bonny_kate: (Default)
Let me start by saying that my RPG group is awesome. They are the sort of people that you want to play RPGs with (unless you want a serious game, because our group doesn't really do serious). They are nice people who have fun and are pretty much the opposite of every horror story that you hear. (I feel so bad for women who say that they were forced to play a certain sort of character, or that their (female) character was a target for romance or violence that other (male) characters weren't, or that the group was just generally misogynistic.) This is particularly significant because there are currently five other players plus the GM (Game Master aka the person running the RPG), and all are men. I'm the only woman in the room, and I'm the only one playing a female character.*

Overall, I would say that my experience playing as a woman has been quite good. Other players take my opinion into account and generally assume that I'm a competent player with a competent character. Reading other women gamers' experiences make this sound like the fluffy unicorn of player groups, because I'm also the GM's wife** and I bring baked goods most weeks. Basically, my group has been pretty awesome at accepting me as a player and being alright with the fact that Joel is the current GM. 

I can't help but wish, though, that someone else would play a female character so that I wouldn't have the weight of playing the only female character in the group. It makes it a little more difficult to play an interesting character and not try to represent all women with one character. It's like how Black Widow is the only female Avenger in the first Avengers movie, and even though she is a really awesome character, she still is only one character and can't show a range of options (whereas for male characters we see Thor, Iron Man, Captain America and Hawkeye).

And there is the odd moment when someone says something and I do a double take. Or there are the occasional assumptions that all NPCs (non-player characters) are male. (Joel does a pretty good job balancing NPCs about fifty-fifty, so that helps.) For instance, at one point on our first run when we were sneaking into a warehouse, one of the players said (partly joking) that my character, Jefferson, should flirt with the guards. The player seemed to be assuming that the guards were male (not all of them were), that they were interested in flirting with a woman (unknown), and that Jefferson would be the appropriate one to flirt with them. Actually, if the player had thought about it, the opposite is true. Jefferson is not a flirty character and she has very few dice for social interactions, while other characters roll handfuls of dice for just about any social situation. Thankfully, that sort of thing seems to have died down.

I've definitely had a good experience playing RPGs so far, and I think my group is pretty great. There are just some things that I notice that are generally blind spots for the group (like assuming PCs are female).
 

 

*I have played a male character, once. It was interesting. I did feel that I got a few weird looks, but overall our group seemed fine with it.

**There was also the session where it directly involved my character, Jefferson, and involved a lot of set up beforehand. Granted, it mostly involved Jefferson getting shot at (a lot) and then we started the session by her frantically calling the others for help because she was penned in by snipers, and Joel said that he's perfectly willing to work out something similar for anyone else who wants to have their character shot at . . . but this is still the sort of thing that would not be ok in a lot of groups because my husband is the GM.

bonny_kate: (Merida)
I thought we were done with the issue of racism in Shadowrun (see previous post), but then a different player posted 'I'm thinking of playing a character that is racist against orks or trolls. Is anyone playing an ork or troll?'*

And here we go again. I think this way of putting it is a little odd, because I'm playing an elf, but an elf with enough moral sense to not want to put up with racism. Characters not of the race being discriminated against may still have a problem with racism. Anyway, I posted something to the effect that I'm playing an idealistic elf and there would be significant friction if a character was racist. I thought it was a good idea to post it, and felt vaguely responsible to object since I'm the one who has an issue with it, even though I don't really want to deal with it (and completely fail to understand the draw of playing a racist character).

Now somehow this has turned into a discussion of racism in Shadowrun, and whether it is ok to have a racist character. This is a discussion I really don't want to have, but am having anyway because it seems important. Bah.

My view is that RPGs can be a totally valid way to explore racism, and, if handled well, there isn't a problem with having a character who is racist. Having said that, racism falls under 'things I don't want to deal with in an RPG because it makes things not fun because there is enough of it in the real world' along with misogyny, misandry, violence against kittens, and such. 




*I wanted to (snarkily) post in response: 'I'm thinking of playing a character that is a misandrist. Is anyone playing a male character?' which I think is amusing because our group nearly exclusively plays male characters.
bonny_kate: (Default)
 I talked to Joel about Shadowrun, and my concerns about having a dwarf play a character who is prejudice against elves. Joel is big on not making players uncomfortable, so he talked to the other player and the player dropped the prejudice. So, thankfully, that is one issue that I don't have to worry about.
bonny_kate: (Merida)
 I haven't actually committed to running a Stargate RPG. I'm just doing all the research and planning right now while I'm interested, and then I may never run it. After much research, I think that using a fan made conversion for Savage Worlds is the best option. 

(Feel free to skip this if you're not as interested in the details of the various Stargate RPG options.)

