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.