Monday, March 2, 2015

Thirteen Ways Of Looking At The Terrible Thing You Just Made

When you say a thing is bad, you are usually using it as a shorthand for one of these things.

There are 13 of them.

So, instead of just saying "bad"…maybe say which one you mean next time?
They wanted it to stay up. It didn't.
(1) The Hindenberg

What you really mean:
It Fails to Do What The Author Wanted It To Do
This is a poorly crafted game. People say "broken" a lot here. This also covers things like typos and literal math errors (like the author expects one outcome but it inevitably produces another, things meant to be weak are strong, etc). It is the kind of "bad" where a designer (if they were honest) they'd agree they missed the mark.

"I co-wrote Mythus with Gary….One of the first things I did when I started playing was to throw out half of the rules we wrote…."
--Dave Newton, co-author of Mythus)

What's a helpful thing to do? 
Show the author saying it does a thing, then demonstrate that it can't, under any circumstances, do that. Then you're right. After that you then might have to prove that that thing is important or outweighs all the good things about the game, but you have proved--at least--a failure of craftmanship.
They were lying
(2) The X-Ray Specs

What you really mean:
It Fails to Do What The Advertising Said It Would Do
People also call this "broken", too. This is a dishonestly made or poorly-tested product.

Seclusium of Orphone says you can make a Seclusium in half an hour (or an hour? Can't remember. Anyway:) You really can't. If you can I haven't heard anybody say you can. You might say Mythus is this, too, if you assume Dave and Gary knew they'd throw out half the rules they wrote before they played.

What's a helpful thing to do? 
Point out the advertising says one thing and demonstrate it's impossible to do that thing. If the advertising is ambiguous and you're railing against it, you're back at (10).

(3) The Left Handed Scissors

What you really mean:
It's relatively unpopular
Not very many people like it. Often conflated with (4).

Torchbearer. All RPGs ever, really.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain why anyone should care whether a game is popular or not. I mean: what's wrong with left handed scissors? Left handed people need scissors, too.

(4) The New Coke

What you really mean:
The Thing Is Underperforming in Terms of Popularity
Less people than you'd expect like it, considering everything it had going for it in terms of advertising, licensing etc. More of a big deal than (3) above--but only if somebody claimed it was supposed to make money. If part of the designers' goal was to make lots of money and sell lots of copies (true in the case of Marvel Heroic, not true int he case of many DIY D&D products) then this is a bit of (1), as well.

Marvel Heroic RPG

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain why anyone not working for the company should care whether a game is making as much money as somebody expected it to. Are you evaluating the ability of the designer to guess the public taste? Sometimes that's important, sometimes it isn't.
In case you had any doubt, Dave Sim's comics had
loooooong text pieces in the end telling you in the
first person that he's sexist.

(5) The Cerebus

What you really mean:
The Thing Accurately Reveals the Author Is A Douche
The words or images in the RPG reflect attitudes on the behalf of the author that only douchebags have. Games called racist or sexist are often this.

Frequently conflated with:
(6), (7), (11)

Example: Those dumb novelty RPGs people make that just make fun of other peoples' RPGs

What's a helpful thing to do?
Explain how there is no possible way anybody but a douchebag could've written what's on the page . The easiest way is to find some nonfiction piece the author wrote which echoes the bad ideas in the piece. The most tortured and fraught path is to assume that whatever the author depicts it's something they like--that's almost always wrong and very hard to prove. Ask yourself: are you guessing the author of Ghostbusters hates ghosts, or just assuming?

(6)  The Garfield

What you really mean:
The Author Chose To Do Less Than Their Best Work
A variation on 5. The particular douchebaggery in question being the author clearly could've done better. A lot of stereotypes are supported by this kind of bad because stereotypes are easy to write.

Ruins of Undermountain.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Prove the author knew a better way to do a thing--or grasped that finding it would've been useful--and then show how what's there isn't that.

(7) The Russian Roulette

What you really mean:
Literally the world outside the game gets worse because of this game existing. Games called racist or sexist are often this.

DragonRaid (an '80s Christian D&D alternative)

What's a helpful thing to do?
Prove it with facts. Like DragonRaid for instance made money for some shitstain who had a problem with D&D on Christian grounds, plus maybe granted legitimacy to bigoted attacks on the RPGs that made a lot of peoples' relationship to their hobby (and parents) pretty traumatic when they were young. I'd probably have to do some more research to confirm all this if I really wanted to go after DragonRaid, plus prove that this wasn't balanced out by the fact that it probably introduced people to RPGs who otherwise would've had nothing because their parents were fundamentalists.

If a thing is, objectively, Russian Roulette and will causes harm and the author's knows it and agrees with that and puts it out anyway, you have a clear case of (5).
(8) The Offensive Thing

What you really mean:
The Thing Upsets You (When extreme: Triggering)
Games called racist or sexist are often this but it doesn't necessarily mean they are racist or sexist because culture offends people, period. Like any game with gay guys in it will offend someone but whoever it offends doesn't count. People taking offense usually implies they believe it's bad in some other way, too.

Frequently conflated or combined with:
(5), (7)

Blue Rose--the setting purports to be an egalitarian paradise but sweeps class issues completely under the rug. I'm offended. I have no evidence that the authors were classist (5) or just didn't think through egalitarianism very much (1) or that RPG people became any more classist because of it (7), however. It wasn't exactly a popular game (in which case (3) may have led to it not being (7)).