When I started looking at various systems to play a Stargate RPG in, I wanted something that would capture the feel of the game, give various options for playable characters (including Jaffa and Tok'ra), and be a simple system. I prefer a system that is light on rules, but heavy on options (I liked the Star Wars d6 system which is pretty fast paced but has many race and skill options, but didn't care for Numenera which is fast paced but very limiting when it comes to character options).

I took a look at the Stargate d6 system. This system has a lot of potential, and was created based on the Star Wars system. It also wasn't finished. I started tweaking (with Joel's help), but it seemed like a ridiculous amount of house rules, as the system has some weird issues with skills, and also lacks stats for creating Jaffa or Tok'ra playable characters.

So, I decided to take a look at other options. I stumbled across a fan made conversion for Savage Worlds, which looked promising. I also took a look at the official d20 system, and was less than impressed. It sounds like the d20 system is crunchier than I prefer for RPGs, has some consistency issues, and was designed by someone who didn't know that much about Stargate. The Jaffa and Tok'ra options are also not that interesting.

At the moment, I think I'm sold on the Savage Worlds conversion. I don't love the system, but it seems decent enough. Savage Worlds is designed to be a fast system, light on the rules, and to be an open ended system (it doesn't have a built in setting), which makes it great for tweaking. Further, I'm impressed with the conversion. It seems elegant and really makes the Jaffa and Tok'ra stand apart from the human options, giving them specific advantages and disadvantages in a way that harmonizes well with the feel of the show (instead of some weird ideas involving split personalities and dual character sheets).

We'll see what happens with this. If I'm still interested, I could see running a campaign after Joel finishes his Shadowrun campaign. 
bonny_kate: (Default)
I hope you can tell me, friends, if I'm being overly sensitive. This hasn't come up yet in an RPG, but it is looming on the horizon.

The next RPG we'll be playing is Shadowrun (which Joel will be running). In case you don't know all the RPGs by name (I certainly don't), Shadowrun is a futuristic cyperpunk RPG (a d6 system, for those of you who care about such things), that also includes fantasy elements such as magic, mages, trolls, elves, dwarves, and the like.

One of the other players is creating a dwarf. This dwarf will have a prejudice against elves. I'm guessing that he wants to borrow from LOTR, but I feel a little uncomfortable with this. I think it has the potential to sound a lot like racism (with the dwarf making comments about how all elves are liars or some such). I may just be overly sensitive because I recently read The Goblin Emperor, in which Katharine Addison uses goblins and elves to show racism in a less threatening way than dealing with it directly. 

My concern as a player is this: what do I do if the dwarf makes a comment against elves? My character is a decent sort of person who also happens to be an elf, and she wouldn't stand for that sort of thing. But I also don't want to make a big deal out of this if I am being overly sensitive. And if it is a valid issue, I want to bring it up now, when we are in character creation, rather than being confrontational when playing. 

I do believe that stories, including RPGs, can be a good way to explore questions of prejudice, including sexism and racism. But I also prefer my gaming to be lighthearted, and mostly about shooting stormtroopers or being inventive with explosives. 

Thoughts?

RPGs

Aug. 13th, 2014 10:31 am
bonny_kate: (Default)
 I need to find an icon for RPGs . . . 

I am currently contemplating GMing a short Stargate SG-1 episode (set sometime during the first few seasons, so as to avoid major spoilers) because I'm crazy like that. Basically, I have an idea that I want to do something with.

I should be writing stories, but that hasn't been happening, so maybe plotting out a mission will help me start feeling creative again.
bonny_kate: (cinderella)
I think that the group I play RPGs with tends to default male. I am currently the only woman in the group, and my character is the only female character. Further, the NPCs*, both named and unnamed, seem to default male. For instance, in our current game (a Star Wars RPG), the only character besides my own who is female is Mon Mothma, and she is only given a cameo (I think she had a cameo, I may be misremembering). Nearly all the characters who have any weight in the story are male (there are some aliens that are gender neutral). Now, this is a module, so our GM is starting from that, but he has also mentioned often that he made other significant changes to the module.

This is the third campaign I've been with the group. The first was run by Joel, and the only player with a female character was the only woman playing in that campaign. Further, Joel tended to default male when creating characters, especially with minor characters, spur of the moment characters, or minion NPCs, which, although unnamed, tend to be referred to as "he"(at least, it seemed that way to me; I don't have any hard data). That was D&D.

The second campaign was Exalted (a system which I learned that I hate for many reasons). The only female PCs were played by myself and the other woman playing. This campaign involved a lot more female NPCs, but our GM for that game was a woman. The trend for more female characters continued when she left, but I was one of the GMs. I struggled trying to find a balance, as all of our players were playing male characters, so the entire party was male, and I wanted to make sure that significant female characters were introduced, but it would have been easy to slip into making all the female characters evil, as the male characters were already determined to be the protagonists. To further complicate things, Joel and I were trying to finish up a story where many of the major characters had already been introduced.

