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X-Wing Miniatures – Tourney Play

X-Wing Miniatures Game
Image Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

This past weekend I got a chance to enter my first ever Miniatures tournament, which also entailed playing the first miniatures game I’ve ever played.

One of the genres of gaming that has always appealed to me but has consistently seemed beyond my financial grasp is that of war-games, or miniatures.

With the likes of Warhammer, Shock troops, Malifaux, Dark Age and others, the cost of fielding, equipping and painting an army of fantasy units that makes up your typical war-game presents a huge investment in not only cold hard cash but also time and energy. The ability to not only purchase a workable army but also have it arrive on the scene in pleasing colors and with enough firepower to stand a chance is something that can be incredibly daunting to the budding war-gamer.

Enter: Fantasy Flight X-Wing Miniatures.

Premiering at GenCon back in 2012, X-Wing miniatures is a light 2-player dog-fighting game where opponents build squads of ships from either Rebel or Imperial forces hailing from the legendary galaxy of Star Wars. Cheaper and already painted unlike most war-games, they offer a nice beginners step financially and rules-wise into the world of minis.

As this was my first tournament play of a miniatures game, and my first miniatures game at all, I thought I’d give a recap of the event for folks looking for a brief introductory peek into the world of tourney play.

Setup

Source: Fantasy Flight Games X-Wing Miniatures Tournament Rules

Source: Fantasy Flight Games
X-Wing Miniatures Tournament Contestant Sheet

I dove into the tournament at the suggestion a friend of mine. A local gaming store in my town was participating in the global preview event put forth by Fantasy Flight Games.

Looking to premier their newest expansion to the miniatures game, Wave 4, the winners of these pre-release tournaments would get their pick of one the 4 new classes of Rebel and Imperial ships in an Event called the Assault on Imdaar Alpha.

The rules of X-wing tournaments are the same as the standard rules of the game, with differences mainly in how win/loss affects scoring.

But to begin with, each competitor chooses a 100-point buy for their squad, standard for advanced play as well as a 3 x 3 play area. These 100 points include ships and upgrades. Each player is given a score and squad sheet so Officiators can tally points and track game outcomes.

Luke Skywalker Pilot Card Image Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

Luke Skywalker Pilot Card
A 28-point pilot buy
Image Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

For my squad, I had the following, coming in at exactly 100 points:

1 – A-Wing : Pilot (Green Squad)
1 – B-Wing : Pilot (Blue Squad)
1 – B-Wing : Pilot (Ten Numb)
1 – X-Wing : Pilot (Luke Skywalker)

I participated in three matches, with the first being against a fellow who played a Fire-spray and a two TIE Interceptors, all upgraded. The second match was against a swarm of TIE Fighters with one Howl Runner, while the last was against a fellow sporting a Lambda and two TIE Interceptors.

As it worked out, my rebel forces always squared off against Imperials, but in tourneys, they have the Mirror system, whereby Rebels can face Rebels or Imps can fight Imps, with the exact same squad, including pilots.

Players then place asteroid tokens and ships based on ship point total, lowest goes first (i.e. 99 before 100) with ties rolling off.

The Matches (Squadrons & Tactics)

“For a great game of X-Wing Miniatures, check out the 2013 Championship Finals video above.”
Fire-spray-31 Ship for the Imperials Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

One of the Fire-spray-31 Pilot
cards for the Empire
Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

 

As this was my first real outing, not only with miniatures tourney, but with miniatures in general, my experience was incremental. The first match, against a Fire-spray (Bounty Hunter Pilot) and two beefed up Interceptors was basically a turkey shoot—for the other guy.

I entered the match still shaky on the rules, but my opponent was generous with my rookie mistakes. I followed his bounty hunter around, realizing too late I should have been targeting a weaker Hit-point and shielded prey, and due to some bone-headed misunderstandings of the rules, I was flanked and outmaneuvered easily. His squad was overall thoroughly well built and ultimately made it to the final four.

The second match, against a swarm of TIE’s ended almost in my favor, I decimated my opponents seven squad force down to one versus three of mine, but lost one in the final round to an asteroid, and another to good rolls. Forgetting that the win condition was based on points, I flew into an asteroid carelessly thinking the match already over.

The final match was another turkey shoot—this time in my favor. I took out three Imp ships with zero casualties on my part.

Below: One of the upgrades to the first round turkey-shoot that demolished my poor Rebels. Their crime: just out to make the galaxy a better place–
Good Guys: 0 | Forces of Evil:1
One of the upgrades to the first round turkey-shot that demolished my poor Rebels who were just trying to make the galaxy a better place-- Good Guys: 0 | Forces of Evil:1 Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

The first take-away was the concept of the Buy. That is, after two rounds, or matches, the lowest scoring player (myself for an indeterminate reason) receives 5 points automatically, but sits out for the round. Winners of matches can win by Match Win or Modified Match win and scoring is as follows:

•    Match Win = 5 Points
•    Modified Match Win = 3 Points (Win by less than 12 )
•    Draw = 1 Point
•    Loss = 0 Point

The points are determined by remaining ships on the battle-mat at the end of the round which is scheduled to last 75 minutes unless modified by the Tournament Organizer (TO).

Final match mid-round at the tourney where my 'rebel-scum' faced off against a Lambda and two TIE interceptors.

Final match mid-round at the tourney where my ‘rebel-scum’ faced off against a Lambda and two TIE interceptors. The Officiator provided the players with nifty and awesome galaxy battle-maps.

From what I could see of the tactics employed, the basic strategy in squad building coalesced into either ship swarms (4+ ships), notably TIE fighters and X-Wings, or upgrades (3 or less ships with plenty of upgrades). This matches with games design, rewarding less with better equipment, rewarding more with more shots.

In the matches I played, the deciding factor seemed tipped in favor of the better ships, as in the match I won, almost won and lost all seemed determined by ships that had either higher shields, or higher health.

In terms of tactics, outmaneuvering your opponent or trying to flank them, was also important and could negate the other overwhelming determinate of the game: good die rolls.

Grouping up ships also seems the classic play style as it provides greater shots and more dice rolls against opponents ships. This is also a determining factor as it relates to squad building. Ships with better attack dice (3+) have greater chances of hitting, and ships like the Fire-spray with upgrades that re-roll are even more likely to win, as that combo made it into the final four.

So in terms of game play, from my first tourney, it would seem that squad choice, upgraded ships notably with the ability to modify and re-roll, have an edge over pure number of ships and unmodified die rolls (a theory also evidenced by the championship video embedded above).

My Rebels surrounding a soon-to-be destroyed Imperial Lambda on an escort mission to the other-side.

