Come with me for a second.
So, I’m putting together a new D&D campaign. It’s got everything D&D usually has: orcs, elves, dwarves, dragons, etc., etc. Violence, destiny, romance, epic quests, magic swords, fireballs, and all that good stuff.
In this campaign, though, you can only play one of two classes: Fighter or Wizard
I know that seems arbitrary, but hey, those are the classics, right? If you look back at 1e D&D, there were three classes, Fighting Man, Priest, and Magic-User. Combine those second two into a single class, and you basically get the Fighter and the Wizard.
Oh, and ability scores are rolled straight down the line. None of this “assign as desired” business. We’re old-school. 3d6, straight down the line.
What? Didn’t get a high strength or a high intelligence? Not my problem. You can play a less effective character. Just pick the path with the lesser bad score. The one you resemble *better,* so maybe your character could at least *pass* as a competent fighter or ok wizard. Like a high Dex or high Con Fighter could be useful, and a Wizard with high Wisdom and high Charisma? Fine.
What, you rolled a 16 Dex and an 18 Cha? Um, well, I don’t know what to tell you. No rogues in my game.
15 Con and 17 Wis? No, no clerics either.
No, no, no, let me be clear: No other classes. They’re just distractions. Bastardizations of the core concepts.
I mean, maybe that’s ok. Maybe you like Wizards or you like Fighters. I mean, in a world of only Wizards and Fighters, if you’re a Wizard or Fighter (preferably a decent one), that’s probably cool.
Here are a few more things about the setting:
Culturally-speaking, the only acceptable Wizard school is Evocation, and anyone who picks a different school is considered a lesser Wizard. If you aren’t great with evocation spells or, worse, can’t cast them at all, people WILL shame you. A lot.
Same with Fighters and Battlemaster. NPCs will constantly rag on you about what tricks and feats you can pull off in battle.
Certain races are assumed to be one but not the other. For instance, in this particular setting, most people assume halflings are wizards because they don’t think they have the strength to be fighters. A halfling fighter is generally considered pretty weird. Most people laugh at elven fighters, telling them to stop dressing like strength characters, and most people assume half-orcs aren’t intelligent enough to be wizards.
Also, you can play an Eldritch Knight, but every NPC in the game will get confused and attack you on sight. (You get pretty much the same result from taking any class features or subclasses not in the PHB.)
Sounds fun, right?
I agree. That’s super fun. In fact, all of the D&D I run is going to use this, from now on. (I wonder if I can petition WotC to make this the case with all their game books?)
Wait a second, hold up, where are you going? You don’t want to play in my game?
What if I were to tell you that you didn’t have a choice? Because this is D&D 6e, when the only choices in the game will be fighters and wizards–no other classes. No other options. Just those things.
Why are you frustrated?
(Hold onto that frustration, by the way. It’s gonna be important.)
This is just the way it’s always been: fighting men and magic-users.
Because when you boil it down, isn’t it really just those two? It’s Conan vs. the bad guy cultist of the week. It’s the 12 members of the Fellowship of the Ring plus Gandalf. It’s a guy who solves problems physically, and a gal who solves problems with magic. A girl with a sword vs. a boy with a wand. The male fist and the female somatic component.
Guys and gals? Boys and girls? Male and female?
(Hold up, when did we start talking about that?)
But you know, now that you bring it up, this does seem a little like the gender binary. I mean, if you live in a world of fighters and wizards, and you’re a fighter or a wizard, I suppose that’s cool. In much the same way, if you live in a world of men and women only, and you’re a man (as I am) or a woman, that’s fine, right?
Remember that frustration you were holding onto a minute ago?
IMAGINE IF THAT WAS YOUR WHOLE LIFE.
Imagine if you aren’t a man or a woman, or if you have the stats/equipment for one but you identify as the other, trying to navigate this world, where you have to be one or the other… and most of the time, your choice is made FOR YOU, based not on what you say or how you act but HOW YOU LOOK.
About 1% of human beings are intersex, that is, possessing characteristics commonly associated with male and female genders; intersex people are much more difficult to characterize as male or female, and it’d be silly to even try. 1% is same percentage of people who have green eyes, but we don’t run up to green-eyed people, shake them, and scream “there are only brown and blue eyes!”
No, I’m not trolling you. I’m not trying to upset you. I’m trying to open up your perspective by attaching it to something that’s deeply relevant to all of us–D&D. Gaming. This is a sacred thing we’ve been doing, some of us for decades. You have an emotional connection to it, just like I do. You love it, you value it, and of course you feel uncomfortable when it’s perverted. You argue, you rant, or you walk away.
But in the real world, trans people, enby people–they don’t have those options. If they argue, they get hated on. If they rant, they get attacked. And they can’t walk away.
And they shouldn’t have to. They have every right to live in this world that you or I do–just as all of us have every right to play the games we love.
So maybe next time someone talks about trans rights or fighting transphobia, or about we should be more respectful with gendered language, think about the frustration and irritation you felt reading through this.
Because limitations are shitty, and life is too short to be limited like this.
(No spoilers. I’m going to do my best to avoid spoiling anything, which is tricky, since the movie thrives on secrecy and reveals.)
There’s a moment in Captain Marvel powerfully reminiscent of a moment in another recent geekdom movie owned by the House of Mouse.
It’s cold, it’s dark, all hope seems lost. The hero seems defeated, the bad guy is on the verge of getting what they want, and a lot of people we’ve come to love are in danger.
Then the music swells, the lightsaber veers away from Kylo Ren’s grasp and propels itself into Rey’s hand, and she stands before us revealed for the hero she is. Not because she is powerful (though she is) but because she is willing and ready to claim that power for herself.
Captain Marvel has a similar moment, which profoundly affected me in the theater. It not only captures who Carol Danvers is and what she stands for, but also the whole point of the movie and the entire narrative thrust and power of this character and her story.
This is a story about female power: about controlling it, restraining it, and fearing it. About what awakens it, unlocks it, and strengthens it.
And make no mistake, Carol Danvers is the mightiest hero we’ve seen in the Marvel Universe. I won’t qualify that with “female” hero–there’s nothing about her power that is distinctly female, other than that it is hers, and that makes ALL the difference.
In a way, it is nothing new: we have seen this narrative over and over again, the hero called to the quest, awakening to the power inside them, and finally learning to harness and unleash it. But in almost every case (95%+ of the time), it’s a male character undergoing this quest, and the female characters are secondary. They’re love interests, companions, or wise elders. They might even be heroes in their own right, but they don’t claim center-stage in the story, and even in the rare instances of those who do, usually their quest isn’t about them as women.
Captain Marvel is about a female hero, from start to finish. She faces patriarchal methods of control at every turn: warnings about allowing emotion to overwhelm her logic, for instance, or being chided to smile and insulted when she doesn’t. There’s a whole segment in the movie about struggling to use her power despite literal shackles. Her overall story is about realizing the bondage placed upon her and breaking free. Demanding and claiming her right to go higher, to go faster, and to go further.
A note also about the setting: This is a very 90s movie, full of 90s music that resonates so well with the action as well as lots of 90s jokes that really appealed to a 90s kid like me. From the trailers, I thought it might just be a gimmick, but upon seeing the movie I finally realized WHY Marvel set this movie in the 90s. The cultural context was pivotal to the story and its themes: the 90s wave of feminism and female empowerment, the pressure on military services to accept female pilots and soldiers, all of that is key to making this story make sense.
I do want to acknowledge that this is not a perfect movie. It isn’t entirely ground-breaking: Wonder Woman broke a lot of this ground a couple years ago, so Marvel missed its chance to be first to the punch. But Captain Marvel offers us a different view of female empowerment and heroism than WW did, and both movies are extremely good at what they do.
There’s your typical supply of what, at this point, we can call “Marvel Cheese.” Some of the jokes, some of the slapstick, etc, reminded me of watching a Guardians of the Galaxy movie, and the dynamics among the aliens were very much in that vein. So if you liked GoG (and statistically speaking, you probably did), you’ll probably love the tone of this movie.
There’s the humor you expect, though not always from the people you expect. Clearly, Samuel L. Jackson had a GREAT TIME with this movie. His Nick Fury is surprisingly fun and warm, something he hasn’t been allowed to be in the other MCU movies. Saying more might head into spoiler territory, but some unexpected humor is unexpected but ultimately effective, I think.
(Also, I totally saw Kelly Sue DeConnick in her second-long cameo! Rock.)
Now, because, ugh, let’s talk about this: There’s a whole movement out there by a LOT of dudes who hate women (and especially hate women in their superhero movies) who have a weird fixation on Brie Larson not smiling (I know, ironic, isn’t it?).
At first, her portrayal worried me that she’d come off as relentlessly grumpy or prickly, the way clearly feminist characters sometimes do, but give her a minute, and you start to see the meaning behind her Carol Danvers’s behavior.
She is a woman who has been relentlessly bullied and cowed into being emotionless (as if that’s a strength) and expected to be a perfect little servant who always does what she’s told. Her experiences throughout the movie show her growing, breaking free, and finally harnessing her feelings and the power that comes with them. Her development is emotional, wrought with the aid of friends both male and female, as well as metaphysical.
(Also, all the haters are wrong, and EVS and his Comicsgate minions played themselves yet again by bashing on this movie. What fools.)
Ultimately, Captain Marvel is a great, fun, powerful movie and one that Marvel sorely needed to add to their line-up. That this movie didn’t happen five years ago and the MCU hasn’t put out half a dozen women-led films since is kind of a shame, but at least it’s here now, and it sets a precedent for the universe going forward.
The future is here (well, the future by way of 25 years ago), and while that future may not be entirely female, it is female-led, and that is a hopeful, marvelous thing.
For sixteen years, I’ve published my own creative work, mostly fantasy and science fiction, mostly novels but also short stories and novellas.
I’ve worked in others’ sandboxes and my own: five of my novels take place within an existing IP (the Forgotten Realms, owned by Wizards of the Coast), five are totally creator-owned (Eye for an Eye, Scourge of the Realm, and my World of Ruin series), and one was written originally in a shared IP but is now creator-owned (Blind Justice). I am adept with both sorts of writing.
I’m a known commodity in the tabletop gaming industry, and have an array of credits to my name on such games as Dungeons & Dragons, Iron Kingdoms, Red Aegis, and others.
I’m also a lifelong gamer, on the console or computer or tabletop. I’ve run games since 5th grade, and my first creative writing exercises drew directly from those experiences. Unsurprisingly, my favorite games tend to be RPGs and action-adventure games.
I’m not a coder or a programmer.
I’m an ideas person. I have built dozens of worlds myself for my own use, and I’ve worked closely with others to build worlds, flesh them out, describe them, and bring their stories to life.
Dialogue, description, characterization, plot—all of these things are the fundamental building blocks with which we convey dreams from one mind to another.
I care deeply about my fellow human beings and the environment we live in. I advocate strongly for social justice and a progressive direction to our culture and politics. I will stand up and defend those who are under assault as best I can.
My work is built on a foundation of respect, representation, and truth. I know the power of my voice, and I will not shirk the responsibility that comes with it.
Let’s explore this world together.
In 2019, I’ve decided to try and post a bit of Gaming Mastery every day of the year. That’s 365 tips, all of them organized around a monthly theme.
January’s theme? The basics of running a game.
And we’ll start with the most basic of basics for Game Mastery:
Hail and well met!
In 2019, I will be upping my Patreon output, and I hope to share something every day or two.
For example, recently, I’ve started writing quick pieces called Forgotten Realms Abridged, where I do a very brief humorous summary of a Forgotten Realms novel, partly as a bid to get you to read said novel, and mostly to amuse and delight.
I’ll be posting a few of these publicly, but if you want to see them all, back me on my Patreon, where they’ll be collected for easy and convenient access.
Here’s the first one, about the first Realms novel, Darkwalker on Moonshae!
Forgotten Realms Abridged: Episode 1: Darkwalker on Moonshae
(With all love and respect to Douglas Niles–seriously, go read his book.)
Setting: Moonshae Isles
Kazgoroth, the Beast: I am in your land, eating your people!
The Earthmother: Oh no! I’ll send my fey-born children to stop you, but they will all fail, one by one. Won’t someone rise up to stop the Beast?
