Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Is Being a Geek a "White Kid" Thing?

Back in May Daniel Jose Ruiz wrote an article for The Millions titled, Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race, in which he tied being a geek to being white and then attempted to illustrate how difficult it is to be non-white in the larger geek culture. It's a fairly interesting read though I disagree with many of his suppositions that he attempts to establish as facts of the culture and hobby. 

There are two passages in particular that I find myself disagreeing with as I find Ruiz conflating a racial bias with a situation wherein people have no interest discussing the subject at the gaming table. In the first he wrote: ". . . I can run a D&D campaign about how poorly certain races like half-elves are treated, and my group will rail against the injustice of it all, but if I bring up any real-world situation of inequality, I get the cold shoulder at best or at worst booed down and given “focus on the game” lectures. As Junot Díaz allegedly said: “Motherfuckers will read a book that’s 1/3 in Elvish, but put in two lines of Spanish and [white people] think we’re taking over.” . . ." (Ruiz).

In the example that Ruiz provides the problem is not one where his players refuse to explore racial injustice in their games as they openly discuss and become motivated to work against the injustice that half-elves experience but rather one in which they don't want to have real world situations brought into their games. I completely understand their reticence to have real world events intruding on their game's escapism - which is precisely what Dungeons & Dragons is for many of us: escapism. When Ruiz forces them to confront situations going on in the real world he's intruding on a game that allows them to get away from all of that for a few hours. He's violating the social contract of the game where we get together and escape from the real world to loot the dragon, kill the girl, and save the treasure. 

Ruiz went on to write: ". . . But growing up around my more working-class family, I was teased for reading, and I was especially teased for reading books like Redwall or Lord of the Rings. That fantasy crap was for losers, gueros, and jotos. Some of my family even thought that Dungeons & Dragons was a gateway to Satanism and possession . . ." (Ruiz). The supposition here is that this was a unique thing to happen to him because of his race. It is not. Lots of people are teased, called names, and have their sexuality questioned because of the things they like that others do not. It is unfortunately a part of growing up and a side of things that I worry about constantly as my son quickly approaches school age.  

I don't know why it happens but people often attack others when they don't understand what they're doing. Read a big book and you're a nerd. Love the wrong thing and you're a faggot. Spend too much time doing something others don't understand and you'll find yourself ostracized and treated like you're somehow less valuable then they are. 

People are shit. 

And the worst thing about that is that you won't be able to get completely away from them as you get older either. You'll run into terrible people everywhere you go and there is no underlying reason that will explain away their awfulness. You can blame it on your race, your financial background, your social status, your political affiliation, the way you look and it won't matter one damned bit. They'll still be shit. 



Works Cited
"Dragons Are for White Kids with Money: On the Friction of Geekdom and Race" The Millions, May 11, 2017, http://www.themillions.com/2017/05/dragons-are-for-white-kids-with-money-on-the-friction-of-geekdom-and-race.html. Accessed June 19, 2017.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Dungeons & Dragons Doesn't Have to Follow the Traditional Foundation Laid by Tolkien.

As far as I am aware it has long been established that the game worlds of any Dungeons & Dragons game is essentially a quasi-Medieval world wherein the concepts of Arthurian and Tolkien fantasy hold sway over the possibilities available to the players. Knights, dragons, trolls, and whatnot rule the landscape with legendary quests on every horizon. Over the last few years, though, I've begun to wonder if this isn't only a partial picture of the game worlds available to us as colored by the overriding appetite of the average Dungeons & Dragons consumer of the early years and TSR's need to fulfill that hunger. 

Unknown title by Melvyn Grant

I started thinking about this when I first read the introduction to the Appendix N of Gary Gygax's Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide: ". . . Inspiration for all of the fantasy work I have done stems directly from the love my father showed when I was a tad, for he spent many hours telling me stories he made up as he went along, tales of cloaked old men -who could grant wishes, of magic rings and enchanted swords, or wicked sorcerors and dauntless swordsmen. Then too, countless hundreds of comic books went down, and the long-gone EC ones certainly had their effect. Science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies were a big influence. In fact, all of us tend to get ample helpings of fantasy when we are very young, from fairy tales such as those written by the Brothers Grimm and Andrew Long. This often leads to reading books of mythology, paging through bestiaries, and consultation of compilations of the myths of various lands and peoples. Upon such a base I built my interest in fantasy, being an avid reader of all science fiction and fantasy literature since 1950 . . ." (Gygax, pg. 224). The list he then provided to the reader stretched from the fantasy works of authors like J.R.R. Tolkien, to pulp authors like Edgar Rice Burroughs, and genre defying authors like Jack Vance. 

1920 - Warlord by Jakub Rozalski

Over the years I've read stories from the early days of the hobby where Dungeons & Dragons players played in games that defied what has become known as the fantasy genre. Tanks, laser guns, machine guns, rocket ships, aliens, and B movie monsters made appearances. They pushed the boundaries of their imaginations and went wherever their fancies took them whether it was up an elevator or down a water slide into a mountain of treasure. So why did that stop? Why did we go from having a game that jumped the shark at every opportunity into one that dogmatically declared that you must play in a quasi-Medieval world where magic was in the ascendancy and technology was languishing behind?

