Sunday, January 20, 2013

Monsters - Underskin


The Underskin is a stealthy creature that is incredibly dangerous. When outside of a host, the Underskin is nearly invisible - it just looks like a very thin sheen of oil and water on any surface, not even more than a drop of water thick. The Underskin is not really one entity, but instead millions of microscopic bacteria.

The Underskin takes its victims while they sleep by sliding over the surface of their body, like condensation or sweat, and seeping in through their skin. Once inside, they spread just beneath the skin over the muscles, thickening into a transparent membrane, but attaching, immovable, on the muscle bodies, and around the brain.

The victims will often wake up with blurry eyes and in a cold sweat, with a fine oily sheen on their face and body. After they have been taken by an Underskin, most people will see no difference, except their bodies will heal at a more rapid rate than normal. However, when the victims sleep, the Underskin will take over their bodies, and use them to complete tasks - eating whatever food they can to sate their hunger first, and then following on to often more devious tasks like stealing goods to hide in dank, dark sewers where the Underskin breed, or killing people who endanger their brood. 

An Underskin preparing to leave its host. by John W. Sheldon

The Underskin has one priority: protect their collective. They cannot be killed while in a host, and only leave their host after they have accomplished their tasks. When they leave the body of their host, it’s a violent and painful experience for both the victim and the Underskin as the creatures stretch and rip away from the muscles and brain. Normally the victim will get sick, with a headache and symptoms like that of typical influenza, and it can take weeks to recover. Many people have been accused of crimes they have no memory of committing during the times when they were controlled by the Underskin.


Thanks to +John Sheldon for his art contribution!

Note: If you decide to use any of the monsters in a campaign, please let me know! I'd like to see how they work out.

Gaming as Women - Finding My O with the X-Card

I've decided to put up a trailing backlog of my posts. From now on, after one-two months of my posts being hosted on Gaming as Women, they will be posted here on BravoCharlieSierra. I still suggest directing any comments to the main site, and recommend visiting Gaming as Women to read the articles by other amazing authors like Filamena Young, Jessica Hammer, Elin Dastäl, Renee Knipe, and Monica Speca.

This post was originally posted on Gaming as Women on January 9, 2012

Finding My O with the X-Card

I am a player who starts play with a lot of limits. A lot of “nuh uh!”’s. I have anxieties and fears and triggers. But, I love gaming. I love it, and it is one of the few places in my life I can find new experiences, work out my emotional and mental complications, and where I can push my boundaries.

This is why I love safe space gaming. A lot of people think this means you will never talk about anything bad ever, and that’s so far from true! While I tend to lean towards a little bit happier gaming and I prefer a hopeful ending, I don’t need to avoid every bad topic ever to have fun. I just need to feel safe.

What does that mean, then? To feel safe?

It means I have an exit strategy. It means I can say no. It means no one will laugh at me, criticize me, or quiz me if I say no or have to leave. It means that if I have to get up and walk away, I won’t hear “what the hell was that about?” from anyone at the table. It means that the worst thing someone will say in response to me needing to press pause is “Are you okay?” and that they’ll wait a minute before asking, “Are we okay to continue?”

Until about a year ago, I didn’t know I had triggers at the table. The more I played, and the more I learned about gaming, the more I knew that there were things that could happen in game that might upset me or scare me. During game design I found out that wow – consent in social interactions? 
That matters to me. I didn’t know that before!

There are a lot of ways to play without risking triggers. One option is just being open about your hard limits – which risks people thinking you’re being a “baby”, being “too sensitive”, or somehow crushing creativity/stunting the story. Another is to not play games where there is  a risk – a big shock to me was that some triggers are socially acceptable and sometimes key parts of the game’s setting! You are always at risk of some triggers.

It’s hard to confront fears and work towards pushing your boundaries when you keep a pristine surrounding and play nothing adventurous. It goes against my nature. I kept looking – how can I feel safe but still try new things that might scare me?

Then I found the X-card. It’s just a card with an X on it that you can use to indicate when you’re uncomfortable with content in a game, and it guides the players and GM to skip over or avoid that content. I thought it was awesome! If I feel uncomfortable, I just tap the card! No twenty minutes of explanation, no shoving my feelings under the rug. Mind you, plenty of people hate the idea of playing with one because of the aforementioned crushing creativity and stunting story complaints. But! There is something about the X-card I want to unpack. First, I want to share the other side.