Tristan Kendrick, heir to the kingdom: I like horses!
The Beast and the Earthmother: …… um?
Setting: Caer Corwell
The Earthmother, in a dream or something: Robyn, my child, you must go forth and unite the peoples of the Moonshaes to oppose the Northmen, who’ve been suborned by the Beast!
Robyn: But I am a lowly ward to the king. What can I do?
The Earthmother: You have great potential as a druid! You will be my emissary in this matter.
Robyn: Yeah, but, how do I get anyone to listen to me?
Tristan: Hey, I never really thought about how pretty you were, Robyn!
Robyn: …. that works?
Tristan: I’m the prince!
Robyn: …. um…
Kazgoroth the Beast: Mwahahaha, I have disguised myself as King Thelgaar Ironhand, ruler of the Northmen! Now they will serve my will!
The Earthmother: Hey, no fair, disguising yourself. The reader will get confused.
Thelgaar/Kazgoroth: Hey, aren’t you Chauntea, goddess of the harvest?
The Earthmother/Chauntea: Hey, aren’t you Bhaal, god of murder?”
Thelgaar/Kazgoroth/Bhaal: Shut up!
Robyn, the would-be druid: Ok, we’ve assembled a motley crew from all walks of life to oppose the Beast, which is working to corrupt one of the Moonwells…
Pawldo the halfling: Aye!
Daryth, a very sexy Calishite: Yes.
Canthus the moorhound: Woof!
Tristan, the crown prince: I have a sword!
Robyn: Tristan. Not helping.
Tristan: Seriously, though, it’s a great sword.
Robyn: Could it be anyone else. Anyone?
Robyn: Well, we have now vanquished the Beast and saved the Moonshaes.
Tristan: Yes! I’m sure nothing bad will ever happen here ever again.
Robyn: I dunno, evil is rarely ever purged on the first try. We should really stay constantly vigilant…
Tristan: Let’s get married!
Robyn: Wait, what?
Crumbling stone shifted under Avashta’s foot, and she winced at the faint but undeniable sound it made. She wasn’t supposed to be here, in this place where the elders forbade entry to all but the most devout of priests. She should be out with the other hunters, gathering food for the clan, and she would. She was a princess of the Shadowed Moon, after all, and she knew her responsibilities. One day, when she reached the age of majority, she would become queen, assuming she came into her power as her mother had promised she would.
They had passed the ancient ruin thrice in as many weeks, and each time, her need to explore it had grown. It was as though she heard the ruin speaking to her, its voice inaudible but growing stronger, and each time the calling grew stronger.
Something groaned in the darkness below her, down the ivy-wrapped steps of the stone staircase. A chill suffused her, but somehow she knew she would not need her bow and quiver. Creatures lurked in the caves, but she felt as safe as she would in her own home.
At the base of the steps, Avashta’s elf eyes made out a round chamber filled with darkness and fungus. It looked as though no one had entered the chamber for years. At its center stood some sort of altar of green stone that glimmered faintly in the faint rays of moonlight that filtered through the cracked ceiling. The coldness radiated from the altar, or perhaps it drank in the ambient heart of the room. She could feel it flowing out of her body.
She shouldn’t have come here. This was wrong. Whatever had lured her down to this place was not what she expected. She had been a fool.
Even as she thought these things and started to turn, glowing green cracks appeared along the altar, radiating power such as she had never before witnessed. Avashta stared in awe as the altar rose from the dusty stone and drew itself apart, like a puzzle box unraveling, to reveal a swirling morass of emerald mist at its heart.
She heard again the same call that had drawn her to this place, only now she could make out the words.
“Welcome, Daughter of Destiny,” the voice said. “Your journey has only just begun.”
* * * * *
You know how I’ve been talking about being a full-time writer and game designer these days, stringing projects together, living the dream? Well, this is one of those projects, and it is well worth a look!
Seeds of Wars was inspired by classic realms management games like the Civilization series or the classic Birthright setting (the creator, Nicolas Nayaert, is a BIG fan).
