Old School Hack: Weapon Types and Arenas

Recently, Rob Schwalb wrote a post on the D&D Next community site asking the community if they thought weapons should have damage types.

[T]he game has handled weapon damage in different ways over its long life. In the early editions, tables reflected how weapons fared against armor types and if a monster had a special resistance to the damage, the information lived in the monster’s description. Later, to unify the tech, weapons dealt damage of a particular type (bludgeoning, piercing, or slashing), and the most recent incarnation treated all weapon damage as being effectively the same.

Schwalb, Robert J. Weapon Damage Types

While I realize that D&D Next probably isn't about creating new solutions to old problems, the discussions around this post reminded me of a mechanic I really liked in Old School Hack. In that game, instead of tying weapons to particular kinds of monsters, the most weapon types are tied to the different arenas. The two exceptions are very heavy weapons which are a special benefit in themselves and the neutral arena.

Weapon Type Bonus Arena
Light Weapon - Examples shortswords, rapiers, one-handed
maces, daggers, truncheons, nunchucks, clawed
gloves
+2 bonus when used in Tight Arena - Narrow places that often limit
your mobility somehow.
Reach Weapon - Examples quarterstaff, poleaxe, spear, flail,
net-and-trident, sword-and-chain
+2 bonus when used in Hazardous Arena - Places where footing is
difficult or visibility is limited
and requires care.
Ranged Weapon +2 bonus when target is in Open Arena - Stark, wide-open areas where
there is little to no cover.
Heavy Weapon +2 bonus when used in Dense Arena - A crowded environment that has lots of fiddly but smashable bits that might get in the way

Robinson, Kirin. Old School Hack Beta v1.0, p.12.

In my experience, the ties between weapon type and arena made combat more dynamic and made it easier for me to determine my first move in an encounter. If I had a weapon with a connection to a particular arena, I chose opponents in that arena first.

The other nice thing it did was spread out the group and provide natural spotlights. Instead of four or five PCs bunched in one area, we spread out a fair bit more. So even if a bunch of us were just making melee attacks, we were often doing it to different targets in different areas.

Unlike having monster traits that resist or are vulnerable to certain types of damage, this is likely to matter in each encounter. It gives players choices whereas players often don't have a choice in what monsters they face. While I'd have to test it out to be sure, my gut tells me that it's less likely that players will load up on a golf bag full of weapons in this system, since they won't be penalized for not having the right kind of weapon and they are likely to see some benefit in most encounters unless the DM isn't doing a good job of setting up arenas.

As someone who might run the game, I like how it naturally lends me to think about setting up diverse arenas within one encounter. It forces me to think about terrain and to include different terrain types, especially if I want to reward my players' decisions. However, it doesn't give them or me so many choices that I feel overwhelmed as a relatively new DM.

It also encourages thinking about what demarcates the various arenas, leading to richer descriptions in my experience. One example would be a theater. Much of the building is taken up with seats which can be thought of as either dense or hazardous. The stage would probably be either open or neutral. Backstage, with its wandering passages, could be tight.

Finally, the arenas lend themselves to an easy way to physically represent the encounter without drawing out a grid-based map. This is important to me because I often have a hard time remembering things for the short term, especially things that were spoken to me and I didn't write down. I could easily use differently colored pieces of paper or index cards to represent each arena and use everything from minis to glass beads to represent the various characters.

I think, with a little work, this could be layered on top of D&D. What do you think?

More of This Please

With the announcement of D&D Next, I hope to talk about issues of inclusivity and how a game can foster a more friendly environment for non-traditional fans. Over the past two weeks or so, I've been using Pinterest to collect images that are closer to the style and content that I really enjoy. I've also been trying to be more conscious of the media I consume, looking for things that really appeal to them and thinking about why. I hope to do more of these posts in the future but for now, here are a few that stood out to me.

Knight Exemplar

Knight Exemplar from Magic: The GatheringKnight Exemplar from Magic: The Gathering

What I love:

  • She's part of the army. The card just reads Knight Exemplar. I have no reason to believe that there aren't more female knight exemplars.
  • While her breastplate is given extra room for her anatomy, it doesn't emphasize her breasts. They are just a part of her, not objects to look at.
  • She's looking at the camera. While she has an aura of confidence otherwise, she's riding with her back straight and shoulders back and is properly equipped, looking into the camera contributes to this feeling of self-assuredness.

