How to Empower Women Without Marginalizing Them

Oct 8, 2013 by

Art is a wallpaper from Zen Pencils. Lots more here.

Art is a wallpaper from Zen Pencils. Lots more here.

Since founding ConTessa, I’ve largely taken a back seat to discussing anything that would be considered ‘political’ in the sense that it would be disallowed at the convention. As I was the sole organizer of the first convention and the de facto ‘face’ of the convention, everything fell on my shoulders – including keeping everything apolitical. Those of you who have known me longer know that I do have opinions, and they’re fairly strong opinions, and they often go against what a lot of my contemporaries have to say about the issue. In particular, I take strong exception to the idea that in order for women to get content and material they like and want to consume, they have to demand that men write, draw, and create that content. I find that largely misses the point of feminism altogether.

To be clear, the entire reason many women feel they need to demand that men create content they will enjoy is because so few women actually work in positions where they can create the things that they enjoy. So therein lies the major disagreement that I hold with many of the Social Justice activists that presume to act as the thought police of others who create. We both want the same thing, I’m just not willing to waste my time asking someone to create something that they dislike so that I can have something that I like. Indeed, two decades of experience working in the corporate world has led me to the overall conclusion that people work harder, do better work, and create more awesome things when they’re allowed to do the things that they feel passionate about and that they enjoy. Conversely, things that people are asked to create that they dislike and aren’t passionate about end up missing the details.

This happens all the time in modern software engineering. I’ve been an engineer for a very long time, and I can promise you I’ve never seen great code come from corporate projects. The code is often adequate, and almost always does the job its supposed to, but when an engineer truly wants to create something beautiful or perfect (at least to them), they almost always have to do so on private projects outside of work or on various open source projects also done outside of work. When software engineers get together to talk at the water cooler, the conversation is almost always about how their ability to be passionate about a project is largely truncated by the sloppy code written before them or the sloppy code a business owner is asking them to write just to get the project out the door. Knowing this, I would never ask someone to work on a project that they aren’t completely in love with, and I’d have a difficult time telling a large company like Wizards of the Coast or Paizo to tell their people not to make things that they like and they get passionate about, but to instead create things that I will be passionate about.

ConTessa really opened my eyes to this even more. In the beginning, I sent out open calls for volunteers and came back with mixed responses. Most often, I didn’t get a single response at all. When I did, I found that the people who responded had great intentions, but did not have the time or capability to actually complete the work they said that they’d do. I can’t really blame them, I’ve done the same thing in the past. I soldiered on and did all the work myself, calling in helpers only towards the end when I started to get a feel for who was truly interested, and what sort of skill sets they could bring to the table. After the first convention, I knew who the stand-outs were. These were the people who showed the most passion and creativity, and who really made ConTessa shine. Of that group, I chose three to be my staff members for ConTessa 2014 and the quality of work, the degree of passion, the level of creativity, and their ability to get shit done has blown me away.

That’s a long way of getting around to the point I’m about to make, and it’s mostly to otherwise well-intentioned men working in the industry who really want to give women that ‘break’ they’re looking for to get their work out there.

Stop trawling the internet with requests for women to work on your projects. Just stop. Stop it with the tweets declaring that as a male industry insider, its up to you to give women opportunities to get published that they otherwise wouldn’t have. Stop making posts on Facebook and Google+ stating that you need women to work on your projects. Just stop. It’s great that you want to find women who will work on your projects, and I applaud you for the effort to actually get more work made by women out there rather than just trying to make work that more women will enjoy, however it’s quite degrading.

I am not your social capital. I do not exist as an artist, creator, programmer, writer, voice, or anything else simply to make you look like you’re more liberal and understand your privilege. I do not want to be chosen to work on a project first because of my gender, then because of my good work, and I most certainly don’t want to be your token woman that you trot out to prove that you really do have women working on your projects. Further, when I see these requests fly around, it gives me an immediate poor impression of the company, person, or project that is being represented in this very tactless manner.

If your heart is truly in the right place, and you truly do want to hire more women, you’ll need to do something dramatic. You’ll need to go out and look for them. Read fan fiction. Spend time on deviantArt. Follow women on social media and pay attention to what they’re saying, particularly what they’re passionate about. Play their games on Google+, invite them into gaming groups that you run, in other words … get to know them the same way you got to know all of the other men that you’ve already asked to work on your project. This takes time. It takes personal investment, and it won’t always be easy … but it’ll be worth it. Worth it for you to work with a more diverse group of people. Worth it for you to find women who are truly passionate about what you’re doing. Worth it for you not to treat women as a commodity, even as a fairly benign social commodity. If you wouldn’t take the shotgun approach to the men you hire, don’t take a shotgun approach to the women you hire, either.

Lest anyone think that this message is solely for the men out there, it isn’t. Women in this industry need to do a better job of self-promoting. All of that crap up there that I’m saying men should do? I did all of that when building Randomocity and when looking for people to pull into ConTessa. It wasn’t easy, and it isn’t as though it wasn’t easy because these women don’t exist. It wasn’t easy because they’re not talking about themselves enough. I’m guilty of this, too, and I think I’m better at tooting my own horn than most women out there that I meet or find.

Stop saying you can’t create. If you’ve ever run a game, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever thought you could do a better job at art direction, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever written a single house rule, whether as a GM or a player, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever written anything longer than a tweet, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever doodled in the margins of your character sheet, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever thought up an idea for a new monster, you’re a creator. If you’ve ever created anything at all at any time in any place for anyTHING that you absolutely adore, you’re a creator. Stop making excuses. Even project management and curation are core parts of the creation process. If you know what you like and you know what you don’t like, you have the skills to create. The only way you’re going to get better at it is if you practice.

Talk about more than just the things you hate. Not only is this a good idea to keep yourself from falling into a 100′ Pit of Constant Negativity, but it also gives people an idea of the things that you’re passionate about. If all that you’re putting out there is criticism, creators looking to hire other creators are likely going to pass up all of the awesome you have to offer the world because they think all you want to do is criticize, and they’re not looking for critics. I’m not even going to get into discussing whether or not criticism is vital or helpful because the answer doesn’t matter. The point is that you need to show me what interests you so that I can decide whether or not you’d be a good fit for my project. Talk about the things that you love, what you enjoy creating and, first and foremost, what you’ve created. Don’t undersell yourself into believing that the world you created for you and your best friend to write fan fiction in is uninteresting to the rest of the world. If you love it, chances are there are other people around who also love it, and some of them might even want to hire you.

