Imagine stumbling into a fairy ring that belongs to the fairy mafia. An enchanting being appears, smile wide enough to reveal rows of sharp and glistening teeth, and it remarks, "Why, traveler, you look positively destitute! I have just the thing!"
It turns its palms up, revealing fistfuls of gold coins. Gold coins falling to the moss below. Gold coins all around you.
"Borrow whatever you'd like! Just bring it back by the next full moon, alright, my sweet?"
That's when you notice its necklace of withered human fingers.
You take a handful of gold coins, because you really do need the money. As long as you pay this strange creature back before the next full moon, nothing bad will come of it.
Now, obviously the fairy is trying to trick you. You know that! But you're confident you can outwit it.
A growing frustration that I've been contending with over the past year is how much trans advocacy is grounded in an individualist and liberal understanding of gender, rather than, say, a socialist feminist, radical feminist, decolonial, or other structural analysis.
And a big part of that frustration comes from looking back at my own history of trans advocacy, and seeing how much of it is grounded in themes of personal choice, individual identity, self-improvement, and a naive understanding of the rights of the individual.
My sincere hope is that the currents within trans advocacy and transfeminism that are materialist continue to grow, and that as trans people we constantly work to build political coalitions that reach beyond our own community, and that we do queer and feminist history-keeping.
Over the past year, I've started playing a competitive miniatures wargame, and it has had a huge impact on my emotional growth - something I definitely wasn't expecting!
I've noticed myself becoming more open to criticism, more comfortable with failure as a learning process...
I've learned how transformative it can be to not only accept that someone is smarter and more knowledgeable than me, but to embrace it, and to position myself to absorb their criticism, take in their wisdom, and reconsider my own instincts in light of theirs.
I spend serious energy preparing for matches, studying and weighing every possible interaction. I use all of my brain power, and I get crushed. But I've learned to ask "So, do you want to tell me the mistakes you saw me making throughout that game?" Which means I learn quicker.
Another thread in my series of game design threads:
I want to talk about what The Forge meant for me, as a new roleplaying game designer getting started in 2005.
I don't think it was perfect, but it definitely shaped my career and life. This thread is mostly autobiography!
At its core, The Forge was a site that hosted game design theory articles and a community forum for analyzing play and design, and it was live from 1999-2012. It was dedicated to independent, creator-owned RPGs. It also organized projects that spilled out into the real world.
While in high school, my friend group spent the better part of a year trying to start a D&D campaign. It kept crashing and burning. We would have arguments about the rules, about how beholden we were supposed to be to existing lore, and about how the game was supposed to feel.
Fellow white people from Protestant-informed backgrounds! I want to share a protest thought.
WASP culture disciplines and regulates itself through respectability and propriety.
When police interact with us, they often try to leverage this obsession with respectability.
I've witnessed in a lot of protest situations that police will start their crowd control efforts by leveraging respectability politics to get white people to fall in line. Often it starts with things like, "Can you please step back onto the sidewalk?"
And people (especially white people from WASP cultural backgrounds) often do so without thinking, because it's a police officer giving them instructions.
But "please" is doing a fucking ton of work in those interactions, and it's important to take a moment to second-guess it.
I've had the strange luck of being there for numerous situations of abrupt street violence.
In each situation, for various reasons, I knew calling the police wouldn't help. They would show up late and punish the victims for existing.
So, many times, I've stepped in.
I mainly want to talk about this so that people inhabiting bodies like mine, big able-bodied white people, know that while being the first to intervene and put yourself in the path of harm isn't easy, it's definitely doable.
I have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, which can make navigating uncertain social situations difficult. But in situations where I've intervened in street violence, all it has taken is a few seconds of moral clarity & decisive action, before adrenaline has kicked in to chill me out.
For a few years now, there's been this meme of putting together "_____ Gothic" lists, full of eerie narrative snippets. Like, Pacific Northwest Gothic with descriptions of timeless, perpetual rain and so on.
And while the spooky narrative flourishes are fun, that meme bugs me.
Southern Gothic as a genre isn't just a collection of eerie, startling imagery. It uses the macabre and darkly ironic to engage with terrible, unresolved histories: the cultural void of a broken Confederacy, the legacy of slavery during Reconstruction, the crumbling plantation.
