This is Audio EXP for the 20th of June 2020, and the title of this episode is ‘Adding horror and diversity to D&D’.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #49]
It’s tempting to use the word mutiny, but I probably shouldn’t.
What happened at Reddit’s largest board games group was that a succession of moderators quit in protest at the lack of action by the lead moderator.
Now, as you might expect, that lead moderator has gone because they couldn’t run the subreddit by themselves and had clearly lost the confidence of a chunk of the community.
Many of the old moderators are back, but there’s a new group at the helm, and the subreddit will be doing what they can to combat racism.
I had a look on Twitter what the reaction from the board game community was. Mainly, I’m sorry to say, it was “good riddance to bad rubbish”. Judging from my scan through those conversations, people had grown frustrated with that Reddit community’s failure to be a fun and inclusive place. They had moved on.
I doubt anyone tunes into a Reddit board game group to talk about politics, but it comes a time when a failure to modernise becomes a political statement in itself. Inaction isn’t an abstract concept, after all.
Last week’s Audio EXP touched on the Black Lives Matter efforts from the gaming community. It was, of course, that focus on rooting out racism that led to the changes at Reddit’s board game group.
The tabletop RPG community have been having similar conversations too.
Arcanist Press did well with their timing. In the middle of this debate, they released a product called Ancestry & Culture: An Alternative to Race in 5e.
Now, maybe you don’t think there are any problems with races in D&D but the core claim that Arcanist Press makes is that 5e combines culture and genetics into one in the core rules and calls the combination a race.
That is true. I have my Player’s Handbook open in front of me, the very first race is dwarf, and the opening description talks about the importance of clan and tradition.
Clearly, if a baby dwarf had been teleported away from its parents and raised by anarchist tieflings, then the dwarf would grow up caring little about clan and tradition.
Arcanist Press argues, and I agree, it would be better to separate out culture and genetics, or ancestry as they phrase it, and allow gamers to mix and match them to build more interesting characters. After all, if I wanted to play a dwarf raised by anarchist tieflings then it would be great to have those rules.
It costs me nothing to make the change. It costs me not to make the change.
If I’m running a Forgotten Realms game, then dwarves raised by dwarves still tend to care greatly about clan and tradition.
I ended up speaking to Eugene Marshall, one half of Arcanist Press, about the supplement because I was getting stuck with some of the rules around physical traits.
You see, what Arcanist Press have done is suggested that racial modifiers are cultural and not ancestral. I get why they wanted to do this. It doesn’t make sense to say that some races are less intelligent than others because they don’t tend to bother with academic education. We know intelligence doesn’t work like that.
However, treating intelligence as a cultural trait also means treating strength as one too.
Simply put, this is a compromise designed to keep the rules straightforward. A young gnome is physically weaker than a young goliath.
As it happens, the Dungeons & Dragons team at Wizards of the Coast ended up making a statement on diversity this week. That’s how loud the conversation became and I’m sure they wanted to avoid a similar fate to the board games group on Reddit when people left because the lack of change became a political stance and better alternatives could be found elsewhere.
In this statement, they said what we should all know; D&D 5e tried to improve on diversity and representation matters but, with hindsight, the developers feel it fell short.
Later this year, Wizards of the Coast will release optional rules that will let players customise their character’s origin in such a way that ability score increases might be modified.
We don’t know if Wizards will take the Arcanist route, and I’ll be looking forward to seeing what they suggest.
Of course, some people think all this is politically correct nonsense, and some people are angry. Some people don’t cope well with change. Some people want their Drow to be born bad and want orcs to be guilt-free combat encounters.
I think you know where I stand on that. I’m happy to have roleplaying campaigns in which Drow are almost always bad but, very rarely, you might find a renegade who’s not so evil. Perhaps he leaves the Underdark and ranges across the frozen north in a region called Icewind Dale.
You know, like Drizzt.
Oh, speaking of Icewind Dale – it has been confirmed, D&D’s next setting expansion and adventure is Icewind Dale: Rime of the Frostmaiden. That was announced during day one of D&D Live.
The twist, though, is that the game is going to be a horror.
