Mar 112017
 

What’s going on?

Well… as you might have noticed, G*M*S Magazine hasn’t been the most active for the last year and a bit. Mostly, this has been because my business has taken most of my time and it has been literally impossible for me to get enough time to do anything. Working 12 hours days to launch a business truly takes all your time and energy.

That has changed now and the time has come to turn G*M*S Magazine into a much better site.

Our plans for the very near future are:

  • Revamp the website: We haven’t updated the look and feel of the website for a long, long time now, and it needs it. We want to make it so it has a responsive layout that will fit in your phone and a much more interesting look so you can find all the information very easily.
  • Retake Dice & Slice: I know we have failed on that front and we should have done a lot better. The formula we used for the initial episodes was much too complex to organise and too people-dependent, so things are going to change. The format will be shorter, faster, clearer and more fun and useful.
  • Record more videos, make them more professional: I have spent the last few weeks honing my skills in video editing and compositing. Videos will have more interesting format and formula. We might not do “unboxings” again (to be decided), but we have something else for you that no one is doing (as far as we know) that should prove to be very good fun. More on this very soon!
  • Make more podcasts: The interviews are back, but this time we are not getting into Kickstarter projects anymore. We can cover Kickstarter projects that have funded and delivered – or not- to learn lessons, but we don’t want the channels to become an echo chamber for adverts.
  • Get a studio: We are going to work hard to get our own studio so we can have all the equipment setup and ready to record at the drop of a game. That should help us create more content, better and faster.

To achieve all that we have setup a Patreon campaign.

Please help us if you can. Share if you can’t. We want to increase the rhythm of production, but we desperately need your help for that. Every penny counts. Please take a look at the Patron page and tell us what you think.

Or just tell us what you think, period. We would truly love to hear from you.

Thank you.

Feb 142017
 

gay_characters_2Let’s concentrate on the people who don’t know how to deal with characters who are non-straight.

I am prepared to believe some don’t know how to deal with that because there are people who live in areas where it is less accepted, there are less outed people or whatever other reason. I am going to think they are not homophobes, just ignorant. It happens… nothing wrong with that.

So, blessed as I am by knowing a lot of LGBTQI people, I went to my social network circles and asked around. And I got a lot of really good advice.

To start with, my friend James Pisanich said: “For people at your house I recommend you just forget their sexual identity and treat everyone as a friend”.

And this is sound advice. Just imagine those player characters are your friends. To some degree, they are an extension of the player friend who is playing them. Does it matter to you if your friends are LGBTQI? If it matters to you, then you are part of the homophobe group, this part of the article doesn’t apply to you. No part of this article applies to you.

Otherwise, treat that character as you treat your friend. Don’t make their sexuality an issue. Just let it be there as and when your friend decides it should be. It will probably be less often than you might think.

Someone I do respect a great deal, Erik Scott de Bie  said: “…it’s all about casual inclusion. The male bartender whose husband is the cook. The snot-nosed noble heir who has both male and female prostitutes hanging on him. The beautiful elf lady who dotes on an elderly matron who has been her lover for fifty years… You just have these characters show up and don’t treat it as strange or unexpected.”

The point made by Erik also makes perfect sense and it works well: Just let those things be, just not be the centre of anything. And drop them in as if they were the most natural thing in the world. In a fantasy world – and all RPG worlds have a very healthy dose of fantasy – it could easily be the most natural thing in the world.

Erik also goes out to point that “A lot of people confuse “sexuality” with “sexual,” thinking that including non-straight people is tantamount to including sex in a game.”

This is probably the strongest fear a lot of people have: If I have gay characters, I will have to have gay sex. Establishing as part of the social contract around a table a “no graphic sex scenes” game – either straight or homosexual – will solve that problem. You can then concentrate on having fun with the characters.

Avoiding casual homophobic language is also something you can do and it is a lot more important than you might think. Questioning their manhood for being gay or likening them to women will only help make people feel uncomfortable, even if it is something that socially accepted.

I know this can be hard, specially if you know the person and ar used to joking with them, so ask them for help. Ask them to point out when you have inadvertently overstepped the mark. You will find out it is a lot more often than you realise.

Which leads me to the next point: Ask your players. If you are unsure about how to deal with a character from the LGBTQI spectrum, check with your player and ask what they need from you as a GM, or as a game companion. It is unlikely that person will chastise you for asking. It depends how you ask, but it is unlikely.

