Saturday, December 14, 2013

Thou Shalt not Suffer a Witch to Live

Witch Hunter Second Edition Review

            This was a book that I was looking forward to since I found out there were doing a second edition during the summer. Sadly I missed out on the Kickstarter for it but they released it before Christmas so I fairly amused. Made for good reading over the Thanksgiving break. It also helps that I enjoy games in which you hunt down and kill supernatural critters. It’s why Hunter the Vigil is one of my favorite games.
            Witch Hunter is a game in which you play as well … witch hunters, tracking down and eliminating the minions of the Adversary.  The book has a very Judeo-Christian overtones, making use of such stories as King Solomon. If you’re not a fan of religious overtones then you may not like the game. Though to the games credit it does leave room for interpretation on the exact nature of God and Satan (who is referred to as the Adversary).


The Setting:
            Witch Hunter takes place during the late 17th century, around the year 1689. They’ve made several changes to the setting to make it a unique take on an alternate history. In the game vampires, werewolves, witches and other assorted creatures are real. The everyday man is semi aware of this fact. There is also a little bit of magic left in the world. You play as a witch hunter, a mortal who knows the truth and takes up the challenge of protecting others from the supernatural and hunting them down.
            It all starts with the biblical king Solomon. He is aware of the dark forces in the world and he decides he’s going to protect future generations. He gathers up the most wisest and skilled magicians in the world and begins to work on a ritual called the Great Seal. However one of the magi is fooled by the Adversary and the seal is flawed. The forces of the Adversary are able to get through, though at a reduced rate than before. There is also a little bit of magic leaking through which allows for the continuation of magic (in its various forms).
Fast forward a few centuries and we arrive to the dark ages and the black plague. The disease kills more men than women. This creates an opportunity for women to step up and fill in for roles that they previously weren’t allowed in. Even after the plague women still continue in their new roles. Kinda like the 1940’s and WWII. Well the plague was devastating the effects of European diseases wasn’t as deadly as it historically was. Especially for the Aztec empire, who use their dark and evil magic’s to mitigate the damage done to their population. This leaves them in a position to fight Spain’s claims in the New World.  If this is your first time with the game then I highly recommend going back and finding at least a copy of the Aztec Empire. While the rules are first edition the setting info in it is amazing.
Now the PC’s are members of the Orders, a group of organizations that developed to fight the minions of the Adversary. The book outlines several major ones with notations about there being smaller ones and more info on those in an upcoming book. The Orders have come together and formed a loose alliance as it were, so that they can better fight the Adversary and also to offer up aide and protection from the Church.
Adventures can occur anywhere in the world, though the setting material mostly focus on Europe and the New World. The biggest changes to the New World is the Aztec Empire which stretches into parts of what is now the western southern states and down through central México.

The Rules:
            The second chapter covers most of the rules you need to play the game. It uses a d10 system, and if you’re familiar with games like Legend of the Five Rings (L5R) or the World of Darkness games  then you’re going to have a smooth transition into Witch Hunter. Even if you are not familiar with either of those games the rules are pretty straightforward and easy to pick up on.
            To resolve an action you are typically going to roll a dice pool created from an Attribute + Skill. Much like in L5R you can’t have a dice pool greater than 10 dice. So for every two dice over 10 you gain an automatic success. And much like the World of Darkness games you need to roll a 7 or higher to succeed at an action. Depending on the difficulty of the task you’ll need anywhere from 1 success to 5 or 6.
            You can garner better effects on a role by making a wager, which is similar in application to making a raise in L5R. If you roll a 10 then you get to re roll that dice until it stops coming up 10. On the flip side if you roll more 1’s than you did success then the action suffers a complication of some sort. This isn’t like a botch in other games, as you can still succeed at the action and still have more 1’s than you did actual success.       
            For combat they have a series of style talents. Think of these as being like combat special moves feats. There are three basic level for talents (both the combat fighting style and the non combat skill based type); Basic, Great and Heroic.

            These mechanics are rounded out with a True Faith state that measures your belief in a higher power and a Damnation trait that shows how far you’ve fallen from the path of the righteous. You also have Hero Points which you can use to do a variety of things from gaining access to talents your character doesn’t normally have to saving your characters life.
            Finally your character has a Virtue and a Vice. Veterans of World of Darkness games will be very accustomed to how these work. A vice is a weakness that a character has. Something that may draw him away from the path of the righteous. They can be activated by the GM if he feels it’s appropriate for that situation. So a character who has a vice in say greed may have it activated by the GM if while on a mission the character spots something that peeks his interest. On the flip side characters also have virtues, and as the name implies it’s a characters strength, a means of showing how righteous the character may be.
            There is also a system for magic. There are six types of magic with in the setting. You have your three good ones of Prayer, Animism, and Hermetic. Then you have three villainous ones of Diabolism, Necromancy and Witch Craft.

