Saturday, 30 August 2014

No More Damsels, No More White Knights

I'm getting annoyed. This is a pity, as it's been a great week, with some great chemistry lab practicals (I made aspirin!), a victorious early return to my kids, and general goodness. And then some ass-hats had to be wrong on the internet. Now I have to fix everything.

None of it is strictly news. Feminists spoke some truth, ass-hats got in a fuzz about it, and rather than trying to rationally object and converse and learn, they insulted, threatened and abused. Nothing fucking new at all, I'm afraid.

What's bugged me has been the number of my friends who've rushed to support the obviously wrong side in this matter. I don't think my friends are ass-hats themselves, but they seem to have some strange ideas about false "balance" and have bought into certain common misogynist narratives.

The balance thing is easy to address. One side is calling for a more fair and just sort of society. The other side is responding with threats of rape and murder, or (at best, for a very limited definition of 'best') simply suggesting that actually we shouldn't make society fair and just. Even if the former side is not getting things 100% right, even if they're making a lot of mistakes, it's still not hard to pick the right side.

There is room for improvement on the feminist side, but that doesn't seem to be what the false balance gambit is pushing for. Mostly, the aim of it seems to be to want to shut people up, not to help them make their points better. It is not a constructive effort.

And if someone really didn't want to pick sides at all, I'd expect them to be more silent on the matter, not louder and angrier. I do not believe that those calling for balance really want that. Not the ones I've seen.

The other thing that's bugging the fuck out of me is the use, pejoratively, of terms like 'Damsel', 'White Knight' and 'Social Justice Warrior'. I have only seen aging white folk (of non-impoverished backgrounds) use these, and I don't think its a coincidence; it's textbook privilege shit. The gimmick seems to run like this:

1. Complain that feminists have no evidence to back up their claims.
2. When someone presents evidence:
2.a. If they are female, accuse them of being a drama queen, an attention whore, a Damsel in Distress. Reject everything they say out of hand.
2.b. If they are male, accuse them of being a White Knight, out to defend those who neither want it nor need it. Reject everything they say out of hand.
3. Complain that nobody's willing to talk to you calmly and rationally.
4. Repeat until 6 = 7.

The demand for evidence is a decoy, a red herring. They don't actually want the evidence, and so when they're presented with it, they try to shut it out, to deny its validity. The pejorative use of Social Justice Warrior is the ultimate expression of this, the attempt to shut up anyone who tries to make any positive action, on the false premise that anyone attempting this is actually as big an ass-hat as the ass-hat who caused trouble in the first place.

Too many of my friends have used the phrase, "I am a feminist, but...". It's eerily similar to the classic "I'm not racist, but...". Don't do it. If you really care about equality and goodness in society, you'll avoid loaded terms like Damsel and White Knight. They only ever play into the hands of misogynist ass-hats, they have zero constructive use. Honest, fair, meaningful discussion is not possible while those intellectual traps are still in play.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

RP Gad a Y?

I have way too much on my plate. I'm doing varsity chemistry pracs full time for the next two weeks (this was only supposed to happen in "October or November"), which means I have to catch up on the lessons I'm missing with my matrics (just before their prelims!) on the weekends. I finally have a quiet moment now, so I thought I'd unwind a little with something fun and easy.

I know little about the background to RPGaDay, I just see it popping up in my feed(s). The idea seems to be that a daily roleplaying-related personal history question is asked, and you stick your daily answer up on your social medium for others to admire. Most of it is necessarily going to lead to nostalgic anecdotes and similar self-indulgence, but like all history, it can still be damn interesting to those with an interest in it.

I will break with official format for this post and simply answer all 31 questions in one go, because I've got too much shit to do the other 30 days.

1: First RPG played?
A diceless, rulesless, settingless improv thing that Davie spun together for us one day in class. It was end of term 2 back in grade 8 (1997), and we had the unusual mercy of a free lesson. We were up in Miss de Abreu's class in Blue Block, and Davie asked a bunch of us if we'd like to try some sort of game. We had no distinct characters, the vague setting was something sort of fantasy-ish (I remember it had clearly borrowed elements from Ultima VIII) and random results were obtained (fuck knows how exactly) from some "dragon dice". This may have been the only time I've ever actually seen dragon dice, but the name was burned deep into my brain so that 17 years later I have absolutely no doubt that's what they were. There was not much plot, I remember few details other than explosive red crystals, but I was hooked enough that a short while later I had joined my first real group playing my first real game.

That game was hosted at an internet club near my house (Club 42, which I only now realise may have been an Adams reference), which I always found really uncomfortable for a variety of reasons. It was AD&D 2nd Edition, GMed by Richard, and I played a Gnome who owned a duck named Bob. I remember few details of this game, and this causes some jealousy when other players recount in great detail everything that happend to every character (all names recalled) in their first ever game.

