Kickstarter to Watch: Spell the RPG

A play on words, and a fresh take on roleplaying game mechanics, Spell: the RPG is a magical system currently on Kickstarter. While already funded, the campaign runs until March 9th, 2018. Reserve your copy early!

Games publisher Whimsy Machine describes its mechanics best:

“Players roll dice to complete tasks using their character’s Impulses—twelve basic stats that describe a character’s motivations to act. Players can also draw random letter tiles in order to spell out magic for their characters to cast. This unique system balances creativity and potential with fair and streamlined mechanics.”

With colorful art by Nathalie FourdraineMariah CurreyChristina Gardner (Magic Moon Warriors), Carlos Aón & Jok (The Crystal At Skymouth), Kuropin (Hijinks At Huntsville High), Leland Goodman (Godqueen), and Fusspot (Wakeful In Reverie), the books are beautiful as well. The first two books provide everything needed to make characters and start playing a campaign.

Community Lore: The Miskatonic Repository

Call of Cthulhu publisher Chaosium partnered with distributor Drive ThruRPG last December to launch “The Miskatonic Repository”, a creator-led space for CoC content. This initiative opens up new doors into the abyss, with an pseudo rubber stamp from the creators of the classic canon under this new distribution platform.

The “Repository” has a flat fee structure and standard style guidelines to keep everything in line with Chaosium‘s content for 7th edition. Note that scenarios using previous rules systems or copyrighted content beyond the standard rules books are prohibited.

Get investigating now, and let us know your favorite materials! Here’s hoping it leads to more platforms like this in the future, and a universe of queer creators making creepy stuff!

“The Quest to be myself in a Magical World”

I first rolled the dice at age 15. My friends and I were teens with big dreams, so we each rolled characters who were idealized versions of ourselves. My friend Brent, who wanted all to view him as a gentle giant, rolled the half-orc Grobath, a barbarian with a gruff exterior but a heart of gold. Josh, the charismatic smart aleck, became the charming rogue Jack Wylder. Ben, who prided himself on his vast stores of knowledge, rolled the elf wizard Leewon. I—filled with fury, and always feeling like an outsider—created the half-elf sorceress Ceridwen.

As I neared thirty, finally coming to terms with my gender and sexuality, a powerful wave of nostalgia engulfed me. I wanted to make up for the dice-slinging adolescence I’d lost while living as a confused, angry girl. However, I now faced the dilemma of rolling a character who felt like me—a gay trans man—in a medieval-style world of hijinks, mishaps, and magical transformations.

Playing a transsexual character in the world of Dungeons and Dragons is quite like wearing a sign that reads, “Use me as a Plot Device!” You risk being discovered and exposed for what you “really” are. There’s also a good chance you’ll become the butt of hackneyed jokes. Worst of all, you risk losing whatever magical or physical changes you’ve accomplished to make your body more comfortable. Do you take a potion every morning to keep your manly physique? Well, now your supply has been stolen, and your party must catch the thief; all the while, you’re jogging around in the womanly curves you thought you’d finally escaped.

However, the thought of playing a male character who has never shared my struggles with gender did not appeal to me, either. A gay man who is not transgender might approach the world in a fundamentally different way than I do. Absent might be that maelstrom of confusion that kept me so long from realizing not only that I am a man but one that likes other men as well. I knew that, in order to solve this issue, I would have to travel back to my past as that furious young girl to discover how I could be myself in the world of D&D.

Ceridwen did fulfill some emotional needs for me, after all. I was an angry kid, and she had explosive fire spells in her arsenal and cast fireball every chance she got. As a Charisma-based caster, she had the ability to make others bend to her will, something I’d always felt inadequate in as a nerdy young pipsqueak. She was a half-elf, too—an eternal outsider in both human and elf societies. It bothered me deeply, however, that Ceridwen was apparently heart-stoppingly gorgeous. That’s typically what happens when you have an astronomical Charisma score. I didn’t know what to call it at the time, but I’d always experienced the most powerful dysphoria in relation to prettiness. It’s hard enough dealing with beauty as a young girl, and I can guarantee it’s no easier when you throw gender dysphoria into the mix.

