Misspent Youth: Young, Gifted, and Black

Setup

Last week at Big Bad Con, I ran Robert Bohl’s role-playing game Misspent Youth. Because I was running in a four-hour time block and it’s always a challenge for me to stay within the scheduled time, I cut through setting and character creation by using Misha Bushyager’s playset “Young, Gifted, and Black” from the recent supplement Sell Out With Me. The premise:

“What happens when a group of students from a predominantly Black, inner city public school score highly on a test that propels us to a predominantly white private, suburban boarding school? Will the other students accept us for who we are or will they make stupid ass assumptions about us?

“Will we be able to fit in with them? Do we even want to? Will we have to sacrifice our identities to become more like them or can we plant the seeds of true multiculturalism and make them more like us?”

I had two players, Kai and Joshua, and they were fantastic. The two characters selected from the clique in Misha’s playset were Mike (played by Joshua) and Sandra (played by Kai):  Continue reading “Misspent Youth: Young, Gifted, and Black”

My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 2

Friday

My offerings for Games on Demand (2nd year in a row)
On Friday morning I was scheduled to run a shift at Games on Demand from 9AM to 1PM. Although GoD shifts are all four-hour time blocks, GMs are encouraged to run two-hour games twice because this is useful to attendees who have just a bit of time between events. I was offering the same two-hour games as last year: Avery Alder’s The Quiet Year and Meguey Baker’s At the Stroke of Midnight. It was a treat for me to get to run both: the first group chose to venture in a graveyard at midnight to get a boon from a departed loved one, and the second to follow a community’s preparation for the expected winter hardships. Both groups of players totally “got” the spirit of the games.  Continue reading “My Big Bad Con 2018: Part 2”

Surprise

We’ve spent over six decades trying to convince ourselves that the rise of the Third Reich and the resulting WWII was a perfect storm due to unique conditions that could only happen once. That the next time, we’d know better and Nazis and fascists would never be allowed to rise to power again. Well guess what? Perfect storms do happen more than once.
Ordinary, banal evil flared to the most profound evil humans are capable of back in the 1930s, and ordinary, banal evil people are perfectly comfortable going back there right now. Why should we be surprised that they will recoil at no evil actions? They didn’t then, they don’t now. What should surprise us is that the rest of us–the people who don’t plan on any cruelties and don’t deny the full humanity of refugees, or trans persons, or immigrants, or people of colour, or women–tolerate the banal evil and normalise it and allow it to be part of the common discourse.

Racism I Can Do Without: Low-hanging fruit for the white ally

OK, Ramanan S pointed out to me that we have not had significant discussions of race in tabletop roleplaying games since The Thing last year. I take that as an indicator of the chilling effect, but nonetheless it’s not a good excuse. We need to talk, and even more so we need to act.

This is not a post to examine the root causes and come up with an overarching plan to eliminate racism, tokenism, erasure, etc. I can’t be the one to tell you all about race problems in the tabletop gaming community. I’m not on the receiving end, and my white privilege means I will, by definition, not be able to see all the instances.

But there are some things that are obvious enough that we can see them, and react to them, as white allies and tabletop gamers. I can speak about what I do see, and what I can do about it.  Continue reading “Racism I Can Do Without: Low-hanging fruit for the white ally”

Two Minutes’ Reflection

Wading for Your Dues

All right, let’s roll up our pant cuffs and put on our rubber boots, we’re going wading in last year’s sludge.

Last year, Mark Diaz Truman posted a reflection on his company blog (Magpie Games) regarding perceived abuse between two sub-communities of gaming, focusing respectively on OSR and story games. A few days later, Mark followed up with a FAQ explaining his position in more detail.

At the time I posted my reactions to these, to the damage that resulted, and to the separate answer Mark had given me. The thing that made me blow my top at the time was this:

I’d love to talk with you more about how this is playing out Sophie. I’d also encourage us all (including me) to look at the effects 3 mo, 6 mo, and a year down the road. This week has been hard, but I believe that many of the conversations I’ve seen have the potential to blossom into something productive. That said, I hear you! And I’m eager to discuss more and listen more.