The Good
            Witch Hunter is an easy game to transition into. I games centered around hunting down the things that go bump in the night. As I mentioned earlier Hunter the Vigil is one of my all time favorite games (and is still my favorite of the nWoD). It’s alternate history is pretty good. One of the most interesting aspects of the game is its use of the Aztecs and how depraved they are. I like how the game allows for more gender equity than was truly present at that time.
            I love the way they handled fighting styles. It adds a nice variety and spin to combat. The emphasis in the book on swashbuckling makes taking a combat style even more fun. We’re talking about action from movies like Pirates of the Carrabin and the Three Musketeers. While I’m mentioning the Three Musketeers, the notation on making Cardinal Richelieu a lich is just highly amusing.
            Finally I liked the rules they created for mob combat scenes and the use of minions. It makes it fairly seamless to toss hordes of bad guys at the PC’s for them to chop down in an equally heroic fashion.

The Bad
            There were really only two things that kinda annoyed me. The first is from the magic section. There is a mention of using a Grimoire in spell casting. The notation indicates that rules will be provided for in another book, but for me I like to have all the core rules in one spot. Thus the magic section feels somewhat incomplete until they release Rites and Relics.
            Finally I am somewhat miffed at the lack of diversity in the game. Outside of being Native American there isn’t much mention of anything that isn’t European. Native Americans have one Order that is truly all their own, but there isn’t one for people of African or Asian descent. I also was not pleased with the few references to Africa describing the continent as barbaric. When you see how well they handled bringing women into the setting and creating a better environment for female PC’s to play in, the lack of any real insight into other non-European cultures just leaves one wanting.  
            Considering the games more religious bent it would have been nice at least to feature an African Christian nation. Ethiopia has strong roots in Christianity after all and an Order from there would have opened the game up a bit more in my opinion. In future books I hope they work a bit harder in painting non Europeans in a positive light.

The Wrap Up

            My feelings on the matter of race aside, I find the game to be intriguing. Overall I’d give it a 4 out of 5 Fro’s. The setting is interesting enough to want to play in and I feel that the other matters are something that future supplements could fix and address. 

Friday, December 13, 2013

You're Not Alone

There’s a conversation happening in geek/nerd culture and it’s a great one, to an extent. See there’s a lot being said about how popular geek/nerd culture is these days. A conversation about how the stigma of being a gamer or enjoying comic books has lessened over the years. And I’m not saying this isn’t true. But there is a theme that arises in a lot of these conversations about the trials and tribulations of growing up a geek when it wasn’t cool to be a geek that I can’t agree with. This theme is one of loneliness and a tough choice between having to be a nerd or dating.

Growing up a geek didn’t mean that I always had a date. Like any teenager or young adult there were times when I did and there were times when I didn’t. But the choice to date, to interact with girls, never came down to me having to choose between the hobby I loved dearly and snuggling up to someone. As a young man I had to develop a skill that has helped me go far in life, time management.

Being a functioning adult means balancing various demands on life. This idea holds true for nerds as it does for anyone else. As a young lad I had to decide when I wanted to spend my Friday night rolling dice or eating popcorn with a pretty girl. Some Fridays I’d game. Others I’d go to the movies. Or I’d schedule gaming related events in the early afternoon so that I’d have my evenings free to be sociable with other people.

Next came developing multiple interest. I was never afraid of being a nerd. These days most of my friends know that if I’m causally reading on my Nexus 7, odds are strong that I’m reading an rpg supplement. But before the implementation of pdfs and tablets I used to carry good ole fashion rpg supplements. You know how heavy those get in a back pack after awhile!!! But that wasn’t the end of my personality or the scope of my interest. Yeah I could go on and on about why THACO sucked, or why Mage was better than Vampire, or why the X-Men combined would never in one million years be as cool as Batman. But I could also hold a reasonable conversation about politics. Sure I didn’t play any sports but that didn’t mean I wouldn’t be caught dead at a college football game (as an fyi they can be a lot of fun). I not only watched Star Trek The Next Generation but also The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. In short I developed a varied set of interest and this variety of interest allowed me to have something to say in the company of gamers and in the company of non gamers.

I make mention of this not to understate the difficulties faced by gamers, nerds and geeks growing up. Instead I bring this up to serve as a reminder that not every nerd had a difficult time growing up. Your teenage years and into your young adult years is a very hard time for everyone. Regardless of your hobbies and interest. It’s a time of self discovery. It’s a time when you desperately want to fit in. It’s a time in your life where you start to figure the kind of person you want to be when you “grow up”. I placed quotes there mostly because we never really grow up.

It’s important to remember that everyone faces these basic challenges. And we all adapt differently. It’s important to remember that everyone faces these challenges so that we can come together as people. Focusing on that period of our lives as being some how negative because you had to make a hard choice between gaming and dating is misleading. It’s a choice we all make no matter the hobby. It also scares away people who may otherwise self identify as a geek or nerd. No one wants to be alone. And no one wants to get involved in a hobby that may make them feel alone.

Now I’m not going to claim it’s easy. It takes a lot of work balancing the various aspects of life and my personality. But it is equally rewarding.

Being in this hobby doesn’t condemn you to a life of solitude.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Rally the Troops

You ever need a speech to inspire your players with? Or are you a bard who needs to stand up and Any Given Sunday. You'd need to make some minor adjustments but this speech is too good to pass up on. I will have to use it at some point.
offer words of wisdom to the party before going off into the major game ending battle? If you are in need of words of wisdom than look no further. This speech was given by Al Pacino in

I'll include the youtube video at the end as well as a youtube video to the background music. After all an inspiring speech needs an inspiring beat.

