling 8. To roll my brawling, I would pick up a dice pool equal to the number of the rating, in this case two 3s and one 2, and add up the result to see if I got enough successes. While cool in that you could theoretically use any dice to accomplish this, I have to admit having to do that much math all the time (since I used a variety of skills) grated on me after a bit, especially as I tired from a full day of gaming.

Of course, this has much more to do with me than the GM, the group, or the game, all of which were awesome. My husband showed up as we were finishing the game and hearing our snippet of the game and looking at the character backstory convinced him he wants to give it a try when I can get a copy of the book.


I enjoyed both games, both the systems and the people I played with, and would love to play again.

This Is What Makes It All Worth It

I know, two blog posts in one day. Craziness! But I wanted to share this letter I received in hopes it illustrates the need for a project like Prismatic Art. The author, Charles, contacted me on Twitter because he and his daughters are very interested in the project. I had mentioned that my hope for the project would be that not only would his daughters find artwork they enjoyed but it would encourage them to create their own too.

It turns out they already do and want to share some of it as part of the project. I asked them to send along some samples so I could get an idea of their level of experience (the main project will be for professional art) and this is the reply. Awesome stuff and I'll admit it made me tear up a bit last night when I read it. And don't worry, I will find a home for their art and the art of others even if it's not in the way I originally planned.

Thank you, Tracy!

I read your email to our daughters and they are excited for the challenge. (My daughter J even narrowed her eyes, rubbed her hands together, and declared in her best evil villainess voice, “‘Level of experience?’ I’ll show her my level of experience!” :)

We’re all very excited with what you’re doing both with Prismatic Art and with trying to shift the gaming community to a more respectful place in general. They began playing 4e from the moment I introduced it to them when they were 8 years old, and have probably read every 4e book that WoTC has published, except for the first two Essentials “Heroes of…” books. (They turned their noses up at Essentials until they got over their “edition-ism.” :) They’ve built countless 4e characters and they’ve read the first Dragonlance trilogy multiple times (Laurana is their favorite character) and are still hoping that someday Dragonlance comes back and unseats Forgotten Realms as a D&D setting. (Yeah, I know, not likely…) They’ve also branched out into other RPGs and even had their letters published in Daniel Solis’ “Do: The Book of Letters.”

RPGs and drawing are our daughters’ favorite activities. The majority of what they read is probably gaming books, fantasy novels and articles from D&D Insider (including yours!). I have to admit that we're not always happy with the way female characters are portrayed in what they read, or in the art they’re seeing on WoTC’s site and on DDO (where they spend most of their allowed online gaming time). According to S, “There are too many scantily-clad female characters out there, and not enough in actual armor." Still, instead of censoring, my wife and I have chosen to use such content as springboards for discussion. (I usually join in their party when they play DDO, and I also run a monthly tabletop 4e game for them and three of their closest girlfriends.) We're happy that our daughters have retained their strong self-image despite some of the messages which they’ve been receiving from the gaming culture at large, but we’d rather they just be able to enjoy the culture without those messages. I think you know what we mean.

J even had one of her “rants” published by New Moon Girls magazine:
> I was on a gaming website and saw a game called “Nerdy Girl Makeover.” The description of the game is this: “School is out! Put those books away and give this girl a hot new look!” I find this really offensive. The girl wore glasses, was reading, and had a T-shirt with an atom on it. Why do so many people think that smart, intellectual girls who like reading and academic subjects are “wrong” and “ugly”?
> J, Washington

In any event, both our daughters' first love in gaming has remained D&D and powerful fantasy heroines and villainesses are still their favorite subjects for drawing. (They’ve drawn for hours every day since they could hold a crayon.) J’s favorite characters to play and draw (in no particular order) are barbarians, rangers, sorceresses and rogues. S said that her favorites are wizards, witches and mages which led to an argument about whether those three are all the same or not so you see, our daughters really are gamers! :) We're looking forward to seeing what they draw for you. I’ll scan it and send it along and we’ll go from there. If their art doesn’t fit with Prismatic Art, then perhaps we can collaborate on something else in the future.

Above all, please know that you have a family of supporters out here in the Pacific Northwest! You are an inspiration to our daughters and as parents of girls who are passionate about D&D, we wholeheartedly support your initiative!

All the best,

Both Charles and his wife Jung game with their daughters and they write about their experiences.

