Category Archives: Blog

SOLVE ET COAGULA: Now Available!

Hello, friends.
I just released a new PDF on the DM’s Guild – Solve et Coagula: A Practical Guide to Alchemy.
It provides some solid rules on playing alchemist characters, with lots of new alchemical equipment, tools for those that enjoy playing characters who craft alchemical items, a smidge of alchemical history for the Forgotten Realms, advice on making adjustments to several Backgrounds to play a variety of different kinds of alchemists, PLUS three entirely new Character Archetypes based around alchemical themes: the College of the Great Work for bards, the Mountebank for rogues, and the Azoth-Infused for sorcerers!
Check it out!

Queer Design & DMing for RPGs: Some Advice

I originally wrote this as a reply to a gentleman who is giving a panel in which he wanted to touch on queerness in gaming, in terms of what to keep in mind, what to consider, and what to avoid. This was my response to him, which I figured was useful enough to keep around.

So, in my experience, when we’re talking about queer sexual orientations in particular, it’s important to emphasize that our identities are more than just what goes on “in the bedroom.” I cannot tell you how many folk like to go to the “Well, my game doesn’t really use sexuality at all, so I don’t include gay people because I never include even straight romances, so there’s no problem.”

 
The part where that unravels, usually, is when I express interest in their fascinating setting where everyone reproduces by budding, and there are no marriages or spouses of any kind.

 
The fact is that stories as simple as “the king and his queen sit next to each other on the dais” is the introduction of heterosexual identities into the narrative. Most people don’t *see it* that way, but that’s part of the culture we live in, whereby the traits of heterosexual pairings are considered “normal” and not even remarked upon. It’s not *bad*, but it’s important to acknowledge.

For designers and GMs, I feel like the most important thing you can do is based on the game you are working.
 
If the game is set in our world, there really ought to be queer folk in it. Queerness ought to be character-focused first. It is best to avoid tired stereotypes, yes, but by and large this works best by the “surprise yourself” sort of route. Don’t set out to create a queer character – unintended biases will creep into that. Instead, just create a character, and when you’re done, make it part of your process to ask what their orientation is. If you find yourself saying things like, “Well, s/he’s obviously straight”, those are often the best ones to make queer (which should definitely include genuinely bisexual characters; bi-erasure is a very real thing). Challenge expectations.

 
It’s important at this point to remind folk what representation does. In a cast of characters, if you have a single character of any minority, you have made that character the Atlas for that identity – narratively speaking, they’re basically holding the entire queer or black or disabled or female world on their shoulders if there is no one else. That’s not always bad – sometimes your cast is limited. But you need to be aware of it, because whatever you say about that character will be interpreted as being said about their minority group as a whole. It’s why stories in which the only queer character is a villain are Bad News, because beyond notions of queer-coding villainy, it’s also basically saying “gays = villains”. Diversity divides that burden up some, and frees you up to employ a bit more actual leeway in the dynamics of characters.

 
Now, if your design work is not just characters in the “real world” (where we generally have an okay idea of where and how queerness impacts the culture), the designer and GM really needs to spend some time thinking about where alternate sexualities come into play in that culture. How do queer romantic bonds form among folk from that culture, how do they demonstrate it, what are the rituals that acknowledge it, how does the rest of the culture respond to it? All very important, because in addition to making sure there is “space” for queer folk in that culture, you are also adding interesting setting detail, and that’s a good thing. I also look askance at any fantasy setting that has room for talking dragons and the resurrection of the dead, but a total absence of queerness.

 
By and large, I recommend inclusion of queerness not come with assumptions of prejudice and cultural antagonism. That said, though, I wouldn’t call homophobic cultures verboten. Instead, a culture’s ingrained homophobia – like other cultural traits like racism, sexism, slavery, and the like – should instead be clarion calls for the PCs to change that world. The designer should not assume that their reader is going to pick this out, though – call it out.
 
