The Needless Queers*

Why Some NPCs in Your Strixhaven Game Should Be Queer—Even If They Don’t ‘Need’ To Be

Three couples, two same-gender, and one probably different gender, dance together at a fantasy masquerade ball.
At Strixhaven, as in life, representation matters

Strixhaven: A Curriculum of Chaos for Dungeons & Dragons casts the player characters as students at a magical university and includes many of the aspects of university life, such as needing a job and forming relationships. Some of those relationships are good, others not-so-good, and still others…not so clear. Towards those ends, the book presents optional rules for things like work and extracurricular activities and building and maintaining relationships. It also includes a set of nonplayer characters (NPCs in common gaming parlance) that the player characters can get to know over their four years at Strixhaven including, potentially, as romantic interests, although the actual rules are deliberately vague in terms of what “beloved” status means in terms of a relationship, apart from the intensity of the feelings involved.

In order to maximize their “availability,” the relationship characters in Strixhaven have what I like to call “Schrödinger’s orientation.” Like the theoretical cat that is both alive and dead until you open the box to look, the NPCs are of indeterminate romantic and sexual orientation until a player character expresses an interest in them, at which point their orientation at least includes that player character. They are designed as “blank slates” the players can project their interests onto, as is often the case for “romanceable” characters in video games. While I don’t think straight and queer characters are necessarily interchangeable (we have different life experiences—although that’s a whole different essay) I do think this is a reasonable and efficient approach when having only limited space to describe potential supporting characters—short of having to detail Strixhaven’s entire diverse student body.

That said, there is a tendency in our culture, a pull towards heteronormativity, towards “default straightness.” That is to say, in much of Western culture, particularly American culture, people are assumed straight unless “proven” otherwise and an “indeterminate” orientation can sometimes be unconsciously pre-determined. If, for some reason, there are no potential non-heterosexual romances or relationships within your Strixhaven campaign, there may be a tendency to simply flip all of the remaining NPCs to that assumed “default” straight setting.

I’m going to ask you to consider not doing that, and here’s why: It’s unrealistic.

Yes, yes, I know. I’m bringing up realism in a game involving talking owl-people, spirit-possessed statues, and a magic school founded by dragons. Nevertheless, while “realism” is sometimes used as a cudgel in the RPG hobby to browbeat people with supposed notions about medieval culture or mores (usually not ones based in actual historical research) that’s not what I mean. In this case I’m talking about simple statistical realities.

Given that queer people exist in the world (and on the campus) of Strixhaven and throughout the D&D multiverse and given there are sixteen detailed nonplayer characters for the player characters to get to know over the course of their school careers, realism says that at least some of them must be queer, right? (Indeed, one of them is most definitely transgender and another nonbinary.) Even if there’s no particular chance of some of those characters having a romance with a player character, some of those NPCs must still be queer, right? So I recommend that, as your Strixhaven campaign progresses, and romantic interests and relationships start to sort themselves out, consider deliberately and overtly shifting some of the NPCs from the assumed “straight” column to openly LGBTQ+ in some fashion, whether they’re being romanced or not. Indeed, just because an NPC is involved in an opposite-sex relationship doesn’t mean they can’t also be queer: bisexual and pansexual people exist, and do not stop being who they are just because they’re in an opposite-sex relationship. Likewise, some people are polyamorous, and not just because they’re looking to stack up beloved boons.

Why? Again, because it’s realistic. The player characters in a Strixhaven campaign are going to have a diverse group of friends, acquaintances and, yes, rivals and frenemies, and some of them should be queer. Even if some of the relationships between player characters and nonplayer characters in your campaign are not heterosexual, some of the “unattached” NPCs may still be queer, because queer people also just exist, and we have queer friends, acquaintances (and, yes, rivals and frenemies) without necessarily being romantically involved with them. Indeed, some of those unattached or uninvolved NPCs might even be asexual or aromantic.

To limit the decision about which Strixhaven NPCs are queer solely to the player characters’ romantic interests is to fall back on that tired notion that LGBTQ+ characters need a “reason” for their sexual and romantic orientation or gender identity, something that “furthers the plot,” when no such demand is ever made of straight, cisgender characters. Like all of the various other qualities that describe us as individuals, gender and sexuality are not “plot” but character development and fictional queer people do not need a “reason to exist” any more than real queer people do. We simply are.

Therefore, as you read Strixhaven: A Cirriculum of Chaos and prepare to run it for your players, consider adding some “needless queers” to your game’s narrative. It’s realistic, it’s inclusive, and you may find that it paints a more detailed picture for the players of a larger and more nuanced world—and isn’t that the kind of broadening experience university is all about?

(* I use the word “queer” to mean “non heterosexual and/or non cisgender” and have done so for well over 25 years now. I find it simpler and more inclusive than the LGBTQIAA+ or “QUILTBAG” abbreviation. I understand some people find “queer” a slur, or have experienced it as such (as I have), and I respect if they prefer not to claim it, but I feel it is a term we have reclaimed and made our own and use it as such.)