My Rebels surrounding a soon-to-be destroyed Imperial Lambda on an escort mission straight to their Doom– Good Guys 1 | Evil-pants 2.

The Prize

The goal of the tournament was for players to win one of the new TIE Defender, TIE Phantom, Z-95 Headhunter or E-Wing expansion packs part of the Wave 4 release.

Wave-4 TIE Phantom With CloakingCopyright: Fantasy Flight Games

Wave-4 TIE Phantom
With Cloaking
Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

Wave-4 E-Wing The Rebel's answer to the Phantoms Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

Wave-4 E-Wing
The Rebel’s answer to the Phantoms
Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A look at these new cards shows some nice new pilots and awesome ships. Definitely the most powerful ‘small’ ships to date it would seem with the TIE Phantom and E-Wing looking to be upcoming staples in most squadrons.

The TIE Phantom, with its Cloaking ability that gives it +2 Defensive die and a base +4 Attack roll is an epic addition to the some would say already beefed up Imperials. As the game is sold as being a dog-fight, ships like these, with 4 Health and high maneuverability thanks to Barrel Roll Actions, are going to make opening rounds in a match probably very one sided.

As a counter to the Phantom though the Rebels are right behind them with the E-Wings, one of which can attack twice per round, losing an attack the following round and another that turns any ally Attacks from hits to Crits against range 1-3 enemies. With Cloaking and Barrel-Rolling TIEs out there, the ability to attack twice, while an enemy is in your sights is a huge advantage, possibly finishing them off in a single round instead of two, a great advantage in any dog-fight where numbers matter.

But aside from these niffy toys that were only available to the top four, the rest of us bottom eight in the 12 player competition received Bandit Rebel pilots; 12-point buy 2-point stat across the board preview Headhunter ships. Designed to be similar to TIE’s I tried out the Headhunter in a match following the competition and while cheap, their pilot score is too low for end-game play.

Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

Copyright: Fantasy Flight Games

***

The tournament was a great experience and I learned quickly how to use the ships I choose accordingly but also how to maneuver and anticipate my opponent’s moves. And that’s the great thing about the game, its relatively easy to learn, easy to get good at and relatively cheap (compared to other miniature games) to invest in. Add to the fact that the minis are pre-painted and you have a recipe for a very addictive game with a price point low enough to encourage newbie’s into the world of war-gaming. Even better, there is an entire network of retailers, locals and tourneys out there that Fantasy Flight has set up to give the aspiring galaxy Ace the chance to play.

So when you get a chance why not suit up, ship out and pilot your own X-Wing and

Game Forth!

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Doubly Exposed to a Maelstrom – An Alternative Review

Double Exposure's Logo for their first 'Inclusive' Convention- MaelstromImage Copyright: Double Exposure Inc.

Double Exposure’s Logo for their
first ‘Inclusive’ Convention- Maelstrom

Image Copyright: Double Exposure Inc.

In the spirit of positivity, by way of a certain icon of Geekiness, Curt Thompson, I have decided to post a follow-up to a previous blog that was quite the opposite of this idea of One Love– one that at the time was a politely justifiable rant.

You see, a couple months ago, not long after I formed my Meetup.com group devoted towards bringing more inclusivity to the gaming world, I caught wind of a Gaming convention that was being formed around that very idea: Double Exposure’s Maelstrom.

Needless to say I was slightly peeved when I contacted the organizer to the Convention and got little by way of a response (okay more than a little peeved), especially considering its seemingly recent and coincidental abiogenesis.

It’s never an easy thing to step out of the shadows and admit you’ve got some issues with the way the world is being run, especially the Gaming world where the whole Knowledge Is Power concept is the epitome of elite Gamerdom (see: Uber-pwnage).

Image Source: ???

Image Source: ???–

But as I consider myself generally the optimist, and as the Convention drew near and I was continuously reminded of its approach, I decided to once again reach out to the organizer and start a dialogue. This time, results varied.

Vincent Salzillo, the President and Founder of Double Exposure Inc. personally invited both myself and the members of my fledgling Meetup group to the con, gifting the lot of us with discount tickets and a warm welcome.

Needless to say, the skeptic in me viewed this as a payoff of sorts; the more positive person in me viewed it as an opportunity.

#

In Maelstrom, regardless of the why, I saw a chance to add to the discourse on Inclusive Gamerdom that, aside from glad-handing and talk, have personally seen very little of first-hand.

So, taking up the offer, I headed out with a few comedic friends in tow and adventured out to the wilds of New Jersey, embarking on a quest most geeky into a Maelstrom…

And the results?

Varied.

A fellow (and thus independent from my own sensibilities)Gamer's own image of the 'diverse' crowd at Maelstrom Image Copyright: VB Wyrde

A fellow (and thus independent) Gamer’s
own image of the ‘diverse’ crowd at Maelstrom
Image Source: VB Wyrde (check out his blog!)

While not as eclectic as I had hoped it to be (see photo above), there were a few good signs that the Inclusivity agenda was an important stone in the Con’s foundation. Most obvious and notable to this effect: the panels.

With Seminars set up to cover the idea of Inclusivity, and a huge emphasis on ‘The Other’, a concept I dealt with in a panel I myself hosted (“Kill the Orc!“), there was at least a sincere effort to address the disparity of Gamers in the world of Gaming.

The Black CoyotlYours truly, hosting "Kill the Orc!"

The Black Coyotl
Yours truly, hosting “Kill the Orc!”
-A Seminar about Race & Gaming

The medley of panels and their hosts covered topics ranging from gender issues and religion to sexuality, orientation and the all important, yet somehow nebulous concept of ‘The Other’.

But beyond the panel area, the actual implementation of inclusivity fell somewhat short.

First I’d like to say that points go to the overall attempt at addressing gaming under-representation.  But for actually getting non-traditional Gamers to show up and Game, I didn’t see too many other -ahem- non-traditional looking gamers strolling the halls (see photo above, again).

There were a few, other panelists to be sure, and a handful of other non-trad Gamers, but the bulk of the goers seemed to be cut from the same cloth as other convention-goers.

Now I’ve been to my share of conventions, especially considering the short amount of time I’ve been gaming and the lack of diversity I generally encounter at the gaming table can be both disheartening and hostile at times, sometimes concurrently. So it was a bit disappointing seeing the turnout, however, its something that I’ve come to understand as an Organizer myself is something you really can’t blame entirely on the Convention runners themselves, no matter how much apparent outreach.

But having said all that, and with my critical eye of the overall goals of the convention satisfied, I’d like to put away my  ideological lens for the rest of this long-winded blog and simply describe my experience at the Con itself (which I believe was the point of Mr. Thompson’s Day of 9th)– in short, I had a blast.

