Friday, October 3, 2014

The big book of Monsters!!!!

So the Monster Manual came out this week. Overall … it’s a Monster Manual. The art is pretty good and the production quality is similar to the Players Handbook so there are no worries there. The introduction lays out how to use the stat blocks and then discusses a few thins unique to monsters in general (such as challenge ratings).

            There are a few minor things that kind of annoyed me. They seemed to double down on the Drow, adding more material for them and yet not developing anything further for other fantasy races you can play in the core. So it’s no surprises that I didn’t like that. They had a half dragon template which I felt was redundant all things considered (with the Dragonborn and all). And there is still no sign of the Aasamir. I’m curious if they have plans for a book of new PC races and that’s what they are being saved for.

            The book also kinda left me feeling like the intent for Wizards of the Coast was to bled GM’s dry. When it makes mentions of building an encounter the book recommends you either get the DMG or the starter kit. While I wasn’t expecting a deep conversation on building encounters I think some general notes for new GM’s would have been appreciated. They also save making adjustments to challenge ratings for the DMG leaving new GM’s and even old ones not confident with the system having to buy another book and wait yet another month before they can really build a campaign on their own. Given that this game has been out since August I think stretching it all out till Nov is a bit ludicrous.

            Still it’s not a bad book. It’s definitely a book you should get if you’re committing to the 5th Edition game. I was rather surprised when they add a few psionic races to the book. They didn’t add psionics but they did make notations that for now psionic creature abilities are like magic abilities just with no components. Psionics being one of my favorite things I was amused to see them crop up this earlier into the new edition. Each monster has a wonderful illustration to go with it. I think Wizards of the Coast sunk a lot of money into their art budget and it shows.

            So overall a 4 out of 5 possible fro’s :P. The book has strong production quality, is beautiful and is something every GM will make use of.  Now to return to Destiny and Edge of Empire (I’ve recently decided to take a look at the new iteration of Star Wars).

Thursday, October 2, 2014

BGN Podcast pt 2

The podcast with BGN was fun, I'll post a link to it in a second. Just want to say the ladies over at BGN are awesome. I also got my copy of the Monster Manual this week. I'll have my thoughts on it up tomorrow.

In other news :) I'm so excited about Fantasy Flight Games new Jedi RPG that I'm now reading Edge of Empire. This may be awhile lol. I'm also excited to see thief new survival horror game. Next week I'll post my thoughts on Destiny as well.

So here's the link, enjoy the show.

Friday, September 26, 2014

BGN Podcast

So the wonderful ladies at Black Girl Nerds is doing another rpg podcast with some black gamers to talk about rpgs. I'll actually be on the show this time so yay!!! Listen in, it's this Sunday at 7pm EST. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Character Unbound I: Players Guide

Right before Gen Con Wildfire released two new books for their Cthulhu inspired space horror the Void, Characters Unbound I: Players Guide and Horrors of the Void I: Body Horrors. Between getting through the PHB and now Destiny I was able to take some time to read the Players Guide and for the most part I’m glad I did.

            So the guide is broken down into 7 chapters spread over 100 pages. So by all accounts it’s a small and quick read.  The first three chapters are all character creation related. The first chapter offers a different take on the standard character creation process. It’s longer and more involved than what you find in the core book but it has the advantage of letting you make any kind of character to play. Since one of my critiques of the core book was that there were only three classes to choose from I found this to be awesome. In my opinion it’s better than what you found in the core book.

            At it basically takes you through a process of creating a character from birth to the moment just before game starts. Along the way you’re asked to think about where the character was born, what kind of lifestyle he grew up in, education and even the types of jobs he had before (and currently). Each step gives you skills and points to spend on the character as you build him up. The second chapter then covers fleshing out details in your characters past and his personality. Kinda like the 20 questions you see in World of Darkness. And then finally a chapter on zodiac signs (both east and west) to help round things out.

            Next the book introduces some new/updated systems. The Talent chapter revises some of the Talents from the core book and also introduces Advanced Talents and Team Talents. Advanced Talents combine two Talents for a greater effect (the advanced replaces the two basic) and Team Talents pretty much are talents that the team takes and gives team based advantages. At least two people need the Talent and only those who have it gain the benefits.

            Empathy is a new optional system. I tend to think of it akin to Humanity from World of Darkness. Characters start at 8 and go as high as 10 or as low as 1. As your Empathy drops the character becomes less humane. This has some mechanical ups and downs. On the one hand you do gain boost to Horror checks and Intimidation checks. On the flip side you begin to increase our Madness. It’s a nice system, though the only downfall I see with it is that there is no mechanical way for a loss to happen. Instead the GM judges when its appropriate for a character to lose Empathy. Something like this really requires a saving throw of some sort in my opinion.

            There is also a chapter that reinvisions the skill system. Instead of buying individual skills a character buys skill groups. This is similar in practice to Shadowruns group system with the exception that you also can gain specialties in skills of a group. This system is meant to replace the normal skill system though. 

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons: The Review Edition

So these are my final thoughts on the new edition of Dungeons and Dragons. I've already covered how I've felt about the diversity of the core book and if you've read the basic rules then you have a good handle on what this book is offering. Rules wise there isn't much new that you hadn't already read. The Dungeon's Master Guide will have more rules crunchy stuff to consider when it releases in October. That leaves multiclassing and feats as the only new crunchy stuff (oh and of course an expanded spell list).