I don't know what to say really.
Three minutes
to the biggest battle of our professional lives
all comes down to today.
Either
we heal
as a team
or we are going to crumble.
Inch by inch
play by play
till we're finished.
We are in hell right now, gentlemen
believe me
and
we can stay here
and get the shit kicked out of us
or
we can fight our way
back into the light.
We can climb out of hell.
One inch, at a time.

Now I can't do it for you.
I'm too old.
I look around and I see these young faces
and I think
I mean
I made every wrong choice a middle age man could make.
I uh....
I pissed away all my money
believe it or not.
I chased off
anyone who has ever loved me.
And lately,
I can't even stand the face I see in the mirror.

You know when you get old in life
things get taken from you.
That's, that's part of life.
But,
you only learn that when you start losing stuff.
You find out that life is just a game of inches.
So is football.
Because in either game
life or football
the margin for error is so small.
I mean
one half step too late or to early
you don't quite make it.
One half second too slow or too fast
and you don't quite catch it.
The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch
On this team, we tear ourselves, and everyone around us
to pieces for that inch.
We CLAW with our finger nails for that inch.
Cause we know
when we add up all those inches
that's going to make the fucking difference
between WINNING and LOSING
between LIVING and DYING.

I'll tell you this
in any fight
it is the guy who is willing to die
who is going to win that inch.
And I know
if I am going to have any life anymore
it is because, I am still willing to fight, and die for that inch
because that is what LIVING is.
The six inches in front of your face.

Now I can't make you do it.
You gotta look at the guy next to you.
Look into his eyes.
Now I think you are going to see a guy who will go that inch with you.
You are going to see a guy
who will sacrifice himself for this team
because he knows when it comes down to it,
you are gonna do the same thing for him.

That's a team, gentlemen
and either we heal now, as a team,
or we will die as individuals.
That's football guys.
That's all it is.
Now, whattaya gonna do?

 
 
 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

What’s On Tap

What’s On Tap
So it’s been a week or so since I last wrote a blog post. I figure I should do one to talk about where things are going for B.R.O.. Artist has been paid and that means that I get my own logo. It’s going to be of a d20 with an afro. I’m debating on whether or not I want the logo to be wearing shades. Hmmmmm

I’ve picked up writing for another blog. It’s where I’ll express things not really relevant to being a black gamer. I am after all a sociologist and the more I write the better my writing style gets. If you’re interested you’ll be able to find them here http://blerdnation.com/. So far just a few review articles.

Witch Hunter 2nd Edition just released. I’ll be reading that over the next few weeks. So look forward to a review of that game. I loved the 1st Edition material so it will be interesting to see how it all shapes up for a new edition.

And in January I’ll be going on a podcast for to talk about rpg’s from a black perspective. So look forward to that.


Oh and if you’re into Pathfinder you may be interested in this Kickstarter. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1780208966/advanced-bestiary-for-the-pathfinder-rpg

Friday, November 15, 2013

Looking into the Darkness


The Void 

A new RPG that I picked up recently was The Void from WildFire, makers of Cthulutech. I haven’t had much dealings with this company before. Cthulutech sounds like something I’d enjoy but overall I haven’t taken the time to look at it. Though if it’s anything like The Void I think I’d enjoy it.

The Void takes a path that I haven’t seen to often from an RPG, in that they have a creative community thing going on. The core rule book is free on DriveThru, with the option of paying for it at the amount you feel is appropriate for the work. Fans of the game are also encouraged to build on what’s in the core book and provide additional material for the game, and if it’s good enough be published by WildFire.

But lets talk about the game. The game is survival horror in space. So if you love Lovecraft you’re likely to like this game. But it also borrows from such classics as Event Horizon. But you could do a Resident Evil in space type thing with it. Or even a looming Mass Effect style Reaper threat. It’s really up to you. I think there is a lot of potential with Saturn revolution themed game.

Storyline wise the Earth has expanded to the stars. There is some kind of human presence on every planet in the solar system, and a bit beyond as well. Well not Pluto. Humanities exploration of the solar system has drawn the attention of an ancient being. A star is on a course towards Earth called the Cthonian Star. Strange and ancient creatures are awakening or in some cases arriving to prepare the solar system for it’s new masters.

All of this is being kept away from the greater populace of course. And that job falls to the PC’s. You play as Wardens, agents of the UWC, tasked with investigating strange things and then … killing them. Oh also covering that shit up. So it’s kinda like being a Man in Black, only in space.

The mechanics are fairly straight forward. If you’ve played the New World of Darkness or Shadowrun then you’re already familiar with how the dice are going to work. You create a dice pool from your attribute and skill and score success on a 5 or 6. Depending on how hard the task is will determine how many success you need to succeed. You also have advantages and talents that could affect the outcome of your roll.

Combat is fairly straight forward. You roll your attack dice pool and the defender rolls a defense dice pool. Bonus success adds to your damage roll. In regards to damage you also have armor that can subtract from the amount of damage you take. Though the more damage you take the less effective it will become overall. And of course you will start to incur dice penalties when you take to much damage.