What's a helpful thing to do?
Make a case for whether the people who are offended are just offended alone (in which case who cares?) or whether the offense might indicate (7) or (5). Here's a thing: are people offended by two guys kissing actually not harmed even though they think they are or are they harmed but who cares because fuck them they suck?

(9) The Bad Influence

What you really mean:
It's A Harmful Influence On Other Games

Caves of Chaos, most other early adventure modules--companies realized that authors paid by the word could bulk out 5 pages of ideas to 15, 30, 100, or even 200 pages of text and people would buy it. Thus leading to a lot of (10) and arguably (2) and undeniably (6).

What's a helpful thing to do?
Point out how the tendency didn't exist until that thing came along and make a case the new tendency was some kind of bad.
(10) The Thing You Just Don't Like

What you really mean: The Thing Is Not To My Taste
Like the game is broccoli flavored and you hate broccoli.

Apocalypse World

What's a helpful thing to do?
Describe what kind of person you and/or your group are, what you like, and why that game doesn't do those things or doesn't fit. It's as much about you as it is about the game, acknowledge that, it'll help people who are like you and who aren't decide what to do with the game.


What you really mean: Not To My Taste Plus It's Part Of A Whole Trend Of Things Not To My Taste (Aka "I'm so sick of these games like…")
You like pizza, this game is a hot dog, plus it seems like every ten seconds there's another hot dog.

Apocalypse World Engine-games

What's a helpful thing to do?
As (10) plus describe why you think anyone else should care that there are a lot of these games that you don't need to buy (if you are). Are you arguing (9)? Are you arguing that a critical mass of (11)s result in (7)? Are you just sort of irritated at not being a majority? If it helps: you play RPGs, you're not and never will be.

i.e. Are you saying "less of this, please" when the problem could be just as easily solved with "more of that, please"?
(12) The Game For Douchebags

What you really mean: Not To My Taste Plus It's Only To The Taste Of Shitty People
This is like (10) on overdrive: You don't like it and can't think even imagine a worthwhile human being enjoying this thing, nor have any such people come forward.

Bliss Stage. Maybe it does what it's supposed to and what it advertises and does it to the best of the author's ability and hurts no-one but what it's supposed to do doesn't seem to appeal to anyone who isn't a moron.

What's a helpful thing to do?
Describe what shitty characteristic of a person links to the shitty part of the game. If someone you like is into the game, then you have to revise your opinion. Like so even thought tons of terrible people like Monsterhearts, so does Shoepixie and I like Shoepixie and don't begrudge her entertainment, so I guess that game is ok.

(13) The Chew Toy

What you really mean: One or More Of The Above Plus the Author is a Douche
It has flaws that may or may not be objective. But the author is pretty objectively terrible.

Example: FATE

What's a helpful thing to do?
You can keep calling the game "bad" because the only person it's unfair to is the author and they're a douche. But if someone asks then you need to point out what made you decide the author's a douche.
So this simplifies life. Most critiques are 10 dressed up with other stuff to make them seem more objective, like

The standard knock against White Wolf is a lot of mechanical (1) with either (10) ("I'm not a goth") or (2) ("I am a goth and it wasn't goth enough").

The 4venger attacks on Old School D&D were a lot of (1) and (2) with, at least on some sides, some (7) leading to (3).


Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"Cool Cool" and Other Wisdom From The Escapist

So yesterday we announced we weren't going to do our D&D show, I Hit It With My Axe, with The Escapist website anymore because they hired a transphobic dickhead.

So that's that. People in general seem to be really wondering What Is Going On At The Escapist? so I am going to do my best to say what I can tell you from the inside about how something this fucked up happens. And maybe under what circumstances it might happen again. This summary was written quickly--and poorly.

So who are these guys over there? We had meetings, some in person and we talked many times.

From the first phone call I got the impression I get is that these are very much people for whom The System Had Worked. Not necessarily the school system or the government system or any institution, but the broader dork version of the American dream where you are smart and ambitious and so eventually by hook or by crook you get what you are due--that had worked for them. "We're smart so we win." They had respect for technocratic smarts. They do like games, for what it's worth.

Yeah, there was a libertarian vibe which I was really not into, but I've heard Daily Show writers say they were libertarians, and that place seems alright. In the beginning I wasn't paying much attention. It was inside baseball video games and that's mostly pretty boring.

The most common comment you'd get when you said something outside their experience was "Cool cool". Mandy might do a column about feminism and gaming? You want this metal band to do the music? "Cool cool".

"Cool cool" was a way of saying "I don't know what you're talking about, but I like that you are thinking and therefore smart about something so I trust you, I am not going to think about this any more, go to it".

You could show them things and they would appreciate that a thing was being shown to them, but lacked curiosity about it. Like your dad when you talk about some band you liked covering a Hendrix song.

I think a lack of genuine curiosity is one of the most dangerous things a person can have on the internet.

Like the women on the show would go "We are getting a lot of hate on your forums and it's fucked up" and they'd go "Ok, we'll see what we can do" but, like, they didn't get it. They had a Keep The Talent Happy attitude but it took a while for it to sink in that this meant that Tons of their users were abusive assholes and this had to be dealt with constantly and you need someone on it. It seemed like they kinda overall did not have a lot of experience dealing with women with strong opinions who weren't in their same line of work.

