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.