Analysis of The Escapist interviews

I posted the first part of my analysis of the series of male developer interviews published on The Escapist on G+ and will add them to the end of this post. For now, I'd like to examine the core questions that were asked of 13 of the male developers.

What is your definition of "gamer"?

This is an important question to ask, although in a few cases it wasn't asked until after the interview was otherwise completed. Since the definition of gamer varies, knowing how each one defines it provides much needed context to the answers.

Do you make games for gamers? (I'm using "gamer" here to mean "core game enthusiast")

Ok, things have already gone off the rails a bit. Really this question should have been "For whom do you make games?" With the current atmosphere surrounding gaming, a "no" opens people up to abuse. It's additionally difficult when the interviewer is using his own definition of gamer, meaning "core game enthusiast." Not only is the term "core game enthusiast" problematic but he's centering on the stated expected audience of his site. Not a good position to put an interviewee in if the interview is supposed to lack an editorial voice, in my opinion.

Do you think gamer culture more toxic than other enthusiast cultures on the web (political enthusiasts, fashion enthusiasts, car enthusiasts, gun enthusiasts, etc.)? (I'm using "gamer" here to mean "core game enthusiast").

What does this question even mean and why would these interviewees be in a position to really answer it? While I get that many people have multiple interests, the number that reach enthusiast level is likely to be rather small. This question would be better served by people who study such communities in the aggregate. Also, why does it matter if group A is more or less toxic than group B if there is toxicity. Finally, the question suggests an assumption of toxicity which some may disagree with but there's no easy way to signal that given the question construction.

What is your reaction to this sentiment, expressed in Gamasutra: "Gamers are over. That's why they're so mad."

I feel strange about this being included in here. I get that this was probably included due to Intel's decision to pull their ads from the Gamasutra site, but there were a lot of articles written around that time period that expressed similar arguments. Also, I'm not entirely sure why I should care about a game developer's reaction to that statement. This seems like a softball question to those interviewees that align with GamerGate but a poor question for just about anyone else.

What is the root cause of GamerGate? Do you see it as part of a larger "culture war"?

I thought GamerGate was supposed to be about journalistic ethics. Why isn't the question here about those alleged ethics violations? Why reference a culture war, especially when that's part of an unsubstantiated and quite lacking conspiracy theory?

Imagine a development team composed of middle-aged white men creates a game explicitly aimed at young men called AMERICAN VENGEANCE that features a lantern-jawed white American soldier attempting to save his exotic-dancer girlfriend (complete with jiggle physics) from torture at the hands of Jihadists. Violence is the only way to advance in the game and the girlfriend's torture is as graphic as anything in the movie SAW. But as far as violent shooter games go, it is exceptionally innovative, gorgeous, and fun. Is it fair to give the game a low review score for lacking inclusiveness? Is it fair to give the game a lower review score for having violent or misogynist themes?

What? Why not just ask what the purpose of reviews are? What people should or shouldn't review? This is needlessly inflammatory if you are trying to conduct an impartial interview with people from many different points of view. Also, these are game developers NOT journalists or people necessarily knowledgeable about ethical standards for reviews. While I would hope that developers would be open to critiques to their work from a variety of lenses, I don't particularly care if they are or are not.

Do you believe videogames can affect the personality of their players, making them more violent or sexist, for instance? If so, how do you as a creator respond to this? How should the industry respond? How should society respond?

Again, how are these people necessarily in a position to answer this? Why not conduct interviews with people who know about this instead of asking someone's beliefs? Why is this a core question when the issue is supposedly journalistic ethics?

Ultimately, which is more important: The individual artist's right to create artistic works, regardless of how distasteful we may find them; or our society's right to create an environment free from bigotry and hatred?

First, this is not how rights work. You can't declare that in all cases one right will trump another. Second, this is a slanted question. I don't know of a single person who is demanding a societal "right to create an environment free from bigotry and hatred." In fact, what I do see are a lot of people who are saying it's ok to enjoy problematic things, in part because people are complex, but with that comes the responsibility to acknowledge their problematic aspects.

These are terrible interview questions. They are stacked towards the point of view that Alexander Macris himself acknowledges he has. They also reveal the true intents behind GamerGate. Notice, not one of these questions addresses questions of corruption or the relationships between developers and press or between developers and fans. I get that other questions ask that but they are not part of the core questions he asked 13 out of the 16 interviews currently on the site.

The whole thing was terrible. As an attempt to provide a variety of points of view, it's a failure because the questions are so tilted it feels like it should be on the Colbert Report. I understand that he put a lot of work into this and that it took weeks, but that doesn't excuse the sloppiness. To top it all off, he didn't disclose his personal relationships with at least two of the interviewees. One is someone he has called a friend for over 15 years and the other is a person who's IndieGoGo campaign he recently contributed to. Jenn Frank was driven away over a much lesser relationship, and while it's not part of The Escapists' ethics clause to disclose these things, I think it's hypocritical that people like Jenn Frank are viciously attacked whereas Macris is applauded.

Anyways, here's the rest of the analysis. This analysis suggests that there are some real issues with the balance between the women's and the men's presentations, the questions asked each, the amount of time given to each, and the like.

Approach
First, let's compare the approach. The female developers were asked to give statements by a fellow female dev, not by the staff of The Escapist. The female developer was one of the 7 who gave statements. It's unclear how long they had to give their statements but multiple of them mention that there is a deadline. Their statements are published on September 24th. Since some of the female developers wanted to be anonymous, all were made anonymous.

The mostly male developers (one of the interviews is with a game design studio that has male and female members) on the other hand is an actual interview and it is clear with several of them that there was a back and forth with questions. Seventeen interviews were conducted although one was removed later due to evidence that he was allegedly involved in harassment of several other people. At least one staff member is conducting the interviews and they happen over several weeks and are published on October 10th, a good two weeks after the female developers statements are published. There is a mixture of anonymous and not.

Format
The female developer statements were presented one after another and are not given separate pages on the site. Only one developer has a statement that goes multiple pages.

The male developer interviews are presented in a table with names and summations of part of their interview. They each have their own page on the site and many of the interviews are consist of multiple pages within each. Information about their credentials is provided along with the type of game design work and other links to the games industry are included.

Questions Asked

For the female developers, they were asked to address the following talking points if they wished.

What do you think about the term "gamer?" and about #GamerGate?
What you think about the press and any corruption you think occurs?
Should controversial games be available (whether that controversy comes from content like rape or a strong "social agenda")?
Do you feel like "social issues" or pressure have changed your personal work or your work for an employer, and if so, in what way?
Has #GamerGate affected you personally or professionally--has it changed the way you feel about your games, your audience, or your work?

For the male gamers, the questions varied. Here are the core ones that the majority were asked.

What is your definition of "gamer"?
Do you make games for gamers? (I'm using "gamer" here to mean "core game enthusiast")
Do you think gamer culture more toxic than other enthusiast cultures on the web (political enthusiasts, fashion enthusiasts, car enthusiasts, gun enthusiasts, etc.)? (I'm using "gamer" here to mean "core game enthusiast").
What is your reaction to this sentiment, expressed in Gamasutra: "Gamers are over. That's why they're so mad."
What is the root cause of GamerGate? Do you see it as part of a larger "culture war"?
Imagine a development team composed of middle-aged white men creates a game explicitly aimed at young men called AMERICAN VENGEANCE that features a lantern-jawed white American soldier attempting to save his exotic-dancer girlfriend (complete with jiggle physics) from torture at the hands of Jihadists. Violence is the only way to advance in the game and the girlfriend's torture is as graphic as anything in the movie SAW. But as far as violent shooter games go, it is exceptionally innovative, gorgeous, and fun. Is it fair to give the game a low review score for lacking inclusiveness? Is it fair to give the game a lower review score for having violent or misogynist themes?
Do you believe videogames can affect the personality of their players, making them more violent or sexist, for instance? If so, how do you as a creator respond to this? How should the industry respond? How should society respond?
Ultimately, which is more important: The individual artist's right to create artistic works, regardless of how distasteful we may find them; or our society's right to create an environment free from bigotry and hatred?

