Saturday 9 November 2013

Exploring racism in RPGs

I was recently reading about Shadowrun 5e when I saw that one of the drawbacks your character can have is being a racist. This got me thinking about how racism is used in games and how GMs and players can handle it.

Obviously racism in the real world is abhorrent. It's utterly reprehensible and yet the world is still rife with it. When you look at games, usually fantasy and sci fi, you will often find in-built racial tensions as part and parcel of the system or setting. This extends from literature, where books like The Lord of the Rings show hatred between dwarves and elves, one of the more classic dichotomies. Of course races in these instances are essentially different species. In the real world we're all human, no matter where you're from, but in a game human is just one type of sentient creature .

Still, racism can be something that challenges the players. In my own campaign setting, Peakvale, racism is actually one of the driving forces behind the political upheaval occurring in the autocracy. Humans and halflings are the favoured races, with better jobs and prospects whereas everyone else lives in squalor. One race has even been exiled from the country. So it sets up a situation where a group of characters with a mixture of races will lead to some interesting choices and sometimes uncomfortable decisions. The setting doesn't present racism for racism's sake. There is a clear problem in the political system and characters must decide where they stand and how much they risk.

What shouldn't happen at the table is tension between races as some kind of novelty. If it's something you're going to feature in your game then it needs to be there to tell a story and challenge the players. Don't cheapen it. If a player is going too far and making others feel uncomfortable then call them out. Adding racial tension to a game should never ever be an excuse for vulgarity. It should be an opportunity to explore ideas and preconceptions in a safe environment.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Marvel teams up with Netflix for four new shows and a crossover miniseries

Goddamn,  Marvel is so hot right now.  As if the house of ideas needs to prove once again why a) it's a cash cow of gigantic proportions and b) its cinematic universe is becoming more like its comic counterpart, they decide to hit us with this news. Disney, Marvel and Netflix have struck up a deal to produce four series based on superheroes as well as a crossover miniseries. Holy hell.

Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Daredevil and Jessica Jones will each get a 13 episode series. Thus is confirmed before even a pilot has been made. Not only that but there will also be a Defenders miniseries to tie each series together. Talk about ambitious.

Think of the crazy potential this has for future movies and Agents of Shield. I'm salivating.

Anatomy of an RPG city

I think more than any location in RPGs I'm drawn to the city. I don't know whether that's because I'm a city dweller, but there's something about a heaving metropolis that fires up my synapses and sends my imagination into a frenzy. It's the dark, twisted streets, the bustling markets, the palatial homes of the aristocracy peering down their noses at the slums of the fevered peasantry.  It's the alleys and the dive bars, the parks and the breweries. A world away from the lush green landscapes adventurers often traverse.

To me a city in an RPG has to have a character of its very own. It lives, breathes, sees and sometimes even dreams. Look to examples like Discworld's Ankh Morpork, Batman's Gotham or Fighting Fantasy's Port Blacksand. Each has its own personality and way it operates. Even the brief overview of Highbridge in my own Halberd Fantasy Roleplaying goes a long way in showing what kind of a city it is.

I hate a clinical city. One with bright buildings where the sun always shines and the populace is bland. Don't get me wrong,  there's a place for this kind of city, but I take mine without milk and sugar. I love dark places where death is a possibility any night of the week, where the cobblestones have been worn from horse and cart commerce and where the upstanding gentleman is your enemy and a cut throat street urchin an ally.

So what does a good, the thriving game city need to captivate its players? 

-Notable NPCs: whether it's blind Baron Von Wildenwrath or Doris Ealy, the clairvoyant maid,  your city should have at least 10 NPCs of note with their own back stories and quirks. 

-Conflict: Your city should have both inner and outer conflict. Create 5 main factions within the city walls, each with their own motive. They could be good or bad. Secret societies, gangs and even unions can be the source of conflict in a city. Then think about those outside the city who could be a threat,  such as raiders, armies, dragons etc.

- Politics: this can also cross over with conflict, but you should figure out how your city is run. Rarely should the ruler be benevolent as that's frankly less interesting. Greedy mayors, tortured advisors,  well-meaning but weak statesmen. Is it a democracy? A pluticracy? Maybe a dictatorship? Is there the smell of revolution in the air?

These are just some examples of what a good city needs. Let me know in the comments if there is anything else you think belongs on the list.