Don’t pigeonhole yourself by only talking about “Women’s Issues”. A big part of why I stepped away from talking about feminism and politics is due to the fact that after a while, that’s all I was asked to comment on or participate in. For several months, a majority of my free time was taken up by actually answering those calls and making those comments. I realized that I’d stopped becoming a creator in my effort to fight for my right to create however I (and others) feel fit. That’s a dark place to be. When I ran out of time for these discussions because I was too busy creating things and started to turn down these requests, they came at a lesser and lesser frequency until now they hardly come at all. The requests that I get now are for collaboration and sponsorship. To avoid yet another common attack, I’ll point out that I’m not saying that these conversations are important or unimportant. That answer is just as irrelevant as the criticism question. If what you really want to do in this space is talk about women’s issues, then by all means that should be your first priority. However, based on things like the 1ReasonWhy hashtag that went around a while ago, there’s a whole lot of you out there that want to do more than that. So do it.

Break out of those echo chamber social circles full of only other women. For creators to see you, you have to put yourself in their space. I’m not advocating ditching all of your female friends, just broaden your horizons. Statistically speaking, if you’re looking to be hired by someone else, that person is going to typically be male. There’s no getting around that. You might get lucky and have someone like me looking for you, but even then I don’t limit my social circles to mainly women, either, so it’s going to be hard for me to see you, too. Get in on their conversations, play in their games, make friends with them, get to know them, meet them in person whenever possible, invite them into your projects, ask to be part of their projects. Form relationships. Never, ever, ever underestimate how important those relationship are.

Lastly, and most importantly … stop telling yourself that you’re not good enough. Stop telling yourself that someone’s going to jump up and tell you that you’re “fake”. Stop telling yourself that you have to have everything perfect before you can show it to the rest of the world. Stop worrying about who might attack you or dislike what you’ve created. If you create things that you enjoy and share them with the world, other people will enjoy them. If not enough people enjoy them for your taste, then you can always hit the drawing board again. Failure is an enormous part of any creative process. Don’t let it frighten you away from the things you want to do, make friends with it. Failure tells us much more than success.

Above all else, in my creative endeavor, this quote by Ira Glass has turned out to be the most true thing I’ve ever read:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
– Ira Glass

I have – and continue to have – a wonderful experience working with all of the people who have chosen to help make all of my projects awesome. Taking my time and hand picking people whom I’ve cultivated relationships with (and continue to cultivate relationships with) has been an extremely eye-opening and rewarding experience. I’d love to see more women take up the reigns on projects that they want to see happen and make them happen. I’d love to see more women putting out work that they enjoy. Not work that they think others will enjoy, not work they think is socially responsible, work that makes them tingle with joy, work that tempts them during the workday, work that’s so compelling that they go everywhere with a notebook so they can have something to scribble down notes on in between other day to day chores, work that makes them happy. THAT is the diversity that I want to see.



read more

Get Randomocity Issue No. 1 for FREE!

Sep 18, 2013 by


Randomocity is a print tabletop roleplaying Zine crafted and curated by Stacy Dellorfano (me!). Each quarter, I ask people I know and respect in the gaming community to create great new gaming content to fuel your imagination. All we give them is a simple theme and an idea of how many pages their contribution to fill. After that, everything else is up to them! We hope to provide you with a print Zine featuring content from a variety of systems, systemless content, and plenty of art and maps to tickle your gaming fancy.

As a proof of concept, our very first issue will be mailed out for FREE to all who sign up! Use the form below to sign up, the first issue with the theme of ‘Horror’ should ship mid-October!

Future issues will be available for a reasonable price via Patreon. We won’t sell, give away, or do anything else with the information you provide. If you’d like us to contact you once our Patreon page is set up, check the checkbox under the email section.

Thanks, and we hope you enjoy Randomocity!

International Folks: Sorry, but we only have the funds to mail within the US! If you’d still like a copy of Randomicity #1, and are willing to pay your own shipping, contact me at demoness -at-, and once the Zine is ready to ship, I’ll send you a Paypal invoice for the cost of your shipping.

read more

Related Posts

87 (Mostly) Gaming-Themed G+ Event Banners in 1200×300 Format

Sep 7, 2013 by

I present to you all 87 of my 1200 x 300px Google Event gaming and gaming-related event banners. All of these banners are from original photography by Stacy Dellorfano and are licensed for use under a Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-ShareAlike license. Please! Use them in fantastic and great ways, then tell me about them on Google+! You don’t always have to add attribution, but when you do please give attribution back to this page so that others can find these awesome banners, too!

Never have a dull event again! Below are my most recent batch, and following them are a collection of new things as well as older banners that were resized.

To save a banner: Click on the banner, it’ll open up the full-sized version in a new window or tab. From there, right-click or cmd-click and select ‘Save image as…’, then just choose where you’d like to store your image on your hard drive. You can then add it to your event in G+ by uploading it when you’re creating the event.






















Psst, check out more in the pages below…

read more

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Harley Quinn, Feminism, and Suicide

Sep 7, 2013 by

Last night, I was cruising around Google+ far too late at night when Mandy Morbid plussed me into a conversation that she was having with a group of other people on the relative sexism of this promotion put out by DC Comics. When I first came upon the argument, I had no idea that the promotion existed at all. Upon reading the page at DC Comics, I came away wondering what the big deal was about. I got the big deal about suicide, and I’ll get to that later … what I didn’t get was what made this _sexist_.

Here are the descriptions of the four panels:

Harley is on top of a building, holding a large DETACHED cellphone tower in her hands as lightning is striking just about everywhere except her tower. She is looking at us like she cannot believe what she is doing. Beside herself. Not happy.

Harley is sitting in an alligator pond, on a little island with a suit of raw chicken on, rolling her eyes like once again, she cannot believe where she has found herself. We see the alligators ignoring her.

Harley is sitting in an open whale mouth, tickling the inside of the whale’s mouth with a feather. She is ecstatic and happy, like this is the most fun ever.

