Ethical Approches #Gamergate Could Take But Doesn't

Bibliophile Stalker - Thu, 10/16/2014 - 17:55
The movement #Gamergate is problematic on several levels. One, it's based on misogyny and rooted in Privilege. Two, some of its points don't hold water. But there are people with good intentions involved in the movement, and this blog post is addressed to them.

If you want to actually address journalistic ethics in the video game industry and do not condone the harassment of women, here are some solutions that #Gamergate could take, not just to win public approval, but because it's right.

1. Do Not Read the Publications You Don't Like

If this was really about journalistic integrity, you, as a consumer, have every right to boycott a product. In this case, it's the magazines. You can even write to their sponsors, like what happened between Intel and Gamasutra.

End of story. That's all you need to do. No need to harass people, no need to Doxx women, no need to write scathing letters to people not involved with the magazines you don't like.

Don't make it about Zoe Quinn, because she's not a journalist. Don't make it about Anita Sarkeesian, because she's not a journalist. Don't make it about Brianna Wu, because she's not a journalist. If you want to be taken seriously about journalism ethics, talk about journalism ethics.

Otherwise, we'll call bullshit on you.

2. Start Your Own Publication

No one is censoring you. If you have ideas or messages or propaganda other publications don't want to cover, create your own.

That's what GoodGamers.Us did.

Do I find their rhetoric problematic? Yes. They claim to be Ad-free but make an exception for Google AdSense (what happens when Google makes games?). They don't pay their contributors.

But that's within their right, and currently, the most reasonable response from #Gamergate I've seen.

3. Codify Your Stance

List down what you stand for, in concrete terms. "Corruption in Games Journalism" might be a competent tagline, but it's useless unless you cite specific points or examples. In what way is there corruption in games journalism? For example:
  • Game reviewers should not review games they paid via Kickstarter.
That's a concrete stance on the issue. Critics from both sides can discuss this issue. I can say, for example, that it is not a Conflict of Interest to review a game you paid for, regardless of whether it was bought via Steam, Kickstarter, or at a store. But via this way, concrete points can be discussed and debated, and people can either agree or disagree on the specifics.

Part of the reason #Gamergate is demonized is because it has an abstract cause, and people can only judge the results, which is the harassment and doxxing of various women in the industry.

Codify your position, and then we can gauge you on how close or far off the reality is from that goal or intent.

4. Accountability in Membership or Leadership

Currently, #Gamergate has no accountability. What they have is a membership of convenience: if someone claims they are pro-#Gamergate, they are part of the membership; if someone claims they are pro-#Gamergate and do something that tarnishes the image of the movement, they are disavowed by some members. This is a membership of convenience, in which no member of the movement can do anything wrong, or when they do, they are immediately expelled, depending on who you are talking to.

What they need is one of two things. One is a census (and I don't mean real names). They have a list of their members. So whenever someone outside of that list does something horrible in the name of #Gamergate, it is transparent that they are not really part of #Gamergate. But if you do not have such a list, you cannot claim that 99% of your movement are good people and only 1% is bad, because you don't have the numbers to back that up. Similarly, you can't say that person is not part of your movement despite them claiming to be part of it, because you have no concrete membership criteria; you have to take the good with the bad.

In Ferguson for example, it's clear who the citizens of Ferguson are, and who aren't. And when someone in Ferguson causes or is subject to conflict, there is accountability in that community; they don't say he or she is not part of Ferguson. That person is their responsibility and they act accordingly.

But because outing is a real threat, a census is not necessarily a practical solution in this case. Instead, a figurehead or leader should represent #Gamergate, someone who can speak for them, and someone who can't be disavowed in case they say or do something wrong. Even groups like Al Qaeda have leaders and spokepersons, to either claim credit or disavow the actions of other people claiming to be part of their membership. But without a leader, claiming that someone is not part of #Gamergate is as valid as a harasser claiming to be part of #Gamergate.

Multiple specific threats made stating intent to kill me & feminists at USU. For the record one threat did claim affiliation with #gamergate
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) October 15, 2014
#StopGamerGate2014 because the guy who made that “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian” game is a proud vocal member of #GamerGate
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) October 16, 2014 This is perfectly valid. This is why #Gamergate is a movement associated with harassment and threats.

Claiming that "they're not part of #Gamergate" is hollow because the organization has no sense of accountability. In fact, this only creates an atmosphere ripe for harassment, because the harassers are part of a mob, as opposed to individuals, and can thus conduct more harassment because the blame will be shouldered by the community as opposed to the individual.

5. Change the Hashtag

#Gamergate has a lot of baggage that goes with it, including harassment and misogyny. If you really wanted to discuss journalism ethics and make it a safe space, start a new hashtag.

Would it ensure the harassers won't go with you to the new hashtag? No. But they will definitely stay with #Gamergate.

But I can understand why people don't want to change the hashtag. They attach pride and identity to the hashtag. Or perhaps they think others won't follow them to the new hashtag.

But what are you more concerned about? Actual ethics and the protection of men and women in the Internet, or the numbers a hashtag has garnered so far?

6. The Privilege of Walking Away

If you walk away now, nothing will happen. Companies making AAA games will continue to make AAA games. You will still be able to play games. That's Privilege.

You know who can't walk away? The people being harassed, especially the public figures in the limelight.

#Gamergate Has Everything To Do With Gender

Bibliophile Stalker - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 17:36
There's a lot of sexism in the industry, whether we're talking about fandom, gaming, etc.

What a lot of people don't realize is how sexism is systemic and often unconscious. Just take a look at #Gamergate and its proponents immediately shout that they're against "corruption in games journalism" (which is about as concrete as the "War on Terror") when their entire movement has revolved around perpetuating sexism and harassing women and allies.

A lot of people, understandably so, are tired of having the 101 talk. That's because doing so is exhausting, and they're not here to teach you: they expect people to be intelligent and do their own research.

But proponents of #Gamergate claim that they're not misogynists, when that's precisely the case. Let me break it down for you.