What angered me was that people who had been hurt by Mark’s posts were essentially told: “Wait another three to twelve months, maybe something good will come out of it and make the harassment your received worth my while.”  Continue reading “Two Minutes’ Reflection”

Misspent Youth: Join the rebellion

Misspent Youth game

A few years ago I reviewed Robert Bohl’s role-playing game Misspent Youth. Well, two exciting things are happening with that game right now.

The Revolution Will Be Televised

First, it was demo’ed by Wil Wheaton on his show Tabletop (Geek & Sundry channel on YouTube), with geek blogger / vlogger / podcaster / actress Amy Dallen (Geek & Sundry, Future Girl, Nerdy But Flirty), and comic book writers Kelly Sue DeConnick (Bitch Planet, Captain Marvel, Pretty Deadly), and Matt Fraction (The Invincible Iron Man, The Immortal Iron Fist, Casanova).

This demo provide a very good impression of what the game is like. I recommend viewing the episodes in the following order:

  • Part 1 for the first three minutes and 15 seconds or so, in order to get the introduction.
  • The entirety of Part 0 for the full setting and character creation.
  • The rest of Part 1 (from 3:17 to the end.)
  • Part 2.

Sell Out With Me

Second exciting happening: A revised edition and a supplement full of new playsets, ideas, and art are being released soon, and the Kickstarter funding campaign is under way.

The new edition will be published through Burning Wheel Headquarters. The development team comprises writer and creative director Robert Bohl, book designer Joshua A.C. Newman, lead artist Jennifer Rodgers, editor Adam Dray, and publisher Luke Crane.

Contributing authors include some fantastic people:

Caitlynn Belle, Strix Beltrán & Ajit George (writing together), Misha Bushyager, Judd Karlman, Kimberley Lam, Daniel LevineKira Magrann, Matthew McFarland, Michael Miller, Quinn Murphy, Joshua AC Newman, Dev Purkayastha, Alex Roberts, Hannah ShafferJared Sorensen, Daniel Swensen, Curt Thompson, Rachel E.S. Walton, Bill White, and Gregor Vuga.

Artists include more luminaries:

Christianne Benedict, Nyra Drakae, Alex MayoJennifer RodgersEvan Rowland, Ernanda Souza, Rick Troula, and Jabari Weathers.

The Kickstarter campaign is already funded and runs for eight more days. Grab your music box, your balaclava, and your spray paint cans, the revolution needs harbingers.

New Releases: Harlem Unbound, Sins of the Past Revisited

Today I take a quick look at a couple of new releases in two different genres: horror and superheroes. Both can be used to expand an existing campaign or as the backbone for a whole new campaign. These will be overviews, not full-fledged reviews since I have not had a chance to run either campaign.

Harlem Unbound

Cover of Harlem Unbound

If you want Cthulhu Mythos horror that flips the standard Lovecraftian view of minorities on its head, putting them in the roles of heroes who must struggle against cosmic horrors while also fighting for a chance at equality, this is the sourcebook for you.

Harlem Unbound is a 274-page sourcebook for Cthulhu Mythos role-play written by Chris Spivey and published by Darker Hue Studios, which provides setting history, locations, characters, adventures, and game-master advice for the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City during the 1920s, the era known as the Harlem Renaissance.

System-wise, elements are detailed for play with both Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed. (Chaosium) and the GUMSHOE system (Pelgrane Press). In fact, you can play it as a GUMSHOE standalone, it contains the necessary rules; or you could play it with a GUMSHOE game such as Trail of Cthulhu, Fear Itself, The Yellow King, or The Esoterrorists.

