I Guess I’m Going To Talk About The Stuff of Legends

Picture1What’s going on today in RPG circles? Wait, what, the size of a puppet’s . . . that’s not what I was expecting. Not what I was expecting at all.

So Wizards of the Coast has been promoting the Stuff of Legends show, which has just debuted. If you haven’t heard of this show, it is a show where we get to see people playing D&D. That’s a pretty common trend these days. However, the actions that the characters take are illustrated with puppets.

This isn’t a streaming show, but rather a recorded and produced play experience, with the clips of the puppets interspersed with the group of players around the table. Beyond the puppets, the other novelty of this show is that there are graphics that illustrate the die rolls that are being made. This is something I greatly enjoyed in the unfortunately short lived Titan’s Grave show, featuring Green Ronin’s Fantasy AGE system.

But What is the Controversy

One of the puppets, representing a dragonborn player character, has very large breasts. My initial thought on this was that this was a meta-commentary on the fact that in 4th edition D&D artwork, dragonborn women were portrayed as having breasts. Apparently this wasn’t the case, but it is the case that the player whose character the puppet represents specifically requested the character design in question.

This took up a lot of the oxygen of the discussion around this show. The discussion became a shorthand, and took on a life of its own. There have definitely been objectifying images of women in the fantasy genre and in Dungeons & Dragons specifically, and people even mentioned that they were glad that 5e artwork was less prone to that kind of exploitation.

I also saw many counter arguments that this was a request by the player, and that removing any reference to women with large breasts was its own kind of marginalization. I think all of this was worth talking about, but at the same time, there wasn’t a lot of talking going on, other than either showing disgust or showing support.

What struck me about the chest size discussion were people pointing out that contextually, the issue wasn’t this particular character or her portrayal, in a vacuum, but recent decisions that WOTC and tangentially the DMs Guild have made about content, cover images, and what counts as too risque, especially when one of those products was framed from a more homoerotic perspective. One of the issues is equal application of community standards, and what the endorsement of this show says regarding that ongoing issue.

At this point, I want to listen to as many people as possible, to understand perspective and context. The main criticism I’m willing to level, at least on this particular issue, is that a lot of commentary was generated from an image online, without much additional context. There was a lot of hyperbole flying around.

Because I was still forming an opinion, I decided to watch the show.

What The Controversy Should Have Been

I already described the overall premise of the show. You have four people at the table with a DM, playing the game. When they make dice rolls, a graphic shows up on the bottom of the page detailing why the dice was rolled. Then we cut away to the puppets acting out the actions described in the scene.

The crew is a group of people that are either a little familiar with D&D, or that have never played before. There is a pirate dwarf with an axe replacing their hand, a dragonborn barbarian, an apprentice wizard, and a kuo-toa rogue.

If you have ever watched a more “comedic” D&D actual play, where the group is playing so they can do outrageous things and constantly crack jokes, the tone of this show is very close to that, although we get a little more effort at characterization from a few of the players. No judgement, that’s not my kind of actual play show, but if it’s for you, enjoy.

But my concerns came when we zero in on our kuo-toa rogue. If you aren’t familiar, kuo-toa are a species of underground fish-humanoids. The description we get for this character is that he has poison skin and can jump especially well, which sounds more like a grung, but, again, I don’t care. The main point is the poison skin thing.

The character’s name is Slippy Richardson. Yes, it’s a dick joke. Still not a big concern for me. But halfway through the episode, the DM asks the players to describe their gear, and Slippy’s player describes his short bow as being called “ass-f****er,” because that’s what it does to you.

Yes, this got bleeped, and yes, it’s pretty easy to understand what was said.

I’ve told this story before, but among the players local to me, there are women who started getting into tabletop wargaming. However, the local men that were part of the group had a very bad habit of using terminology associated with sexual assault to describe their attacks and tactics.

When these players brought up their concerns, they were told they were being too sensitive, and that they would need to get used to how the group dynamic worked and grow a thicker skin. The local tabletop wargaming crowd lost gamers, and understandably so.

In addition, the character, because he has poison skin, described himself as attacking naked to roll around on goblins that the group was fighting, and in one instance specifically rubbed his underside on the face of a goblin. If you’re going this hard in the first episode, I’m kind of worried about escalation. Mainly because a character like this is 100% about shock value.

As a final note, the puppet for Slippy Richardson can be seen fondling the chest of the dragonborn barbarian. Not as part of some consensual discussion in character, just casually touching her while the player is describing her doing something else entirely. I don’t even know where to direct this ire, because I don’t think the players are the puppeteers. That’s just a really bad call on the part of the production crew.

Rotating Disk Horse

I’ll be honest, I think WOTC made a bad call officially promoting this one. I can understand why they were tempted to do so, between the novelty of the puppets and the pitch of actually showing the rolls being made, facilitating a bit more of a connection between consuming an actual play and engaging with the game rules. The reason this is problematic is for multiple reasons.

  • WOTC’s position on “adult” content is kind of a sliding scale.
  • This is very much a “shock value” concept as well as a novelty concept, because they want to show puppets doing things like setting goblins on fire, and shock value gets out of control easily
  • WOTC does not, as part of it CORE rules, discuss active table safety, and if you are going to promote shock value style play as a means of instructing players on how to engage with the game, not having active safety being shown or described is going to lead to a lot of gamers that think it’s part of the game to push everyone at the table as far as they can

So, as it turns out, my biggest concern about this show isn’t really about the biggest thing that anyone notices about the marketing. It’s about how play culture is presented, and what WOTC wants to present as acceptable and not acceptable as part of a “normal” game session.

I think this was a mistake, and I honestly wish this hadn’t come up. I don’t think this was WOTC actively looking for a show with these elements, but I do think it was WOTC not vetting the potential issues that could come up within the premise.

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