What the PHB does is gives you more opitions on what you already got from the basic. So you are getting an additional five races. Considered uncommon you are picking up the Dragonborn (which I do like), Gnome, Half Elf, Half Orc and Tiefling. I'm left wondering why the Aasimar were not included. I think if you're going to have Tiefling then you really need to have the Aasimar. It adds symmetry in my opinion.

There are eight new classes to chose from as well and this is where the meat of the book comes in. You get the Barbarian, Bard, Druid, Monk, Paladin, Ranger, Sorcerer and Warlock. The Warlock is by far my favorite class, mostly due to the fact that I can realize the concept of Raziel from the Legacy of Kain series. This alone makes the game worth playing. The other classes from the basic rules also gets more archetypes.
My next character, a warlock.
Archetypes are the new way in which the classes can differentiate themselves. Overall I like it. This means that two fighters don't have to be the same. The only problem I have is that the classes themselves feel pretty lean. Most of the classes have two or three archetypes to work with. I am sure that more will be coming in future books but having 3 choices feels light. The only classes that felt complete based on just the core book was the Cleric, the Fighter and the Wizard. Everyone else I feel could have used more, especially the Sorcerer. I was also not pleased with just about every class gaining access to spells. It makes magic feel far to common. These additional casting archetypes for classes like Fighter and Rogue aren't powerful per se, far from it. Just I would liked fewer magic options for classes not devoted to magic.

Multiclassing is pretty straight forward. Each class has ability score prerequisites if you wish to multiclass into it. Otherwise its very straight forward. Proficiency level is determined by character level and since everyone moves up the same track it makes combining classes easier. It only gets tricky when you're adding casting classes.

I liked the feats. Feats are powerful and useful. Gone are long feat trees and chains. Instead for the most part its just the single feat. Since you are swapping out an ability score improvement to have one it's good to know that you aren't losing out. This is also good for Human characters as I was unsure of their bonuses were worthwhile. With the Human variant option you can gain a starting feat and overall I feel that makes the Human race more appealing. I didn't have that feeling when during my first read of them from basic.

I'm not sure if this game will regain the audience it lost to Pathfinder but I do think it has enough merit to create it's own niche with new players. I think overall those coming over from 4th Edition will be happy with it as well as many people who played 2nd Edition. The mechanics are straight forward and dare I say elegant.

With all that said I am left somewhat underwhelmed. To be frank the book is just too light on material. While the Appendixes are useful (they cover such issues as conditions to the planes and pantheons) there isn't much else to sink your teeth into. There is no advice on running a game. Nothing for creating your own adventures. No world building advice or hell even a world to toss players into. No real listing of monsters. It just feels incomplete with out the Monster Manual and the Dungeon Masters Guide. If you're new to gaming overall you almost have to buy the adventure books and the starter set.  And this shouldn't be the case.

Most other games have long adapted to making the core book the only book you really need. Pathfinder core is a huge book in comparison and it's filled with a lot more useful stuff. Yes they sale you a DMG and an MM but you can get by with just the core. The same can be said of 13th Age ( a game I don't even like). 13th Age gives you everything you need to run a game in just it's core. Setting info, gaming advice, monsters, magic items etc etc. Take a look at Edge of Empire, Age of Rebellion and Shadowrun (all games recently released with in the past two to three years) and you can see that these games are all selling you a complete experience.

For all the good of the rules themselves Wizards of the Coast falls flat on providing a complete and full game. For this reason an otherwise fun and awesome game is reduced to something that I feel is a mediocre product. I don't think it had to be this way which is sad. So overall I would rank it at 3 fro's out of a possible of 5. If you're just player then the PHB is a nice book. If you're a GM (and a new one at that) then you are gonna have to buy two other books. And I feel we are now in an age of gaming where a publisher should strive for providing you with a full experience in the core book and use its other books to develop on the idea's all present in the core.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Dragon Diversity

Dungeons and Dragons Diversity

So I've written before that I had doubts on the diversity that we might see for the new Dungeons and Dragons. Well I got my book in and so it's time for me to reconsider some of my initial concerns. Now I haven't had time to read the book, but based on basic D&D I'm pretty sure the mechanics are going to be fairly good. So what does it look like on the inside?

Well I have to say the book is put together in a wonderful fashion. 4th Edition Legend of the Five Rings and 5th Edition Shadowrun still in my opinion are beautiful books but I will say 5th Edition may give them a run for their money. If they keep up this artistic look and production value in future books then I think the line is in good hands this time around.

So how is the diversity of the new core book for Dungeons and Dragons? Well out of 10 stars I would likely give it a 7. I found the pieces that featured women to be very tasteful and for the most part heroic. It seems WotC has firmly buried the old chainmail bikini look. There seems to be an even distribution of between the classes as well. So we get mystical women and adventurous women and lots of demi human
 women as well. Granted they are elf heavy but I did like the female dwarf. It's so rare to see a female dwarf.
Color wise I'd like to start of by saying I loved the diversity in looks for the black characters. We had a strong female in the fighter section and then we had the middle eastern looking black man and then home boy with dreads. All great looks and all very appealing.