Grifter: A Game of ConsMy upcoming 54-card game

Grifter: A Game of Cons
My upcoming 54-card game

The first thing I did when I arrived was get in a play-test of the game I’ve been working on for the past couple of months and am looking to KickStart soon, Grifter with a bunch of great folks who walked over to my ‘lane’ and signed up to play.

You see Maelstrom adopted a basic organizing room where folks could print out the names of games people were willing to run and whoever wanted to, could sign up and play.  So I posted my game to one of these ‘lanes’ and was psyched when four Gamers strolled over, inquired about the title and sat down to play.

Two games in and I got some great feedback and was amazed to find out that one of the Gamers was Tom Tiernan of Everything Epic Games whose partner in crime, Chris Batarlis I’d met at a James Bond LARP event  a year ago and blogged about afterwards (and who was, apparently as pictured above, also at the Con).

After finishing up some great play with my game Grifter, I jumped at the chance to test out his and Chris’ successfully KickStarted Secrets of the Lost Tomb, a Betrayal on House on the Hill homage game. But before that, I gave my Seminar entitled ‘Kill the Orc!’– a not so subtle look at the parallels between fantasy and real-world race relations.

A Ubiquitous Orc...Who regardless, has to die.

A Ubiquitous Orc
Who of course, has to die.

The Q&A feedback I got from the session was again a great experience and it was amazing to be able to openly talk about a lot of the issues that I encountered throughout my short career thus far in gaming.

I heard from folks who told me about their own experiences about inserting taboo topics into their games in an effort to bring awareness of real-world understanding to the gaming table and was delighted to engage with people who described their own discomfort at times over the language used in gaming literature concerning race and gender.

I also got a chance to meet Ajit George and Whitney Beltran, whose own panel seminar on Gaming as the Other dealt with their personal experiences in the world of gaming.

It was through these great gaming folks (GGFs) that I was introduced to the game “How We Came To Live Here“.

Brennan Taylor's Native American RPG A story-telling game of community and consequences Image Copyright: Indie Press Revolution

Brennan Taylor’s Native American RPG
A story-telling game of community and consequences
Image Copyright: Indie Press Revolution

Put out by Galileo Games |Galileo Books, How We Came To Live Here is a Native American story-telling game written by Brennan Taylor that deals with the myths and legends of Native American peoples. Centered around family and the tribe, the game is a surprising answer to the concepts I raised in a blog I posted not too long ago about Native American Druids.

Following this exchange I finally got to test-drive Tom’s Secret’s of the Lost Tomb with my comedy bud, admiring the great art and narrative character backgrounds, and after that I joined a one-shot table of Star Wars Edge of the Empire RPG by Fantasy Flight  Games– The Long Arm of the Hutt. Playing a Twi’lek bounty hunter at a table comprised of overwhelmingly non-traditional gamers, it was a great way to end the con.

(Somewhere in all that action I also got in a few minutes of D&D Next as a Drow assassin, but I forget now the order of the affair, only that I Sneaked Attacked the funk out of an undead Dwarven Skeleton – UBER-PWNAGE!)

So all in all,  it was a great con–and a Positive Experience, something that truly made me, as a Gamer, Happy (Nerd Love Post: Owned).

And while the bar Maelstrom set for Inclusive was in my critical eye nowhere near met, nor even analyzed as to how to approach it, the actual outcome of the Con was in my ‘Other’ more positive eye a success– the conversation about inclusivity was started.

So when you get a chance, why not Head Out, Game Out, Roll out with your Gnoll Out and find some reasons to incorporate Inclusivity, in whatever form it takes into your own gaming experiences and

Game Forth!

Game Positively.

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Independent Game Designer Spotlight & Interview: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul Roman Martinez Indie Artist/Novelist and Game Designer Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul Roman Martinez
Indie Artist/Novelist and Game Designer
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Success on Kick-starter is an elusive beast.

With only 43% of all projects reaching their funding goals and Gaming projects even lower down the scale in terms of hitting their targets, some Project Creator’s have nonetheless figured out the secret elixir to success on the crowd-funding site.

One such alchemical master of the world of Kick-starter is Paul Roman Martinez.

Paul has launched not just one successful Kick-starter campaign but managed to spark the imagination of enough admirers to fund four completely unique and varied Kick-starter projects that have consistently bounded past the goal of each endeavor.

Starting in 2012 with the Graphic novel The Adventures of the 19XX: Montezuma 1934, Martinez began the first in his series of Kick-starter campaigns. The comic, a first printing of his successful web-series that he started in 2009, follows the exploits of a band of adventurers, explorers and scientists in the aftermath of the Great War as they try and change the course of history.

Adventurers of the 19xxIndie-pulp styled Web-comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventurers of the 19xx
Indie-pulp styled Web-comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Fused with a mix of pulp, magic, and history, The Adventures of 19xx is a world-spanning mash-up of influences as varied as Duck Tales, Aleister Crowley, Montezuma and Indiana Jones that captures the exuberant futuristic expectations of the world in the beginning of the early twentieth century with a heavy nod towards Steam-punk.

Adventurers Circa 19xxThe Heroes of PRM Web-comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventurers Circa 19xx
Some of the Eclectic Heroes of PRM Web-comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Following this initial success, Martinez delved further into the world of Kick-starter with another Graphic hardcover novel compilation of his Adventures 19XX web-series. Soaring far past his target funding, Martinez next moved into the world of game design with his Assault:19XX Game.

Assault 19xx GamePulp-styled game between the Black Faun Order and the Adventurers 19xxCopyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Assault 19xx Game
Pulp-styled game featuring a conflict between the ancient Order of the Black Faun and the heroic Adventurers 19xx.
Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Set in the world of his pulp comic Adventures 19XX series, the semi-cooperative tabletop game pits 2-6 players  on either the side of the good-guy 19XX Adventurers or as members of the ancient Order of the Black Faun who seek to start the next Great War through mystical means.

Martinez’s most recent Kick-starter campaign, a Bicycle playing card deck set in the thematic style that Paul has perfected over his career was successfully funded this past April and like his previous runs, demonstrates Paul’s ability to set achievable targets and spur enough interest to see that his goals are fully realized.

This continued success has allowed Paul the ability to speak with confident authority to other would-be Kick-starter aspirants. Whether talking about difficulties over Mailing, or his recently and already legendary 11 Things All Failed Kick Starter Projects Do Wrong post, Paul is definitely an artist with a pulse on the Kick-starter beat.