Arctic Druid

Arctic Druid by Gary Gill (via Deviant Art)Arctic Druid by Gary Gill (via Deviant Art)
What I love:

  • Somehow she has been able to get a polar bear, a wolf, and a snow owl all to follow her and not go after each other.
  • She's wearing something other than Western European clothing. It makes me wonder more about what her culture and her life are like.
  • It's a scene out of her life. She and her animal friends are going ice fishing so they can fill their stomachs.

Elven Archer

Elf Archer by Michael Ivan.Elf Archer by Michael Ivan.

  • An action shot where a woman character is going up against multiple foes. What isn't there to love?
  • It's hard to tell for sure, but it looks like she is protecting a fallen ally. I love when women are shown as martial protectors, not just the people who need to be rescued.
  • She's determined. I don't think she'll give up without a fight.

The Conscripted Girl Soldier

I love the TV show, Once Upon A Time, for a number of reasons. One of the big ones is that it often passes the Bechdel Test by having two or more women on screen without talking about men or a man. What I love even more is that it doesn't do so at the exclusion of the romantic element.

One scene that got me really excited happened in the episode "Desperate Souls." The episode centers on Rumplestilskin's origin story, the lengths he went to to save his son for being conscripted into the army at the tender age of 14 and how they changed him. It opens with the duke's people conscripting another child into service. However, instead of a boy, they take a girl. Not only that, there's no discussion about whether or not a girl would make a good soldier. The default is gender equality and the focus is on their young age.

Fantasy Racial Tensions

Some of you may have seen my tweets regarding the importance of race-based mechanics in D&D, and, if we had to have them what form they should take. My thoughts came as a result of a D&D Next blog post that Monte Cook posted last week. To me, the important part was the following.

Do dwarves have to have special familiarity or even a bonus to use axes for the statement “dwarves favor axes” to be true? Without some kind of mechanical benefit to using axes, many players will ignore the flavor. Others will use axes based only on the story aspect. And if most dwarves end up with longswords because there is no mechanical incentive to choose axes, is that so terrible?

Background

In my experience, this paragraph highlights fault lines in the D&D community that goes deeper than any edition division ever does.

Resource Management and Storytelling
Part of the desire for race-based mechanics comes from the games long-standing war gaming roots. War games tend to model combat, real or imagined, and these models require doing away with the individual differences between units to create a mechanic to represent people or unit of any particular type. You then combine these units to overcome a challenge, usually another opponent but sometimes a specific scenario such as the Battle of the Bulge. Each choice, then, needs to have meaning and have defined pros and cons. We can see these sorts of war game mechanics in many games including Civilization, Age of Empires, and SimCity.

However, much of what made D&D different from war gaming was the shift of emphasis on the group to the individual. As a player, you no longer controlled legions; you played just one character. As players explore this new game, people became attached to these individuals in ways that they hadn’t with war games. They wanted their character to be able to go from scenario to scenario while still retaining what he had learned. They wanted a character growth track. They wanted to know, in more detail, what the life of their character would have been like.

Optimizers and Game Balance
Some people are really good at taking a bunch of rules and finding the combination of rules that let them do incredible things. Often, but not always, it’s a product of having a fantastic memory, solid knowledge of the rules, and some time to read everything. One of the reasons we often don’t let players pick from everything is the fear that people who are good at this will create characters that seem like gods when compared to the rest of the party.

Stereotypes and Outliers
Race-based mechanics have been part of D&D for a long time. Originally, they were just classes, along with fighting-man, we had elf and dwarf. Eventually, the designers decided that elves and dwarves could have classes too, and full equality was achieved. Well, almost. For many, the unique flavor of each non-human race is something that they love and feel needs to be preserved. A dwarf with a sword is, well, no dwarf at all.

Yet the game has changed over the years, as has our society. Fantasy monocultures were brought to us by the same game that had gender and age-basd rules. For some, it feels wrong to summarize an entire race with a few attributes here, maybe a power or racial feats there. Any group of people might lean a certain way, but even within that group there are likely to be outliers. The protagonists in many fantasy stories are often the outliers, they just haven’t always figured it out yet.

Support for outliers also has been around for a long time. Dark Sun turns around many of the tropes of D&D. Instead of being lucky and happy, Halflings are feral, cannibalistic creatures intent on making a meal out of your character. Even within core D&D, someone inevitably provides a way to get around the race limitations, often by creating a new sub-culture where things are just a little bit off. Steve Winter describes this on his blog post about illusory math:

  1. Dwarves get +1 to hit with axes.
  2. Some people who like dwarves want to play against type and use spears, but they feel they're being punished for not using axes (as, in fact, they are). So ...
  3. The rules inject a slight tweak that lets dwarves get +1 with spears if they never braid their beards.