When I went to OH, Games in December, Kira Scott ran Monsterhearts, and she put out an X-card – with an O on the back. The O is great, because Kira explained that when you want more of the content, you tap the O instead of the X. The O actually got used in that game – the X didn’t. In that game, there were at least 3 instances where I thought about using the X, but I didn’t use it. Why? I felt safe enough to not have to.

Having a tool like the X-card – particularly one with the opposing O side – at the table creates a specific kind of mood at the table. It says “We’re here together. If you need to stop, we’ll stop. But if you want to keep going? Let’s do this.” It encourages a style of gaming that I had not really pursued before – a knees-deep, heart-pounding headlong run into emotional risk, but the best kind.

I know that I risk getting hurt if I play like that. If it’s a bad hurt, and I want to stop, I put up the X and I know that the other players will support me in that. They don’t want me to be hurt, I don’t want to hurt them, it’s an understanding that we’re together in this. I haven’t used the X yet, but I am betting there will be a day when I do, because as much as I love confronting my fears, sometimes it’s a matter of time and place.

But, if it’s a good hurt, one that makes me feel like I’m unlocking something and that I want to feel more of, I tap the O and hold on tight.

It might make people think – well, why not just have the O-card? That establishes that people are on the same page, right? Not really. It’s easier to say more, more, yes, please! It’s not as easy to be in a group that’s saying yes! when you can feel yourself closing in and thinking, oh, please, no! That X-card is like a little unwritten rule. It says “Everyone has boundaries. Anyone could need this. It’s here for everyone.” It means I’m not alone.

Do you have a tool like this? Do you have a pre-game prep that establishes trust? How do you handle introducing new players to complicated or uncomfortable topics?

Gaming as Women - Paizo Publishing & Pathfinder - Interview with Judy Bauer

I've decided to put up a trailing backlog of my posts. From now on, after one-two months of my posts being hosted on Gaming as Women, they will be posted here on BravoCharlieSierra. I still suggest directing any comments to the main site, and recommend visiting Gaming as Women to read the articles by other amazing authors like Filamena Young, Jessica Hammer, Elin Dastäl, Renee Knipe, and Monica Speca.

This post was originally posted on Gaming as Women on December 7, 2012.

Paizo Publishing and Pathfinder – Interview with editor Judy Bauer

I have been incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to do an e-mail interview with Judy Bauer, an editor at Paizo Publishing. Judy primarily does editing for Pathfinder, and she has been kind enough to provide us with some extensive and awesome responses to our questions about her history, being a woman in the industry, and her work at Paizo. Thank you so much to Judy for her time!

Could you tell us a little more about your work at Paizo, and what books and systems you’ve had the opportunity to work on?
I’m an editor at Paizo, which for us means both copyediting and checking more developmental issues like clarity of rules, in-world continuity, plausibility of encounters, and gender balance/stereotypes. I started in 2010, and work on about every product line with words save Pathfinder Tales, so that’s every hardcover from the GameMastery Guide onward, every Adventure Path from Kingmaker onward, half the Pathfinder Scenarios from Season 1 onward, not to mention Pathfinder Campaign Setting books, Player Companions, Pathfinder Cards… It’s getting to be a long list!

What is your favorite project you’ve worked on at Paizo?
Probably Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea World Guide, partly because I learned so much about our campaign setting in the process (I love that in the same setting you can fight dragons, dinosaurs, and undead aliens), and partly because it was a chance to reexamine the setting and tweak some aspects that weren’t working or that didn’t make sense in retrospect.

more after the cut...

Did you play RPGs growing up? If so, what kind of experiences did you have as a female gamer?
Oh, totally. My dad had a lifetime subscription to Dragon, the red box, and a random selection of AD&D hardcovers that I browsed as a kid. He didn’t game himself, but loved that that I was interested in these books too. I first got a chance to play D&D when I was about 13 or so, was immediately hooked. I gamed whenever I could through grad school and now again that I’m working at Paizo, using whatever rule set the GM wanted to run.

I’ve had a couple bad experiences with pencil and paper RPGs (the worst being with another player who thought it would be a fun plot twist to mind control and rape my character, without clearing that with me). But I haven’t had anyone be condescending about my rules knowledge since junior high, and haven’t had problems with players being creepy since high school. I’ve mostly gamed with friends, though, and a good half of those groups included other women, which I’m sure makes a difference.