For one small village, Joel and I were talking about what characters the players might encounter. I suggested a blacksmith, and then mentioned that I thought the blacksmith should be a woman. Joel thought that this would throw the players off (not being used to women being blacksmiths) and would put the focus on something 'unusual', although in the world we had created it wouldn't have been unusual to have a brawny blacksmith who was a woman. So the blacksmith wasn't a woman, although I was rather miffed.

This brings me to our current campaign. I was torn when I created my character, because I am interested in playing a male character, but if I do, it means that the party will almost certainly be entirely male. I am not sure why they default male. I think they are uncomfortable with female characters,** something I don't understand, especially since our group avoids romantic situations or flirting. There would be very little difference if most of the characters were female.

I wish that I knew of some way to tease out the assumptions that go into this. I would like to show the other players how easily they default male.

Finally, I feel I should add a bit of a disclaimer. I think that the guys I play with tend to default male when creating player characters, NPCs, or assuming gender of characters created by others. However, they are also a great group of guys to play with (I've read the horror stories about horrible groups, and am appalled and glad that my group is nothing like that). My gender has never been an issue when it comes to playing; my opinions are always given weight when discussing plans, and I believe my character has always been treated fairly by the GM (even when I insist on decorating my laser pistol with rhinestones).


*NPCs are non-player characters, i.e. those controled by the Game Master, for those not familiar with RPG terms.

**Interestingly, this doesn't seem to extend to Arkham Horror, when the guys I play with are fine playing female characters, and don't revert to stereotypes to do so.
bonny_kate: (cinderella)
I've been reading a few different writer's blogs lately, and I find it interesting to read different perspectives on GM-ing RPGs. Some authors seem to be saying that RPGs helped them learn how to develop certain things, like characters or backstory or dialogue or world building. Others seem to be saying that RPGs take away valuable time that they could be spending writing. Interestingly, neither perspective covers my experience.

For me, co-GM-inig an RPG takes up story space in my head, but in a different way than writing a story does. I discovered that I can't work on writing on the same day that I'm going to be GM-ing, or my GM-ing seriously suffers. It's a very different way of looking at a story. In order to GM well, I have to have a developed set of characters, an idea of setting, and occasionally some type of set event (such as the Fey attacking the village). But I can't have a set plot. I can have a general idea of where the story is going, but I have to be willing to change it on the whim of the players. They may spend an entire session interacting with the carefully created village obsessed with llamas, and then turn around and blithely kill off archaeologists by sending them into danger. They may entirely ignore carefully crafted characters, or throw a wrench into things by doing something entirely unexpected (like replacing the artifact they are after with a perfectly constructed fake). In order to be a good GM, I have to be flexible with what the players want. I have to scrap my lovely plan because they have come up with something else (which I may not like quite as much). I have to interact with their characters in whatever direction they decide to take things. As someone who plots things out ahead of time*, this is a very different way of thinking about a story. I come up with a situation and let the players react, rather than coming up with a story. I can't expect the players to have a predictable reaction to the situation.

In the story that I'm currently co-GM-ing, I'm working with certain constraints. I didn't write any of the setup. I'm trying to resolve a story that someone else started. If I were starting from scratch, I expect I should set it up a bit differently. I would have a villain (or set of villains) with an agenda and a plan, and the main characters would encounter the beginning of the plan (with many hints as to the ultimate plan) and then I would let them react to the plan (it would be a somewhat morally ambiguous choice). I can't do this to near the same degree because of earlier constraints of the story, but I'm still trying for this as much as I can.

Writing is a different use of story space for me. I have to know where a story is going before I write it. I have to have it plotted out. I don't always have to write the plot down, as in the case of a very short story, but I have to know before I start writing, or the story will stall. I rarely make changes once it is plotted out (I made some changes to my novel when I was doing NaNoWriMo, but considering the scope of it, they mostly weren't large changes). This is similar to how I think about plotting out something to GM; I want to know where things are going and how they are getting there. But, when I write, I know exactly what will happen. There can be a specific set of events that has to happen. More than that, I know what the main characters will do. I know how they will react. I never ditch my beautifully constructed set of challenges because there is something I don't like quite as much. I always know what will happen with those challenges, and I never have to stack the dice to have it happen.

For me, GM-ing is certainly related to writing. I use similar skills, and both, after all, are about story. But they are about story in different ways, and some good GM skills would make for bad writing (for instance, having to remind characters multiple times in multiple ways of important things, because they've forgotten or not noticed or been distracted by the llamas in the story or the brownies on the table). Some aspects of the way I write would be bad if applied to GM-ing (such as the way I poke at an idea until I have it just right and it clicks, and then I don't want to use any other idea).

