Who’s Afraid of a Big Bad White Wolf?

Ah yes, the vampire, the queerest of monsters. A purely sensuous slate to enact your darkest fantasies against. From virginal shame tales to totally no-homo male on male obsessions with a rich history of complex female friendship, vampires are complicated monsters with a plethora of nuance. They appear in many games, but none so notorious as tabletop RPG Vampire: The Masquerade.

Publisher White Wolf, current owner of the wildly successful franchise Vampire: The Masquerade, was the target of lengthy and comprehensive criticism detailing the content and touching on the marketing of its upcoming 5th edition release. The criticism, currently archived after the writer was chased off twitter and shut down their website amid death threats and alleged threats of legal action, is archived. The major takeaway: White Wolf‘s newest release allegedly appeals to the rising trend of Neo-Nazism, and it’s on purpose.

The larger portion of the criticism of The Dice Dog’s coverage seems to come from people enjoying the game and being excited for the new edition. The details of the coverage itself are almost entirely being ignored in the conversation. In everyone’s rush to defend a thing they enjoy, they’ve failed to critically explore what content that thing includes and the implications of that content. Who’s it for?

Being the villain in the game isn’t a good enough excuse. Presenting players with a playground to do evil that mirrors what we’re seeing every day does not make it immune to criticism. There is a great deal to criticize in the format itself, but beyond that, publishers are absolutely responsible for their content and who it appeals to.

White Wolf has since responded, saying Nazis are not welcome in their gaming community. But is offering the suggestion in-game that players portray a Neo Nazi, then saying real life ones aren’t welcome supportive of that message?

Missing from the coverage of White Wolf vs. nameless blogger is the fallout that happens when a post goes viral within a niche community. Reviewer Anna Kreider cogently pointed out holes in Dog with Dice’s coverage in a series of emails with them. The Dice Dog responded indirectly by naming them in a follow up to their White Wolf criticism as “vitiolic,” a criticism of critics that rings classically misogynistic.

Kreider initially reached out to The Dice Dog to discuss the threats sent to female-identifying creators after readers of the original criticism conflated White Wolf with Nazis. Following the comment on The Dice Dog’s blog, Kreider was under attack.

This fallout has created a large number of victims, ones White Wolf has apparently done nothing to protect. On top of this, based on early reviews, quoted by Holden Shearer on Twitter most candidly, there is little to defend in the most recent edition itself.

A major review site recently announced that they would be removing “politics” from their coverage. The history of “games coverage should be about games” is a long-held tactic by a variety of self-proclaimed movements that came together to cause maximum harm in the industry and fandom. It’s also never resulted in the inclusion of minority creators or a decrease of death and rape threats to marginalized folk. It also cuts down on necessary call-outs when games publishers hire known abusers, allowing them to claim ignorance or claims independent investigations that seemingly have no basis.

That being said, let’s play like the boys club for a minute and ignore those problems. Keeping the conversation about the game itself, I offer John Farrell’s artful opening to their 5th edition review:

There is much in earlier Vampire iterations and this current one to object to. The content, horrifying to the highest degree, and intimately so in the way only a shared RolePlaying experience can be, has come with much more fodder than thoughtful discussion. An argument could easily be made that if you’re not uncomfortable at some level playing the monsters as they’re designed in The World of Darkness universe as a whole, there is something wrong.

As RPGs strive to cover more and more view points, renewed effort has been made in many publications to discuss culture and safety at the table. In a horror game as comprehensive as Vampire, these types of discussions should be forefront in their design. It should be easy to provide a “stop button” and to confirm consent in the base game. Instead, White Wolf has monetized it.

In Charlie Hall’s coverage of a play-through with producer Jason Carl, they explored in-person the connection of devouring blood and sexuality, or sexual assault as the case may be. While there is part of one page in V5 that deals with player comfort at the table, tools for bringing that into play will be sold as a separate module.

“We saw it as a separate product, as a separate SKU,” Carl said. “I think the timing is inconvenient because we wanted to have it ready for Gen Con [when V5 will first be available for purchase] and I don’t know that it will be ready for Gen Con.”

Rushing to get a product ready for a major industry convention without putting work into how that product’s more difficult content will play is incredibly tone-deaf and likely points to a lack of consideration for the overall feel of the game itself.

The stories of RPGs and the culture surrounding them are stories of failure. Failure of publishers to hire minority creators. Failure of conventions to protect and shield their guests. Failure to stop rehashing the same tired content. Failure of games companies to stop hiring assholes. Failure of review sites to give the power of exposure to consumers who aren’t misogynistic, homophobic, or racist. Failure of consumers to stop giving their money to companies who do not care about them or what they want from RPG content. It’s time for that story to change.

This is not the Gay Future I Imagined

Several months ago, I posted about imagining gay futures through science fiction. That vision also includes more gay content in all settings, not excluding roleplaying games. While we may be having more LGBTQ+ media representation these days, much of it paints us in the same tired light as an American 1940s cautionary tale.

I touched on Star Trek: Discovery in the previous post, which features a male/male couple (with on screen kissing!!!). [Spoiler alert] One half of the couple dies. After the traumatic murder at the hands of a Manchurian candidate of the most bizarre variety (who we’re then supposed to forgive completely), the Emperor is introduced when the Discovery is thrown into an alternate universe.

