Weekend Reading 33

Our Weekend Reading series (brought to you by our Patreon backers) continues with a curated selection of articles—and a few other things—from around the Internet that interested us this week! We’re currently on an every-other-week schedule.

Peter

I’m pretty squarely on the record as finding playing evil characters to be distasteful. I think the main reason for that is I experience a lot of “bleed” and when I do something horrible to an undeserving party, even in a fictional context, I often experience very real guilt and remorse even though I know I was doing something fictional. I can detach more easily as a GM for some reason, but the one time I really tried an evil PC as a player still doesn’t sit terribly well with me, and it was over a decade ago. This makes playing “nasty characters” an unpleasant, stressful experience for me. However, I know there are lots of other folks who enjoy exploring more diverse character types, but still don’t want to actually hurt the people they’re playing with. With that in mind, I heartily recommend this article. It’s primarily aimed at LARP players, but I think a lot of the advice will be perfectly applicable to tabletop players and GMs. (There is some cursing in the article, just as an FYI.)

In this article, I will address some things to keep in mind when playing certain types of characters: villains, cruel bastards, heartless manipulators, unsympathetic types, mighty evil overlords or schoolyard bullies. For simplicity’s sake, I will just call them nasty characters. You might want to play such characters for various reasons, because the story needs an evil emperor as well as heroic rebels, or because you want to explore the psychology behind cruel actions. Or perhaps just because it’s a fun acting challenge.

More Richard Beck from me is hardly a surprise, but this little post is one of my favorite things he’s ever written and I find it incredibly profound, because the problem he describes is one I have with regularity.

I’ve noticed that, whenever we face hard choices and decisions, we tend to gravitate to the question “What is the right to do?”

More and more I’ve come to the conclusion that, as human beings, we rarely know what is the right thing to do. There are no guarantees. We cannot see into the future. There are things we may be missing.

Today (Friday, February 2nd) is Groundhog Day, and in honor of the movie by the same name (which was shot in Woodstock, IL, the town I grew up in!) And in honor of that, I share this very interesting and insightful article about what makes it such a unique, interesting, and good movie.

Groundhog Day succeeds as a film because of the way it plays with, subverts, and outright mocks the tropes of each of the genres it flirts with. While some people would call it a time travel movie, or a movie about small town America, or the most spiritual film of all time, or a rom-com, it is by breaking the rules of each of those types of films that it ultimately transcends genre entirely.

Jenny

I spent a large part of the middle school years playing flash games on various websites across the internet. One of my favourite ones was about a ninja making his way across a city to defeat his former master. If I recall correctly, it was a platformer featuring a grappling hook-based movement system. This game, Dandara, looks like it has a similar movement system, and also looks more challenging, and also looks like it’s about taking out an evil dictator, which I am all for. It’s coming out on February 6th, and I am very happy about it.

Dandara puts an interesting twist on your usual side-scrolling platformer. The titular heroine, Dandara, doesn’t actually walk or run, she jumps everywhere, clinging to walls, ceilings, and floors. Ricocheting through levels, you’ll encounter enemies and unlock attacks and secrets along the way. Combined with the topsy-turvy level design and a hectic environment, it’s highly exploratory and looks like a ton of fun to play.

One of the soapboxes I will probably die on is my Affordable and Efficient Housing soapbox. I don’t want to get onto that soapbox right now, but I do want to say that I think Rev. Faith Fowler of Detroit is doing a great job of showing how the church can do charitable works that last beyond a few meals, and contribute positively to communities in need of shelter. Here’s an article about how her church’s charity is building tiny, rent-to-own houses for homeless individuals.

The seven tiny houses that dot the northwest Detroit street of Elmhurst are charming and unique. Each seems to have a personality.
While the batch of homes has become something of a mecca for architecturally curious tourists, their purpose goes far deeper than a trend.
The houses aim is to help low-income people, and specifically, formerly homeless individuals, attain an asset and begin to accrue wealth.