Here are the number of questions each male developer was asked
Brad Wardell 35
Greg Costikyan 23
"Royale" 23
Crowned Daemon Studios 23
James Covenant 22
Scion 10
Daniel Vávra 8
James Desborough 16
Dave Rickey 23
Kyle McConaughey n/a since he wrote an essay
Tadhg Kelly 23
"Damion Schubert" 23
"Oakheart" 22
"Xbro" 8
"Glaive" 16
Roo 21

Word Count

For the female developers
Developer 1 497
Developer 2 1806
Developer 3 667
Developer 4 837
Developer 5 527
Developer 6 262
Developer 7 363

For the male developers (These numbers include the questions since 1) there is a back and forth and 2) the questions are often needed for the context)
Brad Wardell 5015
Greg Costikyan 2627
"Royale" 1202
Crowned Daemon Studios 1672
James Covenant 1370
Scion 1565
Daniel Vávra 1800
James Desborough 1670
Dave Rickey 3950
Kyle McConaughey 720
Tadhg Kelly 1905
"Damion Schubert" 4449
"Oakheart" 3284
"Xbro" 3059
"Glaive" 1182
Roo 1778

(Yes, that's right, the questions and answers in Brad Wardell's interview included more words than the female developers' combined,)

Pull-out Quotes

For the female developers, the layout had 1 pull-out quote per page meaning all but Developer #2 had 1 pull-out quote. That developer had 3 because her statement took 3 pages.

For the male developers, there's no clear rule for pull-out quotes. This is troublesome because these quotes are a break from the supposedly objective, we'll just publish everyone who responded stance because what to put in a pull-out quote and how many of them to put in is editorial discretion. The numbers for the male devs:

Brad Wardell 7
Greg Costikyan 5
"Royale" 3
Crowned Daemon Studios 2
James Covenant 1
Scion 4
Daniel Vávra 4
James Desborough 2
Dave Rickey 5
Kyle McConaughey 4
Tadhg Kelly 3
"Damion Schubert" 4
"Oakheart" 3
"Xbro" 3
"Glaive" 3
Roo 3

Availability of Content

As noted above, the male interviews each have their own page but the female developers' statements do not. This also means that even when on a page that displays what is supposed to be all the different views, the female views are left out.

There are many other issues with article published on Friday, but hopefully this helps show some of the issues with the structure and some of the outcomes of their approach.

Sickness in Springdale - Part 1

Things on the internet are making me sad today, so I'm doing the only thing I can think of. I'm releasing the text of my adventure, Sickness in Springdale, and making it free for everyone. This post will have the story, the next will have the encounters, and the last will have the pregenerated characters. This was originally written to be used with 4e but I think you'll notice that it will fit the 5e structure quite well even though it was written years before 5e was announced.

Sickness in Springdale

In this adventure, the PCs attempt to save the town from a deadly illness by finding a source of Lady’s Staff, a plant that cures the affliction. To do so, they need to travel through the Lady’s Woods where they will meet a series of challenges to gain her favor. During the course of their travels, they find that their town is not the only one with the disease, the local goblins and elves are sick as well. If they gain her favor, she provides a ritual that multiplies the plant, providing enough to heal the town as well as the elves and goblins. If they fail, they will find their trip difficult and arduous.

Background

“Feel the warmth and safety of the Lady’s Blessing.”

When Springdale was founded 100 years ago, after the last great war, those words enticed scores of people
to settle in the small town on the border of the Lady’s Woods. With her blessing, it seemed like anything was possible, even abundance and peace.

However, over the last decade, that feeling has been changing. Small bands of goblins raid Springdale and other nearby towns every year. The crops are less abundant. It feels as though the Lady’s power fades with each season.

To help with the goblin problem and to investigate the larger issue of the waning protection of the woods, the local baron sent a small force, the PCs Reed and Willow Appleberry, Desmona Thaneborn, and Ewen Banister. They are tasked with fortifying the town, training the locals how to fight, and finding out what they can. They are joined by a number of locals including the PCs Meadow Greene and Garleth Strongbow.

The winter started off normally, but things quickly take a turn for the worse. Most of the town spends their days in bed, sick from a terrifying cough and fever. If they have any hope of surviving the winter, the characters must cure the townspeople. The herb most effective against the malady, Lady’s Staff, is in short supply. The heroes must find an additional source. Fortunately, the midwinter thaw opened some of the roads and paths in the area.

Consuming Cough
The townspeople are sick with the consuming cough, similar to our tuberculosis. While consuming cough is a common ailment, the number of cases this winter is overwhelming. It causes frequent coughs, difficulty breathing, night sweats and weight loss. Without treatment, it kills more than 50% of its victims.

At the beginning of the session have each player make a saving throw against the disease. If they fail the saving throw, they have the initial effect.

Consuming Cough – Level 2 Disease
Endurance:
Improve DC 12
Maintain DC 8-11
Worsen: 7 or lower

Stages of the Cough:
0: Target is cured.
1: Initial Effect: Target develops a chronic cough. Gains a -2 penalty to stealth checks.
2: Target loses weight and develops night sweats. Needs an additional 2 hours of rest to achieve an extended rest. The target takes a -2 to Fortitude.
3. The target is weakened. In addition, the effort of combat further fatigues the target. At the end of a combat encounter, roll a d4. On a 1, the target loses a healing surge that cannot be regained until he or she is cured.
4. Final Stage: The target dies.

Scene One: Springdale

Silvanus Greene, the mayor of Springdale and Meadow’s father, calls the PCs to his office.

When the PCs enter the mayor’s office read:

The mayor sits behind an ornately carved wooden desk and motions to you to sit. To his right stands Woodsman Strongbow, Garleth’s father and leader of the Lady’s Thorns, the town’s militia. To his left is Handmaiden Aurora, the town’s herbalist and connection to the Handmaidens.

Mayor Greene: “Our town is in serious peril. Those most ill will last a week at the most. We need you to find a source of Lady’s Staff so we can cure our people. Aurora here believes the Handmaidens may have some or know where you can obtain it. Do you have any questions before you prepare for your journey?”

What the leaders know:

  • The disease, the consuming cough, seems to be natural in cause but it seems strange that so many are sickened by it. They know the stages of the disease.
  • The only known cure in the area is a plant called the Lady’s Staff. It grows about 3 feet high. It’s most common in summer but some of the Lady’s Handmaidens claim that a sacred pool exists in the woods where it grows during the winter as well.
  • The Lady's Handmaidens live in a small cluster of houses about a day’s journey from Springdale.
  • The Lady of the Woods presents those who venture into her woods to seek her aid with tests to deem if they are worthy of her favor. She protects the natural beasts of the area and often gives her favor to those who show them kindness and compassion. She gives her bounty to those who are particularly careful of their actions while in her woods, especially when it puts them in harms way.
    • One tale states that she made whole a man who refused to kill a hunting wolf sent to attack him by a goblin. For those who ignore her wishes, she shows her fury.
    • Another tale tells of a group of adventures who went in seeking an old ruin and the treasure within. They killed everything in sight and soon found themselves beset on by wolves, tangled in vines and swarmed by bees.
    • Yet another tale tells of a small group of children who were lost in the woods with only a few apples and rations of jerky amongst them. They claimed that a voice whispered in their ears a ritual. Each time they performed the ritual, the amount of food tripled. This allowed them to live for a week off the rations of one day.