As I tried to envision Ceridwen as a half-elf male, I realized playing such a character would present precisely that confusing, complicated relationship to masculinity I know so well. Now, I have no patience for thinly-veiled allegories; in other words, I would never posit that half-elves are the transgender people of this world—just writing that makes me want to fireball something. Nevertheless, certain details about how this half-elf would relate to human masculinity feel quite similar to how I relate. Corvus, as I’ve decided to call him, is slightly smaller than your average human guy. He’s somewhat delicate-looking, and his beard took far too long to grow in properly. In the elf village where he grew up, Corvus was too loud, too awkward, too hairy and smelly, but in the face of burly human men, he can’t help but wonder, “How could I ever be considered one of them?”

Thankfully Corvus, like myself and Ceridwen before him, wears his outsider status as a badge of honor. Traditional society is simply too small to contain him. He is charismatic in a witty sense, can talk his way out of anything, and is handsome in his own way.  The elves and humans of that world may treat him with disdain, but that only fuels Corvus’ desire to become more skilled and powerful than ever before. He is, unapologetically, himself—and thus he allows me to be myself as well.


Jonathan Smith is a Cajun Ravenclaw living in Texas who loves craft beer, shrimp tacos, and reading nonfiction.

5 Fantasy Races for your Next Queer Gendered Character

How important is gender to you while roleplaying? For me, it doesn’t matter if a game’s universe is populated with dragons or Victorian socialites, the question of what’s between the legs of a bugbear chieftain, or how much facial hair a given debutante is sporting, are not the most interesting topics of conversation. That’s why it’s up to agender, non-binary, and gender-disinterested players to take the game into their own hands, creating roleplay opportunities that are more relevant and interesting.

While most of the examples below are drawn from a fantasy-style background, they’re really designed for imaginatively-minded homebrewers and Game Masters who play their in-game fiction loosely. Don’t feel shy about adding them to your next intergalactic space exploration or murder mystery.

Genasi

Playing a genasi character gives you the opportunity to think outside of the gender binary and embrace the elemental quaternary. This half-genie race comes in four flavors, and whether you prefer to sport skin of rough-hewn onyx, an ability to summon fire, water-breathing, or levitation magic, chances are the rest of your party won’t have time to notice whether or not you like to wear skirts.

There’s a lot more cool things to learn about gensai in the Elemental Evil Players’ Companion.

Lizardfolk

Early in 2018 I started playing as Halloo, the third-level Lizardfolk druid. Biologists tell us that the sex of some reptile species is determined by the temperature of their egg during incubation. In Halloo’s case, her egg was situated right in middle of the clutch—not too warm or too cold. And while she uses she/her pronouns as a matter of habit, she’s usually more interested in talking about (or with) the local fauna.

Get started with on your own Lizardfolk with Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Eladrin

All of us have good days, bad days, and days where we don’t get out from under the covers. For Eladrin, this is a way of life. However, the weather changes with their mood, rather than vice versa. It’s like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but more, and chock-full of roleplay potential for those who feel more defined by their mental state, than their gender.

Always seeking transition and change, Eladrin are most at home in places where the borders between the material plane and Feywild are at their thinnest. Really,  the only thing that puts them off-balance is stagnancy.

Check out the Unearthed Arcana source material for more.

Nilbog

Think of these happy little friends as reverse-goblins, who love nothing more than getting thwacked by a sword or spell, and run in terror from healing magic.

Nilbogs also offer practically endless role-play fodder, letting you swap-out whatever gendered in-universe social norms you want, and replace them with their bizarro-world equivalent. Maybe your Nilbog comes from a society filled with distressed male damsels and hilariously relatable romantic comedies? Maybe Nilbogs really have nine different genders—because that’s the opposite of two, right?

