Calteir: Continued progress

Sample of the infeudation map for the Kreshar regionNot only did I finish a major rework of the main Calteir map (second in priority to the Morensia map re-edit), I’ve finished a bunch of small details for the Kreshar region and re-did the infeudation map to show all the various baronesses’ and barons’ demesnes. So again, apologies if I’m not more active here — trying to apply my energies to Calteir.

Heirs in the latest Bundle of Holding

Bundle of Holding masthead imageYou may have noticed what a big fan I am of Chad Davidson’s Heirs to the Lost World. It’s set in a 17th century New World where the Aztecs and Maya had access to powerful magic, and so the Conquest never happened. The rules include, as I’ve noted before, one of the best stunting mechanics I’ve ever seen in a game — creating cinematic, over-the-top action sequences is very directly encouraged by the system. Here’s my report on this year’s Con of the North session of Heirs, and here are all my posts tagged with Heirs to the Lost World.

The other games in this Bundle look pretty good, too. If you don’t have Heirs yet, it’s well worth your while to buy it; and it’s always good to support indie game developers.

Pre-gen PCs 1: Pijada the Ex-Warrior

I continue to work hard on Calteir. I have big plans for this over the next month or so, meaning that posting here is only occasional. Mountains on the main Calteir map are the big focus right now.

So I’m going to do something I’ve talked about for a while: post some additional PCs to use with B&C. The first bunch will be characters from the Mountain Monastery Mystery. All of them, save one, are trans women; some have completed their Great Work, some have not.

This first one is an ex-warrior, now trying to do penance for her part in causing so much death. Players have had a great time with this character — the highly capable soldier trying to keep up a mien of placidity is lots of fun. Will she resort to using her formidable martial prowess? Or will she keep it all under control and solve the mystery without resorting to bloodshed?

Pijada the Ex-warrior

Calteir: Morensia map revision done!

The main focus of my development for Calteir has long since been Morensia, a semi-unified island country in the north. For nearly four years now, my monthly Blade & Crown group has been adventuring in one tiny corner of this kingdom. There’s a lot to explore in Morensia.

As part of detailing the island, I’ve created a meticulous map of it. For the past year or so, I’ve been reworking the map to get the distribution of settlements to feel a bit more natural, tweak some of the bridge and ford placement and generally make it feel more realistic and consistent.

Here’s a sample, the Gyrshar region of southwest Morensia:

Sample from the Morensia map showing part of the Gyshar region

This sample is, by area, only about 0.1% of the total map; Morensia has a lot of terrain to explore.

I’ll probably continue to tweak the map over time — I keep finding small things that could use a little reworking — but now my main focus shifts to writing up all of it in more detail. It feels good to have the main revisions done; few things are more satisfying than creating a giant, evocative map.

WisCon 39, part 3: Are casual gamers “real” gamers?

Squeevolution!How do you structure a discussion about gaming? What kinds of gaming count as gaming? How do you assume your audience relates to gaming — as creators, players or something else? Do you assume your audience is all gamers? Do you assume the audience is knowledgeable about all kinds of gaming? Who gets to talk? How do they justify their ability to speak, where other people don’t get to speak?

Many places in fandom, these questions get answered as “White cis hetero guys who play electronic games get to take the floor, because why wouldn’t they?” And the white guys who have played the most electronic games are naturally the ones who should get to talk the most. According to this logic, the white cis hetero guys who have the most time and money to devote to electronic games are clearly the ones who are most serious, most dedicated, most crucial to the hobby and are the ones who deserve the loudest voice in where the hobby goes.

The logical fallacies in this are abundantly apparent. Why should white cis hetero guys get to talk any more than anyone else? Lots of people play games, and have all along, and pretending otherwise is ignoring the diversity that exists in the world. And giving louder voice to the ones who’ve spent more money and time on electronic games is messed up. It means that people who have to work at low-paying jobs, or have to raise kids, or don’t have reliable housing to keep their games in, or otherwise don’t have so many social and financial resources get excluded from the discussion. And because that discussion often includes discussion of who gets access to what resources — what games are available to whom, and what kinds of games get created — it creates a vicious cycle where the white cis hetero guys dominate more and more of the discussion. Or begin to feel like they deserve to.

So clearly the discussion needs to be broader and more voices need to be heard. But unfortunately, it is difficult to even structure a discussion about gaming without re-instantiating these biases. How, for example, do we talk about gaming in a way that doesn’t assume that people who spend the most time on the hobby are the ones who should get the loudest voices? How do we talk about gaming in a way that doesn’t assume that all gaming is electronic, or that all gamers enjoy gaming the same way? How do we talk about gaming in a way that doesn’t assume spending money on products is the primary way to enjoy it? How do we do it in a way that pushes for better representation while not ignoring the diversity that has always existed?