Likewise, the GM should not assume their players will pick up on that. Before a GM brings a homophobic setting to the table, they really need to have a very directed and pointed discussion with everyone at that table about that. They need to make sure everyone is comfortable with that sort of game, and should have a very clear discussion about how acceptable having actual homophobic PCs is (the default answer should be it is not, by and large). Even at a table where you “know everyone really well” and feel like you’re “adult enough to maturely roleplay that”, not only do you run the risk of someone who is not yet out suddenly finding the game to be a threatening place, but you are also contributing to what is called the normalization of bigoted thought, in this case homophobia.

I’m including a page from my personal wiki (please feel free to give excerpts) where I did some intentional cultural design work around various ways of expressing queer sexualities: http://oakthorne.net/wiki/index.php?title=Sexuality_in_Liminal

Thirty Years a Gamer

Spring Break, 1986.

 

Thirty years ago, my mom took some work out on South Padre Island doing cleaning in the aftermath of the Spring Breakers who make it out there every year. As part of that process, she discovered something some university student had left there – the red box of Dungeons & Dragons.

 

I was twelve at the time, and already reading all the fantasy I could get my hands on, so she saw something she figured I would really like, and brought it home to me. I read through it, and was hooked immediately.

 

As of this year, I have been playing role-playing games for thirty years. It has been a focus of my creative efforts (written and visual), an escape for a queer kid trapped in poverty in a Texas border town, a source of hours of fun that didn’t involve drugs or alcohol in a time and place where there was almost no chance of getting out of childhood without a heavy dose of both, a place where I met some of the people I still cherish to this day, and ultimately, the focus of my vocation as an adult.
I’ve been a gamer longer than I’ve been a writer. I’ve identified as a gamer long before I identified as queer. It’s been a part of who I am for so long that I don’t actually have a good memory of a time when I wasn’t one.
And I owe it all to that red box my mom brought home, and to that forgetful (probably hungover) college student that forgot to check his bedside stand’s drawers and grab that red box when he was packing his rented condo room after Spring Break.

Civil War & Stucky: Why Good Representation Helps All Our Narratives

I am not even going to lie: I am Stucky-shipping filth.
For those who have no idea what I just wrote, this means that in the steaming dumpster I call a brain, I take a great deal of satisfaction from seeing a romantic timbre to the relationship between Steve Rogers (portrayed by Chris Evans) and Bucky (portrayed by Sebastian Stan) in the MCU. Lots of folks have myriad feelings about this, but at the end of the day, I don’t really give a damn. My fandom, my dumpster fire.
But why do I do this? Why is this so important to me, enough to make me watch with hawk-like raptness any interaction between those characters, just waiting to pounce on the slightest indication of that romantic relationship, however super-heroics-fraught it may be?

GaymerX Debriefing

The Queer as a Three-Sided Die (Qd3) Panel
I’m on the plane home from the fantastic GaymerX, writing this in my phone’s note-taking app.
More than any other convention I’ve ever been to, this convention was about the people. Lots of people, in a bewildering variety, from all over the place.
From the trim-and-put-together Aussie Liam to the fabulously fey Raine to the handsome trio of beard-and-mohawk’d lads in the audience of several of our panels. From the adorable Lauren to David Gaider (whom I sat next to in the Coming Out in the Game Industry panel and did my best to not fanboy at) to the amazing Tanya (whom I just wanted to follow around, puppy-dog like because I loved both her voice and the things she said with it), I met amazing people sitting at panels with us.
And the good folk who ran the event, certainly. Brian who made things happen all around him, a tornado in reverse, leaving order and effectiveness in his wake. The irrepressible Tim, who ran the Tabletop portion of things and was an amazing host and organizer (and does a HELL of a Toydarian accent!). And certainly the volunteer staff, those Sprites who were everywhere working hard to make the show run smoothly. Of them, special thanks goes to David, a winningly-smiling Sprite who ran out to grab me a meal when my body was just not having any more.
And this is why we do this. Human beings build connections in two main ways: shared interests and shared experiences.  Is it any wonder we form such strong bonds at our myriad geek-gatherings, then, that provide us the opportunity for both?
We played and ran games, we spoke on panels about diversity and justice and coming out and the very gods themselves, we founds wonderful things and worthy projects in the exhibition hall, we deepened bonds with friends old and new.
I had a great deal of fun, and I can’t wait for next year. GX4, you can’t get here soon enough for me. 🙂

Is Sacred Band a story for me?