(Suddenly, it makes sense why I'm so strongly in favour of the write-everything-down option offered by sites like Obsidian Portal.)

2: First RPG game-mastered?
AD&D 2nd Edition, the Dragon Mountain box set, co-GMed with Tyler in 1999. Tyler phoned me out of the blue one day, which was rare enough, to say that his parents were going away for the weekend, could he stay with me, and by the way, let's GM this campaign together. We spent all weekend studying the thing, got together a group (the usual group, inevitably, little changed from 1997) and then only ran 2 or 3 sessions. I forget why it stopped. Exams? I still have Tyler's box set, borrowed just before he left the country. I should run it sometime.

3: First RPG purchased?
AD&D 2nd Edition Player's Handbook (the black version), second hand from Tyler, for I think R200, in 1999. A year later I bought my first dice, another year later I bought Kobolds Ate My Baby! My initial purchase rate was very low, as my friends all had plenty of material we could use, and I wasn't GMing.

4: Most recent RPG purchase?
I've bought a few things in the last few months, and my memory's a little fuzzy, but I think absolute most recent is the 1st edition of the Star Wars d20 core book, the one that heavily over-emphasizes  Episode I, because II and III hadn't been released yet and people still weren't certain that the new trilogy sucks. We played using this book back in 2002ish, and had a lot of fun; it was my introduction to the d20 system. I bought this second hand copy from Outer Limits, partly because I have uncontrolled collecting problems, partly because I thought it might be of some tangential use in Gail's game, and partly because I knew I wanted to borrow elements from its starship combat rules for my Star Trek d20 (now Next) house rules.

5: Most 'old school' RPG owned?
I own copies of several D&D books from before they settled into the uniformity of AD&D 2nd Ed., and it would take some long analysis to determine the oldest schoolest among them. The oldest core rulebook I have is the 1983 revision of the Basic Set.

6: Favourite RPG I never get to play?
Hmm, tough call. I miss Jamie's original, perfect Delta Green campaign; we've tried several times since, but never quite recaptured it. Very much like the Men in Black franchise, a huge amount of the enjoyment was the excitement of peeling back comfortable reality to discover a terrifying, fascinating unknown. After the first movie/campaign, that's almost impossible to replicate, because there isn't sufficient comfortable reality left, and too much of the unknown is known. So in a way, I may never get to play that game (in the same way) ever again.

If we count games I've never technically actually played, I'm also still super-duper-ultra keen to finally give Reverse Dungeon a try. My mom bought it for me in 2000, and I was waiting for the perfect chance to run it, and that chance still hasn't come. Who's keen?

7: Most "intellectual" RPG I own?
Planescape (the core box, plus many, many expansion books). The D&D meta-setting that incorporates all other settings by default (even Dark Sun, if you know how) is easily abused as a giant monster-of-the-week dispenser, but was written to be so much more. It's supposed to be like the first season or two of Sliders, where any wild idea you like can be made real and experimented with to its most fascinating limits. If you get it wrong, however, it's like Sliders season three, where any wild idea can be turned into a flimsy excuse for a bland shootout action scenario, with a couple cardboard oddities decoratively hanging off the ceiling.

8: Favourite character?
My problem here is poor memory, so it may not be coincidence that I'm picking a current character, rather than an ancient one. On the other hand, Ploon Kloovs is also a character that I've run for much longer than most - exactly a full year on Thursday. I've mostly played in shorter games (or GMed) and so seldom get the fun of watching a character grow and change from the inside. And Ploon has definitely grown; a Chaos altar on Limbo added a full 30cm to his height! Ploon is also just fun, pure and simple. He lets me unwind and not give a shit about reality, which is surely what we play for. My other favourite would be the late Sto Kalb'asi, but she will be mentioned in a later answer.

9: My favourite dice?
I mock other roleplayers for dice fetishes and superstitions, but I'm still very protective of my original set, purchased at WitsCon 2000. They're of the small-sized variety, which is not too uncommon, but still distinctive enough that I can isolate them easily, and all in shades of red or purple. I also still keep them in the same small-sized red dice bag I bought with them, and the whole thing is stashed inside my larger Cthulhu dice bag, along with assorted lesser dice. (Though among the lesser dice, I must note the Famous Five die and the Biggles die I've kept with my roleplaying dice for years. They're a great icebreaker; probably the first non-greeting thing I ever said to Scot, when he gave one of them a roll, was, "You got Dick!")

10: Favourite tie-in novel/game fiction?
Hmm, not sure I have such a thing. I got a Warhammer novel and a 40K novel, and never finished either. If PC games count, then undoubtledly Planescape: Torment, which was actually how I discovered the roleplaying setting, rather than the other way round.

11: Weirdest owned?
In an industry that strives for weirdness and novelty, that's not much of a useful question. But I think the book I have that fits in least with the rest of my collection is The Goblin Fair, an obscure OGL adventure for D&D 3rd Ed., which I picked up for only R15 when 7th Generation Gaming was clearing stock in 2007. What makes it odd (for me) is that it seems to be aimed at young kids; it's very gentle and simple about how it wants you to slaughter your foes. I know intellectually that some kids roleplay, but I didn't until high school and it's still a mostly grown-up thing to me, and most books reflect that too.

12: Old game I still read/play?
Oh, all of them! If it's simply about reading old stuff, then any of them, all the time. Half the reason I buy older books is to steal their lost secret knowledge. The oldest stuff we still play is a mix of AD&D 2nd Ed stuff (though mostly using Pathfinder rules at the moment) and Warhammer (1st Ed. campaign with 2nd Ed. rules).

13: Most memorable character death?
Ploon dies all the time, but it never counts. I have two real character deaths that rank about equal, for different reasons. First was the Reverend Sandy Spurgeon, a Call of Cthulhu character, who died on the Starkweather-Moore expedition. Without wanting to give away any spoilers, this was back in 2002 and I still don't hear the end of it, because Scot's character, West, also died in the process of trying to save Spurgeon from... something. And while I'm reasonably sure the something would have gotten us either way, the complaint I still hear at least once a month is that I had said I'd take home the book-sized player handout (an actual fucking novel, literally) and read through it, but I sort of slept through some parts of it (because it was 03fucking:00!) and sort of missed an important clue. Oops.

The other was Sto Kalb'asi, mentioned in #8, my Bothan spy in a Star Wars game perhaps a year later. It was easily one of our best campaigns ever, things were exciting and fun, but half the fun came from intra-party conflict, which is risky. Scot's Jedi and Brendon's Sith channelled this in a good way, leading to one of the most compelling character-driven RPG duels I've yet seen. But Sto's sneaky espionage ways became unpopular after the revelation of Sith infiltration. When we got stuck by red tape on a Hutt planet, the other characters seemed to be making no progress, so Sto decided to negotiate privately with the Hutt (I can't remember why, I thought I had a special angle somehow). What I didn't know was that the others decided this would be a good way to sneak a bomb up to the Hutt's face, while also ridding themselves of the dubious Bothan. Long story short, they blew me up, nowhere near the Hutt.

(Honourable mentions also to the time in Damon's first Star Wars campaign when we all died by stupidly charging into automatic blaster fire, the time in Jamie's Delta Green when we all died by
stupidly charging into automatic gun fire, and the time I ran Jonny Nexus's ultra-realistic First World War trench warfare scenario, where everyone died by following orders to charge across no man's land at the Somme.)

14: Best convention purchase?
Kobolds Ate My Baby!, at Icon 2001. It's honestly not the greatest game ever, but it's fun. More importantly, it got me to risk solo GMing properly (after the initial attempt with Tyler and Dragon Mountain) and it did so in a fun, easy way. With so few rules to worry about, I could focus on the content, and on learning from my mistakes. Without it, who knows what different path my roleplaying habit might have followed.

15: Favourite convention game?
"Please Don't Feed The Natives", Call of Cthulhu, Icon 2008. A fairly standard zombie scenario that I GMed. What made it great was that everything just clicked beautifully. I assigned the characters to mostly unknown players, and they all fitted perfectly. The one tricky character I gave to my only known player (Nali), and he handled it perfectly for me. And then the destruction and horror of the scenario unfolded beautifully, "organically", with hardly any pushing needed from me. It all worked and everyone had a great time. These are the rare moments Jonny Nexus spake of, when he explained why we put up with all the times that roleplaying doesn't work properly.

16: Game I wish I owned?
Something that captures BattleTech properly. I want something that lets me smash around in a giant mech, without the hassle of full miniatures rules that the official BT roleplaying requires. Considering the complexity of mechs compared with other vehicles (and considering how even simple vehicle rules are often dodgy in many systems), this may just be a pipe dream. But it is my wish.

17: Funniest game I've played?
All of them, eventually. It depends much more on the crowd than the game. Some things written explicitly for "funnyness", like Kobolds!, can fail dismally, especially in the hands of a bad writer. Others, meant to be super ultra serious, like Cthulhu, are normally filled to the brim with absurdity and all possible flavours of humour.

18: Favourite game system?
Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, 2nd Edition. It is objectively the best one.

19: Favourite published adventure?
A very tough call. Anything by James Wallis, most of the old Warhammer 1st Ed. stuff. Beyond the Mountains of Madness. Horror on the Orient Express. The starter adventures in the Delta Green core book. The common thread seems to be investigative, low-combat, heavily moody stuff. I look forward to finally getting my copy of Alas Vegas.

