This Week in RPG Dumpster Fires
Over the past week, we’ve seen a few big controversies evolve in the tabletop RPG space. The newest Vampire 5th edition sourcebooks reframed real-world events as vampire plots instead of human atrocities, James Raggi of Lamentations of the Flame Princess fame kind of professed his love of misogynist affirming Jordan Peterson, and Venger Satanis tried desperately to be relevant once again by making light of the realities that trans people have to deal with on a day to day basis.
There is one thing that unifies all these things in my mind, beyond them all broadly being in the tabletop RPG sphere. There are people adjacent to these games that I wish would say more about these situations.
Before I get too deep into this, I want to own up, once again, to my own shortcomings. I’ve seen racism, religious intolerance, and sexism at tables before, and not said anything. I feel like I’ve gotten better at calling these things out and fostering a safe environment in recent years, but I’m not innocent of thinking “that’s bad, but it would be easier and more comfortable to ignore it and hope it goes away.”
I’ve never called myself anything other than “OSR adjacent.” I appreciate some older game design and aesthetics, but I also like shiny new toys too much to do anything more than dabble in “old school.” Even my most preferred “old school” game, Dungeon Crawl Classics, is not universally regarded as “old school” by many that self-identify with the OSR title. That said, I’ve seen enough of the OSR that I have opinions, which may be way off base or wrong, but that are hard to shake.
There is a lot of creativity in the OSR, but I think two of the biggest issues that surround the community are as follows:
- Unbridled creativity means you can’t ever question what someone else has said—free speech above all!
- I don’t feel this way, maybe my friends don’t feel this way, but someone in my circles is adjacent to someone that feels this way, and I don’t want to make waves
I think that sometimes the fear in the OSR is that “I like exactly how my circle of contacts works, and if I do one thing differently, it may change, and I don’t want change.” Those “bad actors” can just keep popping up on the periphery, and we’ll just hope they don’t get any MORE traction than they have.
If the OSR is really a group of people that like the way certain games are played, and aren’t just long term fans that don’t want to move on to new game styles, it’s going to be important to elaborate what you like, cut out people that have odious opinions, and attract new people to the style of gaming that you love, even if they weren’t there “back in the day.”
Doing the Right Thing
I would also like to give massive credit to Stewart Robertson, creator of the most ubiquitous OSR logo out there for this statement:
I really appreciate what he has said and done in this situation.
Not to focus too much on just the OSR, let’s look at Vampire. Vampire had some big warning signs going into the publication of 5th edition. By no means do I believe that everyone associated with the game was equally responsible for questionable content. There was, however, questionable content. For every person that wanted the game to explore mature themes, there was someone that wanted the game to be “mature” because it was “being naughty,” and that meant doing over the top, sensational things.
Before publication, Vampire did two things—they issue a half-hearted apology about potential alt-right content, and at the last minute, they hired Jacqueline Bryk to write a section on safety in the game.
Before I go any further, I know I may have some people take umbrage at my comment that the initial apology about the playtest materials was half-hearted. I say this because it was very much “hey, we hate Nazis as much as the next person,” but not much in the way of a plan for avoiding potential pitfalls in the future.
Still, these actions helped sooth a lot of frazzled nerves. I know a lot of gamers that love the new edition. The FLGS owner almost had me sold on picking up a copy. The book itself didn’t seem quite as controversial as some of the playtest material had seemed. But I still felt a little hesitant.
And then we started seeing how the first round of sourcebooks were going. Hate crimes in Chechnya were portrayed as kind of a smokescreen for vampire atrocities, and people that commit suicide were portrayed as being weak. It was the kind of “edgy and relevant above all” content that people were a little concerned about in the core book.
Paradox Entertainment, the current owners of White Wolf, laid out a rather extensive plan for how they would react to the content that made it into the books. White Wolf was being restructured, and the actual World of Darkness line was going to be managed by RPG third party publishers. It was a more extensive, action-plan reinforced apology.
That said, a lot of big name, big audience RPG folks jumped on the Vampire bandwagon as soon as the core book didn’t seem to be the alt-right mess the playtest materials intimated. While I’ve seen a lot of people that would be the target audience for Vampire decry the situation, I haven’t seen a lot of the high-profile people that jumped on the bandwagon say much about it.
I’m not passing judgment. I’ve failed in the past to do the right thing. I hope I don’t in the future, but it is an easy thing to do. Sometimes it’s just more comfortable to say nothing and wait for everything to blow by. I’m just saying that I hope that someday, when controversies like this hit the gaming community, we’re not as slow to call out bad actors, or show our support for people pointing out uncomfortable truths.
“What about . . . ?”
Yes, there are other parts of the hobby that have been offensive, exclusive, or problematic. Please don’t take my commentary on the last week of RPG history as all-inclusive of the sins of the industry. There are elitist and exclusionary people adjacent to, and even driving, all kinds of movements in the RPG industry.
I don’t want you to enjoy your hobby any less. I want you to be able to share your hobby with more people that don’t feel safe sitting at a game table right now.