A good friend of mine recently asked me an interesting question. Knowing that my novel Sacred Band is about a team of queer superheroes, he was wondering if there was anything in the book “for him.”
To be brutally honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how to answer that.
I mean, on one hand, it’s a story about superheroes solving a problem no one else wants to and fighting bad guys along the way. I’m biased enough to think it’s an interesting story, with good characters, and a likeable enough plot that anyone who does like supers could pick it up and enjoy it.
But on the other hand? It’s a queer story, about queer characters, and it doesn’t hesitate to be or balk at being exactly that, without apologies. Characters experience attractions that are same-sex, folks discuss the ways in which identity and orientation impact their experience, and we see some of the problems that face a small team of queer supers determined to be heroes in a world that claims to protect everyone but often leaves “those types” out in the cold.
Thinking about it, there are certainly straight characters in the story, but none of them are major characters. Does that limit the reach of my story? Does it reduce the “accessibility” of my novel? It’s a distinct possibility.
But the way I see it is this: I’ve been reading fiction involving straight, cisgendered males for nigh on three decades now. And I’ve loved those stories, even though their growing-up stories were not mine, their stories of self-discovery were not mine, and their stories of love, romance, and relationships were not mine.
Maybe it’s naive to think that if I’m able to connect with stories that never reflected me in their pages, my story can connect with readers who do not find themselves in its pages.
Buy Sacred Band here!

GaymerX Games & Panels


 
I’ve been invited to be one of the “Bosses of Honor” for the GaymerX Convention in San Jose in December, and I have to admit, I’m rather looking forward to it! My schedule looks a little something like this:
Friday
Coming Out in the Game Industry: 1pm – 2pm. A panel that looks at some of the experiences some folks in the gaming industry have had with coming out while in it, and some of the issues we still face.
Saturday
To Catch a Flown Crow (A Song of Ice & Fire Roleplaying): 10am – 2pm. Two groups meet north of the Wall: a small band of wildlings and a small patrol of rangers. Both discover they have a common aim: to bring to justice a turncloak Night’s Watch Ranger, so they join forces to do just that.
Queer as a Three-Sided Die: 3pm – 4pm. The well-loved gaymer panel that a handful of industry folks do every year at GenCon is coming to GaymerX! Looks at history of queerness in tabletop roleplaying, and covers advice on introducing such into your campaigns.
Queering Divinities: Diversifying Your Fantasy Religion: 6pm – 7pm. A panel that looks at fantasy deific pantheons, and how to introduce or emphasize queerness in both the identities of the gods and in the structures of their faiths.
Sunday
GM Skills for Immersive Roleplay: 10am – 1pm. A workshop-style presentation intended to arm GMs in the process of providing opportunities for more in-depth roleplaying in their games.

Preparations for GamExpo

It’s been a while since I’ve been back to San Antonio, and I have to admit I’m looking forward to it. It looks like I’ll be part of a handful of panels while there, and I’m going to see if I can arrange an impromptu reading of a chunk of Sacred Band while I’m there.

Inaugural Blog Post

Hello, world. This is the beginning of my author’s blog. Though I know contemporary wisdom up to two years ago said an author basically had no chance of success without a blog, but now says that there’s no hope of using a blog to gain writerly success unless you started like five years ago, I’m not terribly worried about all of that.
I’m blogging for me, because that’s the only way I’m going to give enough of a damn to do stuff like this. I need a place where I can ramble on in longer form than my Facebook allows, where I can talk some about my book long after anyone is interested in still listening to me throw around ideas, track word count, and all the rest of that, you know?
So here we go.
Progress: Sacred Band