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.