Harley sitting naked in a bathtub with toasters, blow dryers, blenders, appliances all dangling above the bathtub and she has a cord that will release them all. We are watching the moment before the inevitable death. Her expression is one of “oh well, guess that’s it for me” and she has resigned herself to the moment that is going to happen.

This will be on Page 15 of the comic, and there is no other context given to describe what the panels are actually depicting. Obviously, from the changing facial expressions, Harley is attempting to kill  herself for whatever reason, and despite her best efforts, is failing miserably. We don’t know the reason. We have no idea if she’ll succeed (presumably not, considering this is Harley #0, and I suspect they want to have a Harley #1, so killing Harley off would be silly), but the point is … we don’t know.

DC’s made a lot of mistakes lately in regards to dealing with their female characters. It’s a time that frankly makes me happy to be a Marvel fan. Unfortunately for DC, it means now that everything that they post about anything in which a female character is being portrayed in any way whatsoever gets worked over for what it doesn’t say more than for what it does say. There’s a frankly hyperbolic and silly need to attach a whole lot of context to the panels that actually isn’t there.

Here’s a sampling of the headlines and blog post titles associated with it:

DC Comics’ call for naked, suicidal Harley Quinn image angers fans –
DC Comics Contest: Draw a Naked Woman Committing Suicide – Jezebel
Want to Be A DC Artist? Just Draw Harley Quinn Naked, Committing Suicide –
DC Comics asks artists to show their skill at killing off naked women – The Daily Dot

First, all of these titles are woefully inaccurate. Every single one of them. Sure, DC may have problems, like just recently not allowing Batwoman to marry her partner (WTF DC?), but let’s keep the criticism to factual representations of the incidents occurring rather than to hyperbolic articles filled with link bait ignoring large portions of the promotion so they could focus on the single portion that they dislike… which appears to be naked women. Harley was okay attempting to commit suicide (not actually succeeding, mind you) in all three other panels. What crossed the line was drawing her naked in a bathtub.

Here’s how Emily at Tor.Com described it:

They directed each artist interested to draw four panels, each of increasingly unlikely ways that Harley might choose to end her life. (Willing lightning to strike her, covering herself with raw chicken and surrounding herself with crocodiles, and so on.) And then they get to Panel 4:


Let’s recap this—in order to get potentially hired by DC Comics as an artist, all you have to do is draw a picture of a female character (who has already recently gone through an unnecessary hyper-sexualized redesign)completely naked and about to commit suicide.

Completely naked and in a bathtub where one is frequently completely naked. Let’s get the ‘reasonable armor’ folks in on this one. Why is it unreasonable to be naked in the bathtub? The bath part keeps getting pulled out entirely, which I guess I understand. All of these juicy little quotable portions aren’t so quotable when you realize that Harley’s nakedness is in the bath. Honestly, sexy was the last thing that went through my head when I imagined that scene using typical comic book artwork. Most of her would be obscured by the bathtub and the water. What wasn’t obscured by that would be done so with strategic placement of other things. The focus would be on her expression, as that’s been the primary focus of all four panels. Yes, I’m sure there’d be a touch of sexy in there, or maybe a lot of it depending on the artist, but the first thing that popped to my mind wasn’t sexual at all. I was thinking of Looney Tunes cartoons.

I, apparently, am not plugged into the hive mind anymore, as I got that totally wrong. I was apparently supposed to be imagining Harley actually committing suicide, and in a sexualized manner.

Emily, again:

According to the fine print, these panels are referred to as a “script page,” which means these images will appear in some form in Issue #0 of the title. As we don’t know the context of these images in the comic, it’s impossible to comment on them clearly. But encouraging countless artists to draw a woman in sexualized manner while trying to kill herself is well beyond plain poor taste. (And no, she doesn’t have to be sexualized just because she’s naked, but comics at large have a pretty poor track record where that’s concerned, so let’s not hold out hope there.) DC reserves their right to reproduce the art received online, which means that they could potentially ask fans for their opinions on the artwork to help in the process of judging the open call. Just drawing after drawing of Harley Quinn trying to electrocute herself in the bathtub, a never-ending barrage of decidedly unfunny images.

What I find interesting about Emily’s piece is that she actually acknowledges both the fact that the panel wasn’t asked to be drawn in a sexualized manner, and the fact that naked does not automatically equal sexualized. She goes on to justify that, though, by stating that it’s reasonable for her to believe that the panel will be sexualized because comics have a poor track record where that’s concerned. Just for the record, that’s kind of like saying the kid must have stolen the candy bar he claims to not have a receipt for because he’s stolen things before. Do you think that would hold up in a court well?

Aja at The Daily Dot does pretty much the same thing. First, in her introduction she sets us up by informing us that it’s blatantly sexual:

 Harley Quinn is one of the most popular—and arguably one of the most sexualized—female characters in DC’s deck. A member of a covert group of villains called Suicide Squad, she currently works for the U.S. government. The four panels DC wants fledgling artists to draw all depict Harley courting death. Panel 2 shows her hanging out in a crocodile pond, Panel 3, sitting happily in the mouth of a whale. But the final panel is both grim and blatantly sexual:

Followed by the quoted Panel 4 text that you an reread again above. Nothing in there describes Harley as being sexy, sexual or sexualized. There isn’t a pinup style being asked for, and the majority of the text is used to describe her surroundings and her expression. She is naked in the context of being in a bathtub, which is later left out conveniently by Aja:

But DC’s move comes after an onslaught of conversations and controversies within the past few years around the topic of misogyny in geek culture, from women getting shamed in comic stores to #1ReasonWhy and the effects that systemic sexism in geek industries have on real women. Harley Quinn doesn’t exist just on her own terms, but as a representation of DC’s attitude towards its female characters. And the contest is essentially serving as a job application, with DC wanting its artists to be able to successfully draw and objectify nude female bodies.

Like Emily, Aja seems aware of the fact that this whole thing wouldn’t have been a big deal at all if it weren’t already being looked at through the lenses of several other recent events. Harley Quinn, whether she or her creators like it or not, has become the de facto spokeswoman for DC’s attitude towards its female characters. In effect, she’s telling us that this has more weight because of the other things happening around it, and to some extent that’s a reasonable argument. We don’t live in a vacuum, yes … but in this case the problem isn’t that yet something else is happening that turns some women away from comics. In this case, they’re adding context that doesn’t exist and attributing thoughts to the creators of the promotion that haven’t been acknowledged, confirmed, or proven. They’re making it up.

