Thursday, January 29, 2009

Sexuality and D&D

(No, this isn't a long, drawn-out thing. Don't worry.)

I find RPG.net's posting population to generally be quite left-wing politically. I don't usually have so much a problem with that except that the attitude seems to bleed into things where it doesn't make any sense...

But sometimes, that place does inspire some thought. The LGBT in Fantasy thread was one such thread.

While D&D is very much a social game, I usually don't play it as a social game, if you take my meaning. So the idea of romance and the problems thereof really don't enter into my games. Usually.

But the players can introduce such things. "My character is gay." Hell, it's hard-coded into the rules. The existence of gender-swapping magical items and traps means that transgendered characters absolutely exist if you're going by the book. If you go by the charisma notes in OD&D or dryad descriptions in 1E, you're going to see that sexual situations aren't supposed to be nonexistent either.

But I see a lot of odd attitudes towards this sort of thing out in gamerdom, from both extreme angles. On one hand, I see people who are uncomfortable with players playing a gender not their own, and an attitude that wishing to play out an interpersonal relationship in-game is somehow weird in and of itself. On the other side, I see people insisting that not only will their characters be gay/bi/trans, but that the game world should accomodate it as well.

(I mention that last bit as an "extreme angle" due to my own preference of having medievalistic campaign worlds, including monotheistic Dark Ages religion, and I don't do romance-as-plot as a general rule to begin with, so what's generally the point?)

Now I've realized a few things gaming here in Finland. People are generally a lot less uptight about many things, and that's put me at a disadvantage a time or two (especially since I'm the one used to being completely inappropriate... :P).

I've realized that I have this campaign world I've used since 1990 or thereabouts, and both campaigns I've run in Finland using this world has been set in the same geographic area... because that's the area that's generally like "here" as far as general social attitudes. Elsewhere are more brutal feudal systems, oppressive dictatorships, and basically a bunch of environments that aren't so suited for your regular D&D game PCs and activities. So when a player wanted her character to be a gay man, it wasn't so much a problem. In the cities you can find most anything, and nobody has to make a big deal of it. (if they went elsewhere, I would turn it into an issue though)

But I do my best to keep all the romance and "I hit on the barmaid/stable boy" stuff very shallow and lighthearted and keep all the results off-camera. It makes me very uncomfortable to deal with this stuff in detail, and especially in-character, in my games because... well, wordplay and such is (or was, when I lived in the US... you should have seen my phone bills, and no, not to 900 lines. :P) such a major part of my real-life "courting" techniques. I don't want to have to make the distinction between doing it for real and for fake. Especially with some of the players I have, ya know? I need to behave when running games.

And I have no idea if any of my current players are anything other than straight-arrows, but I was gaming with a pre-op transsexual during my final days in Atlanta, so the experience isn't foreign to me.

But anyway...

Informal poll...

Referees, how do you change your approach to your game if one of your players is not straight? Or if all of them are?

What if one of your male players wants to play a female character, or vice versa? Transgender?

What if one of your players wants to role-play a romantic relationship in-game?

Players, do you ever play the opposite gender as a character? Pursue in-game romances?

The Top Twelve Most Commented-On LotFP: RPG Blog Entries

One of the best bits of snarky criticism I see leveled at artists, bloggers, and RPG writers is that of "attention whore." It's the safest insult to throw because it's universally true. Who writes/draws/creates something, posts it on the web/publishes it/sells it and doesn't want to be recognized, doesn't want their creation experienced?

Now, the nature of the attention-whoring will often match the nature of the thing being whored. A musician who makes songs about filthy and unwholesome things will likely seem more shameless about drawing attention to his work. A writer who composes thoughtful pieces about non-controversial subjects probably isn't going to be so outrageous in the manner that he presents that work. It's part and parcel of the whole creator/creation relationship. It's only remarkable when the tenor of the work and the artist are quite different. It's only a negative state of affairs when there is nothing to draw attention to, the act of drawing attention is done for its own sake, and the entire thing is merely a distraction (note that this is different than having one's attention drawn to a thing from which a particular individual can draw no value...).

I have no way of knowing which of my posts on the blog here are read the most. My little counter on the lower right only goes back to sometime in November (I should have had such a thing on the blog immediately, since I seem to care so much...), but I can't track how many times each individual post has been accessed. So the way I interpret interest in any individual post is by the amount of comments left on the post. It's probably a poor scale, as a post which many people read just might not inspire comments (and "I agree!" and "What crap!" aren't what I want to read in comments anyway... I want reasons and stories about how my post relates to experiences and things like that... meaty stuff for me to read, not just tally), but it takes a moment of conscious thought for me to separate the concepts of "most commented on" and "most read."

That said, here are the Top 12 (would have been Top 10 but for the tie at the end...):

1. I Hate Fun 51 comments
2. D&D and Racism 48 comments
3. Closed Circles of Old Truckers Hurdy Gurdying 29 comments
4. The Cowardice of the Modern Grognard... or... Supplement V- Carcosa Reviewed 26 comments
5. It's a Great Idea and It Will Make Us Stronger... So Let's Crap All Over It! 22 comments
6. Holmes D&D - An Overview 21 comments
7. Hook in Mouth 19 comments
7. I'm in a Different Hobby than All These Other Folks... 19 comments
9. My Problematic Interpretation of Clerics... 16 comments
9. The Lord of the Rings Movies are Feces 16 comments
9. Guide to Adventure Writing 16 comments
9. Did Simulacrum Games Just Become Obsolete? 16 comments

Analysis?

People like commenting on how their gaming relates to Real Life issues, first and foremost. People really like bitching about Carcosa and bitching about people who bitch about Carcosa. People like commenting on commentary concerning the "scene." And something actually game-intensive has to be damn extraordinary to get a lot of people offering their opinions.

You know which ones I wish had gotten a lot more attention?

This one, because a lot of work went into it and I think if it had been more widely read it could have meant something. Not that the second post of a new blog is going to get any attention, and not that I give HERO System fans a reason to ever stop by...

This one, because I wonder just how common this sort of play really is, where it came from, and how to move the group away from it if you find yourself in that sort of situation as a player. Bonus trivia: I have since found out that one of the people involved is in our circle of mystic bloggers. No, I'm not telling. And you should have seen the rant my friend originally gave me before I told him I was publishing it... :P

This one, because it works. The post has gotten plenty of hits, and has a fair amount of comments, but every time I hear someone whining that they can't find a group, or that players won't play the game/edition someone wants to run, I want to slap them around, pry their eyelids open with fishhooks, and sit them in front of this post. It works.

If I can Attention Whore a little more, maybe you bloggy type people can go through your old blogs and note your Top 10 Most Commented-On as well. The Manage Posts screen puts it all right there.

Religious Whacko Attacking D&D

Here.

Not able to be embedded.

D&D content begins four minutes in.