There aren’t any official rules for creating a Nilbog character, but you can see some starter stats for goblins on page 119 of Volo’s Guide to Monsters.

Gnome

This is just a personal theory, but I really believe Gnomes are intended as an in-fiction manifestation of everything good about tabletop games (and democratic social-groups in general). Curious and friendly, they’re always eager to embrace the unfamiliar and celebrate life in all its forms. They seek to improve the world around them with science, and have a surprisingly killer Montessori-like educational system, especially given the fact that they often live in hollowed-out trees.

While there isn’t a ton of official source material on gender-queer gnomes, we can take courage in the fact that their main deity, Garl Glittergold, seems like a pretty open-minded guy.


Brad Fiore: TTRPG writer, fictionalist, and Iron Chef Wisconsin 1993-97. Found on Twitter at @brad_fiore

Current Openings: Jobs in Gaming

Want to dive into working in games, but not sure where to start? While it may take a bit of searching, there are opportunities out there for those that want to start an RPG or video game writing career.

Leveling Up

To start your RPG journey, it may be a good idea to collaborate with friends, or write and release some things yourself. After you’ve built up experience, put together a portfolio website and a CV of your projects.

If you want to build up experience without taking on huge projects, try a freelancing website like Upwork. They currently have a diverse offering of RPG related jobs (from video games to art work). Maintaining a good score and reputation on websites like these show employers you can meet deadlines.

Check out the random openings I found this week, gleaned from the internet below!

Current Openings

Blizzard Entertainment (the producers of game properties Overwatch and World of Warcraft) are looking for a writer for their games.

Probably Monsters is seeking a Contract Writer to aid in worldbuilding and other game creation elements.

ArenaNet wants a writer to join its ranks to assist in developing character arcs and other story mechanics.

Wizards of the Coast has a Senior Game Designer opening.

D&D’s Trouble with Trans Characters

I was drawn to 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons when a friend told me the Player’s Handbook explicitly mentioned the possibility of creating a trans or nonbinary player characters. He said it encourages players to think outside the box when it comes to gender, and remarks that “you don’t need to be confined to binary notions of sex and gender.”

“You could play a female character who presents herself as a man,” the Player’s Handbook told me, “or a man who feels trapped in a female body.”

“Finally!” I said to myself. “I can play a nonbinary hermit who grew up not understanding gender. Or even better: a badass orc who happens to be trans.”

I got into roleplaying games at the height of my own gender dysphoria, in the midst of coming to terms with my newly adopted identity as a nonbinary person. Playing Dungeons & Dragons (and, eventually, dozens of other roleplaying games) gave me an outlet to be other people, of any gender, without having to worry about the stress I had associated with my own pronouns, presentation, and identity.

Games became an escape for me, and an important outlet for trying things out: I tested out my friends’ reactions to they/them pronouns by having a nonbinary NPC in the campaign I ran. I created characters based on the future I wanted to see for myself: nonbinary characters who were masculine, nonbinary characters who were feminine, nonbinary characters who were interchangeably both or vehemently neither.

I never needed to defend myself, when it came to a character’s gender, but in the rare case I thought I might — I played, for a while, with some work friends who didn’t know that I was trans — I felt justified and supported by the section of the Player’s Handbook that told me I was allowed to make my character whatever gender I liked.

When I didn’t have the time or mental energy to play the game myself, I turned to actual play streams, like Critical Role or Rooster Teeth’s Heroes & Halfwits, to get my fix of gaming when I was feeling down.

But it was during one of these streamed games, as one DM led his group through the 5e adaptation of Gary Gygax’s classic and notoriously punishing 1978 module, “The Tomb of Horrors”, that I started to question just how welcoming Dungeons & Dragons really is for trans and nonbinary players and player characters.