There’s so much rampant sexism all over the world, you don’t need to make things up. About the only partly sensible objection to this promotion that I could see would be to people who are sensitive about any depictions of suicide, much less humorous ones. That, however, is in no way made more of a grave point via the fact that she is naked (in a bathtub), and a woman.

That’s deeply important to Callie at Jezebel, who goes one extra step in getting things wrong by referring to it as a ‘contest’, which it is not:

The trope of sensationalized female character deaths has long haunted the medium, as has a terrible tendency to oversexualize and objectify women characters; it’s almost surprising that it’s taken DC this long to combine the two into a vile heap of casual sexism — because female suicide is so fascinating and compelling and cool, right, guys?

It’s also prompted a couple of rather macabre memes:

harleysave  Harley Quinn


I’ll take someone’s complaints that representing suicide in such a lighthearted way is offensive to them. I don’t take that stance personally, as I’m one of those people who uses humor – particularly dark humor – as a release valve for some of the most horrific things that I’ve had to survive through. I’d hate to think that people are suggesting that their method of therapy should be applied to ever other human being out there. I’d like to think that they aren’t being callous to anyone that uses humor as a therapeutic device.

Making insinuations that seeing a woman – rather than a man (who is statistically more likely to follow through on a suicide attempt) in such a situation makes it worse is … disgusting. Appalling. Exploitative. I can’t think of enough negative words to put in there. We’re not delicate little creatures afraid of our own shadows who can’t see women on screen, in text, or in artwork in any state of distress. I, at least, certainly don’t want to see all of the female heroes and villains end up as nothing more than Mary Sues. I don’t want characters that lack any ability to ever get hurt or make a mistake, or … be like me. My life is messy, and nothing’s ever quite straight forward. There’s mental illness in there, and physical illness, and abuse, and all sorts of bad things, but lots of good things too … and interestingly, the good things usually happen right in the middle of the really really bad things. I want characters I can connect with, who are human like me, even if they’re villains.

Now, I’m not saying Harley Quinn would likely fill that role, but I dislike it when I hear people saying that women shouldn’t be portrayed in violent situations. Why? The same people tend to talk a lot about domestic violence and sexual assault statistics in everything they write, so they’re talking about it … if this is part of our world, why can’t we express that through creativity? Why can’t we explore that? Why are we hiding it? I don’t understand. It seems to me that as humans we do a lot of exploring our thoughts and emotions and world through our creative outlets. Shouldn’t that also reflect the violence that we face?

I can’t understand a comic book world where only the women never get hurt. That doesn’t seem more fair to me.

I can’t wrap my head around the notion that so many people could hate a publishing company so much that even with so many things they can complain about that are plain and real, they’d choose to actually make things up about this one. Finding stories about sexism in the comic book industry is like shooting fish in a barrel. Why choose a topic that requires so much supposition?

Lastly, while I find the offense over the lightness in which suicide is portrayed valid from the personal views of many, I can not personally share them, and I’d wish that those people would be kind enough to allow all of us the opportunity to deal with horror in our own ways.


read more

Precious Dark Arcehtypes

Sep 4, 2013 by

Character Archetypes:
Precious Dark is, in large part, based on the premise of taking Saturday Morning Cartoons and applying them to an underground society where danger lurks around every corner and death is as common as having green eggs and blue toast for breakfast (which is pretty common, actually). One of the fun things about cartoons is that they break down personalities into fairly simple archetypes that we see again and again in nearly every cartoon that we watch. That doesn’t mean that your character has to be as one dimensional as cartoon characters. The archetype you choose for your character should be one aspect of how you play that character amongst several others. This one just has mechanics tied to it.

Archetypes give you the following:

  • Instant kinship with other Denizens who share your archetype. You can relate to one another, and this receive a +1 bonus to all interactions with someone else of that archetype.
  • A bonus to some activity related to the archetype.
  • A penalty to some activity related to the archetype.
  • An opportunity to gain Strange Points by roleplaying that Archetype in dramatic situations that add complication to the plot.

Thus, it is beneficial – but not required – to play your archetype up as often as possible.

Below is a list of archetypes to apply to your character. As with everything else with Precious Dark, feel free to roll your own if you want to play an archetype that isn’t described here. In fact, if you do so, you should share your new archetype with the other players at the Precious Dark Community on Google+.

Archetypes that you create should:

  • Explain what the archetype is, including the characteristics that make it what it is.
  • Give a +1 bonus to rolls of a specific type that reflect what the archetype is about (e.g. farming for a Country Mouse archetype).
  • Give a -1 modifier to rolls of a specific type to reflect what the archetype is about (e.g. -1 penalty to Country Mouse archetypes who make rolls in the city).

Always make sure your GM is okay with your custom archetype before using it. Good archetypes reflect characters that you may have seen in many cartoons. They’re generic enough to give some base personality quirks to the character, but not so generic that they’re boring. It’s up to the player to fill in all of the blanks.

The Country Mouse
You are the classic archetype of everything that it means to hail from “the country”. Cartoon stories involving country characters often overplay the simplicity of country life. You are stalwart and trustworthy. City Mice might consider you simple because you prefer life at a slower and safer pace, but that certainly doesn’t make you stupid.

Country Mice tend to be from isolated caves or very small hamlets that specialize in farming and livestock. They are more likely than others to have had some exposure to actual sunlight – some of these small hamlets are centered around areas close enough to the surface to have large cracks or holes in the ceiling that allow in sunlight to grow plants with.

To reflect the fact that Country Mice are often great with anything related to farming (growing crops, animal husbandry, those sorts of things), and get a +1 to any Action Pools involving anything related to farming.

However, due to the fact that Country Mice are more used to a slower pace of life, they find the hustle and bustle of larger, more populated hamlets to be off-putting. Country Mice receive a -1 penalty to any rolls they must make in the city.

The City Mouse
You hail from a large city or hamlet, and you’re pretty proud of that fact. You’re far more sophisticated than your Country Mouse cousins, and you often feel that makes you pretty superior. While your smugness can get annoying from time to time, your city knowledge is incredibly valuable. You prefer the faster pace and increased danger of living in the city, as it also offers a great deal of culture, sophistication, and higher education.