So if a person is this wrong when it comes to facts, how can their conclusions be trusted? If they are this wrong about something we know so much about, how wrong are they concerning all that other stuff they talk about that we don't know so much about?

(watching the whole series, this looks to be from 1993)

(note that I use "whacko" very specifically in this case; check her admonitions against karate here)

How Did You Find the LotFP: RPG Blog?

'allo...

I'm doing setting work for the Olden Domain campaign today, dealing with some online auctions, answering email (I have email three months old that I haven't answered yet), and preparing another Big Article that might be ready over the weekend or the beginning of next week. I'll likely have smaller tidbits over the next few days (for sure an I Play after Friday's game and probably after Sunday's as well), but until then...

A reader survey!

Are you a regular reader?

If so, how did you originally find the LotFP: RPG blog?

What made you decide to become a regular reader?

Not only am I curious, but I figure it never hurts to try something that might let people know what blog readers are after, considering that I get the feeling that most of the people that read these blogs are bloggers themselves. Or it just seems that way judging by who leaves comments... I've also been reading a lot of "advice for bloggers" type of thing (always looking for hints and tips on everything...), and I find I disagree with much of it, and I find that "experts" giving "advice" on social phenomena are gearing towards the average, and not niche, topics and activities. And half of what they say ("Be opinionated!"), I have a feeling they don't really mean it, because sixty-five times out of a hundred (very official and exact!) it's always those friendly, helpful fucks who are the first to be offended by an unfiltered opinion.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Examining Role-Playing Mastery by Gary Gygax, Part IX

Chapter 7: Tactical Mastery

Do you like the Successful Adventures section of the Players Handbook (p107)? Gygax obviously did too (and I think it's one of the better, in terms of both usefulness and clarity, bits he's ever written), because Chapter 7 is all about that sort of thing... but watered down a bit for more general usage.

The chapter begins with a lot of hoo-ha about how difficult it is to come up with advice that is universal, since so much depends on the game system in question and the goal of play at the individual table. But never fear, Gygax has assembled a list of tips "that any PC can follow in any game and scenarios that will help assure success."

While I do believe that's a bit of an exaggeration, I also think that players would do well to keep (most of) these in mind.

Know the mission. Based on the information you are given in the background and setting of a scenario, define exactly what you are going to try to do. Sometimes the mission will be spelled out in no uncertain terms; if it is not, you should be able to deduce it logically from the information provided. Keep the mission in mind at all times, so that each activity you engage in assists in the overall aim.

Know the goal. The mission should have a set goal. When that goal is successfully achieved or arrived at, the mission is complete and the adventure should conclude at that point. The distinction between "mission" and "goal" may not always seem clear-cut, but the distinction is there nonetheless. The mission is a description of what must be done to achieve success; the goal is an enumeration of the condition(s) that will prevail when the mission is complete. For instance, the mission of a lawman is to apprehend and detain a suspected criminal; the goal of that mission is attained when the quarry is safely behind bars.

Define the objectives. The mission and goal, once defined and analyzed, will contain distinct places where progress can be measured. Each such objective should take you one step closer to attainment of the goal and completion of the mission. At times, however, the reaching of an objective does not lead directly toward the next objective. After reaching an objective, examine your remaining resources. If you have incurred losses so great as to make further objectives probably unattainable, then break off the mission for the time being. Run away that day, reequip, and return to the mission when you are back at full strength. In our example, one of the lawman's first objectives would be to find the trail of the criminal he is seeking; then he must catch up with and force an encounter with his quarry, and so forth.

I do believe, despite his protests to the contrary, that these things are pretty much the same thing. "Know what you need to do, and break it down into steps if it's a big thing."

I do find it interesting that it seems that Gygax had given up on, or at least accepted that the RPG audience would have given up on, "sandbox" and exploration type gaming. This advice seems to assume a specific mission of some sort. Sandbox/exploration advice might look a bit similar, but I don't think it would be the same.

Make, and follow, a plan. When the mission is understood, the goal is clear to all, and objectives have been set, then it is time to devise a plan that takes into account all members of the PC group and how they will communicate and operate together. Have each team member understand his assignment. Assess strengths and weaknesses. Know all the resources available. The plan is to be adhered to at all times when it appears to have a chance at success - or less chance of failure than some other plan. In the plan should be recognition signals, a rendezvous point in case the team should become separated, and even some cover story to explain your presence/activity in the area where the scenario takes place.

This could probably be put into the first bit as well, but I can also see where "Know what you need to do," and, "figure out how you're going to do it," are separate.

Maintain the tempo. Keep moving. Press toward the goal. Time is often the ally of the opponents, so allow as little as possible to be wasted.

... ELSE WANDERING MONSTERS CHOMP ON YOUR BUTT!!!!!

Operate as a unit. The characters involved in an adventure must cooperate to achieve their goal and successfully complete the mission. Utilize each character's strength and cover everyone's weaknesses as a group entity. Separated, fingers are vulnerable. In tightly closed form, they become a fist.
You'd be surprised how many parties don't follow this advice as a rule. Short-term selfishness never leads to long-term good results when you have to deal with the same people tomorrow as you did yesterday...

Use your sense... Use your common sense at all times. Usually it is the best method for average problem solving.

... and your character's senses. Your character has them - use them! How? You have to stay in constant contact with the GM in this regard. When your PC is in any situation in which information is lacking - entering an unknown area, for example - address the GM and assume a mode such as this: "I'm looking up, down, all around. What do I see? Can I hear anything? What do I smell? Do I sense or feel anything unusual?"

Ah yes. Challenge the player and his skills, not a character's "awareness" stat. This also plays into the idea of Gygaxian Naturalism, because only in a more-or-less recognizable world would all of these reap any benefit.

Record, refer, and remember. Keep track of your resources. This means weapons, devices, and anything else useful. (Team members are resources, too, of course, but that utilization has already been dealt with.) Use this information as reference material when you're trying to determine a course of action. Additionally, record information as to where you've been, where you are now, and where you're going. Note anything unusual in this regard. When actual record-keeping would be cumbersome or time consuming, make a conscious effort to remember what you have come across so that you will recognize it if you see it again.

I believe this advice comes from the position that "a PC is a guy who does stuff," not from the "a PC is an awesome hero that we're telling a story about," because in the latter case, all of this stuff would be boring. "What action hero keeps track of his stuff?" In an exploration/vulnerable game, doing that very thing can be the difference between life and death.

And it's funny as hell when a party finally finds the big score... and then realizes they can't carry any of it out because their sacks are full of rations needed for the trip back home. :D

Scout the enemy. Take the time and make the effort to get to know your opponents as fully as possible. This knowledge will enable the most efficient handling of such opposition with a minimum expenditure of time and other resources in overcoming whatever stands between you and your goal. In the example used earlier, the lawman's search for the criminal will go more quickly if he takes the time to question townspeople and find out that the wrongdoer has a cohort waiting for him in the town to the east. With that one piece of information, the lawman finds out two important things: the criminal's destination, and the fact that he (the lawman) will probably have to face two opponents instead of just one when he arrives at the same place.