Checking the Community’s Pulse

The D&D Next post also had a poll asking readers to choose between these options:

  • Flavor stands independent of mechanics.
  • Flavor should be backed up by game rules.

Each time I’ve checked the results, the second option had the most votes, with about 60-62% of the total responses. It’s easy to say, well the second item “won” the vote, so that’s what we are going to get. However, I feel that’s too simplistic of a view to take. If the goal is to unite the most fans as possible, we can’t leave out approximately 40% of the audience. Besides, there might be a large, middle of the road audience that this poll fails to capture but should have their needs met as well.

Instead, this poll went to the extremes for a reason. I think the designers and others wanted a gut check to see whether what they thought they should do when they had to choose one over the other. At least, that’s what I use polls like this for in my day job. And if I saw a split this close over a question that should drive people one way or another, I’d be looking at new solutions that would work for both groups.

This post is long as it is so I’ll write about my suggestions for race soon. I’m also interested in what you think of this look at the tensions in the community and the results of the poll.

Thoughts on Skills

Each edition seems to have its own way of dealing with skills. While I haven’t had time to study each edition, I think I’ve had enough experience with each of the systems I discuss here to give general impressions about the system and some observations on how I react to each.

Before I talk about expressions of skills in each of these editions, I'd like to lay out two ways skills are often used in a D&D game.

Skills as Resources

For some, skills constitute a resource that players invest in or not. When used this way, the DM generally presents a more generic challenge to the PCs, such as traveling a long distance through the wilderness. If no one in the party chose skills to help with such a challenge, the hope is that the characters spent other resources, such as silver and gold, to obtain resources to help them through, such as a map, rations, camp equipment, hiring skilled allies, and the like. If they didn’t, then they often suffer the consequences of their choices by getting sick, starving, not resting well, and the like.

Skills as Adventure/World Building

For others, the skill choices serve as a menu, allowing the player to tell the DM what sort of world they expect. In this play style, if no characters took wilderness survival skills, it’s possible that the DM won’t ask the players to play through a survival scenario unless the scenario was very important. Why would a group of people untrained in the arts of the wilderness enter it when they could do x, y, or z instead. Likewise, if a player takes a skill such as blacksmithing, that’s a clear message that the player is interested in having that trade be part of the game. Additionally, this way of handling skill choices can make it easier to game with a smaller group without adding the complication of henchmen and other skilled NPC allies.

Not all games will be one or the other. Some skills lend themselves more one style over the other, for instance, a skill such as balance might be something we want to view as a resource a player either invested in or didn’t whereas sailing would be part of adventure or world building.

Expressions of Skills

In the Fellowship of the Tweet games I was in, we used OD&D (Rules Cyclopedia). In that game, the only defined skills I could remember were set by class, with the thief having the majority of them. For instance, when we wanted to climb, I believe just the player of the thief made the check for the entire group.

Observations:
• When limiting skills to a particular class or character build decision, they can become more memorable. I didn’t read all of the rules and we only played a few sessions yet I remember this about our game.
• In a game where you combat should be a component but not the focus of the game, having characters that are poor in combat but useful outside of it helps spread the game’s emphasis since the DM must run non-combat scenarios to ensure the spotlight spreads around to all players.
• If the skills are only available to certain classes or character builds, the game may become too limited for many players. Furthermore, it may force a player in the group to play a character class he or she doesn’t want to because the group would be missing a crucial skill otherwise. The most frequently cited example is people feeling they had to play the healer.
• It may be difficult, if not impossible, to use skill choice as a world/adventure building engine in this system since other factors are much more likely to enter into the decision of which class to pick. The presence of particular skills has less bearing on whether or not the player is interested in playing out that skill.
• For new and casual players, the system may be easier for them to use. It’s also might help players who are used to more clearly delineated races and classes.

Another skill system I have experience with is the skill ranks system from 3.x. In this system, the skills are, for the most part, codified in one place instead of being mixed in with the various classes and other character build options. Every character has access to every skill. Classes favor certain skills, giving the player a bonus for taking them. Players start out with a certain number of skill ranks when they start the game and gain additional ones each level. Some skills can only be used while trained.