City Mice were often born and raised inside some of the largest underground cities in the Dark. They grew up navigating cities that often spanned multiple underground levels, some large enough to house skyscraper-like buildings. They’re familiar with the darkest places in the Dark – from alleyways to crawlspaces, and that adaptability has made them more likely to be able to navigate even cities that they don’t know.

Because they’re so good at navigating cities and finding contacts in just the right places, City Mice gain a +1 bonus to any Action Pool involving finding things within a city, even a city not their own.

However, because City Mice are used to tight environments with lots of people, they tend to be a bit uncomfortable in smaller towns where the people tend to find them a little too slick, fast-speaking, and dangerous. They receive a -1 penalty for Action Pools involving interacting with small towns.

Painfully Shy
While others might jump into the spotlight and start doing a tap dance, the spotlight actually terrifies you. You’d prefer a quiet night at home with a book and a cup of tea to going to a party or hanging out with a large group of people. This isn’t to say that you’re a hermit, you just choose the places that you go and the people that you hang out with very, very carefully. When facing situations where you have to be the spokesperson for your group, you naturally tend to shy away, hoping someone else will talk.

Painfully Shy characters don’t ever want to lead or be the first one to take responsibility for something – good or bad. They’re frequently very quiet, and follow the crowd around, even if they disagree with the crowd. They’ll lodge their complaints – quietly – to their closest friends, but they’ll seldom tell Captain Awesome that he’s stepping on their pinky toes, no matter how badly it hurts.

Due to their shyness, Painfully Shy archetypes take a -1 penalty to any interaction where they have to stand in any sort of limelight. Whether, it’s negotiating with a trader to get a map that’s desperately needed, or taking credit for laying the killing blow on a giant snail that was about to devour a child, Painfully Shy characters get all kinds of flustered.

Painfully Shy archetypes are, however, also incredibly perceptive. They’re the sorts who are likely to notice when things change in a situation because they’re the ones quietly paying attention rather than trying to get everyone to pay attention to them. Painfully Shy archetypes get a +1 to all rolls involving any sort of perception test.

When people want you around, it’s usually for some quality that you have that isn’t your sparkling personality and ability to maintain a lengthy conversation about intelligent topics. Likely, it’s because you have an excess of some talent or genetic trait that makes you valuable in other ways. That, and you always seem to be the affable one who will go along with anything.

Dunces, well … intellectual pursuits weren’t their strong points. They tend to have to have the obvious pointed out to them, and they’re not the ones who are going to be solving any deep puzzles. They are, however, friendly, and many of them have other qualities that make them desirable to have around.

The Dunce receives a -1 penalty to any rolls involving using their intellect. In addition, a Dunce cannot ever have more than +1 in the ‘Clever’ genetic trait.

As compensation, however, Dunces can choose one genetic trait or skill to put an extra +1 in, and this can go over the +3 cap for a maximum of +4. Obviously, this trait or skill can’t have anything to do with knowledge or cerebral activities of any sort.

You always know exactly the right time to crack a joke, and conveniently enough, that’s all the time. You’re usually the one in the group who has to wear the weird hat or the terribly loud shirt, and you’re quick witted enough to turn any situation into a potentially amusing one. You enjoy your role as comic relief, though from time to time you can get a little anxious about whether or not anyone likes you.

Jesters grew up as the local class clown, learning young that their greatest gift to the world was the ability to make others laugh, no matter the circumstance. A properly placed joke, sarcastic comment, or chuckle-worthy pun can often turn bad situations around, lighten moods, and give a little extra boost of energy to those around.

Jesters commonly hold support positions amongst the denizens, choosing to be places where people need a smile the most. You’ll often find Jesters amongst Healers and Spelunkers, though like all archetypes, they can be found everywhere.

Because Jesters make such good support for others, they automatically gain a +1 to any roll involving helping others.

Though, due to the fact that Jesters tend to love the limelight, they receive a -1 to any roll involving performing a task alone. What’s the fun in that?

While the rest of humanity longs for more light than The Strange and various other sources could even begin to supply in the Dark, you are your most content and comfortable in absolute darkness. Your interests lean in that direction as well. You always liked black clothing, might have been fascinated by bones or death or horror stories about getting trapped in the unexplored parts of the caves and never being found again. Maybe you relished stories about the worst monsters encountered on expedition, and the mysteries of the Dark just seem to call to you more than others.

Wednesdays go eagerly bounding into situation that would make most others – even the rough and tough pioneers of the Dark – cower in fear. They’re the first to want to face the evil monster in the dark – just to see if it’s really a monster – and also the first to look it in the face without a shred of fear. Far from being gloomy and full of doom, Wednesdays find glee in things that others just wouldn’t understand.

Due to their affinity with darkness, Wednesdays get a +1 to any roll performed with no light source present. In addition, any penalties that would normally apply to performing an action without light are negated.

Wednesdays are, however, much more susceptible to bright light, since they don’t frequently even seek out light when it’s available. When making a roll performed during any brightly lit scene (more light than normal, such as a sunlit room or a greenhouse), Wednesdays receive a -1 penalty.

Mad Scientist
You’re more clever than nearly everyone else, and will always forever be more clever, however you’ve sacrificed large chunks of your sanity to get there, or you just lack the skills to understand what’s appropriate and what’s inappropriate. What part of your sanity is lacking is entirely up to you. Perhaps you’re a fantastic inventor, but you have a habit of making inventions to complete tasks no one ever needs inventions for. Or maybe you’re a mathematician who has never really been able to fit in socially. No matter the specific, you’re always ready and willing to use your mind to solve everyone’s problems.

Mad Scientists may be eccentric, clumsy, and/or bumbling. They often see nothing wrong with playing God and doing nutty things like bringing dinosaurs back to life or creating monster pieced together from the parts of corpses. They tend to have few social graces and very little patience for anyone interrupting their work. They also tend to very much act like the underdog – even when pointing a shrunk ray at their enemy.

To reflect their utter devotion to science, Mad Scientists get +1 to their Clever stat at character creation, making it a +2. Mad Scientists also aren’t limited to +3 on their Clever score and can, instead, go up to a +4.