I.  The Initial Focus was on Zoe Quinn

Here is GamerGate's Know Your Meme page. You don't get more pro-#GamerGate than that. It starts out with Zoe Quinn, a female developer. Now here are the accusations:

1. She slept with journalist Nathan Grayson to gain favorable reviews for her game Depression Quest. Let's unpack that assumption.
  • First, this is what Joanna Russ (author of How to Suppress Women's Writing) describes as "The Double Standard of Content". To quote from Russ's book: "Motives for the dismissal differ: habit, laziness, reliance on history or criticism that is already corrupt, ignorance (the most excusable of all, surely), the desire not to disturb the comfort based on that ignorance (much less excusable), the dim (or not-so-dim) perception that one's self-esteem or sex-based interests are at stake, the desire to stay within an all-male, all-white club that is, whatever its drawbacks, familiar and comfortable, and sometimes the clear perception that letting outsiders into the club, economically or otherwise, will distrub the structure of quid pro quo that keeps the club going." Many of this will apply to Depression Quest, but let me put it in Lay Man's terms: Zoe Quinn, a female developer, made a game, and because female developers could not possibly make a good game, she slept with a man to get a good review. That is what #Gamergate is stating, whether implicitly or explicitly.
  • Second, such a review did not exist. But it is easier for a lot of gamers to believe it so.
  • Hypothetically speaking, let's assume that Quinn did, in fact, bribe Grayson to gain a favorable review. Gamers should have focused on Grayson, not Quinn. (They would only do so significantly later, nor did this lessen the harassment on Quinn.) If the Koch brothers bribes George W. Bush to gain a favor from the government, the burden is on Bush, not the Koch brothers. But the focus on Quinn (as the subsequent points show) betrays that this is really about women in the field instead of actual ethics in journalism.

2. That journalists were contributing to Quinn's Patreon account.
  • This is what Russ would consider a "Prohibition", which prevents women from committing art. To quote: "For example, poverty and lack of leisure are powerful deterrents to art: most nineteenth century British factory workers, enduring a fourteen-hour day, were unlikely to spend a lifetime in rigorously perfecting the sonnet." Simply put, these gamers do not want Quinn to earn a living, so she can create more games.
  • Second, Patreon is not GoFundMe. In order to get be supported at Patreon, you need to deliver a product. In that sense, it is irrelevant if journalists are contributing to a developer's Patreon account or not; they are consumers, and free to critique or review those products.
3. Kotaku writer Patricia Hernandez had relationships with other game developers so she must be biased.
  • In many ways, this is a double standard. Men in other industries have friendships and relationships with people they write about or whose works they review. It's like claiming that the late film critic Roger Ebert never should have met or befriended the people he wrote about. Moreover, the focus on Hernandez (as opposed to every other male game journalist and their web of friendships and social contacts), betrays this conscious--or unconscious--sexism.
4. Robin Arnot, the chair for Night Games at Indiecade, had an affair with Quinn, which was how she received her award.
  • See #1.
  • That accusation also dismisses the integrity and decision of the rest of the jury.
II. Denial and Victim Blaming When it Comes to Harassment

During #Gamergate, several people were harassed, including the following:
1. The initial responses was to either deny the event, that they staged it, or that they deserved it. This is what's called Blaming the Victim.

2. Notice that one of the people that was harassed was Phil Fish, a male developer. There is a different form of harassment applied to him. Whereas with female developers it is enough to threaten them, show them dick pics, mail death threats, or call their house, because Fish is a male developer, a different method used to scare him: divulging his financial information. The discrepancy in tactics used shows the inequality between men and women in the industry, in the same way that a black man carrying a toy sword can get shot in America, while a drunk white man goes home safe (or another extreme, a white man can shoot another person in the face and have the injured party apologize).

3. Some proponents of #Gamergate have claimed that they get harassed too. One wrong does not eliminate another wrong, nor is that a valid excuse to dismiss the harassment others have received. (The tragedy is that when publications like Polygon writes articles like harassment in video games, the response by #Gamergate is that such articles are corrupted and biased!)

III. Using #NotYourShield as a Shield Against Criticism

#NotYourShield is simple: whenever critics of #Gamergate claim that #Gamergate is misogynistic, they use the "But my female friend said" or "I have a black friend so I can't be racist" card.

It is also a failure of proponents of #Gamergate how dialogue and Feminism works. First, Feminism represents several things, and there is room for debate. That is why there were arguments between the First Wave Feminists and the Second Wave, the Second Wave and the Third Wave, etc. There will be various interpretations of Feminism and it continues to evolve. For example:

Disappointed to see most major Bayonetta 2 reviews completely ignore or even praise its shameless sexism and flagrant use of the male gaze.
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) October 13, 2014Paste Magazine's review of Bayonetta 2.
It seems like Bayonetta is the beyonce of video game feminism
— XOXO Ghostie Gita (@xoxogossipgita) October 14, 2014There is nuance to that discussion and will boil down to the articulation of their respective points. (And the difference is that these critics can disagree without threatening each other with harassment or violence.)

There is this video for example from someone who describes themselves as a Feminist. This doesn't give proponents of #Gamergate a free pass when it comes to accusations of misogyny and sexism though.

IV. The Invisibility of Women and Unconscious Bias

First off, you know someone who talks about ethics in games journalism? Maddy Myers. How come you haven't heard of her? Maybe because she's not one of the Powerful Games Journalists [that are] Men?

Or look at Jenn Frank, whose disclosure that she bought Quinn's work previously and briefly met Sarkeesian was so ridiculous a disclosure that The Guardian's editorial did not deem it fit to publish the disclosure originally. Because it's ridiculous (e.g. there is no conflict of interest). But it is only in the #Gamergate community that such standards are enforced.

A lot of gamers will probably have heard of TotalBiscuit, currently one of the top Steam Curators. Kudos to him for thinking on the ethical conflicts of using his position to recommend a game from a paid sponsor. It's too bad that when it comes to the harassment of women in the industry, his explicit support of #Gamergate is implicitly condoning all the bad things associated with the movement. Those are his priorities.