Quest: Find and bring back 10 Lady’s Staff plants to treat the townspeople.

Scene Two: Ambush at the Well

The townspeople point the PCs towards the Lady’s Handmaidens, a small group of women who live
by themselves in the woods. On their way there, a group of goblins with pet wolves accost the PCs. The encounter provided presents the well as one of the Lady’s challenges, but feel free to mix things up by including one of the other challenges instead. Perhaps the goblins and wolves are chasing down the white stag or are cutting down the wishing tree.

Scene Three: The Lady’s Handmaidens and Traveling the Woods

A small group of women who worship the Lady of the Woods live here. Handmaiden Pearson is the leader of the group and she can provide the PCs with the following information:

  • On the way to her office, there is a small fountain where the PCs may wash their hands and face. Next to it is an offering box. If they make an offering, Haindmaiden Pearson provides them with a recipe for an effective poutice to use against the disease.
  • The Handmaidens are out of Lady’s Staff. The most likely place to find some is at the Lady’s Pool, a heated pool of water that provides a microclimate, allowing certain plants to grow year round.
  • Handmaiden Pearson asks them if they had any trouble between there and the town. If the PCs mention the encounter with the wolves, she will ask what happened to the wolves. If the players helped the wolves, she will thank them. If they harmed the wolves, her face turns grave and she will remind them about the Lady.

Traveling the Woods

Under normal conditions, the trip from the Handmaidens’ home to the Lady’s pool should take 3 days. However, it’s winter and things sometimes take longer than expected. Have the players make 2 checks using nature or endurance, players’ choice. If each of the highest 3 checks are all:

  • 19 or greater: By interpreting the terrain and working together against the elements, characters make great progress towards their destination. This segment of travel takes half a day.
  • 12-18: The heroes make average progress. This segment of travel takes 1 day.
  • 6-11: The path is hard to see through the snow and drifts make it hard to keep up the expected rate of travel. This segment of travel takes 1 1⁄2 days.
  • 1-5: Everywhere they turn, characters run into snow drifts and their bodies are worse for the wear. The exertion and weather conditions threaten their well-being. This segment of travel takes 1 1⁄2 days. After the first day, if they don’t currently have the consuming cough, the characters need to make a saving throw to determine if they come down with it.

Note: Increase the DC for these checks by 2 each time the PCs fail in one of the Lady’s challenges to a maximum of +6. These checks are also a great time to integrate in the additional challenges.

Additional Challenges

Feel free to use these additional scenes to provide role- playing and/or storytelling opportunities in your game. If you choose not to use these additional challenges, it may be more difficult for your group to earn the Lady’s favor.

The Wishing Tree

Locals often leave small notes written on tree leaves in the deep cracks in the bark of this tree. Legend has it that the Lady of the Woods grants some of these small wishes, if she finds those who leave them worthy. Village children leave many of the wishes, asking for simple items such as a pair of new shoes or perhaps a cloak. Adults often visit the tree to read the children’s notes and give them the things they need.

If a character uses the wishing tree to ask for something to aid the current cause, such as help finding the lady’s pool or evading animal attacks, or if he decides to fulfill the request of a village child, provide the character with a one-time boon, such as a +2 to nature or endurance, to represent a Lady’s blessing. It also earns the characters 1 success towards the Lady’s Favor; limit 1 success per session.

The Lady’s Stag

A white stag appears to the characters, its right leg darkened with blood. If the characters take the time to bandage and/or heal it (Heal DC 8 or 12), the creature will aid them in finding the Lady’s Pool, providing them with a +2 to all travel checks for one round. It also earns the characters 1 success towards earning the Lady’s Favor. Refusing to help counts as 1 failure.

Scene Four: The Lady’s Pool

When they arrive at the pool, they first run into the elves. The elves don’t want a fight, but they are in the same situation as the PCs. Their town is sick and the Lady’s Staff is the only known cure. The players decide whether or not they fight the elves. When the rest of the creatures enter the scenario, the elves see that they have a common foe and join forces with the PCs, dealing with some off camera threat.

Winning the Lady’s Blessing and Bounty

Use this list to keep track of the party’s progress towards earning the Lady’s blessings.

Successes

  • They don’t kill the wolves (Ambush at the Well)
  • They heal the wolves (Ambush at the Well)
  • They leave an offering at the well (Ambush at the Well)
  • They give an offering to the Lady’s Handmaidens (The Lady’s Handmaidens)
  • They ask for aid or promise to fulfill the request of a village child (The Wishing Tree)
  • They bandage or heal the white stag (The Lady’s Stag)

Failures

  • They kill the wolves (Ambush at the Well)
  • They take offerings from the well (Ambush at the Well)
  • They refuse to help the white stag (The Lady’s Stag)

Count up the number of success they have towards earning the Lady’s blessings. If they achieved 4 successes before 3 failures, they earned her blessing and her bounty. If they achieved at least 2 successes, they earned her blessing.

If the characters earned the Lady’s Bounty, she will whisper in the ear of the druid:
Collect 10 Lady’s Staffs and place them on the altar. Say a prayer and share in my bounty.”
The plants triple in number, enough to treat both the town and the elves.

If the characters earned the Lady’s blessing, the Lady whispers to them:
Perform the following ritual and receive my blessing. Take a handful of water and offer it to the north, for the frigid winds that bring forth winter and the death that brings life. Take another and offer it to the west, for the miracle of night and the rest it brings. Offer another to the south and the warm rains it brings. Finally, offer a handful of the water to the east for the life-giving sun. After you have done these things, say a small prayer, enter the water and be healed.

If the characters did not earn the Lady’s Bounty:
There’s only enough Lady’s Staff to help one town. With a heal check of DC 8, they think they could create a weak tea that will keep those sick alive for a month. If the elves are still alive and the PCs try to take all of the plant, the elves engage them in combat and will fight to the death.

Art: "Fiordelisa" © 2012 Jenna Fowler, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/ Find this and more art at Prismatic Art Collection

How a picture of girls playing D&D went from cool to awesome

So, some of my friends were sharing an image around that I thought was pretty cool.

I love it! They claimed that it was a D&D ad from circa 1980. That would be awesome to hear about but something was nagging me about the story. It didn’t feel like an ad. I’ve seen a bunch of ads from that time period. Where was the TSR logo? Or the address to write to for more information?

So I did a Google image search. (In Chrome, I can do this easily by right clicking on the image and choosing “Search Google for this image”). I found this article from 2012 that discusses the image and points to a Scribd page as the source. From this page, it claims that the image, instead of being part of an ad, is actually part of an article about Dungeons & Dragons published in Dynamite Magazine.

Unfortunately, the site would only give me the first page, the one with the image, for free, so I still couldn’t be sure that it was more article than ad. My curiosity overcame me and I paid for a one-day pass to the site so I could download the entire article. I’m glad I did!