But overall I still felt to some extent that the minorities were a bit lacking. There was only one Asian and while she looked awesome it is some what stereotypical to display the only Asian character in samurai get up. Don't get me wrong I love samurai, L5R is one of my favorite games to play, but I would have liked to have seen something a bit less stereotyped. I think there were some people that looked to be of middle eastern descent. If not middle eastern then they were black. But again for the illustration that might have middle eastern characters the art is once more stereotyped.  It was kinda hard to tell and I would have loved to have seen someone of Latin heritage depicted.

I still want to see more demi humans of color. I think there was one dwarf that looked black. But it was kinda hard to tell if he was black or if he looked darker because he was surrounded by fire. I think a stronger display of demi humans of color would have helped take the bite out of the numerous uses of Drow. It really bugs me how frequently Drow are still used. I think if they are going to continue to use Drow then they really really need to do a better job of showing the diversity of skin tones that elves are supposed to come in. It would be nice to see a black elf. I think one or two looked to be somewhat tanned.

So overall it was better than I expected. I think that WotC would have been better served making it clear that there was a bit more diversity in their art. I gave it 7 out of 10 mostly because I think they can do better. It is a huge improvement from previous editions I'll give them that. But the overall lack of demi humans of color and some of the very stereotyped portrayals of other races means that they still have some learning to do in my opinion. I also think that maybe better use of iconics would have helped too. Pathfinder got a lot of mileage out of having iconics that were diverse. And frequent use of them in the core book made it feel more real.

Based on this though and from what I read of basic (it will be a week or more before I can really sit down to read the entire book, the pains of school) it would be a game I recommend to others. Me and some friends have been giving the basic rules a try and I'm liking it. The art isn't enough to turn me off and if they continue along this path I might buy more books down the road.

       In closing  .... where are the Aasamir? And WotC if you're reading why haven't you posted any of the art that shows the line is more diverse. Some of that art is really good and it would go a long way to assuring fans that you are taking diversity seriously.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Cosplaying Drow

Cosplaying Drow

The Drow. Oh the Drow. This isn't a discussion about whats wrong with the Drow, though I will touch on that some. No this is about why cosplaying Drow is a bad idea. Now when white people see a Drow and they decide to cosplay they see this.

But what black people see is this.

Although we are more likely to see this

        Two drastic images to be sure. So how do we get such different ideas on what cosplaying Drow means. Most of it comes down to the lived experience for people of color (black people in particular). As last Halloween showed ,when Julianne Houghe darkened her skin to look like her favorite character Crazy Eyes from Orange is the New Black, black people take the idea of black face very seriously. Even when it's not done to insult black people we still feel slighted. This has to do with racial scares that have never quite healed. I know on an intellectual level that a lot of time has passed between when black face was done as a way to degenerate an entire people and now. But as the events of last week show, sometimes we have not made as much social progress in regards to race as we like to think we have.

See I understand that white people see the Drow as cool. I personally don't. I think Drizzt is one of the biggest mary sue's ever. But I do understand that other people feel differently. The only problem is, what you guys see is cool is constantly being portrayed with in the setting as an evil and despicable race. The Drow (no matter the setting) are prejudged to be evil due to the color of their skin. Even Drizzt has to deal with people distrusting him because of the actions of his people. But what you guys see as cool, we interpret as something that plays to close to what we as people of color have to live through. Because I live in a reality in which I am prejudged by society based solely on the color of my skin. And as the past week has shown this can happen with deadly consequences. While you see something that is cool and awesome we see something that is an in game reminder of the challenges of being black in America. Worst yet, you can escape into the role and drop it whenever it suits you. Me, I don't get such an escape.

But what about intent you say. We aren't intending to be harmful with our cosplay, we are just portraying a character and race we really love. Intent does matter. But it doesn't matter the way you think it does. Intent matters in so much as it helps us separate what we see as a racist action from what could be a racist person. Because we know that you aren't intending harm we believe you aren't racist. But the insult is still there. And it still upsets us. I knew Ms. Houghe intent was not to do harm but to honor a character she cherished from an excellent show. That's why I never thought she was racist. However I did feel her choice was in bad taste.

Well what about Klingons you say. White people cosplay as Klingons and no one gets upset. And you would be correct. However ... and this is big and important Klingons are not in the same boat as Drow. The Drow are irredeemably evil. There is only one good elf among them. The embody so many negative characteristics in the setting that I tend to loose count. The Klingons aren't like that. They aren't used that way in Star Trek. For starters its important to remember that early Klingon weren't black. They had a more olive tan to them. And some were even white. Furthermore Star Trek worked very hard to make sure the audience understood that Klingons were not all evil. They were different to be sure. With a way of life that
we may not all agree with. But the Klingon race as a whole were not as a whole portrayed to be evil. There is also the evolution of the Klingon look. Klingons look sufficiently alien that when a random black person on the street sees one they know its a character. We can separate ourselves from that look. It also helps that Klingons aren't often cosplayed in coal black, which was the look of many black face minstrel shows. Most people in Drow cosplay still look human. So the shock is a lot more visceral.