What did they have a passion for and what could they talk about with passion? In the cases I saw--history. Particularly military history. I don't mean to suggest that they were crypto-fascists, more just that this was something the dudes could wrap their heads around: a clear foe, tactics and strategy, total victory, total defeat, Clausewitz, the greater technocrat wins.

The most common compliment you'd hear was "____ knows more about ____ than most people in the world so _____". The idea was: you divide things up, and you put an expert in charge of each thing. Which makes sense when you're fighting a war.

It reminded me of that Killing Joke line: Business, lawsuits, market forces - No philosophy courses

Here's the problem: the current argument the Escapist is embroiled in requires philosophical thought. And they don't have a guy for that.

I think they're not the only ones. People--especially dorks--like to set aside thinking about whether to do something and just set their minds to doing it. Just assume Bowser is an asshole and the Princess needs to get saved and get to work on the jumping and fireballs.

So to apply this to the current situation. So here's Brandon Morse talking about calling trans people what they wanna be called:
Here's his defense:

Now what you notice right off is this sounds like an evasion:

You can say whatever you like. People then can decide you're a dick based on that. Every human in the history of the planet has had that experience and is ok with it. When they go "You can't say xxxx" or "You shouldn't say xxxxx" what they mean is just a shorthand for "You say that and I will decide you're a dick and maybe take action based on that".

I don't think Morse thinks this is a dodge, though. I think he actually believes that. I think the emotional logic of "I do what I want!" is as far as he's thought about it.

Like so many people on the internet, he wants to get what he believes out of the way so he can get on to sickburning people for not believing it.

When I went to The Escapist about this dick, the response was basically pretty libertarian: we don't tell people what to think, his ideas are his own, the market will sort it out etc etc. They didn't have a defense of his ideas, just a defense of their right to slather them in money and slide them across the Internet.

The obvious question is like, Would you use the same logic to employ--ok, this is nerddom so we're not allowed to say a Nazi but fuck it, my dad was Jewish--a very polite Nazi?

My honest-to-god read on The Escapist is they're so libertarian it's a 30-70 shot they'd say something like "Well so long as they weren't advocating violence and were putting out great content, why not?" Not because they hate Jews, but because they just believe that hard in the Marketplace of Ideas.

Or maybe they'd go "Well that's different."

And I'd go "How?"

And at that point, no matter what they say textually--it'd be a desperate cover for the fact that we'd just crossed beyond their experience. Because they never thought "Ok, what if we set up rules at our company to make ourselves money harmlessly and it doesn't work and makes the world genuinely worse for people during our lifetime and theirs and you could've stopped it and didn't because greed?" Their whole lives there has literally been no reason to ask a question like that, so it's never seriously occurred to them.

Just like when you ask people how any 140-character life rule they just made up for themselves breaks down.

I'd like to pretend this is just The Escapist, or just libertarians, but it's really really not. It's a pattern you see over and over with people online when push comes to shove.

Most people don't actually have very clear rules about when to take action or what the words they're throwing around mean. They just have loyalties. That's why you can go "Brandon Morse is a bigot and so is that guy Ettin" and the same people will be like "Yeah Brandon Morse is a dick" and "Calling out Ettin in public like that for something he said months ago? Not cool, dude! You don't go starting drama like that."

Not unless it's, like, important.
What counts as important?
I'm not here to debate you.

(Why do people feel ok about saying that? Just so you know: I am always here to debate you. Ask me whatever.)

But if you're on the internet to announce ideas instead of talk about them, you end up basically using those ideas as a kind of faceless fuel to gather steam for a much larger enterprise and one with more certain rewards: fighting on behalf of them. Tactics, strategy, a clear foe.

And the impression I get is that even if they don't agree with Morse, they like that he's offensive about something even they don't approve of because it somehow in some weird realm proves the macho robustness of their libertarian ethic.

I think the level of Nope Not Gonna Think About It dismissiveness here is hard to wrap your head around if you don't share the mindset. Morse's take on trans issues has been consigned to a certain bin of Less Relevant and there it will stay.

Brandon Morse says something transphobic--4 people retweet it and 11 people favorite it--and that hugging fuels Brandon to say the next thing. And the next thing. That is The Job. That stuff beneath where people, like, question the ideas? Addressing that is not the proper work of Brandon Morse. Or the Escapist or anyone else who ever used the "I was just giving my opinion on my blog jeez isn't this a free country any more?" excuse. You are here to advertise ideas, not use them.

And Brandon makes money somehow, I guess, so it's ok--the same reason RPGnet won't just get rid of the ad server that keeps sending them sexist ads.  Dudes Need To Make Money.

Long ago someone at the Escapist decided that We Hire Whoever So Long As It Makes Us Bank--and, moreover, they decided that decision wasn't a secret, cowardly compromise, it was What They Believed and they were proud of it. So, cool--now they have something to Fight For. And the rest is just tactics.


If anybody at The Escapist has a problem with what I just wrote:

Hey kids, buy my new D&D book! It's the fastest-selling and best-reviewed indie RPG book of the season!

...if I follow your logic, if I make even a dollar today, everything I wrote up there was totally justified. Because, like, money's the most important thing, right?

Monday, February 23, 2015

We're Not Playing D&D With The Escapist Ever Again

Hi everybody,

As many of you know, we've been working on making new episodes of our D&D documentary series "I Hit It With My Axe" for the Escapist website.