However, the materials offered in Harlem Unbound are rich and well-formulated so that in my opinion, there should be little trouble adapting them to another system of your choice. Mechanics are the least of your worries—doing the material justice in play is the GM and players’ true challenge. This is exactly the game supplement you need to run adventures in the vein of The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle) or Lovecraft Country: A Novel (Matt Ruff).

The art is of course strongly influenced by luminaries of the Harlem Artists Guild and precursors. Some of it is not my cup of tea (the gorier images), but it is nevertheless well done. I am particularly fond of artist Nino Malong’s contributions.

If you missed the Kickstarter funding campaign, you can still pre-order Harlem Unbound on Backerkit.

Sins of the Past, Revisited

Sins of the Past Revisited - coverThe original Sins of the Past adventure, published back in 2010, is one of the best scenarios ever written for the superhero game ICONS. Since its release, however, the system has undergone a revision and expansion published as the Assembled Edition in 2014.

Sins of the Past, Revisited is a 52-page adventure written by Theron Bretz, illustrated by Dan Houser—the same team that created the original edition—and published by Ad Infinitum Adventures for ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition.

It does not only update the mechanical bits to reflect the most recent version of the game; it offers new material, game-master advice, and notes on the playtest games. There is more art and new maps, everything a GM needs to run exciting scenes of superheroic action.

To top it off, if you prefer to run ICONS using the original rules, this comes with the 2010 version of the adventure for free. This means you can enjoy the new materials without major system adjustments.

The adventure connects modern-day superheroes (and villains) with those of the Golden Age. I think the adventure might have the most impact if its chapters were introduced one at a time over the course of a long-running campaign, when some of the GM characters have become familiar figures of the game setting. This could create fantastic buy-in for the players, inviting their characters to shoulder a legacy.

You can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG, and I understand that the print version will be available soon.

Atwood read the blueprint

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. [Don’t let the bastards grind you down.]
— Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale.

The Handmaids have entered the Texas legislature.
Nan L. Kirkpatrick‏ @nanarchist Mar 20:
The Handmaids have entered the #txlege. #sb415 #fightbacktx pic.twitter.com/Fpa9cNGHR0

The rate at which proposed  regulation, crafted by the American Far (“Christian”) Right, targets women’s most basic rights has been accelerating over the last several years. Bills that used to be outlandishly unthinkable are now commonplace, what with the Republican Party having wholly embraced the right-wing fringe, especially in its Dominionist flavour.

A protest against proposed draconian restrictions on abortion last week at the Texas legislature was only the most recent to draw parallels with Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel about an ultra-Christian future of gender-regulated servitude, The Handmaid’s Tale.

Of course, the upcoming release of Hulu’s series based on the novel has also brought the book to the forefront of pop culture again, but the novel has been increasingly mentioned in news, streams, threads, and conversations about the Right’s treatment of women.

Earlier this week I was reading about the original critical reception to Atwood’s landmark book. It was darkly funny to learn that some reviewers — like the New York Times’ Mary McCarthy (Feb. 9, 1986) — felt its premise was too unbelievable to be successful:

“Surely the essential element of a cautionary tale is recognition. Surprised recognition, even, enough to administer a shock. We are warned, by seeing our present selves in a distorting mirror, of what we may be turning into if current trends are allowed to continue. That was the effect of ”Nineteen Eighty-Four,” with its scary dating, not 40 years ahead, maybe also of ”Brave New World” and, to some extent, of ”A Clockwork Orange.” “

“It is an effect, for me, almost strikingly missing from Margaret Atwood’s very readable book ”The Handmaid’s Tale,” offered by the publisher as a ”forecast” of what we may have in store for us in the quite near future. A standoff will have been achieved vis-a-vis the Russians, and our own country will be ruled by right-wingers and religious fundamentalists, with males restored to the traditional role of warriors and us females to our ”place” – which, however, will have undergone subdivision into separate sectors, of wives, breeders, servants and so forth, each clothed in the appropriate uniform. A fresh postfeminist approach to future shock, you might say. Yet the book just does not tell me what there is in our present mores that I ought to watch out for unless I want the United States of America to become a slave state something like the Republic of Gilead whose outlines are here sketched out. “

It’s worth reading the entire review, it seems like a point-by-point comment on current news, 32 years after publication. It’s hard to believe these days that McCarthy found A Clockwork Orange’s dystopia more likely than the one in Atwood’s “palely lurid pages.”