Why Prismatic Art?

For those who missed Monday's announcement, I'm working on a new project, Prismatic Art Collection, with Daniel Solis. Our hope is to use Kickstarter to raise enough money to commission artists to create works of art that push the boundaries of what a fantasy hero is and can be. We want to pay the artists reasonable rates for the work and then turn the art over to the Creative Commons, using a license that allows the work to be used in personal as well as commercial projects.

Our hopes are the following:

  • Artists will respond to the economic incentive to create inclusive fantasy artwork that can be used in role-playing games.
  • Increase awareness of the diversity within the artist community with the hopes of getting artists from traditionally underrepresented groups more exposure.
  • Publishers will have a list of artists eager to create this type of art.
  • Publishers, blogs, and other efforts will have stock art images for women and people of color that aren't cheesecake or caricatures.
  • The RPG fan community will have more art that they love and feel embraced by.

I came up with these goals after talking with people publicly and privately about this topic for going on three years now. I've listened to a lot of people from many different circles within the fantasy role-playing games community. Most people recognized the issues while a few served as stark examples of what the issues are. Some have told me for a while now to stop complaining and do something so with Daniel's help, that's what I'm trying to do.

Tackling the issue of lack of diversity in the art isn't that controversial. With more and more stories like the teenage girl who convinced EA Sports to include a female avatar in the NHL video game, the need for diversity and artwork becomes apparent. That doesn't include the large number of messages I get from parents who want game books they can share with their children, especially their daughters. While some people, including commenters on this site, will try to say that we can't change the art, the truth is they are just incorrect. Fantasy literature and tales appear across cultures, ethnicities, and genders. The hero's tale knows no limit. The only limit is our own desires and imaginations.

The other issue, the lack of diversity in the artists on projects, is much harder to tackle. There's no easy answer. The overall landscape is one that is tilted in a direction against diversity. There are lots of reasons for that, some understandable, some not. The problem could be approached in two ways, one excluding the other. I could make this project an example of egalitarian hiring and hope a diverse group of artists contact me, or I could say specifically that I'm interested in having a diverse group of artists working on this project. I went with the latter and I stand by that decision.

One of the issues with a general call to artists is that the artists I most want to work on this project will often self-select out of the project for a number of reasons.

  • One reason for the lack of diversity is because parts of the community (and sometimes people who seem like leaders within it) tell them that they are not really wanted. I've lost count of the number of times I have been told that D&D is a game for men, particularly those of European descent, and that I should just accept that. These artists have been told that too. For many of them to respond to a call for artists, they need to know that it's ok, that this project is a safe space that embraces their ideas of what fantasy is and can be too.
  • Another reason is a fear of a lack of talent. Now I realize this isn't just limited to these groups, but when combined with the above, it means it's harder for me to find and recruit a diverse artist pool. If I didn't put the limit on the first round, my notoriety would likely elicit a strong response from established artists, many of whom are white men. In fact, a fair number of these artists approached me individually to see if there was something they could do to help. Their gender isn't a problem, but I wouldn't be surprised if their responses made the people who are traditionally underrepresented feel like they were not good enough. I mean, it wouldn't be surprising for some of them to think if I get well-known artists wanting to do work for me, why would I want to work with someone lesser known. Even with wording it the way that I did, I had women reply with "well, I'm not really professional, I mean, I did some work for a few RPG books, but..." It's heart breaking and is a result of how we socialize women and think about their contributions to society. I want to change that.
  • Without specifically noting my desire to hear from artists from those groups, people might not remember to recommend members of those groups or ask them to participate. I learned this lesson from the tech conference scene. We tend to think of our friends and the people who get the most attention first. I'll be honest, I have a pretty decent list of artists I could go to for this project already, but I really want this project to expand the diversity and knowledge of diversity not only in the art, but in the artist community as well.
  • Many of the people in these groups have either been brought up that it's proper to wait to be asked or have heard no so often they are afraid to put themselves out again. Without knowing each individual artist, this was the best way for me to invite them in a way that was as clear as possible that I was interested in them.

These are the main reasons I made the decision I made. Another one is that I want this to be a safe space led by people we don't normally see in positions of leadership. I use the word "partnership" in describing the relationship with the community and the artists and I really mean that. This is going to be as much their project as it is Daniel's and mine. So while I decided to call specifically to certain groups during the initial call for artists, I'm not excluding anyone from the project, but diversity in the artist pool is going to be just as important to me as diversity in the art itself.