Mad Scientists can choose what their -1 roll should be in: Rolls using Nimble (clumsiness), rolls involving Tough (weakness or sickness), or rolls involving Alluring (awkwardness). Whichever stat you pick cannot be raised above a +2.

You are so bumbling and incompetent that absolutely nobody knows how you manage to get anything done at all, yet, somehow or another … you do. Usually, you don’t accomplish the thing you were attempting to accomplish, but you accomplish something, and people are generally happy about it, so you just keep on doing whatever it is that you’re doing.

Clouseaus are perpetually bad at what they do, but so bad that they’re good. They often solve mysteries and solve riddles purely by accident, and they’re best known for saying incredibly obvious and/or dumb things and coming up with the most ridiculous theories anyone has ever heard. The proof is in the pudding, though, as they do tend to accomplish their goals, no matter how … unorthodox their methods.

Clouseaus automatically get a normal success at any perception roll made once per scene. This automatic success can even be made after attempting a normal roll. The provision to this bonus is that the Clouseau must describe to the party a way in which the item caught her eye that is completely wrong. If the Clouseau is right about any part of the theory surrounding the object, she suffers a -1 penalty on all rolls for the duration of the scene.

Ex. Donna the Detective makes a roll during a scene where she’s searching a desk for clues about a missing expedition. Her initial search ends in a failure, so she opts to use her ability. She discovers through her success a letter stuck at the back of a drawer, and tells the group that the expedition’s failure has to do with the drawer not closing properly due to the envelope being in the way. Satisfied that she’s done her job, Donna walks off and the rest of the party find a letter describing a crystal mine in a remote section of the local cave system where they still might be alive.
Clouseaus cannot raise their Clever score higher than +1.

The Weird One
Even though you grew up in the very same world that virtually everyone else around you did, you still managed to live in a world all your own. You are utterly, and decidedly weird. Perhaps you’re an eccentric collector who goes out of his way to find collections of the oddest things, like bow ties and coffee mugs from 20th century corporations, or perhaps you have a small collection of really eccentric things and you like to be seen in them, such as on an antique scooter with a vibrant beanie in lieu of a helmet. Maybe you’re overly happy, extremely excitable, or more than a little hyperactive. No matter what, you’re weird, but you know what? That works for you.

Weird Ones do things for inexplicable reasons, and we love them for that. They might own a junking company and bring back precious materials from up top just because they’re looking for a version of the Trouble With Tribbles plate and have to continue funding the expedition. Or perhaps they’re always just really really really really happy to spend days, weeks, months, YEARS down in the deep caves, exploring the tunnel systems. Or maybe they know just a wee bit *too* much about cave moss and are a little *too* eager to share it with others. Weird ones are weird, but their randomness and tendency towards the extremes can cause for some truly great adventures.

Since Weird Ones have less of a grasp on mundane life, they gain a +1 bonus to any rolls involving The Strange. It’s unknown as to whether or not being a Weird One makes it easier to understand The Strange, or The Strange finds those most susceptible to its influence and makes them Weird. Either way, they have a knack with using the stuff.

Also due to their difficulty to grasp mundane life, Weird Ones suffer from a -1 penalty anytime they have to relate to people in normal situations, like paying the power bill, negotiating for pay on a job, or even going out on a date.

You drip cool, you ooooooze cool, and you do something dangerous while you’re oozing, too, because that’s just how utterly cool you are. You’re so cool, you wear sunglasses even though you live underground. Everybody’s either scared of you or they want to be you, and you’re just fine with having it that way. You’re tough and awesome all at the same time, and god damn it, if there’s a shark in a tank and you’ve got a motorcycle, you want to jump it!

Fonzies love being flashy, doing dangerous things, and being the coolest cats around. They’re frequently willing to step up to do the right thing, especially when doing the right thing means doing something dangerously awesome. They also love looking good while they’re being awesome, and can frequently get plenty of action in their love lives. They make great leaders, and tend to be incredibly loyal to those that they’ve grown close to, they’re also good for a little bit of advice, even if it’s on the cool end.

Since Fonzies are utterly incapable of ever being Uncool, they can choose for exploding successes on 4s and up instead of on just 5s and 6s. This extra ‘cool’ roll can be made once per scene.

One thing Fonzies hate more than anything is appearing uncool. If a Fonzie fails completely on a ‘cool’ roll, their action is decidedly Uncool, and they receive a -1 modifier to all additional rolls made during that scene.

Big Softie
You’re one of those people that trends towards having those ridiculous ironic names like “Tiny”, “Shorty”, or “Pipsqueak” even though you’ve been muscular and large since you were a child. Your natural strength and rather gruff exterior mean that you do things like security services rather well. You are, indeed, “The Muscle”, but your size and visible strength tend to make it so that you don’t actually end up in a lot of altercations … just near ones. Which is good, because deep down inside you’re deeply sensitive and knocking someone’s block off just might make you cry. You probably secretly love old, sentimental movies or scavenged Hallmark cards, and an adorable little girl with big blue eyes can get you to do just about anything.

Big Softies often look fearsome and terrifying, but the way to their hearts is always through sweetness and kindness. They’re the first ones to stand up to a bully picking on a smaller kid, volunteer to head into the most dangerous parts of the Dark for the right reasons, run into a burning home to save a kitten, and so on. They know that their appearance is threatening, and cultivate that look (it’s good business, after all), but they’re generally content to use tactics of intimidation before resorting to any sort of violence.

To reflect the Big Softie’s big heart, they receive a +1 to any roll involving a situation where someone weaker than them is in trouble.

Because these things are so hard to resist however, a Big Softie gains a -1 penalty to all rolls involving anything else so long as there is someone in need.

Pint-Sized Powerhouse
You’re small, but pack a biiiiiiig punch. Way bigger than you should. That might have to do with a mutation, or perhaps you just hide your strength really well. Either way, you’ve spent most of your life being underestimated by pretty much everyone that meets you. Which is just fine by you, since that means they’re REALLY surprised when you do something like pick up a Big Softie with one hand.

Pint-Sized Powerhouses are literally far smaller than the power that they contain. They constantly surprise other denizens with the amazing feats of strength that they so easily accomplish, and they love the gasps and oos and ahhs. When others underestimate them, they often let them just so that their surprise will be twice as fun as soon as the Powerhouse does something that showcases her true strength.