[Edit: Here are some very current topics touched on in The Handmaid’s Tale which I jotted the last time I read the book:

    • Patriarchy and kyriarchy
    • Rise of religious fundamentalism
    • Feminist reactions to pornography
    • “Freedom to” versus “freedom from,” and safety versus liberty
    • Abortion, contraception, and reproductive choices
    • Self-determination, ownership of one’s body
    • Right to take one’s own life
    • Environmental degradation
    • Surveillance and information technology
    • Gun control
    • Sexual orientation and choice
    • Non-reproductive sex
    • Citizenship
    • Poverty
    • Access to education, knowledge as power
    • Status of and relationships between U.S. and Russia
    • Public apathy and the creep of authoritarianism
    • Isolationism
    • Televangelists and the Christian media industry

And I bet I missed some.]

Partisanship has been increasing over the past 25 years. The Republican Party now controls the U.S. Presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives, as well as the “trifecta” (governorship + both State congressional houses) in 25 state legislatures, the senate in 12 more states, the house of representatives in six more states, and governorship in eight more states, and soon the ninth and deciding seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. The trend is clear, and it is frightening.

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Credits: Photo by Nan L. Kirkpatrick, as seen on Vulture.

Get Off Your Ass and Stand Up For All

dnc_ass-assPart of my entertainment last weekend when I was in the hospital was to watch SS-Gruppenführer Milo Yiannopoulos lose traction. First, there were Larry Wilmore and Malcolm Nance telling him what’s what on “Overtime With Bill Maher.” Heads-up: you need to wade through the opening bullshit before you get to the good stuff. Then there was NAMBLA(1) Chair Yiannopoulos’ own recent words finally being acknowledged for once, and finally Laurie Penny’s post-mortem.

But amusing as it was, there was a background to this that infuriated me throughout: the continued treatment of Yiannopoulos and his droogs, and the validation of his odiousness as just what everyone is really thinking. It peeked through in Penny’s reluctant tenderness for “Peter Pan” and the “Lost Boys,” but it was shoved front and centre in Bill Maher’s handling of him.

Milo Y constantly spouts racist, misogynist, ableist, transphobic shit, but the (alt-)Right only flinched when he sounded too much like their idea of gayness. They don’t give a shit about protecting children but they do have a knee-jerk reaction for the Gay Man Preying On Their Sons. BFD, nothing new in the Log Cabin’s closets; but we, the liberals, #TheResistance, we should not normalize any of this. I was appalled to hear Maher join in the denigration and mockery of trans persons rather than tell Milo he’s not edgy — just a narcissist piece of crap that doesn’t deserve to be humoured. Thank you, Larry Wilmore, for taking the burden on yourself.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have to come to grips with the Maher type of liberal, spouting old garbage like it’s 1974 or something. Look at them in the face or in the mirror: the privileged, gated community, comfy, bougie liberals; the not-my-backyard, not-my-problem liberals; the All-Lives-Matter liberals; the white women who voted for trump; the TERFs and the SWERFs; the “race realists”; the I-got-mine-Jack liberals.

Fuck ’em.

Let’s not BE them. Let’s not be this clueless, let’s not insulate ourselves in our little corner of privilege like a bit of blanket allowed by those hogging all the riches and power. Let’s respect human beings as we want to be respected. Let’s fight to protect the rights of women, persons of colour, refugees, children, DREAMers, disabled people, trans persons, Jewish, atheist, Muslim, LGBTQ, and any number of artificial divisions I’m forgetting right now.

Trans persons are not confused: they want to be treated like full human beings, be protected from assault, and have their bodily autonomy respected.