That's not to say all of this is conscious. Take a look at Escapist Magazine, which ran two articles on game developers and how they perceived #Gamergate:

Part 1 of that Escapist article was all women. Part 2 was all men. Notice anything about the titles?
— Skeleton Infiltrator (@alexlifschitz) October 10, 2014 If I have to spell it out to you, Women are described as Female Game Developers. The men, however, are just Game Developers.
@RobZacny @ELahti I removed the problematic introduction. I was a fool for not seeing the implications of the two titles. Apologies.
— Greg Tito (@Gregtito) October 10, 2014 Later, when it's revealed that one of the male developers interviewed harassed Zoe Quinn, a female game developer, here was their response:
@alexlifschitz @notryan @TheQuinnspiracy I understand your position. The Escapist also signal boosts other viewpoints. Not an excuse, I know
— Greg Tito (@Gregtito) October 10, 2014But when male journalists start complaining...

@Gregtito @alexlifschitz @notryan @TheQuinnspiracy I want to add to this: Slade has actively participated in my harassment on Twitter.
— Ian Miles Cheong (@stillgray) October 10, 2014
@stillgray @Gregtito @alexlifschitz @notryan @TheQuinnspiracy He's tried to kickstart dogpiling on me too, to be quite honest.
— Jim Sterling (@JimSterling) October 10, 2014 You end up with this message:
Update #2 -> We have removed the testimony of Slade Villena, known as RogueStar.
— Greg Tito (@Gregtito) October 10, 2014
The Escapist does not support harassment in any way.
— Greg Tito (@Gregtito) October 10, 2014
Because in the gaming industry, when a woman claims that they're being harassed, their word isn't good enough. How many proponents of #Gamergate will deny this happened?

Multiple specific threats made stating intent to kill me & feminists at USU. For the record one threat did claim affiliation with #gamergate
— Feminist Frequency (@femfreq) October 15, 2014

Mannegishi - Wed, 10/15/2014 - 13:50
Welcome back to Pen & Pixels, where I share stories about of the the RPG images that I’ve created as a professional artist.  Here’s a Halloween-ish piece I illustrated for Four Winds...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Interview: Cypher on #INeedDiverseGames

Bibliophile Stalker - Tue, 10/14/2014 - 23:01
Hi. Thanks for agreeing to do the interview. First off, what is #INeedDiverseGames?

It was a wee hashtag that was born out of frustration with the state of the industry, the lack of diversity I saw. Now it's become a point for people to express why then need diverse games, not just for themselves but for others to enjoy the art of gaming.

How did it start?

This tweet:
#INeedDiverseGames because I am tired of the same variant of scruffy white dude protaganists in every game I buy.
— Cypheroftyr (@cypheroftyr) October 7, 2014
Despite what people might think, the hashtag was not in reaction to, or in anyway influenced by GG. They really weren't on my radar until the renewed coverage lately.

What are your goals, whether short-term or long-term?

The short term goal is to get people on board with the idea that diversity in games is a good thing, that it does not hurt anyone to give people more options rather than retreading the same stories, the same plots in games. For people to realize it's about inclusion, not exclusion.

Long term goals is to make sure it doesn't become a flash in the pan, hot topic of the day then fizzle out because something else is going on in the gaming world. Be that making it into a full time project, asking the game dev community for help in keeping it alive and thriving or the masses that clearly want more diversity based on the tweets that have been flying fast and furious.

What's the reaction been so far?

For the most part, incredibly positive. There have been attempts by GG'rs to hijack the hashtag, claim that if you support #INeedDiverseGames, then you support GG. That's so far from the truth, I don't even have words for it.

But on a more positive note, the outpouring of support and great response has been amazing. For a hashtag that was thought up on the fly while I was angry about gaming, it's gotten a great response. Kudos to those folks who have actively taken on those who seem to have a problem with wanting more diversity in gaming.

What have been the challenges?

Mostly, making sure that this doesn't overwhelm me (or the awesome dragonreine who has been instrumental in helping me run the tumblr, twitter, etc.) and to not let it fizzle out. Gaming is important to me, it's been part of my life for twenty years and because of my love of gaming, the challenge we all have is to make diversity more than a buzzword, to make it the norm rather than the exception. To show that there is room at the table for everyone.

What games do you like to play? Which games are doing it right?

I'm more of an action and RPG fan. Final Fantasy VII - XIII, Suikoden, Shenmue, Dragon Age, Dragon Age II and the Mass Effect Series. I also grew up in arcades, I love, love, love a good fighting game. Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Samurai Shodown, so many I could name but except for FPS (I get motion sickness from them), I'm pretty much an all types of games gal.

As for games doing it right, Mass Effect 3, Dragon Age Origins & II, Gone Home, Child of Light, Papa & Yo, Remember Me... are all examples of giving you more diverse options, either through customization of your character, or giving you the option to play as a woman, a woman of color, a child, a young adult woman. There's also been a lot of suggestions from followers of the tumblr and via twitter.

How can we help?

Tweet, write up posts, review games and spread the word about titles you find. Not everyone has played every single game, and a lot of times you might have played a game that others may not know about.

If you can back game projects, or signal boost if contributing money is an issue. Tweet with the hashtag, Support indie game devs, support those with ideas if they tell you they want to do X, don't let the first thing that come out of your mouth be don't do it, it won't sell, no one cares. If that's the default response to different ideas, nothing will change.

Also be able to criticize games and gaming culture. Accept that not everything is great and that for the medium to grow, it must be critiqued and analyzed so people can find the flaws, fill them in and smooth them out.

Where can people find more about #INeedDiverseGames?

Here’s a handy link to the About page.

You can also find us at:

Facebook / Twitter / Google +

We’re taking submissions and are open to questions via the askbox or email

Lastly, there’s now a spreadshirt store up, and a full explanation up here.

Cypher has been an avid gamer for twenty years, and is invested in making sure that people see having more diversity in games is not a zero sum game, or about exclusion, in fact she wants more, better games for everyone.