Thousands of years ago, the people known as the Vareene waged a brutal war against a galactic infestation known only as the Congregation. These humanoid aliens buried their last hope–a powerful artifact called the Catalyst–on the distant, primitive planet of Ceres, where the Congregation would never think to look for it, and hid their final outpost behind a shield that blocked detection and sensors. Cut off from their homeworld as the last teleportation gates were closed, the small enclave waited for the war to run its course, when they would return to a wounded but surviving Vareene Empire.
Alas, such was not fated to pass. The Vareene died out, leaving the small outpost on Ceres as their last legacy. The survivors integrated with the native peoples of the planet, giving rise to powerful bloodlines linked to the ancient technology of the Vareene, which eventually became known as magic. Over centuries and then millennia, the Vareene ceased to be as a distinct culture, and in time their origins and purpose became the stuff of myth and legend. The truth was forgotten, but the power of the Vareene lingered in those descended from those original extraterrestrial visitors, including the key to unlocking the mythical Catalyst–which the folk of Ceres will need if their civilization is to survive.
The world of Ceres has many of the same tropes, stories, and other bits that you will find in other SFF stories and settings. There are elves and dwarves and humans, orcs and halflings and gnomes, and other fantastic species and peoples. (We prefer the term “ancestry” to “race.”) None of these peoples are the direct descendants of the Vareene–it’s not like elves are THE oldest and best culture on Ceres (though it depends on what elf you ask, some consider themselves almost entirely Vareene). Their heritage exists in all sorts of people, from the toughest human to the cleverest elf to the cruelest orc to the stoutest hearted halfling. No ability score is a requirement or mark of this legacy, nor is a class or background. Heirs of the Vareene come from all walks of life–from various ethnicities, ages, sexualities, and gender identities.
Whatever you want to play, you can be a Child of Destiny.
The heroes are assumed to descend from a Vareene bloodline, granting them both uncommon powers and a certain degree of deference in society. They are the children of history–the movers and shakers of Ceres and the destined protectors of the world.
(And if you want to play a ruler who doesn’t share this genetic heritage, that’s feasible too.)
The setting’s mythic story is a cyclical one: in every age, Ceres faces a rising doom that the heirs of the world must face and defeat. In the fantasy era, those with the genetic power of the Vareene discover buried secrets of their interstellar past and must overcome scouts from an unknown, alien threat–a small band of Congregation that has the power to destroy all of Ceres by itself. Centuries later in the “modern” age, our heroes face an impending invasion by unlocking the power that lies dormant within the planet and also reverse engineering the technology of the scouting unit. And finally, after Ceres has won its first battle against the Congregation, the heirs of the world must take to the stars to confront their destined foes.
Or, at least, that’s the overall plan.
The initial Kickstarter aims to produce the first of three campaign arcs for the Seeds of Wars overarching setting. The setting goes from fantasy to modern to high science fiction, as the descendants of the Vareene finally rise to confront the Congregation. The players take the roles of powerful leaders of various backgrounds, be they martial or magical, religious or criminal or creative, who hold special prominence in the world and occupy a unique position allowing them to gather the power and resources necessary to face the coming threat.
Stretch goals unlock additional eras and what a truly unique aspect of Seeds of Wars: a realm management AP to be used on your devices. You can read more about that on the Kickstarter page itself, but essentially it gives you powerful electronic processing and record keeping for running an entire kingdom. You can play the game like a standard RPG or like the ruler of a kingdom, and make any balance between the two playstyles that you like.
You may have noticed that, aside from talking up the App (and seriously, go check it out!), I haven’t said much mechanically about this game. And that’s because the game is designed to be adaptable to any game system, be it D&D, Pathfinder, Shadow of the Demon Lord (my personal favorite), Red Aegis, Cypher, Hackmaster, Shadowrun, you name it, you can do it. Our goal here is to provide a compelling setting and story that pulls you in and gives you all the tools for a memorable, epic campaign.
You can alternate hack-and-slash dungeon crawling with courtly intrigue, then zoom out and control your kingdoms on the macro scale. Built your power, forge alliances, and work together to save your world.
There’s more to see and learn about the Seeds of Wars setting. Go check out the Kickstarter, and kick in some money to help make this happen!