My one venture into MMOs, in contrast, really opened my eyes about how abusive and misogynistic gaming culture can be. There’s nothing like logging in to a screen full of graphic descriptions of your character (or you) being raped, complaining about it on some forum, then being flamed for having the audacity to be disgusted, you know? And, my bad luck, I’d picked an MMO that was totally 
unmoderated. I assembled some sympathetic players, and we started documenting incidences of in-game rape while campaigning the game’s creator to deal with the problem (he finally implemented an ignore option). I’m grateful for these allies, and glad I stuck it out and took action instead of walking away after the first time I was targeted, but wouldn’t wish that on anyone. It was really frustrating and demoralizing at the time, and definitely made me less excited about trying other MMOs.

Do you have any favorite RPGs? If so, why do you like them?
I’m pretty agnostic about rule systems—I’ll play about anything, including a friend’s homebrew rules with 42 (!) attributes, as long as the GM is good—and I’ve mostly played in homebrew settings. That said, I do have a soft spot for a few RPGs:

AD&D: This is the game I grew up with, and the system used in my longest-running campaign—my first RPG crush, I guess.

Call of Cthulhu: I love the setting, the gonzo concept, and the fact that because of the sanity mechanics, you’re not trying to win—you’re trying to lose as slowly as possible.

Exalted: The rules are so simple, the powers are intriguing, and you’re rewarded for doing crazy fantasy-superhero stunts!

Pathfinder: Every though I live and breathe this game every day, I’m still super excited about it (gripplis as PCs! Exploring the Crown of the World! Exploring other planets!). And I GMed for the first time using the Pathfinder RPG Beginner Box!

As a woman in the gaming industry, how has your experience been in regards to finding work and getting recognition? Were there any particular challenges you experienced? 

I entered the game industry somewhat by chance, having previously worked in textbook development, so my experience isn’t that wide. But I feel really fortunate to work at a company that values my perspective as a woman, and to have managers who trust me and back me up if I have concerns about some aspect of a product, and who push me to put myself forward at seminars and conventions. Public recognition is actually something that I’m still getting used to, since textbook writers and editors try to be pretty invisible.

Do you think that women in the industry need to support each other more? What do you think is being done in the industry to make female contributors more welcome?
Again, I can’t speak for the industry as a whole, but I know in Paizo’s design contest, RPG Superstar,  we’re always cheering for women who make it to the top—the top people are our future freelancers, and sometimes our future coworkers. Additionally, several of our developers put quite a bit of effort into mentoring new freelancers, helping them strengthen their skills so they’ll be prepared to take on more complicated assignments, and we try to promote our freelancers whenever we can—like the awesome up-and-coming writers Savannah Broadway, Amanda Hamon, Tracy Hurley, Melissa Litwin, Amber Scott, and Christina Stiles!
Finally—this isn’t anything new, but I think it bears saying—treating other women as allies instead of competition can really improve the work (and con) environment and make it friendlier toward women. RPG publishing can still be a boys’ club, though it’s getting better; I find it very reassuring knowing others will back me up if I need to call shenanigans on something, and am glad to support them as well.

Paizo appears to have a lot of diversity in their management and contributors. Do you think it helps result in a better, more representative product?
It certainly helps! We want to see characters and settings that reflect ourselves, you know? And having been outsiders in various ways, we want to bring more people into our world.
Of course, being diverse in one dimension doesn’t mean you’re automatically inclusive across the board, even if you have the best of intentions. You really have to be alert to both opportunities for inclusion and warning signs that you’re excluding people or could cause offense, which can be hard when you’re also facing tight deadlines.
Feedback from our audience has been important for helping us improve, too. When we hear from fans that they appreciate interesting queer characters in adventures, a location doesn’t have as many female characters as they’d come to expect, or an encounter is potentially offensive or extremely upsetting, it helps us become more observant and strengthens our commitment to being more inclusive in the future.