Understanding #Gamergate and Why it's Problematic

Bibliophile Stalker - Sun, 10/12/2014 - 21:41
For more than a month now, one of the biggest controversies in the video game industry is #Gamergate. Each side will have their own narrative. Here's the one from the pro-#Gamergate side for example:

However, if you parse the details of what #Gamergate stands for, it becomes problematic on several levels.

Both sides agree that #Gamergate started when independent game developer Zoe Quinn (creator of Depression Quest, what some gamers consider a "non-game" because, among other things, it was an interactive fiction game) was accused of sleeping with a journalist to gain favorable reviews on gaming website Kotaku. This is detailed in the website of Zoe Quinn's ex-boyfriend, Eron Gjoni. (Vice has an interview with him.) Never mind the fact that such a review did not exist. Or that Gjoni coached members of 4chan on how Quinn (and the media) would react.
and here is my ex coaching them on how to fuck over indiefriends
— Spoopy Twittër Rando (@TheQuinnspiracy) September 6, 2014

Adam Baldwin (popularly known for playing Jayne in Firefly) was initially the face of #Gamergate, as he was one of the first to use the hashtag.
#GamerGate: pt. 1: 2:
— Adam Baldwin (@AdamBaldwin) August 28, 2014 Several personalities would come to Quinn's defense, including controversial game developer Phil Fish (creator of Fez, the subject of which was tackled in Indie Game: The Movie), as well as several simultaneous articles from various gaming media outlets that "gamers were dead":
So cue the current uproar.

The Background

As a background, this isn't a development that happened overnight. Neither pro-#Gamergate or anti-#Gamergate woke up one day in August and decided to be angry. This was a conversation with the gaming industry that has been happening slowly.

For the past few years, the gaming media has pointed out various injustices in the gaming industry, such as the harassment of women in the industry. This has been the bias of various media outlets as part of, well, making the gaming industry a more welcoming place for people outside of the status quo. Does the video game industry have problems?

Here are some examples:
Currently, some gamers are infuriated with this. For some, it's because they think this has no basis in reality. (Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it's not happening to others.) Some are thinking that if this continues, someone will take their games away. (The critics aren't asking to take away your games; they're criticism.) And some simply play defensive and can't take any form of criticism when it comes to their favorite media. (They should read "How to be a fan of problematic things".)

So here we are, #Gamergate.

The #Gamergate Propaganda

The problem with harassers in the gaming community is that they have no moral cause (beyond simply being personally offended) before #Gamergate. By framing their agenda in what seems a righteous cause, they draw upon support from various people (some with legitimate grievances towards the gaming industry, some opportunists, and others that are simply ignorant).

But what exactly does #Gamergate profess to stand for? Corruption in video game journalism.

In WhatCulture's "10 Things You Need To Know About The #GamerGate Scandal", here's the things they bring up (those in bold italics are my replies):
  1. It’s Not About Misogyny. Yes, it just so happens that many of the targets happen to be women. Or as some pro-#Gamergate proponents have framed it: Video games should be about gameplay, nothing else. It is the same as movies.
    — Rowan Kaiser (@RowanKaiser) September 13, 2014
  2. Everybody Receives Death Threats. Which is why #Gamergate condones victim blaming or suggest harassment is a false flag?
  3. It’s Not Just Straight White Males Who Are In Favour. And some women don't identify as Feminists. Or that some People of Color have racists views.
  4. Not All Gamers Send Death Threats And Harass People. Cue #notallmen.
  5. Corruption In Video Game Journalism Is A Real Issue. Yes, it is. Leigh Alexander has a list of genuine ethical concerns. But blaming indie developers is like saying public school teachers should receive less funding to solve the US budget. Or actually going after actual controversial issues like Shadows Over Mordor.
  6. It’s About Separating The Journalist From The Blogger. Or: I don't understand media bias and how how actual journalism works, so I will claim people whose views I don't agree with aren't being objective. And let me insult bloggers while I'm at it.
  7. Men Don’t Want To Keep Gaming A “Boy’s Club”. They have a funny way of showing that.
  8. #DescribeAGamerIn4Words Is A Smear Campaign. And endemic of the perception gaming has to the general community, and why #7 keeps on happening.
  9. It’s About Negating Censorship. Governments censor work. Individuals or companies don't.
  10. It’s About The Videogames. Cue excuses why they don't like games like Depression Quest or Gone Home, so if somebody likes games they don't, it must be corruption.
So you can see some of the inherent problems when discussing #Gamergate, whether its proponents approach it with intentional or unintentional ignorance.

In my interaction with the hashtag, other points brought as evidence of corruption in games journalism include:
  • Conflict of interest in reviewing video games where the author backed it via Kickstarter, Patron, or some similar crowd-funded service. That's not conflict of interest. That's like saying it's a conflict of interest to review a game I bought. You are not a shareholder when you fund a game via crowdfunding; you're a consumer.
  • Game journalists are too close to game developers. First off, game journalists ARE close to game developers. That's how they obtain the news and how stories/leaks happen. Second, when  journalists aren't close to game developers, as is the case in this Brad Wardell interview, you're still angry at them.
  • The game journalists have a secret mailing list. Journalists are allowed to converse with each other, just like professionals in other industries.
There's a list of other grievances at Little Tiny Frogs.

L. Rhodes attempts to converse with proponents of #Gamergate and understand their points. Here are Rhodes's observations:
"At the same time, many of you told me that you wanted to see less social criticism in those reviews. If you really think that through, you’ll see that you can’t have it both ways. There’s a deep contradiction imbedded in the notion that, on the one hand, writers shouldn’t be beholden to developers when they review a game, and that, on the other hand, they should avoid criticisms they feel are relevant. Most game publishers don’t want to be criticized for the social prejudices they may have worked into their games. As such, the simple fact that a writer or editor would be willing to publish a social criticism ought to be treated as evidence that the venue is maintaining some independence from the industry on which it reports. Even when it doesn’t interest you, even when you disagree with what’s been said— even if, as some of you expressed, you feel personally affronted on the game’s behalf—you ought to welcome such criticism as a check on the sort of cozy developer/press relationship you’ve called corrupt."
Who Is Involved or Supports #Gamergate?