Observations:
• This system supports both skills as a resource and skills as part of world/adventure building.
• The combinations are limitless. Players can go deep in a small set of skills or cast a wide net.
• World building skills are mixed in with necessary combat and other play skills, making it harder on both a DM and player since participating in world building might come at the expense of effectiveness within the party.
• Not all players want the depth of choices nor do they want to revisit skill selection at each level. Since the skill system touches so many different levels of the game, it serves as a barrier to entry for some players.
• The system needs to set limits on how much advancement in a particular skill a character can have compared to its level.

The system I’m most familiar with is the 4e system. In 4e, we have a stripped down skill list with many skills from earlier editions combined into one, such as Spot and Listen becoming Perception and many of the Knowledge checks becoming part of History, Arcana, Religion, and the like. During character creation, players decide which skills they want to train in and skill modifiers go up by ½ level throughout the character’s career. Generally, class choice decides which skills are available to a character, although that may be modified through themes and feats among others.

Observations:
• The system is a simple yet flexible framework to help DMs adjudicate non-combat and even some combat actions.
• The training system and automatic leveling makes the game easier for new and casual players since a player makes the skills decision once instead of each time the character levels. The skill system is also tied into fewer other parts of the character so it’s easier for a new or casual player to make an informed choice.
• The system lacks depth for invested players and training in new skills requires a player to expend resources that might be used to produce a more effective character for combat.
• The skills available are spread across the classes, akin to the OD&D model but a few character build options open up other skills to characters.

My Preferences for D&D Next

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past week or so thinking about these. They each seem to be on a continuum of complexity. For new players or those who don’t want to invest a lot of time into skills, do something more akin to the OD&D model. For each class and race, provide some skills that they would be trained in. No decisions need to be made by the players. For other players, do the trained/untrained model with auto-advancement. Finally, for those players who really enjoy the complexity, let them move around the points as they wish, still keeping some limits on the highest some skills can get in relation to level.

I’d also love a discussion of the two ways to use skills and a vocabulary to help the DM and the players communicate the sort of game they want or expect. I suggest that some skills might only be made available on an adventure or setting basis. If an adventure or setting is likely to call for a sailing skill then it will be present, but if the game is in the middle of a desert, then it’s not listed. In addition to class, I'd love skills to be tied to the character's background and culture.

Finally, I’d love to see tools for the DM to use to make skill use more important in the game. In a resource management scenario, such as a survival game, rolls regarding food finding might be pretty important since lack of food might trigger starvation or other effects. On the other hand, I’ve been in plenty of games where no one wanted to play that out, and instead wanted to concentrate on other areas of tension and story.

So that’s where I’m at with skills. How about you?

Having it All

Recently I came across a story about a decently well-known illustrator finding a comic cover depicting a woman breastfeeding offensive and calling it "adult content." Here's the cover:

Saga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona StaplesSaga, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

The person goes on a bit of a long rant about the cover, some of it due to his belief that the comic is for all ages although a simple Google search shows that it's rated mature. Easy mistake, sure, but it didn't explain this paragraph.

It seems that in today’s desperate-for-sales comic book market, nothing is sacred. In the midst of world-saving adventures, today’s modern heroine breast feeds her child with zero modesty. Talk about work-life balance! It hearkens back to those Enjoli fragrance TV ads of the ’70s — I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and never, never let you forget you’re a man…” I’m just so impressed with this I-can-have-it-all super heroine. I had to wonder, did La Leche League (or as my wife took to calling them after she delivered our son, ”The Breast Milk Mafia”) pay big-time sponsorship money for this cover? What a wholesome, family-friendly image!

I'm surprised that he came away from the picture assuming this was a tale of a woman who had it all: baby, significant other, and she's a hero. I mean, he didn't come across the picture without any context. From the USA Today article about Brian Vaughan that he referenced:

Admittedly a "big Star Wars nerd," Vaughan has channeled his inner George Lucas to create a sci-fi/fantasy epic. It follows two soldiers — a ram-horned man named Marko and a winged female warrior named Alana — from different sides of an intergalactic war who fall in love and decide to have a baby.

That's when the real adventure begins, as the new family is pursued by everyone in the universe, Vaughan says. "You'll get a nice mixture of some bounty hunters, monsters and all sorts of lovely threats."

So it's about a new family, pursued by everyone in the universe. So much so, from the cover, that they can't even find a moment's respite to feed their baby without having their weapons in hand or at least in easy reach. And the sneak peek offered through the USA Today article shows that this is exactly what is going on. In that section, Alana is breastfeeding her baby when the coalition forces arrive to arrest her for "abandoning her post and aiding the enemy." Given that background, I find it a bit strange that he decided that the depiction of breast feeding was gratuitous.