When you are working on Paizo products, do you take gender representation and how women are portrayed into consideration?
Definitely. I try to keep that in mind all the time, to maintain gender balance in products and make sure female characters fill as wide of a variety of roles as the male characters—that they’re not always just victims, or villains, or prostitutes, or dead in the backstory.
This isn’t a policy I created; Paizo has always been committed to having balanced representation of women in its products. Half of our iconic characters for the character glasses are women, and in rules text and examples the style is to alternate between male and female pronouns to mix things up.
When I started, though, I noticed that while there were almost always female characters in adventures and in the campaign setting products, sometimes there weren’t very many, or they were all in the background, or all monsters. I was still fairly new and building trust with the developers, so I began counting male and female characters in products I was editing to back up my intuitions, and going to the developers with the numbers. A lot of them were surprised to learn the actual proportions of male to female characters in turnovers—perhaps because they’re are all men and used to seeing fewer female characters in RPG products, “some” female characters instinctively felt like “a lot” to them.
There was a little resistance to revising for gender balance, for the very fair reason that if you have to change characters’ gender or backstory during editing, at the end of the process, there’s a risk of introducing errors to a product. And sometimes your choices are limited because of the art ordered for characters. But my boss backed me up, and people gradually got into the habit of balancing characters during development, before I’d even see it. They also started giving feedback about gender balance to writers, which has helped as well—it’s so much easier if it’s there from the beginning. We’re still fine-tuning the process, but I think we’ve made real improvements.

What do you want to be known for in your career? When people think of “Judy Bauer”, what would you like their first thought to be?
“Adding women to adventures since 2010.”

Do you have any suggestions for women looking to work in the game industry?
I suspect the barriers differ a lot depending on what part of the industry you’re interested in—experience in other sectors will get you further as an editor or graphic designer than as a game designer, developer, or writer. For the latter three, writing groups and design competitions can be very helpful ways to get feedback on your work and strengthen your skills, and community publications are a great way to  build up a portfolio (for would-be Pathfinder writers and developers, we always recommend Wayfinder and RPG Superstar in particular).

Of course, Kickstarter now provides an alternative route to entering the field and building a portfolio. While we hear most about new designers breaking into the industry, it’s a great opportunity for editors and graphic designers, too—you’re needed to make the game designers’ ideas shine!

It was a great experience to communicate with Judy and learn about her career. I’m looking forward to seeing more of her work with Pathfinder! Thanks, Judy!

Gaming as Women - How to Create a Micro-Setting

I've decided to put up a trailing backlog of my posts. From now on, after one-two months of my posts being hosted on Gaming as Women, they will be posted here on BravoCharlieSierra. I still suggest directing any comments to the main site, and recommend visiting Gaming as Women to read the articles by other amazing authors like Filamena Young, Jessica Hammer, Elin Dastäl, Renee Knipe, and Monica Speca.

This post was originally posted on Gaming as Women on December 26, 2012.

Update: Off the Shelf has been officially retitled to Tabletop Blockbuster! We're looking forward to completing our in-progress Alpha Playtests.

How to Create a Micro-Setting

I am currently working on a project with my husband that is called Off the Shelf (working title). It is a setting neutral system, and it has been a huge adventure! I have had more experience recently working on mechanics than ever before. Though they are not my strong suit, trying to do new things with mechanics is super exciting. One of the mechanics we developed is “Tech Levels”, which are simply what kind of technology is available in a setting. They inform the items available, and can inform how powers are defined.

This has also been a good opportunity to work on my skills in world building and setting creation. I wanted to give options for players who were just starting, guided by the Tech Levels, but I didn’t want to inundate them with information or keep them too limited in a system that is neutral. I came to a question: how much information should I provide, and how do I convey an entire setting without overwhelming our material?

I created a new thing I call micro-settings, which are snapshots of culture, environment, and story that can be used (hopefully!) with any game. First, I’ll share how I decided what to include, and then show you an example.

What are the key elements of a setting?
- Cultures
- Environments
- Population

What do you need to start a game?
- NPCs
- Locations
- Items
- Plot Hooks

Well, that seems simple.
That’s what you would think, yep. And it kind of is. However, when you start to write these things down, it’s hard to balance between tons of information and no information at all. So I wrote a quick template that you can check out to guide you through the how-to.

The Description
The most important part is to try to think of general things, but have one or two specific things to help. You’ll want some flavor in the basic description – using colloquial slang for a Wild West setting is fun, and details like how the people and monsters behave are useful too. Describing the physical environment is important – pick one city or town to foc
us on primarily, and then talk about the climate, any significant landscape features.

A brief overview of culture and the population is vital. What species are common for PCs? Elves, dwarves, humans? Is there only one species in this setting? Is it of important note that a species has never existed before (in case one of your plot hooks relates to revealing one)? Are the species segregated, or intermixed? What are their local customs or cultures like? Do they have religions? Do they settle in one place, or are they nomadic? These things can be stated pretty simply in just about a paragraph, and overall, your description should be about three paragraphs long.