Many discussions — too many discussions — about gaming don’t bother to examine the framework of the discussion, even when they intend to work against the white cis hetero bias that so many discussions have. Many panels, for example, talk about “gaming” as if it’s basically all electronic gaming, and maybe occasionally deign to note that tabletop/pen & paper gaming exists, but assume that it’s not anything worth talking about.

And many discussions about gaming still happen in a larger context where we (often unconsciously) privilege people based on their similarity to the “white cis hetero affluent guy” stereotype. People who have enough spare time or money to play lots of electronic games, or people who’ve managed to get themselves branded as gatekeepers of culture, or people who play games that deal with “serious” issues — we have a lot of ways of re-instantiating hierarchies even as we work to dismantle those hierarchies.

This panel’s discussion turned out to be both great and frustrating. One excellent part was the panel’s dissection of the term ‘casual’. The panel noted how ‘casual’ gaming equals, almost 1:1, gaming that women do; and how it has an equally close relationship to class, and how people who don’t have tons of money and leisure time to throw at the hobby often get labeled as casual gamers. And several people of color on the panel noted the racist slurs they’ve been subjected to in gaming communities, and how this makes the barriers for enjoyment of gaming that much higher for people of color. This leads to a continuing vicious cycle where white people get to be the gatekeepers of who is or isn’t a gamer, and continue to feel like that’s as it should be.

The panel also noted how the term ‘casual’ itself is used as a slur, and really shouldn’t be. Calling someone ‘casual’ insults them for somehow not being ‘serious’ about their gaming. One panelist noted how, despite their long interest in tabletop gaming, they were once introduced at a session as so-and-so’s girlfriend, rather than listing her interest in the game or her possible contributions to the group. This has the complex effect of devaluing anyone whose interest in gaming isn’t single-minded, of assuming that all women are ‘casual’, and of generally making gaming hostile to anyone who doesn’t match the white cis hetero affluent guy stereotype. This attitude that ‘casualness’ is a bad thing pervades too many parts of gaming. You don’t even have to expose yourself to the truly vile corners of the net to experience the argument’s negative effects; see, for example, the many people — a seeming majority of whom are women — who ‘admit’ that they’re casual in their gaming, as if casualness is a fault that requires confession.

The panel also addressed a whole bunch of really important related issues. They talked about how to create better online gaming communities; a major part of this requires treating community moderation as an important job, not just an afterthought tacked on to avoid lawsuits. The panel also discussed how to change the close relationship that ‘winning’ has with ‘hardcore’ status, and how this meshes (often harmfully) with social hierarchies.

But the panel also had a few of the same problems that these discussions so often have. First, the panel largely ignored pen & paper gaming. At least one panelist who is more interested in tabletop gaming got largely passed over as a result; they didn’t get to talk much, because the conversation didn’t touch on their interests much. (The above example about being introduced as someone’s girlfriend was one of the few chances they had to talk.) One audience member deliberately tried to bring analog gaming back into the discussion, which was very nice; and the panelists interested in tabletop gaming got to say a bit more at this point. But the scales were still heavily tipped towards electronic gaming.

I think part of the problem here is that the panel’s description didn’t distinguish between different forms of gaming. This is a problem that I noted above, and which I’ve noted before. This problem continues with many gaming-related panels; many cons that have great fannish discussions continue to suffer from a lack of understanding about what gaming is, or how to structure discussions about it. I’m thinking more and more that panels about gaming simply have to explicitly clarify what kinds of gaming they’re talking about, even if that means explicitly stating that they’re about all kinds of gaming.

Part of the problem was certainly that the panelists themselves just seemed to start with the assumption that “gaming = electronic gaming” and that other kinds of gaming are basically obsolete or excessively niche. This assumption seems to have taken hold early on, and like so many majority assumptions, once something gains critical mass, it’s hard to challenge or change.

Another problem was that there seemed to be an underlying assumption to the discussion that gaming equals ‘consumption’. It seems to be more and more popular to discuss fannish issues in terms of ‘consuming’, as if our only purpose as fans is to hand over scads of cash in order to digest whatever ‘media’ the corporations want to churn out. I think it’s extremely dangerous to think of our fandoms in these terms. For one thing, it means that fandom is just another commodified cog in the capitalist machine, eternally unable to inspect or reconfigure its surroundings. For another, it means that our enjoyment is primarily about passively accepting what someone else (far too often, a large corporation) deigns to spew at us; it means that we ignore the amazing potential for self-creation that gaming holds. And last, viewing fandom as a process of ‘consuming’ ‘media’ means that our discussions about it will continue to privilege those best able to ‘consume’ that ‘media’ — in other words, to privilege the ones who have the most cash to spare.

