This is Audio EXP for the 4th of July 2020, and the title of this episode is ‘D&D’s struggles with sex’.
[The following is a transcript of Audio EXP: #51]
Last week, on this podcast, we asked the question Are you still a geek? That was in response to MeToo issues in the tabletop gaming space.
After recording that podcast, I set about to find positive and fun stories because I concluded that I’m still a geek, despite disliking some shady aspects of the community.
That mission to find uplifting stories came off the rails less than 24 hours later.
The story that tees up a week of drama comes from the very heart of D&D; the Gygax family.
Previously, on the blog, I’ve already reported that Luke Gygax has filed court documents to support the claim there is a second Gary Gygax will. The person with the most to lose from that court process is Gary’s widow, Gail Gygax.
This week, Gail Gygax has been trying to sell D&D legacy items even though not all of the Gygax family want her too. Luke Gygax is asking fans not to bid in the auction.
What’s up for grabs are cel illustrations of a proposed D&D cartoon. They include designs for a new Dungeonmaster character.
I imagine it’s a debate where, on one side, people need money but on the other the firmly held conviction that the Gygax legacy should be owned by the family.
A few days later, the news cycle swung back to the Gygax name and the early days of D&D.
Wizards of the Coast have told the community that they will be working harder on diversity within D&D. It’s a comment that’s aggravated some people, but D&D 5e has no default setting, and so I don’t see the need for the core rules to preserve any setting aesthetics, histories or cultural hangups.
Daniel Kwan, one of the authors in the DMs Guild Unbreakable adventure collection and the co-host of the Asians Represent Podcast, called out Wizards of the Coast for still selling the 1e version of Oriental Adventures.
Oriental Adventures has Gary Gygax’s name slapped on the front of the book, although he didn’t write it.
The concern about the book extends beyond the use of the word “Oriental”. It’s about the way the book mashes up lots of different Asian cultures to present one fetishised view.
Kwan points out that Wizards of the Coast, despite their commitment to diversity and avoiding racial caricatures is still selling Oriental Adventures and making money from it.
Daniel Kwan finds the book offensive, but you might not. Kwan admits he doesn’t find The Legend of the Five Rings offensive, but you might.
Oriental Adventures, however, is a best-seller. A 5e book is a common request. In Geek Native’s coverage of the story, I’ve included screenshots of Google’s search suggest tool as slightly better than anecdotal evidence to indicate people want Asian mythology in their 5e games.
I think we’re still finding our way forward with some of this. A common-sense suggestion is that if you’re planning an RPG supplement inspired by Asian mythology and you’re not Asian yourself is to get someone else who is involved. Get them to read and vet your work at the very least.
We barely had time to recover our breath after all debates around Oriental Adventures when the 2020 ENnies nominations were announced.
We can congratulate the Judges’ Spotlight winners already. Well done to Jay Dragon for Sleepaway, to Leatherman Games for Glitter Hearts, to Chaosium for Refractions in Glasston, to Makenzie de Armas and Levi Phipps for Knarls Candy Compendium and Lost Highway Games for Hit the Streets, Defend the Block.
Shortly after the nominee announcement, a Best Electronic Book candidate, Massif Press, tweeted to say that they didn’t see why other publishers were happy to be nominated. They pointed out a past winner, back in 2017, contained some inappropriate content.
Massif Press’ book is Lancer. Please note, I backed Lancer at Kickstarter, and I’ve given it a positive review, but what comes next is my first direct contact with Massif. I asked, on Twitter, whether they would withdraw from the ENnies.
They said they would refuse the prize if they won.
In the end, Massif Press withdrew from the competition. I can see why some people think the whole drama was a publicity stunt. After all, they would have had to have confirmed to the ENnies that they were happy to receive the nomination.
There’s more than one person in Massif Press, though. As I understand it, one of the team nominated the book and approved its progression. Another member of the team is responsible for the Tweet.
I have no evidence, but my gut feeling is that this was a mix-up and not a PR stunt. Massif Press hasn’t gained anything.
In the 2020 ENnies, they’ve been replaced by Uncaged Volume III. That’s a collection of D&D adventures that looks to challenge tropes around female mythological monsters.
The story, though, doesn’t end there. The 2017 winner that Massif Press objected too is a Lamentations of the Flame Princess adventure called Blood in the Chocolate.
The adventure is a gory parody of Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. The element that Massif Press objects too is a random encounter with sexual assault and murder happening in the background. The objection is to the sex, not to the killing. That foreshadows some controversies we’ll get too shortly.
Some gamers came to the defence of Blood in the Chocolate. It’s an optional scene. Gamers can have adult encounters in their tabletop adventures if they want. The public voted the adventure the winner of the prestigious ENnies, so how bad could it be? On the other side of the coin, the encounter added nothing to the adventure or was seen as shameless shock value.
Then the adventure’s author, Kiel Chenier spoke up. Kiel disowned the book. They regret writing it. The author says they were trying to be edgy because that’s what Lamentations of the Flame Princesses fans want.
Kiel also points out that they no longer write for Lamentations, not after the founder James Raggi used the controversial Jordan Petersen to promote the company.