"Rushing in blindly, swords swinging/guns blazing, is bad, mmmkay?"

Be consistent. Strategy and grand tactics will often dictate unique methods of handling familiar problems, because the opponents will be surprised by such methodology. Small-scale tactical applications, on the other hand, call for a high degree of consistency. Think of how one gets through a maze. By placing one hand, let us say the left, on the wall of a maze and always keeping it on a wall, one will eventually complete the entire path between entrance and exit. In similar fashion, if you are exploring, take a direction that seems promising and follow it. If you are unable to continue in that direction, have a second choice. Thus, for instance, if one moves always north and west, to return to a place previously passed, one need only move south and east.

Advice that again seems only relevant to an exploration/down-to-earth kind of game.

Evade and avoid. Whenever possible, conserve time and other resources by avoiding unnecessary confrontation. Slip away without fighting, negotiate, or use trickery. The goal of the mission is paramount, and only those activities that will lend probable success to attaining that goal should be undertaken.

Classic D&D survival trait. Especially if your evil referee doesn't hesitate to put NASTY STUFF on level one that isn't even intended to be defeated.

Don't be afraid to improvise. At times, the plan cannot be followed. Improvise a new set of short-term plans immediately. Again, at times, resources will not be sufficient to complete the mission. Improvise! Perhaps materials and/or friendly individuals at hand can be utilized. When you are improvising, keep your goal and objectives in mind. In our example of the lawman and the criminal, let us suppose that the lawman arrives at the town and finds the cohort (without revealing his own true identity, of course), but discovers that the man he's after is nowhere to be seen. Was the lawman's original information incorrect? Has he somehow arrived at the destination before his quarry got there? Should be bide his time or resume his search in a different locale? The lawman must improvise because things haven't gone the way he expected them to, but no matter what he decides to do at this juncture, he should always keep sight of his mission and his goal.

"You know all those plans I was talking about early on? They're not going to work. Be prepared!"

Yeah, after the Successful Adventures section of the Players Handbook, this does all seem either wanting, or redundant. Not to mention RPGs have gotten so diverse that this advice is dubious for many of them, and playing this way may actually break genre emulation if practiced (as I think I did during the Dirty World demo at Ropecon...). I'm not sure RPGs weren't already too diverse for this to be weak universal advice already in 1987. It does bring a few questions to mind, as I try to reconcile Gary's gaming style of the 70s with what he's written about the "mission" and such here.

And if there is any doubt about his plot-and-story leanings at this time, after the points above there is a section called The Disappearing Dwarf, where Gygax outlines three scenarios in different genres, all bearing the same title. He then attempts to apply the advice he gave before to these scenarios as an example of how it works in practical play. I think this is a particularly weak section. Gygax, in addition to being a game designer and writer and publisher, has a vast amount of experience playing and running games. He should have given examples from his real-life games, with any appropriate serial numbers filed off if legally necessay, instead of inventing things that give him all the leverage in saying what's best to do. If he'd used, say, Village of Hommlet as an example, then we could read it and judge whether Gygax has a point and how well that point works.

It's fantastically simple to come up with a theory for how things work, and then give made-up examples to demonstrate that those theories are correct. The Forge and the designers there seem to have done it, creating games different from (but hardly replacing) the games that came before. We're all doing it now with the theorizing and exploration of old D&D, learning from and noting, and then playing with these new-old interpretations of What Things Mean. Gygax falls into the same trap we all seem to, in applying these theories universally... and the theories at this point weren't very coherent. D&D, the market, and Gygax's attitudes towards them all changed over the years (note the DMG's given reasons for not providing social status generation for PCs... and note that the same are in Unearthed Arcana). Dragonlance and the other Hickman modules may have been a change in direction that struck deep with many gamers, but we can hardly say that Gary was asleep at the wheel or that he failed to recognize or fix these "problems" as they developed. He seemed to be on board, at least as far as producing product was concerned. I have no idea how he was running his home games as the early 80s shifted undeniably into the mid-80s... (kind of like how I kept saying I was in my "early 30s" until I turned 34. :P)

The next bit in our series will be about Chapter 8: Designing Your Own Game... which, honestly, seems like a disaster-in-the-making considering that greatest standard to judge these tips against would be Gygax's own designs... and I have never read a post-D&D Gygax game. Ah well, the worst that can happen is that the post is a disaster. :D

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Random Esoteric Creature Generator SALE and GIVEAWAY CONTEST!

Sale first, contest below:

SUPER-FABULOUS MEGA LotFP HOOHAA SALE!

(Only 3 left!)

You get:


Price if you're in Europe: 15,50€ (includes 2,55€ shipping price)
Price if you're not in Europe: 18,50€ (includes 5,40€ shipping price)

Paypal this amount (in euros!) noting your address to lotfpeurope@lotfp.com

We've got very few of these sets (I only got 10 author copies, and I'm doing stuff with a few of them, you know?), so don't dilly-dally if you want this. No, LotFP edition Creature Generators aren't for sale separately. Yes, Fantasy Fucking Vietnam is!

But what if you don't want to pay? What if you want this all FOR FREE?

That's why we have...

SUPER-FABULOUS MEGA LotFP HOOHAA CONTEST!

This is what we're giving away (I say "we," but I mean "I." So this is what I're giving away. No, wait...):


There will be two winners, and each winner gets a full set!

Contest Details:

Detail a room in a dungeon, with some sort of puzzle/trap. It must be your own original work. Send that room description (with map or sketch if possible) to lotfp@lotfp.com.

I will combine all (well, all decent) entries into a PUZZLE DUNGEON to be distributed absolutely free as a pdf compatible with various simulacra. By entering the contest you agree to give permission to me to use your work for this purpose. I agree to use your dungeon room for only this specific absolutely free "product." You retain full rights to your work. When submitting, also note how you would like to be credited, as well as an email address or website link you'd like to have noted with the credit as well.

I will choose two winners: Best Lethal Trap and Best Non-Lethal Trap. "Best" will be judged from a combination of cleverness, ability to be engaged by description and role-play rather than a "find traps" roll, general quality in concept and writing, and my personal preferences.

Contest deadline February 28. Of this year. (duh!)

Enter as many times as you'd like.

If you have questions about the sale or the contest, leave a comment below or email me at lotfp@lotfp.com.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Play

Finished up another game a couple of hours ago.


The Olden Domain's involvement so far now: 8 people from 4 different countries (including me; the referee counts!).

This was also my friend Oona's (far right) first ever role-playing session. If someone's going to complain to me that they are bored and have nothing to do on game day... well... I get them in the game!

And this group is the most treasure-phobic bunch I've ever seen. There is treasure in these dungeons, I swear! But the two players that have participated in all three Olden Domain sessions have less than 300gp each, total, to show for it. Maybe next time they'll find the real hauls...

