At Continuum 13, I had the pleasure of sitting on the Tabletop Gaming panel with Aidan Doyle, Darryl “Owlbear” Brown, Laura Wilkinson and Bryce Campbell. The discussion was a mix of designer and player perspectives, and remained an upbeat conversation throughout. We could have continued for hours.
One of the things I touched on in the panel was feminism and gaming. I wanted to elaborate a little on that here.
The rise of Kickstarter has brought a new golden age for indie RPGs. As the panel mentioned, you can now find something for everyone. This includes games that have strong feminist influences and encourage diversity. A few of the games that have come across my radar include:
Bluebeard’s Bride by Whitney Strix Beltrn, Marissa Kelly, and Sarah Richardson. This gothic horror RPG is still in production, but you can still preorder and check out their Kickstarter pitch video. Players collectively form Bluebeard’s Bride, playing different aspects of her psyche as she explores her husband’s mansion. Although the game uses the structure of the original fairytale, it encourages players to tell their own versions, allowing space for the empowering as well as the tragic.
Eclipse Phase by Posthuman Studios is a cyberpunk game which has just Kickstarted its second edition. This game is perhaps a little less explicitly feminist than the others. However, being concerned with posthumanism, it allows space for exploration of gender and disability through mechanisms for swapping and augmenting bodies. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it has more of a complicated rule system than the other games (which are all Powered by the Apocalypse).
Monsterhearts by Avery Alder is one of my favourite RPGs. It’s an urban fantasy about teenage monsters. As you might expect, teenage sexuality is an important element of the game. This may be why it is the first (and, so far, only) game I’ve ever seen discuss asexuality and allows space for that within the rules. It is also built around the premise that everyone is fundamentally bisexual and can be turned on by characters of any gender–though players always retain the choice of whether they wish to act on these feelings.
Night Witches by Jason Morningstar. Set in WW2, players are members of the all-female 588th Night Bomber Regiment in the Russian Army. The game touches on the discrepancy between the Soviet philosophy of equality and how the women were actually treated. It also explicitly mentions queer relationships and one of the playbooks allows for a genderqueer character.
The Watch by Anna Kreider and Andrew Medeiros. A low magic fantasy wherein a mystical enemy known as the Shadow invades. Able to enter and subvert the minds of its enemies, the Shadow is particularly effective against men. It’s up to women and non-binary femmes to form the Watch and defend their lands. This is another game still in production, but you can still check out their Kickstarter. I appreciate the explicit inclusion of non-binary femmes in their pitch. The game also looks like it will have some mechanisms which deal with mental health.
These games have diversity and inclusivity baked into their premise and mechanisms. While I will always value these sorts of games the most, they’re not the only way of promoting diversity in RPGs. As I mentioned in the panel, simply including diverse people in the accompanying artwork can go some way towards fostering an inclusive environment. The fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons has made some improvements in this fashion (even if the setting retains some problematic elements).
The games I’ve mentioned here are surely just the tip of the iceberg. If you’re a keen tabletop RPGer, I’d love to hear from you: Which feminist RPGs have you discovered?
Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.
This second edition of Apocalypse World landed in our mailbox today and Sahaquiel is pretty excited. It's an RPG based on Mad Max and similar media. Originally released in 2010, it won a heap of awards and its streamlined system became the basis for numerous other games, such as Dungeon World and Monsterhearts.
I'm told that the second edition of Apocalypse World came about as a result of one of the original creators seeing Fury Road.
While I'm generally a fan of Powered by the Apocalypse RPGs (as games that use the same system are called), I didn't have a great experience the one time I played Apocalypse World. I'm not much a fan of player vs player, and the campaign devolved into that a bit. It culminated in a dick move by a player set on being an asshole and I lost my shit. It's not often I completely cut people out of my life, but I did that day (and don't regret it).
I've not played Apocalypse World since then and I admit to being a little apprehensive about coming back to it.
In other tales of media consumption, on Monday night some friends talked me into watching Netflix's animated series of Voltron: Legendary Defender. I'm told it has some of the same creative team as Legend of Korra and I could really tell--there are definitely some common elements.
I was a little less than thrilled by the male dominated cast, though I suspect most of that is held over from the original series from the 80s because it is being undermined in a few small ways that make it interesting.
Do I recall hearing there was some good fanfic? I'm going to have to poke around Ao3 once I get some reading time.