Of course you could also turn the whole adventure into an LGBTQI issue, as suggested by both Erik and Jessie Foster. How about a princess who asks your help to bring her lover back who has been sent away by her homophobic father? Why not have a prince who wants to be smuggled away to be with his knight? And why not having a prince asking you to gather some components for a spell that will transform her body into a female body so she can feel complete?

However, if you are going to go with this, do check with your players. They might be dealing with similar issues in reality and need the game as a means of escapism. Shawn Harris made a great point that “LGBT people know more about homophobia and transphobia than cishet people, so either leave it alone (‘cuz you’d be surprised what went on historically) or ask for tips from the player.”

Also, make sure that homosexuality is not the enemy. Don’t use any NPC’s sexuality as the reason why they are in the wrong, or the antagonist.

Overall, the safest bet is to, simply, not make a big deal of it. Remember you are playing a game, not a life-depending reenactment that will cost you anything.

Just have fun and let people have fun.

Feb 122017
 

images-18[1]Oftentimes I have found people complaining that LGBTQI characters don’t fit in some games. Somehow, having a non-straight character at the table could destroy the fine veil of historic believability a fantasy world has to offer.

Needless to say, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the real reasons are nothing to do with history or believability. There are many reasons behind this behaviour. That is an excuse I will concentrate on for this article.

However, I was given a genuine reason and it is a reason I want to concentrate on today: ignorance.

People who feel uncomfortable either having a character at the table, or playing a non-player character when they direct a game, because they are worried the portrayal of the LGBTQI character will be flawed.

To say that LGBTQI people have existed since the dawn of time is to state the obvious. Numerous records point at people with homosexual tendencies, transexuality, intersexuality, etc, from ancient times to today. It really doesn’t take too much to find serious studies on the topic from very specialised viewpoints.

You can easily find photos of people in same sex relationships in the 1800s USA, and 1800s and 1920s in the USA and the United Kingdom. And those were times when being out was far more dangerous than today.

If we can find people who were ready to have their photo taken, imagine how many more there were hidden. And those people were entrepreneurs, doctors, nurses, policemen… actors, directors.

Hence, even though the American government decided the first amendment did not apply to movies for a while and decided it was illegal to depict LGBTQI characters in movies, there were numerous references and appearances of gay characters during this period.

Even during that time, some creators found less plausible to have a world without gay characters and face fines than completely shut us down.

Because there were gay people. There were private clubs where people could go to have same sex encounters without being prosecuted or vilified. Or at least run a lower risk of being found out.

In short, there were Gays at times when we believe everything was soooo hard for them to be alive without being killed on sight.

Of course that extends to the middle ages with numerous studies showing different levels of tolerance towards LGBTQI people. We can also find LGBTQI people in the Middle East through the ages, or India, Japan and Native American Culture.

Therefore, to say that a Gay character doesn’t fit in the setting can only be a product of homophobia or ignorance. Because people were there.

So how can this be applied to RPGs?

Well, firstly it is a matter of deciding to what extent the historical background of the game matters. You, as a team of players, must decide if having Elder Ones in a game is OK but LGBTQI people are not. If having knights with magical swords is OK but having a Transgender NPC is too much. If seeing dragons or throwing fire balls is fine but a Lesbian Cleric is just not possible.

If you want to decide that LGBTQI has no place around your table, well… so be it. You are probably a homophobe.

I would also say you are doing a great disservice to RPGs. You are not playing them right.

Yes, I am saying there is way to play RPGs incorrectly if you think there were no LGBTQI people in ancient cultures, there were.

The application of the historic background and attitude towards LGBTQI people are optional. Nothing stops you from having an Inquisitor who is more interested in the mission he is going to entask the group with than one particular character. Nothing stops you from having a police officer in the 1920s who has better things to do than hassling an character for being gay. Nothing stops you from having a Shogun who has decided that a Samurai’s bravery is worth more than the rules about homosexuality. Nothing stops you from having any excuse to let your friend play a LGBTQI character.

Because the fact is that it doesn’t matter if someone wants to run a gay character. If it is a problem, then you should wonder if the problem is you. It probably is you.

By now I have already proven that they were accepted at times and places where we believe they weren’t. And that there was a support network, sometimes hidden. And people willing to risk their lives to show that we were there.

So, please, no more “gay people don’t fit in the system”. It doesn’t work.