As previously stated, there are a lot of personalities involved in #Gamergate. Some believe the propaganda, some have sincere intentions, and some that view this as an operation and propaganda. Here are some who publicly support #Gamergate.
The Results of #Gamergate so far:

The harassment and doxxing of various people (whether pro- or anti-#Gamergate) including (but not limited to:
Various hashtags like:
  • #Notyourshield, where various people (including LGBT and people of color) support #Gamergate and tell video game journalists not to represent them in their criticisms.
  • #Gameethics, which discussed problems in the video game industry--usually from AAA companies--but is constantly accused of derailment by #Gamergate supporters.
  • #INeedDiverseGames, which states reasons for having diverse games, only to be criticized by #Gamergate supporters as derailment. (Edit: From the comments: "I was not thinking about GamerGate when I created the #INeedDiverseGames hashtag. Do not give them credit, or give the impression they were even on my mind when I created it. - Cypher")
A cancelled Indiegogo campaign, Lawyers Against Gaming Corruption. It was not initially disclosed that the campaigner was intending to hire their spouse as the lawyer in question., a no-ads (except Google AdSense) gaming review site that claims to be mostly free of political ideologies and does not pay its staff.

Christina Hoff Sommers, host of Factual Feminist, makes a video that video games are not sexist.

Intel pulling out its ads from game development site Gamasutra and subsequently apologizes (but does not reinstate) on a late Friday afternoon.

Other Comments:

The Escapist has an article featuring several anonymous female game developers sharing their views on #Gamergate.

Leigh Alexander has a list of ethical concerns in video games.

The prevalence of impersonation and conspiracy theories to discredit women in the game industry.

The 09-11 column we weren’t sure we we were going to run - Wed, 10/01/2014 - 01:59
Let’s just get this out of the way right from the start: this is not an attempt to write something ‘sensationalist’ or otherwise capitalize on a tragedy.  However a weird thing...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Converting the 2e Realms to 5e

Newbie DM - Sun, 09/28/2014 - 23:46

In a previous post I wrote about setting my home game in the Forgotten Realms around the time period of the 2nd edition version of D&D, which would put us in Faerun in 1368DR. For those of you keeping track at home, the original boxed set of the Forgotten Reams placed the timeline at 1357DR, the second edition, which is the one I’m using, advanced the timeline a decade, and the third edition takes place in 1372DR. The fourth edition version of the Realms moves the timeline up to 1479, and the 5th edition of the Realms begins in 1489. The reason I chose to play in the 2nd Edition version is because I own a lot of material for it, there are tons of materials for it online, and for me it is a good on-ramp, since I have a lot of access to what’s been written for it.

See, while I own a lot of stuff, it mostly went unused. I’ve never had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Realms, mostly general knowledge stuff (Elminster is a Gandalf type, Drizzt is a good drow). Reading D&D fiction ain’t my bag, so most of what I know has been from reading some rpg stuff here or there. I’ve never ran nor played a Realms campaign until now. I figured that 5e is trying real hard to be a throwback, and the Realms are the implied setting… why not? Plus, again, I’ve amassed a lot of 2e stuff through the years.

DSC09625So, playing in the Realms requires some decision making, primarily, where in the Realms do you want to play? I wasn’t going to wrack my brain thinking about it. My boxed set brings a book dedicated entirely to one location, Shadowdale, so that’s where we’ll start. If it’s good enough to devote a book to, it’s good enough for my game.

Shadowdale as a starting locale is in fact recommended by the designers for players adventuring in the Realms for the first time. It’s a small town where the players can make a name for themselves (even if some major NPCs live there), there are some good low level adventuring areas, and the sorroundings are fairly typical fantasy stuff. The Dalelands are pretty much a fantasy version of rural England anyway.

So, I have a starting location. I digested the fluff in the boxed set, along with some other material I have (Richard Baker’s The Dalelands is a good source of information, along with Volo’s Guide to the Dalelands).  There are also some really good web sites with information available. The Realms wiki is a great resource, for example, and there are others out there with more than enough material to help you out.

The Shadowdale book includes an adventure aimed at beginning PCs, which makes my job as a DM easier. I still had to jump through some hoops to get the party together and ready to go on a quest together, something the adventure doesn’t really do, but that’s fine.

One thing I did was find a reason to get rid of the über-NPCs. The Realms has always faced criticism for being the land of the super NPCs that overshadow the players. Guys like Elminster and Drizzt are so powerful, that why would the world need the PCs? Well, I got rid of Elminster. Right at the first session. I gave him a reason to disappear which directly tied into one of the players, and off he went. He won’t come back either, he’s off on a mission for the duration of the campaign that directly ties into the story. His reason for not being around is important and matters. It isn’t arbitrary. So in Shadowdale, one of the the über-NPCs is now gone. Once the characters were brought into the story and everyone had a reason to hit the adventure, off we went. Of course, I had to make adjustments and conversions.

The crest of Shadowdale, the Twisted Tower of Ashaba.

The crest of Shadowdale, the Twisted Tower of Ashaba.

The adventure included is called “Beneath the Twisted Tower”, and it is a dungeon crawl set under the tower that houses Shadowdale’s ruler. It’s a pretty straight forward crawl, good enough to take the 5e rules for a spin, but it requires some adjustments.

***Spolier Alert***

Yes, I get that it’s a module from the late 80’s/early 90’s, but I’m still putting a spoiler tag, even if just for my players. If you play in my game, stay away. That means you, Diaz. :)

The first thing I did was go through the list of enemies the players could or would face off against in the module, and made a list. Why? I needed to see if there were any 5e stats available for them, or something relatively close I could just reskin. Right at the beginning, I ran into trouble. The first monster the PCs could possibly face is called a Gambado, a creature with no 5e stats. That meant I had to create. The Gambado, if you remember, is a pretty strange creature. It basically appears as a skull on the ground, and when approached it jumps out of a pit like a spring to fully reveal itself. Since 5e has no Gambado, I made one up, giving it my best shot at creating a 5e monster without any guides available yet. I think it came out okay.