PRM Kick-starter AdviceImage Image Copyright: BleedingCool.com

PRM Kick-starter Advice
Image Copyright: BleedingCool.com

Yet even with all the projects he has going on, Martinez is ever the consummate respondent to backers, fans and Kick-starter aspirants. Taking some time away from his hectic schedule Paul was gracious enough to provide some insights into his inspirations and the processes that go into producing the awesome work that a Kick-starter champ has going for him:

(1) Do you consider yourself a gamer? If so what type?
I love games, but I hate labels. I don’t know why, I just can’t put a label on myself! But I do love games. Boardgames, video games, sports, death races, whatever.

(2) What lead you to being an artist?
Aaaakk! Another label! I don’t know if I consider myself an artist. I just spend too much time doing pre-press and searching for suppliers to feel like an artist. But I’ve always drawn. I still have my first drawing book I received in first grade. I never wanted to be an artist, I just couldn’t stop drawing. No matter how many times I tried, I always kept picking up a pencil and drawing.

(3) Was there a specific moment you considered a career in art?
I’m still considering a career in art, ha! Most people ask, “how can I break into comics or games?” But really the question is, how do you stay there? With every drawing I do I try and get better and develop my style. I will have a career in art as long as it keeps making people happy. As soon as it doesn’t, I will do something else!

(4) What led you to developing the Adventures 19XX series and is the era and motif your favorite genre?
A few years ago I finished college and I was considering getting a masters degree in graphic design. But I thought, what if I just came up with a master’s level project. I figured I could learn just as much and have a great portfolio to show for it. So the 19XX series just started as an experiment. I knew almost nothing about the period and I knew nothing about pulp stories. When I started doing research I didn’t even look at those early pulp comics. I wanted to read books and biographies from the 1930s and see what came out. I don’t think I have a favorite genre. Just like labels, I hate being confined to one thing!

Adventures 19xx Web-seriesPanel from the online comicImage Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Adventures 19xx Web-series
Panel from the online comic
Image Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

(5) What other genres’ would you like to create in? Game in?
Sometimes I think of doing something strictly for kids. My book is fun and appropriate for younger people but to do something only for kids would free me up to do something truly positive and magical I think.

(6) Do you have a specific mythological setting/world that you most feel a kinship with, and why?
Right now I feel a strong kinship to the religious/lovecraftian/historic world my comic is set in. I’ve always been fascinated with world religions and how they interconnected thousands of years ago with a handful of prophets wandering around the Earth. And I’ve always loved the epic sense of scale that Lovecraft imparted with his tales of the older gods and the races before mankind.

(7) Are there any specific cultural histories of your own that you bring to the mix that you feel are different from the standard pulp comics out there?
There is an epic story that is unfolding in my book series that is unlike anything I’ve ever read. And part of it is simply that my books take place in a realistic chronological time. Each book takes place in a different year and the characters will actually age as the series progresses. And just like in life, some of the best loved characters won’t make it to the end of the series. Most comic books take great pains to make sure no one ever grows or changes. My whole goal is to watch these characters grow and change. Because to grow and change is life. And how can you truly capture life if nothing changes?

(8) What projects/styles do you currently follow? What emerging scenes most intrigue you from an artistic standpoint and a gamers?
I like this atmosphere in tabletop games that is leading to a lot of truly unique voices creating their own games. These are games that never would have made it to market 10 years ago. Games like mine! Even independent comics have always had a way to produce a few issues cheaply to see if a series was going to work. Now with Kickstarter, the truly independent board game maker now has that same chance. I am fascinated by the way all media forms can connect now. That’s why I have a tabletop game that ties in so closely with my series. I’m trying to create something new. I want to create an entire world and story that you read and play through. I know the big corporations have done this on a larger level with hundreds or thousands of employees and dozens of executives each adding input along the way and lawyers making sure all their IP is used properly. But I’m one person. I’m one person who has control over everything. I’ve drawn every single page of my comic, colored it, wrote it, and I produced the board game. I drew every single card, play tested the game, and found a factory to produce it. I don’t know of any other single person who has done so much in such a short time by themselves. And the result is a truly cohesive vision across all my books, games, shirts, prints, and whatever else that comes along.

Paul's Most Recent and Successful KickstarterAviator themed playing cardsCopyright: Paul Roman Martinez

Paul’s Most Recent and Successful Kickstarter
Aviator themed playing cards
Copyright: Paul Roman Martinez

(9) Do you have any upcoming projects you’re working on?
I always have upcoming projects and I keep a list of projects that could potentially sidetrack me. I make a list so I can keep moving forward with the 19XX and come back to those ideas later.

But right now I just finished my Flight Deck aviation playing card project and I’m now throwing myself back into finishing the third graphic novel in the 19XX series. The book will be coming out at the same time I release an expansion for my game that will correspond to the book. When that happens the game really will become something more. A serialized story that you play through as a group. The story will become something you experience with your friends, not just read in your room by yourself. I can’t wait for that moment because it’s something I’ve pictured since the series first began in 2010. That’s when I will be able to look someone in the eye while handing them my book and say, “you have something really great here.”

***
So there you have it, some thoughts from the creative and trailblazing mind of a successful Kick-starter artist, novelist and designer.  Why not head over to his unique corner of the web, take a peek at his ongoing series The Adventures of the 19xx, pick up a copy of his Assault 19xx and,


Game Forth!

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Supplement Review – Kobold Press | Advanced Races:Lamia

Lamia SupplementImage Copyright: Kobold Press

Lamia Supplement
The serpentine-bodied lamia
Image Copyright:
Kobold Press

Kobold Press, the independent online web-zine with a history of  producing RPG adventures and campaign materials recently published the latest in its Advanced Races supplements. The website, headed by the venerable Wolfgang Baur, a game designer known for his days at Wizards of the Coast, deals with all things role-playing, with a focus on their own homespun guides and products.

Their most well-known and successful line is their Midgard campaign setting. But in addition to this self-created world, they have also produced supplemental material designed to fit into other worlds and run on the core mechanics for D&D 3.5 and Pathfinder. One such line is their Advanced Races guidebooks.

Starting with their first book, Advanced Races #1: Tieflings, the series of compendiums add monster races as an option for players. The books include descriptive histories, cultural and societal identities and race specific feats, traits and class paths.

Their most recent addition to the line, Advanced Races #8: Lamia, deals with the fabled Greek, child-eating demons whose serpentine lower halves were immortalized by the English poet John Keats.

Lamia, like most Greek traditions had several origin stories. They generally all begin with a single woman either a cursed Queen, an ill-fated mistress to a God, or simply a wandering female progenitor with a penance for debauchery, blood addiction and flesh-eating. In all these scenarios, the image is one of evil, accursed wrongness, representing everything that is vile and unclean in the civilized world.

Lamia like much in role-playing canon and what has spread into the mainstream world beyond was first depicted in the world of D&D with the original AD&D Monster Manual last century way back in 1977.