There are no character classes in this game. Instead you are given 3 templates. You have the Enforcer, which is your typical front line solider type. You have the Investigator which does all the snooping around. Then you have the Researcher who is the science techie guy/medic. Instead of having money characters have wealth, a personal wealth and then your sponsors wealth. You also gain bonuses based on where you come from, getting the chance to choose from a list of planets or colonies throughout the solar system

There are also two pools which can affect the outcome of the game. You have a Fate dice, which allows you to avoid certain doom! There is also a Tension pool which is spent as a group. It can be spent on a variety of things to do such as re-rolls, getting a hint from the GM or buying an additional Fate point for someone who is really really having a bad day.  The trick however with Tension dice is that Tension dice spent by the players are given to the GM who can then use them for nefarious deeds.

On the plus side the game doesn’t take long to get into. One of the first few chapters has an adventure designed for both the players and the GM to learn as they go. The book is also filled to the brim with helpful side bars that sum up the contents of that particular section for quick and easy reference.

All in all if you’re familiar with most games the learning curve on this one isn’t going to be bad. And if you’re not well it won’t be that hard to pick up and go.

One of the strongest points for this game (at least for me) was the diversity in the setting. The 4 PC’s provided for the adventure hailed from different places and had a nice variety in ethnicity. You had an African, Chinese, German and Latina. The fiction that helped set the mood for the game also used a varied cast of characters that made the setting pop and come alive for me in a way that few games do currently.

On the flipside however I did find some things lacking. The book is small, and only has three monsters. I know there is a Monsters book available but the game makes frequent references to a lot of things that go bump in the night and it would have been nice to have a bit more offered. It is a cheap book, but you can’t really describe that many creatures and not really provide more meat for the PC’s to kill and investigate.

Speaking of PC’s there are only three options. Rules are provided to do a template less character but the game seems heavily geared towards using the templates. This should be remedied when the Advanced Players Guide comes out, but for now it feels like a weak spot in the game. I think The Void would have benefited heavily from maybe one to two more Warden templates. I would have likely broken the Researcher into perhaps two templates, one that is more book wormy and one that is more science techie. And perhaps an infiltrator styled template that could be used to do some deep cover work really well.

GM side I was a little bit disappointed with the magic section. I would have preferred a bit more meat to this section too. With luck there will be some additional work put into it in future books. It’s workable, just rules light. As a GM I kinda like my magic to be a bit more rules heavy than what is offered.

Overall though this is a game worth getting. You can’t argue with the price. And it has a lot of themes and places to go. You could do some nice horror style Firefly for instance. With the government theme you could also kick it old school with some space X Files. The politics behind the UWC, Earth and her colonies also leaves plenty of room for more mundane type adventures. And this point bears repeating, the game has a very nice support of minorities and people of color. You see it in the artwork and the stories and it’s something that is praise worthy in any company you find it in.

So I give this game 4 Fro’s out of 5 (I really need an icon for such things!). The game is straight forward and fast to get into. The setting is very interesting. The starter adventure makes it possible for both GM and player to learn as you go. Lack of character options and monsters aside this isn’t a game I feel you should pass on.



P.S. This setting needs psionics. Just saying, it would rule!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Arkham Origins

Arkham Origins

            What’s to say about a game that is likely to receive 9’s and 10’s from most magazines that review it? A lot actually, seeing as how I’m currently playing Mass Effect 1 again as opposed to completing my game on Batman Arkham Origins. Now that’s not to imply that Mass Effect is a bad game (though the first one hasn’t aged as well as the second one did), but I have beaten this game 2 times already and I’m only playing again because a good friend told the Tali romance brings out a lot more character from her and is highly amusing.
            Now I’m a huge Batman fan, so much so that I’m taking one of the lithographs that I got from buying the strategy guide, framing it, and placing it on my desk in my office on campus. But this game does have some flaws. But first lets cover what it did well.
            The game has a pretty interesting story. Black Mask is a semi big villain in the Batman universe. He was one of the villains in Batman: Under the Red Hood (an excellent movie I might add). And while the Joker does seem to play a big role (remember I haven’t beaten the game yet) having the Red Hood play a major part of the story helps to keep the game about something other than Batman and the Joker. I love the Joker, but I don’t need him to be the only thing we see in a Batman game.