20: Will still play in 20 years time?
Yes I will. Next question.

But seriously, it could be anything, and it depends if we mean which system or which edition of a system. The latter is obviously stricter and more likely to be broken.

21: Favourite licensed RPG?
Stargate. It captures the feel of the series well, and the rules don't suck, and it allows for a lot of interesting expansion beyond TV canon. I can't think of another licensed RPG that gets all 3 right. None of the official Trek RPG rules are great. The Serenity/Firefly and BSG games have shit rules and I don't feel they captured the essence of either. The Star Wars games (both d6 and d20) are pretty good, but I always feel they've over-powered the Jedi (relative to what's seen on screen in the 3 movies, not relative to other characters in the game). The first Babylon 5 game had awful rules; the second (d20) version might have been decent, but we only tried it briefly. The Buffy game had weird rules, but wasn't bad. Men in Black was fine for a quick laugh, but not sufficient for anything long-term, due to thin content. Stargate is the only one I have zero doubts about.

22: Best 2nd Hand RPG purchase
See question 3, as a springing point to all further purchases. More than half (more than three quarters?) of my stuff is second hand. It's a matter of geography. Hardly anything roleplayish gets imported to South Africa, and retailers hold very little stock of what they do get, and somehow always seem to get the stuff that won't shift, so they're stuck with it for months or years, reinforcing their excuse that they can't afford to import things that they can't sell. I've had some luck importing things directly (through Amazon), but usually that works out much cheaper second hand anyway. What I purchase has less to do with what I want than with what I can find.

23: Coolest looking RPG book
The shiny metallic look of Spycraft 1st Ed. was genius. It's very simple, it's not even really shiny or metallic (which is actually better!), but it puts a very clear sense of sleek modernity in my mind. I'm not sure exactly how it was printed, but there's something special to it that you won't be able to see through a screen. That's my answer for over all look. If I were to pick out individual bits, then the art for Planescape is often amazing to me, though collectively it can get a bit busy.

24: Most complicated RPG owned
Pathfinder. It's not really that complicated, but I avoid complication and that's about my upper limit. (The answer might have been Babylon Project, which looks pretty messy, but I never bothered to understand its rules well enough to judge.)

25: Favourite RPG nobody else wants to play
Perhaps it's a relative problem, but I can't think of any such game in an absolute sense. My gaming circle is wide enough, and I'm patient enough, that eventually we get to try everything.

26: Coolest character sheet
Exam pad + pencil. I have never found an official character sheet that didn't frustrate me in some way; some more than others, some hardly at all. But none of them win, none beat plain lined paper, except when I'm in a rush. The closest I've ever come to declaring a character sheet sufficiently worthy is the extended 4-page Warhammer sheet.

27: Game I'd like to see a new/improved edition of
Warhammer. I'd like 4th edition to be 2nd edition again, please. There could be a couple small tweaks, but it's basically already all it needs to be, and 3rd edition is shit. More realistically, some of the neglected, interesting D&D campaign settings officially updated to 5th Ed and then expanded with new material might be nice.

28: Scariest game I've played
In hindsight, Jamie's Delta Green again. We (or I, at least) did genuinely do things out of adrenal panic. It wasn't scary per se, but it did make me react as I would to real danger (if I was a jewish female FBI agent with an inappropriately big gun). It was... immersive. (I like to hope I captured something similar with "Please Don't Feed The Natives" and a few other games, but it's harder to judge from behind the GM screen.)

29: Most memorable encounter
My memory is poor on specifics. But there was that Star Wars game where we were Rebels who had infiltrated a party at an Imperial governor's home or some such. Brendon and I went snooping, and the very first door we open leads to a guards' barracks, absolutely full of stormtroopers polishing their blasters, playing poker and otherwise turning to see what uninvited troublemakers have just barged into their room. We were on the verge of starting a suicidal gunfight, when I suddenly thought of pretending to be bored party guests looking for some fun; hey, can we join your poker game? We have piles of cash and we're not very good! We walked out of there a few credits poorer and many, many hit points more alive than expected.

30: Rarest RPG owned
My own house rules have had limited distribution. I also have Shaun van der Berg's Katra 'ul, still in playtesting, if we're talking about whole systems, not just variants, that someone other than me made. For commercially published stuff, I'm not certain, but I think perhaps my Babylon Project probably wasn't that widely sold, but was it less widely sold than dinky little Kobolds!? I have insufficient data. I also have a lot of D&D and Warhammer stuff from the '80s, and I'm not sure how rare those have become, even if they were originally common.

31: Favourite RPG of all time
The one I play with good friends and good cheer. Systems geekery is amusing to a point, setting preference is obviously purely subjective, but ultimately the whole point of the whole hobby is to enjoy spending time with other people. If you're missing that, you've missed the point of playing.