John Carpenter’s The Thing is a big inspiration. That’s a scary movie. Scientists track a shape-shifting alien across an antarctic landscape and generally end up dead.
Icewind Dale’s weather is so dangerous that Wizards of the Coast have created rules for blizzards and avalanches.
The Frostmaiden, a lesser god, is also a shapechanger, and the book has different statblocks for her to use dependant on how the PCs encounter her.
We’re told that this adventure will use horror aspects like isolation, secrets and paranoia. I think those are a perfect match for a murderous shapeshifter.
What’s caught my attention, though, is a report from polygon that mentions a preview event. At this event, D&D’s storyline designer Chris Perkins is reported as saying that characters will all have secrets and it is up to the players when, or if, they reveal those secrets to the Dungeonmaster.
Okay, PCs with secrets are a great idea. However, I don’t like the idea of secrets from the Dungeonmaster.
If it’s an in-game thing, then the Dungeonmaster needs to know about it.
I know there are games in which the group works together to create the world and describe that’s happening. There are rules and systems in place for such RPGs. Dungeons & Dragons doesn’t have very much of that, and the new generation of gamers welcomed into the hobby by the strength of D&D 5e may not have much experience with it.
I’m not saying no, I’m saying that I don’t like the idea as it has been presented.
Unless the Wizards of the Coast team clarify, we’ll have to wait until September to find out how Rime of the Frostmaiden handles this.
In the meantime, we can turn to veteran designer Sandy Petersen for help with horror.
Geek Native was lucky enough to speak to Sandy this week, and we talked about adding Cthulhu to fantasy.
Sandy argues that in a game that already features multiple planes of existence, magic and god-like entities that the Cthulhu-style Mythos needs to go beyond all that to create the cosmic horror they are supposed to.
He gives the example of Cthulhu manifesting like a cosmic disease into your fantasy world. Geometry itself shifts in favour, and so if the characters try and run away, they find that they are running towards him. Reality begins to crack, horrors pour forth, and eventually, it isn’t just the world that unravels but the game universe itself.
We also found out that Petersen Games is working on a Dreamlands book so your PCs won’t be safe from harm even when they’re sleeping. Or, if you’re looking for even more options, you could use Dreamlands to port your characters from D&D 5e to a whole new world, perhaps, say Grimmerspace powered by Starfinder when the group believe they have woken up somewhere else entirely.
Speaking about Starfinder, there’s a bit of Paizo news this week. Starfinder year 3 has been announced, next month two playtests will kick-off for the sci-fi, including mech combat rules but the biggest headline is the management reshuffle at the publisher.
Paizo’s founder Lisa Stevens is stepping back from day to day management. This is phase one of her retirement. Jeffrey Alzarez has been promoted to President.
Erik Mona is still Chief Creative Officer and publisher, so it is Erik who has the final say on what Paizo send to the printers.
Green Ronin sprang a surprise on us this week.
It was Green Ronin who won the rights to do the official Game of Thrones RPG. It was called A Song of Ice & Fire, and that deal has ended so there won’t be any more supplements for it.
However, in response to the lockdown and needing to make money from digital sales only, the astute publisher took the Chronicle System that powered A Song of Ice & Fire and transformed it into a core ruleset of its own.
This is a system that they created and which has rules for duels, battles and courtly intrigue. The new game is called Sword Chronicle, and it uses the Chronicle System, to power feudal fantasy games.
It’s not Game of Thrones without the name, they’re adding in rules for elves and dwarves, after all. Oh, by the way, they’re calling those ancestries, not races, just as Lisa Steven’s Pathfinder 2nd edition does. So Sword Chronicle is more like a traditional western fantasy RPG than Game of Thrones.
Hopefully, it’s the best of both.
Another surprise was Roll20’s Burn Bryte. That’s mainly a surprise because Burn Bryte was hardly burning brightly in my mind. I’d nearly forgotten all about it.
It’s been three years since Burn Bryte was announced.
This is the virtual tabletop’s own RPG. They’re now, in a way, competing with their publisher partners. Burn Bryte is a sci-fi which has been specially designed for Roll20.
It’ll be published next month.