The first time around they gave us a shoestring budget and we figured we'd do it anyway for the fun of it, but this time they gave us a lot more and we were looking forward to doing the show exactly the way we wanted this time--lots of interviews, in-depth looks at the players and how we played games, and lots more jokes. We've been working with the Escapist and combing through the footage since the summer.

But then this week they hired this douche:
So, to put it simply: we refuse to work for the Escapist or its parent company any more.

Why? Well this is us:
Left to right, top to bottom:
Wizard, Druid, Wizard
Thief, Cleric, Wizard
DM, Thief, Druid
Thief, Ranger, Ranger

Without comparing anybody's struggle to anybody else's, you don't need a degree in social science to figure out that since one of the people in our group is a Jew, six are people of color, two were born handicapped and like someteen are bisexual women it would be shooting ourselves in the foot if we were, hypothetically, to make money for a company that would then give that money to an actively anti-semitic, racist, ableist, sexist or homophobic person. 

So the D&D With Porn Stars crew working with the Escapist under those conditions would be as hypocritical and self-defeating as supporting Think of the children!-anti-sex conservatives like Fred Hicks or Fox News. Here: we let you film us playing D&D, you make money, then take the money, buy a bullet, and shoot us each in the foot with it. 

Well, every monday I log on to Google Plus and run a videochat campaign where Scrap Princess plays an awesome wizard and we're happy to have her. We owe her the same protection we owe all our friends. I'm not gonna shoot Scrap (or Sarah or Ana or Natalie) in the foot just so we can have a TV show.*

The most cutting-edge game-designer in the early tabletop hobby and a major force in early video games--Jennell Jacquays--is trans, as well as some of the most innovative folks working today. Jennell wrote Dark Tower, did the arcade conversions for Pac-Man and designed the Quake levels. If the girls in our group get shit on by conservative gamers and conspiracy theorists just for showing up to play and telling trolls to fuck off--I can't imagine what she and other transfolk go through having to actually work in the business.

And, for what it's worth--and many of you may not understand--I'm a porn performer, and so is most of the rest of the group, and you can't get too far in the adult industry without realizing the hours that trans people like Sarina Valentina and Buck Angel put in on their sets are as real as the ones we put in on our sets and the stigma they face every day is real.

Maybe we'll put the new episodes of Axe out somewhere else, maybe not. The Escapist wants to give us a lot of money--but nothing is worth this compromise and any new gamers the show brings into the hobby are not worth the damage the Escapist does by telling people you can be openly transphobic and still get paid to talk about your dumb ideas.

Sometime maybe we'll get to see Stoya fight a manticore, but not today.

-Zak S.

*Yes, I checked with Scrap before linking to her page here to make sure she was cool with this post. She was. I put her official response in the comments below this post if you want to read it.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Skin DIamond, Death, Resurrection, Time-Eating Spiders, Another Decimator

Skin Diamond--2012 Urban X Award Female Performer of the Year, 2014 AVN Best Oral and dragonborn (blue) druid) lives around the corner 
So she came over to play her first game--she got Godzilla because, y'know,

We had a full house. 
She brought Heather and they kicked impressive ass--especially for first-
time players. Heather (tiefling paladin) killed a giant-de-aging-web-
shooting spider, and Skin turned into a spider with druid powers and tricked the
another one into running
off after a big juicy imaginary fly.

But then the decimator showed up... #druidlife

It killed Connie (left) after she tried to sneak past its death aura in an anti-magic shell
and rolled a 1. That is Connie's "Fuck I'm dead after 14 levels and 6 years" face.

Connie's drawing of her character Gypsillia, with her famous last words and pig helmet.

Luckily the party has some high level blonde clerics.
One had Resurrection prepared.
So, once the party got an hour's worth of peace and quiet to cast the spell, all good.
It gave Connie more time to draw.
This required casting Reverse Gravity on the decimator--which pretty much
aced it. 300 hit points don't help much when you are just floating 100'
off the ground for 10 rounds. Again. I gotta stop using that monster...
…also, must remember to go after the cleric first.
You'd think she'd be easier to kill.

Anyway, with the Decimator out of the way, next week the party's
free to bring in the Heart King's food-taster. Who's rumored to
be in that tower on the far end of the table...

Friday, February 13, 2015

Viking Amazons of the Metal North

"A witch dwells to the east of Midgard, in the forest called Ironwood: in that wood dwell the troll-women, who are known as Ironwood-Women. The old witch bears many giants for sons, and all in the shape of wolves; and from this source are these wolves sprung. The saying runs thus: from this race shall come one that shall be mightiest of all, he that is named Moon-Hound; he shall be filled with the flesh of all those men that die, and he shall swallow the moon."
-The Gylfaginning, Snorri Sturluson

From my search history today...
-Gray wolf#Behavior
-Canis lupus
-Wolf reintroduction
-Eurasian wolf
-Arctic wolf
-Nominate subspecies
-Canis lupus albus
-Subspecies of Canis lupus
-Tundra wolf
-Gray wolf#Subspeciation
-Gray wolf
-Angelica archangelica
-Garden Angelica
-Abortion in Norway
-Mentha pulegium
-Anise seed
-Acorus calamus
-Mugwort#Medieval Europe
-Artemisia absinthium
-Self-induced abortion
-Darkthrone#Change in direction: 2005.E2.80.93present
-Anti Cimex
-Jex Thoth
-Dimmu borgir
-Emperor (band)
-Viking era
-Bog iron
-Acradenia euodiiformis
-Volcanic eruption
-Effusive eruption
-Volcano#cite note-esa-10
-Norse funeral
-Koelbjerg Woman
-Bog body
-Population genetics
-Tiger#Social activity
-List of English terms of venery, by animal
-List of English terms of venery, by animal#cite note-sdzoo-1
-Tennessee Walking Horse
-Horse breed
-Fjord horse
-Sled#Types of sleds

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Time Golem

It hits you once and you are Slowed, it hits you twice and you go unconscious. Once unconscious it will steal away your time--in the form of levels, one level per round.

