Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Female Gamers Go Back a Ways

[Since this has something to do with RPGs and something to do with miniatures gaming, I'm cross-posting it to both my gaming blogs.]

I've been slowly making my way through Jon Peterson's magnificent Playing at the World, a deep and scholarly (yet readable) account of the origins of role-playing games that goes all the way back to 18th-century chess variants and the emergence of genre literature and then traces things up through to the publication of the original boxed set of Dungeons & Dragons. It's a gaming nerd's dream, frankly.

One thing I've been taking away from my readings so far (I'm about halfway through) is that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Back during the whole "Consultancygate" brouhaha in July, for example, I just happened to be reading a section that touched on some of the infighting in the nascent gaming community following the publication of D&D, wherein two camps emerged, divided between the old guard wargamers and the more counterculture-inspired RPGers, both of whom claimed the other was "doing it wrong" and that they themselves had the moral high ground. It was certainly illustrative of the fact that the gaming community has always been subject to passionate debates on perceptions of who or what should and shouldn't be allowed in the hobby.

More recently, of course, there's been a much more widely-reported controversy surrounding the acceptance (or lack thereof) of women in the larger video-gaming community. I'm not a video gamer by any stretch of the imagination, but over the years I've witnessed similar prejudices being expressed in the RPG hobby as well. Once again, Playing at the World has provided an interesting and timely point-of-view.

In my latest reading, the book is discussing a game called Fletcher Pratt's Naval War Game. Published in 1943, the game was developed from soirees Pratt (a pulp fiction writer) would hold at his Manhattan apartment (and later, when attendance got up to around 50 people, at a nearby hall) in which attendees would engage in a wargame featuring model ships, played out using the floor as the game space.

The game was significant to the later evolution of RPGs because it influenced the development of mechanics like Armor Class and Hit Points. But it was also significant for being the first time female gamers got a mention in a published wargame, previously perceived as the exclusive domain of men. Quoted from the rulebook itself:
"[Once Pratt's group had embraced the system] the sweethearts-and-wives influence became manifest. One of the latter appeared as a spectator of what was originally intended to be a purely stag game. In the midst of the ensuing red-hot engagement she was discovered flat on her stomach, aiming the guns of a cruiser and muttering something like, 'I'll get the so-and-so this time.' From that date on there was no checking the rising tide of feminism. Today there are nearly as many players of one sex as of the other; and one of the feminine delegation has been praised by a naval officer as the most competent tactician of the group."

Playing at the World goes on to feature an illustration from the book in which "a skirted woman, alongside her male counterparts, is shown kneeling on the floor, angling a cardboard arrow to fire at her target."

It also discusses how this inclusion represented an evolution from H.G. Wells' Little Wars (1911), the first wargame marketed to casual gamers; although the book subtitles itself as a "game for boys from twelve years of age to one hundred and fifty and for that more intelligent sort of girl who likes boys' games and books", Wells also complains within the pages of his rules of being interrupted "by a great rustle and chattering of lady visitors" who "regarded the [game] with the empty disdain of their sex for all imaginative things."

In my 25-plus years of tabletop gaming, I've gamed with at least as many women as men. My current weekly face-to-face group is comprised of a majority of women, and has been all-woman (save for yours truly) at times in the past. I've also gamed with women who were flat-out denied the opportunity to join other groups because of their gender.

I've written about this before, but I just want to reiterate that, of the women I've gamed with, some have sucked at math and others have loved crunch; some have been totally story-oriented and others have been violent and bloodthirsty. In other words, they've been just like all the male gamers I've played with.

I wanted to post this little piece of history simply because it shows that women's interest in the tradition of gaming from which RPGs, wargaming, and video games grew out of goes back a long ways. If this sort of history was better-known...well, we'd still probably have lots of stupid trolls out there spewing misogyny in-person and online, but knowing about stuff like this puts their ridiculous appeals to the "tradition" of an all-male hobby in an even weaker light, I think.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hey, There's A New Edition of D&D Out - So Of Course I'm Running ACKS...

I run two weekly games. One is currently slogging its way through the Great Pendragon Campaign. The other found itself, a couple weeks back, "in between campaigns" after a couple false starts (first RIFTS and then a Savage Worlds space opera campaign that ended in a TPK).

The fact of the matter is that we had given the new D&D Starter Set a spin and quite liked it, but none of us quite wanted to pull the trigger on starting a 5e campaign until the full set of core books has been rolled out. So I figured I'd offer to run a little short campaign arc of something else to fill the gap until November rolls around.

I guess we were all in a fantasy mood still from all that D&D talk, because we ended up settling on the Adventurer, Conqueror, King System. This came as a real surprise to me, as I didn't even own ACKS at the time of discussion. I was only aware of it by reputation. But we were talking about the old 2e Birthright setting, and one of my players in particular expressed a fondness for that setting's attempt at bringing domain-level play back into the game, and I mentioned ACKS and that was that.

Here's the thing, though: I am now seriously in love with this system.

It's really inspired me to just jump in and start designing my own sandbox. Of course, I'm stealing liberally from a bunch of different sources, from GURPS Tales of the Solar Patrol to Vornheim to bits of the Wilderlands to Ralph Bakshi's Wizards to a variety of Appendix N authors (Vance and Burroughs in particular), all in the service of creating a sort of science-fantasy mishmash that's maybe a bit reminiscent of JRPGs like Phantasy Star.

And after I'm done setting up this sandbox, I want to take a crack at adapting the old AD&D HR1 Vikings supplement into an ACKS historical fantasy sandbox. The combination of the system's toolkit approach and support for world-building has proven an unexpectedly heady brew for me, such that I'm going to be focusing all my FRPG efforts for the short-term in that direction.

In the meantime, we're still planning on playing 5e starting sometime this winter. One of the other folks in my group is going to run Hoard of the Dragon Queen, so I get to get some actual time in as a player after running ACKS for a couple months. Win-win!

Incidentally, here is the precis for my current setting, if you're curious...

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Solo GPC Patreon is live!

After much cogitating, I've taken a small step into the world of crowdfunding with the launch of my Solo GPC Patreon campaign.

If you're unfamiliar with how Patreon works, it's essentially a way to crowdfund ongoing creative work. Each backer pledges a certain amount of money per "unit" - in my case, any time I post a Solo GPC report. The cool thing about Patreon is that you can set a monthly limit, so it's easy to budget how much you want to contribute.

I explain more on the Patreon page linked above, but briefly: I'm going with Patreon because I feel like it's a great way to incentivize getting my Solo GPC series finished up, plus I can use the money to help produce a slick and professional free PDF of the complete chronicle once it's done.

As I mention in my Patreon video, each Solo GPC post averages about 7,000 words a piece. At the $5.00 pledge level, that comes out to about 14 cents a word, which is a pretty good deal, and a fair writing rate to boot. I'm anticipating getting out about two posts a month.

So if you want to see more Solo GPC posts on this blog and fund the creation of a quality gaming artifact, please consider funding the campaign.

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