Original Lamia Image Source: Monster Manual AD&D (1977)

Original D&D Lamia
Centaur-like
Image Source: Monster Manual AD&D (1977)

In their first role-playing incarnation, Lamia had lower torsos resembling four legged beasts similar to another Greek inspired monster, the fabled centaurs. In the 4E reboot, Lamia are described as scarab beetled beings that lure individuals to their doom.Throughout the years the Lamia’s biology may have morphed and mutated but the one constant throughout editions and descriptions was and remains their unrepentant evilness.

It is this abhorrent nature that Kobold Press decided to expand upon in their Advanced Race supplement.

4th Edition D&D LamiaScarab bodied LamiaImage Copyright: Wizards of the Coast

4th Edition D&D Lamia
Scarab bodied Lamia
Image Copyright: Wizards of the Coast

The supplement itself is a quick read, only 17 pages, from cover to cover. Following a short story about a potential adventuring Lamia the guide delves into the descriptive culture and society of the race itself, including their structure and life development. Kobold decided to stick with the serpentine imagery and the guide provides a smattering of NC-17 paintings and artwork that are decent, though somewhat inconsistent with quality.

The guide moves on quickly into Lamia adventure archetypes followed by racial feats and traits. They focus on the Oracle class from D&D and Pathfinder, and Prestige classes include a Moon devoted cleric/arcane hybrid and a melee dual-wielding blade master. The last piece of the guide is a Midgard inclusive section that details how Lamias can be added to Kobold’s signature world.

There is an a good deal of emphasis on the more carnal aspects of Lamia natures including a bacchanal revelry that is specific to the race on the whole. In truth, judging by my knowledge of the race and the suggestive cover, I was expecting more details about these darker aspects of the race, or at least the motivations behind them.

I was really looking forward to a bit more detail for the Lamia, even if it was specific to the world of Midgard. When it comes to supplements like this, I am less interested in mechanics and much more intrigued by  background and world immersion. The Oracle-like prestige class however was a nice addition, and they synergized well with the racial feats. Further historical context, even invented would have been welcomed.

Overall the supplemental was just a bit too lite, however for the price and the excellent layout and images it was well worth the admission. So when you have a chance, and a few bucks to shell out, why not check out the Advanced Race line by Kobold Press, and

Game Forth!

 

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Rush to Judgement – A Vampire in Congress

Republican candidate for Florida’s 3rd congressional district :
Jacob A. Rush, A.K.A. “Chazz Knuckles” A.K.A.“Chazz Darling,” A.K.A. “Staas van der Winst”
Image source: Slate.com

Down in Gainesville Florida, there might could be a new sheriff in town.

Or rather– a Sheriff’s Deputy.

And he happens to be a Vampire.

This week, marking off a splendid April Fool’s Day, Peter Schorsch of the  online Saint Peters Blog reported that 35-year old attorney and Congressional hopeful former Alachua County Sheriff Deputy Jacob A. Rush moonlights during his off hours as a regular member of the Camarilla.

This ‘Camarilla’ happens to be a clandestine Vampiric Order who perpetuate a world-wide Masquerade in an effort to prevent mankind from learning the uncomfortable truth about the presence of the undead living amongst us.

At least, that is the main plot behind the Live-Action-Role-Playing fantasy world where Jacob dons his fictional characters in. It also happens to be a setting of which I am very familiar with.

Vampire the Masquerade, put out by the venerable White Wolf Publishing has been around since the early Nineties. It is a Role-playing setting built heavily around influences like Anne Rice’s Vampire series, and set in a modern Gothic Punk universe called the World of Darkness.

In this parallel world Vampires, Werewolves, Wraiths, Mummies, Faeries, Mages and other bizarre supernatural beings share and manipulate the world of ordinary humans in ways that paved the way for the likes of Jim Butcher and Patricia Briggs.

It is a role-playing world devoted towards darker real-world themes and deals with mature issues, all while players don costumes of their fictional characters and act out their sometimes grisly parts.

Mind’s Eye Theater
Image source:
mindseyesociety.org

And this is the main source of Mr. Rush’s woeful uncovering as a would-be Congressman who also happens to be a Gamer.

While my first impulse was to rejoice at the possibility of a Bona Fide Larper running for Congress, regardless of their affiliation and views, some of Mr. Rush’s comments unearthed by the article detail a certain strain of gamer that hits a little too close to home.

The article details some of Mr. Rush’s in character (Chazz Darling) conversations he had online with an unidentified presumable female member of the community. Without listing verbatim what was unearthed (you can find the full quote here) the gist of the article was a rather irate response to another member within the Gaming group of Gainesville that he belonged to that ended with implications of the other individual being abused and left as “Free Candy”.

From a gaming perspective, the statement is clearly, from my own experience and knowledge of the WoD (World of Darkness) very much in keeping with how Vampires view humans:

  • As cattle.
  • As foodbags.
  • As victims.

Mr. Rush’s characterization of the other is in keeping with these sentiments, although the earlier commentary referenced in the article concerning body parts is less so (Kindred [vampires] are generally asexual once they are ‘Embraced’), and the fact that they are directed towards a fellow Kindred is apparent.

The overall tone of his comments though are really very much aligned with the overtly egoist ‘tripping’ that is common among Gamers– what is known as Power-gaming. This is an individual so immersed in the mechanics, story, etcetera of the gaming world that they adopt all of its values above normal behavior and generally brow-beat less ‘informed’ members of the community with these aspects (hence Darling’s derogatory comment about torpor, a situation where a Kindred, who are in the game effectively immortal, can be easily killed, and therefore a condition that only an amateur would find themselves in).

Now far from defending Mr. Rush’s words in this particular instance I simply would like to put forth the context.

In the gaming world, such power-gaming, egotistic trips are par for the course– they represent mastery of a system. It is very much like a couple of football fans talking about how a particular player deserves to get traded for failing to catch a pass, or that a particular team got destroyed or ‘raped’ by another team. Which leads into another of Mr. Rush’s comments; his Rape Face (again, see original article).

‘Chazz Darling’ – Mr. Rush’s Rapey-minded Kindred
Image source: http://www.bilerico.com

In keeping with the tone of the World of Darkness, and its Live-Action game system, the Minds-Eye Theater, the darker aspects of gaming are explored in this particular brand of LARPing, one that lends itself towards such outlandish and abhorrent phrases like Rape Face. For Mr. Rush, donning costumes is comparable to a Hollywood actor stepping into character– in fact it is exactly like that. And, as delicate as some people’s sensibilities may be, Vampires in the World of Darkness are very dark characters. Kindred in that world take what they want. Brutally. While rape jokes are not the most endearing to me personally, the gaming world, just like the real world, has its share of asinine and schoolyard humor (see, Dickwolves).