There can be no Pacific Northwest Gothic that doesn't engage the legacy of immigrant blood spilled to bring the railroads over the Rockies, the Chinese Exclusion Acts, the destitution and ghost towns left in the wake of gold rush booms, Oregon's legacy of "white state" policies.
🎲✏️✨ Making an Income as an Independent Tabletop Roleplaying Game Designer 📚💸📈
I've been designing/self-publishing tabletop roleplaying games for 14 years. I've experimented a lot with design approaches, publishing formats, & funding strategies. I've learned from mistakes.
I started as a teen who was barely covering costs, but now my game design work is the primary income source for my family. I've had a lot of privilege and luck in my corner, which partially accounts for my success, but I've also developed a lot of knowledge I can share with you.
I want to open with a piece of advice, and I encourage aspiring designers to really sit with it for a while, and to re-visit it often: know why you're designing games.
Is it to make cool things to share with friends? To become a career writer? To give back to your community?
I finished watching #Cinderbrush last night, @CriticalRole's one-shot of Monsterhearts 2. It was so delightful to get to see my game get this kind of love and treatment! If you haven't watched it yet, do so! I wanted to share a few of my impressions here.
@CriticalRole First, @matthewmercer and crew really nailed the tone and aesthetic of the game flawlessly. The intro sequence was spot on. Everyone showed up in full character costuming, and dove into their personas with such dedication. They used an overhead projector!
Here is the thing about living in the country. You need a lot of guys. You need a wood guy, and a plow guy, and if you don't have a big enough truck you're probably going to need a truck guy. I've got a garlic guy and a produce guy and a well guy and a chimney guy.
The produce comes from a family farm and their primary point person is a lovely woman, sure, but still, I got a guy for that.
You gotta get a lotta guys.
You only gotta get a lotta guys in the city if you're, like, fancy. Then you gotta get a tailor and a cobbler and probably a sommelier too, I'm not exactly clear on how sommeliers work.
But in the country, you gotta get a lotta guys no matter how fancy or not fancy you are.
I've been thinking lots lately about prison abolition, transformative justice, and accountability. Here's a thing that's really crystallized for me:
If you think a person should be killed for their actions, say so, because that's where we have to start the conversation.
Otherwise, it's important to reflect on what you want to have happen, what accountability could look like.
Wanting a person to leave and go to a different community, where nobody is aware of their behavior patterns, displaces and amplifies risk. The vision isn't complete yet.
Wanting a person to have no community or connections, and to be isolated in their sense of shameful grief, is functionally the same thing as wanting them to be killed for their actions. People die under those conditions.
I want to talk a little bit about the tools I use to do tabletop roleplaying game design, and the process by which I use them.
I know that everyone's process is different, but maybe learning more about mine will be inspiring or helpful for how you approach your next project!
For me, the thing that kills my love for a project the quickest is feeling stuck and tired, and I encounter this ever time I sit down in front of a blank page and try to just *force* writing out of myself.
As a result, I work really hard to avoid the dreaded blank page.
The first phase of a design, for me, is always a mixture of idle musing in my own brain + two-way exploratory conversations over tea with loved ones.
Even if I have specific mechanics forming in my brain, I try not to put anything on paper until I have a vision, a desired feel.
Game designers, aspiring and established! I want to share a little bit about my experience of shifting from being a hobby publisher in the tabletop roleplaying industry to doing it full-time as my primary income source. This is just my experience, but maybe it's useful to you!
I released my first game in 2006, with a POD (print-on-demand) run of 100 copies. I was seventeen, I didn't know what I was doing, I was just happy to be there.
I kept designing avidly, releasing new stuff in 2009 & 2011. People liked my work, it got played, I made side income.
I had two successful kickstarters in 2012 (Monsterhearts and The Quiet Year), and during that same year fractured my pelvis and then upon recovery relocated to a new community. I couldn't work the jobs I'd been working, and throwing myself into publishing more seemed exciting!
Over the summer, I've been putting together a few threads looking back at my time in game design (my journey as a designer; games that influenced me).
I had this idea to do a thread where I unpack game design ideas/theory that influenced me along the way, especially older stuff.