It is generally held to be a truth of gaming culture that gaming stories have a time and a place, and that time and place is generally during game night, with the party from which the story originated, and nowhere else. But every now and then, you come across the perfect group, or the perfect game, or the perfect story, and something magical happens, and you end up with a gaming story worth spreading. Such seems to be the case with Record of Lodoss War and its spin-offs, which are the anime and manga product of a long-term D&D campaign.

If you’re a long-time anime fan, you probably did a bit of a double-take at this season’s Record of Grancrest War. The title, and the setup, are more than a little like the now-classic Record of Lodoss War. And for good reason: both are the creation of writer Ryo Mizuno, and both — while in different universes — have a similar adventure flavor to them.
But there’s one more thing they have in common: they’re both built up from tabletop campaigns. Because not only is Mizuno a writer, he’s also an RPG developer and a Dungeon Master. With that in mind, let’s dive back into the earliest history of Record of Lodoss War: past Spark, past Parn and Deedlit, all the way back to a D&D game back in the mid-1980s.

Grant

These aren’t reading, but I’m still gonna recommend them! We’ve never had him on the show, but Hawke Robinson has been working on research into roleplaying games and their therapeutic uses since 1983. The founder of RPGResearch.com, Hawke’s got a ton to say about the subject and is a great resource. He’s also the guest on the latest episode of Dragon Talk, the ‘official’ D&D podcast from Wizards of the Coast. If you’re interested in the topic, I strongly recommend listening to it! In a similar vein, the Min/Max Podcast has been doing a series they’re calling ‘#MedicineCheck’ on gaming and mental health, in a somewhat broader sweep than we’ve done on our show. Episode 32 features Dr. Marsha Vaughn; Episode 33 features Rev. Dr. Cindy Wallace; and Episode 34 features longtime friend of the show Jack Berkenstock. Those three episodes are all well worth your time too.

I’m still a little bit shocked by the recent death of Ursula K. Le Guin. I haven’t read quite everything she’s written, but everything I have read has been powerful, and each work left me changed—always for the better. If you’re unfamiliar with her work, I can think of no better place to start than her short story “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas”, which can be found in its full text online. It displays in full her crisp, stark voice, powerful in its simplicity. I cannot recommend it enough, nor her other works.

[…] They were not simple folk, you see, though they were happy. But we do not say the words of cheer much any more. All smiles have become archaic. Given a description such as this one tends to make certain assumptions. Given a description such as this one tends to look next for the King, mounted on a splendid stallion and surrounded by his noble knights, or perhaps in a golden litter borne by great-muscled slaves. But there was no king. They did not use swords, or keep slaves. They were not barbarians. I do not know the rules and laws of their society, but I suspect that they were singularly few. As they did without monarchy and slavery, so they also got on without the stock exchange, the advertisement, the secret police, and the bomb. Yet I repeat that these were not simple folk, not dulcet shepherds, noble savages, bland utopians. […]

Finally, I recommend this article in The Guardian: “Prize launched for thrillers that avoid sexual violence against women”. The prize is funded by author and screenwriter Bridget Lawless, to counter this common, exploitative trope:

The Staunch book prize will disqualify any work that does not meet its criteria of no woman in the story being “beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered”. It is open to stories across the thriller genre – crime, psychological, comedy and mysteries – and to traditionally published, self-published and not-yet-published works.

“I’m certainly not alone in getting increasingly fed up and disgusted with fictional depictions of violence happening to women in books, films and television. It echoes, exaggerates, fetishises and normalises what happens to women in the real world. But I know there are writers creating thrilling and complex work without going there,” she writes on the prize’s website. […]

Lawless acknowledged that not all thrillers depicting crimes against women are gratuitous or exploitative. “Of course, there are [good thrillers tackling this topic] but they are not for this prize,” she said. “How we see women depicted and treated in fiction does spread out to the wider world and how women are treated there. That battle is far from won, but there is definitely a climate change. People are fed up with it. Here’s my alternative.”

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