Another assumption that seemed to thread through this panel was that celebrity is the main way to deserve a voice in the discussion. Panelists began by describing themselves in terms of what they’ve published, or where they blog, or otherwise bringing up their qualifications to be on the panel. One panelist felt moved to introduce themself by apologizing for not being a blogger or podcaster. It was like the panelists had to establish their places in the geek social hierarchy before they could move on to discussing the issues at hand.

I’ve discussed this tendency before — this tendency to frame discussions about the problematic hierarchies in fandom by reinstantiating those hierarchies with only somewhat different pigeonholes. I think it’s important to start examining how we construct and perpetuate celebrity in fandom. If the apex of the geek social pyramid gets replaced by a slightly different crowd, or if we fight with each other by trying to prove our adherence to the old hierarchy, things aren’t going to change much. I’m not sure what we can do to really change it — when it comes to convention programming, we seem to want a panel of famous people who do most of the talking and an audience who does most of the listening. But I’m pretty sure that continuing to list our resumes at the beginning of panels is a bad way to make everyone feel like their voice is important.

A final potential problem with the panel was that a panelist stated at one point that it’s good that games don’t require as much math now, because this allows lower barriers to entry for women. Traditional tabletop RPGs, this argument would seem to imply, are outdated because of their need for large amounts of math. This, the argument continues, makes RPGs inaccessible to women.

This argument makes me pretty angry. It gradates very easily into the ‘math is hard’ trope, trotted out to remind women how incompetent we are at arithmetic or anything that requires ‘higher level’ thinking, and how we therefore shouldn’t really try. Applied to gaming, it implies that women only want light, fluffy games that don’t require a lot of thought.

(Light, fluffy games are, of course, wonderful! Often, and for many people. Sometimes, though, I want a heavy-duty simulationist game that gives me tons of specific detail about what’s going on and, yeah, sometimes requires some arithmetic. I want different games at different times; I like different games that ask me to use my brain in different ways; I contain multitudes.)

Many times when I hear the “traditional games require too much math for women” argument, it also gets used to imply that somehow women are only now getting into gaming, because in the past the barriers to entry were too high. This erroneously implies that women haven’t been involved in gaming since the beginning. This argument erases the struggles and creativity and overall amazingness that women have had throughout the history of gaming.

I later talked to the panelist who had seemingly appealed to the “math is hard” argument. She explained that she wasn’t saying that, and I believe her. She explained that she was saying, instead, that mechanically simpler games require less time investment, an important consideration if you’re (for example) working long hours or parenting your kids by yourself. That mostly makes sense, and I’m glad I had the chance to clear it up with her.

Still, I think we should be careful about how we discuss barriers to entry and women in gaming; there really is a tendency to slide into the “math is hard” mode, even if we don’t consciously mean to appeal to it. It’s all too easy to appeal to one wrongheaded notion in order to fight another.

All in all, this panel got me thinking a lot — perhaps the most of any panel at this year’s WisCon. It brought up a ton of really important issues. The panel didn’t discuss them in quite the way I’d hoped, of course. I feel like an additional 20 minutes or so probably would’ve cleared up all the issues it left me with, and then this post would’ve been much happier. Still, the panel overall was a great discussion about the cultures of gaming, and a great look at many aspects of a bunch of very complex problems.

Getting back into my posting rhythm, hopefully.

Behind and forward

Posters from Convergence 2015Convergence 2015 is over. Was some two days ago, actually. But the combination of being 13 hours away from CST, then coming right back into Convergence, is still messing with me. I’m starting to get back into the flow of things, but posts here are going to take a while. I still have a bunch of WisCon to talk about, and then at least one more post about Taiwan, before I even get to Convergence.

Short form, though: Convergence 2015 was overall pretty good. The con was crowded again, meaning it was harder to just run into folks I wanted to hang out with. And there were a bunch of little things that annoyed me, from geek self-loathing/nerd social hierarchies being performed all too frequently, to various microaggressive expressions of privilege. I didn’t manage to get in any actual gaming, I think; the usual folks I would’ve played a game with weren’t around, and the Artemis sign-up sheets filled up very quickly. But, as I said, it was overall good. There were some amazing costumes. There was wonderful fan squee a-plenty. A lot of the panels were quite good; I hope to write some of them up here, eventually. It was good to see the folks I did manage to meet up with. Overall, it’s just fun to be surrounded by that kind of fannish energy, of people enjoying their cool geeky hobbies together, and of mostly not harshing each other’s squee.