It felt like an important thing to take stock of, because (a.) it informed the work I made and was exposed to, but more importantly (b.) theory is often jargon-laded and difficult to penetrate, and people can feel shut-out by conversations they aren't welcomed into.
I'm especially thinking about theory that emerged from The Forge and the Big Model, right now, because that's the analysis I was trained on.
But the more I thought about what I might want to relay, the shorter the list got.
When I was first getting into roleplaying games, @PaulCzege's My Life with Master (released 2003) was the first game to truly ignite my imagination. Its text was both atmospheric and conversational. Its design was spare and built upon emotional landscapes. It had an endgame!
Next, I discovered Shock: Social Science Fiction, released 2006 by @JoshuaACNewman. At first, I found the writing alien! I'd never seen neo-pronouns before! But Shock's setting matrix was fascinating - it enlisted the players in defining both the themes and verbs of their story.
My Life with Master invited players to think about, take ownership of, and extend its aesthetics. Shock invited the players to do the same with its material analysis of how technologies inevitably transform human relations. Those invitations both strike me as profound even today.
Any time someone says libraries are obsolete, I am baffled.
They must not have kids. They must have zero experience with poverty. They must never have backpacked, travelled, or migrated anywhere. They must have had private access to computers since a formative age.
They must not access support groups, community education, meetups, or social services. I guess they don't poster for their own events either. They must not read much, or they must read at exorbitant personal cost. I guess they don't care about multigenerational spaces much?
Libraries have free, air-conditioned kids play spaces! They have high-quality kids programming for newborns, pre-k, school-age kids, and often tweens and teens. They have skillshares, resource groups, and meetups. They teach elders how to use a computer for the first time.
Hey, rpg designers! Are you working on a Powered By The Apocalypse or Forged In The Dark game? You will gain immense design insights by playing a bunch of games of Sentinels of the Multiverse, the co-op card game. Find a friend who has it!
Also I'll just spoil the lessons here.
In Sentinels of the Multiverse, you're a team of heroes, fighting a supervillain, in an interesting environment. Each hero is a deck of cards. So is the villain. So is the environment.
You go around in a circle, playing cards, using superpowers, suffering devastating blows.
The reason that Sentinels of the Multiverse is a game worth studying is that each hero has a unique deck, and each deck has an internal logic. Some characters are all about assembling an array of equipment. Others are about healing damage in order to do damage. Others just punch.
Tomorrow marks fifty years since the Stonewall riots broke out, so I'm thinking lots about gay history.
Specifically, I'm thinking about how gay marriage and gay military services are often spat at by anti-assimilationist queers, in a way that seems to forget history.
(I'm writing this as an anti-capitalist, anti-war, anti-assimilationist queer, one who is still young, one who is slowly trying to reconstruct an understanding of queer history across time and cultures.)
Gay culture in north america was shaped by the first and second world wars. Men met, experimented, coupled, and explored their identities in the navy. Women did the same in the factories, broken from the several-centuries-long standard of isolated domesticity by wartime need.
You know that thing where your coworker calls you in a panic wondering if you can cover their shift so they can stay home sick, and nobody else can do it? So you cancel your plans to cover them?
That has been an intentional part of north-american capitalism since the 1990s.
It's a practice called lean staffing, which emerges from lean production. When North Americans adopted "lean production" from Japanese business practices, they drifted it and called it "lean and mean."
Short-staffing to strategically capture your unworked hours is intentional.
When I worked at Starbucks in 2007, my manager had a computer program that analyzed our sales data and determined the number of hours our store needed to function smoothly. He always under-scheduled by ~7.
When I talk online about prison abolition, the most common and basic question that comes up is "then what would we do with all the murderers and rapists?"
Sometimes, it seems like a bad-faith derailment. But other times, it seems to come from a place of sincerity and curiosity.
I want to answer that question in earnest, to the best of my ability! Everything I'm about to say has been learned from writing done by @radfagg, @prisonculture, works like The Revolution Starts At Home, and Black liberation movement thinkers generally.
In answering that question, the first thing that comes up for me is another: "well, what do we do with them now?"
In the case of rape & sexual violence, we know that rapists rarely go to jail. RAINN reports that less than 1% of rapes lead to convictions. rainn.org/statistics/cri…