Its head is full of time-sand--after taking half its hit points worth of damage (i.e. when blooded in 4e terms), each hit on the golem sprays time-sand around. Everyone within 10 feet must save vs spell or fall unconscious.
It's unclear whether time-displaced alternate universe versions of the PCs are actively summoned by time golems or whether time-displaced creatures seek out time golems because the golems themselves represent confluences in space-time where alternate universes meet.

Either way, roll d100:

1, One PC duplicated, same level as original
2, One PC duplicated, as original -1 level
3, One PC duplicated, as original -2 levels
4, One PC duplicated, as original +1 level
5, One PC duplicated, as original +2 levels
6, Two PCs duplicated, same level as original
7, Two PCs duplicated, as original -1 level
8, Two PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels
9, Two PCs duplicated, as original +1 level
10, Two PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels
11, Three PCs duplicated, same level as original
12, Three PCs duplicated, as original -1 level
13, Three PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels
14, Three PCs duplicated, as original +1 level
15, Three PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels
16, All PCs duplicated, same level as original
17, All PCs duplicated, as original -1 level
18, All PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels
19, All PCs duplicated, as original +1 level
20, All PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels
21, One PC duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed
22, One PC duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed
23, One PC duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed
24, One PC duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed
25, One PC duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed
26, Two PCs duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed
27, Two PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed
28, Two PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed
29, Two PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed
30, Two PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed
31, Three PCs duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed
32, Three PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed
33, Three PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed
34, Three PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed
35, Three PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed
36, All PCs duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed
37, All PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed
38, All PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed
39, All PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed
40, All PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed
41, One PC duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
42, One PC duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
43, One PC duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
44, One PC duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
45, One PC duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
46, Two PCs duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
47, Two PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
48, Two PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
49, Two PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
50, Two PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
51, Three PCs duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
52, Three PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
53, Three PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
54, Three PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
55, Three PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
56, All PCs duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
57, All PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
58, All PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
59, All PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
60, All PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
61, One PC duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
62, One PC duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
63, One PC duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
64, One PC duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
65, One PC duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
66, Two PCs duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
67, Two PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
68, Two PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
69, Two PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
70, Two PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
71, Three PCs duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
72, Three PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
73, Three PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
74, Three PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
75, Three PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
76, All PCs duplicated, same level as original, race(s) changed
77, All PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, race(s) changed
78, All PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, race(s) changed
79, All PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, race(s) changed
80, All PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, race(s) changed
81, One PC duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
82, One PC duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
83, One PC duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
84, One PC duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
85, One PC duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
86, Two PCs duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
87, Two PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
88, Two PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
89, Two PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
90, Two PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
91, Three PCs duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
92, Three PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
93, Three PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
94, Three PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
95, Three PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
96, All PCs duplicated, same level as original, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
97, All PCs duplicated, as original -1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
98, All PCs duplicated, as original -2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
99, All PCs duplicated, as original +1 level, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed
100, All PCs duplicated, as original +2 levels, gender(s) changed, race(s) changed

When they die, everything dissolves except the time-sand in the upper half. Usually about d4 rounds worth (or d20+4 seconds). Eating this sand will freeze time around the diner for the appropriate number of seconds.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Stacy Dellorfano--Building The Best Online Con in RPGs

At D&D With Porn Stars women in gaming is a subject that comes up a lot and playing RPGs on-line over Google Plus also comes up a lot, too.

Since it just so happens that the best, most has-its-shit-together on-line tabletop RPG convention is one that anybody can be part of but that's run entirely by women. I figured I'd talk to the lady in charge: Stacy Dellorfano of Contessa. 

So what's Contessa?

ConTessa is a year-round virtual convention and community where women execute all the games and events. 2015 is our third and most exciting year so far. In 2013 and 2014 we ran annual conventions over long weekends. In 2015, we've turned into an 'always-on' convention, and will be running several events over the course of the year. 

We've run contests, tournaments, panels, games, seminars, art jams, board game sessions, and just about anything you can do via Google Hangouts or the greater internet. 

Aside from the difficulties anyone faces trying to squeeze a hobby in between real life stuff, what have been the hard things about running Contessa?

I'd have to say that learning how to ignore the haters has been the most difficult thing about running ConTessa for me, personally. I can make the technology work when it fails, herd the hell out of cats, figure out how to do what we want to do on a budget of nothing, deal with flaky game developers who don't answer their emails, and still run my own events while juggling all of those balls, but I sucked at tuning out the negative and focusing on the positive. 

ConTessa has largely changed that for me. It's still a bit of a struggle from time to time, but I have a much better perspective now than I've had since the convention's inception in late 2012. I and/or the convention have been attacked for not being political enough, being too political, using a word that people didn't like (apolitical), choosing graphics and a design theme that was 'too cutesy', being 'part of the problem', ignoring women's issues, whitewashing women's issues, making too big a deal out of women's issues, excluding women we don't agree with, discriminating against men, not allowing men to be members of staff, run games, or run panels, and we got attacked for not saying certain things. 

