Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Shifting Stereotypes in GM Voices

Any GM worth his or her salt has done impressions. You may eschew or find them childish now, but at some game session you used a voice that wasn't your own, for good or ill, for once or forever.

Make no wonder. The players hunch around the table, waiting for you to bring the gameworld to life. You dive into onomatopoeia for the clang of swords or crash of dragon scales. You're improvising like mad, flailing your arms and chewing the scenery. It is only natural that you use different voices to differentiate NPCs, and only natural that these are based on your limited repertoire of experiences. So you steal a Scottish brogue for a dwarf here, or do your best Hugo Weaving for an elven king.

The problem isn't (mostly) that these impersonations are racist. Most are about as mildly offensive as Mike Myer's Shrek, and the rare racist, mean-spirited impression should rightly be condemned.

The problem is that most impressions are hackneyed, repetitive, and done to death. Scottish dwarven brogues, lisping posh elves, North Country hobbits, and piratey orcs are all dull, dull, dull.

It's past time to shake up these stereotypes, to shift to different voices if you like vocal improvisation. Shifting voices will refresh NPC interaction for you and your players, challenge your assumptions, and push your play into new directions.

Here are my suggestions for some new voices to shake up your game:

Dwarves - Serene Zen Japanese gardener craftsmen. Love jewels as art, not wealth. Berserker rage replaced by stoic banzai charge.

"Ah! See this slope? A work of art! That cornice - I am speechless! Truly it is worth death to see the precious beauty of this forgotten tomb! How dare these uncouth gaki befoul this sanctum! BANZAI!!"

Hobbits - Lector style cannibals. Consideration of food trumps any alignment or moral compass.

"Hmmmmm, rations running low. Lucky so many tall sources of meat walking around. All it needs is some fava beans and a glass of Chianti. Then fly fly, little halfling, back to home."

Humans - Loudmouth hucksters, always spouting the Domain Game as needed progress.

"Well sirree, this is the wasteland, but it has potential! I can see it now, after we clear out the temple, we move in a drygoods and an inn. Get captured goblins to build a stable and dig a well, but we get the xp. We get minstrels to spread word of the spot where Evil fell, charge admission, sell gnomish souvenirs, and plots of swampland! I tell you, human ingenuity will turn this ruin into a goldmine!"

Elves - Burt Reynolds' Gator inspired, bacco spitting,  moonshine-swigging rednecks. Fall of the elves remembered like the fall of Dixie.

"Shoot, I seen this a million times. You uppity new races comin' round where you ain't wanted. But I ain't no racist. (swigs moonwine). Double negative? That's a positive in High Elf, boy. I'd speak it 'cept y'alls too dumb to unnerstand it. (swigs again). Boy, you bet not be lookin' at my sister Laurie-Lie. Don't want no mixed blood half-elves kickin' round."

Half orcs - Pessimistic, fatalistic French Resistence fighters.

"My mother, she full orc, she hate me. My father he abandon me. Merde! Life, she is shit. But still I fight, to drink and, mais oui, to forget in the little death of inebriation."

Got any suggestions? Leave a comment.

This post is inspired by THIS post.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Dungeons & Manga #2 - Knowing D&D Part Two

OK, let's jump right back into the action. While in part one we saw that the introductory section of the book Knowing D&D began with dynamic action scenes to capture the reader's attention, its latter half is all action art.

This second half of the text is a"replay", or the transcript of a play session. Replays are HUGELY popular in the Japanese TRPG scene, and the rationale seems to be 1) it is fun to read through someone else's session as a fictional account and 2) you can learn to run a game or play in one by reading replays.

Anyway, on to the art. In this part, instead of explaining every image, I will instead present them with questions and let you try to guess what exactly is going on.

First image - where is the best place to start an adventure?

Next, who invited a snake to this disco party?

Make the 1/2 HD mooks jump!

Uh oh, the TPK heavies just showed up...

Where does this lead to?

 Who best to find their way in the darkness...

A reward for bravery.

Splitting the spoils, making plans...

A summons!

These guys good or bad? Depends how they're shaded...

Taking the block.

Not alone!

About those goblins...

Who does your hair, Baal?

Bette Davis eyes?

Always a damsel somewhere...

She didn't see that coming...

Which edition theses guys playing? BECMI by the ads...

Anyway, so much for Knowing D&D. Excuse the photo quality, but my tablet camera at 2am is about all I can muster these days.

I'd like to thank all commenters - I didn't expect any response, especially any so soon or thoughtful. Good to know there are other people with the same interests out there in the nebulous space of the OSR.

Next in the series - scifi TRPG style, or Furries in Space!

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Dungeons & Manga #1 - Knowing D&D Part One

Not having the time to compose the long (winded) discursive thoughts on games I used to, I thought I'd start a new series of posts that would require less time to write for but also provide something interesting for gamers until I can get more time to think and compose. I've turned to my fairly extensive collection of Japanese RPGs, most of which are fantasy games, to present what I call 'Dungeons & Manga', namely manga-style art used in Japanese TRPG books. Whereas English RPGs and D&D in particular took some time before accessing professional artists, Japanese game designers had access to the immense pool of relatively inexpensive manga artists in Japan.