More later, as readjustment to real life allows.

Convergence 2015 schedule

And Convergence 2015 is already here. I managed to only get onto two panels:

Dystopia of Philip K. Dick: From Page to Screen

We’ve probably all seen his stories on screen without necessarily knowing it. From Blade Runner to Total Recall and more. This panel will discuss Dick’s stories and their film translations.

Saturday July 4, 2015 7:00pm – 8:00pm | DoubleTree Atrium 2

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a good PKD panel. I expect the fact that I haven’t seen the recent Total Recall remake will become relevant in this panel. But it should still be a good panel — it’s easy to talk for hours about the dystopic elements in Blade Runner, or Total Recall, or Palmer Eldritch, or any of his other horrific visions.

Rise of Tabletop Gaming

What’s behind the increasing popularity of tabletop games and will it last? What are your favorite among recent releases? Which classics are still going strong?

Sunday July 5, 2015 2:00pm – 3:00pm | DoubleTree Atrium 2

As usual, Convergence’s programming descriptions still don’t really distinguish between different kinds of tabletop gaming (RPGs? boardgames? card games? minis?), and they haven’t provided us panelists with each other’s email addresses for pre-discussion, and I haven’t had time to pursue that information. But still, hopefully it’ll make for a good discussion. I certainly plan to try.

There are a lot of good panels and programming on the schedule, and lots of cool people to meet up with, and lots of fun to be had. I probably won’t be posting til after the con. I hope to see you there!

FLGS intro: Alchemy Games

Next time you’re in Taibei, Taiwan and looking for a good FLGS, Alchemy Games is the natural place to check out. There are several locations around the city with different strengths. The one on Xinyi is more about M:tG; the Zhongxiao location is stronger in boardgames and RPGs; and I didn’t get to the remaining location in Neihu.

Alchemy on Zhongxiao has lots of TRPG sessions going on; there are apparently at least two campaigns ongoing in the store, one D&D and one Call of Cthulhu.

They also have lots of boardgaming. There are many games on sale there, including Chinese translations of many, and they have a pretty huge library for borrowing.

Alchemy Games: Boardgames on sale

They also have lots of resources available: dice, minis, terrain, pencils… everything you need to play, really. In a city as crowded as Taibei, it can be hard to have space for all the stuff that gaming seems to require, so it’s great that they offer all this.

Alchemy Games: Resources for gaming

They seem to make their money from selling games, and from space usage fees (which as I recall were very reasonable — something like US$3 for a full night of gaming). They also have drinks and snacks available for purchase.

Alchemy Zhongxiao-Fuxing has a better selection of RPGs on sale than I’ve seen at many US FLGSs: the usual D&D, but also GURPS, CoC, Fate, Legend of the Five Rings, Diaspora and several others. It looks like folks there continue to have pleasantly eclectic tastes.

Alchemy Games: TRPGs and other games

More than a decade ago, I frequented the predecessor to Alchemy, Moku (“Demon Den”). It was then run by Lanti, who continues to run Alchemy. He was one of the first people to playtest Spheres, my SF RPG. Lanti and the group at Moku were largely responsible for the Chinese translation of D&D 3.5, and for continuing the small but strong interest in gaming in Taiwan. This trip to Taibei, I was very pressed for time; I didn’t manage to meet up with Lanti or any of the old crew, but it’s still cool to see that gaming continues to be strong in Taibei, and that Alchemy continues to be a strong part of that community.

Snippets from Calteir: Mining

Mining is the process of extracting ore and gems from within the earth. Sources for gold, silver, copper, iron, etc. within the bounds of civilization have mostly been exhausted long since, so mines tend to be far from other settlements, frequently down very long roads into the woods.


A hammer and a cave.Different cultures have different beliefs about miners, but they tend to center on the notion that miners are secretive, possibly magical, and also possibly nefarious. There is also a lot of folklore connecting miners to the Dwarves; many common folk believe they are one and the same.

In some cultures, it’s actually bad luck to ask a miner what they mine.

Many cultures believe that miners actually produce their ores by working with demons, cajoling dragons or sacrificing human children.

More than one historical feudal lord has attempted to grab control of a mine. There are many stories of greedy lords’ armies being swallowed up by the earth, lost in the woods, killed by Dwarven warriors or worse while trying to conquer a mine.

Mining work

Mining camps are, as noted above, often quite far beyond the borders of everyday human civilization. The specific locations of mining camps are closely guarded secrets.