I've been threatened with blacklisting more than once, my staff members have been told by people several times not to talk about ConTessa in their space, people have refused to work on projects if they're connected to ConTessa, and I got yelled at by a previous-year sponsor for allowing a 'competitor' to also be a sponsor. 

On top of that, I got severely ill at the beginning of 2013 while simultaneously dealing with a job layoff, and the fallout of a lot of very damaging personal shit brought on by my family. I sank into a depression so deep there were days I thought it would never, ever end. I wanted to die. I didn't want to kill myself, but I wanted to die. While the attacks didn't cause all of that, they certainly didn't do anything to make me feel better about myself as a human being. 

When I thought for sure I was going to give it up, something amazing happened. People showed up and told me stories about how ConTessa helped them get into GMing online, then in-person, then at conventions, then writing their own material, publishing themselves, and getting freelancing jobs for some of the best publishers out there. They told me about other women that they, in turn, inspired with their stories. They told me that their daughters couldn't wait until they were old enough to participate, and they kept asking me when the next convention would be. 

There were days during the worst of the depression when getting out of bed and getting ready for work seemed too hard, even seemed not worthwhile at all. On those days, I had a steady mantra that went through my head. One foot in front of the other. Keep moving forward. You may not see the end of the tunnel, but it's there. Keep walking. I made sure that stuck for ConTessa, too, and I've become a stronger person for it. 

I think the turning point was when a prominent blogger took an offhand comment I made and blew it up into an entire lie about our policies while trying to make the point that if I wanted success, I needed to invite men to run games. I corrected him in the comment thread of his post, but he ignored it and never even responded to me... then, the very same people who attacked me for being 'part of the problem' were suddenly on my side because a guy with MRA tendencies was attacking me. 

It was absurd. After both crying and screaming in frustration, I finally sat down and started laughing. There were all these people getting all worked up over a convention they did not have to attend or participate in wherein people were mostly going to sit in front of their computers and play pretend. 

Now, I'm on a much more even keel. I've finally found some much-needed perspective, and I'm glad for it. While talking about this interview with my husband the other day, I said, "You know what? I should probably thank all those people for giving me perspective." 
Eyes courtesy of D&D W/Porn Stars' very own Mandy Morbid.

How do you see Contessa fitting in to the larger game scene? The larger discussion about women in games?

I started ConTessa specifically because I want to see more women get into the creator side of the hobby. I strongly believe the best way to get more diverse content is to have more diversity in the people who create that content. While there are women out there creating games, there aren't nearly enough. We want to add more women to the pool, which will benefit everyone in the long run by giving us a more well-rounded group of creators who add their own unique perspective and identity to the work they produce. 

That doesn't just help women, that helps everyone. With the rise of independent game publishing, we're seeing more and more new games and supplements coming out that challenge our preconceived notions of what a game can and should be. Adding more voices, more perspectives, and more lives to that mix can only improve what we're already doing. Diversity helps everyone, hands down. 

The hurdles that women face getting into game design are different than the hurdles that men face, but instead of actually addressing that fact, we keep shoving women into the same box that the men have been partying in since wargaming's origins in the late 19th century. Or, we do something really stupid and lower the hurdles that men have to go over, thinking that helps women. It isn't that we need the path to be easier, it's that we have completely different hurdles to jump over. 

ConTessa addresses the hurdles that women face more often than men, and we do it better because we are women. We've either already jumped those hurdles, or we're in the process of jumping those hurdles, and we're more than happy to share the secrets of our success and the things we've learned through our failures with one another. Support networks are absolutely crucial to any creative environment, and doubly so when facing an environment where you feel so very underrepresented. 

Women come and GM at ConTessa because they feel more comfortable knowing that they're not the only woman there. They then take all of the confidence built up doing that and they funnel it into creating some magnificent things. ConTessa makes the entire community better by giving women what they actually need to succeed instead of just dumbing everything down. 

You said that women in games have a distinctive set of hurdles to jump over-- what are these? Or some of them?

Navigating male culture. I'm not talking about harassment or anything to do with sex, either. Most women are raised to communicate in a passive manner, while most men are raised to communicate in an aggressive manner. That has a lot to do with the fact that girls are raised to be nice, and boys are raised to (or at least given permission to) be aggressive. It's great to talk about and think about an ideological world where both sides come closer to the other, but we have to deal with how people are now in order to get more women playing, running, and creating. 

What that looks like in many gaming groups is one or two super aggressive neckbeard-types talking over, interrupting, making decisions for, mocking, and just plain disrespecting the one or two women at the table who get quieter and quieter, then eventually don't play at all. I don't see this addressed. Ever. Worse, I see men making excuses for their overly-aggressive players, and doing nothing to prevent the women at the table from getting walked all over. This, more than anything else in gaming, is what has to change. 

Experience. Many men my age started playing Dungeons & Dragons when they were children. They were either given it to them by a parent, or they learned of it from a friend. In that era, girls were given dolls, and boys were given war toys. D&D is a war toy. Plus, a lot of us had segregated play when we were young. We played with only other girls, so we didn't hear about this nifty thing called roleplaying games until we got older and started to develop male friends. 

As a result, a lot of women get started in gaming when they're adults or near-adults. That's usually a minimum of a decade worth of experience the guys have that the girls don't, and that's an important distinction. 