While we’re talking about surprises, what about Games Workshop handing money back to the British government.
It turns out that Games Workshop has, despite the lockdown, had a great year so far. People have been gobbling up their games probably to cope with the lockdown.
So, while the wargames maker initially secured overdrafts and engaged in all sorts of smart financial moves, it turns out that they don’t need the government loan after all.
If handing money back is alien to you then there are a few freebies worth mentioning this week too. Amazing Tales the family-friendly RPG has two free downloads. One was written by a teacher and is designed to help you use Amazing Tales to teach kids. The other was written by a child therapist and can be used to see whether roleplaying might be an appropriate therapy for kids that you know.
AlbaCon will be free, with donations going to charity. AlbaCon will run from the 3rd of October to the 4th.
What we’ve seen is that the lockdown has forced conventions to cancel, many of them are being replaced by online events.
It’s not the same thing, I know, but I think we’re learning. It feels like the early years of eCommerce and internet. It sucked back then, we kinda knew what needed to happen but weren’t very good at getting there. In time, that changed.
I think the same will happen to online events. We’ll just, collectively, get better at them.
The other bonus of online events is that they’re cheaper and therefore smaller businesses can run them. NerdBurger Games, the indie publisher behind the roaring 20s superhero game Capers, has announced NerdBurger Con Online. That will run from 14th of August to the 16th.
It’s been a busy week, hasn’t it?
There are some trailers and geeky announcements I want to squeeze in, though.
First up, EA looks like it could have something great on its hands with Star Wars: Squadrons.
You form a squad of pilots, pick your spacecraft – it doesn’t have to be a TIE Fighter or an X-Wing – and you can tinker with it. Then, like Destiny’s fireteams, you work together to blow up the other side.
There’s are two Werewolf: The Apocalypse computer games coming out. First up, there’s Earthblood
In the trailer, we see a blood-red tree and wolves. Then there’s a fight outside some sort of factory or power plant, there’s a mech on duty that’s gun downed the attackers, and it looks bleak.
The red-leafs of the tree enters the frozen fight, the tree bleeds, the wolf pack races towards the action, and one of the combatants begins to transform.
Earthblood is described as an action RPG all about eco-terrorism. These monsters will be going to war against those polluting machines.
The other werewolf game is called Heart of the Forest, and we don’t know so much about it.
The trailer shows the horrors of deforestation.
We know about the designers, though. They are called Different Tales, they are ex-The Witcher developers and have a “Slow Games” manifesto.
Slow Games aren’t about games that take an age to play. It’s more like an anti-clickbait style of game. Different Tales want to treat their audiences as adults and develop games that you can come back too, after taking a break.
That’s not all before we leave the World of Darkness, let me also talk about the Wraith: The Oblivion VR game.
If you’ve not worn a VR headset yet, then it’s hard to get across just how effective the good ones are. You can really get lost in their games. The idea of a well made Wraith game is terrifying.
In Wraith, you’re dead, but you have unsettled business to do and something out to get you.
In a week of media announcements, it’s also worth calling out that Netflix is about to air Ben Dunn’s Warrior Nun.
Our hero is a young woman with an attitude who, somehow, finds herself with special powers and fighting against the forces of evil.
While our hero is no saint, she finds herself allied to a religious order that trains nuns to be warriors.
I get Buffy the Vampire Slayer vibes from it, and that’s no bad thing.
A few days after Warrior Nun arrives at Netflix, God of High School arrives at Crunchyroll. This is an anime about a martial arts tournament run by the powers-at-be, and the latest trailer makes it out to be a high octane thrill. I’m looking forward to it.
Lastly, before I go, there’s a Geek Native thank you in the fuzzy shape of a small soot sprite earmarked for all Patreon backers of the Geek Magistrate level or above this month. If you’re at that level already or get there before the end of the week, then you’ll get one.
Do you need a fluffy thing with cute eyes? Nope, but, as with all the Geek Native gifts, this is just my way of saying thank you for your support.
And on that note, let’s leave it there. Keep safe, keep well and let’s catch up again next week.
What are your thoughts? Strike up a discussion and leave a comment below.