Jan 222017
 

220px-Anita_Sarkeesian_headshot[1]Apparently, recently I did a “Sarkeesian”. A few days ago, in the Spanish version of this blog, I uploaded a video in which I introduced the X-Card. A tool I find reasonable enough and simple enough to use around the table to increase safety, especially when playing with stranger.

For some reason I won’t qualify, someone who admitted to not having seen the video, read the article or the X-Card document, decided that the X-Card is a stupid thing and that safe spaces are nonsensical bullshit, and accused me of “doing an Sarkeesian”.

For those of you who may not know her, Anita Sarkeesian is a American-Canadian journalist who a few years ago decided to publish a series of videos called Tropes vs.  Women in Videogames. The videos are a study of how videogame culture treats female characters in a toxic way.

Although not all videogames are guilty of that, and Sakeesian’s studies can be scrutinised and debated (like any study by anyone), she was victim of an incredibly vicious intimidation and bullying campaign online. Campaign that we have seen repeated numerous times against other women in the industry in the last few years. This campaign was brutal and dangerous enough that Sarkeesian had to abandon her home, protect her immediate relatives and disappear from Twitter for a while.

Despite all that, she continued with her recordings and has become an important and influencing voice within the feminist movement in videogames culture.

According to this man who doesn’t consider safe spaces something worthy of consideration, “doing a Sarkeesian” means: To see a problem that no one has seen or cared about before and study and expose the motives of why it is a problem without anyone asking and expecting people to consider your arguments.

Let’s ignore for a second that this “gentleman” is commenting on a video and a safety net technique without even looking at it. And admitting he has no intention of watching the video or reading the article. Let’s pretend he hasn’t just got his counter-argument out of his ass.

Let’s concentrate in the fact that he implies that “to do a Sarkeesian” is a bad thing.

It took me a while to stop laughing. And believe me I laughed.

Let me see if I have got this one right…

Does he really think that to have the ability to see a problem no one has seen before, the talent and discipline to study that problem in depth and the guts to bring that to the masses, despite the obvious risk is a bad thing?

Does he really think that to have the integrity and desire to do things right and bring change to an industry so more people can enjoy more games in a safer environment is something despicable?

And does he really think that comparing my actions to those of someone I admire and respect as much as Anita Sarkeesian is a form of insult or that it will stop me from doing it again in the future?

I will leave you to answer those questions.

Dec 042016
 

my story - isolated text in vintage letterpress wood type printing blocksI just thought of something. There are two types of role playing games: Games that enable you to tell a story and games that enable you to create a story.

By Paco Garcia Jaen

My friend Jim and I often talk about games that enable good story telling vs. games that are just a killing spree with less focus on the story telling. We often disagree, as he finds games like Pathfinder or D&D generic, repetitive and, basically, not great, whereas I love a dungeon treasure hunting spree like a pig loves a mud bath and think they can be great.

Therefore I will start by stating that I believe there are very few shitty games out there. There are games I like more than others and certainly there are games I don’t like at all, but very few shitty games. Those shitty games are usually games full of sexism, racist tropes or nonsense like that (and believe me there are a number of those games out there).

After a few conversations with Jim about the topic I just ended wondering why he didn’t like some games and liked another ones. And I think the only difference I can think of is that some games allow you to tell the story and be part of it, whereas another games allow you to create the story as you are a part of it.

Let’s take Pathfinder or D&D as examples. When you are playing any of their adventures, the story has been written for you. The locations are there and you can do whatever you like, but unless you do certain things, advancing the story is hard to impossible.

Yes, you can reach a town and visit all its locations and interact with all its citizens in whatever way you want. You can even decide if you want to visit the locations in the adventure in one order or another. But sometimes if you don’t visit a particular location, or defeat a particular monster, advancing is not easy, and if you don’t advance, the story stalls because it has been written for you already.

There is a beginning and chapters that, usually, are defined by some conflict that has to be resolved, thus creating the illusion that the story is unfolding in front of you because you drive the pace and the tone of the adventure, but you don’t create it. You can add to it, make it longer or shorter, but you can’t really create it.

Then we have games that allow you to create your own adventure. You are given just a few pointers and then you take it from there and the players decide what happens, how, the consequences…. everything.