Then I made my way further down the list: Quaggoths, huge spiders, Moray Rat, Boogins, Mud-Man, Aballin, etc. They all had equivalents, or near equivalents I could use. For example, a Mud-Man is nowhere to be found in the Monster Manual, but a Mud Mephit, which is in the 5e MM, could serve the same purpose and have similar powers. The Aballin, described in the module as “living water” became a water elemental with some of its numbers dialed down (it’s a CR 5 monster, too strong for a 1st level party). There’s another encounter that calls for 30 rats, which can be handled with the Rat Swarm MM entry, so in general, it’s pretty easy to convert this adventure.

Besides creature stats, I also had to look at actual challenges the PCs face in the adventure, that aren’t fight related. There’s a scene set on a bridge that works as a perfect example. Lets take a look:

Once they are underground, the module calls for the PCs to cross a “20 foot long, single span, unrailed, stone bridge… wet with water”. The adventure calls for Dexterity checks to see if they slip as they cross. It also offers other alternatives, such as long jumping over the 12 foot wide chasm or climbing the chasm walls up and down to avoid the bridge altogether. This created some issues for me, so I had to make adjustments. In 5e, players can easily jump the 12 foot chasm without even having to roll, but I wanted this to be a challenge. So I extended both the chasm and the bridge, leading them to choosing to cross the bridge. My 5e adjustment of this challenge was to use the Advantage/Disadvantage rules. I had them make Dexterity checks like the module called for, but they got clever and decided to use a rope as support. Bam! Advantage on the Dexterity checks. So easy. And it was a challenging encounter for them that forced them to rely on their wits.

I want to touch on two things I was asked about when I mentioned on twitter I was doing this. One was about converting NPCs, and the other was how to run this if you have no Realms knowledge whatsoever.

As far as the NPCs are concerned, I’m not too concerned about converting any of them to 5e. First, and most important, is asking myself if I’ll really need those stats. Only of the PCs choose to fight an NPC will I ever need that stat block. And if it comes to that, well, I have premade solutions. Lets look at the guards in the tower, for example. The Men-at-Arms are (remember these are 2e stats) 2nd level fighters wearing chain mail and using swords. The “Guard” entry in the 5e Monster Manual is good enough for me. He’s a 1/8 CR enemy I can throw waves of at the PCs if they foolishly decide to attack the Men-at-Arms. The lord of Shadowdale? If they decide to attack him I’ll use the “Knight” entry in the Monster Manual, as the Lord is described as a former knight in the book. Easy.

And as far as Realms knowledge? Listen, all you need to know is where your party is when you begin. Starting in Shadowdale? Read up on Shadowdale and the general area. You don’t need to know the rest of the world’s history or current political climate. Who cares? My party is here on a dungeon crawl under the town’s tower. They are starting here and I gave them enough info to care about this particular place. I gave them a region to create backstories from, linking them to the wiki in the process. That’s it. I’m no Realms expert. You don’t have to be either. Once our adventures take us elsewhere, I’ll read about elsewhere. Right now it’s Shadowdale and the surroundings, and that’s what I’ll care about.

As my campaign progresses I’ll write about what challenges I faced, and tips I can share along the way.

For now, here’s a tip I found useful: Every single monster I expected the party to fight, I wrote down on a note card (index card), including its full stats and attacks. That way I didn’t have to flip through the Monster Manual, and I can build a monster rolodex as time goes on.

I’ll have more to write about converting my game to 5e as this campaign progresses. If you have any thoughts, let me know in the comments below or at

If you would like to support, perhaps you’d consider visiting for your next rpg related purchase. Check out the following products:

World of Greyhawk AD&D Boxed Set

Menzoberranzan AD&D Boxed Set

Conquest of Nerath: A D&D Boardgame

Legend of Drizzt: A D&D Boardgame

Behind the Gear-spun Curtain: A Purely Steampunk Look at Game Design - Mon, 09/22/2014 - 01:09
Gamemastering at GenCon can be a blast. It’s a way to introduce people to a game you love, or even a game you’re trying to publish. It can also be a way to play obscure games that just don’t have a...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

FREE D&D Audiobook! - Thu, 09/18/2014 - 22:36
Like free stuff?  Have an Amazon account?  Want to listen to a dozen voices you’ll (probably) recognize read an unabridged RA Salvatore collection?    In case you haven’t heard by now,...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Setting my campaign in the 2e Forgotten Realms

Newbie DM - Sun, 09/14/2014 - 10:10

So I’m taking my 5e home game back in time a bit. After playing a session of Hoard of the Dragon Queen, I felt a bit dissatisfied with the adventure (mostly due to the way it played with my group), so I’m going to do a bit of a do over. I’m going to usse 5e’s launch as a chance to do something I’ve never done before, and that’s use my old Realms’ stuff for a campaign. I have my 2nd Ed. boxed set which I love, so I’m going to set my game in that era of the Realms, 1367DR, about 120 years before the 5e Realms are supposedly set.

The 2e realms box

The 2e realms box

This will allow me to use all the material (and it’s a hell of a lot) that’s available for the 2e Realms, and give me the chance to actually use the stuff in the damn box for the first time. There’s a neat dungeon crawl intro adventure in there which I’m already looking at converting monsters for, and I know that we’ll all enjoy using the old poster maps, etc. The Realms wiki page is a great aid, and between it, the boxed set, and my 3rd Ed. hardcover (which only advanced the timeline by maybe 5-6 years) I should be okay.

I have maps (both 2e and 3e), sourcebooks, and tons of modules and books on pdf, so I can adventure in that era of the Realms for a long time. 5e was supposed to be the edition that made it easy to use all that old stuff, right? Lets put it to the test. :)

On another note, I’ve been wanting to try out monster design for 5e, so I’m using this as a good opportunity to, since there are plenty of critters in this box and adventure that aren’t available for 5e. So far I’ve created a Mongrelfolk and a Gambado. Check them out and tell me what you think!