            And another point in favor of the story is that it is an origin tale. So we get to see the Joker become … well … the Joker. A pre Oracle Barbara Gordon is also a nice touch. Toss in Jim Gordon as the not commissioner yet and well you have a nice set up to see where things are going later on down the road. It was nice to see the tension between Batman and Jim and for Batman when he has to deal with a corrupt GCPD.
            The combat and the gadgets are pretty much the same as the last game. So controlling Batman isn’t a new learning experience. This is good as it allows you to jump right in and get straight to the action. If you had mastered combat in the previous game then you’ll have no problem here. Though I do miss the electro gun. That thing was crazy fun to use in combat.
            And finally I have to say that I did enjoy the addition of the multiplayer. It isn’t enough to sale the game alone. But it is an interesting diversion, much like the multiplayer for Mass Effect 3 was. It could use more gangs, and I hope that they even add more hero’s to play as, but overall it was fun. The fact that there were three teams each match is an interesting approach to multiplayer play. It’s not just about killing the other team but also avoiding Batman and Robin who are out to mess up both teams.
            On the flip side, as an origin story I question Batman’s gadgets. He starts the game with almost everything he needs. If this is a Batman that is younger and more rookie then shouldn’t he start with less equipment? I would go so far to suggest that maybe some gadgets may have been left off entirely. I haven’t decided which ones I would have removed from the game entirely but I lean heavily towards the sonic batarang and your decoder. In the very least a device like the decoder should have been an item that he picked up from someone else. With that in mind I think the game missed out on a chance to maybe add a development aspect to becoming the Batman that we see in Arkham City and Arkham Asylum.
            Also while it was nice that the game play and fighting was unchanged from the previous game it also made it somewhat boring. Again, this is an origin tale, so I think to some extent Batman not being the combat master that he is in later games would have been justified. I feel that it may have been more fun to build up to being the master and bad ass that you know he will one day become. A combat development path would have added a new aspect to the game. I admit it may have been something tricky to balance, but you already have Batman buying moves with his experience.
            The city of Gotham is also very bland. You’re playing in the same part of Gotham that you played in during Arkham City. Now I’m not asking for a large sandbox to play in. But typically the entire city of Gotham is crime ridden. There isn’t much of a reason to focus on just the part of the city that was featured in the last game. Thus I don’t feel compelled to truly explore the city like I did the last time. Which is sad, because that was fun in Arkham City.
            Also game play wise I feel the game took a step backwards by not including a second character to play as. Being Catwoman last game was incredible fun. It offered up a different style of play that was also integrated into the overall story of the game itself. While I wasn’t looking to play as Catwoman again I had hopes that something like that would return for the next game. Perhaps the chances to play as Nightwing, Batgirl, or Robin and have that play tie in to the overall story being told. Perhaps even having their missions be little side quest that they take up to free up Batman’s time. Now with it being an origin story you can’t exactly go that route with a large number of the possible characters. But perhaps a young Dick Grayson as Robin would have added a bit of depth to the play experience. It wouldn’t have hurt. More so if you consider that you play as Robin in the multiplayer part of the game. Hell you could have had Robin going to get parts for a new gadget for Batman to use and having him bring it to the Dark Knight.

            And finally, no Poison Ivy. You lose points for that automatically.

            Overall this isn’t a bad game. It has its strengths and it has its weakness. The biggest fault of the game I would have to say is that it just doesn’t stand out enough from the second game in the series. That’s what harms it the most, same city, same moves, same bat gadgets. The biggest new thing of Arkham City, the inclusion of Catwoman, wasn’t carried over to the third game and I think that hurts it a lot. I really wish I could give this game a perfect score but sadly when you compare it to the experience I had with Arkham Asylum and Arkham City it just doesn’t overall stand up. So I give the game 3 and half afro’s (out of a possible 5). If you’re a Batman fan get the game. But overall you’re not gonna miss much if you pass on it or wait till it drops in price in the used game market. 

Sunday, November 3, 2013

S.S. Blackgate

S.S. Blackgate
            The S.S. Blackgate was a fine ship. A might fine ship, that was left adrift in space. But how did it end up there? Well, it was due to the most evil use of Jenga ever, a little game called Dread
Your characters dead now.
            I had opted had decided to drop in on a game night hosted by my campus gaming club. The theme was horror since it was just after Halloween. I decided t play Dread because …. well it was sci fi and I don’t get to play in a sci fi game nearly enough. The basics behind Dread are simple. The game is very free form, but when the GM decides something needs to be tested you make a pull from the Jenga game. If you collapse the tower then your character dies. If the tower falls because of some other reason then something bad happens in game to the entire party. Each pull makes it harder for the next person who has to make some kind of test. You can opt not to pull and just accept a failure. Oooorrrr you can make the supreme sacrifice and knock the entire thing over. Sure you die, but you die a hero.
            So it becomes a matter of when and not if you will fail.
            My character was Captain Sisko Mannheim, whom we called Captain Sisko. Yes I went with the great Sisko. It’s my favorite show damnit! My crew included an ex spec op’s scientist who was into gene splicing, a ex spec ops doctor; who had a crush on my non human (reptile race like in V) first officer. The crew was rounded out with a tech specialist and a navigator. We were a small time military ship (about the size of Serenity from Fire Fly) enroute to pick up a VIP at what we were told was just a basic colony ship.
            Sounds simple enough right? We arrive at the rendezvous and discover that the ship has gone silent. We pull alongside it and dock. Aaaannnndddd this is where we make the first horror movie mistake, we split up. Ignoring Star Fleet General Order #15 (we had already ignored General Order #12) I go aboard the other ship with the ship’s doctor, my second in command, and the engineer. The scientist and the navigator stay behind to monitor stuff. Once aboard we decide to split up …. again. Yeah I know how bad this is. Horror movie, space, black captain. But we need to do two things at once!
             After we restore power to the ship, I go with my second in command (SiC) to the bridge to see what we can discover from the ships logs while the other two head off to the med labs to see if they can find the person trapped in a research closest (discovered from the only transmission we got). This is when things start to go screwy back on the Blackgate. So we split up again! The engineer leaves the doc so he can head to the med bay and he goes back to the Blackgate.  Surprisingly …. no one has died ….. yet.
            It doesn’t take long for us to regroup back into two groups of 3, and along the way we’ve made a lot of pulls from the Jenga tower. A …. lot. Doom is around the corner, and it hits back on my ship. Space zombie dogs are attacking the navigator and the scientist. Their battle is valiant but in the end we lose our navigator. Damn the Red Queen!!!! To make matters worse there is a random set of creature on the loose who have fucked up both the bridge and the ships engines. Not even a ship lock down is able to slow the creature down. And to top it all off something is causing stress on the docking clamps which forces means the two ships need to do an emergency disconnect!
            Meanwhile I’m facing down an eviscerated man … zombie … thing. He nearly takes out my SiC and the doctor (who admittedly saved the SiC from the zombie creature). We get into the restricted research lab and find the only survivor of the massacre. One private King, whom I begin to order around because well, I’m an ass. It’s at this point that it’s decided that we need to get to the escape pods. There is no hope of salvaging the ship and we can’t make it back to the bridge to redock with the Blackgate. We use our two grenades and make a mad dash to the escape pods, with private King taking point, because … well … I’m an ass. And this is where karma catches up to me.
            I’m having to make two pulls because my character is an alcoholic (a functioning alcoholic!) who drinks to help handle the stress of command. And being chased by zombies is sure stressful. I examine the Jenga tower and come to the conclusion that there is no way for me to pull two and live. So I knock the whole thing over and decide to go out like a champ. Sisko leaps over the railing and punches a zombie in the face and then opens firing on the horde, buying the other two (three if we count the NPC) some time to get to the pods.
            In the end only 3 of my crew members survive. The engineer and mad scientist had to get into the escape pods of the ship. The doctor gave his life saving the love of his life and she makes it to the escape pod (with the NPC in tow). The event is covered up and classified since the colony ship was really a black ops research lab that had discovered something in space better left in deep space. I get a posthumous promotion to admiral. Which is cool. I was personally happy that as the only black character in the game I wasn’t the first to die. That’s an accomplishment considering it was a horror game. J