Permission to act like a kid. I've always felt weird being around a group of male friends with wives who don't game. They always say things like 'my wife won't let me play', 'thank goodness my wife pulls me away from gaming', 'my wife reminds me to spend time with the kids', etc. The default assumption seems to be: Boys can continue playing with toys well into their adulthood, but girls have to grow up and leave their toys behind so that they can 'mommy' their husbands. 

When I was working in the video game industry, I even encountered situations were women managers either had to act like mommies to their direct reports, or they chose to act like mommies. Many of the women I met who managed men (and there were very few of them as it was) kept toys, candy, and other kid-like things in their offices not for them, but for their men they managed. 

Women need permission to keep their toys throughout adulthood and play with them whenever they want without judgment. What this ends up looking like in our world is a reluctance by women to do anything that involves 'play' lest they be considered immature. 

Risk-taking and bouncing back from failure. As a result of that whole passive vs. aggressive communication style thing, a lot of women are also risk-adverse. Competitive sports, video games, and even roleplaying games given to children at a young age teach them the value of perseverance. That play didn't go as well as intended? Try again! Died fighting the zombies on level 23? Start over! TPK? Roll new characters! 

Zombies of Walmart--Stacy's very own attempt to kill you with zombies on level 23

Girls, on the other hand, are subtly and not-so-subtly told over and over again that we're not competitive, which is really a chicken and egg thing. Liking or disliking competition isn't a personality trait that's ingrained into your being. If girls played more sports and games at a younger age, they might not be quite as adverse to competition, which then translates into having less fear of taking risks, and a greater ability to bounce back from failure. 

You see it in imposter syndrome, women who are terrified of self-promotion, women who are afraid of GMing, women who insist they don't have the talent/skill/etc... to even start making games, and a whole laundry list of things that keep women out of leadership roles whether we're talking the boardroom of a huge corporation or as the GM at a D&D table. 

Here's another thing about that... women are much more likely than men to attribute their successes to outside forces (luck), and their failures to internal forces (I didn't work hard enough). Men are much more likely to attribute their successes to themselves (I'm awesome), and their failures to outside forces (I'm still awesome, there must be something wrong with everyone else). I see this all the time... 

Woman GMs a game that goes south, she blames herself not doing enough prep, knowing the system well enough, or creating a compelling enough story. 

Man GMs a game that goes south, he blames the system, the players, the adventure, the time of year, anything but him. 

There's good reason to believe that even when dudes are totally wrong about where the failure lies, it works as a shield to protect them from having constant drops in confidence when things don't go well, and choosing to try again. 

None of this is going to be changed by showing fewer scantily clad pictures of women in gaming books, adding harassment clauses to conventions, or changing the subject matter of adventures. Rather, all of those things will start to resolve themselves once we take the time to address the actual things preventing more women from getting into - and staying involved with - gaming. 

How have things gone recently?

Really well. I mean, really well. I have three fantastic staff members who have been cranking out some awesome content and coming up with great ideas. We just re-launched the website for the third or fourth time, now (I've lost track), and we've got a great group of staff writers putting out some great posts about gaming, interviews with game developers, and some round tables that have been really fun to write. 

We've got some new events coming up and a lot of momentum to keep putting out new events very nearly monthly. We've been refining the process as we go, so setting up events is becoming less and less about the logistics and more and more about the actual events. After the last annual convention, we decided to get rid of a lot of the extraneous goodies that were taking up too much staff time and taking away from our ability to produce events. Sponsors, door prizes, and contests were eating up all of my time. Now that we've dropped those aspects, my time is freeing up so I can do more events like the random dungeon tournaments I like so much. 

I'm really forward to what we have coming up around the bend. We've learned so much in such a short amount of time, and I feel like we're just beginning to hit our stride. 

What are some examples of events that went really well?

Both of the random dungeon tournaments went phenomenally. My only regret is that I don't really have a link to a page that describes them in detail. That should change with this round of tournaments. The first year saw two teams going head to head in different hangouts, but the same randomly generated dungeon. The second year saw two pick-up teams on one day and two organized teams on the second day. I'm now to the point where I want to have them every few months, starting with the elimination bracket tournament on Valentine's Day. 

Back when Rachel Ventura was still with Frog God Games, she held a panel for our first ConTessa on marketing your RPG that had a rather large viewership and quite a bit of interaction. I was watching it live while I watched the comments came in, and loving every minute of it. 

Lastly, the I Hit it With My Axe reunion panel I ran was probably the most fun of all the panels I've run. And no, that's not kissing ass. That panel was one of the really rare intersections where the people involved actually did a really good job drumming up interest in the panel and gathering a live audience that asked a lot of questions. That also happens to be why Rachel's panel was so successful. 

Come to think of it, maybe we need a post on how to be a good panel participant. 

What's an example of an article that went up that you really like (yes, you have to pick one)?

Ariana's in-depth look into forum roleplaying from her perspective: Typing in Character: All About Play-By-Post. While I've done some freeform roleplaying via MUSHes and MUXes, the Play-By-Post phenomena has largely passed me by. It's great to get a peak into something I don't do (and likely won't start doing anytime soon). That's the biggest benefit of bringing on more writers. 

I know you said one, but there's another one coming up that Sarah wrote about how she preps for Dungeon World games that I also think is great. It's not scheduled for release until 2/10, though, but I think it makes a pretty good example of the kinds of things we're going for. There are many different ways to do all the things we do, and I value being able to see through the eyes of others. 