While the article itself doesn’t say Dynamite Magazine, it gave me two more clues. The credited photographer, Richard Hutchings, has had over 20,000 pictures published by Scholastic, Inc, the publisher of Dynamite Magazine. Likewise, a search on the author’s name, Margaret Howard, points to a connection to Scholastic. While not conclusive proof, they provided support.

The article is pretty amazing to me. I’m so used to hearing tales about the satanic panic when it comes to the early history of the game. Reading a relatively balanced article from the time period is nice to begin with, but seeing one aimed at kids feels awesome. It was cool to see some of the industry stats too, things like 250,000 sets of D&D were sold in 1979 and that was double the 1978 numbers. It was also interesting seeing it called a FRP, the fact that only Gygax is mentioned as the creator, and that it started from stories his father told him while he was growing up. I also laughed a bit at hearing a group of Orcs called a flock.

After the brief history, it talks a bit about how the game is played and includes two more photos, close ups of two characters, a wizard and a monster.

Dungeons and Dragons is not a game in the usual sense. There are no little “men” to push around a board, no cards to tell you what to do, no race to finish first. There isn’t even a winner. Instead, each player becomes a character in an imaginary adventure set in a mysterious world. The game is acted out under the direction of a Dungeon Master (DM). He or she creates the dungeon in which the adventure will take place and controls the action of the game. Usually D&D is organized as a search for some fabulous treasure that lies at the end of the dungeon. Each character hopes to survive the perilous journey and claim the treasure, which could be gold, jewels, or objects with magical powers. Dice are used on each turn. And throwing the right number can mean the difference between life and death, success or failure.

This is a great introduction to the game and no wonder children responded (more on that later). Those familiar with the history of games and of Dungeons & Dragons will know she points out a lot of what made Dungeons & Dragons a success. This wasn’t about winning or the end. The middle part, the journey, was why one played (with the possible caveat in regards to tournament games). In addition, the game is more than just what it is not, but what it allows to happen, an open world that can be simulated without necessarily limiting.

She then discusses the role of the Dungeon Master, how they create dungeons, the more complicated the better, and how the players create their characters by "roll[ing] some weird looking dice." Even the role of mapping by the players in the game is discussed, something that later editions often left out and a brief explanation of leveling, "as the players move from one fight to another, they gain experience and become more powerful."

Then she gets to the monsters.

And what monsters! One DM we know especially likes something called Green Slime. According to the D&D rulebook, Green Slime acts like an acid. But when it touches flesh, the flesh itself turns into Green Slime. The only way to get rid of it is with fire, cold, or a magic spell. Yecchhh! And Green Slime is only one of the enormous gang of monsters which could be roaming through the dungeon. Carrion crawlers, shrieking fungus, giant ticks and beetles, hell hounds, berserkers, black puddings, orcs, ogres, stirges, trolls...page after page of the D&D rulebook is devoted to descriptions of these nasty creatures, the damage they can do, and how they can be killed, repelled, or neutralized.

I love this! She includes quotes from at least two players, including one boy who is listed as 13. He tells us, "all you really need is some paper, a pencil, and a good imagination." She also tells people where to find D&D games, although it’s part of the paragraph that talks about how some kids take it too far. But astute readers will now know to go to hobby stores and also that they can learn more by reading “issues of Dragon, White Dwarf, and other FRP magazines.”

So, am I just over enthusiastic about this article? Well, that’s where the story gets even more awesome. While researching the origin of the image, I found a number of people who credit the Dynamite Magazine article with introducing them to Dungeons & Dragons. Let’s take a look.

Ryan Dancey

I entered the hobby gaming market as a 6th grader at Westhill Elementary in Bothell. I found an article in Dynamite magazine that had a picture of a map set up with miniature figures and about a half page description of people playing Dungeons & Dragons. Without rules, a firm understanding of how you made a “game” out of that stuff, or much else to go on, something deep in my soul connected with the idea of a roleplaying game, and I was hooked.

Source: https://web.archive.org/web/20070118231810/http://web.mac.com/rsdancey/i...

Frank Brunner

I heard about Dungeons and Dragons in a Dynamite magazine at school. I grew up in a small town in northern Michigan, and being in 4th grade, didn’t know anyone else who played. So I told my mom about it, and she tried to DM for me. She had no clue what she was doing. It was fun because it was a family activity, but we ended up just saying you know what, wait until next summer when you’re at your cousins, and they can show you how to play.

Sources: http://futileposition.com/2012/07/interview-spellbound-kingdoms-designer... http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?309277-Your-intro-to-RPGs/pa...

Geoffrey McKinney

That's not merely an ad. It's actually the first page of a three-page article about D&D. It's in Dynamite #82, cover story on Buck Rogers and Wilma "TV's Fun Couple of the Future!"

It was this D&D article from late 1980 that first caused my D&D obsession. For days I pored over each and every word in the article, until that weekend when my parents took me to the toy store so I could buy the Holmes Basic D&D set and the Monster Manual (plus a few dice).

Source: http://odd74.proboards.com/post/33807/thread

They aren’t the only ones. I also found this reference by a movie reviewer, Shawn Francis, who credits the article as the source of his weakness for certain types of movies.

I think I got into Dungeons & Dragons back in the sixth grade, hearing about it for the first time in Dynamite magazine, although I didn’t really start playing it until I got into my sophomore year of high school. Because of this, I have a weakness for medieval fantasy movies and there have been a ton of them that reminded me of D&D. They even started making movies based on Dungeons & Dragons; unfortunately, they have all been, for the most part, lackluster.

Source: http://www.youwoncannes.com/2014/01/27/movie-review-vikingdom-2013-dir-y...

So yeah, this tidbit of D&D history went from cool to awesome for me as Iooked into it more. I sent emails to the photographer, Richard Hutchings, and Scholastic to see if anyone has more information about the article. I was also able to confirm that the article is from Dynamite Magazine, issue 82 from March 1981.

Thanks to Jonathan Bolding for bringing the picture back to the forefront.

Jared von Hindman provided moral support and fact and trivia checking during much of this search. I love this tweet of his with a pic of the pimping wizard.

Also, if you’re like me and are curious about what book the girl on the left is holding, apparently it is the Holmes edition blue book.

Finally, if you are looking for a TSR ad with girls in it from around that time period, check out this commercial.

UPDATE: I got an email from the photographer!

If I remember correctly, the male in the picture is my Nephew David, Now 50 who was showing his girlfriend and her friend how the game is played. Whether they continued playing, I do not know, but my nephew played D and D with his step brother and other friends.

Thanks for the memory,

Richard

Unconscious Bias or Why I Write

Discussing bias in terms of gaming is often a difficult task because it's often, but not always, the result of unconscious bias, not active discrimination. Because unconscious bias is the result of societal attitudes and practices, it is both much harder to see and often results in a greater level of defensiveness when people find out that they, too, are contributing to larger social patterns that they might otherwise decry and work against.

I understand this defensiveness because I've lived it. I've always been interested in civil rights issues, especially issues of race. But, like many people out there, I often assumed a rather equal playing field when I approached questions. For instance, when I got a job as an undergraduate advisor (my school's version of residential advisors, fellow students who provided mentorship, especially to first year students), I often worried about what "being fair" would look like on a diverse floor. Would it really be fair to ask someone from the south to take down a Confederate flag they hung in their room? It didn't help that I had grown up relatively poor and much of my extended family lived in poverty, so many of the experiences people of color shared were much like my own and seemed normal.