Well Drow aren't African Americans you say. This is true. The Drow are not a real world parallel to black people. However the fantasy genre is very bad about diversity. We know humans come in any color but what about the demi human races? Fantasy rpg games have a tendency to have all white hero with all white heroic races. The evil races (who are often genetically evil I might add) on the other hand come in all shades of color, the worst being the Drow. So while we know they aren't a real world parallel we can see many aspects of hatred and racism reflected in how fantasy gaming as a genre treats people who are different from the core races. And it is this parallel that causes us to feel very uncomfortable when seeing people cosplaying as Drow. It's an association that too closely mirrors our lived experience. And in an environment where we are meant to feel welcome seeing that black face makes us feel less welcome.

Well cosplaying isn't black face you say. Technically you're right. But in application what you're doing is black face. The idea of black face isn't static. While yes it originally was meant to be white actors doing minstrel shows the concept of what black face is has grown. That's just how culture works. For instance the word gay is now taken to mean someone who is homosexual. However when I was growing up gay was just another word for stupid. And before that it was another word for happy. That's why when you're listening to the Flinstons theme song they say "have a gay old time". They are inviting the viewer to have a happy time, not a homosexual time. And when the Christmas carol Deck the Halls says "and now we dawn our gay apparel" they aren't inviting you to dress in drag. They are asking you to put on the cloths that make you happy. But now, now gay means homosexual. So using it to mean stupid is insensitive to homosexuals. It was a word I had to drop from my vocabulary for that reason. Even though to me, growing up, it had nothing to do with sexuality. The same is true of black face. It is no longer limited to minstrel shows and is pretty much taken to mean anytime someone dresses in black skin. We will never be cool with black face.

So whats to be done? Well in an ideal world I would love the Drow to just disappear. But I recognize that Drizzt and the Drow are a cash cow for Wizards of the Coast. But it would be nice if other gaming companies kinda recognized the issue and publicly made better attempts at diversifying their demi human races, both in art and story direction. In the meantime if you feel you must cosplay as a Drow then please please consider doing the purple skinned Drow. The coal (or obsidian as WotC now describes them) black Drow isn't the only shade they've been depicted in. They've also been purple at times. And cosplaying as a purple Drow gets the point across with out offending a segment of the gaming community. But the black skin Drow is always going to be perceived as black face, no matter how you slice it.

Black gamers want to feel welcome at events like Gen Con and DragonCon too. We want to feel like we are members of the community. Hell we want to cosplay as elves with out people assuming we're an evil elf. So before you put on that black make up for your Drow costume, just remember that black face image tells a lot of gamers who are different from you that we aren't welcome.

Monday, August 18, 2014


So I don't talk about non gaming/nerd related stuff here. But the last week has been an emotional roller coaster. The shooting of Micheal Brown, the attempts by the police to discredit him, other incidents that occured that same week in other cities ..... people cos playing as Drow. It puts one in an angry place. I think later this week I'll address cosplaying as Drow but I wanted to share this incident I had with the cops about 5-6 years ago.

I find it somewhat sad that most black people I know have a story to tell about run in with the cops. But I think it's important at times to kinda give people an idea of what gamers of color have to deal with, as it sometimes shapes how we view other things in life. As an aside there is still some kind of weird formatting issue going on with blogger. I'm sure I'll figure it out at some point.

About six years ago I was on a date with this white girl. We were out rather late at a park when a squad car pulls up. Now its important to remember the girl I was with was white .... and somewhat tipsy. The entire reason we were at the park was because I was wanting her to sober up some since she refused to hand over her car keys. 

At any rate two cops walk up and ask us for our ID. We are both a bit far from where we live and I explain calmly that we were on a date and that she had had a few drinks and I was just waiting for her to sober up a bit before we headed home. The cops continued to grill me on how I knew this girl (she was the sister of a close friend) why we were out that late (she had a few drinks and was sobering up) and why we were so far from home (because I was being stupid). During this entire encounter I'm soft spoken, meek with my eyes always downcast and making sure I remember all the details in the order I gave them the first time lest they think I made something up. While this is all going on the white girl I was with was yelling at the cops and threatening the cops and cursing them out. After a while the cops tell her to get in her car and to drive on home (mind you I explained at least 3 times she was drunk).

So with her gone I was hoping they'd let me go. But oh no. Not yet. So they then ask me to empty out my pockets. I empty out my pockets telling them what is in each pocket before pulling it out. They raise an eyebrow when I pull out a wad of cash and I explain that I hadn't been to the bank yet and that the money in hand was everything I had made over the weekend (this was a Monday night and I had spent the weekend working bar shifts). The cops then ask if they can search my car. Now I know that legally I can tell them no. But I also know that I'm black and was with a white women and now they may be thinking Im some kind of drug dealer or pimp. So I consent. 

Cops clean out my car and find nothing suspicious. Surprise surprise right? So then they start talking about how they can take me to jail and ask me to go over my story once more. So I retell my story making sure that each detail is given in the exact order I had given it the first time I said. The cops look at each other and after about a 5 minute wait they decide to send me on my way but instruct me to drive straight home.

So I did.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Dungeons and Dragons Basic

So I’ve finally gotten the chance to finish reading the D&D Basic rule set. For those who haven’t followed the new iteration of Dungeons and Dragons, D&D Basic is a free rules pdf that allows you to create characters from level 1-20 from a handful of classes and a handful of races. For a deeper experience of D&D you’d need to buy the full Players Handbook, but for people unsure of if they want to get into D&D then this pdf is ideal for introducing them to the game and how it works.