As an aside, I can make up a story without having it plotted out. I can take a first scene and go somewhere with it. It is almost certainly invention and not inspiration, though. There isn't the sense that everything clicks and has to be a certain way. The sort of stories that I invent aren't alive in the same way an inspired story is.


*Joel, on the other hand, is the sort of GM who has a vague notion of what is going on, and wants to make things up on the spot. I'm not really sure how we GM together, because I want to know what's going on ahead of time.
bonny_kate: (cinderella)
Joel and I have been co-GM-ing the Exalted campaign for a bit now. It only works out to meet twice a month or so, which has resulted in three sessions thus far. It's been going quite well. The first two sessions were a bit rockier, because we're still figuring out how to GM together (because I've never GM-ed and Joel has never GM-ed with someone else). But I think we're getting into the swing of things. It's fun, but it's also crazy amounts of work. It is also a ridiculous amount of improvising, especially since we have a bit of structure but are mostly trying to set up interesting situations to see how the players respond (tricky situations in which there are multiple ways of solving a problem and there is no single right answer of how to deal with things). So far, it feels like players are relaxing and enjoying being creative (there have been some interesting and creative solutions to problems outside our expectations; we had a best case scenario for the second session, but they came up with and implemented a plan that gave them even better results than our best case scenario). Anyway, all this improvising means not just responding on the spot to players (which I'm getting better at), but also coming up with characters on the spot (which I'm not very good at).

I'm helping Joel, too, because while we aren't building all the characters ahead of time (something I would be inclined to do if I was running it by myself), we are doing some basic world building to set the scene (he has always done less world building before, and more making things up on the spot). The last session took place at a village in a desert-y area (many foxtails, stickers, tumbleweeds, and rolling hills). But rather than just go with a stereotypical village, we decided that they needed a livelihood, and that it would be raising goats (very hardy) and llamas (just amusing). Then we further decided that rather than having everyone just wander about the village, there would be a celebration, and the main sources of alcohol would be fermented llamas milk (the beer equivalent) and fermented cactus (the hard alcohol). It was hilarious, and the players thought it was hilarious. We probably couldn't have come up with something that awesome spontaneously during the session. The conversation went something like this:

me: You're near a village. There is a cluster of clay houses, and you can hear fiddling and general merriment. A llama wanders across the street.

player: A llama? The animal or the monk?

me: The animal.

player (laughing): Does it see us?

Joel: (rolls a die) No.

The GM-ing is fun, but I think I'd want more experience playing and at least improvising my character's reaction before I try GM-ing anything on my own.
bonny_kate: (kaylee)
I think playing RPGs can be very much like writing fan fiction (or vice versa, if you prefer). The more that Joel and I talk about RPGs, the more I find that it is a systematized way of doing collaborative storytelling. There is one major difference, which is the combat system, but I'll come back to that. I'm familiar with collaborative storytelling, of playing by some agreed upon rules and creating a story together. I've played the letter game twice, and with three of my friends I've created an alternate world where we have superpowers, and we've given story arcs to our superhero selves. The more I think about collaborative storytelling, the more I find that it seems to be essentially the same in it's many forms. If Joel as the GM agrees with some of the players that they can animate dead horses to storm a castle, is that really any different from my friends and I deciding that our first epic battle as superheroes will be at an Italian Renaissance Faire?

Further, though, the more I hear about how Joel thinks about RPGs, the more it sounds strangely familiar. Playing around with stories within a community within a setting that is bound by certain rules sounds oddly like fanfiction. I've dabbled in reading fanfiction, and I know that most of it happens within a community. It may not be collaborative to the extent that RPGs often are, but it often happens with the input of other readers. It happens within a set universe. In RPGs, one plays by the rules, of, say, Exalted. With fanfiction, one plays within the rules of, for instance, Harry Potter. The GM or the author may determine how much tweaking of these rules is allowed, or how generous one can be in interpreting the rules. Further, I think there's a parallel of those who are really into the rules. It isn't an exact parallel, but I think the type of person who spends their time researching all the various Charms in Exalted and how exactly they work in combat is similar to the type of person who spends all their time researching the details of the Silmarillion and knows Elvish of either variety.

I'm not sure if there is a parallel, or if I'm seeing patterns from staring at this too long.

It's something I keep turning around in my head. I'm also wondering why there are more men than women who play RPGs, and more women than men who write fanfiction, at least anecdotally (there are so many possible causes, I'm not even sure where to begin). I wonder why the girls I know who play RPGs are more interested in story than mechanics, and if I have a large enough sample size for this to be relevant. I wonder if women really are more collaborative when it comes to playing RPGs, and if so, why.

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Kate Saunders Britton

April 2017

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