For NPCs, try to think of authority figures or people of specific note. For a Wild West setting, maybe a mayor, the sheriff, or an outlaw. Give a basic description of what they do, and why they’re relevant, and try to mix in some personality traits. Is the sheriff corrupt? Is the outlaw actually good-hearted? Don’t use more than about 3 or 4 sentences here, and always include a name.

Items should be simply that – a sentence or less describing what the item is, perhaps who it belongs to. Like, “Arthur’s Sword, Excalibur” or “A dragon’s hoard”. The item can be big, small, relevant to the culture at large, or perhaps just something that people would want.

Locations should have a name and a single-sentence description, and should be single structures or small locations, like a single town or a tavern. Something like “The Mermaid’s Tale – a library that only sells books about fantastic fictions.” Somewhere that multiple people could meet, and where scenes can occur.

Plot Hooks
Plot hooks are fun! One sentence is all you need. Describe a simple problem – maybe a child goes missing, or there’s been a bandit attack on the northern road. Make sure to try to tie it into the cultures, environment, or NPCs in some manner.

This is just an extension of the culture and environment, but you can give a quick description of how commerce works in the game. In Off the Shelf we have a simple description related to the Tech Levels.

Power Descriptors
Power descriptors will inform play. In this section you will explain a few different ways people will use physical or magical abilities (if magic even exists!). Maybe this culture specifically uses martial arts as their fighting techniques, or psychic powers are common, but are based on nanites or hypnosis.

That’s it?
Yes! If you do this, you can create a setting, and once you figure out what system you want to use it with, expand it or add to it as you want, and talk with your players about the tone you want in the game. Nothing is stopping you from making the Stone Age into a nightmare with monsters lurking around every turn, or a post-apocalypse into rainbows and sunshine.
You can check out an example of a micro-setting below.
Good luck, and thanks for reading!

Gaia (Tech Level 0)

- Description

Sixty-five million years ago, dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Science tells us that there were no humans alive to fight the dinosaurs – but science is wrong. In this setting, prehistoric cultures experience the brutal environment of the Cretaceous period in a battle between man and beast. While the herbivore dinosaurs and mammals are occasionally domesticated, the carnivores are raging and hungry, enemies of the humanoid species.

The environment in Gaia, the focused setting here, is hot. There is a long, rainy season and a humid, tropical rainforest to the south. A mountain range crosses the land and shrinks to low hills near large swaths of land – sandy, dusty desert, and nearby grassy, hot savannahs. The species distribution is primarily dwarves and gnomes, with a very small population of humans and pixies. In this area, there are no known orcs, elves, or hybrids. The population bands together in either settled or nomadic 
tribes, with either one primary tribal leader or a small group of elders. The only economic exchange is through barter and trade, and is very rare. Most tools, weapons, and foods are gathered and made by the tribes themselves. There is some primal and shamanic magic used.

Below are some useful setting-specific tools to get you ready to run!


Oonuk – Dwarf
Tribal leader of the largest tribe. Oonuk’s tribe has the prime location for their territory – at the  base of the mountain between the desert and rainforest in a utopic oasis. He is fierce and strong, but also friendly to the other tribes, and has been known to initiate trade in the past.
Karluc – Gnome
Karluc is one of the greatest warriors known. She has slayed more beasts than any other, so the stories say, and she rides between the dermal plates of a spiketail. Her tribe travels through the savannah.
Naan – Human
Naan is the matriarch of the Human and Pixie nomads that travel the desert. Her tribe has traveled far, fought sand serpents and ragged-tooth giant lizards, and have developed a strong connection to the primal spirits of Gaia.
Shiy – Pixie
Shiy is a pixie shaman, the oldest and wisest man in his tribe. He is a close friend of Naan, but they have conflicting goals. Naan wants to continue traveling throughout the desert and find another oasis, but Shiy wants to settle closer to the mountains and rainforest, which risks infringing upon the borders of Oonuk’s territory.


Oonuk’s Oasis – A beautiful, lush oasis at the trailing hills of the mountains between the savannah and desert.
The Great Baobab – A massive tree in the savannah that is said to be a place of sanctuary – the dinosaurs never go near it, but it is not safe from other predators or combat between tribes.
Sand Caves – In the desert, there is a chasm with sand caves within, like a honeycomb. There may be some humanoids who live inside, or something more sinister.