My tabletop RPG group met last weekend for the first time this year, which reminded me that I've been meaning to post about our Mouse Guard campaign for a while now. The RPG is based off comics by David Petersen. Tiny anthropomorphic mice live in a world without humans. Their nation is made up of isolated, largely autonomous cities. It's the Mouse Guard's duty to make sure the ways between these cities are safe. The nation is protected from large predators by a border of scent designed to repel them, but occasionally they slip through. The only other animals that have higher intelligence and civilisation are the ferrets--natural enemies of the mice. They're portrayed with a Saracen influence that I find a bit distasteful, especially combined with their supposedly violent and cruel nature. The campaign is set some years after a war with the ferrets.
The system uses a variant of Burning Wheel. I've never played Burning Wheel, though we do own a copy. I've been told it is quite a complicated system and I believe it. It has been streamlined for Mouse Guard, but even so, it has taken me a while to wrap my head around it.
Our patrol consists of three mice: one patrol leader and two tenderpaws or trainee Guards. The Mouse Guard are designated by the cloaks they wear. The colour of the cloak has significance, with the colour picked out specifically for the guardmouse by their mentor on their formal acceptance into the Guard.
The patrol leader is Kole, a black-fur who carries a big axe. He's a gruff, grumpy mouse with a soft side he tries not to show. He grew up working-class in a port village and carries a bit of a chip on his shoulder when it comes to the upper-class and the educated. His mentor endeavoured to remind him to check his prejudices by giving him a cloak of royal purple.
Dorian Winterwhiskers is the first of the tenderpaws. Their fur is dark grey tipped in white. Dorian's parents own a prominent company that forge cooking utensils and so Dorian's attitude tends to one of a spoiled, rich brat. However, this doesn't bring them into conflict with Kole as much as you might think, as they are still eager to impress and fiercely loyal.
And the last of the tenderpaws is my character, Delilah Periwinkle. She's an intensely curious mouse with white fur and a passion for Science. Born to cartographers, she spent some of her childhood wandering the Mouse Territories and joined the guard so she could see more of the world (and also help keep it safe for people like her parents). She's constantly asking questions, to the despair of her patrol leader. Despite being both practical and blunt, she still has a sweet side and can be a little naive at times.
The campaign structure is tied into the year, with each season containing a limited number of missions. For example, spring is approximately 3 missions, while summer is 4 and autumn is 2. It culminates in a winter session, when the Mouse Guard take shelter from the snow in their fortress. This session is used to improve skills and share favourite memories of the campaign.
Our next session will be the winter session. This means we're faced with the choice of pressing on for another "year" or to wrap up for the time being and play something else. We have a player rejoining us after missing the campaign so far, so I half expect we'll move on to something else.
This month, Wyrd Games are launching Into the Bayou, an expansion of their RPG Through The Breach. I had the great delight of working on Into the Bayou with Rik Lagarto and the team at Wyrd. As a keen RPG player, it has meant a lot to me to have the chance to contribute on a professional level. And the Bayou setting was a blast to work on. I hope the players have as much fun with it as I did.
Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.
Back in April, I had the opportunity to run a meeting for the Canberra Speculative Fiction Guild on tabletop games for storytellers. Players ranged from first-timers to players who’ve had decades of experience. I had great fun introducing them to some of my favourite games, so I figured why stop there? If you are a gaming geek or a storyteller (or both), perhaps you’ll enjoy these, too.( Powered by the Apocalypse ) ( Microscope ) ( Fiasco ) ( Once Upon A Time ) ( Gloom )
I’m sure there’s probably a ton of games I’ve missed and haven’t yet played. Do you have any recommendations?
Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.
Macro of a prostrate grevillea 'Bronze Rambler' in flower.
What are you doing/thinking/wondering/making/reading/
Doing: I actually managed to get out yesterday and take some photos, as you can see from above. I've been stricter with myself about not working on weekends, making it a little easier to find time for these sorts of things.
Watching: My sweetheart and I have been juggling a few different shows. He was inspired to start rewatching Supernatural. I'm not quite sure why. We only made it to the 5th or 6th season the first time around, so it will be interesting to see how we do this time around. So far, we're a few episodes into the second season.
We're also rewatching an anime called Yakitate Japan. It's a shounen anime about making bread, is light-hearted and filled with puns.