This is unfortunately the mentality of many Gamers. This is the mentality of individuals who spend copious amounts of time analyzing imaginary worlds and systems of these worlds and look to escape into them. Not all gamers are like this and in truth I enjoy gaming with folks who are less so. I myself am guilty of machismo at the gaming table– but again the jokes and stories around a gaming table aren’t all that much different from what gets told while watching a game of baseball or football, or in a break room at work. There is a certain level of testosterone and political incorrectness that goes with the territory. The gaming world, despite the costumes and burning books and occult trappings, is just another venue for people to do what they do best– communicate with one another.

And what’s more, Mr. Rush’s comments are, artistically not so different from other forms of expression. As a passing comparison, there’s a very strong kinship with the colloquial ‘gangster-rap’ that Mr. Rush’s words evoke and that were embodied in his character’s sentiments towards his fellow gamer.

Both are characterizations of individuals in a dark world, doing dark deeds to achieve dark ends. But in both (hopefully) the purpose is the same– expression. Expression of elements of life that aren’t easily discussed in society, in a safe (hopefully) environment where one is able to freely interact with others of similar mind (hence, the shared Mind’s Eye). Much like rock and roll, which came with the ancillary epithets sex and drugs, rap has its guns and ‘loose women’, and Vampire has its Kine and victims– all different forms of the same, predatory, masculine fantasizing. All things which, despite their supposed offense, attract a good deal of admirers ( Kid Rock is to Chazz as Chazz is to L.L. Cool J). The real question, which the story itself raises, is the publics ability to look at these traits as what they are, personal expression– and nothing (hopefully) more.

And much like the ‘street cred’ of gangster rap, Gamers can and do speak derogatory to new or clueless initiates, in ways very much against the grain– and very much politically incorrect.

A Clan Novel for Vampire the Masquerade–
What would literature be without a little vice?
Image source: Amazon.com

And now having said all that, the real joy is simply in the exposure, albeit less than positive that the story brings to the gaming world. And that Mr. Rush even decided to run for office, given his gaming affectations.

As Mr. Rush expressed in his statement following these revelations, he is a Gamer. A simple enough term but one that brings into the public discourse a very meaningful step towards recognition. And as much as the media is want to label him all manner of perverse and illicit terms, the facts are that he was a deputy sheriff and attorney, both of which are serious bid’nez. But his private life, done with other consenting adults is his own business and one that I have a shared passion for.

Because what I see isn’t a guy who likes to rape people or burn books or drink blood (hopefully), but a guy who likes to get together with a bunch of folks accepting of each others quirks and personalities and spend their time engaged in harmless fun.

So when you get a chance and if you’re a gamer yourself, political affiliations aside, why not head over to his Facebook and let him know you too like to

Game Forth!

Other Sites:

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A Very ‘Unconventional’ Convention – A Very Familiar Tactic

failI grew up with half a tongue.

A couple months ago I decided to implement a long-term goal of mine that had been a dream since I first became a Gamer.

It was a dream that entailed the creation of my own public Gaming group, open to all members but with a special focus on bringing into the fold of D&D and table-top games individuals like myself and other, potentially disenfranchised folks who might have felt a bit out of place within the larger Gaming Community.

Granted, this is a lofty position to take, but it was a sentiment in tune with comments I’d heard from other Gamers I‘d played with. By sight alone, I saw how frequent certain individuals came and went in the gaming community, with little impetus by other Gamers to keep them in the mix.

And so it was, with the generous and grateful help of my group of campaign players who, I cannot ever express the gratitude I have for their support that this idea and dream of mine was able to come to fruition.

I successfully launched this brand-spanking new Meetup.com group for Gamers in the New York City area this past September. (You can find the page here.)

With the title of Alternative Gamers, and a moniker for our Members that was an extension of this very commercial brand, Black Coyotl, I gave our members the title of ‘Inclusive Gamers’.

In all honesty, I didn’t know how the Meetup would fare in the marketplace; there are literally dozens of gaming groups operating in the Tri-state area, all of which are geared towards a specific niche, neighborhood, or type of Gamer (Female/V:TM/Old-Timers etc.)

Which is why I decided to create a group where I, and others like myself could feel comfortable playing in, and more than that, feel welcomed. It was my attempt at creating a ‘safe place to play’ for Gamers who might not be the most welcomed at your traditional gaming scene.

In the months since, I’m proud to say that my Inclusive Gaming group, with the gracious help of my Gaming friends, has been a success.We have had over a dozen successfully organized Meets, and have brought in a slew of new players to the mix. 

What’s more, it was rewarding to see that the idea of an Inclusive Gaming group could not only attract members, but could do so repeatedly and retain them.

Now, what is rather interesting is the development of this idea of Inclusive and Alternative Gaming that has suddenly sprung up in the area.

As a Gaming hobbyist, I keep an ear to the gnomish railroad of this world (as evidenced by my blog) and came across another Meetup group in the city, a Gaming group, around since 2012 that surreptitiously about a month after our launch this year had the following on their homepage:

It’s interesting considering the phrasing, but what I find more interesting is the disclaimer about its non-competitive nature; as if there is some implied competition in quoting this new addendum to their site, almost as if the presence of this disclaimer were expected to be challenged in some way. In what way I can only wonder (does this blog constitute a challenge?), but I do find its sudden appearance more than coincidental.

(I also find it amusing, as a consequence of a mechanical and hence numbers crunching mindset, that their apparent Inclusive bent is rather, at least seemingly, exclusive, as evidenced by the makeup of their apparent members.

I also mention this group because in a prior incarnation, it was organized by a member who was a PoC [with a name similar to my own actually] but evidently because he was too ‘combative’ he was replaced– you know, how the President sometimes comes across as an ‘angry you know what person’)

I want to stress that I am not calling out the group, simply pointing out an obvious appeal to head off a label of exclusivity. But there has also been another very interesting development in the larger gaming community:

Image Copyright:   Double Exposure, Inc.

Image Copyright:
Double Exposure, Inc.

This past week I received an invite to Double Exposure’s Maelstrom Convention via mailing list. What I find incredibly interesting is how this particular con is being billed, according to some of the following sections on its main page:

Image Altered & Reproduced from:  http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from:
http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from: http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Image Altered & Reproduced from:
http://www.dexposure.com/ms2014.html

Now, I’m not exactly a man given towards providence, however, I do see something of a pattern emerging here. Well, that’s not true exactly, what I actually see is a pattern emerging from a design that I created, and implemented- successfully.