I created a twitter account for this project, @PrismaticArt. Feel free to follow it to stay up to date on news and announcements. I'm hard at work on getting the business backend set up as well as recruiting artists. More soon.

Tome Show i4e Giveaway Announcement

The kind folks over at i4e gave us some codes to giveaway to the fans of and The Tome Show. The application runs on iOS devices such as the iPhone and iPad, allowing you to build your a character through the app (no DDI account needed) or upload your character builder files and view your character sheets on those devices. The app lets you track things like hit points and conditions at the table. They have a number of tutorials on their website.

i4e Features

  • Multiple characters (never be without your favorite character again as long as you have your iPhone with you).
  • Import characters from D&D Insider Character Builder .dnd4e files using the fully editable import site
  • Easily enter and track hit points, healing surges, power points, temporary hit points, milestones, action points, and item usage.
  • Track powers attack bonus, damage, and calculated critical damage.
  • Track power usage (All types of powers, as well as ones that burn healing surges or return hit points from their usage).
  • Easily accessible list of skills with the bonuses for your level and current ability scores.
  • Track Conditions, treasure, and experience

Contest Info

So, how do you enter our contest? Thanks for asking! Between now and March 11th at 11:59 pm ET, answer the quiz questions below, enter your name and email address, and submit! We'll pick 4 lucky winners on or about March 12th. As a hint, the answer to question number 3 can be found over at The Tome Show website. Keep an eye out for more hints on Temporary Hit Points, my twitter account, @SarahDarkmagic, and Jeff's twitter account, @squach.

If the quiz doesn't load for you, you can also take it here:

Prismatic Art: Call for Artists

A few weeks ago, Daniel Solis and I mentioned that we are working on a new Kickstarter project. We aren't quite ready to release all the details yet, but since it's an art project, we wanted to put out a call for artists now so we could have a list for the announcement. So, without further ado, here are the main details of the project.

Prismatic Art Collection is a free library of art representing heroes of all backgrounds.

In geek culture, there are plenty of Lukes, but not enough Landos or Leias. We want to change that. We'll be raising funds to hire female and ethnically diverse artists to create fantasy art depicting heroes of all backgrounds. Together, we want to make it easier for underrepresented artists to find work and for everyone to find more varied depictions of heroes. We want to pay the artists reasonable rates and release the art to the Creative Commons under the Attribution Share-Alike license.

All submissions will depict women, people of color, or differently abled people in fantasy heroic roles. No cheesecake, ethnic sidekicks, or caricatures, please. Just straight-up fantasy heroes in settings full of swords, dragons, dungeons, wizards, and the like.

If you're a female or ethnically diverse artist and are interested in this project, we want to hear from you. Please contact us at We're open to all styles of art, but we want professional-grade quality stuff. In all cases, accepted submissions will be released to the Creative Commons under an Attribution Share-Alike license.

If you're interested in supporting the project, keep an eye out for the upcoming Kickstarter. We have a twitter account for this project, @PrismaticArt

Edit: Follow-up on the reasons why we singled out particular groups in this early call. We're not restricting the artists, but we are seeking a diverse artist pool.

A Richer Tapestry of Sexual Expression

I've been struggling for a while to figure out how to write this post. While I'm someone who often requests that we talk about sex and sexuality openly and honestly, I'm still unsure of how to do that in a culture that might judge or silence me, especially given the lack of examples we have for such discussions. At the same time, I've found that it's getting increasingly difficult for me not to talk about it, particularly with the way some are misinterpreting the bits I do let out.

Male gaze in actionMale gaze in actionIn researching this, I found an article that sums out a lot of how I feel about the topic, On Men's Sexualization in Video Games. That article has a great explanation of the trend that I often refer to as the "male gaze." In my discussions with friends, I realize the short phrase often gets misinterpreted so I hope to clear the air on that a bit. The "male gaze" is a label applied to media framed in a way that suggests that a male, more notably a hypothetical, stereotypical heterosexual male, is the viewer. Scenes are composed and framed to highlight those aspects that the composer believes men would find attractive and quite possibly finds attractive as well. Some, including friends, who have never heard of the term before and maybe haven't studied media or art, believe that by using that term that I am attempting to make a statement about men, heterosexual men, the actual viewers, or them as individuals where it's often the composer who is making those statements, not me.