Snail Mail by Jean-Baptiste Monge 2016

My suspicion is that as TSR continued to publish adventures and supplements to meet the ravenous appetites of Tolkien's fan base that it steadily pushed players who wanted to do other things to wayside. Instead of riding rocket-powered, mechanical, flying horses and chasing space pirates across the night sky in Dungeons & Dragons they moved on to other games; and as they left so too did the wilder, pulp, and genre defying side of the game. The fantastic Medieval world became the standard genre and for a lot Dungeons & Dragons enthusiasts the literary exploration of Gygax's inspiration begins and ends with the fantasy authors of Tolkien, Moorcock, Anderson, and Leiber. The games become homogeneous and the stories we tell are nothing more than trite rehashes of the same adventures people have been having for the last forty years. We don't make new things, just re-imaginings of past glories; and it leaves us all with a boring wasteland of mediocrity as a result. 

Tavern,
Dungeon,
Orcs,
Goblins,
Dragons,
Treasures,
Repeat.

Repeat.

Repeat.

Over and over, and over, and over, and over again. 

It's past time we start breaking that cycle.


Works Cited 
Gygax, Gary. Official Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters Guide. TSR Games, 1979. pg 224

Monday, June 19, 2017

Let's Talk About the Meatgrinder Mode for a Bit

Wizard by Peter Andrew Jones

This weekend I was reading a bit more about Wizards of the Coast's latest storyline, The Tomb of Annihilation, when I ran across this tidbit on i09 that got my attention: ". . . There’s even a new difficulty modifier called “Meatgrinder Mode” that makes it even harder for players making their Death Saving throws—the check they make when they’ve reached 0 health points to see if they cling on to life or actually die—to emphasis the fact that the stakes in Chult have been well and truly heightened . . ." (Whitbrook).

"Meatgrinder Mode?" 

Well, shit, let's talk about that motherfucker for a minute. 

untitled by Jose Antonio Domingo

Currently D&D 5e runs with a three strikes policy on death. Essentially you have to succeed on three of six possible stabilization rolls before you fail three times. It's really a generous system designed to give dying players an opportunity to do something during the game that is meaningful for them besides going into the kitchen, getting a soda, and crying in a corner. I kind of hate it. There's no noticeable difference for the player if they succeed on their first three saving throws or if they've failed two and succeeded on their fifth roll. It all amount to the same thing: they're fine.

So the idea that now we're going to add in a "Meatgrinder Mode" intrigues me. How grinder-esque are we going to get here?

In my black, crass heart I want the Meatgrinder Mode to truly get vile for the players. I want it to cast lingering effects on them for each failure --- limps, seeing dead spirits, hearing the screams of the damned in their sleep so they can never fully rest again. I want the player's brushes with death to impact them and to matter to their character for the remainder of their time in the game. I want players to sit down at the table and to wonder if maybe they shouldn't have started drinking earlier in the day instead of after their third death. 

I want it to be a game that makes life and death matter to the players. 

Odds, though, are against the game going down this route. The Wizards of the Coast design team has consistently erred on the side of the players by being generous towards them in their rules on saves, magic, and the like. Even their "Meatgrinder Mode" will ultimately follow this pattern as their ultimate goal isn't to satisfy black-hearted bastards like myself but rather to appeal to the largest cross section of players possible without offending their delicate sensibilities. I can't fault them for this. 

No, no, no. Likely as not we'll find that the "Meatgrinder Mode" is a change to the Death Save where players must either succeed or fail on a single roll. Of course they could dispense with it entirely and make those who get raised have to work on a time clock or have their character permanently dead and turned into some sort of ghoulish beast working for the main bad guy. That would actually be pretty cool now that I think about it.  

Oblivion and subservience. Now there's a downside any player can recognize and fear. 

AA74, by Zdzislaw Beksinski


Works Cited
Whitbrook, Jason. The Mind Behind Adventure Time Helped Craft Dungeons & Dragons' Newest Story. i09, June 5, 2017, http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-mind-behind-adventure-time-helped-craft-dungeons-1795816921. Accessed June 17, 2017.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Sober Thoughts about the Newest Adventure from Wizards of the Coast

Last night I spent a bit of time, sober, looking at what Wizards of the Coast is doing with the latest adventure path and I'm just so damned disappointed with what we're getting. Again we're getting a re-imagining of a classic adventure. Again we're seeing a classic Greyhawk adventure and villain being transferred into the Forgotten Realms. Again I'm fucking disappointed. 

I fully understand that the Forgotten Realms is the engine that pulls the Dungeons & Dragons train right now, but I'm also aware that the only reason that is the case is because they have spent the better part of the last twenty years pushing that setting to the fore while minimizing all their other settings. They could have just keep all these re-imagined adventures in Greyhawk and they would have sold just as well while reinvigorating the setting for a new generation of players - or they could have moved us into Eberron and done something really interesting with all that settings lore. Fuck, they could have come up with a wholly new setting and it would have been better. I'm just so done with being in the Forgotten Realms in all the published material. I want to see adventures set in Greyhawk, Dark Sun, Dragonlance, and Eberron. 

Fucking bring on Planescape. I'm ready to move on to new worlds and fertile ground.

by Dean Ellis

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Chult, Huh?

So the new adventure steals yet another Greyhawk villain into the forgotten realms only this time with have zombie dinosaurs.

Fucking A.

I'm a go drink some more. Be back in a while to talk about this in a more dignified manner.

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