If you would like to support, perhaps you’d consider visiting for your next rpg related purchase. Check out the following products:

World of Greyhawk AD&D Boxed Set

Menzoberranzan AD&D Boxed Set

Conquest of Nerath: A D&D Boardgame

Legend of Drizzt: A D&D Boardgame

Campaign building with the Monster Manual

Newbie DM - Wed, 09/10/2014 - 08:46

“This bestiary is for storytellers and world-builders.” – Monster Manual introduction


The D&D 5th Ed. Monster Manual releases on September 19th for those stores that take part in the WOTC WPN program, and on September 30th for everyone else. A few Monster Manuals saw the light of day at Gencon, and we’ve seen some bits of it come out here or there. For example, there was @geekylindsay‘s excellent article on worldbuilding using the MM (btw this article will have some overlap with hers), while Jerry from Dread Gazebo showed off a bit of what the book will offer.

I’ll have a full review of the book later, but I wanted to write a bit on one of my favorite parts of the Monster Manual, and something I think I’ll be using plenty of for the next few years, the Legendary Creatures and their regional effects.  Legendary Creatures are those special solo monsters that make up epic encounters, like the dragons, beholders, vampires, and so on. They are special, have slightly different combat rules, and affect both their immediate environment (Lair Actions) but also the world around them (Regional Effects), and that’s the part that caught my eye.

You see, I’ve always had trouble coming up with big fantasy plot ideas. Sure, raiding an orc camp or dungeon crawling a crypt is easy enough to come up with, but the big over-arching plots are a challenge for me to imagine. So as soon as I read these regional effects entries in the book, it’s like a light bulb went off in my head. These effects right there are prime material for campaign ideas. Why? Because they are big deals that mean something to the world, and only the heroic PCs can fix them. And that right there is what adventures are made out of. So let’s look at an example from the book, the Red Dragon.

The region where a red dragon makes its lair is warped by the dragon’s magic, affecting the land around it in several ways. For example:

  • Small earthquakes are  felt as far as 6 miles from the lair
  • Water sources 1 mile of the lair are tainted by sulfur and are supernaturally warm
  • Portals to the elemental plane of fire open near the lair, allowing elemental creatures to come into the world

So as DM’s, what can we do with that information? Well, you can certainly create adventures and scenarios that don’t directly deal with the problem of the dragon itself (because likely 1st level PCs wouldn’t have a clue it involves a dragon anyway), but deal with the complications brought on by these effects.

So, earthquakes. What can happen? Towns in the area may see some destruction, which may lead to looting from bandits, or bands of humanoids looking to cause trouble. The earthquakes may be large enough to cause openings in the ground leading to the Underdark, where things may crawl out to the surface from. Bands of slaver drows? How about a wizard’s tower collapses and she may need adventurers to help her find x or y thing that she lost in the earthquake.

Water sources tainted by sulfur? Water is a precious commodity, and if people’s water supplies are affected, you can bet that trouble will ensue. Generally sulfur in the water isn’t unhealthy, but if people and animals are getting diarreah, and the water stinks, well, that’s an issue. Plus. Who says that the dragon’s presence isn’t causing hte sulfur levels to rise so much that it is in fact unhealthy? Also, water scarcity affects the environment, which can lead to side adventures for the PCs to tackle. Warm waters? All the fish are dying in the normally cold lake. These things are important. 

And portals to the elemental planes of fire? Well, that’s self explanatory. That should tip off the players that something larger is afoot.

Perhaps there’s enough with these hooks to take you on a 1-20 campaign, or perhaps not, maybe shorter episodic mini-campaigns would work better. The point is that looking for high concept ideas is probably easier than you think, and wracking your brain is unnecessary.

This all may seem like old news for old timers in the DMing business, but for newbies jumping behind the screen for the first time, my advice is to start small, and work your way out. Want to end your big campaign with the PCs fighting an epic red dragon? That’s great. Make sure they deal with the bandits taking advantage of the earthquakes in the area first.

I’ll have more of the Monster Manual next week.


If you would like to support, perhaps you’d consider visiting for your next rpg related purchase. Check out the following products:

World of Greyhawk AD&D Boxed Set

Menzoberranzan AD&D Boxed Set

Conquest of Nerath: A D&D Boardgame

Legend of Drizzt: A D&D Boardgame

Bringing back the Minicast for 5e

Newbie DM - Sun, 09/07/2014 - 09:37

So 5th Ed. launched and it’s a thing, and I want to get back to doing what I like with D&D, which is talking with and helping DMs with their games. So I’m bringing back my old (and ENnie nominated) NewbieDM Minicast. It’s been far too long. 

If you’ve never heard of the minicast, it was a 5-6 minute long podcast where a DM from the #dnd community and I would answer a listener’s voicemail with a question about his game. It was fun to do, and it was well received. 

I can’t do it without community involvement though, so here’s the number to call in: 305-349-3026

Help me get the minicast back online. Feel free to repost, share and let others know! Thanks. 


Critical effects on 20/20 rolls with Advantage

Newbie DM - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 23:34

Back in the old days, we played D&D with the Loremaster Critical Hit/Fumble charts. They added some nasty effects to the game, making it really deadly. Like, sever someone’s spine and leave them paralyzed for the rest of their lives deadly… I thought that it would be cool to introduce something similar to my game and see if the players bite. The idea is that on an attack roll made with Advantage that results in a double 20 roll, a critical effect is triggered. The player would then roll a percentage roll and the chart would generate the result. A double 20 on Advantage has a 1 in 400 chance of happening, so this is not very game breaking, btw. I wrote it so that it is easy to narrate for both spell effects and martial attacks. I may come up with a Fumble chart later, but I wanted to put this out there before my next home game.

Critical Effects

On a 20/20 Attack Roll made with Advantage, resolve all damage and effects due to the attack, then roll percentage dice and consult this chart to generate a Critical Effect:

01-10 Your attack knocks your target prone.

11-20 Your attack severely slows down your target. Its speed is halved for the duration of the encounter.

21-25 Your attack severely injures your target, causing it to suffer 3HP of damage at the start of its turn for the duration of the encounter.

26-30 Your attack causes your target to become exhausted (level 1). Any further successful attacks agains this creature will increase its exhaustion level by 1.