As a Powerhouse, you automatically receive +1 to any rolls involving a situation where someone or something (yes, monsters count!) has underestimated the Pint-Sized Powerhouse, and the Powerhouse is using their Strong genetic trait.

Because NOT being able to surprise people is much less fun, Pint-Sized Powerhouses get a -1 penalty to any rolls where they’re using their strength and have been sadly disappointed that the person or creature watching isn’t surprised at all.

read more

Dear WoD: It’s definitely you.

Sep 2, 2013 by

I have a deep, dark, secret (okay, not so secret if you know me) confession to make…

I’m falling out of love with World of Darkness…

Totally and completely. So much so that I’ve been considering shuttering the one remaining World of Darkness game that I run. Not so much that I’m willing to quit the two that I’m playing, but I’d certainly be unlikely to pick up playing any more or playing it again when these games eventually run their course (which I sincerely hope is a long, long time from now).

Why? It’s quickly becoming a game that’s not made for me. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve changed as a gamer or the game has changed. Maybe it’s a bit of both, but the reality is that the best buds that WoD and I were is fading into something like more of a passing acquaintanceship.

Here’s why, in no particular order other than the order that they spill out of my brain…

Layout & Design of the Books. Large blocks of texts are annoying to me, and a majority of the books are large blocks of text.

Here’s the typical layout of an NPC, taken from an NPC in Autumn Nightmares:


It’s not as though this is much different than cWoD, either. There were also blocks of text similar to this in those books. I’m just disappointed that in the 20 years since, nobody’s come up with a better way in which to communicate stats and other mechanical information. Enormous blocks of text are difficult for me to read during a game, so when I want to use an NPC straight out of a book, I actually have to do additional work. I created my own template for NPCs and creatures that I create in OneNote, so I take the information provided by the book, and I put it in there.


Rewriting everything into a readable format is annoying, yes, but what’s more vexing is that this ‘blocks of text’ format used throughout the entirety of the book means that I frequently overlook important details about game mechanics that are embedded in otherwise skim-worthy material. I had to wade through about seven pages of text to build this ‘Dream Cheat-Sheet’ that I tacked onto the end of my character sheet for Kismet, a character in one of the games I play in who’s an Oneiromancer:



Not shown is my third column of notes on the sheet, which lists the levels of every contract my character has and what I need to roll for each ability at each level. This is because I found myself frequently creating characters who didn’t have points in the stats they needed to use their skills because I didn’t have all of them memorized. The same deal applies to the dreaming mechanics, which were embedded with the description of when you’d use those mechanics, scattered across seven pages of p. You might even notice that many of the mechanics use the same roll: Wits + Empathy + Wyrd – Intensity … but you won’t figure that out unless you read through all seven pages worth of text.

Which leads into my next ‘why’…

The system is too damned complicated. The above two columns of mechanics on my character sheet that came from seven pages worth of blocky text is a really good example of the levels of complication present in the books. I’ve played with several people who were surprised when I pulled out the dreaming mechanics and actually used them for a game because, despite however much changeling they’d already played – nobody had touched the dream rules. I’m not surprised.

Regardless of level of knowledge, frequency of play, and experience with the system, few Storytellers actually get combat right. Especially me. One storyteller I played a game in actually even refused to use some of the more advanced merits in regards to combat because the system was too complicated, and she’d been playing the game for quite some time longer than I have. None of my experienced players have ever jumped up to volunteer what they need to roll for their attack hits, all waiting until I give them the word of what they need to roll. This is too complicated, and like everything else, even the chart supposedly making this easy to understand is just a bunch of blocks of text.

I simplified it down to this for a post to my group where I talked about the idea of house ruling the system into something totally different.

These are the existing (not optional) rules:

To shoot someone, you roll:
Firearms + Dexterity + Weapon Damage – Target’s Armor (if any)

To beat on someone, you roll:
Strength + Brawl + Weapon Damage – Target’s Defense + Armor

To melee someone, you roll:
Strength + Weaponry + Weapon Damage – Target’s Defense + Armor

Add two stats that you know and are on your character sheet, then subtract up to two stats added together from that total to form the number of dice you get to roll. The number of successes you get is equal to the amount of damage that you do. Let’s take that out for a walk.

Timmy the Turtle has 2 Defense and 1 Armor from a flack jacket that he has.

Leslie the Changeling has 2 Strength and 1 Weaponry and wants to stab Timmy with a knife that does 1 lethal damage.

2 Strength + 1 Weaponry + 1 Damage – 2 Defense + 1 Armor = 1 Die

I know this is the World of Darkness, but leaving players with a choice between min-maxing so that they can effectively actually kill even a small creature in the hedge and getting about 1-2 dice to roll per combat round is ridiculous. There are certain merits that you can get to help that out, but that requires spending additional points to make melee even a little bit plausible.

Firearms get to ignore the target’s defense, so why would you ever even bother with melee? That takes a ridiculous amount of fun out of creating characters who are fond of knives, fist fights, and other means of violence. I’ve had several characters I’ve started out that way, then reluctantly later went and put points into Firearms. After pounding on something round after round after round and not even doing a little bit of damage while the people with the guns do a whole lot of damage, it makes you just kind of shrug and give in.

…and that’s just one aspect of the combat system. I could go into detail about fighting style merits that alter the rolls and can make the whole thing even more confusing, but I won’t bore you with that. It’s far too complicated. Hell, I might even suffer through the complication if it seemed even a little balanced, but it isn’t – by a lot.

It seems that’s what the writers want, too. Back in July, White Wolf published The God Machine Chronicle, a book that has gotten a great deal of praise from many existing World of Darkness players. I don’t know the details of the actual chronicle, other than that it has something to do with “cosmic horror”. In general, I don’t use setting books or chronicle books, because I enjoy creating my own settings and chronicles, so I didn’t really pay much attention to the release of the book. Then, I started to hear about the Appendix – a free set of rules revisions to the World of Darkness.