What kinds of games or ways of playing games has running Contessa introduced you to?

Convention gaming as a whole, and running one-shots. In 20+ years of GMing, I always thought that one-shots served no purpose for me. It was a full-blown campaign or nothing. Plus, running for a group of people I only meet once seemed too intimidating to actually do. It tends to take me a little bit of time to warm up to people. 

Then, I ran a one-shot of Precious Dark for the first ConTessa, for a group of people who I didn't know, in a convention setting (even if just virtual), and followed that up by building one-shot dungeons for the dungeon tournaments. 

Now, I'm sold on one-shots, and have started building all my games to be modular in that fashion. One of the adventures I ran for the last Precious Dark campaign I put together 'Zombies of Walmart', I've now run three times, and I'm thinking about doing it again for Gen Con. It's great fun to see what different ways people approach the exact same adventure... and, well, I added my own touch of uniqueness to each experience by using a shit ton of random tables. 

How can women participate?

Now that we run year-round, we've got several different ways that women can participate: 

  • At larger ConTessa events. We're planning a handful of mini-convention gaming weekends and panel days throughout the year. The exact dates will be communicated on our blog, and at the ConTessa community. You can check our submissions page for the events we're currently taking submissions for. 
  • By writing for the ConTessa blog. We've got about a half dozen women currently writing for the blog. We like interviews, gaming materials we can share, how-to articles, regular columns, and pretty much anything that has to do with gaming. If you'd like to be a staff writer, drop an email to stacy AT, and I'll get you hooked up. 
  • By running and participating in one-off events. We're just beginning to roll out some one-off events. These might be games, panels, or interviews... they're mainly opportunity events that we pull together whenever someone has a good idea. If you'd like to run one of these events, drop an email to stacy AT, and we'll talk about getting it done. 
  • By creating your own recurring event / recurring series. For example, I'm currently running a campaign weekly of the game I'm developing, Precious Dark. It ties into a series of blog posts about developing the game as well. Ariana and Sarah are running a series of events where they ask the developer of a game to come and run the game for them, and the ConTessa crew all together is working on a monthly podcast complete with guests. We're up for anything like that. If you've got an idea, and you think it'll encourage more women to create, we want to hear about it! Again, drop an email to stacy AT
We just moved into our new website, and we're just getting rolling with events this year. As we get going throughout the year, we'll be adding more to what we have to offer and how best to get involved.  

How can everyone else participate?

Signing up for events involves going to the event in Google+ and leaving a comment. GM's then confirm their groups before the big day, and keep track of who might be an alternate. We're listing all of our events on our events page at the ConTessa website, where you can find a link to the corresponding sign-up event on Google+. If you want the news of new events as we set them up, follow the ConTessa Page and/or join the ConTessa community. It also doesn't hurt to follow myself, Sarah RichardsonAriana Ramos, and Solange Simondsen. The four of us make up the staff that runs ConTessa, so we share events and talk about ConTessa frequently. 

Are there any upcoming events?

Yes! Here's what we have coming up virtually: 

  • Wednesday nights at 6PM Pacific, I'm running Precious Dark live, on air, as I develop the game. I'm joined by a group of women who are eagerly jumping into the campaign. Their first adventure has so far involved befriending a group of psychedelic snails. I'll be recording the sessions live, then blogging the session notes and my development notes. 
  • On Sunday, January 25th at around 12PM Pacific, some of our staff will be playing Liz C's new game, WITCH in a ConTessa exhibition game. (Zak's note: sorry, this already happened before I could get the interview up--maybe Liz C has another event coming though?)
  • On Saturday, February 14th, I'll be pulling out the random dungeon tournament for the third time. This time, I'm shooting for 20 players so we can run a 4-team elimination round, break for dinner, then come back and run the winners of the first events through one more dungeon for a championship. 
  • Saturday February 21st, and Sunday February 22nd will be our first Game Weekend. We're currently accepting submissions from any women who want to run events on that weekend at the ConTessa website. This will be similar to the annual conventions, but instead of running both games and panels, we'll just be running games. 
  • Then, on March 14th, we'll be having a Panel Saturday. We'll do our level best to shove as many panels into one day as we possibly can. The same submission form above can also be used for panel day as well. 
We've got a pretty aggressive schedule lined up already, and we've barely gotten started. We're also spreading out to face-to-face conventions, starting with Gen Con. We've submitted one event already, we're getting our ducks in a row for the second, and we're planning on throwing a party. 

At Gen Con, we hope to do the following: 

  • A panel on creating and running virtual gaming events. I've asked Gen Con if we can get an internet connection, and we're renting a projector. If all goes well, I'm going to put up a hangout while we're at the panel for a live demonstration, and so that people not there can join us. Hopefully, it'll all come through! 
  • A ConTessa game night. We're pulling together GMs who want to run games with ConTessa. For this first time, we're planning on one four-hour block where a number of ConTessa GMs all run their different games in the same basic area. 
  • An Meetup. A group of us are renting a house in Indy for Gen Con large enough that it can handle social events. So, we're going to have a ConTessa meetup away from the noise of the convention. Depending on how many people we have, it may just end up being an informal game night. 
I can probably only afford the time and money to do Gen Con and possibly some local SoCal conventions. We're hoping that as we go, we'll be able to find women in other parts of the country who want to run ConTessa events at other face-to-face conventions.