I run for my other campaign on Sunday, but it's back at The Dungeon so no in-session pics, unfortunately...

Also, I got a fun little package in the mail today...


I can has author copies! It's a good feeling to make something yourself and hold it in your hand, and it's another good feeling to hold something in your hand that you made that someone else financed. With the Creature Generator, I got to have both experiences. I've inquired to Goodman Games as to what would be fair play as far as what I can do with them, but I'll tell you right now one of my ideas involves the word "contest." We'll see, stay tuned, and keep making crazy monsters to befuddle your players. Like tonight's Purple Zombies I threw at my players... and came one casualty away from committing a TPK!

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Response to "D&D and Racism"

Greg Sanders, author of one of the articles that inspired my article on D&D and Racism, has in turn responded to my article. Read that here.

I'm not going to talk at length about it, as the first article covered most of the points. However, there are a couple of notes I want to make.

First, his quote, "First and foremost because while DnD is about tactical combat, it is also about telling stories." I very much disagree on the first point, and I suspect we have different feelings about how the second is achieved.

Second, his response to my "Racism is not objectively bad..." paragraph starts, "The thing is, in practice different societies have different levels of health care, nutrition, and education available to them."

I believe these are two completely different things. Culture is not race (especially not in a modern cosmopolitan society), and certainly not all cultures in the world are of equal quality (with widespread racism being a prime qualifier for signifying a shit culture). He's arguing a completely different point than the matter at hand.

The next is how I've used race relations in my own campaigns:

I hit the race-as-divider button hard when it comes to my gaming. Humans and dwarves just don't get along - they tend to have overlapping territories (dwarven nations underneath, considering the land above to be theirs... and humans spreading all over the surface, not even acknowledging the underground as real territory to begin with) and are in competition for the same mineral resources.

Elves and humans have an even nastier time of it, because while dwarves and humans are in competition for resources, the humans' idea of resources is the elven idea of "home."

Both races get along fine with humans away from territorial borders, but there are always tensions, if not outright hostility, along the borders.

Yet I don't even suggest that PCs adhere to such attitudes (or even reveal them to the players at the start). Nor do I have any elf vs dwarf rivalry in my games (why would they?) but the players always introduce that on their own.

My year-long AD&D 1e campaign in Vaasa was in some ways completely centered around human-dwarven tensions, as an evil mastermind was poking them both hoping for a conflict which would then make it easier to move the goblin army from the north to wipe both nations out.

The campaign ended with the removal of the instigator, but with the underlying tensions (and the goblin army!) unresolved.

The first campaign I started after moving to Helsinki picked up a bit after the last campaign ended, and the first adventure involved the dwarves screwing around with the humans. A big arc later on involved running afoul of the dwarves and getting thrown into their prison caverns.

And I put this in there because racial tension, especially between "friendly" player character races, creates instant drama. It makes decisions harder to make, with more complicated consequences. Especially when you give a history that gives both sides plenty reason to be pissed with the other, and somewhat equal ground (dwarves can't win in open combat on the surface, humans can't invade the underground holds). There's no fixing it (without declaring race war, that is); it's something to work around as the players move towards whatever goals they have.

You don't have to throw a nasty monster or a deadly trap at the characters in order to make the players sweat. It's great fun when the different conflicting factions try recruiting individual members of the party to their cause, and the players aren't sure what they're supposed to do because they don't know who's right. Are they supposed to support one side or the other? Should their characters declare allegiance along racial lines or not? What kind of message is Jim sending with this campaign?

The trick is that there is no right answer or wrong answer for the campaign. I have no allegiance to these fictional people and kingdoms in my game, and the choices the players make can alter the balance of power in the way they think they should act.

It's a drama/stakes-raising mechanism specifically and only because it is a touchy thing in real life.

Lastly, his quote: "Ultimately games and stories have power. We learn from them even we don’t realize it, and we often don’t learn what the author intended."

It misses one important point: In role-playing, the author of the story is not the author of the game manual, but the players at the table of the particular session being played.


Thursday, January 22, 2009

Anyone Know German?

I'm talked about here. I suspect it's not positively, but how would I know? But I'd like to find out!

Today is "prepare for tomorrow's Olden Domain game (a haunted castle, including a 6-story inner keep), and prepare for Sunday's game if I have time," day.

"Haunted by what?" you ask. I asked that too this morning. I had no idea. So I asked the girlfriend. "What should this thing be haunted by?" And now I have no idea how to implement the haunting of that. Dammit.

Regular blog content on... Saturday? The next big update should be the next Role-Playing Mastery bit.

This is officially the most productive month I've had, blog-postingwise, since starting. Yay me!

err... pictures of snow in Finland taken from my balcony at about 5:45pm Thursday afternoon!



ADD ON EDIT!

One of my players has created this, inspired by last week's Olden Domain game!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

RPG Blog Anthology Can Has LotFP: RPG Articles!

So there are some people working on putting together the 2008 Roleplaying Game Blog Anthology in print with the intention of getting the blogging scene's ideas into real-world shops.

I was only vaguely aware of the project through Grognardia's note that his Gygaxian Naturalism phrase had been appropriated as a fundraising t-shirt slogan. However, I thought nothing of it, as I didn't think it concerned me at all.

However, I was recently informed that two of the LotFP: RPG blog entries, specifically this and this, were nominated for inclusion and would make it into the final book, pending my permission. Which I gladly gave.

Awesome. More news on this as things actually happen.



Monday, January 19, 2009

It's a Great Idea and It Will Make Us Stronger... So Let's Crap All Over It!

This is why we can't have nice things.

I've been involved with this TARGA thing since the summer, and two things I've been pushing in our conference calls are:

A traditional gaming site which is completely neutral, just giving factual info about games, current publishers and releases, linking to reviews, and so on. A central place for information and a handy link to send newcomers and the curious, but no message boards. If I could do it myself, I would have already, but my site here is the extent of my web skills. The message board bit is important to keep controversy off the "basic info" page. Just the facts, no dirt slinging.

Also, a traditional/simulacra version of IPR. A store that's by us and about us, for people interested in us. I think IPR's existence was a real boon to its core scene, and I figured a nice version for us would do the same. If I lived in the States I would have already started this. (probably best that I don't live in the US and didn't start it. :P)

Dan Proctor of Labyrinth Lord/Mutant Future fame stopped waiting for others to do something and stopped making excuses and started to do something along these lines. He details his intentions in this blog post, and the storefront he's set up is here. Not the perfect solution (we need something real, not Lulu), but it is action, and it is a start.

But then certain other people decided to shit all over it. The idea was publicized here by Matt Finch of Swords and Wizardry fame. I saw the thread before I left for my game today (well, yesterday now) and it had 7 posts. I come back from my game, and it's three pages long. I knew what had happened before even looking.

This shit. Obviously some sort of "sock puppet" from a guy too chickenshit to put his real name on his comments (all of that username's posts are in that one thread), and doing his damndest to make sure that any suggestion of anything resembling unity goes down in flames and it derailed the entire subject. I've ranted about this before, but...