It’s a design that as I said had been a dream for a long time, one where I sought to create a space of safety and comfort for individuals who, well quite frankly: felt marginalized (Wow, where have I heard that before?) Strange that these ideals and goals sound so closely similar to the stated goals of my own group: altgamers So having learned about this Inclusive Gaming outlet I contacted them, and set about asking them if, as they seem ready, willing and able to “set the bar for inclusivity” and to “research” and “outreach”, they wouldn’t mind sponsoring or helping out, or at the very least, responding to  our group’s existence, and thereby embracing such a collection of Inclusive Gamers. As for a response I received none. Which, sadly to say, is exactly the response I expected to be given; not even a rejection, I expected complete and utter silence.

Expectations: Met.

(So much for outreach and research..)

It’s a reaction I’ve gotten more than once since launching this Meetup, as when I mention its goals, I invariably get no response.

For instance, the Emerson College professor Eric Gordon, who runs the Engagement Game Lab, billed as an organization designed to turn gaming engagement into political and civic action and has sponsored games designed to bring water to African’s, and incidentally whom I met at a lecture for inclusion and informed about the group, seemed entirely disinterested in hearing about it, or its members. It’s a general hands-off approach I’ve received in quite a few venues. Unpub, a gaming organization for play testers and whose events I have attended (here for instance) I reached out to as well and inquired if there may be any interest in the possibility of PoC and other Inclusive gamers version of their play-testing model, was silent on the possibility: I received no response from them either. Zilch. Nadda. Nothing. The Con or Bust program, which sponsors trips for minorities to go to Sci-Fi Conventions ( i.e.the burden of helping out the ‘Other’) I also reached out to, looking to engage them in the possibly of being a perk sponsor- and was politely told that their finances didn’t really align with our goals, those of course being getting more minorities involved in the fantasy genre and table-top world. (Obviously D&D isn’t really speculative stuff).

I realize of course asking for endorsements is a tricky and complicated idea, and more doors will be shut than open, but what is amazing is the similarity of goals for the organizations I’ve reached out to, and their complete disinterest in even acknowledging our presence. It’s a paradigm that is wedded to the idea of helping out the ‘Other’ from afar rather than actually engaging with them on an even level with full parity (Give them soup, but for God’s Sake DON’T HIRE THEM!).

I mention these examples also as another pattern I see, one that unlike my Gaming group, is one I did NOT have a hand in making. It is a convenient side-stepping around a certain topic; one I dare not state the Card I wish to play, as I will be accused precisely of playing it– tsk, tsk, we allow you here don’t we- good grief what more do  you want?!?

It does seem however that the goals of my group are ones that clearly need to be addressed. One that is a quaint idea, and clearly a new avenue for exploitation; similar to the appearance of the Blaxploitation film genre of the seventies:

Image Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_caesar.jpg

Image Source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Black_caesar.jpg
He’s Caesar, but wait he’s not just Caesar, he’s black Caesar- Whaaa?!?

Clearly Inclusive Gaming is a concept that can be run and implemented by anyone. Of course the goals of this concept should encourage not simply the attracting of diverse gamers, but also seeing them in decision-making positions and given free agency.

What is even more amazing is that at the very inception of a concept like Inclusive Gaming, before the scene is even fully formed, the Gaming world is already trying to co-opt and consume it, but in the most capitalist way possible. So even when a group like ours tries to exert its agency and differentiation to what is already in place, it seems that outright stealing and re-branding this desire is the only option available by the wider culture.

This tactic of paying lip service to the idea, wait, sorry “outreach and research”–  and doing so purely for profit, or worse to head off charges of exclusivity falls under the realm of false appeasement and exploitation. It’s an argument that has been far better elaborated on by far more eloquent writers than myself when the great RaceFail of ’09 happened.

RaceFail was a backlash against the perception that there were institutional factors at work within the speculative fiction world that prevented certain ‘types’ of writers from achieving successful careers in the genre (for further details check out this blog here).

Essentially what it boiled down to was that while efforts to appear inclusive could be implemented and hence self-evident, in actuality, this appearance was just that: an appearance. There was no genuine desire to engage with these other types of Writers, at best there was only the desire to write about them in purely abstract form (the magical ‘Other’ and the exotic ‘Other’).

The attempt was seen as not only flawed but completely dishonest and was really only addressed by certain writers who wished to avoid appearing Exclusive (which DexCon seems to backhandedly acknowledge with its Dual Headline of Inclusive Gaming Experience / Exclusive Event Schedule—you can’t get much more disingenuous than this).

What’s more, DexCon is trying to shoot down the fact that the Gaming world is inherently Exclusive– not simply inherently, but systematically Exclusive.

This is an acknowledgement that the Gaming world, and Geek culture in general denies on its face. It is the reason why RaceFail happened. It is the reason why such eloquent and heartfelt appeals to this fact were written by bloggers like Avalon Willow and Deepa D. when they wrote the following:

Unfortunately with DexCon’s upcoming ‘Inclusive Gaming Bar’ being set, there’s a preemptive attempt to display an openness in the community which clearly does NOT exist, otherwise groups would not have to give disclaimers, organizations wouldn’t have to host ‘inclusive’ conventions, and my Group would NEVER have had to have been created.

What it is then, is an attempt to co-opt the argument, and the critique of the culture, from people who have been the very reason for its bias.

And so it’s interesting knowing that while I and the members of my group are clearly not worth the time to deserve even a response, our dollars are certainly desired and even courted.

It’s also interesting to note that while I am personally NOT welcome at a lot of the events I go to (in fact my presence is actually often times greeted with outright hostility and ridicule), my IDEAS clearly are.

So, in an effort to maybe demonstrate just how, non-inclusive this upcoming convention really is, if you’re in the area, and were interested in going to this or any of the DexCon conventions, I would like to encourage you NOT to go– and unlike my usual foot-forward saying I think given their clear appropriation and disingenuous appeal towards ‘inclusion’ as an effort to appear open, is really nothing more than a disingenuous money grab.

I would suggest quite simply not going to any of their events all together: I know I won’t be anymore. In fact, why not create your own truly Inclusive Group, one where inclusive means engagement and cooperation, not co-opting and profit, and

Game True!

Edit: Since this post, I’ve been in communications with the organizers for Double Exposure and have received nothing but support and assistance in both promoting an inclusive mindset within the Gaming community and in allowing for a discussion concerning changing the representations of those depicted in the industry.

They have also provided financial assistance in the form of discounts to members of the Incusive Gaming group of which I am the Organizer, as well as providing spaces to have talks with other gamers as to how to effect change within the community itself.

Towards this end, I would like to state that the Double Exposures organizers are clearly forward-thinking members and backers of a diverse and inclusive future in the Gaming industry and I personally wish others within the community were as proactive in their efforts as they were.