        
    Overall I found the mechanic of using Jenga to be different but fun. It built tension in the game. I’ve played a lot of horror games but I’ve never had that much tension in a game. It was a nice change. The free formish nature of character creation and play allowed us to focus more on the characters, which was good for a one shot. The game kinda reminded me of Event Horizon, which was an awesome movie so I didn’t mind. And of course I went out like a champ. If you get the chance I recommend checking out Dread. A simple system that's easy to pick up. All in all a good night. 
  

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Elven Bro

The Elven Bro
   
Artwork by Deviantartist Dame Eleusys
         I was once asked why it was important to me that there be diversity in fantasy races in the medium of rpgs. The friend who asked me admitted that yeah there could be more minorities in the design of humans but didn’t understand what the big deal was when it came to elves and dwarves, races traditionally depicted as white. This is a valid question, why should these races be depicted in a manner that fly’s in the face of tradition?
            The answer is self identification. When I play an rpg I want to be able to self identify with more than just the human races in the game. The ability to self identify with the fantasy elements of the game is a powerful thing. Let me take a moment to talk about Star Trek.
            Star Trek is great for a lot of reasons, but one of the most important thing Star Trek has done for sci fi is being one of the first shows to feature an African American as a key member of the cast. The shows progressiveness is one of the reasons why the show is a cornerstone in sci fi. But for me the show didn’t become an all time favorite until Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It was in Deep Space Nine that I saw for the first time a black man as the commander (and later captain) in a sci fi show. I had watched a lot of sci fi programming before that, and I’ve seen black characters in the cast (such as Star Trek: The Next Generation and Babylon 5). But as someone who was in charge? No, that was a rarity (and still is). I was instantly hooked on the show. I watched the good and the bad. It’s the only Trek series that I own on DVD.
Captain of the Year
            Or how about Star Trek: Voyager. This show stood out to me because of one character, Tuvok. Vulcans were one of the shows main alien races. There had been black actors playing in the roles of Klingons (such as Micheal Dorn’s Worf on the Next Generation), but as a main cast member we hadn’t seen an alien that was black. And this was a rarity in the realm of sci fi. You don’t often see a black race in space. So to have a character be black and Vulcan was a powerful thing for a young black man. It drew me deeper into the Star Trek universe. It allowed me to identify even more with a race of aliens that were one of my favorite things about Star Trek (Spock was my favorite character on the original show). To go one step further, Voyager was the favorite Trek for one of my closest friends because she could identify with Janeway, the first female to sit in the captains chair.
            And that’s what you want when you’re developing a product. You want your customers to look at it and say “that’s me”. This is a very important element for rpg’s because the entire product is based around players forming make believe worlds. You want your potential customer to be able to open the book and flip through and see a fantasy race and think “wow that’s cool I want to play that”. Shadowrun is one of my favorite games because it does just that. Its fantasy races can come from any race. You can be a black elf. Or a black half orc. A Hispanic elf. Or even an Asian dwarf.
            Yes I know that traditionally, these races are not multicolored. But we are talking about a make believe world here. There isn’t a logical reason why dwarves and Halflings need to be white. After all ….. we have a black Nick Fury and he’s one of the best elements of the Marvel movie verse. Elves are one my favorite fantasy races. One day I hope to open a fantasy rpg book and see a black elf and know that I could play that. We’ve come a long way, but there is still more to be done, and this is one of the bigger milestones that needs to achieved in our push for diversity.