The return of Michelle Yeoh was triumphant, especially when her character is triumphantly revealed to be bisexual when she decides to have a mixed gender threesome in the middle of a Starfleet mission. However, this triumvairing (I tried?!) ends when the Emperor pulls a weapon on the two she just made love to and coerces information out of them. The extreme use of force, and implied brutality of the character it cruelly offset by the revelation of their bisexuality.

Instead of fleshing out a more complex personality (which we were granted flashes of during her development with main character Burnham, played by Sonequa Martin-Green), the Emperor seems without real motive and instead follows their gut down a disastrous path. Every possible shortcut is taken to show them as bad, including painting their bisexual tendencies in an amoral light when they jeopardize the mission to follow their own fancies.

Depicting bisexuality as an accessory to a lack of morality is not exclusive to science fiction. Games published Wizards of the Coast made waves when they rereleased the notorious adventure, “Curse of Strahd”, including LGBTQ+ subtext. Many reporting outlets picked up the story that the adventures for Dungeons & Dragons‘ 5th edition would be more gay, more diverse, more queer. But that’s proven, and continues to be, problematic.

Taylor of Riverhouse games threw a quote from Curse up on twitter and commented on the depictions of bisexuals in media:

Don’t get me wrong. Complex LGBTQ+ villains of all identities are really important. I want to see them. Other genres are already giving us these. For instance, the terribly sexist show Versaillefeatures one of the most well depicted homosexual relationships and complex bad guys I have perhaps ever seen on television in Philippe and the Chevalier (also named Philippe).

Varied depictions are also not completely absent from Fantasy. The wildly successful A Song of Ice and Fire adaptation, Game of Thrones, wisely decided not to remove the complicated love affair of Lord (KING) Renly and Loras Tyrell. I think we’ve come far enough to where we should not longer have to grasp at straws. I think Wizards of the Coast and other games publishers can make our future roleplaying a hell of a lot more postively queer.

Upping the Ante: Candace Thomas and Designing Big Bads

Earlier this month, Blizzard senior game designer Candace Thomas commented on how they create the boss monsters we love to team up on:

No one likes an easy boss. We want to feel challenged, and, ultimately, accomplished when we win. In video games this can mean a successful mashing of the buttons or pulling out that special item at just the right time, but good boss design extends to tabletop roleplaying games, too.

The Classic TPK

AD&D on extra hard is a staple at many gaming conventions, and gamers who started playing with their dads or cool uncles may remember the DM doing everything in their power to murder their party in as stylish a way as possible. Struggling to impress an older relative you look up to as a child is very different from the motivation most adults have for playing.

Winning means different things to different players, and part of the beauty of tabletop roleplaying games over video games is that you can tailor challenges to your players. Their love of loot may have gotten them into this, or their love of loot may be sated after conquering the dragon guarding its horde. No matter their motivation, destroying them completely is not fun for anyone, as you’ll quickly see when your players meta game against you.

Stem the CritFails

Major combat sequences still need to be a challenge, but look for ways of tripping up your players beyond impossible dice odds. Did the rogue rush forward without taking all of their surroundings into account? Did the bard fail their charisma check, but fail to notice?

Once they’ve had a few setbacks, let them win. Leave it to the “odds” if you must, no one has to know if you fudged the roll so they only pass out until being stabilized in the next round, and didn’t visit the land of the dead. That being said, if the Paladin’s greatword makes short work of the fleshy boss, maybe they’ll be defeated only to rise again, the puppet of a far more powerful, and perhaps less corporeal monster.

What are your favorite ways to help your players win while still maintaining your edge as a DM?

Please also submit your article, review, and essay ideas to us!

Weekly Reading

This week I had the great pleasure of listening to some key podcasts, so this week’s reading takes the for of weekly listening.

Avonelle Wing discussed inclusive conventions and how to create them on Greatway Games. The casters also discussed “community” and terminologies that create strong networks, rather than exclusionary groups. It’s an important conversation for anyone looking to keep their gaming open and diverse.

Also of interest, Dungeon’s & Donations is currently running with raffles and live D&D for charity. Check it out on Twitch!

Weekly Reading: Holiday Gift Edition

That season we call “the Holidays” have begun! With the focus on giving, let’s make sure you do it right. Below are some outlets to help you put that knowledge check to use:

Weekly Reading

This week I’ve been thinking a lot about inclusion and representation in genre media and gaming. Enjoy the selections below:

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Weekly Reading

This week feels like it has stretched on into eternity, but here we are, on Friday! My Dad just joined Twitter, have you? Tweets are some of the best ways to get solid information on inclusive gaming, better GMing, and learn about new rules systems.

For instance, this morning I came across this excellent tweet by a gamer working to make it more accessible for those who are blind:

This use of technology can be used by a variety of people, as noted by some of the commentators:

People are already critting with this helpful tip:

Don’t ban phones from your table just yet, and get those mauls rolling!

The hashtage #GMTips on Twitter is also full of helpful aids for making sure your game is accessible.  It’s in reference to a show hosted by GM Satine Pheonix, but others are also posting their own tips.

  • Geek and Sundry posted an article on enhancing the visual impact of your game, which ultimately helps players dive into it more easily.
  • Jesse Galena shared a post on presenting options to your players, and accepting the options your players present to you as a GM. It’s great article on balancing the interaction between the god-like role of Game Mastering and creating a story you want to be a part of as a player.

Have more tips on must-reads and better inclusivity at the table? Comment below or email info@panoplit.org.