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Drow – The Other Elven Meat

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment LLC

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment LLC
The fair-skinned evil Dark Elves of Thor.

Last month I went and saw Thor: The Dark World, the latest in the Hollywood onslaught of Marvel films that have graced the screen since their re-boot with the X-Men franchise way back in 2000.

It was a decent film, one that delved further into the conflict between Thor and his brother, but also brought in other elements of the fictional Thorian universe, notably the appearance of Malekith the Accursed and his race of Dark Elves as villains. As a Dungeons & Dragons Gamer, the appearance of these ‘dark elves’ immediately brought to mind their role-playing equivalents: the Drow.

When it comes to specific villain’s and monsters that litter the Dungeons & Dragon’s canon, I have always had a particular fondness for the race of evil, magic-using, dark-skinned  subterranean elves that inhabit many of the worlds that make up the fantasy realms of my games. My own weekly D&D campaign is in the midst of an ‘Underdark’ arch that features several of these beings- though their purpose in the plot is far more dubious than their traditional bent at best.

One of the traits of these Drow, or dark elves, which has always intrigued and in all honesty upset me, is the singular fact that these evil elves are gifted with dark skin.

Image Copyright: Paizo Publishing, LLC

Image Copyright:
Paizo Publishing, LLC
A dark-skinned, female drow; the standard, eroticised ‘evil elf’ as the ‘Other’.

As a monster race, the Drow were created by one of the originators to the D&D world, the one and only Gary Gygax, who is said to have crafted both the name and existence of these alternative elves from a blend of Norse mythology and his own imagination. The word “drow” is an alternative of the word “trow”, or its cognate “troll” and comes from the Gaelic dialect of the Scots. The actual appearance in myth that the drow are based on are their Norse equivalents, the Dökkálfar, or ‘dark elves’ who live underground and are described in the Prose Edda, a compilation of Norse myth penned in the 13th century, as ‘blacker than pitch’. They are the counter parts to the Light elves, who were said to be fairer than the sun to look at.

Based on this description, Gygax went on to create one of the most iconic and ubiquitous villain’s of the fantasy genre. Unfortunately one of the lasting hallmarks and most indelible fact about the drow was and is their dark skin.

drowwords

Original Drow description from
Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Monster Manual (1977)

This trait has been brought up over the years around various tables as somewhat perplexing. The fact that the drow are subsurface dwellers should mean that rather than having dark-skin, they should be completely pale; the absence of sun light should make them look something more like albinos (similar to the cave-dwelling cannibals in Lion Gates 2005 Descent), where there is no longer a need to have protection from harmful ultra violet radiation, which is the main benefit of tonal differences in melanin, or skin pigmentation. At the birth of their inclusion into the world of D&D, I’m willing to believe that the science behind subterranean life and the effects of sun deprivation were at best a murky topic, and fantasy references served as the basis for the fleshing out of their general appearance.

Image Copyright: Lions Gate Films.   The underground dwelling evil albino cannibals from the 2005 Horror Film The Descent.

Image Copyright: Lions Gate Films.
The underground dwelling evil albino cannibals from the 2005 Horror Film The Descent.

This observation may at first seem overly critical of made-up villains in a fantasy world, but it is a topic that has evidently been raised elsewhere, time and again. And as a Gamer, who also just so happens to be a Gamer of Color, I am indisputably afflicted by a gene that causes me to explore things that interest and confound my understanding of the various systems that surround me.

One of the main problems with their skin tone is the historical rationales that sometimes accompany its presence in the fantasy settings; that it is part of a curse they received for being ‘evil’ and coincides with their subsequent expulsion into the underground. This mythology has an all too familiar and chilling parallel in the real world.

The Mark of Cain, a Christian concept as to the branding curse of the fabled first murderer in human history has at times over the centuries and very believably been attributed to dark skin. It was a defining rationale behind slavery and segregation in the United States from a religious standpoint, and was wholly integrated into the Mormon faith, something that the Church only divorced itself from in the later-half of the 1970’s. The idea of cursing an individual, or even a group of individuals with any easily identifying mark, such as a Scarlet Letter, is a concept old an ingrained into the human psyche, the dangers though of such a racial deliminator are easy to see.

These dangers are addressed in a scene from another Hollywood film– in the 1992 movie, Malcolm X, Denzel Washington who plays the civil rights leader speaks to the power of language and the importance of choosing ones words for the implications and imagery that it can not only conjure, but perpetuate out into the world beyond the self. The tropes of dark skin seem as rooted in our subconscious and across cultures as the ideas surrounding darkness itself seem to be: evil, ugliness, danger, shadows, monsters and above all, the unknown. By associating these terms and ideas with physical manifestations of our fellow human beings, people effectively charge interactions with these individuals with notions of perceived specificity: hence we get the stereotype. Which is why the idea of drow, or dark elves, being evil, malicious, dangerous and predatory have been a point of issue for some of us in the Gaming world. Add to this the expanded universe where the drow through editions of D&D canon have been expanded upon with facts that include how their society is matriarchal (a subtle implication about the dangers of female empowerment and agency) and ironically, big traffickers of slaves (quite the inversion).

All of this was bouncing around in the recesses of my head as I watched Thor: The Dark World. It wasn’t until I was thinking back about the film though that I could appreciate the comportment of its evil characters. The ‘dark elves’ in the world of Thor, based on their Marvel comic book origins (who have a mix of purplish-white skin) were in fact pale skinned individuals. At long last it seemed, the ‘dark’ sunless and nihilist evil elves of the universe held a glimmer of a more plausible appearance. I also reflected on the controversy over Idris Elba’s donning of the mask of Heimdall in the original and in the sequel to Thor and wondered if the film-makers wanted to treat the subject with a more encompassing brush-stroke concerning their Dark Elves.

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment, LLC

Image Copyright: Marvel Entertainment, LLC
The African-Nord.

All the elements of fantasy speak to a reflection in our broader understandings of the world and how we perceive the elements that move about us, even and especially in Hollywood blockbusters. By infusing these worlds we create with preordained concepts, we are not really leaving behind or escaping anything that persists in the world, and even more, we are limiting our ability at creating truly divergent universes that might imagine a more fantastic world than our own. Of course, Games are as much about perpetuating our myths and symbols as they are about creation and interaction. Still, by challenging the ‘rules’ of what has come before, Gamers themselves are typically graced with a mindset towards breaking these very truths, and what better rules to break, than some of the most ingrained and harmful ones around. So when you get a chance, why not challenge some rules you see concerning language and descriptive iconography, and above all,

Game Forth!

  • Most of the historical details in this article were culled from Wikipedia.

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