Black people and persons of colour are not reverse-racists: they want to be able to get decent education, employment and housing, their children to have the same chance of surviving a police encounter as if they were white, and a shot at the famed American Dream every once in a goddamn while.

People advocating for marriage equality are not asking for new rights: they just want to form a family on their own terms with the same protections heterosexuals receive under the law, including some simple peace of mind.

Refugees are not terrorists: they’re fleeing terrorism, state-sponsored violence, persecution, famine and other calamities, and they get extensively vetted before they are even allowed a visa.

Immigrants are not rapists and murderers: they’re hard-working people trying to make a better life for themselves and their families in a country that shows them little but contempt but is all too happy to exploit them for cheap labour.

Muslim beliefs are not any more threatening than Catholic, or Baptist, or Latter-Day Saint ones: the Quran speaks words that are dang similar to those of the Bible or the Book of Mormon.

People with disabilities are not a burden, nor are they inspirational: they’re us(2), needing to marshal our strength and use life hacks when it’s not a hip Buzzfeed article.

And cis women do not need need to be protected by the law from trans women — they need to be protected from cis men. Their rights, their autonomy, their safety, their health care, their paycheck need to be protected from greedy old cis men in Congress and in the White House.

What part of this is hard to understand?


(1) National American Milo-Boy Love Association. Return.


Edit:

(2) I woke up at 2am, remembering this sentence and hating it. It sounds like I’m comparing living with a disability to having a bad day; that’s not what I intended. What I mean is that people with disabilities are ordinary folks like us us, not strange others, and that many of us will deal with disabilities in our own lives at some point; moreover, much of the help required — for example, under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) — is very modest, not the insurmountable barrier some people imagine. Return.

Come at me, 2017

2017As you might have guessed, the last several weeks have been harder on my morale than my body. The last stretch of the American presidential election was hugely stress-inducing, and the results were soul-crushing. I know my friends know what I’m talking about, I heard it in their words and read it in their posts. Except for the most upbeat of topics — my gaming group, Thanksgiving, and the good progress in my treatment — I have been unable to write anything in over eight weeks. I keep thinking of words in my head, it’s all there, but I’ve been unable to put them down in writing.

Two months ago, I was cautiously optimistic. I thought we would probably get a weak Clinton victory, then some incremental building on the cautious progress made under the Obama administration; against this backdrop, I was expecting to focus a lot of energy on my geek communities, and particularly the gaming community, as I returned to health.

Then the world changed. I’m still not ready to unpack this event, but the result is that people previously known as “Gamergators,” “MRAs,” “pissing booth warriors” and “some racist trolls in the bottom drawer of the Internet” now feel emboldened to take their assholiness for a stroll in real space. Suddenly, it’s not just in a few compartments of our lives that we can meet with acts of hatred from people we don’t even know. After what most of us considered a shitty year, 2017 looks like it will be even worse. I met January 1st more downcast and apprehensive than I ever have in my life.

My backlog of writing is not helped by the fact that I feel I will be discussing many unpleasant topics this year. Indeed, in late October and early November before I sank into depression, I was planning to start writing a series tackling some of the successes, failures, and possible paths forward for diversity in tabletop gaming and related geeky pursuits. I feel this is more needed now than ever, but I don’t know how much justice I will be able to do to the topics.

Nevertheless, I can’t just roll over and play dead. It’s not the first time I have dealt with depression, and I will deal with it this time again. In fact, I was hit by a wave at about the same time the year before, when my kind and benevolent employer unilaterally cut my hours and stripped me of my benefits. You know what got me out of the ditch? Cancer. That’s right, sometimes it’s not an improvement in circumstances that serves as the ladder to climb out of a hole, but a disaster you have to respond to. And 2017 looks to be quite the disaster, so I might as well hold on to that to climb.

Happy New Year, folks. Me, I take pride in the fact that I managed to write this post without too much profanity.