On the roleplaying end, we continue to stalk Adam Koebel. He's got a Burning Wheel campaign going for Roll20. One of the things I disliked about the games on the RollPlay channel is that some of the players had a propensity towards murder and chaos, perhaps to make things more entertaining or to stir things up. It had the opposite effect for me, making me bored and irritated. I find the players on the Roll20 channel to be much more interesting. They make things difficult for their characters without wanton destruction.
Finally, we're watching a Russian drama called Night Swallows which is, unsurprisingly, based on the very same piece of history as our Night Witches RPG. We're finding some great inspiration and have already learned that we've been pronouncing one of the names incorrectly.
Thinking: There's something about September that triggers my "holy crap, the year is almost over" button. I've been looking over the goals I had for this year to see whether I can realistically achieve them or whether they need to be revised. I've also been thinking a little bit about what I might like to achieve in 2016.
Reading: I'm between books at the moment and I'm not quite sure what I'll pick up next. It will depend a bit on how quickly I get to writing a review of Equilibrium because I don't like to try keeping two review books of similar genres or styles in my head at the same time. So if I want to get started on reading something today, it will be Stormbringer by Alis Franklin because it will be fun and I won't be reviewing it. However, if I don't get any reading time until tomorrow afternoon, I'll read my next review book, which will be Aurora: Eden by Amanda Bridgeman.
Writing: I'm still struggling with making time for my own writing. I'm doing a bit better than I was, but that may simply be because work is quieter at the moment. Anyway, I'm back to plugging holes in Siren Songs.
Wondering: Related to the above, I've been wondering a bit whether writing is something I want to continue with. Editing and reviewing keeps me pretty busy and I've been enjoying it a lot. Whereas I really struggle to convince myself to sit down and so some more writing. And if I do want to continue with writing, what do I want to be working on? Do I want to focus on short stories or novels? Do I want to give fanfic a go?
Drinking: A mix of different teas, but mostly alternating between Earl Grey and Chocolate chai.
In my review of Rat Queens, I mentioned that I’m a tabletop RPG geek. So I was absolutely thrilled when I saw this last month:
— Kurtis Wiebe (@kurtisjwiebe) July 7, 2015
Let me tell you why this is awesome news. A warning: this is going to get fangirly.( Read more... )
I’m also curious to see whether this will start a rush of new players among the people I know. What about you? Is a Rat Queens RPG something you’d be interested in playing?
Mirrored from Earl Grey Editing.
What are you doing/thinking/wondering/making/reading/
Doing: I'm back to swimming after a break of about a month. It wasn't intentional--a few different things were conspiring against me. My shoulder had started playing up again during the break, so I'm glad to be back to it (though I overdid things a little on the first time back).
Watching: On the anime front, I've been watching Sailor Moon Crystal on Crunchyroll. I was never into the original when it aired during my years at high school, but I have become a lot more interested in anime since then.
I am also watching a new anime called Glasslip. It is produced by P.A. Works who turn out the most gorgeous-looking animes and I have enjoyed most of the stuff they have released. This particular show is about the daughter of a family of glass artisans. When she stares into glass she has visions of the future. It is also about the changing relationships between her group of friends in their last year of high school.
On more of a RPG theme, RollPlay have just started up a sci-fi campaign called Swan Song. Utilising the Stars Are Infinite system, the campaign is being run by Adam Koebel. I totally have a new GM crush. He co-wrote the Dungeon World system and his style of game-running clearly speaks of intelligence, passion and long experience.
He and my other major GM crush, Steve Lumpkin, have also just started posting up a segment on GMing they're calling Playing Everyone Else. If you're interested in tabletop RPGs at all--as player or GM--it is well worth checking out.
Thinking: An acquaintance of mine has been getting on my nerves a lot lately. Ze does a lot of complaining about suffering from writer's block but seems to feel that in order to be published, ze needs to write in certain kinds of ways and in certain formats. This single-minded focus on publication seems to press a button of mine. I recently came across this wonderful article from Australian horror writer Peter Ball on why you don't really want to be published--it is simply shorthand for another goal. I'm wondering whether this person's reason for wanting to be published is fundamentally different from mine or whether it is simply our manner of getting there. Or perhaps we have different levels of patience with the process.