Eventually I came to see what I couldn't see before. Climbing the class ladder helped a bit. Now when I walk into stores, the clerks want to help me and no longer follow me around, mainly because I buy jeans that cost 3x or more what I did when I was in high school. I probably also walk differently and do other unconscious displays of social status.

I say all that to explain how I got to where I am today and why discussing things like how banshees are portrayed in some book about some elf game matters to me. While I'm forever wary of confirmation bias, my research and my life experiences lead me to a place where I find concepts like privilege, unconscious bias, implicit association, and the like are true. I think we do notice patterns in our lives and the art and media we experience, whether it's fiction or not, and internalize them in ways that we might not like if it's made explicit. And I do agree with research that suggests that the way to counter these biases isn't through censorship but through discussion and that it's through lack of discussion that these things continue. Also, it's not just the dominant group who often has these biases, for instance a research into the hiring of recent science grads showed that women were discriminated by men and women (I believe the research worked within the gender binary).

Now that I've been a bit more explicit about my own approach and biases, I'd like to talk about the Monster Manual a bit more. There is a lot I love about the book. I love that there is a richer history here, things like how hatred simmers below the surface between the azers and the efreeti. I rather enjoy the concept of lair actions and environmental effects, maybe because they remind me of the catastrophic dragons from 4e or my own monster from Lost City. (Aside, I loved Lyndsay's article about how to use these as part of world building.) Likewise, there is a lot of implied world history in the book, as Rob Donoghue points out. I've already used it to help someone knew to the game understand what the monsters we were describing in a discussion look like. Overall, the Monster Manual can be indispensable for a dungeon master as they prepare for their game or campaign and I highly recommend it.

However, that doesn't mean I'm comfortable with all the things it says about the world that we're supposed to play in. One of the goals of this edition of D&D, especially with the way organized play is set up, is that they want us to have a shared experience. I know many of you have had awesome conversations with each other about the older modules. "Man, that Acererak is a real asshole. Why the hell would he ever set up [redacted] in room [redacted]?" "Do you remember when that chick turned out to be a vampire and almost killed our entire party?" These sorts of shared stories help us bond and become our secret handshake of sorts.

Now imagine of that secret handshake left you feeling not only uncomfortable but like your basic humanity was being ignored. When a game starts making one gender the other, makes that gender a symbol for only certain things, that's what happens to many (but not all) members of that gender. Yes, it's true, there are a lot of "strong men" in D&D. But there are also physically weak male wizards who get by on their brains instead of their brawn. There are pudgy men, wise men, evil men, good men, men who lead armies, men who hide in a tower and read books all day, etc. However, women are too often limited to their looks and/or their covetousness of beautiful things. That's why the banshee, in that context, made me take notice. Mythological banshees are none of those things.

It's easy to argue for the existence of any one example or against the inclusion of one example in the pattern. If the banshee were the only example, sure, we need variety. If we had lots of other monsters that were portrayed as explicitly having female members with agency, sure, the fact that the medusa can also be male would be important to note. But those things, in our product today, aren't true. Sometimes, we are missing the forest for the trees.

When you aren't part of the core audience that the book due to explicit and/or implicit bias, which would include people of all genders who like and are well served by current societal attitudes towards gender, it's often easier to see that forest, to see that general pattern that even if it doesn't say stay away, says that you're not exactly welcome either. And that is why I write these things. Not because I hate games or because I want to tell other people that they are bad, but because if I stay quiet, if I don't mention these things, no one will ever know. People will still ask the questions, "Why is it so hard to get this person I care about to play? Are women really just not interested in this?" and no understanding will come of it because the real reasons are never allowed to be spoken, the sentiments censored.

Now, I'm not asking for total agreement. Plenty of people disagree with me on some things much of the time. Disagreement is not only good, it's going to be a fact of life. Humans are incredibly diverse in their tastes and their opinions. Just look at the full spectrum of kinks! But if you want to discuss gender essentialism or how applying the stereotype or the average to the individual is actually a good thing, well, you won't find purchase for your arguments here. That's not censorship, I just hear those opinions way too often as it is.

For those who have supported me through the years, many hearty thanks.

Art: "Scroll Raider" © 2013 Kaitlynn Peavler and Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games, created for Conquering Corsairs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

Fighting female goblins isn't necessarily violence against women

Also in preparation for The Tome Show review of the 5e Monster Manual, I've been reading other people’s reviews and reactions to reviews. One strange argument I’ve read suggests that we shouldn’t have more female combatant NPCs in Dungeons & Dragons because violence against women is a thing. I’d like to address this argument because I see too many people accepting it at face value and I think that actually ends up perpetuating sexism and violence against women.

I don’t know about you, but I know many boys during my childhood were told “don’t hit a girl.” When a local girl joined the middle or high school football team, I read article after article that worried that the boys would get all confused about whether or not they could hit girls if they had to compete with one on the playing field. My own principal in middle school declared at an assembly that it would be over his dead body that any girl in his school earned a position on the football team.

Controlled violence between equals was forbidden if one of the participants was a girl and the other was a boy. However, when the boys snapped my bra or threatened to rape me when the monitors weren’t looking or dragged me around the playground because I had taken out the classroom ball and the boys didn’t want me to play or when a boy blocked my exit from a room unless I gave him a kiss, these things were just boys being boys. When a boy got a little too rough with a girl, it’s because he was too frustrated and just didn’t know any better.

The latter, while many are relatively mild forms of this, illustrate how violence against women is different from people, some of whom happen to be women, being involved in violence. Not every act of violence that involves a woman is included in the term violence against women. It has more specific meanings. For instance, in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women from the United Nations General Assembly, it’s defined as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”

When we’re in a goblin cave fulfilling our destiny as murder hobos, killing female goblins does not make our acts violence against women. Supporting gender diversity when it comes to what enemies we fight is not a vote in favor of violence against women.

In fact, I’d argue that restricting female combatants only to the common female stereotypes and tropes is a much stronger argument that something supports violence against women. For instance, having the few female monsters be overwhelmingly the ones that charm you, something that real life women are commonly accused of, such that you have to get them down to zero hit points to break the spell, that reinforces myths that encourage violence against women. And yes, I get that charming others isn’t limited to women, there are some male creatures do it as well, but there are far many other male creatures that use other methods of challenge.

By having so few female-centered creatures (ones where the description limits the creature to only the female sex or the text and/or artwork suggests that the female version is much more likely) and having the majority of them tied to female stereotypes, we create a world in which when we fight female creatures, it is often tied to some corruption of their femininity, making it implicitly if not explicitly gender-based.

Fighting against the corruption isn’t in itself bad, but when the only time we fight female creatures is because they are not meeting gendered expectations, I’d argue that not only reinforces those stereotypes, it is violence against women.

We change that by broadening where we use female monsters and by finding other ways than enslaving the females of the race to denote that a monster race is evil. For instance, I loved this scene from the Rat Queens.

The Rat Queens had killed the troll lady’s boyfriend and she’s there for revenge.

However, I’d feel bad if I didn’t point out one thing. When creating scenes where violence is being done to a woman by a man, it would be good if it didn’t look like it came from a 1980s slasher film or an episode of Criminal Minds. For instance, this scene from the Magic the Gathering card, Triumph of Ferocity.

(Note: Wizards of the Coast has apologized for this image.)

Now, I get it, they need to fight each other. But the specific setup, him holding her down and choking her with his knee between her legs, that’s a common pose in the scary “he’s going to rape you” scenes in movies. That’s part of the reason some people reacted to the card the way that they did. It’s not that they were fighting, it’s the pose. Contrast that with this scene from Rat Queens.

Sure, we can make jokes about how that’s a mighty big sword he has pointed at her, but there’s nothing that sexual about the composition of the scene.

Finally, just because I think it’s awesome that Polygon published this post, it’s important to note that these sorts of discussions about our media and our art are nothing new. Back in the 1980s, Siskel and Ebert talked about what they saw as a disturbing trend in how violence against women was being portrayed in some sorts of movies.

Art: Rat Queens © 2014 Kurtis J Wiebe and Roc Upchurch. Magic the Gathering © Wizards of the Coast.

Explaining my issues with the 5e Banshee

This weekend we had to drive out to Pittsburgh for a friend’s wedding. During the ride, I decided that I would get in some of my Tome Show preparation for our upcoming review of the Monster Manual. When I got to the banshee entry, however, I had to stop for a bit and tweeted some of my thoughts about it. Now that I’m not in a moving car, I want to explore my impressions further. I’ll do a fuller discussion of gender and the Monster Manual at a future time, but I thought this RPG.net forum post on the illustrations by gender was interesting followed up by this examination of the artist credits in the book.

Some people were a bit confused by the tweet or its purpose and I understand that. Twitter’s limit of 140 characters or so precludes in depth discussion within one statement. I understand why we banshees are female, due to the mythological origin that the D&D creature derives from. I can even understand the elven origin, with that fantasy race’s connection to faerie which is integral to some tellings of the legend.

Legend has it that for great Gaelic families – the O'Gradys, the O'Neills, the Ó Longs, theMcCnaimhíns, the Ó Briains, the Ó Conchobhairs, and the Caomhánachs – the lament would be sung by a fairy woman; having foresight, she would sing it when a family member died, even if the person had died far away and news of their death had not yet come, so that the wailing of the banshee was the first warning the household had of the death. Source: Wikipedia

What I didn’t really get was the connection to beauty and corruption. In D&D 5e, “[b]anshees are the undead remnants of elves who, blessed with great beauty, failed to use their gift to bring joy to the world. Instead, they used their beauty to corrupt and control others.” Because of their failure they are cursed to “experience no gladness, feeling only distress in the presence of the living.”

This made me uncomfortable. For me, it reminds me of a tendency in our society to believe that female beauty is owned by the public and that women have an obligation to make the world a better place through their beauty. For instance, a common way women are harassed on the street is by telling them to smile, as if it is an obligation they owe to everyone else.

The cause of this curse sets up an obligation all too familiar to many female players. It creates an in world justification for sexist behavior and harassment for anyone who plays a female elf and sets DMs up to view female elf characters, at least ones with high charisma, on a primary access of attractiveness. Is she beautiful? Great, you better do good things or she might become a banshee. Even this obligation wouldn’t be so noticeable if I those sorts of obligations were common, especially among the male-centered monsters.

This emphasis on attractiveness or lack thereof also makes them similar to other monsters in the book. Dryads bound to healthy trees stay “forever youthful and alluring.” Hags are described with “withered faces...framed by long, frayed hair, horrid moles and warts dot their blotchy skin, and their long, skinny fingers are tipped by claws that can slice open flesh with a touch.” Medusas are “as deadly as they are ravishing.” Harpies “tak[e] glee in suffering and death” and are the result of a female elf’s twisted love.

In the 2e Monstrous Manual, there’s no clear indication as to why they are evil elves, just that they are and that such a thing is rare. Instead, the book talks about how the banshees only attack at night, going after any living creature up to 5 miles away from her abode. In addition, it talks about how she, over time, blights the land. I much prefer that, even with its sexist assumptions that knights are male and will be drawn in by her wail (which is nearly impossible to distinguish from the cry of a human or elf woman in pain).

Because the writers too often center on beauty and love when it comes to female characters and monsters, the banshee gets reduced, in my opinion, from what could be an awesome monster that seeks out player characters just when they think they are safe (for instance while making camp in the woods at night) or creates a destination for an adventure, the blighted forest, and instead creates a variation on a overused and tired theme.

I hope that explains my comments on twitter a bit better. I’ll have more analysis soon, but I wanted to get this one out there.

Art: Bunworth Banshee, Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker, 1825 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banshee#mediaviewer/File:Banshee.jpg

Note: I received a review copy of the Monster Manual from Wizards of the Coast.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Greenest in Flames - Part 2

Let's continue with our discussion of the first episode of the Hoard of the Dragon Queen. Since last time, Mike Shea of SlyFlourish made a compelling argument for having the Half-Dragon Champion mission be the last of the evening. I tend to agree with him, especially since there is a good chance that one of the PCs will be a bit beat up after it and may not be able to participate in any further missions, such as Save the Mill. Also, I've heard that quite a few groups had to take at least one short rest during the night, so allow them to take it if they need it.

When I have the luxury of time, I like taking a peek at how other people run the adventure. One of the nice things about living in the future is that a lot of people have slick campaign wikis on places like Obsidian Portal. For instance, Loremaster kept to the 1 hour shifts in describing what happened. WinWizard did something I had been thinking of, giving the PCs a label/reward based on the number of townspeople they saved during the course of the night.

As for me, I know one of the things I struggle with the most when running a game, especially a sandbox one, is keeping information straight, especially when the choices characters make in one encounter could affect an encounter that happens hours if not days later. Also, I dislike bogging down the game for things like XP calculation and other record keeping. As I referenced in the last post, I'm creating a bit of a playbook as I go through this adventure to help me provide a bit more structure to the information and make my job a bit easier. You can see the current version here.

Example of PlaybookExample of Playbook
The first part lays out the goals for the episode. What are the key elements to the episode that, as a DM, I want to be sure to highlight? In this case, I know I need to introduce a few important NPCs, both the PCs' main allies and some of the antagonists. In addition, we need to give them a clue that something bigger is going on. This isn't a random raid by a bunch of bandits, cultists, and in particular members of the Cult of the Dragon, are amassing quite a treasure pile. Additionally, we need to put a bit of fear into them, the typical kick down the door approach is likely to get them killed especially since the cultist group has an idea that there are adventurers afoot.

As I play through the episode, I can cross out names and check off boxes after I've addressed the goal. This helps me too in terms of pacing because I really don't want to have a big info dump at the end. If I'm 2 missions in and none of the goals have been addressed, I need to step up with info sharing. It helps in this episode that the missions are meant to help with these goals, so it shouldn't be too hard of a task.

The next section has a empty schedule on the left and the list of detailed missions on the right. While I put down the time schedule, there's no need to keep to it. My big thought here is that it would be nice to know later what order they did things in. Imagine if 6 months from now they are in a bar and hear a bard signing a song about the burning of Greenest and she gets most, but not all, of the details right.

After that I have some key information to record for each mission. This includes information that is used for generating XP or is useful later in the adventure. For instance, the PCs can get XP for each townsperson they bring back during the Seek the Keep mission or their XP might be cut in half during the Sanctuary mission if too many townspeople die. Having a quick place to note this info (and a reminder about what is important to note) can make the process of giving XP, if that's what you're group is doing, much easier.

Finally, I have the list of enemies listed in the episode at the bottom as well as room to keep a tally of the number defeated. Even if you're using the milestone based leveling instead of using XP, this can be useful for things like pulling minis or providing achievements for the group, if that's your style.

I tried to keep it to one-page, in part at Mike's suggestion. However, I could see a slightly longer version being made that helped by listing the DCs and such. So, take a look and tell me what you think. I hope to do them for all the episodes.