In their playthrough of “Tomb of Horrors”, one of the characters entered a room and was told, in a pull-aside by the GM, that his Lawful Good male Dragonborn character was now a Chaotic Evil female. This was followed by a rather inappropriate set of descriptions about the character’s brand new breasts and his lack of a penis, and several distasteful jokes as the situation was revealed to the rest of the cast.

I thought I must have misunderstood what was happening. I had to pause the video and confirm with a friend who had also watched. Yes, that’s right: adapted for 5th edition in 2017 in the collection Tales from the Yawning Portal, “Tomb of Horrors” includes a room that, upon entry, “reverses” your character’s physical sex and alignment — whatever “reverse” means, with regards to sex.

I couldn’t help but think: what does “reverse sex” mean for a trans character? What would one of my characters do, in that situation? A trans character forced back into a body that makes them dysphoric? A nonbinary character for whom there isn’t, exactly, a “reverse” or “opposite” sex? Is it defined by what sex the character was assigned at birth? These weren’t the kinds of stories or problems I wanted to explore with my trans characters, or the kind I wanted to encourage my players to tell.

In a terrible wave of understanding, I realized this: Tomb of Horrors was updated for 5e mechanics, but it wasn’t updated for 5e sensibilities.

Or maybe that 5e wasn’t as welcoming to trans characters as it pretended to be.

This isn’t to say, of course, that there isn’t a place for trans and nonbinary characters in 5e. At the end of the day, it’s up to the DM to create a welcoming environment for trans players and characters. Certainly, more and more trans and queer people are making spaces for themselves in gaming with or without the assistance of inclusive rule books. And maybe a different DM would have run the Tomb of Horrors module in a way that wouldn’t have been quite so… well, horrifying.

But for a system that had been sold to me as one that would finally be inclusive not only of women and people of color, as much of D&D had never been, but of trans and nonbinary people like me, it felt like a serious misstep and an inexplicable oversight for Wizards of the Coast to not understand the harm they might do by including a “gender-bender” trope in an official module. The fact that the game I had lauded widely to friends for its inclusivity had failed to take into consideration the experiences of trans players shouldn’t have surprised me, but it hurt nonetheless.

At the end of the day, we can fit trans players and trans characters into any game system, and there are plenty out there that welcome us with open arms. But in a world that’s so often hostile to us, it would be nice for game designers to remember that trans people have to create new spaces for themselves every day, and we’d love for our escapist hobby to not make it harder than it needs to be.


Christine Prevas is a writer, graduate student, perpetual GM, and host of the delightfully queer actual play podcast The Unexplored Places.

Kickstarter to Watch: Trinity Continuum

Already well into its stretch goals, game publisher Onyx Path launched its kickstarter for Trinity Continuum January 30th, 2018. The initial two books, a core rule set and setting, present a near future ripe with the possibility of several narrative styles within a single timeline. One of the many attractions of the game is its ability to adapt to varying play styles and genres.

“I loved working on Trinity Continuum because it presents a multitude of possibilities in a single core book. I can play a story focused game that never falters from a failure to roll dice,” said Danielle Lauzon, Trinity Continuum Core’s co-developer. “The game encourages forward momentum even when blundering around.”

Built on the Storypath System by Onyx Path itself, the Trinity Continuum is narrative-centric. The mechanics rely on a dice pool like many other alternative systems tied to setting-specific games. However, the Storypath System gives the option of three “modes”, designed for specific story mechanics. A preview of the system is available for free on Drive ThruRPG.

The game was developed by Danielle Harper, Ian Watson, and the initial setting was developed by John Snead. A bevy of talented writers worked on both books, including Jacqueline Penny Hart, Danielle Lauzon, Matt Miller, Jack Norris, Craig Oxbow, Lauren Roy, John Snead, Monica Speca, Stephen Tasker, Ben Walker, Peter Woodworth, Tara Zuber, Christopher Allen, N. Conte, Topher Gerkey, Cassandra Khaw, Alex Melchor, Quinn Murphy, Clayton Oliver, Neall Raemonn Price, Chris Shaffer, Leath Sheales, and John Snead.