Reading: I'm in a weird in-between place with my reading at the moment. I'm slowly making my way through a gardening book put out by the local horticultural society and have been for months. However, I don't have a primary book that I'm reading because I can't decide on what I want to read. My sweetheart has made off with my Kindle in order to read some out-of-print Warhammer books and everything I kind of want to read is on that. Which is ridiculous--I have a zillion print books on Mt TBR, surely I should be able to find something I want to read. If anyone wants to make suggestions, you can check Mt TBR and my 2014 acquisitions list for what I have currently available.
Wondering: A while back, I began studying the AODA Candidate curriculum. I am almost finished--just some loose, time-consuming ends to tie up--but I have been pondering whether this is something I really want to do. While I think their curriculum is great, I'm not sure their philosophy and cosmology is really something that works for me.
Writing: Still going on Heartwood. I originally started writing the story a year or two ago and then shelved it for some unremembered reason. I'd only written two scenes and a bit. When I came back to it this year, I felt it needed rewriting and I bashed my head repeatedly against the first scene, trying different things. I finally got something to work and have been concentrating on getting the words for this new version down on the page without worrying too much about what still needs fixing. I have now caught up to where I was when I first shelved the story and am looking forward to breaking new territory.
Drinking: My mother-almost-in-law recently gifted me with some rose-scented tea that she wasn't fond of. I have zero problem with this because I absolutely adore rose-scented teas.
Earl Grey is generally my default tea (unless it is Twinings which I find way too harsh). I've been drinking much less of it over the last few months but I find myself starting to come back to it.
The weather outside this afternoon is absolutely gorgeous: the sun is shining and even though there is snow on the hills the temperature is reasonably warm. It would be the perfect day to do some gardening but I am down and out with a cold. I'm finding it difficult to be gracious about this--my To-Do list is rather long but my body refuses to have a bar of it. I've already had one nap today and am starting to feel in need of a second one.
After several difficult weeks, I seem to have settled into a writing routine. It probably helps that my gaming schedule has quietened down somewhat, with the Robin Hood campaign wrapping up and Cenotaph set to shortly. I'm not managing much in terms of word count, but just stringing together a couple of writing sessions has helped improve my outlook.
If you follow me on social media, you're probably aware of my outrage over the closure of one of my favourite tea stores. Adore Tea is a local business that first opened up at a village of boutique stores over the far side of town. They did so well for themselves that they were able to open up stalls at two shopping centres owned by Westfield. One was over my side of town and it was extra special because not only did it sell looseleaf tea but it also did take-away tea using specially modified coffee machines. Although the shopping centre was still a bit of a drive from my place, it was where my mum and I would go whenever we wanted an outing out and another friend and I would order their special of the week to take into the cinema whenever we were off to watch a movie.
The stall at the other shopping centre closed some time ago and yesterday I came across an announcement that the stall at the local shopping mall was closing too. T2 (a big chain selling packaged tea and accessories--but no take-away tea) had recently been installed quite close to the Adore Tea stall. Westfield raised Adore's rent, then terminated their lease, giving them just 24 hours to move out.
Adore had a sale where I picked up the following:
( Tea haul )
I am totally disgusted by Westfield's treatment of Adore Tea and will no longer be shopping at their malls. This isn't a hardship because I rarely go there and I find T2's tea to be of inferior quality. However, it does mean that I'll have to travel quite a distance to the nearest decent tea shop (the Tea Centre) and further afield if I want visit Adore Tea.
Doing: I recently ran my first RPG in what is probably a decade. The setting is called Monsterhearts and the idea is that players are supernatural teenagers attending high school. It takes a lot of inspiration from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, though of course it can fit in with just about any paranormal YA setting that's out these days. The exact manifestation very much depends on the players. I had planned to run it as a one-off session but we just didn't manage to wrap everything up and it seems to be the sort of game that works best with a couple of sessions. I'll be running the next one on Saturday.
Watching: RollPlay R&D just started a new RPG campaign using the Numenera setting. A billion years into the future, Earth is scattered with the remnants of many great civilisations--not all of them human. Much knowledge has been lost and the line between science and magic blurred. It looks like a pretty good setting and one I wouldn't mind playing myself.
Thinking: Actually having to run my own RPG has had me thinking a great deal about what makes for a good game. However, I think I might have to save those thoughts for their own post.
I've also been doing a lot of thinking about energy levels. I've noticed that I've been wearing out a bit more quickly of late. My concentration hasn't been great and neither has my creativity or my productivity. It has been tempting to chalk this up to laziness... but that's not really logical. Laziness and limited energy levels are not the same thing at all, though I often find it difficult to see that.