Hoard of the Dragon Queen: Greenest in Flames - Part 1

Ok, so we discussed the number of characters and representation by gender a bit in the adventure, but let’s get deeper into the adventure itself. One thing to know is that this adventure has a lot of characters and is character-driven. This was a driving force behind creating the index. While the majority of characters are relatively minor, keeping track of them isn’t.


For this part of the article series, I will spend a post or two on each episode. This means that there will be spoilers. The adventure as a whole contains eight episodes.

During the course of the adventure, the player characters will uncover the Cult of the Dragon’s secret, they are attempting to free Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells. To do this, they need to gather the five dragon masks and combine them to create the Mask of the Dragon Queen. Several of these masks have already been found. In addition to masks, the cult is gathering riches to present to Tiamat upon her return.

It is this latter goal that drives the cult to raid the town of Greenest, which the player characters just happen to be near. The first episode start assumes that the players are together and outside of town. This can be tricky, since unless the DM has laid the groundwork, there isn’t necessarily a reason for the PCs to defend the town. The adventure even mentions that they may decide to not do so. The Id DM offers advice for how to tie the player characters more closely with the town, ensuring a smoother entry into the story.

Once they get to Greenest, they will be run through a gauntlet of missions to help save as much of the town during the night. This is one area where the organization of the book hinders the DM. Overall, the book feels like it was written to be an enjoyable read more than as a playbook for running the adventure. On my first read through, I got a great picture of what was supposed to happen that night. I could think of at least a dozen movie or book scenes to use as my mental picture of what was going on. But as I read through it again to prepare for this blog post, I realized that I didn’t understand a lot of the expectations of how to actually run the episode, but more on that later.

Greenest in Flames is meant to be run in a sandbox fashion. It has four main goals: introduce the characters to some of the people who will feature prominently over the next few episodes, establish the PCs as hero with some renown, clue the players in that their decisions will have consequences and cause the world to react to them and let the players know that this adventure is not OSHA approved, their characters can and will go through some brutal stuff.

To aid in these goals, the adventure provides example missions that the PCs can undertake. While the book presents this as a sandbox and in theory the order should not matter, the proposed structure for the episode suggests an order. The proposed structure is thus, the PCs arrive at 9 pm and need to survive the night. Sunrise is at 6 am. Most of the raiders will be gone by 4 am, with many leaving before then (leaving in waves is a nice detail to reinforce to help with episode 2 in particular). Each mission should last 1 hour. According to this plan, the PCs could participate in seven missions during the evening. Several of the missions either state that they will happen at a specific time or imply that they need to happen after other missions. For instance, the dragon attack states that it happens slightly before midnight, which would be in slot 4 if we keep to the suggested timing. The suggested reason for the attack is that Mondath knows the adventurers exist and that they are in the keep. This implies that they’ve already had time to be heroic. Likewise, the save the mill mission is a trap set specifically for the PCs. The prisoners mission makes more sense after they have done one or two missions but early enough in the night that the information might be useful. It’s also a good time to tell the PCs that leaving the keep through the front gate is out of the question. However, the mission states that it can be combined with others, so keep that in mind too.

My suggested ordering is:

Option A: keep to the midnight timeline on the Dragon attack (he’s bored and really doesn’t want to be there anyway)

1 Seek the Keep
2 Prisoners/The Old Tunnel
3 Sanctuary
4 Dragon Attack
5 The Sally Port
6 Half-Dragon Champion
7 Save the Mill

Option B: Push the dragon attack back an hour to give the PCs more time to establish themselves as heroes in town

1 Seek the Keep
2 The Sally Port
3 Prisoners/The Old Tunnel
4 Sanctuary
5 Dragon Attack
6 Half-Dragon Champion
7 Save the Mill

I have the half-dragon champion mission right after the dragon attack because it just feels more cinematic that way. The morale in town should be pretty low after the dragon attack. Having the call for a champion right then allows the half-dragon to really gloat. Also, the story implies a stepped withdrawal from the town. Having the mill after that would make sense as a parting blow directed at the PCs and gives them the opportunity for an up beat before the end of the episode. It all depends on how you want to tell the story of course. This is different from SlyFlourish’s suggested order, so I think there’s definitely a degree of flexibility to this.

One thing that confuses me about this episode, though, are the random encounters. They are sprinkled throughout the episode description and I’m never sure if the new ones mentioned are supposed to supersede the table at the beginning or not. So let’s explore that aspect a bit more.

The section called “Wandering Encounters” contains a table of random encounters and mechanisms for how to determine when the group encounters one. I say mechanisms because how the characters act determines which one to use.

Skill check If they are being stealthy and careful, each player makes a stealth check for their character. If they are using the stream bed for cover, they gain advantage. For every two failures in the group, the group will have one encounter.

Distance If they aren’t being stealthy, then the DM rolls a 1d8 for every 100 feet traveled. If the result is 5 or higher, then they will have an encounter and the DM rolls on the random encounter chart.

One difficulty with this system is that while there’s a map with scale, very few paths have the distance detailed in advance. So, one suggestion I’d make to DMs is to have a good idea of the distances ahead of time. However, it’s often multiple hundreds of feet between the areas on the map, so it’s clear that being stealthy has a clear advantage here since with a four PC group, the max encounters would be 2 per travel attempt, regardless of distance, where it could easily be a max of 5 or more with the distance based system.

However, a number of the missions have descriptions that vary from this system. For instance, “Seek the Keep” states that there should be a static three groups of raiders between them and the keep. Additionally, they will meet a group of NPCs each time they retreat. If those NPCs join their group, the group will have an additional encounter for every four townspeople. This makes some degree of sense, a large group will attract more attention. Other missions have overrides as well. For instance, the Old Tunnel has its own method for determining if there are some random encounters.

None of this is an issue, but it can make the episode a bit chaotic for the DM. In the next post, I’ll take a quick stab at creating an info sheet for the DM to help limit the chaos.

Art from WikiCommons: Paolo Uccello - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN 3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Dragon#mediaviewer/File:Paolo_Uccello_...

Analysis of Gender: Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Along with a full character name index comes a bit of data. While not perfect (few things are), the frequency of page mentions can provide a hint into the importance of the non-player characters (NPCs) to the game. Frequently mentioned NPCs are more likely to affect the lives of the player characters (PCs). There is a greater likelihood of interaction or of the NPC either aiding or thwarting the characters.

Before I look at the data, I want to take a moment and say that talking about gender representation doesn’t mean that a work is automatically sexist or say anything about creator intent. I know both Wolfgang Bauer and Steve Winter. Wolfgang was one of the first people I did work for and both he and Steve have been supportive of me. I see things in the adventure that speak to conscious intent to be more inclusive of women. It’s actually one of the few published adventures I would run for myself. However, I’m breaking down this adventure into statistics in part because it helps me better understand our culture’s latent biases and how they might be reflected in the work we all do.

With that said, let’s start looking at the numbers. A good starting point is just looking at the number of named characters. Looking at my post yesterday, we have 53 male, 21 female, and 7 of unknown gender. That leaves us at about 26% female characters. That’s higher than the approximate 21% in the starter set adventure and in line with female representation in family movies. As that NY Times article mentions, it’s pretty common to have a Harry and a Ron for every Hermione.

Comparing the total frequencies of page mentions by gender shows that female characters were mentioned more often given their numbers than the male characters did, with approximately 35% of the total. The reason for this is easily found, one female character, Rezmir, had more than triple the number of page mentions, 35, than the highest male characters did individually, Dralmorrer Borngray and Leosin Erlanthar, 11 each. This makes sense, she is the “big bad” of this portion of the adventure.

