A couple of weeks back @DungeonMasterSc tweeted a question about the minimum number of players dungeon masters need not to cancel a Dungeons & Dragons session. My response was ‘two’, and I added that I’d normally give them a non-player character to help them out.
I was challenged by @spaceseeker19’s response, so tonight when I just had one player, we played anyway. I’d been preparing the first few adventures from In Volo’s Wake, which features monsters from Volo’s Guide to Monsters, and there were a few opportunities to support our one player character (a dulcimer-playing human bard) with some NPCs. She was able to do okay on her own in the first adventure, but in the second adventure she really depended on some connections she’d made with non-player characters to save some dwarf children from gnolls. While the game lacked the inter-player dynamics, it was still worth doing, and the main non-player character (Eric the ‘hobby-adventurer’) proved fairly entertaining.
I’ve only really watched one of Chris Lilley’s shows, and it happened to be 2011’s Angry Boys. When I watched it, I felt a bit awkward about European-Australian comic Lilley portraying Japanese and African-American characters. I wondered how much Aboriginal people may have had a say in how their characters were portrayed. (During the show one of the Aboriginal actors ended up visiting our house because he had a cousin staying with us.) At the time I don’t remember hearing anyone asking these questions, and I appreciated that through the show Lilley seemed to be getting people to consider what might be going on behind what seemed to be a crisis of masculinity in our global society.
More recently, however, Lilley’s 2014 show Jonah from Tonga received a clear critique from Australia’s Tongan community. The problem was that ‘Jonah’ – a European man impersonating a stereotype of Tongan youth – had become the most recognisable public face of the Tongan community in Australia. It seems quite unfair for a member of the European majority to have power over how a relatively small cultural group is portrayed in the media. More recently the same show was axed by Māori Television in Aotearoa/New Zealand, by request from the Tongan community. It would be hard to imagine that Chris Lilley is still unaware that people feel he’s being racist by pretending to be a person of colour.
Last weekend Lilley was back in the public arena for the wrong reason. Just after a major protest related to the death of Elijah Doughty, Lilley tweeted a video clip from Angry Boys which seemed to be referring to Doughty’s death. Elijah Doughty was an Aboriginal boy who was run over by a European man in Kalgoorlie. It appears that the driver intended to run Doughty over, but he has been cleared of murder and manslaughter. In this context Lilley’s song ‘Squashed N***a’, about a black kid being run over, seemed like a pretty clear and dispicable reference to Doughty’s death. In response to the outcry about the video, Lilley deleted the tweet, then deleted his account. Later on he restored his account and posted an apology saying that he hadn’t meant to be racist.
I’ve dsaid this before, but we need to remember that we can’t be the only judges of whether we’ve been racist. If someone from another racial or cultural group suggests that we’ve been racist, we need to listen whether or not we’ve intended to be racist. If our words or behaviour are having a harmful impact on other cultural or racial groups we need to listen to that and change our behaviour. If Chris Lilley returns to television, I’ll be interested to see what he does. But Lilley’s disaster doesn’t let the rest of us off the hook. We need to be ready to listen when someone suggests that we’ve been racist.
I should know this! I’ve spent enough time recovering from overwork, including a month in hospital a few years ago. Old habits die hard. I’ve had a headache for over a month, which is because a month ago I had one week that was way too busy. Well, actually, the headache it is getting better. It isn’t all day now, but for the first four weeks it was constant. I haven’t been posting here as regularly as I’d like but I’m expecting that’s probably how it’ll need to be at least this month!
For players or DMs:
- ‘6 Will-o’-Wisps with Personality’ Raging Swan Press – this is pretty self-explanatory. The article also includes a location for the will-o’-wisps to haunt.
- ‘Cave Halflings’ d-Infinity – stats for cave halflings, based on fossils found in Ethiopia
- ‘Ankheg: Dead From Below’ Backflip Dungeon – this post suggests how you can make the most of Ankhegs. It includes some variant stats and a map for a colony.
- ‘Fish Bowl’ Nerdarchy – here’s a clever way to use a monster as a trap
- ‘Bad Curses are Good Curses’ The Mage College – this article demonstrates how ‘curses’ like lycanthropy and vampirism have come to be seen as cool superpowers instead, and how we can turn them back into curses
- ‘What’s on the Menu?‘ Nerdolopedia – this article suggests what we should consider when deciding what’s on the menu in particular areas
- ‘Worldbuilding for One Shots’ World Builder Blog – this article suggests three things to prioritise to flesh out your world, when you know you’re only going to have one session to showcase it
- ‘Metaphysics: Laws and Characteristics of the Multiverse’ World of Farland – this article presents an alternative D&D cosmology, with a plane for each alignment.
For anyone wanting to reflect more deeply on game themes:
Content I’ve published recently:
In March 2015 I started working as a freelancer. Today I sent off my 50th invoice. I felt like it was important to mark the occassion. At the beginning of 2015 when I started winding back my regular work I felt pretty nervous. Resigning entirely at the end of that year was fairly risky. While it is often much less certain, I really like knowing that I’m doing the work that I should be and knowing that I can find my own work. Thankyou to everyone I’ve been able to work with during that time!
When I was doing VCE, Mum went back to study, so I ended up cooking dinner some of the time. When I say ‘cooking dinner’ I’m pretty sure I was just boiling some pasta and heating up sauce from a jar.
That’s often what cooking was when I left home and went to Ballarat for university. I can remember getting a reputation as a bad cook because I had a friend around for dinner and I started heating up the pasta sauce, then added mince into the sauce to cook.