Karluc’s Great Club
A magic stone of great power
A stone slab with strange symbols in the center of the rainforest.

-Plot Hooks

Karluc falls – from illness or injury – and it looks like she may not heal. A miracle is needed.
The Gnome tribe travels to the sand caves and finds a startling discovery.
Someone translates the symbols on the stone slab and plucks at the threads of the universe.


The primary currency is based on barter and trade, so there is no set currency. For ease of notation, use the b symbol for the worth of bartered item. One resource point is worth 1b.

-Power Descriptors

Martial – these powers are accomplished through intense training and physical skill or prowess. Martial powers include the ability to leap great chasms to escape pursuers, wrestle a huge dinosaur to the ground, or strike two foes with a single sling stone by skipping it between them.

Primal – Primal powers allow characters to tap into the leftover forces of creation to create and channel immense energies. A master of Primal magic might strike down his enemies by freezing them solid or throw them off a cliff with a gust of wind.

Shamanic – Shamanic powers draw from the character’s relationship to powerful spirits and ancestors. Shamanic powers might give the character the ability to communicate with animals, pass unharmed through a thicket of poisonous thorns, or harden his skin like the armor of an ankylosaur.

Gaming as Women - Evolution of the Gaming Group - From No Kids to Parenthood... or Not

I've decided to put up a trailing backlog of my posts. From now on, after one-two months of my posts being hosted on Gaming as Women, they will be posted here on BravoCharlieSierra. I still suggest directing any comments to the main site, and recommend visiting Gaming as Women to read the articles by other amazing authors like Filamena Young, Jessica Hammer, Elin Dastäl, Renee Knipe, and Monica Speca.

This post was originally posted on Gaming as Women on November 23, 2012.

Evolution of the Gaming Group – From No Kids to Parenthood… or Not

I have been married for 6 years. For a 24 year old, that’s actually a while. Most of my friends near my age are just now, or within the past two years, getting married. It’s exciting and great – the change from single gamers to engaged to partnered (or satisfied relationships, whatever they might be) is kind of awesome, because drama tends to fade away and there’s a level of equality around the table.

A thing happens, though, that can change the group forever:

People start having kids.

Crazy, I know, a totally natural biological phenomena. However, there are a LOT of things that can change. I think it can be easier for people who are just in the no-kids-for-now stage, but for John and I, we’re permanently childfree and it’s a purposeful choice. We have a lot of reasons for it, but I will be honest: one of them is because we like to spend time with adults, not kids, especially during our “fun” time. We have family time where we expect to be around kids, and there are times when we hang out with friends where we expect to be around kids. It gets more complicated at game.

I like to be able to be loud and a little bombastic at the table sometimes – and I’m definitely not the only one – and I also swear a lot, which can be seriously kid-unfriendly. I like to be able to have a drink (or three) at the game table, and stay up late. Game is kind of my fun-space. A lot of these things aren’t cool with kids around, though – I have to watch my swearing, I have to mind my volume more than normal if the kid is sleeping or trying to sleep, and I also know that game will often start late or be cut short because of schedule conflicts (1).

I don’t hate my friends’ kids or really begrudge them having them. That’s awesome – I know a lot of people want families like that and that it’s important to them to pass along their game-love, too. We try to be accommodating (altering schedules, having somewhere for the kid to sleep, playing or doing something different), as do the people with kids, but there are times when there’s no real accommodation – the kid has to come with them to game, or they can’t game at all.

It’s often distracting. There’s extra noise, players are leaving the table more often, everyone is paying attention to the kid. When kids are older it’s not as bad, but until they’re teenagers, it’s going to be a constant.

We’re struggling. We still want to game – but we know it’s only a matter of time until we’re the only ones in the group without kids. Even now it’s harder than ever. We’re clinging to spare hours just to get a chance to do a quick session, and our games are falling apart because of lack of focus – and I know I’m guilty of a lot of avoidance on the subject. Kids are tough for me and I have trouble being around pregnant people, babies, and baby discussion (2).

Plus, how do you not alienate your friends if you’re more than a game group? It’s impossible to say “Hey, we want to hang out with you, but not your kid” or “Hey, can we just hang out instead of gaming, or game without the kid” without there being any negative impression. I don’t want to not be their friend anymore, but having children at game (particularly young kids who can’t participate) impacts my fun level pretty harshly.