For me, the issue isn't the existence of the "male gaze." I think there are contexts and environments where people can and should enjoy sexual imagery for its full on, unbridled sensualness and sexuality. I'm just not sure the base D&D game is one of those contexts. I know both opinions put me squarely against some groups, but, that's honestly how I feel. What often bothers me is how pervasive it is and, with the focus on that one point of view, how little we see other gazes in our media. The pervasiveness, in my opinion, is sexist, against all genders. It represses and overly simplifies the full complexity and nuances of human sexuality. It also normalizes one masculine viewpoint, allowing it to dominate above all others, feminine and masculine.

As a woman, I often feel oppressed under it. Its constant presence reinforces messages I get from many places that my worth is tied into my body and my looks and my ability to please men. Hell, the uncomfortable comments I get about this, the refrain that I should shut up and just accept it shows how ingrained this point of view is. Yes, I get mad that scenes depicting female pleasure or that use a female gaze are often left out of our culture, especially in games. That those perspectives are often seen as more "mature" than similar topics from the male gaze. Yes, I get mad that more often than not, the woman is presented as a sexual object to be consumed by the viewer. It's not political correctness, it's the breaking of suspension of disbelief since this is not how I see the world.

But I also get mad about what those images say about men. My husband is a wonderful, complex individual full of lots of emotions. Many of my male friends are that way as well. The constant messages they get from these images hurts them as well. They need to know that it's ok if they aren't always sexually available. That men aren't always attracted to women. They care about women as people, not just as a source of sex or as wombs. It's ok to turn down sex with a woman if you don't want to because a woman doesn't have to have sex to confirm her self-worth. It's ok to appreciate a woman's beauty, but women have more to offer than just that.

If we lived in a society where images that conformed to the "male gaze" were a small portion of the overall images, if they were just one thread in the rich tapestry of life, my message too, would probably seem more nuanced and broad. But that's not the world I feel I'm in. Instead, by seeking a more balanced portrayal of human sex and sexuality, I'm painted as a conservative who wants all women in burkas which is utter and complete bullshit. It's the sort of accusation made by people who are used to having their whims catered to and are afraid that perhaps that privilege will end.

So, how does this all relate to gaming and what would I change if I could? The first, is that I would argue that there are contexts within gaming, even a game such as D&D. I've read some of the Forgotten Realms novels. In my experience, there is a diverse array of groups, including some who seek healing and divine guidance through the flesh while others are a bit more chaste. This is great. By including the latter group in your game, you're making it clear that sexuality may be a topic in your game. Players can know in advance, boundaries can be set, and we can have informed consent before the first die roll. By setting the game in a place where sexism exists or by having a character from such an area, you are signifying those topics are something you are interested in exploring.

But, I don't think by sitting down to a D&D game in general that I'm agreeing to cover adult themes such as sexism, sexuality, and pregnancy. It might be a fun mental exercise for a person who hasn't experienced sexism to want to play through a sexist society, but, honestly, I have enough of that crap in my real life that I want my gaming to be an escape from that. I don't want the general, the statistical, to inform what my character may or may not do or attain. In a world with magic, we should just have reliable birth control, for men and women, and allow players to decide if they don't want it or if pregnancy and father- or motherhood is something they want to explore without forcing them to keep chaste. I want a world where men and women are equal and can attain the same goals. Make half the guards women and make half the healers men, or at the very least, don't make it a deal when characters break out of the gender roles that confine us in the real world.

But most of all, let's create a richer tapestry full of different portrayals of sex, sexuality, sexual orientation, gender identity, and depictions of the masculine and the feminine. Let's provide easy ways for DMs to make clear that they want to include those subjects in their games, at their home tables, and for players to provide consent to those topics and set boundaries. Let's understand that what is considered normal might not be normal for everyone and that we leave out so much when we concentrate and emphasize images that fit under the "male gaze." Most importantly, let's talk about the issue.