            So the rules for the game are pretty straightforward. It has a very slimmed down and streamlined feel to it. And I know normally when someone says that they mean it to be an insult but in this case I do think this was done for the better. The game doesn’t come off as overly complicated and seems to be ready made to pull in new members. You can see this in the class description when they make recommendations on how to quick build a class. Something I hope they do in the Players Handbook as it’s nice to sometimes be able to do a five minute build for someone.

            You get your standard character classes of Fighter, Cleric, Wizard and Rogue. The rest of the classes will be in the core book. You also get some basic races, Humans, Elves, Dwarves, and Halflings. So you can very easily replicate the Lord of the Rings experience (well with the exception of no Ranger but otherwise). Instead of massive list of skills and bonus everything gains proficiencies bonus if you are skilled in that area. Each class offers a bonus that scales and as your character develops you gain more proficiencies in more things, such as different skills and weapons groups. So you have less math to keep track of overall. You just basically need to remember what things your character happens to be proficient in and its corresponding bonus.

            The races are pretty simple and straight forward. There is the basic race description. This is then followed by sub races which add a bit more to the core race. I get the impression that everyone is meant to be a part of a sub race since the basic races in many cases kinda suck compared to their sub race counterpart.  The racial descriptions are also a bit more open, though this isn’t a new thing as I’ve seen them do this even in 3rd Edition. I’ll comment more on that later though.

            The classes themselves look fun. And they make you curious about the other options that are avaible to them. Many of the classes choose an archetype which defines the type of character your class is. So for instance if you play a Rogue you have the thief archetype to pick. There are of course more in the Players Handbook and I think this is where the pdf falls short. I get wanting to hold back material so that people buy the book but I do feel that each class should have been presented with two choices on archetypes. This would then give potential buyers a chance to see how different the same class can be. So in some regards this lack is kinda a letdown and does make the classes feel kind of stale.

            The game adds in some role playing touches though that I haven’t seen before in a D&D product. There is less emphasis on combat and more emphasis on developing a character. I see this as a good step since Wizards of the Coast is aiming to make this the beginners’ game. Players are even rewarded for playing their characters flaws and quirks by Inspiration points. I’m not a fan of the concept as I do feel role playing should be its own reward but I like the effort they are putting into encouraging people to explore character growth.

            I also feel the design of Advantage and Disadvantage was elegant. Basically if you’re in a satiation where you’d have an advantage you get to roll 2 d20s and keep the higher of the two. Flip side if you are disadvantage in a situation you roll 2 d20s and keep the lower of the two. It’s sweet and simple and has less clutter than other editions of the game.

            So overall I’d have to say I am impressed with it as a rule set. I’m still waiting to get the final book though to see some of the things left out and of course to see how inclusive of a game it really is. Which brings me back to something I mentioned earlier in the article. The game does make attempts to be more inclusive. There is a discussion on how sexuality and gender work in the new D&D world, in which the game explains that it doesn’t have to be a binary male/female relationship. Wizards of the Coast also previewed a picture of a black character that you’ll see when you open the Players Handbook. This in addition to some very tastefully done artwork of some of the female characters. 

            And I want to stress something here, this is a good sign. My current reservations are mostly in regards to how far Wizards of the Coast goes with it. It’s one thing to show an occasional black face and make mention of different sexualities and gender identity. It’s another to follow through on that commitment. The bar for this was set very high by other companies, so it does take a bit more than just the one image to make me happy. For instance, while they say elves come in different shades do they depict this? Or will the only time we see an elf that isn’t a shade of white be when we’re looking at a Drow? These are things I don’t know but I’m very interested in seeing.

            So I commend Wizards of the Coast for taking those first few steps forward. I just want to make sure they follow through and we don’t celebrate before the battle for diversity in the hobby is won.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Diversity circa 1993

Diversity circa 1993

            Mage the Ascension is one of my favorite games, hands down. And one of the things that made me overwhelming support White Wolf back in the day was its approach to diversity. This was very refreshing for someone who was just getting into the hobby and wanted to play characters like him. So this gem of an article was reposted by Satyros Phil Brucato (one of the brilliant writers of that game) in regards to a conversation online about diversity in gaming and the Drow (which one day I’ll write about). This article was written by Travis Williams (another great author on Mage working at White Wolf at the time). This is reprinted with the permission of Mr. Brucato.

In the Howling at the Moon column in White Wolf Magazine #39, Travis Williams wrote:

I'm confused. I’m looking at my game shelf here at White Wolf.

I’m disgusted.

A number of black people approached me at GenCon and
asked about the cover of Mage: “Hey, did you have something to do with that?“

“Do with what? A black man on the cover? What do you think?

I think it’s about time black people were represented in the game industry. As a black man who has scarcely found any people of his kind in roleplaying’s grand clique, it gives me great pleasure to start my own clique. Wanna join? The membership’s free.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: I’m bitter. The fact that a race of people is absent from a pastime seems asshckward. Wouldn’t you agree?