            Also I think we can all agree that a dwarf with a wicked afro would be cool.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Epic Fantasy


Epic Fantasy

         
   So it appears I need to be reading Pathfinder Tales. Why? Because Paizo is a promoter of diversity in gaming and that’s the kind of thing I love to support. So Publishers Weekly did a web cast with James L. Stutter from Paizo and Marco Palmeri who works at Tor Books that talked about epic fantasy. Part of the discussion moved onto the increasing use of diversity in fantasy settings. And I just want to say it’s refreshing to hear people who write fantasy novels and who make table top role playing games be so open about including more people of color and even different sexual orientations in their products.

            As the hobby grows it’s important that the people at the top realize that the image of a pasty, socially awkward guy in his basement is no longer the audience that is being marketed to. Instead it’s good to see that the marketing and the stories are going to be done in a way that is meant to include more people. There is still plenty of room for growth (I have a future article on minorities and races to come later), but we are at a point where we can start building a more diverse hobby.

            The most interesting part of the webcast for me was when James mentions that in the Pathfinder world they have some African themed nations. I didn’t even know that!! Now I need to figure which stories and which supplements might show me this African inspired part of Pathfinder (game I finding myself loving more and more, I am late to the game after all).

            These are all aspects of our hobby that need to be encouraged. At the end of the day if we don’t let people like James and Marco know that we appreciate their work then we make diversity that much harder. So make sure you let them know that their work is well received.

            If you want to listen to the podcast ( which list some authors who work in non-western themed fantasy) then take a gander. Now .... to brush up on my writing skills. Maybe one day .......

            The Future of Epic Fantasy
 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Witch Doctor Woes


So I wrote the following piece for class about two weeks ago. I’m opting to post it now because I think the basic concepts in it are important. You’re likely to hear me talk about symbolic annihilation in future musings and it’s a concept I feel applies a lot to not only the game in question but to a lot of nerd culture.

So sit back and enjoy.

The Witch Doctor or Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.

Male Witch Doctor
            For those who haven’t left the World of Warcraft in awhile (and I mean a long while), Diablo 3 is the third game in a franchise that Blizzard Entertainment had allowed to go dormant for far too long. I would blame Warcraft, but that would be a digression I’m sure I shouldn’t take. Instead I want to talk about the Witch Doctor from Diablo 3.

            The Witch Doctor is one of five playable classes in this game. His power set is similar to the Necromancer from Diablo 2, in that he raises things from the dead, summons helpers and has a magic hue of sickly green. Though Blizzard claims he’s not the Necromancer. The main difference between the two appears to be that the Necromancer was white, meanwhile the Witch Doctor is black. And herein lies the problem.

            The problem isn’t so much that the character is black. It’s that the portrayal of the only black character in the game is that of a savage primitive. The voice acting for the character has that old school authentic African touch. He wears big voodoo mask that look more like Zulu warrior mask. Oh and don’t forget the bone jewelry, the icing on the cake.

            To explain why this is all wrong I would like to first introduce a sociological theory called symbolic annihilation. This occurs when a minority group is marginalized or trivialized in a media portrayal. This occurs when negative stereotypes are reinforced. Or when the only thing we see of a minority group is not positive. Good examples of this is when lesbians are shown only as butch. Or gay men only shown as flaming. Jewish accountant, Asian drycleaners and even only athletic black men are also all examples of symbolic annihilation as it regulates those minority groups to these very specific and often times negative roles. When you’re only exposure to a sub group is through video games, movies and tv shows these portrayals become very problematic as it forms your only idea of what that group or minority is like.  

       
Female Witch Doctor
 
    
Black people are not seen in fantasy games very often. And it’s been over a decade since Blizzard’s more positive portrayals from Diablo (the black character was a wizard) and Diablo 2 (the black character was a paladin). So for many players their only exposure to a black man in a fantasy setting is that of a primitive savage, which reinforces the subtle idea that black people are more primitive than white people (the other four classes are all white).

            Now Diablo 3 is an otherwise fun game. And I don’t think that when Blizzard set out to create the Witch Doctor they were plotting and planning and intending to portray black people in such a negative way. I’m pretty sure that when the idea of the Witch Doctor came up it was thought to be a fun addition to the game. So I by no means mean to imply that Blizzard is being malicious in it’s portrayal here. But that’s the insidious part of symbolic annihilation. The in group is, in some cases, unknowingly marginalizing a minority group. The in group (in this case white males) are deciding for their audience how a minority group is going to be portrayed and be told what is “cool” for them. That’s a powerful thing. And it’s something that as gamers we all need to watch out for. Because in the end if we remain silent then we allow these images to continue and these idea’s to spread.
 

Links.

If you’re interested in what the Witch Doctor looks like and what the class entails here’s Blizzards page on the class.


For a really good read on symbolic annihilation check out this article.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Who am I

Who am I?

            So before we get too far into this I figure it would be good to talk abit about who I am. Give new people a chance to get to know me some.

            I started gaming back in 96. I think it was either my junior or senior year of high school. First game I ever played was Rifts. Man that was a fun game. I mean there are a lot of problems with the way Rifts is written and the overall game mechanics but there is no deny that the setting material is pretty fun. We also attempted a bit of Shadowrun but didn’t get as far with that as we did our Rifts game.

            In college I continued playing Rifts, but was introduced to the World of Darkness via online role playing sites. Started out with Vampire and then feel in love with Mage. I ended up playing everything White Wolf produced at the time but Mage remained by far my favorite game of the line. Though Kindred of the East and Demon the Fallen (which was a horribly broken game) turned out to be good second place games in my heart. Along the way I moved into playing Legend of the Five Rings, both the CCG and the RPG.

            My friends describe my gaming taste to be somewhat eclectic. I’ve played Spycraft and Mutants and Masterminds. I love Star Wars (even the Saga Edition rules) and Stargate. I’ve read through small games like Qin and some of the majors like Pathfinder.  I just love gaming that much I suppose.

            Along the way I’ve dipped my toe into the gaming industry. I started playtesting for 3rd Edition DnD when they were doing the monthly Psionics updates. I then got a chance to move on to become deeply involved with Legend of the Five Rings doing things like playtesting and even proofreading. I even had the chance to playtest Thunder scape (the next big thing in my book), though I wasn’t able to give it the kind of time I wanted to.

            Outside of rpg’s I love sci fi and horror. My favorite shows being Stargate and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I love the Star Wars movie, though I enjoy the OT more than I did the PT. The Clones Wars animated series though was awesome and I have high hopes for the upcoming series set after Ep. III. Oh and Bruce Campbell is one of the best actors ever … ever. Him and Samuel L. Jackson, for different reasons of course. 
Batwing

            As one can guess from my avatar I love Batman. My favorites though are Nightwing and Batgirl. Barbara Gordon makes the best Batgirl ever. Ever. I’ve been trying to give Batwing a try but ever since they replaced David with Luke the stories have been a bit underwhelming. If you’re looking for a good example of an ethnic spin on an old favorite take a look at Watson and Holmes, a retelling of Sherlock Holmes in Harlem.  

            Other than that, I’m in school working on a Masters degree in Sociology. After I get my Masters I’ll move onto a Ph.D. and begin doing science. Mad social science!!!! No but really I hope to study geek culture, with a look towards minorities. In the mean time I enjoy playing the games and working behind the scenes when I can. I’d like to write at some point for an rpg. I’ve gotten the chance to write NPC’s for L5R and I hope to continue that, but would love to do more NPC work for other games in the future. And maybe a little bit of supplement writing for a game.

And that’s me in a nutshell. I have some others working with me on this project and I’ll let them introduce themselves when they are ready.


P.S. I also, from time to time, play Star Trek Online pretending that my Trill captain is only getting promotions due to a Star Fleet program of affirmative action. :)

The U.S.S. Solus C




Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Making of a Black Character - Part 1

The Making of a Black Character – Modern Era


Detroit aka the Modern Era
            So as we start down this road of building awareness for the use of black characters I thought it would be good to start with what it means to be a black character. Now in my opinion what it means to build a black character is going to be somewhat different based upon whether or not the game takes place in a fantasy setting, a modern setting or a sci fi setting. Each of these different genres of role play is going to have different needs and in many cases a different basis for the integration of black characters into the game.

            I've thought about how best to approach this and I figure breaking it down by genre’s will give me the chance to explore the topic in greater detail, starting with games set in the modern era. For the purpose of this article I’m going to be drawing from the World of Darkness. I know there are other modern games, such as Spycraft (and the Spycraft supplement Shadowforce Archer: African Alliance) but overall I think World of Darkness is going to be one of the more common experiences people have with a modern setting.

            Now White Wolf does feature a fair number of minorities, so this isn't a statement to say that the game doesn't do its part for diversity in the industry. However at times the black characters don’t so much feel like black characters so much as a skin tone was added more as an afterthought.

            What I feel is missing from the way black characters are created and used in games such as the World of Darkness is how the structure and the institutions of the mortal world impact them as a supernatural character. In sociology we have a concept called structural racism, in which the nature of the rules that create a bias against minorities. It’s not an active form of discrimination so much as a passive remnant from a time when minorities weren't extended the same rights.

            When you’re looking at a character like Dante and Theo Bell you have to wonder (at least from where I sit) how does this affect them? Does being more than mortal automatically make them above the inherent limitations placed upon them by the system? Sure it’s a mundane detail, but it’s a detail that makes the character more than just a set of stats that happen to be colored black. 
Theo Bell - Brujah - Vampire the Masquerade

            And it isn't anything that needs to be outwardly stated. Theo Bell doesn't need a line or two about how he handles the mortal world charging him extra because of the color of his skin. But the fact that those kind of things happen is something influences how a character like Theo Bell looks and approaches the world.

            I’m not looking for overt racism here. Or even covert racism. What I’m suggesting though is a deeper understanding for the characters of color in regards to how the mortal world (at least in the United States) is set up to disadvantage minorities.  You may be wondering why this outlook would be important in an rpg. It’s a valid question.


            Such a perspective turns black characters into something more than just a different skin tone for an NPC. It provides people (let’s be honest the hobby is still overwhelmingly white) who don’t face those challenges a means to see them. Most importantly it gives black players something deeper to identify with. And when we have something deeper to identify with we are more inclined to pick up some dice and join you at the table.

- Dace