Icons Crash Course

The folks over at Babies With Knives have produced one of their “Crash Course” videos for Icons Superpowered Roleplaying! So, if you’ve always wanted a quick summary of what Icons is like and how it plays, or if you’re a long-time player looking for a summary to share with new players, check it out, and be sure to give the video a “like” and subscribe to the channel for more “Crash Course” videos and all of the group’s streams!

The Icons Wiki is Back!

Thanks to the kind and tireless efforts of John Paine, the Icons: Truth, Justice, and Gaming Wiki has a new home and host at Miraheze. John has restored virtually all of the old wiki’s content from the Wikispaces backup and the new wiki is “open for business”! If you were a prior contributor, feel free to set up an account and see about updating your content. If you’re a current Icons Superpowered Roleplaying fan, you can contribute or just enjoy the content that’s available there. Thanks again, John, for all of your help in giving this fan-created site new life!

The Icons Wiki

IconsBanner2

Since its renewal recently came due, I was reminded about the Icons Wiki, a fan resource set up not long after the game was first published. Ad Infinitum took over hosting it when wikispaces went from a free to a paid account system, but my own time to contribute to the wiki (which I did prior Ad Infinitum taking over the publication of Icons) has been limited. I figured new fans of the game who have come on-board since them might not be aware of the wiki as a resource.

So, if you have a chance, and are so inclined, click on over and check it out! You can add you own Icons content and share resources with your fellow players, Game Masters, and fans. I know the tendency has been towards individual blogs with Icons content (including my own) but the wiki makes a great central “clearing-house” for compiling Icons-related resources.

Minions and Monsters in Icons

No, it’s not a new Icons product (yet) just a couple of random passing thoughts to share because, well, I’ve got a blog.

Minions

The first is that, in addition to the option for taking out minions automatically with a successful attack (on p. 42 of the Assembled Edition), Game Masters may want to consider minion actions against heroes—that is, any action opposed by a hero’s reaction—automatic failures. Amongst other things, this means minions simply cannot successfully attack heroes under normal circumstances, all they can do is get in the heroes’ way and get whittled down until there aren’t any more of them.

That’s not to say such minions are never effective, but a successful attack by them is handled as trouble for the heroes (Assembled Edition, p. 34) rather than a regular action—it’s so rare that it’s both noteworthy and awards the affected heroes with Determination Points. These minions can still succeed normally against other Game Master Characters, probably part of the reason they’re so often threatening the heroes’ friends and supporting characters.

This option is extremely four-color in style, but does suit some stories where minions truly are ineffectual and even heroes with no Damage Resistance or extraordinary defenses don’t need to be all that worried about them.

Monsters

Although it may go without saying, Game Masters may sometimes want to beef up singular “monster” opponents intended to take on a whole team of heroes by just giving them more Stamina than their Strength and Willpower levels would normally provide. While you can simply go with higher Strength and Damage Resistance to toughen up a monster-foe (both common capabilities) that may not be enough, and too much Damage Resistance can stymie some heroes completely, where as additional Stamina is something the heroes can whittle away at, while still allowing the monster to hang in the fight so it’s not over too quickly.

Start with doubling the monster’s Stamina, although you can easily triple or even quadruple it to provide a good fight. Also note that a “monster” opponent doesn’t have to be an actual monster, but could simply be a master villain who needs to take on a whole team, and therefore can benefit from a Stamina boost. The GM characters don’t have to follow the exact same rules as the heroes in terms of determining their abilities, so long as they’re providing a fair and fun challenge.

‘Tis the Season … for Heroes!

MnMCoC_200It’s the time of year to remind folks who might not be aware of it that the free Mutants & Masterminds adventure Crisis on Christmas is available for download from Green Ronin Publishing, along with Hero Lab files for the main antagonist and her minions.

Earth’s mysterious Master Mage needs help from your heroes to defeat a threat that has captured the North Pole and wants to erase the idea of the Christmas holiday itself from the world! Just a bit of holiday cheer from Green Ronin to you this season! (There’s also a version for the second edition of M&M for folks who prefer it.)

Katanas, Trenchcoats & Charity

So, by now, my small contribution to Ryan Macklin’s ’90s gaming magnum opus Katanas & Trenchcoats is out there. It all got started quite innocently (as these things do) when I replied to a Macklin tweet, astonished there wasn’t a “Katanas & Trenchcoats” RPG, given how popular the concept of adding Highlander-style immortals to nearly every RPG was back in the ’90s, especially White Wolf’s “World of Darkness” setting.

Ryan took it upon himself to assemble an A-Team of game industry talent (plus, you know…me) to bring this vision into being, planned, of course, for an April 1st release. The plan was always to donate profits from the game to charity, particularly the Seattle Children’s Hospital. Ever the professional, Ryan offered to pay us contributors, and I accepted so I could donate (folding in some of my Ad Infinitum profit) to The Trevor Project, a charity and cause important to me, and to countless LGBTQ youth. Also ever the gentleman, Ryan followed that news by offering to donate to the Trevor Project as well. Should anyone else be so inclined, please visit their donation link and help out.