More Like This Please


Thalestris by ~dashinvaine (via DeviantArt)Thalestris by ~dashinvaine (via DeviantArt)What I love:

  • She's a warrior, doing warrior things. Sometimes the warrior thing to do is wait out a barrage of arrows under your shield. If it was good enough for King Leonidas and his men in 300, it's good enough for the Queen of the Amazons.
  • The javelin through the shield makes the piece. Without it, I'm scared for her, but not too much so since her shield seems to handle the arrows fairly well. With the javelin through the shield, I'm afraid for her life and whether or not she'll make it out of battle. This fear is heightened by the dead bodies around her.
  • The blood on her spear shows that she's probably killed already in this battle. She isn't there merely for show.
  • The smoke from the fire in the background adds to the feeling of uncertainty and grimness.

Old Woman vs Demon BW

Old Woman vs Demon by ~ThreeEyesWorm (via DeviantArt)Old Woman vs Demon by ~ThreeEyesWorm (via DeviantArt)What I love:

  • I've seen depictions of older men fighting, but rarely do I see one of an older woman. I love how this drawing breaks the mold in that area.
  • I also love the Japanese feel I get from the artwork. I'm not quite sure if that's the style the artist intended, but the swirling clouds and the characters remind me of that country.

As Old as Your Fears

As Old as Your Fears by *chryssalis (via DeviantArt)As Old as Your Fears by *chryssalis (via DeviantArt)What I love:

  • This is another example of a story in a painting which will often get a +1 from me. But in this example, it's a story that often is heavily tied to women. With our culture's emphasis on women's beauty, and the belief it fades with time, women often feel the pressure of time in a way that I feel that men do not. I've also felt the loss that we seem to forget about women in the middle of their lives, although that is changing too.
  • I love the symbols used in the work. The watch carried by the crow, representing the in my mind the feeling that time is often stolen from us or at least always fleeting. The dog, to me, means she's not friendless but yet her presence in the woods makes her seem all alone.
  • The work has a fairy tale feel to it that I love, especially the mirror in the woods and the darkness of the location.

First Lesson

First Lesson by *kerembeyit (via DeviantArt)First Lesson by *kerembeyit (via DeviantArt)What I love:

  • Dragons! Not just a big, mean dragon, but a baby dragon learning to fly from a parent. What a cute and wonderful story. I wonder what would happen if some adventurers stumbled into this moment.
  • Not only is it a cool snapshot into the life of a dragon, it gives some depth the creatures, something that I feel is missing in a lot of D&D. I understand the pressures that word count and space have on the game, especially in the monster manuals, but if we want to tell fuller stories, ones where the PCs don't always murder everything in sight, the monsters need to have a little more something to them then a desire to kill all that is good and yummy.

Some Notes

  • Since it's a frequently asked question, yes, I know about the Women Fighters in Reasonable Armor Tumblr. It's a great site and I sometimes add artwork from my Pinterest from there.
  • After my last post, someone left a comment pointing out issues about the artwork and putting down my desire to not critique the art. I understand his points but critique is not the point of these posts. If people want to critique or say negative things about the art, they can do it elsewhere as that's outside the bounds of these discussions.

The Waiting Game

Cuckoo clock (from Wikipedia)Cuckoo clock (from Wikipedia)The last 2 months have been filled with a lot of waiting. Waiting for announcements. Waiting to learn more. Waiting for the mourning period to be over. Lots and lots of waiting.

The hard part, for me and a fair number of others, is that we love most, if not all, of the changes that were made in 4e. I realize that in presentation, the game easily could be seen as a radical departure from the past. And the particular way the designers evolved the rules of the past to form the 4e ruleset at least makes it harder for some to see the game's past in them. I can only speak from my point of view, but to me, 4e was an amalgam of previous editions, letting the non-combat be more freeform and rules light like my experiences in OD&D were while providing rules to make fair the life and death combat scenarios. I know others will disagree, but that's how I've always seen 4e.

Some of you will remember this but it bears mentioning anyway. When I started playing, I was enthusiastic about the game. I loved to post about what I did and how I enjoyed it. I'd get some people who would put me down for not playing D&D correctly and others in the community would support me. The latter is and will continue to be the awesome part of what we have online.

But I also learned something else, not everyone enjoyed the game the way I did. Part of what led to me learning game design was a desire to take the 4e ruleset and create the type of experience they talked about because I have a huge amount of empathy for people who love D&D but don't feel like the rules support their style of play. Why? Because I spent over 20 years on the sideline, watching, and unknown to me, waiting for 4e to come out. I truly want this to be a game that captures the feel of D&D in all, ok, most, of its forms and also supports the vast array of playstyles shared by the D&D community.