To avoid using any of Jim’s games, let’s use In Spectres. If you don’t know that game, please take a look, it is fantastic. Think of Ghost Busters and you pretty much know what sort of game it is. In that game the players actually create the story. They are told at the start that something is going on –  it can be a strange sound, something disappearing, a sighting… anything – and the players take it from there. They can decide if it is a ghost, or  demon, or a vampire, or a wizard, or just a human playing tricks.

The GM has to make a few decisions, like when to roll the dice or how some of the creatures or pnjs behave, but little else.

Saying “little else” is a bit of a disservice, because that game and their ilk are the hardest to  run. The GM has to constantly deal with the improvisation from the players, offering help when the players are stuck and generally wondering what will happen next.

So I wonder what games people generally prefer.

I don’t mind either, as long as it is fun, though I must admit I have a slight preference for games that allow you to create your own stories.

But how about you?

Aug 262016
 

stranger things titlesBy Paco Garcia Jaen

Dedicated to my friend Jim Pinto. Because it will embarrass him to read someone considers him a friend.

Stranger Things has been a very, very, very much talked about show in all sorts of social media. The Duffer Brothers – of whom I had never heard of until now, I must admit – created a nostalgia trip so compelling we all wanted to grow our hair again, get our shoulder pads out and dig that old Casiotone MT45 while listening to Giorgio Moroder and Jean Michelle Jarre at the same time.

Yes, it does a great job of bringing the 80s back from the memory closet and make us believe it was such a wonderful era.

And the thing is that it does that so well because it showcases everything that made the 80s great. Bold shiny simple graphics to spell titles, huge walkie talkies we used to have as children, silly clothes we felt so great in until we looked at them a few minutes later and thought “oh shit”. And D&D.

Specially D&D.

I could go into the plot, but you probably know what it is all about and I don’t need to. If you truly hadn’t heard about the series yet, I would have to tell you that a few D&D players get in the middle of rather dodgy government experiments when one of their friends disappears on their way home and a strangely androgynous girl appears out of nowhere and displays some seriously juicy super powers.

Then the adults get involved and things get complicated, after all, that is what adulthood is all about. Oh, the teenagers also get involved and things also become more complicated. Because what is more complicated than going through complications like who to choose as a boyfriend while looking for this little boy without getting in the way of the adults and dodging the government, right?

Anyway. The 8 episodes tell you all about that. And then some.

You see, the thing about this series that has hit such a massive cord with a ton and a half of my friends (but not Jim) is that the D&D theme is pervasive throughout.

The introduction to the kids take place precisely around a table while they have to decide how they survive an encounter with Demogorgon. And it is perfect!

I can’t start to describe how utterly perfect that scene is. As well as the kids truly getting into the game and enjoying it, the way it is scripted brings out some truly important aspects of Roleplaying Games that pretty much only gamers understand: The roles and the relationship between the roles and our real life personalities.

It has to be said that after this scene, the references to D&D are few and far between. The miniature of Demogorgon does appear, as well as a Heroquest board, several times during the series, but they are more tools to set references pertinent to the plot than anything else. Then again they appear when the government raids the children’s home and a box of games spearheaded by Dungeon! is in it.

And yet the D&D nostalgia is there all through the series.

For me, the absolutely fantastic character of the sheriff – who starts as the usual asshole who rather do nothing than help out – and screaming neurotic and distressed mother that is Wynona Ryder, the four kids, the hyper-eighties music… all of that would have been enough to be a great show.

Ignore that it is a big predictable and some scenes don’t even need to be there. Let’s not look at some of the chronological holes. To me none of that mattered. I was hooked anyway and I think it does more things right than wrong, so it is good enough.

For me what made this show amazing is how the whole thing reflected the impact of D&D to the lives of the children. The code of honour with apologies pacts and “friends do not lie”. The fact that the cleric in the game is the one to bring supplies when venturing out in the real world. How they suffer more when the party is divided. The same sort of lateral, and not so lateral thinking applied to their situation.

People… we were that. That is how D&D and RPGs helped shape us and we didn’t even notice.

And yet the Duffer Brothers have managed to make that a part of this series so important that without it would make no sense and feel contrived. And even people who are, or have never been, gamers appreciate it even if they don’t realise.

It is one of those master strokes that made the whole thing so cohesive and so compelling. At least for me.

And of course I might be looking at that with rose tinted glasses because, hey, it was my childhood (or teenhood, in my case) and that is how I like to remember it.

And for that alone, plus the great script, great acting and the Down Below, Stranger Things will always be a great show.