... the Old School Renaissance goes nowhere if censors and limiters of imagination are allowed any say in the proceedings at all. A scene built on nostalgia will quickly return from whence it came. We can't let ourselves be limited to what's already been released (25+ years ago!) or there's no point to it all. This scene moves forward on the strength of ideas and people who are willing to take bold risks and reach for the sky while keeping their feet firmly in the traditional. Some of the results will be bad, Some of the results will be ugly. But that's the beauty and the risk of creativity.

Can't wait to see what the reaction to the Carcosa (and Duvan'Ku) material in the next Fight On! is going to look like. Hell, I know what I submitted as far as Duvan'Ku and I've seen Mr. McKinney's Carcosa submission, and I wonder how edited they will be...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A Fox in the Chickenhouse

We had a game today with five players, and I took a really awesome picture of "The Dungeon," but I'm not allowed to post it. Seems that even though we have permission to play at one of our players' place of employment, putting that up on the web might not be so good an idea...

Damn.

But it was a fun session, bringing back some NPCs that we hadn't met in months, starting a quest to reunite with a few more...

And the big damn fight where my die rolls sucked so bad that they steamrolled the competition.

See, there was this mushroom forest in this large cavern, and at the far end of it was this brownie that kept a bunch of caged foxes. He offered to show the party how to get to the place they needed to go, but they needed to hunt the monster that had been killing his foxes...

... and that monster was a giant chicken, of course. Able to lay eggs that instantly hatched man-sized chickens ready for combat.

The shining moment was, waiting in ambush (with a lit torch perimeter to allow missile fire), the ground started to shake... just like the build-up to the T-Rex in Jurassic Park.

A bit goofy, definitely shaking the players out of "standard fantasy found here," but also a bit ominous.

And when the thing charged... I couldn't hit anything! The players' tactics to be able to pepper with missile fire, combined with an effective blinding Light spell, made sure the outcome was never in doubt. My inability to roll well for initiative, or to hit anything with a 10HD monster (blinded or no!), or to roll more than a 1 for damage when one of the insta-chicks hit... made sure there wasn't even much of a threat, either.

*grumblecakes*

Next week we'll be doing a module that I've criticized in the past, and I want to see if it plays differently than it reads. This dungeon will be the way to... The Valley.

Of Howling Shadows, if I may telegraph future events to my players that read this blog. Things are about to get weird.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I Play


The Olden Domain's involvement so far now: 6 people from 4 different countries (including me; the referee counts!).

Tonight's reinforced lesson was... put the official equipment list online so people can spend their treasure without taking up gametime. Make pre-selected equipment packs so starting players can pick one and be good to go. Character creation is a snap, but sorting out everyone's equipment today took around an hour. Again. That kind of thing shouldn't happen, even if it shows the players are taking that sort of thing seriously. So effort will be made to drastically cut that down in the future.

I was also late to the session because I went to see The Wrestler (and I forgot that the running time of the movie doesn't mean anything when they have 20 minutes of ads and trailers before the movie but after the listed showtime). argh. But it was worth it. The Wrestler is absolutely the best movie ever made involving pro wrestling, and it's so true to life (and all of the wrestling promotions featured in the movie are real, as are most of the wrestlers) that it's heartbreaking... because I don't watch WWE or TNA, when I have money to spend on wrestling, it's on independents, at the level the movie features or smaller. The parts you will think they make up are probably the things closest to how things are. I know people who put themselves through that (but have never been backstage myself, so take that for what it's worth)... The style they chose to shoot the movie gives it a documentary feel, as well as putting you in the ring with the guys and showing that even though wrestling is "fake," they put themselves through hell out there.

It's very uncomfortable viewing, and I don't know if it would be more uncomfortable to people familiar with everything shown in the movie (hell, I've bladed for a class project) or people who don't know anything about wrestling (yes, they really do cut their foreheads open with razor blades to bleed!) and are just going to see a critically acclaimed movie.

I'm really glad my inquiries into getting trained to be a wrestler in 92 and 97 never got far.

I somehow fit a movie review into my RPG blog. Awesome! But it is relevant for our purposes because a theme of the movie is holding on to the past too tightly for too long, so... on topic. Yeah. Sure. :D

Yet Another Creature Generator review!

Here!

Holy carp!

Yes! Carp!

Yesterday (it's about 1:30am here now) was LotFP: RPG's biggest day ever, with 617 unique visits and 1,061 page views.

Largely generated by this site, whose visitors didn't think much of their experience in LotFPland, but ah well.

Friday, January 16, 2009

More Wisdom from Michael Mornard

From here.

"Two things to remember about Original D&D:

  1. HP Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith were Gary Gygax' and Rob Kuntz' favorite authors respectively. Both of them wrote stories where the main character did not survive.
  2. Another favorite author was Robert E. Howard, but seen through a wargamer's lens. Remember "Tower of the Elephant?" Remember the guy who went up the tower with Conan? Well, he thought HE was the hero of the story... right up until the giant spider killed him."

And now for something complete different...

Tonight is the second session for The Olden Domain (expect pics in the early morning local time), so this might be a good time to show a bit of a session recap from last time (and the first suggestion of where to go this time, and they did end up deciding to go into the dungeon again) and map one of my players (hi, Corentin!) made from the last session:

I'd say we keep exploring the dungeon, unless people want to attack the gnolls in the tower.

For those who weren't there, the Sunken City is deep down a hole. On a side, there's a tower occupied by gnolls. In the bottom of the hole is a lake near which live some weak and ragged humans who are regularly raided by the gnolls. There's also a castle supposedly haunted in which none of the aforementioned people dare going. And finally, caves make the sides of the hole look a bit like gruyère and must be full full of some nocturnal monsters.

During last expedition, Gnarly, Alex and Altaeioni (me) decided to take the side of the weak humans by killing a party of gnoll raiders. For that reason, those people now consider us as warriors. In the long run, it may be possible to take over the gnoll tower and install the humans in there so that future expeditions would have some advanced outpost where to rest in the Olden Domain. This is the reason why I consider that attacking the tower might be an interesting option.

But if we don't feel like taking over a whole gnoll settlement, the dungeon under the humans' village is my first choice.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

D&D and Racism

Everybody turn to page 18 in your Players Handbook (the real one). Look at the Racial Preferences table. Dungeons and Dragons includes, and very much promotes, racism.

Now everyone make an angry or pouty face (your choice), curl your fist up at the computer screen, and shout, “Damn you, racism! You’re bad and icky!”

(A note: I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be one of those posts that get read by people that don’t regularly read this blog, so I should mention that when I say “Dungeons and Dragons,” I mean pre-1989 D&D. I don’t want to hear about 3rd, or 4th edition (or non-core 2nd edition) rules, those editions’ depictions of race, or how much fun you have playing them, because I don’t care about those games (and for new products after 1993-4, for the most part I’m not even aware of what’s in them at all) and I really wish they’d been called something other than “Dungeons and Dragons.” Don’t argue about it; if you have a problem with it, just hit that red X in the upper right corner of your screen and go away.)

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, perhaps we can rationally discuss what racism in Dungeons and Dragons really means.

Racism is not objectively bad. Racism is only a real-world evil because people discriminate against each other on the false premise of racial superiority. There is no difference in the potential intelligence or achievement or emotional state or morality between a white man, black man, Hispanic, Asian, Eskimo, Indian, or any other person. None. The racist in the real world is a douche bag and a problem because his base suppositions are wrong: He is not superior, not by his blood, and if he claims racial superiority, not by his mind either.

In a fictional world, that often isn’t the case. Humans are different than elves are different than dwarves are different than orcs, and objectively so. Good and Evil exist as objective forces, and certain races are predisposed to a certain moral outlook. This does not mean that authoring, playing, or accepting this as objective fictional fact means endorsing or accepting this as truth in real-world ethnicities or that it's at all related to how the real world works.

Hell, in my Creature Generator, I explicitly talked about using racism in the last section of the book (although Goodman Games softened the section name to “Prejudice,” and I didn’t find it a problem to let them change it). I suggested one way of accentuating the fantastic in a game (and to give players more in the way of moral dilemmas to make their choices more meaningful) is to eliminate it whenever the mundane would suffice. So I suggested getting rid of all the humanoids and demi-humans and just replacing them with humans that are genetically hard-coded to be better or worse in ways and have racial (in the real-world sense) behavior.

“A referee,” I wrote, “should never allow comparisons between his real-life attitudes and how he handles orc analogues in his game.”

But then all this theory meets the real world. It’s all good and well to say this is all imaginary, especially coming from Mr. White Privilege Living Way Up North over here. All this talk about fiction and context means nothing if one minority gamer avoids gaming because they’re uncomfortable with some of the present themes.

Well, not exactly.

Fact: D&D rose out of the wargaming scene of the upper Midwest in the late 1960s and early 1970s. It specifically came from the Fantasy Supplement of the Chainmail game. That game had a decidedly European focus, what with all the plate armor and knights and all those trappings.

That game was co-authored by Gary Gygax, who had a keen interest in things medieval. A friend of mine with whom I've discussed this subject a bit notes, "If Gary Gygax had been black, the game would almost certainly have been very, very different." Which is kind of my point here. Of course it would have been different. The game was written not by a corporate entity seeking mass acceptance and broad demographic penetration, but by a couple guys catering to their personal interests and their already-known audience. Folk creations are going to look like the local neighborhood, not the world at large, you know? And there's nothing wrong with that.

In fact, what a happy accident that I’m in the middle of my dissection of his Role-Playing Mastery book. This quote sticks out as particularly relevant here:

... I recommend the reading of works such as A History of the Art of War in the Middle Ages, Town Government in the Sixteenth Century, The Domesday Book, The Welsh Wars of Edward II, and Numbers in History. Armor, weapons, fortification, siegecraft, costume, agriculture, politics, heraldry, and warfare are the meat and drink of a serious participant in a game such as Dungeons and Dragons.

Guys in their 30s in the upper midwest US writing about pseudo-British medieval fantasy? I can't imagine why D&D would seem rather white under those circumstances...

And then consider that D&D does not even pretend to present an idealized world. In fact, it presents (as a default, anyway) a fallen world, where ruins of a bygone age are filled with treasures unheard of in the present day, ready to be plundered. D&D’s influenced present worlds even less idealized (Lovecraft’s humanity is going to go away as soon as certain things awaken… Hyboria is doomed to fire and destruction to give way to our own prehistory… etc). The presence of racial preference tables (not to mention OD&D’s alignment by race charts) already shows that racism is real in book-standard D&D. The races are also objectively different, inferior and superior to the others in their own ways. We can decide that, “OK, this is a fictional fantasy world and those things happen.” We can decide that if the killing and looting and banditry and the decaying civilization that we would absolutely not tolerate in real life either are acceptable in our games, then maybe a fictional portrayal of race relations might be too. We can realize that elves and halflings and orcs and dwarves and the rest are not human, and more importantly not real, and that racial characteristics of D&D are not analogous to racial characteristics in real life.

(“Oh,” I can hear you saying, “Then what about half-elves and half-orcs? Aren’t those proof that D&D races are human-like enough?”

“Bite me,” says I. “I’ll concede the point when you explain owlbears, dracolisks, and thouls in terms applicable to the real world.”)

And then there is the blatant racism inherent in level limitations. What kind of message does that send to children? I can see the “game” explanation for them (balance), but to act like there is some sort of real-world racial propaganda laced within this way of doing things…

Who will speak up for the poor, oppressed orcs? The holocaust was built on this kind of silence, you know.

Is it some sort of thought crime to imagine a world where an intelligent being (fictional, no less) can be objectively superior or inferior to another? Haven’t we destroyed the very concepts of fiction and imagination if everything imagined is directly mapped and compared to the real world?

Seriously, what is more insane: Racism present in a medievalistic (not strictly “medieval” by any means) game which also draws from ancient mythology, or applying standards of modern Western liberal morality (let us not forget there is a whole world out there that does not share our base assumptions, values, or our perspective on things like race or imagination) to the same? Does medieval history or mythology of any stripe welcome the “other” as anything resembling an equal to the home tribe? Does multiculturalism make any sense in this context?

Here is a weird thought: A D&D player group consisting of white supremacists and a D&D player group consisting of strict medieval reconstructionists might well have identical-looking game worlds. Well, actually, the reconstructionists’ game world might well feature a more diverse selection of foreigners to fight with.

(Thought experiment: How does the Extraordinary Ordinary fit into this particular issue? I do think the more plausible and non-egregious your artwork, the less multicultural it's going to be in a standard D&D.)

So where does multiculturalism fit into D&D? Is it acceptable to say, "It doesn't?" nah, people spend lifetimes creating worlds and cultures in their free time. But if one is playing with base D&D assumptions (medievalistic world), multiculturalism is going to be a source of in-game conflict, with an attempt to "realistically" introduce different ethnicities into a game being at best a Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves "Why is Morgan Freeman in this cast?" proposition. (not that I have a problem with Morgan Freeman's inclusion or the explanation of why there's a black guy running around medieval England... hell, my favorite Robin Hood is a cartoon with a friggin fox for the lead character ... The problem was the lead actor in that Prince of Thieves movie... ugh.)

Really, arguing that the artwork of early D&D isn't ethnically diverse enough is like arguing that Excalibur should have had a more minorities in the cast... it just makes no sense in context.