My current solution is: still try to game with our friends, but seek out alternate groups for backups or for different games, and be prepared to accommodate kids. I know I will sometimes (or often) have to sacrifice my game fun, so I need alternatives to get that fulfillment while not ditching my friends.
As we age, though, we’re going to run into conflict: Game with people much older than us (whose kids have grown), much younger than us (without kids yet), try very hard to find other childfree gamers (which is harder than it sounds), or just game the two of us – fun, but not something we want to be our only option.

Why am I struggling so hard?

The gaming world is shockingly (to me) kid-centric. People want to include their kids in gaming, teach their kids to game, pass on the “gaming gene”. They want kid-friendly content. I don’t have a problem with it, and I know there is plenty of adult material out there, but whoa. It’s hard to wade through. It’s hard to feel like part of the community sometimes, especially when a lot of the adult material is pretty man-centric.

That, and I still struggle with the common perception that women who choose not to have children aren’t “woman” enough, because we’re selfish or not accepting our appropriate roles or because we aren’t helping to promote the image of families in gaming (which is supposed to help remove the negative geek/gamer stigma, and I see the point behind it).

And there it is: I’m a woman who is not woman enough, in an industry focused towards men (whether I want it that way or not) and promoting building families and teaching kids to carry on the gaming tradition, with a game group that’s moving to parenthood.

I wanted to share some of the suggestions I’ve gotten online and from friends, as well as some of my own, for how to game with parents when you aren’t one if you choose to do so – which is always just an option.

Suggestions for handling kids at kid-unfriendly homes:

  • Make a kid-safe space. Get a pack & play (one of those kid-boxes with the mesh on the sides).
  • Have a separate room that isn’t super far where the kid can sleep. Somewhere quiet and clean.
  • Make sure to have some kid-food. Juice & simple snacks, fruit, hot dogs are great. Be aware of allergies.
Suggestions for handling kids at the game table:

  • Play games that don’t have adult content. It might change the entire game situation (which can suck), but if you are going to make the choice to allow the kids around (even babies), you need to be aware that a lot of content may make the parents uncomfortable, not be good for the kids, etc.
  • Give the kids their own activity at the table if they are not quite old enough to game but need to be close. Toys, big dice (there are some sweet foam ones available online), etc.
  • Be willing to cut game early or start later. Parents have a lot of responsibilities, and giving them that time will make it more likely that they’ll want to continue gaming – they won’t feel kicked out either.
Now the big ones, and these are ones that are tough to handle.

Suggestions to parents for how to respect your childfree friends:
  • Try to understand that they might want to hang out with you without kids. We know it’s hard. We understand. We just like you, and might not be good with your kids or might just want time with you when we have your attention. Friends need that sometimes.
  • Understand we might not ask you to hang out because we don’t want to interfere with your time with your kid, especially if you’re busy or tight on cash. That is so hard to do – many of us don’t want to be demanding or seem disrespectful of your needs as a parent. If you have free time, we probably will want to hang out with you – but some people will hold back from asking because of that balance.
  • Please don’t get mad at us or feel hurt for us seeking other avenues for gaming. It’s not that we don’t want to game with you, it’s that we want to game in different ways than we can with the new environment, or on a different schedule. Many people will try to fit in gaming with parents, but also try to find an alternate group.
  • Let us know what we can do to make the space more comfortable for your kids. Do you want us to have a separate room? Do we need to keep bottled water on hand, or juice? Do you want to leave some backup supplies at our place? Some CF people might not be willing to do it, but others really would rather be able to game with more ease.
  • Give us your boundaries. Is swearing allowed around your kids, if so, how much? Are we allowed to drink alcohol if your kids are in the area? Do we have time limitations?
  • If you don’t want to game anymore, or you don’t have time anymore, please tell us. It will only cause problems if we try to shove it into a schedule or have people who aren’t in the mood to game at the table. We want happy people having fun, not people frustrated and stressed.
What am I really saying here? I don’t think that childfree people should be responsible for accommodating entirely to parents’ needs or wishes, but if they want to do so, there are some simple and some not-so-simple steps that can be taken. I also don’t think that parents should be responsible for accommodating CF people’s needs or wishes, either, but there are options for them to take, too.