Today, I will be looking at 1987's D&Dがよくわかる本、D&D ga yoku wakaru hon, loosely translated as Knowing D&D Well, or more simply D&D for Beginners. This book is much like a Japanese Judges' Guild resource, and the series it is a part of includes extensively written and illustrated guides on dungeons, monsters, and other RPG accoutrements.

First, the cover (below) presents a whimsical reversal of position of PCs and the dragons they are supposed to be gunning for. It reminds me a bit of the old Dragon magazine comic where adventurers sit around playing an RPG in which they take on the role of office workers. It also shows a high degree of self-deprecating humour, which is still evident in Japanese TRPGs today, but I feel somewhat lacking in self-important western RPGS. Anyway, here it is:

Moving inside, we see that Japanese gamers knew what captured goblins were good for. This is not surprising given the velocity with which unchi rolls downhill in a vertical society...

From the bottom of the dungeon hierarchy we soar to the top. Next stop, dragons!

With the reader's appetite whetted with images of adventure, the tone shifts to tongue-in-cheek comic art to present the classes. There's the fighter:

The top panel is captioned "The fighter is D&D's superstar!!", while the bottom states "However, they are none too smart..." and show the wizard saying "Hey, get back to work!" Unsurprisingly, the next picture is the wizard:

The mage's thought balloon reads "For MU's, choosing the right spell decides your fate." Below that the wizard mumbles "Without magic, I'm just an average human..." and chooses from a golf bag with the words "Fireball", Levitation", "Lightning", "Phantasm" and one other illegible spell name. Next, the cleric:

The cleric thinks "Clerics can't use bladed weapons!" while the elf behind quips "Razors are OK, right?" The bottom caption reads "They have the power to protect the party from undead and injury!" Whereas individualistic westerners might cringe at being in a support position, group-minded Japanese players would instead find supporting the party a worthy and attractive role. In contrast, next up is the thief:

The upper panel reads "The party uses me as a treasure detector..." while the bottom is captioned "The highly dexterous thief also levels up quickly." The thief himself quips "I aim to be guildmaster!", interestingly using the Japanese term 大親分 (o-oyabun, or yakuza chief) to anchor the character in Japanese culture. Moving on to the elf:

The female elf has been a Japanese fantasy trope since Deedlit of Lodoss War, and that archtype is here. The caption on top reads "Elves can fight, use magic, are intelligent, and long lived...". This totally fits the critique of elves as a token instead of individual characters that appeared on Playing D&D with Pornstars, perhaps implying that this simplification is even stronger across cultures. The bottom reads "But their advancement is also incredibly slow." This same simplification is seen with the dwarf:

"Dwarves are small but tough!" reads the caption, evoking Gimli to an almost painfully stereotypical degree. The humouruous bottom quip "Because we eat minerals (just joking)" lightens this image, but unintentionally adds an explanation for dwarvish miserliness and mining that I would add to any mythos I used in game. How about the hafling?

"Haflings are hard to hit" promises the caption, and the character breaks the fourth wall to counsel " You have to be strong, dextrous, and tough if you want to be me!" Here ends the cutesy art and manga style realism returns for the equipment section:

Chainmail, shield, platemail, and leather are all here.

Hand axe, shortsword, battle axe, and two-handed sword as well...

 Mace, crossbow, bow, dagger, and club...

Ending with lance, spear, war hammer,  halberd and sling. What, no katanas? Oh well, now on to character sheets:

For those of you that can read katakana, yes they have named the thief 'Darth Vader' and the wizard 'Ben Kenobi.' If that seems like a jr high D&D camp type of thing to do, remember that they are coming from another culture, and so are not much different from the L4R players who call their PC Musashi or Nobunaga. Similarly, the fighter is Pendragon and the elf is (wait for it)... Legolas. Sigh, there was also a cleric named Rasputin, but my tablet ate the photo, so I shall spare you.

That's it for this installment, tune in next time for the dynamic action scenes accompanying the sample adventure!

If you liked this post or have any suggestions or questions, leave a comment.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Updates Coming....


Seriously, life is so sweet it has left little time for gaming or the escape from reality I needed the last two terrible years. New work is AMAZING, PhD is done, son is growing like a weed, wife and I are... in a truce.

That said, this blog isn't dead, just dreaming. There are pages of ideas and projects I slowly chip at, but publishing for the career this year takes precedence.

Things will go up when they do.

In the meantime, a little sad reality check. THIS POST about misogyny in the tabletop hobby. I can say it half surprised me, but half made me remember the rude comments and rape simulations I saw women players subjected to back in my gaming heyday.

All I'll say is if you're rolling dice and pretending to be a hero in a fantasy world, you can carry some of that back to the real world and stand up against this and any other kind of bullying you see at a gaming table.

As the old X-Files saying goes, "Well hey, I didn't spend all those years playing Dungeons and Dragons and not learn a little something about courage." Be courageous, be the hero you want to be.