But the thing is, even if D&D isn't explicitly inclusive of non-white ethnicities in its basic form, it doesn't exclude them either. (One can argue that that the marketing actively discouraged anyone from getting into the game, and at least in 1982 there was minority representation in the advertising) The idea that people of different ethnicities need specific invitations or permission to participate in activities created by, and primarily engaged in by, white people... that is deeply offensive, and stupid, to me. That it might not seem welcoming because the faces in the books don't look like them, well, there isn't much I can do about that. The fliers I spread around town don't say, "Whites only," and it's not like I'd be spreading different fliers if I still lived in Atlanta instead of my current residence in Helsinki. All I can do, all anyone can do, especially when dealing with a game that's been out of print for 20+ years and long abandoned by its "owners," is welcome anyone interested. And if nobody of a different skin color is interested in the first place, well, my game table is for people that want to be there, not for people who I would have to go out of my way to convince just so I don't appear to be a racist.

Hell, in my games, I don’t know what skin color everyone’s character is. I don’t care. It’s not important. Another conceit of being white perhaps, but if everyone told me next session, “Our guys all have dark brown skin, didn’t you know?” I wouldn’t change a thing. Nothing would have to be changed.

Now I didn't just spontaneously decide to do this rant. (I didn't just spontaneously write it, either... the lack of posting the past few days is because this is a sensitive issue and I didn't want to completely bugger it up.) The articles and comments here, here, and here triggered it. Some of the stuff is thought-provoking, and some of it strikes me as thought-suppressing.

Some other issues entangled with Race and D&D:

Drow elves. I can’t believe the D&D and Race argument is so feeble as to seriously include drow, but there it is.

First of all, the common elf is a prancy little woodland creature in D&D. Whether it’s to be considered to be taken from Nordic mythology (or by way of Tolkien) or a relative of some Celtic fairy creature, it’s going to be pretty darned light-skinned. The drow, intended to be the evil opposite-in-every-way, are simply just negative elves. Also, drow are matriarchal (oh no, drow are sexist too!), highly intelligent, have a highly organized and efficient society (if plagued by factional infighting), and are clearly meant to be superior foes. Dark elves can advance to higher levels than their light-skinned counterparts (Players Handbook vs Fiend Folio comparison). Dark elves begin at a higher level than light-skinned elves. They all have specialized equipment. They have special abilities their surface cousins don’t have. While not having the potential top strength or constitution of surface elves (but being equal on average), dark elves have a (MUCH) greater average intelligence, wisdom (females only), dexterity, and charisma.

I’m having a difficult time seeing the drow as some sort of racist depiction of anything, unless we're going to consider elves' feelings. But that’s because absolutely nothing involved with the drow’s cultural makeup or individual abilities suggest any relationship with real-life culture. Hell, their appearance doesn’t even suggest it. Take a look at the illustrations of the drow in the early days. Pitch black. Slender. Pointy ears. White hair. I’m looking at the G1-2-3, D1-2, D3, Q1, Fiend Folio, and A4. Except page 25 of G1-2-3 where the drow is shown without any skin shading at all (and dark hair!), David La Force’s dark-haired drow on page 6 of D1-2, and Jeff Dee’s dark-haired drow on p21 of D1-2, the depictions are consistent. In case you blame the pitch-blackness on the “primitive” line-drawing techniques used in early D&D art, I direct you to the front and back covers of the color version of D3. Can anyone look at that Erol Otus cover painting and think that picture is depicting anything relating to our world? How about Jeff Dee’s back cover? And check out Otus’ frontispiece in Q1. That is some bad-ass shit right there.

As far as I can tell, the real problem, and the only reason why “evil drow = real world blacks” has any ammunition, came from Keith Parkinson’s cover of the GDQ 1-7 Queen of the Spiders “supermodule,” depicting drow women so “realistically” that they looked like spandex-clad, real-life black women out of a glam rock video. I can’t find a large enough pic online… do any of those women on that cover even have pointed ears? (Parkinson’s cover for T1-4 was also an aesthetic influence on murderer and church burner musician Kristian Vikernes. Parkinson did a lot of great work for D&D, but I am very, very glad we didn’t have to find out what evil he would have unintentionally inspired upon the world had he been the one to paint the cover of Scourge of the Slave Lords.)

(wait, let us not forget Larry Elmore's brown-skinned Drizzt on the cover of The Crystal Shard, but Drizzt can hardly be considered a racist depiction of anything, even at that early stage)

And the “Realistically, creatures that live underground would be pale white, not black!” argument? Yes, because when sitting down and designing an underdark, we need to think what color these elves-that-have-been-cast-from-the-surface-after-a-great-war-and-now-live-in-great-cities-and-worship-a-spider-demon-goddess-who-is-objectively-real-and-need-to-compete-for-living-space-with-squid-heads-from-outer-space-and-giant-mind-controlling-squid-fish should realistically be.

Is race relations really all about impressions that shallow? If it is, is it even really worth anything at all?

There is enough real, pervasive, painful racism out in the world, and bringing this shit up just creates a smokescreen, making one ever more suspicious of any claims of racism.

Examining the literary influences of D&D might be in order. Particularly, RE Howard and HP Lovecraft are hardly seen as progressive icons in literature, you know? Yet what impact do the racial attitudes of the authors have on their work and the message it sends? Lovecraft, he who owned a cat named, and wrote a character with a cat named, “Nigger-Man,” (Rats in the Walls) is an interesting study of race in literature. Blatant racism abounds, but changes over time; see the identification with aliens in At the Mountains of Madness. But the greater point of Lovecraft’s mythos writing is that humanity is insignificant in the face of the greater universe, and that to become part of that greater universe or to even become aware of it means breaking away from the ability to live amongst normal human society. Whitey as well as everyone else would be swept away into the cosmic madness. I would also argue that the racism in his works actually makes them work better as horror stories as a modern reader surely feels much more uneasy reading certain stories than people would have upon their original publication.

But does anyone believe that Lovecraft (listed as a prime D&D influence in the DMG Appendix N) contributed sociopolitical values to D&D? Or can we agree that Evil Cults, Monsters From Beyond, and tentacled brain-eating monsters and the atmosphere those things generate were the contributions?

RE Howard and his Conan stories are perhaps a bit more problematic. Conan was a prime inspiration for Gygax and D&D, and because of Howard’s background (1920s rural Texas doesn’t bring harmonious thoughts to mind) and wrote in terms of the real world, or real-world analogues (as the Hyborian Age nations and peoples absolutely were), the treatment of race in the Conan stories must be scrutinized. Howard’s treatment of the Picts and the blacks as more primitive than the Hyborian nations is unquestionable. It is highly questionable if that is a negative depiction. In a fictional universe where the overall (and explicitly stated) message is that civilization is an unnatural state of human affairs, a depiction of primitive savagery can’t be seen as denigrating.

Combine this with the facts that Conan often allies with non-whites, feuds with even more Vikingish folk than his own, and despises and acts against the ruling civilized (white) classes, you really have to stretch hard to find racism, while present, as a theme in Conan stories. You have to stretch really hard to ignore the absolute pile of real-world unacceptable behavior found in Conan stories just to highlight race relations as an issue.