Here’s what the opening to the revisions says:

The remaining part of this book is taken up with updates to Storytelling — the changes we feel, after eight years’ experience, are needed to tighten the rules up for the intended setting going forward. This isn’t a rejection of what’s gone before, but the end result of our increasing familiarity with the Storytelling system and how it’s used in play. Future World of Darkness books will take these rules revisions as their baseline, the same way the World of Darkness Rulebookhas been the basis for all the supplements and game lines so far. Individual game lines may produce “chronicle” books similar to this one that build off these revisions to revise and update the rules found in those lines, but these are the rules revisions for use with mortal characters in chronicles that do not use one of the other cores.

When I first picked up the book, I was actually quite excited. My mind was filled with visions of complex systems simplified and new insights into how to do old things. I was genuinely thrilled to pick it up and oh-so happy I didn’t have to buy the whole Chronicle book in order to get it. That was, however, until I actually read the rules revisions.

Here’s a quick break-down of what it does:

  • Adds on yet another thing to keep track of ‘Aspirations’. These are the equivalent of short and long-term goals. They’re also supposed to essentially be notes to the GM stating what you’d like to have happen to your character or in a game.
  • Virtue and Vice change, which weren’t used very much before. Now, however, they require an interview between each player and the GM during character generation to create breaking points. By this point, the whole thing is starting to sound to me like a yearly evaluation at work. It’s getting tedious.
  • Experience changes from experience points to ‘experiences’. One experience is formed through a number of ‘beats’, which you get for various specific situations such as fulfilling an aspiration, resolving a condition, or completing a session. Feels like more jargon from a yearly evaluation. Also, it bribes players to take dramatic failures so that they can get beats, and you have to do a great deal more bookkeeping to keep track of what’s happened that requires beats to be rewarded.
  • All of the merits in the core book have been replaced. I didn’t go through all 20+ pages of new merits to figure out exactly how they’ve changed, but there’s a lot of crunch in the combat on the surface of it. The new fighting styles describe some very specific moves for every level of them.
  • Added conditions, yet another thing to keep track of. Conditions act a bit like buffs and debuffs in a video game. You have it until you get rid of it. Example conditions are things like Amnesia and Informed. Conditions, when persistent, replace the optional Flaws rules, which I’ve never used because they seemed weird. In addition to keeping track of your conditions, whether or not they are persistent, what you get or what it takes to resolve them, you also have to keep track of what sort of situations cause you to gain a beat from your condition.
  • Changed Morality to Integrity. I never really liked the morality system (Clarity in Changeling especially), but this causes you to go through a ’5 questions’ process back up where you chose your Virtue and Vice, and work with the storyteller individual to create custom Integrity breaking point lists. This requires a lot of discussions as to what is moral and immoral for the character ahead of time. Again, I’m getting that yearly review vibe going on. So, what do you really think you need to work on in the next year, hmm?
  • Created social combat by adding ‘Social Maneuvering’, which involves lengthy social mechanisms to get someone to do what you want. More tracking.
  • Changed combat. The Combat Summary chart is updated to account for changes in combat and is now even more of a big block of text. Note, this doesn’t actually make combat faster or more streamlined, or even make it less complex. Indeed, it makes it more complex. It does allow for more damage, however. In my previous example, above, where I add the weapon’s damage to the number of dice rolled in the pool, instead your weapon damage automatically applies as a bonus so long as you hit. Weapon damage is reduced as a result, and defense is raised by also allowing a stat to affect it. A lot more fiddly moves are added, as well as discussions on intent.

The rest of the 120 page Appendix gives stats for more things that were rewritten, some of which are made more complex, some of which are slightly simplified. At the end of the day, though, there is a lot more crap to keep track of and there are a lot more fiddly bits to toy with. When I first objected to all of this, people would constantly remind me that these rules changes were ‘optional’. Yeah, they’re optional in a very ‘Rule Zero’ way, but it’s clear that according to White Wolf these are the de facto new rules, and books written from now on will be utilizing those rules. So, if I don’t want to use them, I’m going to have to make a lot more house rules to house rule anything that’s new back to the old way.

I don’t care about this game enough to want to put that much work into it. There, I said it. Trying to keep your game in the past while everything else is moving forward requires a certain amount of work and dedication that I’m simply not interested enough to put the time into.

To me, this is a nightmare of extra unnecessary complexity and an oversalting of Indie-game style rules. It’s just not for me. I know for a fact that there are plenty of others for whom this is exactly their cup of tea, but I’m not one of them… and for the last few months, I’ve been in a bit of denial about that fact. I kept talking about how I was going to house-rule out the things that I don’t like until it resembles a completely different game, but I’m not sure it’s really in me to do all of that. Especially with my own game sitting around, waiting to be worked on. I’d rather do that, to be honest.

It’s tough to give up a game system that you’ve liked for so long. I’ve been playing WoD games since the early 90s, and I’ve enjoyed them immensely, but I’ve grown a love and appreciation for the amount of time that I have in a given game to actually enjoy it. If it takes too long for me to learn the system, if I have to go back to the books every time to make sure I’m getting it right, if I have so many fiddly things to keep track of that I don’t have time for anything else, it’s just  not going to work for me.

I’ve taken stock of what I love … I love the people that I play with and run for. They make the game a ton of fun. I love the idea of Changelings, of fairy tales that corrupt you, the Hedge and everything in it, walking in dreams, all of that … but then again, none of that is really unique to White Wolf. I don’t like the greater World of Darkness. The only supernatural creature other than changelings to ever show up in them are ghosts, and I don’t play them per White Wolf rules. I’ve grown to dislike the system, and I despise where the system appears to be going. Worse, where the system appears to be growing has tainted how I feel about the existing system. Plus, well… I’m just tired of everything having to be so very grimdark.

So I’m afraid this is goodbye, World of Darkness. It’s not me, it’s DEFINITELY you. I’m sure you’ll find others who will love all of your dark complexity and revel in your overseasoned ruleset, and I wish you the best, but get the hell out … and don’t forget your toothbrush.

read more

Precious Dark’s Shiny New Background

Aug 19, 2013 by

I’ve been retooling big chunks of the game I’m writing – Precious Dark – since I playtested the game during ConTessa in June. I felt like the background to the world was a bit of a mouthful to get out, and eventually I realized I didn’t like the ‘Upworld’ that I’d created at all, so I got rid of it.

I’ve also made some rules changes, but I still have to finish writing up those sections. In the meantime, though, here’s the first draft of the “flavor text” meant to explain the background of the game.


read more