The early editions of the game, because they were the seeds of the D&D tree, were lighter weight and more tightly focused on the implied style of play of the time. If we're going to have a game for all, the core of that game has to look very similar to them. This makes sense because everything we know today was built out from that core. We need to test that the game can handle an adventure from that time period and still both feel like D&D and come across as fun. And Caves of Chaos, part of the introductory Keep on the Borderlands, is the perfect adventure to use since many, especially at a convention like DDXP, no longer play D&D that way, at least not on a regular basis.

So, it's going to take some time before they get to the mods that form the basis of the 4e playstyle. I'm ok with that. I'm going to do my best not to worry about whether or not every mechanical choice in the core rules feels like 4e, because, in fairness, they probably shouldn't. I will try to give my opinion of what I think is fun. I will try to figure out if the proposed core rule precludes the feel of a 4e game. When I think it does, I'll say something constructive. Beyond mechanics, I will be a voice who tries to push to a more inclusive world story, but again, doing my best to stay constructive.

To the fans of the later editions: Our time will come. We just need to be a little patient and wait.

More Like This Please


valkyrie by ~dangerousllamavalkyrie by ~dangerousllamaWhat I love:

  • The art gives a sense of caution and a bit of fear. I envision her in caves somewhere, keeping a watchful eye out for enemies.
  • While she has an articulated breast plate, her breasts seem fairly normal for her build and for her occupation. I grew up playing sports and still enjoy playing them today. However, I would be lying if I said that larger breasts didn't make simple tasks, like swinging a bat, slightly more difficult.
  • She has a sword and a rather normal sized one at that. I love playing characters with swords.

Heal Aura

Heal Aura by Storn CookHeal Aura by Storn Cook
What I love:

  • Like much of the art I love, this one tells a story. The story of the warrior who gets hurt and needs someone to heal isn't that new, but I love that the story involves only women, at least in the frame.
  • The camera angle is awesome because it gets everything in. My eye was drawn first to the huge helmet with the axe through it and then back to the cleric doing a great job protecting the fallen warrior.
  • The art leads to more questions than answers. Who put that hammer through her helmet? Why isn't the creature attacking them now? Will the cleric be able to heal her?

Paladin and the Demon

Paladin and the Demon by ~AerythesPaladin and the Demon by ~AerythesWhat I love:

  • She's in armor appropriate for her class, paladin, and for going up against a demon, especially one with claws and teeth like that one.
  • She's toe-to-toe with a demon! She looks determined and, most importantly to me, she's not interested in anything else other than killing the demon.

The Cave

The Cave by ~diegodealmeidaThe Cave by ~diegodealmeidaWhat I love:

  • Again, story! The warrior went out in search of some food. He found a rabbit and was bringing it back to his shelter in the cave when two big trolls set upon him. Now the hunter has turned into the hunted.
  • I also had an instant connection with the man. I love artwork that makes me worry about the fate of the hero. Right now, the poor guy is surprised. He has dinner in one hand and his sword is still sheathed on his back. I want to know what happens next.

I'm adding much of the artwork I love to my Pinterest account.

Of Water-Nymphs

The Head of a Nymph by Sophie Anderson (from Wikipedia)The Head of a Nymph by Sophie Anderson (from Wikipedia)Like many things, my feelings about water-nymphs are a bit complicated. Part of me absolutely adores them. I can't tell you the number of times as a child that I wished I could be a water spirit, free to play in the water all day and night, splashing and roughhousing and exploring the depths of a world that most would never see. As I grew older, their lack of modesty appealed to me. They didn't have to segregate their lives into the sexual and the non-sexual, their sexuality was part of who they were.

Nymphs inspired creativity. They gave life to the wild and the civil alike. They healed. They pulled pranks. They warned heroes of danger. Sometimes, they found their own danger. They danced and sang. They attended the assembly of the gods on Mount Olympus. They were creatures of their own will, outside the the bounds of civilization and etiquette. In these ways, they were women as women were meant to be.

The problem, to me, came in with others, the people who would define them by their sexuality, forgetting about the rest of their nature. The life-giving, nurturing spirits became examples of everything the proper woman shouldn't be. We emphasized their ability to dazzle those attracted to them to the almost complete exclusion of everything else. They became mere playthings instead of givers of life. Their sexuality inspired fear, lest it trap the unsuspecting and soil the otherwise spotless hero. In short, they became yet another expression of womanhood, of femininity, that had to be categorized and avoided at all costs.

Here's how I would love to use water-nymphs in my game, working within the existing legends about them while, I hope, providing them greater depth and utility in games.

Water-Nymphs Lore

Water-nymphs reside in ponds, streams, wells and other collections of fresh water. Each nymph has a home body of water and her connection to that water is so strong that some say if the water dries up, she will die. They are known to be whimsical, beholden to no law or man. They love to play, often basking in the sun or daring each other to aquatic tricks. The water spirits are experts at not being seen although the splashes that result from their quick dives beneath the surface are frequently heard.

The various races differ in their views towards water-nymphs. In some areas, the local populations worship them as water spirits that they believe are the result of dalliances between the fey river spirits and humanoid women. Often, these groups view nymphs as great healers and providers of information. Other areas, especially the more civilized areas, fear them, afraid that their wild ways will entice away their young. In these areas, the people tend to believe that nymphs are not the daughters of the river gods but are instead either young women who ran away from home or the result of unions between seduced young men and the nubile nymphs.

Legends tell of the healing power of water-nymphs, claiming they can infuse small amounts of water with healing energy. However, they must feel moved to do so and cannot be compelled. Water-nymphs often lose this ability in the presence of an evil act (attempting to compel is an evil act) or an evil creature. Some believe the water spirits can sense a person's suffering either by being near him or a personal item, although it is harder for them to sense through the item. When a person seeks healing, family and friends may transport the afflicted to the water's edge and if that's not possible, brings a personal item instead. If a nymph feels moved to help ease the suffering, she will appear and bless water with the ability to heal the afflicted. Rarely, a person is so full of good that a group of nymphs will appear and their cumulative blessing is enough to bring a person back from death if he hasn't been dead more than a day.

(from Wikipedia)(from Wikipedia)Beyond their healing abilities, nymphs are rumored to be great sources of information. Every child knows that voices carry much further and louder across water. As a result, anything murmured near a water's edge is likely to find the ear of a water-nymph. In addition, the various streams, rivers, brooks, ponds, lakes, and other bodies of water create a giant network across the land and nymphs frequently travel to visit one another, trading information as they go. They also can speak with animals, frequently gathering information from the creatures who quench their thirst at a watering hole.

In general, nymphs are most likely to appear before good creatures, although they often are unsure of those who are lawful good. For unaligned creatures, they might appear if the creature tickles their fancy or if sense the creature is a prankster like them. Whenever possible, they hide from evil creatures as the presence of evil takes away their healing abilities.

The daughters of water are able to leave it for short amounts of time, an hour or two during a sunny day to an entire night. If out in the sun, they must take care not to let their skin dry out. They also are able to sense good creatures within a mile of their water's shore. A number of legends speak of a well-timed warning delivered by a nymph who sought out the hero.

Anatomy and Appearance

Undine by John William Waterhouse (from Wikipedia)Undine by John William Waterhouse (from Wikipedia)Water-nymphs often are beautiful. While they are not immortal, they have long lives similar to elves, a trait many believe they get from their fey river spirit fathers. Their mothers can be from a number of races, and they often retain a trait or two from them. They have webbed hands and feet and tend to have strong, lean muscles. However, they can appear as a woman of their mother's race, hiding these features at will. When they wear it, they tend towards clothing that is soft and flowing. Their hair is almost always long and loose.

Tactics and Combat

Alberich steals the gold by Arthur Rackham. (from Wikipedia)Alberich steals the gold by Arthur Rackham. (from Wikipedia)Rarely will they enter into combat, although they will defend themselves and their watery homes if attacked. Their primary means of defense is enchantment, often through song or the shimmer of their wavy hair. Often one will appear and entice the enemy to follow her into an ambush. Creatures entranced by their beauty will follow the nymph into the water's depths, often forgetting that while she can breathe underwater, they can not, leading them to drown. For those who don't fall to the nymphs' charms, they are adept at spears and nets.


Water-nymphs often have eclectic treasures, collected from freshwater shipwrecks or overturned boats, goods washed away in floods, and from the fallen who died in battles in the water. They keep their treasures hidden in deeper water, often obscured by weeds. Underwater, they are fierce opponents, quite adept at quick movements and handy with the spear.

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