While miners often hire mercenaries to guard their convoys, fairly large numbers of miners are paranoid enough that they actually won’t allow the mercenaries into their camps. Some mining roads therefore have standard meeting points. These meeting points will often be marked by carved rocks or decorated trees, as well as occasional bits of ore or even refined metal in the nearby woods.

Because so many miners do not allow mercenaries on site, they often have to provide their own guards. Especially strong miners are sometimes asked to become guards.

Many camps have the ability to smelt ores on site. This means convoys don’t need to haul as much mass, and also means that many common people are unaware of where metals actually come from.

Only the most civilized countries have invented rails. This means that most ore is hauled out of the pits by carts.

Life as a miner can be pretty good. Camps tend to be very isolated; this can be good, or it can be bad. Mining guilds recognize that they need to keep their secrets by keeping the miners happy and content, so life outside the pit can be pretty idyllic: good food, better drink, comfortable quarters, etc. Mining guilds also frequently try to cycle workers between different jobs, to prevent burn-out or grumbling. When well-run, some mining camps can be pretty enjoyable places to work. Some camps are run in very egalitarian ways; some are effectively anarcho-socialist utopias.

But many camps are pretty hellish, and many are poorly run. When conditions are bad, people occasionally flee the camps. Some guilds will just take this as acceptable losses; others may even send out bounty hunters to find the escaped workers.


Miners are notoriously tight-lipped about what they mine. Even when they aren’t protected by superstition, they usually make the locations of their mines as secret as possible, frequently far into the wilderness. They often don’t appreciate the superstitions that surround their profession, but the superstitions help dissuade non-miners from finding or thieving from their mines.

Mine workers are usually sworn to secrecy, with very severe penalties for breaking their oaths. Some mines bring workers into the camps in covered wagons, making it impossible for workers to know where they actually are. Most mines maintain their secrecy through a combination of oaths, guards, wilderness locales and generally decent living conditions.


The shape and size of ingots varies by culture. Morensian ingots, for example, tend to be very shallow domes, because ingots are usually poured into hemispherical molds.

Miners in central areas of Morensia have started to use bowls with central pillars, leading to pierced ingots. This allows the ingots to be tied together and therefore handled with a little more ease.


Miners tend to form into guilds, though the organization and scale of these guilds varies immensely by culture.

Abandoned mines

There are more than a few ancient, abandoned mines scattered around. Entrances tend to be blocked off, intentionally, with bricks or rocks to prevent nasty spirits from emerging. There are often rumors that abandoned mines still contain veins of gold or caches of gems.

Adventures & encounters

  • A mine is being beset by some sort of demon or elemental, perhaps because of a Dwarven grave which they defiled to get to a better seam of silver. The mine’s own guards are insufficient to deal with the problem, and the mercenaries that the guild usually works with have recently switched allegiances to a lord who wants to tax the miners excessively. That means the miners want to hire a group of capable people to deal with the problem in the mines. But that also means they need someone trustworthy enough to keep their secrets — or perhaps who will keep their secrets through magical means.
  • As above, but the PCs are mining camp guards themselves and have to deal with the problem.
  • The PCs come to a well-made road leading through the woods. In the distance, they can see a beautifully carved statue of an eagle. Its claws and beak are covered with gold. The statue is the mercenary meeting point for a mining camp up the road. They find signs of a small battle, with numerous dead mercenaries in the nearby woods; and then they hear a group of miners coming through the woods. Will the PCs be blamed for the mercenaries’ deaths? How will they explain themselves?
  • While wandering through the wilderness, the PCs encounter an escaped mine worker. The worker has a harrowed look, but are sufficiently afraid of the miners that they will not reveal the location of the mine. (Or they never actually knew the location, having been brought there in secrecy and not really having their bearings now.) They may ask for help in returning home, though.
  • The PCs are bounty hunters, working for a mine. They need to hunt down an worker who promised to reveal the location of the mine shortly before they escaped.
  • There have been rumbles in the earth the past few days. Shepherds report that the rumbles are even more forceful out by the northern pastures, close to an abandoned mine.
And with that, I’ll have to leave you until July; I’m off on vacation for a couple weeks. And soon after that, Convergence! Busy, busy relaxation. See you again soon!

Should I run a game at Convergence?

Convergence has just posted their call for games to be run at the con. Seems like last year, with the scheduling app, it was much easier to get a game organized than in previous years. Should I run a game there? I could certainly run a session of Dooms that Came to Chaegrae, or another B&C scenario. Another session of Mountain Monastery Murder Mystery, maybe? Or I could also a session of something completely different.

If you’re interested, let me know! Convergence is hectic at the best of times, and I want to make sure I allow enough time for everything that deserves it.