My official Gamerversary is always the Easter holiday. I realize it moves around a lot. But my very first Real Life Gamebook, the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook, was given to me as an Easter present by the Easter Bunny. I was 8 years old. Now I’m 47 and next year will have my 40th Gamerversary.
A side note: not long after this I got my PH confiscated by the principal at the private school I was attending, and was told that I should take it home and burn it because it was Satanic.
Needless to say, I did not. That poor book fell apart from use and had to be given a proper burial many years later.
I will tell you right out, I don’t know who originally thought of adding American Indian mythology to the game “Werewolf: the Apocalypse,” and frankly it doesn’t matter who did. What does matter is how the American Indian culture in the game was treated.
I truly believe that were the game introduced today, White Wolf would be in receipt of the same level of negative publicity as Monte Cook is experiencing right now.
I have had several people who are American Indian-identified speak to me about the mythology in Werewolf, and by and large their feedback has been positive. I believe the writers at White Wolf’s “heart” was in the right place; there was a respect for the traditions inherent in the work.
But cultural appropriation is cultural appropriation. The hazy illusion of privilege clouds many peoples’ minds – including mine. If there is to be a roleplaying game that is not cultural appropriation, perhaps it should be an Indian game by Indians. Even then, I realize that there’s no one great pan-Indian anything. It’s not a monoculture. It’s a very diverse culture full of a lot of different stories and meaning.
And understand – Indian folks may not wish to create an Indian game, one that speaks to the authentic voice, the actual experience of the people.
My words here are only here because I have come to a realization that it’s not just Monte Cook. And it’s not just The Strange. It’s Werewolf, Mage, Changeling, every game that touched on the Indian experience and mythology.
It’s not up to me to say what is and what isn’t cultural appropriation – that’s for the folks in the culture that was appropriated. And now I’ll sit down and shut up and listen to what they have to say.
One of my gaming beliefs is that every character should have agency. Frequently enough, however, I see games where this is not true.
In my opinion, every character should have their own story line and their own ability to do as they wish. It’s true that the filmic camera of our play may not include that character’s whole lifespan, but I feel as though you should be able to rotate the camera and follow the innkeeper as he goes about his duties, focus in on the midwife as she delivers another child, watch her travel out of the city to gather herbs.
This may be too much for many GMs to handle. I’m not asking for everybody to create multiple storylines for every character. I’m just asking for the fundamental design direction to flow towards agency for NPCs as well as PCs.
What does this accomplish? For one, it makes your stories richer. It also helps you handle players’ inevitable going off the map. For another it avoids cliche “Holy Light of the PC.” And finally it means that your players soon learn that there isn’t any such thing as a “throw-away” character.
People are not throw-away people. You may not be interested in the life of the baker across the street, the town watch officer, the clerk of court, the man who sells fish. That’s OK. Just don’t forget they are people, with their own motivations, desires, ideas, and agency.
Finally, making sure this is a part of your game means that you avoid marginalizing groups and being non-inclusive. There are no damsels in distress – a cliche that, to me, is right up there in offensiveness with “spear carrier.” Reducing someone down to a stereotype. Making the NPCs into a series of bonuses and penalties for the hero, nothing more.
Every baker can put down their rolling pin and pick up a quarterstaff. Every midwife can become a shaman. Every town watch officer could have been a veteran of a campaign where she learned all about rakshasas and knows just exactly how to kill them.
That’s what “agency” is – simply applying the same free will and personal power that PCs get to NPCs. It may seem difficult to accomplish, but with practice, you can empower them.
By the way, my adventure “Live and Let Dye” is full of NPCs with agency (one so much so that you might be better off having a PC play her) – if you’d like to take a read it is available for sale at Drive Thru RPG.
I’m not a mom, but I’ve attended two births and helped parent with newborns, toddlers, kids, and teenagers. I have long decried the fact that games never talk about positive things: sex, pregnancy, birth, love; along with loyalty, truth, freedom, justice. I enjoyed listening to these awesome women talk about their perspectives.
It’s a sad but true statement that none of these game designers can point to a game that gets all of them: contraception, pregnancy and childbirth right. I hope that this can be heard as a call for others to incorporate such things, naturally, in their games.
Here’s some random thoughts about this topic from my point of view:
Pregnancy is not sickness: a paladin who is pregnant doesn’t lose her powers; she has even more for which to fight.
Neither childbirth nor pregnancy should cancel someone’s personhood: yes it will affect you, yes you have to figure out how to handle this new life. Yes it will upend your life. Yes, you are going to have more responsibility, but you will also have more reason to live. So that Paladin shouldn’t have to stop being a Paladin.
The presence of contraception in a society changes that society. If it is efficacious contraception, it changes that society even more: children who are born are wanted. People who can get pregnant are not required to spend all their time pregnant. And sex for fun becomes safer and possible. It’s possible that such a culture could then start paying attention to sex education among their young, treating it as a rite of passage.
In a matrilineal, matrifocal culture it is quite clear who is related to whom and your only obvious relative who has a male gender is your Uncle, the Brother of your Mother.
In a patriarchal culture, the paternity of the child must be determined, frequently to determine inheritance or the legacy of a crown. A priestess who can effectively read the bloodline of a baby is going to be privy to exactly who is related to whom.
Some or all of these is going to find its way into some game material I write sooner, rather than later.