By moving beyond the characters Rezmir, we can see how much of an outlier she is. For instance, of the 21 female characters, nearly two-thirds of them, 14, are mentioned on just one page. Compare that to about 54% of male characters being mentioned on just one page. If we break up the remaining characters into groups based on page mentions, 2-6 and 7-12 mentions, we find the ratio of male to female in the first group to be approximately 3 to 1 in each group with 17:5 and 7:2 respectively.

I think these numbers support the general feeling I had about the adventure, there are definite attempts at creating a world that is more gender equal, we still haven’t gotten to the place where gender equality in the Forgotten Realms is the norm (Caveat: My experience is by and large post 2009, earlier works may not match this impression). Also, I did leave the adventure with the continued feeling that the “dark side” is where it’s at for women still. It feels like the stereotypical “good” people tend to be more male and the others tend to be more female, but it's a good space for future investigation.

However, I’d like to take the time to talk about some of those attempts at inclusiveness in the adventure. First, as already mentioned, the “big bad” in this adventure is a female half-dragon. Her charisma is her second lowest score, with strength being her highest. She has legendary actions that she can take during her turns. The artwork for her (on page 79) does not have discernible breasts and she is not what humans would consider pretty. She’s intelligent and proactive instead of reactive. She is not fooled by Leosin Erlanthar and astutely moves the camp when he escapes.

Additionally, more than half of the episodes have at least one notable female character in them. Episodes 2 and 3 have Frulam Mondath playing a prominent role. Episode 4 has Jamna Gleamsilver. Episode 7 has Talis and 8 has Rezmir.

Throughout the book, there are sprinkled small vignettes that undercut the numbers. For instance, one of the first encounters of the adventure involves a human family, “father, mother, and three young children,” being attacked by kobolds. However, it’s the father who is injured and the mother who is protecting the family with “a round shield and a broken spear.” There are mentions in a few places reminding that the generic groups of creatures have male and female members, such ast eh mention on page 47 that “[t]he Scaly Death tribe comprises eighty lizardfolk warriors, both male and female.” Also, of the five caravan guards mentioned on pages 32-33, four of them are female.

Finally, while I haven’t had a chance to do a similar break down based on fantasy race and skin tone of the human characters, I really wanted to point out this artwork of Talis the White.

Talis the WhiteTalis the White

I’m not well-versed enough yet in the ethnic groups of the Realms to know where she is from but she does not look like a stereotypical fantasy European to me. Likewise, I love this illustration of Captain Othelstan.

Captain OthelstanCaptain Othelstan.

Online Account Security through Two-Factor Authentication

Wait, this is a gaming site, why talk about online security? Well, over the past few months, there have been a number of hacking attempts of people in the gaming community, whether it’s indie video game developers like Zoe Quinn or tabletop RPG designers like David Hill. Given this atmosphere, it doesn’t hurt to shore up security where one can, especially passwords. One of my friends recently posted with questions on how to do this and I thought I’d write up what I did. This is meant to be an introduction to these concepts and as such, is not meant to be exhaustive.

Passwords

One of the first things you can do is pick strong, unique passwords for each site and rotate them regularly. This isn’t particularly revolutionary advice, but many people don’t follow it (including myself at times).

How to pick passwords:

Random common words

Probably best known from to this xkcd comic, four random common words that you can use to tell a story is easy to create and remember but difficult to brute force due to the number of combinations. No remembering which “i” character is now a “1” or where exactly you put that punctuation character.

Mixed characters

The downside? Many sites require passwords that contain upper and lower case letters along with numerals and punctuation. For those sites, I suggest a tool to create random passwords. For instance, LastPass has a handy extension for browsers such as Chrome that will generate a password for you.

Password Safes/Managers

Now that you have all these fancy new passwords, it’s likely that you’ll need somewhere to store them. Three non-OS-based password safes I hear about on a regular basis are:

LastPass - Cloud-based.
1Password - Local installation but can share via the cloud with other computers.
KeePass - Local installation only.

I haven’t had as much experience with 1Password, but with LastPass you can easily share passwords between your computers by setting up a passphrase. If you forget that password, you have to use a computer that had been successfully used with LastPass in the past in order to reset it. It also supports a number of browsers, filling out login forms for you and recognizing when the password on the account has changed and saving it for you. It will also give you warnings when it notices password reuse.

A potential downside to both 1Password and LastPass is that the information is stored in the cloud and, thus, while decryption tends to happen on a local machine, if you don’t change your passwords that often and someone were to get the encrypted version of your password, they can brute force it at their leisure.

KeePass, on the other hand, only does local storage. Authentication can happen through either a password or with a special file called a key. This puts you in more control of how and where the data is stored but at the price of usability. KeePass doesn’t have browser integration built in although some third-parties evidently have helped there. If you use multiple computers, you will have to find your own way of sharing between them, such as Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and the like.

Multi-Factor Authentication

At the most basic level, when you log into most sites, you present two items that help validate that you are who you claim to be. The first is usually your username or email address. On many sites, this is something that others either know or could guess about you. The second is a password, something that, in theory, should be known only to you. However, it’s static and over time can either be guessed or, if you reuse the same password, obtained from elsewhere.

One way to increase security is to have you present a second secret token that is not static. That’s where multi-factor authentication comes in. I’ve seen two main methods of providing these tokens:

SMS - The site will send you a text message with the token to use, e.g. Google and PayPal.
Passcode Generator - Either a hardware- or software-based token generator that you need to have with you in order to generate the token.

A few weeks ago when I first heard of some game devs accounts being hacked, I went through and hardened up a bunch of the sites I use. I found a great site, Two Factor Auth, that details what sites allow for multi-factor authentication along with how they implement it and links on info for how to do it. It took a couple of hours, but I worked my way through the list.

Many sites use a software-based token generator, most notably Google Authenticator. I found the process pretty simple. You download Google Authenticator to your device(s). The site presents a QR code that you scan with the camera on your device and the authenticator app handles the rest of it for you. I didn’t know it at the time, but you can only set up multiple devices if you do it at the same time or if you save the QR code to someplace safe and scan it later.

A downside to two-factor authentication is that you then need to have one of those devices with you in order to log in. Many sites offer a way around this by giving you backup codes you can use in case your authenticator or its data ever gets lost. Care should be taken when storing these codes (and the QR codes if you decide to save them as well). Sites that use SMS authentication often ask for a backup phone. I’ve found that Google Voice can work for this.

One thing I have thought about doing, but haven’t tried yet, is taking advantage of plus addressing. Gmail and Google Apps for Business both offer this. What happens is that you can take your normal email and add in extra information. For instance, if I have a netflix account, I could set my email as tracy+netflix@sarahdarkmagic.com (assuming they also support plus addressing). Then I would have three factors that are likely to be known only to me when I log in. By the way, this can be useful in dealing with spam. I know some people also have a separate email account that they use for accounts as another way to obscure the email from people guessing or brute forcing.

So, if you’re looking into hardening your online accounts, I hope this post pointed you in the right directions. If you want to improve security further, I might suggest reviewing what apps you have given permissions to access your various social media accounts (such as twitter and facebook) and see if you are still using them and are comfortable with their level of access. Happy interwebbing!

Art: "Smuggler" © 2013 Kaitlynn Peavler and Cheeky Mountain Parrot Games, created for Conquering Corsairs, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/

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