Kiel would, if they could, remove Blood in the Chocolate from sale. However, they sold the rights and can’t.
It’s worth noting that the ENnies have had both a change of leadership and of policies since 2017. It’s not quite the same awards today as it was then.
The ENnies are no longer part of EN World, for example.
While this way going on, a row over gay vampires was breaking out.
The DMs Guild had asked Oliver Clegg to remove some art in a D&D adventure called Curse of Hearts. The marketing for the product said; “It’s not really an adventure. I just want people to get gay with vampires”.
The DMs Guild thought the book’s art was too sexy. I’m not an expert in homoerotic art, but there’s a clear pecking order in the three pieces the DMs Guild identified.
There’s a sexy male wood-nymph with a strategically placed branch between his legs. The DMs Guild didn’t ask for that to be censored, they recommended it.
There’s a pink slime boy, an ooze, with a tendril rising up from the dripping puddle to cover that crucial spot in his nakedness. He has a bare chest.
Then, lastly, there’s a magically headless knight using his own still-alive head to lick down his chest and lower.
Clegg, who Geek Native has interviewed before and who I reached out to cover this story, didn’t censor the art. Not to the DMs Guild satisfaction and so the DMs Guild removed the product.
This led to a debate about whether or not sexy art for men is treated the same as sexy art for women or gay men. It’s not hard to find naked female demons or monsters with strategically placed obstructions. If that’s okay for the female form, then why not the male form?
Clegg had been told the Curse of Hearts would be welcome on DriveThruRPG. The same company runs both but Wizards of the Coast are involved with the DMs Guild, that’s their shop-front for third-party content.
Just a day or so later, the DMs Guild announced they would be working with Wizards of the Coast to try and tackle this issue. They wanted some guidelines and, in the meantime, offered to put Curse of Hearts back on sale.
Clegg, the author, has refused but only until those guidelines are sorted out.
That’s a good initiative, but from recent Twitter posts, I suspect the early conversations have hit the predictable stumbling point. What’s that? That’s the violence and death in games like D&D. How can it be family-friendly to slay the evil knight, raise his body from the battlefield and use it to hack your way into the baron’s castle, but not okay to seduce the baron?
There’s one last Wizards of the Coast versus boobs story to cover before we get on with other RPG news. WotC have stripped Twitch streamer Lizbeth Eden from the Magic Creator Program for linking the game with sexualised postings.
Eden does have a Patron in which people can pay her a monthly fee to get access to sexy selfies. Those are her words, not mine. You don’t get to see any of those on Geek Native this week, but I did find one Twitter image that I hope appropriately visualises the sort of content Eden produces.
It would be a breach of the Magic Creator Program to be promoting such a patron.
The debate is whether or not Wizards are hypocritical. There are ex-adult video stars who are strongly associated with the brand, and who even appeared on D&D Live this year. The keyword there being “ex”. Is the art in Magic: The Gathering demure all the time?
The debate will rage.
Phew, I think that’s the catch up in all the controversies that Geek Native covered this week. Let’s find some time for good news.
The convention logistics site Tabletop.Events have been saved. The Con of Champions raised enough money for a skeleton crew to keep the site going to the end of the year, already. The new twist is that Board Game Geek has stepped in to take control of the company.
Monte Cook’s RPG Invisible Sun is sold in a huge black cube that costs $252. The PDF version is $99.
Right now, though, you can get the PDF in the Bundle of Holding for $25.
Rebellion is getting back into RPG publishing. Rebellion is a large European studio who make games like Sniper Elite and publish magazines like Judge Dredd and 2000 AD.
Their newly created Rebellion Unplugged division is working on a Sniper Elite board game and this week announced the Adventure Presents series of standalone RPGs in magazine form. The Kickstarter for the first is already running.
I spoke to both Rebellion and EN Publishing about whether this might affect the Judge Dredd RPG we already have. That’s published by EN Publishing.
Both companies told me that their relationship is unaffected. Rebellion told me there’s a slate of Judge Dredd and the World of 2000 AD products lined up.
It’s worth noting that Rebellion has been in the RPG sphere before. They’ve owned or owned parts of, Cubicle 7 and Mongoose Publishing before.
Cubicle 7, in its new home in Ireland, has been busy. They’ve given us a good look at what’s next for Wrath & Glory. That’s the Warhammer 40K RPG they took control of. The revised PDF is out, they’re working on an errata and publishing the physical book next.
The World of Darkness had good news this week too with the announcement that popular Twitch streamer Martyna “Outstar” Zych was coming on board to host WoD News and will help with the WoD community.
Justin Achilli makes a return to the World of Darkness as Creative Lead.
Lastly, as we’re in a new month, please don’t forget that Geek Native patrons can vote in the RPG Publisher Spotlight. If you support the site with just $1 a month, you can vote.
The RPG Publisher Spotlight has a new home section to make finding past winners easier. If you do stop over at the site, then the most recent winner to receive a write up is the Italian illustrator Dario Corallo. All sorts of people, including the President of Chaosium, have been happy to say great things about Dario. This, after all, is what the RPG Publisher Spotlight is about; giving people a boost. So, if you can support it with a vote or a visit, thank you.
Keep safe, keep well, and we’ll speak next time.
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