Let me take you back a year or two, back to when I joined the White Wolf staff. (They had to hire me, see; I hung around too much.) I remember talking to my friend Darryl. He said,“Travis, since you’re in the biz now, do me a favor and ask TSR a question.” I said sure, what the hell. Boy, did he make me think. He asked me to find out why Athas, a fictional planet with
an elevated temperature, the setting of AD&Ds Dark Sun, didn’t have black people on it. Seems bizarre that there are no real black people on Athas, just whites with tans. I never really thought about it until he mentioned

When I attended a convention where TSR was represented, Of course, they had no answer. I didn’t really expect one. Which brings me to my point - where are the black people in RPGs?

Let’s set a few things straight. I don’t think black people deserve
a bigger place in RPGs than any other race. But the fact that they’re absent makes me wonder about people’s perception of the world. Most fantasy games are modeled after Europe. That’s fine, but Africa is closer to Europe than Japan is, and the Orient appears in more fantasy games than Africa does. Come to think of it, I can’t even think of a fantasy game that portrays
blacks in a “respectable light.”

The point can be argued that only white kids play roleplaying games, so why bother depicting blacks? If that’s so, I’m really confused. Sure, the market’s made up largely of whites, but there are blacks out there playing (there are even some black women in roleplaying - I’ve met two, and I’m dating one of them). Why aren’t there more blacks, male or female? I have a theory: representation.

Ever see a black person on the cover of a rulebook, module, sourcebook or novel? Maybe once or twice. But it doesn’t make up for the multitude of whites that do appear
Hopefully, thanks to some socially aware folks, the times are a changin’. Mage has my character,
Dante, on the cover. Shadowrun and Earthdawn (FASA’s games) have many black characters in their scenarios. Vampire and Werewolf have their share of black people, and Mage will too. I think this industry needs to realize that if it wants to keep growing, it had damn well better broaden its audience, and that means making more people comfortable in it.

To all those RPG companies who don’t have a clue, here’s a free one. Where are the black people? I’m still wondering why Amber, a place of “cosmic perfection,” has no blacks in it. Why are they excluded? Do they think blacks are going to bring crime with them? Help me out, Phage Press. I know it’s Roger Z’s world, but do somethin’.

It occurs to me that representation in games may be white because designers are commonly white. However, Mike Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk has no black people in its rules. So much for that theory. I wasn’t on the staff at White Wolf when Chicago by Night 1st edition came out. However, I made sure there was plenty of color in the Windy City. I’m still wondering
why the Followers of Set (real evil vampires) are for the most part black. Paranoia?

I have never played a white person in an RPG. When I did play fantasy games, I played a member of a nonhuman race, usually an elf - perhaps because elves were the only AD&D race that had black skin. I wonder why the Forgotten Realms’ only black race- the drow - is also the one hated by all the other races? If it sounds like I’m singling companies out, respond and refute me. Better yet, show me a black paladin and I’ll gladly shut the hell up.

If you think I’m being extreme, put yourself in my shoes. If you opened a game and found only black people depicted, how eager would you be to play?

Perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps I’m overreacting. The fact still remains that RPGs don’t seem to cover the racial spectrum. Comics have learned that representation of black characters works (look at Milestone Media). The movie industry has learned as well (John Singleton, Spike Lee, Bill Duke). And this representation shouldn’t stop with black people. We should represent all races and lifestyles: blacks, Asians, Hispanics, gays ... the whole nine yards. Maybe then this industry will have a wider audience.

You know why minorities aren’t big in RPGs? Say it in writing.

Or maybe I’ll continue to be confused.


Wednesday, July 2, 2014


              In a conversation a few weeks ago I posted some idea’s I had on 5th Edition D&D and it’s representation of minorities to a gaming page on Facebook. During the conversation one of the posters commented that having an organization (or group) with race in the name only contributed to the problem. I immediately dismissed the man as racist because who hasn't heard that line before? In my day to day life the only people who typically complained about race being in the name of an organization where the ones who refused to admit that there were still problems of race in this country. Such is the state of the post racial world we live in.

            Then my friend Mike asked me a similar question. He felt that I couldn't be as inclusive as I wanted to be if I placed blackness first and foremost in my mind. My friend Mike is French and lives in Asia so coming from him I can understand why he didn't understand why I felt the remark was racist.

            But this isn’t a post about why the comment was racist. It’s a post to explain why race figures prominently in my mind. I think when you’re a minority and you’re used to being in the out group you inherently understand how favoring your group doesn’t mean you want to exclude others. I think when you’re in the majority you tend not to find the need to be around people like you so you can draw upon a collective strength of the group as a whole when dealing with adversity.

            For many minority groups, race may be a part of the name but it is far from the total objective. When I was doing my undergrad degree I was part of an Asian Students Association. They took great pride in their Asian heritage, but they were a group that was open to all. My brother used to be a member of a Mexican American student society when he was in school. They took great pride in their Mexican heritage but they were also a group open to teaching anyone about Mexican heritage and allowed anyone to join.

            And this is a very common thing to see in many minority organizations. Not everyone in the NAACP is black. Furthermore the NAACP doesn’t just fight for black rights. Sure that is their primary focus but they stand in support of the rights for other minorities. NOW (National Organization for Women) primary membership is women but they don’t discriminate against men either. The organization itself has had male membership as well. Or take a look at most LGBT organizations. Their sexuality will figure into the name but these groups are not just for LGBT people, straight allies are always welcome in such groups.