And if having it all is so bad, where is his anger at the father? Where's the anger when Superman gets to save the city and Lois Lane? Why is there a glass ceiling for mothers that even heroines can't break through?

I also am at a loss as to where he came up with "zero modesty." Very little of the woman's breast is shown. Her jacket covers the other breast completely and her midriff isn't showing so there's a good chance she has a shirt or part of a dress covering most of her upper half.

So, the question at this point might be what in the world this might have to do with gaming. Well, in my opinion, a few things:

  • The person who made this comment has illustrated for a number of companies including Wizards of the Coast. While a person's private opinions shouldn't keep them from working, it does make me wonder if they seep into his work, limiting how far a female character in the work can go, especially since he is willing to attack another artist on this matter.
  • I've heard this sort of latent dismissal of women from other people in the community (and to be honest, in society in general). When combined with the assumption that the mother chose to put her child in harms way, it frustrates me. The assumption that a mother can't decide what's best for her own child points to an underlying belief that women can't reason for themselves. It's wrong and it really needs to stop. I hope we get to the point where the first thought when viewing a picture like this one is "Wow, what is going on such that that family can't even have a calm moment to feed their child" rather than "How could a mother allow her child to be in such a dangerous situation?"
  • Too often, even in the world of science fiction and fantasy, what is possible or allowable is different for a woman compared to a man. Even in a world we make up, we have to somehow limit ourselves due to gender. Fathers can be anyone, do just about anything, but a mother is a mother and has just one aspect to her. That's not equality.
  • This is also what happens when the female perspective is deemed inappropriate and removed from society. Something as natural as a woman feeding her child becomes a trigger for an attack against mothers (and women) who dare to defy society's expectations and limits on their potential. True equality will mean that some men (and women) will have to deal with things that make them uncomfortable, just like I often have to deal with things in current society that make me uncomfortable. The only way to combat this is to get more women (and men) into the public discourse and to give equal consideration and time to their outlooks and points of view.

As for me, I'm looking forward to reading a story about a couple where the child is part of their life experience, where we get to deal with the ramifications of having a child unlike in the mystical pregnancy, where real issues many mothers (and fathers) deal with are explored and potentially even celebrated in a world that might expand our imagination of what is possible. But most of all, in the aftermath of the DC relaunch, it's nice to see a story line where the woman owns her own sexuality, where her body is not something being exploited. I hope it catches on.

By the way, another awesome sneak peek can be found here.

D&D Next!

In case you haven't already heard, today Wizards of the Coast announced that they are developing the next iteration of Dungeons & Dragons. The announcement has been covered on a number of sites, including CNN, EN World, NY Times, and Forbes. In fact, Forbes has a nice roundup of links if you are interested in reading even more.

While there are a lot more questions than answers at this point, one of the big things to note about this new iteration is that the goal is to provide an experience that all fans of D&D, regardless of when they started, will find familiar and comfortable. Now, I realize this is a lofty goal, but, to be honest, I don't think it's insurmountable.

As discussed in a variety of Legends & Lore columns (commonly abbreviated to L&L), a modular game system is key to this. This causes fear in some people, how can one game system cover so many game styles and preferences. But currently, don't we already have that with all the various editions of the game as it is? Don't people who like particular play styles tend to prefer particular editions over others? I know people who play 0e, others who play 2e, and many who play 3x and 4e. Currently, the edition is often the shorthand for the play style desired. But why keep it that way? Why not create language to help people communicate their preferences and provide tools to achieve those goals? As an added bonus, if most of this shares a common base, this means players, DMs, and designers don't have to remember 4+ different rules system when moving between play styles.

And if that is where Wizards of the Coast is going with this, I couldn't be happier. While I love 4e, I've often felt sad that many of my D&D playing friends didn't feel like they had a home in my edition. Hell, I've been mad on a number of occasions over the whole concept of the walls between editions. We have so much more in common than those differences would have us believe.

What I love even more than this new, inclusive vision of D&D is that they are gathering the thoughts and opinions of the fans through play tests, the Legends & Lore column, and other venues. This is relatively new ground for them and I'm really excited to see them try it out. Will there be some speed bumps along the way? Absolutely. But at the end of the day, I think we'll both get a better product out of it as well as an informed and supportive community.