A huge part of it is understanding and willingness to change. There is a point where you need to be willing to either keep going and make changes, or you need to change the situation entirely. There’s not really anything wrong with either, but respect and communication can make the difference between keeping friends that game casually or regularly, and a massive implosion of drama and hurt feelings.

  1. This also gets complicated when people have conflicting work schedules – John and I are 9-5, and about ½ our friends are not, which means we squeeze gaming into evenings on weekends – during the only time some of our friends get to see their kids or around bedtime.
  2. Super complicated subject, but I’m happy to elaborate.

Gaming as Women - Saying No

I've decided to put up a trailing backlog of my posts. From now on, after one-two months of my posts being hosted on Gaming as Women, they will be posted here on BravoCharlieSierra. I still suggest directing any comments to the main site, and recommend visiting Gaming as Women to read the articles by other amazing authors like Filamena Young, Jessica Hammer, Elin Dastäl, Renee Knipe, and Monica Speca. 

This post was originally posted on Gaming as Women on September 3, 2012.

Saying “No”

The game table, for me and many people I know, is a happy place. An escape. A safe place to be. Somewhere where we can leave the things behind that we want to, and embrace new identities, new experiences, and feel powerful and in control. I have always enjoyed that aspect of gaming, and whether it is video games or tabletop, feeling safe is an important thing for me.

There have been past articles on how to address sensitive topics in your games, as well as building trust as a game master. There is a lot to be said for a GM’s responsibility to create a safe place for players, and even for players to support each other, share the space and make sure that everyone has time to shine. However, there is something I think many players are not aware is in their power, and is in fact their priority, especially female players.

Saying “no”.

If a player is put into a situation where they are uncomfortable, or is at a risk to be triggered by something, they have every right to step away or not play a game. If they are playing a game where a GM includes content they don’t approve of, they should raise their concerns to the GM. If the GM continues to use the content, for good or any other reasons,  the player can still choose not to play.

Not playing a game for personal reasons (aside from schedule) may be frowned upon, particularly as a woman. There are often a lot of negative attitudes or impressions that flare up when people decide not to play a game, regardless of what gender you are – but there are some accusations that really hit home. If you don’t want to play a game because there is a situation that makes you uncomfortable – from past trauma, political preference, whatever – sometimes other players or even the GM might say you’re being oversensitive or accuse you of grandstanding for a cause. Don’t listen to them.

While there are occasionally instances of people being oversensitive, that doesn’t matter. How you feel, how a situation makes you feel, is more important. Even if it’s a matter of just not having fun in a game, there is nothing wrong with saying “no” to playing!

It is important that GMs understand player concerns, acknowledge them, and consider them. If they decide to continue telling the story or playing out the session as planned, that’s their choice. The player has the choice – and the absolute right – to walk away, and no one should blame them for that.
If the game isn’t enjoyable for the player, that ruins the point of the game environment and the game itself. That’s the point of gaming – for everyone to have fun, to feel like they are a part of something, and to have their own space to play.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Monsters - Grey Ones

I'm starting an ongoing Monsters feature based on the monsters from my nightmares. First up is the Grey Ones.


I had another monster from a nightmare the other night that I'm calling a Grey One for the time being. I included my quick and dirty sketch (above) with this description.

Grey Ones are scavengers. They travel in groups, and typically spend their time in places where many people die - battlefields, hospitals, and they lurk during plagues. They live off the last moments of life of dying things - people and animals alike. When someone is a breath away from death, they will come to them and lay their hands on them, to take away the little bits of pain that remain and absorb the dying energy. 

Grey Ones are slightly smaller than human size, and emaciated. They appear, at a glance, like a woman in a veil, but up close, they are instead a nearly skeletal creature with skin stretched tight over their bones. Their head is a skull dome with a wide bone ridge, and their thin grey skin is pulled taut over the dome and the ridge to stretch down to their collarbone. When Grey Ones feed, a gland that circles the edge of their bone ridge drips tears. 

The skin is semi-transparent over their head and chest, and you can see their spine, ribs, and their skull, which has no jaw, eye sockets, or nasal structure. Their frail arms have very thick flesh over them, and they have three long fingers and opposable thumbs, with no fingernails. Their legs are hidden beneath a skirt of loose skin that drops from their hipbones to the ground, and the edges of the skin are often rubbed raw from brushing on the ground.

Note: If you decide to use any of the monsters in a campaign, please let me know! I'd like to see how they work out.