            So the use of your minority status is a fairly common thing. It doesn’t denote an attempt to create more problems but to acknowledge how they are different. It also helps to recruit like minded individuals. By having black in the name of my group I make it easy for other black gamers to find and identify with the group.

            But also just as importantly, when I write I write from my own perspective. I can not claim to know or understand the difficulties in being an Asian gamer or a female gamer. But I can tell you what it’s like to be a black gamer. And my thoughts on gaming are in part informed by my experiences as a black man. And I think that my message will probably resonant strongly with other black gamers who can likely relate to similar experiences.

            I’ll always support the efforts of other types of gamers. I may talk from the perspective of a black male, but I do 100% stand for a more inclusive gaming space for everyone regardless of skin color, gender or sexuality. But I think I do my best work when I’m writing from the places I know.

            So until next time enjoy one of the best songs about names.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


            So recently I was asked “why bother” as in why is any of this important. After all, as the person indicated, this is a make believe game we’re playing in which the characters are whatever race, color or creed I as a player or a GM deems fit. Thus whether or not the art shows me people like me it shouldn’t matter. And on a certain level there is some truth to that. Nothing stops me from playing a black character, or a Jewish character or a Latino or Asian or any other kind of character I could possible think or dream of.

            But that doesn’t change the simple fact that how the hobby presents itself influence how welcome I feel with in the hobby. When you market a product with only white faces you tell the non white faces that they aren’t welcome. Or maybe that you’re money is fine but we don’t value you enough to represent you in art. It would be a kin to going to a restaurant and being told that “yeah it’s ok to eat here but you have to come in through the back.” It creates this atmosphere that you are not welcome.

            For people who have representation I’ve noticed that this feeling is kinda a hard concept to grasp. People who see pictures of them don’t really link up to the idea that not having those pictures actually maters. But most minorities express a desire to be represented in any medium that they take an interest in.

            Take the comic book industry for example. Another place with fictional characters. As the comic book market went more mainstream and people other than white males started buying the comics they expressed a desire to also be equally represented with in the pages of the books they were buying. It didn’t matter if you were black, Asian, female or gay. All minorities have expressed a desire to be represented in the pages of the comic books they like to read and collect. We see the same thing in video games too.

            Representation also builds a link to the game. I know I’m personally more connected to games that I feel represented in. I have founder memories playing WoD than I do of playing D&D. It’s not due to any difference in the rules. Or even the games styles. I just have a deeper connection to WoD (classic WoD I should say) than I do to D&D because WoD has characters like me to identify with.

            In a perfect world none of this would really matter. But sadly we don’t live in that world. This is
Morgan Freeman if he were playing D&D
important to me because I want to feel that connection to the games I buy. It is my money after all. And I know other minorities want that connection too. They want that tie. They want to feel valued by the gaming companies they spend money on. Just this afternoon I went from thinking “meh I’ll get the Advanced Classes book at some point” to feeling like I needed to preorder the book all based on the revelation that the new icon for one of the new classes was a young Morgan Freeman (ok not really but he bears a resemblance).

            Now don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day I do know that there are bigger evils in the world. I hold no delusions that I am the Malcolm X of gaming or anything like that. But gamers/nerds/geeks are a passionate bunch. We are characterized with feeling strongly about our hobbies. For showing passion. So when I talk about these things I am just as passionate about it as I am when I’m pitching a character idea to a GM or talking about why Stargate SG1 will still be hands down better than any kind of movie reboot.

            At the end of the day I want to feel connected to the products I spend my free time with. And oddly enough others do too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

5th Edition Woes?

            It’s been awhile since I’ve had the time to sit down and write. But now that the semester is over I hope to be able to get more opportunities to write. Today I want to talk about DnD Next or 5th Edition, or perhaps simply called Dungeons and Dragons. 

            I’ve been doing a lot of reading about the new Dungeons and Dragons over the past few weeks. With its release only a few months away one can’t help be curious. I was reading an article on the minis that WizKids are going to produce when something caught my eye. None of the minis were black. Well they had a Drow (and don’t get me started on why the Drow are so bad) but the main line up was very monochromatic.

            So I decided to do a google search of images related to the next iteration of DnD and discovered that in all the images released for the game none of them depicted a person of color. Now I could have missed one, it is possible, but I found that idea to be very troubling. If one were to do a google image search of Pathfinder you would be able to easily see the diversity that the game promotes. The pictures of their iconic characters (the Middle Eastern cleric and the black paladin) are easy to find and show off what makes Pathfinder such a great game.

I am digging the logo though
            This is a big problem for Dungeons and Dragons. One I hope they seriously address at some point. DnD is the biggest name in tabletop rpgs. As much as I love Pathfinder and their work on diversity DnD is the go to game I use when I’m trying to describe what gaming is to non-gamers. DnD is a house hold name. Just about everyone knows what it is.

            With Wizards of the Coast trying to make the game appealing to both the causal/new gamer as it does the old gamers it becomes vital that DnD is upfront about diversity. You attract people of color to your game by making them feel included. And you make them feel included by including artwork that depicts people like them in the setting.