Beyond that, why am I so excited? Well part of it is that I was fortunate enough to do a play test session of it in early December. I can't talk about specifics for a number of reasons, but even in that incredibly early play test I saw a lot in there that people had been asking for. So right away that told me that they are listening to their fans and trying to provide a game that will make as many people as possible happy while still being D&D.

If you are interested in working with Wizards of the Coast in creating something we can all call our D&D, add your name to the play test group. They also created a community group for D&D Next. If you are on twitter, many people are using the #dndnext hash tag to continue the discussion there.

So, without a ton of detail about the new game to talk about, that's where I'm at. How do you feel? What excites you about D&D Next? What do you want to see?

Heroica!

One of the awesome gifts my husband gave me for Christmas is Heroica: Fortaan. I haven't had a chance to play it yet, but I wanted to share my thoughts thus far.

What is Heroica?

The easiest way to think about it is as a board game built out of Legos with many of the trappings of a fantasy role-playing game. At least in the Fortaan set, you get to play one of four heroes: Barbarian, Wizard, Druid, and Knight (Rogue and Ranger are available in other sets). Each hero gets a special skill that is triggered during certain die rolls. The goal of the game is to be the first player to move from the start area to the end area, often by defeating monsters, finding keys to locked doors, and searching for treasure. For some videos on how to play, check out the Heroica website. (warning, it has music that automatically comes on)

What I love

One roll represents multiple creatures
In D&D and the D&D-inspired board games, both the heroes and the monsters get a turn. It makes sense, D&D tries to more fully simulate "real" combat, especially the fog of war and the interaction of both sides. In the base play experience of Heroica, only the heroes do things. When I roll my attack die, it determines between 4 outcomes: Shield (1), Sword (2), Skull (2), Sword & Skull (1).

Here's what happens with each:

  • Shield - I defeat the monster or I get to use a special melee power that is attached either to my Hero or to my weapon. So, if I'm a Barbarian, I get to defeat all adjacent monsters and move a space.
  • Sword - I defeat the monster.
  • Skull - I take damage equal to the monster's strength and move away 1 space. Heroes have 4 Health (hit points). Most monsters have strength of 1, underbosses have 2, bosses have 3.
  • Sword and Skull Both things occur. I defeat the enemy but not before it gets a good pop in at me.

What this means is that both my turn and the monster's turn is represented in that one die roll, making the game run a little faster although a bit more abstractly. It also deals with a problem I've commonly had in D&D, where the players all have great initiative bonuses and get to wipe out the enemies before the latter has a chance of doing any damage.

The chart is printed on the die
Since Heroica doesn't try to simulate everything, the die is effectively it's own chart. The skull and sword pictures on the die only take up half of the face. The other half has pips 1-3. That makes the die usable in the attack phase and in determining how many spaces the Hero may move during his move phase, but it's also useful when determining the outcome of a treasure chest. In the game, all treasure chests are trapped. You roll the die to find the outcome. A Shield gives you 2 gold pieces, a Sword gives you 1, a Skull does damage of 1 Health, and a Sword and Skull gives you a gold piece and reduces your Health by one.

You can hack the die
If you have more than one set, it's possible to hack the die. As it is, Heroes have a 2 in 3 chance of defeating the monster, 1 in 2 of taking damage, and 1 in 6 of triggering a special ability. But, if you want to change that up, it's just a matter of changing the faces.

You can hack the adventure
The instruction booklet has you build a number of rooms and hallways that can be connected in different ways. So you build the rooms first and then follow a dungeon map to put them together to form the dungeon. I'm not sure about the other sets, but Fortaan comes with 3 scenarios. The game encourages you to also create your own and to mix and match the various elements to create your own dungeons. I just wish they had named the various sub-sections so it would be easier to share new dungeon creations with others.

You can hack the game
Well, of course you can hack any game that isn't a black box, but the rules even say it.

Try building your own missions, thinking up exciting stories about the adventures of your Heroes, or even changing the rules! The secret to changing a game is to only change one thing at a time.

They go on to give 2 different play experiences, Epic Heroica, where you play in one mission right after another (meat grinder!) and Battle Heroica, where one player controls all the monsters (so close to DMing!). In addition, there's a magic item in this set, the Helmet of Protection, that can be kept by the Hero between missions. Now if it just had a sheet to log your missions on....

So that's what has me excited about Heroica. I think rolling the die to move makes sense in the original intent of the game, where we're competing to be the first to accomplish a particular task, but it would probably be one of the first things I fiddled with in the game.