In terms of what is actually going on, I think there are a number of things. I'm overdoing it, particularly on the weekends, and not giving myself enough time to rest and be an introvert. onewhitecrow also suggested I take a look at my iron levels and that was definitely an astute piece of advice.
Reading: I'm about halfway through What the Robin Knows by Jon Young. It's about interpreting bird calls and behaviour in order to gain a greater understanding of your surrounds. It is quite an interesting book but the tone suffers a little from being too smug at times. I put it down to read Raven Flight by Juliet Marillier (which was on loan from sidheblessed and haven't quite managed to pick it up again.
Wondering: Tonight I'm wondering whether it will snow. The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a blizzard warning for the city. This is practically unheard of because it rarely snows here--only on the mountains around us.
Writing: I spent last week pulling together a few things for the Monsterhearts campaign. The system emphasises the importance of not preparing plot, but instead allowing it to grow organically between the players and the Master of Ceremonies. So, no plot--just filling out the characters I'd established and working out their agendas so that I can react properly as the situation changes. Tonight I plan to get back to Heartwood.
Drinking: To help celebrate Yule, I picked up some tasty Christmas Tea. I love almond-flavoured teas and the orange sets it off nicely. I also picked up some Chocolate Mint, since my supplies of flavoured blacks were running low.
Apocalypse World is a role-playing system which I first encountered through YouTuber JP Mc Daniel's R&D stream. My impression of it was of a system that was much less heavy on rules in comparison to the traditional d20 systems I was used to. Instead, it is designed for a fluid and cinematic style of play, relying somewhat more on co-operative world-building between the players and the Master of Ceremonies. It is an excellent system for players looking to roleplay more than dungeon crawl, especially since it is easy for a character to take damage and hard for them to heal. Levelling up doesn't bring an increase in hit points--you remain just as squishy as when you started.
After watching the series (which provides an excellent and entertaining demonstration of how the system works), Sahaquiel was all fired up to try it out for himself and ordered the PDFs. I was a bit taken aback by how excited he was--clearly I hadn't realised how burned out he was getting with D&D.
So my first step was to read the manual. Yep, there's just the one. Most of it I didn't even need to bother with, since it was aimed at the MC. It is written in a very colloquial style that invokes the sort of mood players may (or may not) be looking for in the game. If you're offended by swearing, it might be best to steer clear.
The information isn't as well presented as I would have hoped. Rules are repeated in different places, the order isn't as logical as one might wish and you sometimes have to do a fair bit of hunting to find what you are looking for. This is particularly frustrating during game-play. Some parts are intentionally vague, as they are meant to be left up to the players, but there are places that could benefit from greater clarity. However, overall the rules are relatively simple and make for a fun and balanced game.
I have also realised that I don't even have a tag here for role playing. This is of particular significance because one of my regular groups started a new campaign yesterday. Having just finished a long-running, Firefly-esque sci-fi campaign, the GM is looking to fill in some time while he prepares for his next long-running campaign. He decided to run a short, low-magic fantasy campaign based on Robin Hood.
Yesterday the group met to create characters. There had been some email discussion previous to this, so we all had fairly good ideas of the sort of characters we wanted to play. The meeting was a chance to really get down to the nuts and bolts of it and to start putting it on paper.
All of the usual suspects were up for grabs, excepting the villains. Being the only female of the group, I had been considering playing Maid Marian. To my astonishment, however, no one wanted to play Robin Hood. Without a player to take this role, it would have fallen to the GM to cover it. This would mean that the GM would essentially be leading the group as Robin, making for a very forced dynamic. The best campaigns are the ones that allow space for stories and relationships to develop; having the GM lead the group around by the nose is a recipe for a really boring campaign.
So I decided to take on the role of Robin. I also decided to play Robin as a female character, since that is what I'm most comfortable with. The GM and I also agreed that it would make a nice twist on the story.
I am awesomely excited--so much so that I had trouble getting to sleep last night. We'll have our first proper game in two weeks. After yesterday's character creation (essentially putting together the statistics for the game), the GM emailed me with a list of questions to think about as we attempt to create Robin's backstory. This piecing together of characters, relationships and stories is something I adore and is the reason I'm a writer. We've been emailing back and forward all day.
I'm so excited about it that it has pushed out the current story I'm working on right out of my head. Since that particular story has a rapidly-approaching deadline, I hope I get Robin pieced together soon.