Save vs. Pelvic Sorcery

(Because … well, it kind of justifies itself…)

Sorcerous Origin: Pelvic

Your innate magic comes from the motion of the ocean and the swaying of your hips, the forceful thrust, and the slow roll – in short, pelvic sorcery. Perhaps you were born with this potential, apparent even before you fully tapped its power, or you might come from a long line with this ability, one ensured to continue on and on (and on…).

Roguish Charm

When you choose this origin at 1st level you gain a potent roguish charm. By standing next to a creature and interacting for at least 30 seconds, you can attempt to charm that creature as if casting the charm person spell, without expending spell slots or spell points.

Come and Get Your Love

At 1st level, you add expeditious retreat and jump to your list of known spells. You can cast them without components, but they affect only you.

Dance-Off

Starting at 6th level, you can cast Otto’s irresistible dance on a creature you can see that can see and interact with you, without expending spell points to do so. Once you have done this, you must complete a short rest before you can do so again.

Hooked on a Feeling

At 14th level, you can charm any creature by interacting with it. The creature makes a Wisdom saving throw against your spell save DC and is charmed for one hour if it fails.

Awesome Mix

At 18th level, if you are exposed to and make a saving throw against an effect at the same time as any of your allies, both you and your allies have advantage on the saving throw and resistance to any damage caused by the effect.

Queer as a Three-Sided Die

GenConGaymerOne of the things I very much looked forward to at GenCon this year (after a year away in 2013) was the third-annual “Queer as a Three-Sided Die” seminar. It got started, as such things often do, to address a need that the initial panelists and I perceived — it is, in many ways, the seminar I wish I’d had during my early years at GenCon, when the notion that there were other “gaymers” was completely foreign (I didn’t meet any until around my sixth or seventh year of attending).

We looked to expand the panel this year, and did in an unexpected way. Matt Conn (founder of MidBoss and GaymerX) and Philip Jones (co-director of Gaming in Color) contacted me just days before the con to say they were attending and were interested in the seminar. They joined me and our other panelists from prior years:

The Know Direction podcast was also kind enough to create a video recording of the panel, so I’ll direct you there if you want to see and hear everything that was discussed. Topics ranged across the queer spectrum from the light-hearted and celebratory to quite serious and emotional, and Qd3 (as I abbreviate it) was by far the most well-attended seminar I experienced at GenCon.

We also had the benefit of “GAYMER” badge ribbons from Tabletop Gaymers again this year. Feel free to check out their consolidated reference links, and to register or donate to the covering the cost of the ribbons this year and for next year, as they were quite popular!

Members of the gaymer community are already talking about adding to the slate of offerings for next year’s GenCon—social events, seminars, gaming events, and so forth—and I’m already looking forward to the potential for next year’s panel. If you are interested in joining us as a panelist, or know someone you think would make an ideal panelist, please email me and let me know!

If you have ever considered the possibility of offering something queer-related or more inclusive at a convention (GenCon or any other)—do it! Like I said, these things get started because we see a need and look to fill it and, let me tell you, the need is there. I’m already looking forward to all the amazing things our community is going to do in the years to come.

Beyond the Game Table

When I was first playing RPGs, back in middle school and high school, I had nothing but free time to spend reading game materials, preparing games, and running them. All through and after college my gaming group met on a weekly basis, sometimes even more often, making it easy to sustain the momentum of a new campaign.

As my gaming group and I got older, got day jobs, got married, even had kids, it became harder to get together once a week for three or four solid hours of game-time. Nowadays, it’s one Sunday afternoon per month to play the game(s) of our choice.

Trouble is, one game a month is just twelve sessions in a year, which can make it difficult to sustain continuity and energy from session to session, and it limits the range of games and campaigns a group can play at once. When we met weekly, it was fairly easy to maintain two or even three campaigns. Now we pretty much have to stick to one at a time. Even then, there’s a lot of “down time” between games. I suspect many game groups and gamers in our age bracket face similar issues.

Fortunately, there are new tools and options that weren’t available when I started playing RPGs. While in-person time for gaming is more limited, we all find time to spend on things like social networking, email, and even online games. What if the game session were to extend beyond the boundaries of just a few hours a month at the game-table and into some of that online connected space? If just half of my Facebook and Google+ time got spent on a game, I’d easily reclaim a lot of that weekly game-time.

My group already does some of this: we use email to coordinate and pre-plan our game sessions and deal with a lot of the bookkeeping and “off-stage” activities of the game in order to maximize our in-person time, but what if the games (and publishers) themselves supported more of this style of play?

Imagine going from in-person tabletop play on the weekend to running a solo or small group encounter online via a website or app, either live in real time or turn-based (as most RPGs are), bringing things back to the game table for the next session. Perhaps the apps and mobile devices come back to the game table with us, handling some of the mathematical “lifting” of the game system and keeping a record of the game that’s seamless with other types of play, whether at the table or not. A lot of gaming would still happen in-person and at the game table, but the game would also extend beyond the table, fitting better into the lives of a new generation of gamers.