Monday, May 23, 2016

My First Guest Blogger!

Today I am posting my first guest blog. This blog was written by my friend Brandon and I thought other people would enjoy reading it. It discusses the issue of racism in rpg worlds and it gave me some things to think about, I hope it does the same for you. If you would like to write a guest blog I would love to hear from you.... Now without further ado the guest article!

A few days ago as I was playing Pathfinder with some friends, the GM made the comment, "The Drow in this game are all evil, not like in Forgotten Realms.  No good ones here."  This reminded me about something I had written a while back after I had had a couple conversations with other gamers.

The first conversation I had was about game design itself and what kind of game would I prefer as a player. The main crux of the conversation steered toward playing in a world with a lot of cannon backstory (such as Star Wars) versus playing a less established world (such as Deadlands [the example used]). We talked about how it could be fun to possibly play in a world where you already know how it's going to end. You know that Luke is going to defeat the Emperor and Vader is going to kill all of the Jedi, so what's the point?

The point is that it's not about the cannon. Yes, it can be a hindrance to have that set story there, but it can also be fun. It can be great to run into some of those characters we all know and love. Maybe Luke is the one who gives you an assignment, or perhaps while on some sort of assignment you meet up with a lovely red head, who only after the encounter realize was really Mara Jade! When using cannon in your game it's about splicing in just the right amount to add some flavor, but not so much it leaves the players feeling like they have no control. A friend of mine once ran a Star Wars game that took place about 2 years before "A New Hope." The first adventure took us to an imperial base where we had to rescue a scientist and steal a prototype for a new fighter. It turned out this was a prototype for the x-wing. It was established cannon that rebels had stolen the 1st x-wing, so the GM had simply used this as a tie in for our adventure. From then on, we would have our adventures and sometimes they might cross into things that we would recognize here and there, but that was all part of the fun. Furthermore, who's to say you have to recognize that future cannon. Maybe you want Luke to die and see how that shapes the rebellion further down the road or maybe some small amount of Jedi secretly survived and lead an assault against the Emperor, killing him a couple of years before Luke is even discovered.

There is something else to recognize as well when talking about cannon. All games have it. Obviously some have more than others, but we need to understand it's always going to be there. Even when you make up your own world as you explore the world and discover new things you are writing that history and establishing precedents for later on. I recently took over a campaign for a group of friends playing 4th ed D&D in a homebrew world. Now when this world first started out there wasn't much to it and all of the players had very little to worry about.  By the time I had taken over, however, the world had become so established that unless I wanted to set my story in an unexplored region, I would have to ensure that it stuck to the existing cannon. There were names and places they knew of. People that the party had already met. But that didn't mean that they couldn't have fun still. I used those pieces and added on to them, creating new stories and new places to explore.

No matter what world you play on you are going to have some sort of backstory to contend with, but it's up to the GM and players how much of it they recognize and use. Frankly, I find it a bit freeing when I utilize something that is already established. It lets me focus more on the upcoming story and how the players can use things that have already happened to shape the future.

As I said though, there were a couple of conversations I had recently. The other was with a player in a D&D game I was running. I had been running through group through an adventure where they were trying to discover the origins of this necrotic energy that had been infecting a swamp and causing the dead to rise. After tracing the source to an undead city several miles upstream they headed underground to avoid some of the undead forces above and enter the city.  After wandering through the some of the deeper tunnels they stumble on some Drow.
For those you who are unfamiliar with this word, Drow are a race of dark skinned elves who live underground in a completely matriarchal society and well known to be evil as a whole race. Does anyone else see this as a problem? To be honest I've played D&D for over 20 years and I never really stopped to think about it. Now, granted there are other "evil" races in the D&D world, but why is it that one of the few "humanoid" races that is evil happens to have dark skin? And to add injury to insult, of course they have women who rule them, because as we all know, that's what happens when women rule a society. It all goes into chaos and starts worshiping some evil spider goddess that wants to make all of them men inferior and kill the surface dwellers.

When the player pointed this out to me, it was like a little light went off in my head. I guess being a white male I had never really thought about it before. Point of fact, I have always been a big believer that every single member of a particular race shouldn't be evil even if their entry in the monster manual says otherwise. That had been one of the themes I had been trying to approach with the game. I had already had a lizardman tribe that turned out to be peaceful and there were some other things later on that made the party question where they stood on some issues.

But the real question all of this leads to is how much of this mentality is really present in a lot of the games we play and how do we deal with it? As I said earlier, one of the things I try to do is make sure that all of my villains/npcs (non-player characters) represent a wide array of both good and evil and that an entire race should not be categorized so willy-nilly. People are people...sure, maybe some of them have pointy ears, some are short and live underground, and others have pig faces. But if they have intelligence there should always be an option of negotiation. I always want my players to know that there is more to the game than just going around killing things just because they are different.

So how often do these influences slip into our everyday lives as geeks? I look at most sci-fi and find very little diversity. In fact, in most science fiction, it tends to be the people who are different that are the "bad guys." The most diverse thing I remember seeing in some time was Heroes which had all sorts of minority characters being hunted down in fact by none other than a white male. However, even that show began to degrade in its quality of diversity as most of the ethnic characters were written off or killed and have instead been replaced by white blonde girls.

But that's not the point of my post. The point is, it's interesting to look at the games we play and see what sort of diversity we are showing. What kind of issues are we dealing with in our games. Are we perpetuating bad real world stereotypes? I understand games are meant to be fun and not some sort of soap box time, but it's my hope that the games can also be more than that. If and when we have younger players around we can especially use these times as teaching tools. I have always been an advocate of Role-playing to help develop meaningful social skills. Perhaps we should also look at this as a way to develop other good habits as well.

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