The Kickstarter will be going until March 1st, 2018. The game itself is definitely worth the money, but be sure to get in there and claim your rewards before all slots are filled! Did I mention the art is also beautiful?

Black History Month: Creators to Support

It’s Black History Month, so now’s the time to get acquainted with Black writers, artists, and designers to show them love all year!

Game publishing company New Agenda Publishing is an all star team devoted to hiring people of color, “especially women of color”, for their projects. Misha Bushyager, Jerry D. Grayson, and Eloy Lasanta were recently published by podcast The Jank about their company. It looks like their first game will be Orun, a science fiction game set post human space colonization.

To support creators of color, buy their products and hire them for your projects (we are currently accepting submissions, by the way). If you’re looking for a starting point, Black Game Developers is a list of… it’s in the title. As they say on the site, “Here they are. Hire them. Buy their stuff.”

Finally, if you’re a supporter of RPGs on a budget, Tanya DePass of I Need Diverse Games has the following suggestion:

 

What Do I Write About?

Since launching our submissions, I’ve had more than one person approach me to say “I love this, but what do I write about?” I tried my best to explain that I want to see lists and resources and personal essays and critiques, but maybe there is another way. To explain, I’ll write about myself.

I began playing Dungeons & Dragons with my mother and my brothers. After that we played Alternity until the game “lost the battle” (my mother’s words) to the Star Wars RPG. I remember listening to the CD introduction that came with 3rd Edition as a family and a 10 person game at my father’s where we all died and my wolf survived us, dragging our bodies out of the cave and to an Elven temple.

One of the scariest things I’ve ever done was entering the GenCon costume contest in 1999. I won for the youth category. I think there were 3 of us. I passed out on the convention center floor while we played a board game past 10 PM. I was 9 years old.

In middle or high school my brothers and I discovered Call of Cthulhu, which changed our lives forever. Kenneth Hite answered a historical question I asked on Twitter so that I could finish my then-stalled (now published) novel, and I am unreasonably grateful.

My first game outside my family happened when I went away to college. It began with the DM describing a Player Character crawling out of a vagina he had cast onto a wall, and ended when another player (a girl) told me I “just wasn’t very good at role playing.” After that, I launched Babes in Armor and started a Twitter account. It’s been nearly a decade.

In college, some Very Bad things happened to me. More than once. I failed out and moved back in with my mother in Milwaukee. While struggling to find some direction, I interned at two non profits focusing on rights for women in the workplace and nervously pitched to FemPop. I wrote a regular (always late) television recap for them and reviewed games and went to C2E2.

I returned to school a year after dropping out of college. Eventually I took a class where we created a world together and played in it as a Creative Writing project. We used the World of Darkness rules, and I excitedly went to an RPG talk that featured creators who worked on all sorts of games and only Will Hindmarch gave me his card.

I wrote a truly terrible application to Monica Valentinelli for the Conan RPG (I had and continue to have no games writing experience), and she turned it down in an unbelievably gracious way. Uncanny later published her essay, “We Have Always Been Here, Motherfucker” and it changed my life, again.

At some point I wrote, terribly, about my negative experiences at a local game convention for FemHype and it helped heal me a little to have a space to talk, and I will never get over the generosity I’ve received from outlets on the internet. There are so many bad experiences I’ve had gaming (like the comic book shop owner who played CoC with us after hours and called me “whore” for an entire session, in character). There are also so many good. The last time I played with my older brother was at a demo game for Matt Forbeck’s Shotguns and Sorcery, and it is still one of my favorite gaming memories.

There are things I have questions about. Did other people discover their sexuality way too young on text-based RPG forums? Was it just as uncomfortable? What resources changed the game for you? What RPG made you realize there was more to roleplaying than D&D?

In the end, I could write and write about myself, but I would rather read about you.