And we have to talk Tolkien. One interesting factor concerning D&D and race is the discussion about Tolkien’s influence on the game. My belief, shared by certain others, is that Tolkien’s influence on D&D is completely superficial, limited mostly to some races and monsters (and one class). So if race and racism in the game is an issue, that superficiality isn’t so superficial after all. So what does that say about us players and pundits who consider race a superficial issue in the game?

Anyway, Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was roughly based on Norse myths, so the staggering whiteness on the side of the protagonists is easily explained.

But, ah, what about the orcs? You can go research Tolkien and race on your own. The big question for D&D purposes is: Are the humanoid races stand-ins for real-world aboriginal races?

Answer: I hope so.

If goblins and kobolds and orcs and the rest are stand-ins, then it’s at the very least a tacit acceptance that portraying real-life native ethnicities, regardless of historical record or attitudes of the times, as evil and perfectly acceptable to be nothing more than targets to slaughter and rob, isn't such a good thing. I would hope that nobody thinks that Gygax or Arneson (or Tolkien) for that matter placed orcs and goblins so they could be slaughtered as a racial proxy to avoid real-life social scrutiny.

“A group of niggers and dagos draw their swords as you bash down the door. A mystic hebe behind them prepares a spell. Roll for initiative!”

Does even one single person believe this is the true motivation behind the inclusion of objectively evil humanoid races in D&D? That Gygax and Arneson were slyly inserting white power propaganda into their games and that numerous intelligent men retained this all in their designs over numerous editions between 1974 and 1989? Please. So… what then? What's the argument? That people might misunderstand? From here:

While doing research for this talk, I came across the Stormfront web-site. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this vile-corner of the internet, it is the world’s largest discussion forum for white-supremacists.

The guy then talks about how he read posts from gamers that frequented that site and quotes extensively from someone that saw parallels between D&D racial characteristics and real-life race.

I'll say that again: This guy went to a white power website (look at it here if you think this is exaggeration) and is using comments made by white supremacists to support his views on race. What a dumb shit! The fact that white supremacists use D&D racial characteristics to support real-world views of race is not indicative of anything. These people are white supremacists. These fucking idiots have a completely warped view of race in the real world, so how could their interpretations of how D&D relates to it hold any significance? Doesn't the fact that these idiots think that real-world race works as described in the Players Handbook pretty much invalidate anything they have to say?

The article also includes many other things that don't seem very well thought-through. "Here's some controversial stuff to think about... but I'll leave half the story out so it's even more thought-provoking!" instead of any real thought-provoking content:

If one is still doubtful about the thesis that humans are set forward as “the self,” the player handbook continues:

“Human characters are neither given penalties nor bonuses, as they are established as the norm upon which these subtractions or additions for racial stock are based. Human characters are not limited as to what class of character they can become, nor do they have any maximum limit.” (p. 16)


Imagine that humans living in a world with no orcs, elves, or dwarves exist would write a game where humans are "the self," and thus all the other races would be an exotic other. The nerve. And you can't take Mr. Nerdnite's assumptions that all the non-human PC choices represent the non-white, "exotic other" seriously either. Dwarves and gnomes I could perhaps see in that context, but what about elves? What the hell are Halflings? Is there even a way to interpret Tolkien's hobbit (which is what a halfling is) to make him some sort of "other" in real-world terms? And halflings are, thief class aside, the most restricted non-human race in D&D. That same site's rant about paladins is rather rich as well.

Only humans can be Paladins, because it is assumed only humans have the temperament and cultural background to understand the most important of “western European” values – law, order, god, and community.

Yet it is those same values, merely the 21st version instead of the medieval version, that the entire argument is based upon. And wait a second. "Law, order, god, and community" are western European values? That's mighty interesting. And of course paladins are going to be quite western European - they were ripped from Poul Anderson's novel about a world-jumping Dane and has been used as a King Arthur(fantasy)/Charlemagne (history) equivalent for fuck's sake!

In the world of D&D, non-humans are restricted in order to ensure a continuing human supremacy. The arguments against lifting the racial class restrictions sounds nothing so much arguments against ending segregation or giving African American’s the vote.

I could be cruel and point out that he's comparing "African Americans" (I refuse to use that term myself because it creates absurdities such as newscasters saying things like - and I witnessed this personally in Atlanta - "Canadian African American" and non-black African-born naturalized citizens being mocked for calling themselves African American) to things that aren't even human. And comparing real life civil rights struggles to the ability of fictional creatures to advance (by means of collecting treasure and killing things) in fictional professions. How is that not terribly offensive? Not to mention he gets his outrages mixed up.

Let me remind you that every basic player race is white – humans, elves, half-elves, dwarves, and gnomes – except for half-orcs.

That's fine when he's trying to show how racist the half-orc portrayal is. There is also:

In D&D, the possible professions and jobs available are limited by race – humans, the normative white race, can be whatever they like. The other races, the non-human/white races, are restricted, thought the game politely describes these restrictions as based on “natural tendencies of race.” And it goes beyond the simple stereotype as “Dwarves like war and fighting.”

But there's also this:

Not only are non-human characters limited to the jobs they can get, but they are limited to how high they can rise within those professions. The blame for this fantasy glass-ceiling, however, is set squarely on the non-human races themselves: they lack ambition. This lack of ambition is engrained by race – all elves lack the ambition to advance any further than the 12th level as a fighter. Never mind what character you want to make, what the individual you wish to play might desire – as an elf, he is inherently, due to race, inferior to a human warrior in terms of level advancement. When we make the obvious parallel to race in the real world, this is even more troubling than class restrictions. White Europeans have unlimited potential, while non-whites are severely limited in how high they can climb in the social order – not due to ingrained, systemic racism, mind you, but because they lack the ambition to rise any higher.

So are the demi-humans white or not? On whose fictional behalf are we supposed to be outraged?

I've heard all sorts of arguments against racial level limitations (the best being "They'll almost never come into play if you're playing properly because most campaigns don't last the years needed to advance that far."). "You're a real-world racist if you use them!" is a new one.

Now in the comments, you've got stuff like this, which is a truly shitty situation, but, ah, none of those offenses are based in anything printed in a D&D book. Putting some minority characters in the artwork isn't going to stop a moron from trying to push a player to be a thief because the player is black (although wouldn't it be a hoot if all that was just because nobody else in the group was a thief and they needed one?), or trying to make orcs rape a character because the player is female. Although it is notable that she later went on to play Vampire, when the entire idea of becoming a vampire is metaphorical rape...

Honestly, the entire thing makes me weary. D&D is guilty of being rather white. D&D does set up racial conflicts between fictional races in fictional worlds. But promoting or even illustrating real-world racism? No.

Up next: Addressing the concerns of animals rights activists who complain that D&D players don’t role-play the proper care of their mounts and pack animals and the harm that causes such animals in real-life.