I'm also tempted to use the Heroica sets as my terrain in D&D. Sometimes minis annoy me because they are too realistic, it's hard to remember that the kobolds carrying spears are really supposed to be skeletons with axes but my DM didn't have enough of the latter.

I also think this game is great at teaching the fundamentals of playing tabletop RPGs. Many of the basics are here: tracking Health or hit points, buying and selling gear, how classes and weapons offer different advantages, magic potions, locked doors, and trapped treasure chests. And most importantly, how to make the game your own. What do you think?

What Kind of Player are You?

Yesterday, I came across this, in my opinion, awesome video, "Gamer Girl Manifesto."

Do I 100% agree with everything about or in the video? No. I'm not a big fan of pwning newbies and I find the frequent use of the word girl instead of women a bit annoying at times, but overall, it's a message I can agree with. In short form, their manifesto is this:

Don't be racist. Don't be homophobic. Don't be sexist. Follow that code and everybody will have a good time. And when someone breaks that code, CALL THEM OUT. Don't just let it ride.

In my mind, this is a longer form of Wil Wheaton's "Don't be a Dick."

Apparently, some people can't grasp the longer form either. Two people left inappropriate comments on my G+ post within hours of me sharing it. The first left these gems.

I agree with the "Don't be a Perv", but as for everything else these chicks need to just grow some skin and put up or shut up.

I deleted the comment and left a comment that the G+ post was my space and that I will police it. Which lead to this:

Because you haven't got the guts to face reality.

Men shouldn't be perv's. But woman need to learn their are things they just can't do. Just like I can't carry a baby to term, no woman has a place on the battle field.

If you don't want to hear the truth, then don't post on the internet.

Awesome, the price for me just being who I am is that I have to subject myself and everyone else to these comments. Except, no, it doesn't. I can delete, which is what I did. And that led to this awesome nugget. I'm editing out a bit about women in the military and clotting factors because, well, it has absolutely nothing to do with the video.

First off, this is [woman's name], [man's name]'s wife, posting. My man has a job, and takes good care of his family so that I don't have to work outside the home.

So now I ask. Why do you hate women? Why do you want to place the curse of men upon our shoulders? Why do you want to take away our grace and genialness, only to replace it with labor and strife?

...

Delete this post again, And I will just repost it again and again.

So, yeah, awesome. Not only do I have to subject myself to those types of comments, this person has a right to harass me. I of course deleted that post and then blocked the account, because, well, I made it clear those comments were unwelcome and it's my space. Continuing to post those comments after I set my boundaries is a clear lack of respect for me as a person.

Besides, whether or not it's the guy or his wife (every online profile lists him as single), they clearly have a G+ account of their own where they can say whatever they want. And after I deleted the last comment and blocked the account, a message similar to this one showed up on that account. I'm not a government. I am under no obligations to give them a stage.

I have to admit, the second person bothered me a bit more even though so far it wasn't an ongoing process. The comment? A single word:

gay.

Seriously.

Now, you might ask why I wrote about this. I mean, I dealt with it on G+; no one would have to know their message beyond the small group who may have seen it there. The problem is that I often run into people who say that they never see any sort of sexism in the hobby or industry. Well, the person with the G+ account in the first comment calls himself a game designer and has at least 2 gaming companies (neither of which I had heard of before) listed in his various online profiles, including one with products on DriveThruRPG. A third, seemingly new company, has him on their list of game developers. At least 4 of my friends in the industry have him as a friend on Facebook.

If I were newer or didn't have as many friends in the industry side of things as I do, I might have thought he was representative of the rest of the industry. When you have those friendships, it's easy to dismiss these as people who aren't quite right or have an axe to grind. There's comfort in knowing your friends and how awesome they are. However, letting these comments exist and not taking a stand about it means that people who don't have that comfort often suffer and are turned away.

Help Me Celebrate the D&D Community

I have some great news to share with all of you and a huge favor to ask.

The short version:
Good News: Wizards of the Coast is starting a new column on their website to highlight the contributions of the D&D community.
Better News: I get to write it!
Best News: You get to take part!

Every two weeks, half of my column will be about a topic, like modern fairy tales or gamer resolutions, that touches on our community and game, directly or indirectly. The other half will be links to articles, resources, videos, etc, often from community members just like you.

I’m really excited about this project and can’t wait to share the articles I’ve been working on. But there’s just one catch. I have no idea what to name it.