            Now there may be more to the artwork than I’ve seen so far. I may have missed a few things. Which is why when the game comes out I’ll give it a fair shot. But keep in mind I already own Pathfinder. I picked up Pathfinder last summer after I decided to chip in for a Thunderscape Kickstarter. All in all the game wasn’t that different from 3.5. But what impressed me was that there was a Middle Eastern cleric and a black paladin. It was that feeling of inclusion that prompted me to buy 9 more Pathfinder related products. All because Paizo did something new and different with their iconics.

            Wizards of the Coast you want that same effect. You want someone to open your book, see their ethnicity depicted and be inclined to go out and buy 9 more books. I’ll give you a shot come August. But whether or not I want to play Dungeons and Dragons will be dependent on, not only the rules, but whether I feel, as a customer,  like Wizards of the Coast wants to include me in their game.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Minorities in Gaming podcast

It’s been awhile since I had a moment to update the blog. The end of a semester combined with holiday cheer and then getting sick has kept me away sadly. L At the beginning of the month a site named Black Girl Nerds did a podcast on rpg’s. The guest speakers were all black gamers and I was initially going to be on the show myself until I got sick and needed to tend to some health needs.

Still the show was excellent and they are lining up to do a part 2, of which I’ve been invited to be a guest on again. In the meantime though I thought I’d go back and answer the questions that were asked on the show, if for no other reasons than to offer up a bit more about me. If you want to listen to the show follow this link

What got you into table top gaming?

My friend Andrew, I was in the 11th grade and he asked me if I had considered gaming before. He was putting together a new table top group and he thought I might be interested. So it was Andrew as the GM and my friends Lance and Robert (who also happened to be black). We gammed for about a year and then stopped around the time we became seniors. To much was going on at that time to be able to get much gaming done. So I continued the hobby when I went off to college finding both some online groups and an offline campus group to play in.

What was your first rpg?

My first rpg was Rifts, done by Palladium Games. We were adventuring off into the vampire infested lands of Mexico. Andrew allowed us two characters (so that the overall party size was about 6). So my first character was a Ley Line Walker (who happened to be black) and an elven merc (which Andrew seemed to enjoy tormenting). 

We were also briefly introduced to Shadowrun that first year of gaming. When I went off to college I had also become a huge World of Darkness fan.

What are your favorite role playing games and are there any that you would recommend?

I have two favorite rpg’s. My first is Mage the Ascension, which I started playing in college. The game offered an amazingly level of freedom when it came to designing a mage. Wizards were my favorite class to play as, so an entire game based on the concept of having magic was right up my alley. Over the years I’ve come to love the Technocracy most of all when it comes to mage, mixing enlightened science with modern tech. I had the privelage of playing the game one last time before leaving for graduate school when my friend Peter ran our World of Darkness group through a series of adventures. Mage happens to be one of his favorite games too.

My second favorite rpg is Legend of the Five Rings. It’s a game about samurai drama, or what passes for samurai drama for us poor westerners. It has an interactive storyline which was very appealing to me at the time I started playing it. One of the friends to get me into the game, a guy named Jacob, used to tell me stories upon stories of how the players of the game shaped the overall canon story. L5R is also the game where I’ve been most involved in the rpg community as a business. I’ve gotten the chance to play test for the game, submit NPC’s and once even put together a web expansion for two books.

So it has a warm place in my heart.

If there was a game that I would recommend (outside of my favorites), I would have to go with Pathfinder. Basic western fantasy style rping, building upon the 3.5 ruleset. So it's not that hard of a transition if you've played 3rd Edition DnD. Also I love the way the company that makes the game Paizo supports both alternative lifestyles and minority characters in its gaming lines. 

Do you do any larping?

I have from time to time. I don’t anymore as it’s been my least favorite form of rpg. I think what turns me off is that the larp games I played in never technically ever stopped once the game ended for the night. People would spend their entire week plotting and planning and organizing for the next game and for me, once the game was over I was ready to do other stuff with my week.

What kind of diversity do you find in your gaming groups and how often is there a person of color in the game?

Somewhat small. With a few exceptions I find myself the only minority at the table. I find that even odder when I look back and consider that that was the case for the online games I was involved in too. There are notable exceptions. My current GM is Asian, and my last GM was Mexican. I only got the chance to game with him once even though we’d known each other for years and often talked about gaming.

I often find that if I’m not playing the minority then nine times out of ten there isn’t much diversity in the games I’m in. So I sometimes feel compelled to represent the other side. Not always black characters mind you.

Have you had an experience where a person responds to you and not your character?

I think the most common experience of people responding to me and not the character is when someone is playing a racist and they and everyone around them are constantly trying to assure me that the racist views of their character do not reflect their real views. As if I didn’t understand that already about role playing.

Though there was this one time where me and my friends really felt it was getting dangerous for me. We were gaming with this guy that I had briefly gamed with before. So when a new group got started I invited him to game because he offered up his place to game at and free food. I didn’t really think he was racist at first but then he slowly became more and more aggressive towards my character (where were playing L5R at the time). At first we thought he just didn’t agree with how I was playing the character. So I made a new one and he still was aggressive towards my character.

As the weeks went by I began to feel he was being directly aggressive towards me and several of the players also agreed. The breaking moment came when we were taking a small break from the action and we looked at the books on his mantle to notice that they were all Nazi related/themed books.

Needless to say I stopped gaming with the guy, as did the rest of the group after that discovery