31-35 Your powerful attack frightens your target for the duration of the encounter.

36-40 Your potent attack severely impairs your target, its speed is halved and it is blinded for the duration of the encounter.

41-45 What a hit! You stun your target for 2 rounds!

46-50 Your attack destroys your target’s weapon arm (or if natural weapons, it’s main attack limb). It’s pain causes it to suffer Disadvantage on all attack rolls for the duration of the encounter.

51-55 Your attack disarms your target, sending its weapon flying 10 feet in a direction of your choice. If your target had no weapons, you push it back 10 feet in a direction of your choice instead.

56-60 You sever your target’s spine. It immediately falls prone and is paralyzed. If your target has no spine, the same effects apply. Narrate accordingly.

61-65 Your attack causes permanent mobility damage to your target. Its speed is reduced to 5 feet.

66-70 Your attack is so powerful it affects your target as if it were affected by a Confusion spell (PHB pg 224).

71-75 Your vicious attack rips through your target’s defenses, causing it to suffer  -5 to its Armor Class  for the duration of the encounter.

76-80 Your attack blinds your opponent and also causes it to become deafened for the duration of the encounter.

81-85 Your attack damages your opponent’s nervous system. It suffers disadvantage on any saving throw for the duration of the encounter.

86-90 Your attack severely dazes your opponent. It suffers disadvantage on any roll for the duration of the encounter.

91-98 You go in for the kill. Your opponent suffers vulnerability to all damage types you inflict on it for the rest of the encounter.

99 You instantly kill your opponent. No questions asked. Where did this burst of strength come from?

100 Your frightfully powerful attack instantly kills your opponent. If another hostile creature is within 5′ of it, your attack kills that creature as well. Your incredible victory will be spoken about for years to come.


If you would like to support, perhaps you’d consider visiting for your next rpg related purchase. Check out the following products:

World of Greyhawk AD&D Boxed Set

Menzoberranzan AD&D Boxed Set

Conquest of Nerath: A D&D Boardgame

Legend of Drizzt: A D&D Boardgame

A quick note for new D&D players

Newbie DM - Thu, 09/04/2014 - 21:49

Public service announcement time:  You may be curious about D&D, you may be starting out with the game, as there has been a lot of press lately about it. There’s a new edition, the game is celebrating its 40th anniversary, so there is a lot of D&D noise being made.

I wanted to help you out, because you might run into a situation if you go to a big box bookstore  like Barnes and Noble to look for D&D in  that you may find a lot of books on the shelf and be a little confused about what exactly you need to buy for the game.

If you see these books on the shelf (and chances are you will), do not buy them. They are the unsupported previous edition books and are incompatible with the new 5th Edition you are probably looking for.

4E Players HandbookDungeonMastersGuide


The shelves on some big box stores can be a bit messy, so just be aware of what you are picking up. The current version looks like this:


This may be a silly post to write, but i have seen people at my local B&N stare at the bookshelf and wonder what to get. It’s kind of a pet peeve of mine…. :)


My homebrew 5e DM Screen

Newbie DM - Mon, 09/01/2014 - 23:03

Since WOTC has yet to release a screen, I decided to make my own. I bought a customizable GM Screen from Amazon recently, and printed out some charts and stuff I found online.  One thing I did add to my screen now that 5e’s Bounded Accuracy makes monsters more threatening to PCs on a wider range of levels, is monster stats. I thought of a few generic enemies, like cultists, bandits, orcs, trolls, hobgoblins, etc, and added their stat blocks to one of the panels. In a pinch, it can come in handy. Random encounter during a night’s rest? I have a few stats handy in front of me.

Here’s where I got the charts I used. Keep in mind I screen grabbed, manipulated, resized, etc. to come up with my layout. I am not going to make it available because  the works weren’t originally mine. I will link to where I got the charts from instead.

DM David

Erydin’s post on Reddit

For the player’s side, I went old school and found some of my favorite older D&D art.

The charts I used, in case the pics aren’t clear, are the following:

  • Generic rules (adv/dis, Inspiration, starting wealth, carrying capacity… that sort of thing)
  • Monster stats (Bandit, Guard, Troll, Cultist, Hobgoblin, Orc)
  • DC numbers
  • Movement types
  • Actions
  • Cover
  • Conditions
  • Light ranges


Bwf3ZulIMAAyKOm Bwfsn3bIYAALztY Bwfu6N3IYAEonXM


I also made a mini version of a DM Screen using CD Cases, based on a post I saw on G+.  But I don’t think that I’ll use it as much. I love the idea of a smaller screen, but my 42 year old eyes don’t. :)




So there you go. 5e is getting me motivated to create for D&D again. I think that’s a good sign. :)



Bonus to your Save vs. HotDQ - Sun, 08/31/2014 - 01:02
WARNING: This is not a review.  In fact, I don’t own the product in question.  Haven’t even flipped through it.  What this is, instead, is an attempt to make a decision about said unowned...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Save yourself & skip this D&D Next adventure - Sat, 08/30/2014 - 01:47
So in the last column I talked about how I was cautiously optimistic about the latest incarnation of D&D.  The 90ish Amazon reviews for the 5th Edition  PHB were overwhelmingly positive, & a...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

D&D Next Review Coming… - Wed, 08/27/2014 - 01:55
Zone of Truth style Confession.  Even though we’re a D&D-focused Blog, we here at DungeonMastering honestly had a hard time getting excited about D&D Next/What 4.0?/5th Edition.  Maybe...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

On Rewards and Balance - Fri, 08/22/2014 - 21:09
So I’ve talked a lot about the beginning and end of a campaign, from character and session creation to developing a villain to hate. What I haven’t covered with you is what to do at the end of a...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]

Games within Games: The Shifting Tower - Mon, 08/11/2014 - 17:48
Everyone has their own kind of favorite dungeon. Some of my players prefer gauntlets of traps and monsters, while others prefer dungeons from the likes of Legend of Zelda, where puzzles appear...

[[ This is a content summary only. Visit my website for full links, other content, and more! ]]
Syndicate content