That’s where you come in. I’d love to hear your suggestions because at the end of the day, this column is about you and the hard work you put into making the game awesome. Feel free to leave a comment, send a tweet to @sarahdarkmagic, or write an email to tracy@sarahdarkmagic.com. Just get them to me by Sunday, November 20th. If I get too many ideas and can’t choose between them, I’ll create a quick poll and post it here.

Speaking Up

Trigger warning: I talk about harassment and abuse aimed at women online.

Recently, a number of articles have pointed to one of the hard parts of being a woman online; there are a number of people who will say terrible, abusive things to you solely because you are a woman and have an opinion. I recently was interviewed by G*M*S Magazine before the latest round of articles about this phenomena. One of the questions asked was how to get more women into RPG blogging and podcasting and I raised this issue. Please give it a listen when it comes out. For now, this paragraph from another article (written from the male perspective) sums up the situation for me:

I’m a guy who also gets a fair number of abusive emails — I even have a hobby of posting some of them now and then on the web — but there’s a qualitative difference to what I see. I get death threats regularly, but they’re usually of the form “you should get [violent fate] for [hating god, violating crackers, being liberal]“; I don’t get threats of the form, “[Man], I need to [crude sexual assault] you”. As a man, I can get threats for speaking against some cherished dogma, which I can sort of halfway understand, but I don’t get the threats for just being of my sex and speaking out, period. -- Pharyngula

This distinction is usually lost in discussions of the topic. Often the threats come not because the woman says something that threatens the status quo, but because her mere presence, the fact that she has a voice at all, threatens some people. For instance, take this incident of a boy threatening to rape Kat Armstrong's daughter merely because she appeared in a video with her mom.

The video offers further proof of the worry women face by just being active online. The reason her daughter is in the video is because Kat, then community manager at Lockergnome, was loathe to do a video by herself. I empathize with her. During my first GenCon, Trevor Kidd was kind enough to run a few D&D bloggers, including me, through a game of the then-unreleased Castle Ravenloft. At the end, he asked to take a video with our thoughts on the game. I declined because I was so scared that the video would go on YouTube and I would have to deal with the comments. I completely froze up and then apologized profusely. I self-censored myself due to an intense fear of what would be said.

You're just looking for it

Sometimes I get accused of looking for these stories. The problem is, I don't have to look for them. They appear, several times per month, in newspapers and friend's feeds. The people who hurl these abuses often search out women and make themselves known. Take these DMs I received after I asked why someone had a problem with me and then why he followed me if he disliked me so much:

Well, I feel you are just a pretentious bitch. I don't like your feminismistic views and well, I just never liked you.

For the same reason i follow dazedsaveends. Sometimes you guys say shit that makes me angry, and someone has to read it and respond.

If all your followers just kissed your ass all day, it wouldn't be much fun.

How many of these would you have to receive before you questioned if it was all worth it? 5? 10? 20? 100? And then remember that a woman may receive multiples of these when she posts, often more than her male counterparts. Are we really surprised then that women leave the public sphere so often?

Broad Issue

The number of women who have come forward, across topics and genres, is also important to note. This isn't just an issue in the geek community but yet it affects the community just the same. If we want to get more women to participate, we need to know this happens and form ways to combat it. Here are some of my suggestions:

  • When women, or well anyone, complain about these behaviors, please stop telling them that if they want to blog or podcast, they'll just have to learn how to deal with it. Abuse should not be the price we pay for simply expressing ourselves. If it is, then don't be surprised if people self-censor themselves.
  • Learn the facts of rape, sexual assault, and crime in general so you can see the bigger picture. Stop perpetuating old myths that you need to dress modestly in order to lessen your chances of being raped. You aren't doing anything other than making yourself feel better and you make women even more paranoid and hyper-conscious of what they do. It's near impossible to write or be in public, when a woman has to analyze every outfit, every word choice, for fear that this will be the time she somehow invites unwanted attention. Plus the price of admission to the public sphere should not be the hiding of one's sex or gender, just like we should never ask someone to change his skin tone.
  • Speak up. If you see someone bashing someone due to their sex or gender, say something. This is not white knighting. This is caring about your community and taking ownership over what happens in your presence. If you feel uncomfortable speaking up, at least find a way to let the victim know that you support him or her.

This doesn't mean that men don't face some of the same issues; that threats of violence or rape aren't used against men or that, in some areas, just being a man isn't seen as a threat to the status quo. For instance, I know a number of men who feel the same way when they enter zones of traditional female power such as child care websites. This, too, is wrong but outside the scope of this discussion.

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