When I moved back into Melbourne and joined the community at Credo Café, where I learnt from Tomsy, Gin, Karen, Mel and Neil how to cook big meals. I really appreciated the experience of being able to learn from people who had a lot of experience and had the time to teach others. Each week we’d all be rostered on to cook at least once. Cooking for 50 to 70 people every week for a few years gives you the confidence to cook for large numbers. Some of the staple meals were spaghetti bolognese (also known as Tuesday surprise), beef stroganoff, red beans and rice (you’ll want to eat a plate twice), pumpkin lasagne and chilli basil beef.
Last night we were expecting to have a lot of folks around for dinner. We had some pasta already cooked in the fridge from earlier in the week and lots of beef strips in the freezer. So I cooked up some beef stroganoff, a Credo classic that I hadn’t cooked for a long time. I also cooked some pumpkin pasta, which one of my fellow residents at Credo had said was what he cooked whenever they had vegetarians around – although it ended up pretty different because we just need to cook with what we have available any given day. It reminded me to appreciate the time other people took to teach me.
For the last three weeks, I’ve been participating in the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge. For each day in July, there’s a suggested Dungeons & Dragons creature to draw. If you have a look on Instagram, you can see what everyone’s contributed. I’ve put my contributions here, and you’re welcome to use them in your games if you like them.
I already wrote about my thoughts on day 22’s challenge.
I like drawing gnomes:
I haven’t been drawing bugbears as often as gnomes, but I’ve also been becoming fond of drawing bugbears:
I normally write a roundup post on Wednesday, drawing together a whole lot of content about roleplaying games (particularly 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons). This week got away from me a bit, so here it is on Friday:
For players and DMs:
- ‘The Path of Notes’ Monte Cook Games – this article looks at how the game Invisible Sun has been designed so that players have got to take notes, which will end up becoming a memento of their adventure
Content I’ve published recently:
- ‘Goofy Descends into Hell’ – in the most recent Planescape adventure I played in, we used the Open Legend system instead of D&D
- ‘#Dungeondrawingdudes: Week 3’ – each day this month I’ve been participating in the #Dungeondrawingdudes challenge, so there’s now three weeks worth of my illustrations (like this tiefling street-performer), which you can download use in your home game
- ‘A Cheeky Response to #Dungeondrawingdudes’ – I thought one of the #Dungeondrawingdudes challenges was a bit disrespectful, so I made a cheeky response
- ‘Redcaps and Violence’ – #Dungeondrawingdudes and Nerdarchy got me thinking about redcaps and the tendency of violence to escalate
- ‘Valley of Eternity: The Hunt’ – last week I had my first attempt at running a game of Valley of Eternity, the existentialist penguin roleplaying game
Last Sunday I played using the Open Legend system for the first time. Our dungeonmaster has been keen to run a Planescape adventure about breaking out of the prison-plane of Carceri, but hasn’t been finding that Dungeons & Dragons rules promote roleplay or collaboration as much as she’d like.
Having a look at the rules, what I like is that character creation is very flexible. Rather than offering classes and races for a specific kind of setting, there are a whole lot of basic character attributes that can be used in different ways. You could use the ‘Alternate Form’ feat to make a lycanthropic character or a shapeshifting druid. You could use the ‘Companion’ feat to represent a character’s hired bodyguard or an animal companion or a sibling who tags along for adventures. So it’s very modular, very flexible. Because there’s no detailed flavour tied to the attributes, you can use them for a whole bunch of genres and settings, or for a mashup of genres and settings. That meant we were able to have an adventuring party consisting of a halfling, an orc and an anthropomorphic cartoon dog.
I think the downside of the openness and flexibility is that the game can depend a lot on the ability of the players to get their character across. In our adventure, I was playing a psionic orc and another player was a shady halfling. The third player, when he was told he could play as anything or anyone, said, ‘I’ll be Goofy.’ I think that was actually really helpful because we know who he is and what he’s like, and we get how cartoon slapstick works. He was able to get the character concept across easily by having Goofy walk up imaginary stairs or elongate his arms in order to catch falling adventurers. I think my psionic orc and the sinister halfling were less clear, so it was harder to get into the swing of things.
Back to the positive: another thing that makes Open Legend stand out if the way that dice ‘explode’. If you roll a die, whether it’s a d4 or a d20, maximum rolls are repeated and added. So If you had to roll a d20 and a 1d6 and rolled a 20 and a 3, you’d expect to get a score of 23. But because you rolled a 20 on the d20, you would roll the d20 again and add the result to the 23. If you rolled another 20, it would explode again. The same thing would happen with the d6 if you had rolled a 6 – you’d roll it again and add the result to your score. This means that you can end up with some really high scores and results, and it means the game really lends itself to characters every now and then managing ridiculous, epic achievements.
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If you want to check out Open Legend, the rules are available for free on their website. You can also try out their free, play-to-learn adventure, ‘A Star Once Fallen’ or support their Kickstarter campaign to publish their Amaurea’s Dawn adventure setting.
I’ve been enjoying the #DungeonDrawingDudes challenge this month, but I felt unhappy about today’s challenge, which is a ‘dwarf bum’. I know a lot of people who’ve been homeless, including some of my close friends. Someone calls someone a bum when they are being disrespectful. Someone calls themselves a bum when they feel bad about themselves. I felt that the language being used in today’s challenge was disrespectful, and while it is a small and perhaps petty thing to argue about language used, I felt a need to make a cheeky response: