Trigger Warning: in this post I reference the very real topics of Rape, Sexual Assault, and Torture as narrative devices and themes.
How This Topic Came About
After running 6-8 campaigns steadily for nearly 3 years, I've seen some weird things. Dark things. Players making difficult decisions, real character moments, some pretty messed up imagery... There's a large well of possibility in the huge range of fantasy, and as I allow more "adult-only" narrative content, the foray into dark fantasy only deepens that well.
However, as I explore these elements along with my players, in recent times I have recognized a distinct and powerful aversion to a few key topics, especially when wielded in specific contexts. Normally, I'm pretty open about playing a full spectrum of genders, orientations, moralities, and motivations, but after four separate players in different campaigns have referenced the same idea that leaves a bitter taste in my mouth... I think it needs to be addressed.
Elements That Will NEVER Be In Io
For all of the things that are wrong in my fictional world - even the very dark Sixth Age - THAT is not one of them. Magic is broken, people are manipulative, flirting and low-level harassment exist, violence, even racism depending on your region... But when also a decent chunk of the leadership is matriarchal or in all intent genderless, even the existence of such a thing seems ill-advised for whoever would dare to approach it (anyone attempting such a horrid act would probably be killed on the spot by ANYONE nearby).
There is quite literally no sexism in Io. Male and female adventurers, politicians, academics, nobles, and prostitutes all have equal gender representation. So when you remove that systemic bias, that culture becomes less and less viable. Which is why when peeps try to weave it into their backstory...I honestly get a little squeamish; I realize now because I've tried to build a fantasy world that is an ESCAPE for my players. And maybe, that topic is just a little too real to be able to handle it appropriately. Too many levels, too many layers, and too much trauma.
AND, I'm the freaking DM, and I am not comfortable with its existence in my fictional world. Done.
If you want coaching in formulating a traumatic event / dark defining moment in your backstory, I've got training in that; I've got a million other ways to make you a haunted soul, just NOT THAT.
And for all the awful things that I am comfortable portraying as an actor, I am NOT OKAY portraying the literal scum of the earth that would seek to rob someone of their power and agency in such a grotesque manner.
There are no rapists in Io.
I think that's pretty reasonable.
Explicit Sexual Assault and Explicit Torture
Coming from the same vein, this represents more of a promise from me to you.
I WILL NOT sexually assault or torture your character. Even in an evil campaign. It robs the player of power in ways that are systemically traumatizing.
This is a game. And you didn't sign up to be traumatized.
Love who you want. Race, gender, orientation; polyamory, monogamy, friends with benefits. They all exist in the world, but the levels of detail would (of course) depend on the age and maturity of each table, so we use our judgement to what is appropriate. Relationships can exist without a lot of details, or can be more overt.
BUT...I don't care. And neither do the people in Io. You can be gay, straight, nothing, and everything. You be the character you want to be.
If you make someone uncomfortable and they have voiced as such, and you don't listen, then we certainly have a problem. That's a social boundary at the table and away from it, so be open to each other's comfort levels and the type of game we all agreed to play through our social contract.
What Else To Consider
Contextual Flirtation / Harassment / Respecting the word "no"
Horndogs exist (male and female) and we've all met our share of creatures legitimately DTF, but often in Io, flirtation ends up being either consensual, or, if the flirter doesn't get the desired response...THEY STOP. Or maybe they try a different adorable tactic. They won't be bullies about someone saying no.
Now, there are other forms of "flirtation" that bleed toward harassment and/or manipulation. I try to save this type of personal narrative interaction for settings like Gray Owls (21+), where the players are mature enough to move appropriately with such things and easily separate character and player, and the cloak and dagger aspects of emotional manipulation offer an extra layer of play, instead of a psychological danger.
Things get more complicated with the concepts of Demons, Devils, and Angels. Demons are all about that chaos, but Devils want it to be your decision to buy into their deal; they're all about their rules and contracts. Angels, too. So if a character outright refuses, it doesn't mean the entity won't stop trying, but they'll never outright force them down multiple paths - there must be a sequence of active decisions to lead them to such a point.
Also-also, creeps exist. There's a dude in Dragon Heist that's a lascivious little creep, but though he might talk about all the creepy things, he's in no place of power when met with the party; and if he were, that's not what he's into, so taking the power wouldn't be fun for him. In Io specifically, creeps exist, but they will offer an invitation - to which the player-character can always decline. They might be insulted, or otherwise miffed (depending on the social structure/time period/setting), but they will NEVER force themselves upon a person (what a concept, right?). A noble brat will react differently than a lord or lady depending on the setting, and the context. But yeah...no.
Now, in settings like Gray Owls, in the deep dark city underbelly, nasty people exist who do some pretty messed up stuff, but still... NOT THAT. We can get plenty dark without going there.
Player-Characters Flirting With NPCs / PC + NPC Relationships
Most of the time, this is a compliment train trying to get a discount on something, and in a high-fantasy world, I'm cool with it.
There are numerous relationships, engagements, one-night-stands (again, not explicit, "fade to the fireplace"), marriages, and complications I have run (and I'm currently running) between NPCs and Characters. They're fun, informative, and rewarding for those that want to buy into that sort of exploration.
It's if a player begins performing a strip-tease for the NPC that I, well, might GET A LITTLE UNCOMFORTABLE.
(Don't call me "Daddy"... It's a line I didn't know I had, but THERE IT IS)
Use your common sense. Read the room.
[This scenario has been rectified, but I keep it here as an example, not a damnation]
NPCs Are People Too
And I mean it. NPCs are played by me; you can't just stab them all in the heart and loot the bodies without natural consequences catching up to you (not out of me seeking vengeance, but because straight up murder is usually frowned upon).
But in a more personal sense, if you treat an NPC like garbage...expect them to react as an actual person would when treated like garbage. If you're using this power fantasy to take out your aggression on a friendly NPC that has no connection to your actual life...yeah, they're going to respond realistically to such harassment. Maybe that leads to a great character moment - we can weave it into the story somehow, maybe - but don't be surprised if the cleric you've been treating like trash doesn't want to heal your dumb ass. Just food for thought. These guys and gals aren't programs; I'm going to play them like people (because we're always teaching).
Remember The Four Agreements
Don't Take Things Personally
Don't Make Assumptions
Always Do Your Best
Be Impeccable With Your Word
You will suffer less pain, less misunderstanding, and more respectful play at the table.
Why Omissions Are Powerful
As I was formulating the words for this entry, it brought me down a very pervasive rabbit hole.
It could be that when I was constructing Io, I was discluding all of the elements (one at a time, as they arose) in my own world that I found culturally stupid. And for all the things that are wrong in my fiction, I am glad to say that these are not any of them moving forward. There's nothing wrong with pursuing a safer place to stretch your imagination; where the echoes of our lives can be left at door.
I'm trying to build a better world to play in, even if it's all in my head. And I would rather cultivate an intriguing diversion, then a reminder of all the awful we see. What if we all had the ability to punch the reset button on all the big, bad, and ugly - just for a moment - and see what would actually be possible? That's an empowering thing. It is my well of hope. My guiding light.
Oh, and magic. Magic's pretty dope.
Treat each other well.
See you at the table.
Hey everyone! I took April off to do some birthday cleaning, figuratively and literally. Those of you that follow me on social media know I just completed an online "garage sale" / 10-year purge recently, and the energy that such an endeavor released has been monumental.
It's amazing how much clutter we allow into our lives, and how many things we hold onto that weigh us down. Enough. Is. Enough. I feel lighter, stronger, and more motivated than ever. Here's to my next year. :)
It was only just May the 4th, and any nerd worth her salt knows what's up. It seemed a no-brainer for me to run a very special kind of game, and in preparing it, and running it last night, I've made a few key observations on how it's changed over the years, how my style has changed, and how I prefer to run my games in this system.
Saga Is The Best Version, don't @ me
I've played the original D20 Star Wars (where Jedis are broken beyond reason), the West End variations (very open and creative), and the most recent Age Of Rebellion and all its various extra settings (weird dice and conceptual misalignment, still good, just weird). But what I've always returned to is Saga Edition.
Star Wars as a property has a problem when it comes to their tabletop settings and systems. They don't maintain support on older systems, actively discarding and going out of their way to forget they even existed. Everything's out of print (or hundreds of dollars), resources are fan-made only (well done, chaps), and everyone pushes the new stuff down your throat. Now, I understand a business model where you have to push the new products out...but Saga was SO GOOD. I don't want your new edition with new rules and weird dice; nothing was broken, so why fix it?
But WHY is Saga so good?
Well, it took the best of the giants at the time, Pathfinder and 4th Edition D&D. Now, the latter was getting panned, and the former heavy on the rules with lots of floating modifiers, conditional effects, and active rolling. We've talked about this already.
But Saga took some of that weight and just made it static. You have Defenses, not bonuses. You use skill checks in combat, and numbers aren't *as insane. Let's get into it.
There's no AC in this game. Instead, enemies will be targeting one of three static defenses: Fortitude - your constitution and strength to resist poison and getting thrown around, Reflex - your dexterity and ability to dodge, feint, or parry, Will - your mental clarity and focus. Now, in Pathfinder, these numbers would be bonuses to opposed checks against a Difficulty Class etc... But Saga takes a page from 4th Edition and keeps these numbers as static defenses. These are the numbers your enemies and you roll against to hit them and cause damage and debilitating effects, which is much faster and cleaner.
Perception and Initiative can be treated as static as well (rolling in a clear "passive Perception"), but my players prefer rolling for Initiative for familiarity and that possibility of striking first. Rolling with crazy bonuses IS fun, don't take them all away!
In 5th Edition, there's a proficiency bonus that increases every few levels; in Pathfinder, you've got skill ranks - points you distribute each level to offset your weaknesses and augment your strengths. In Saga, you get an automatic bonus of 1/2 your total level rounded down automatically added to ALL OF YOUR SKILLS. Then, like most systems, the appropriate attribute modifier is applied, maybe you've got a training bonus (+5), and that's it. Most of what you "distribute" by selection is done at character creation. After that, the numbers take care of themselves.
Feats and Talents
The bread and butter of Saga Edition is found in their Talent Trees and Bonus Feats. Let me explain.
There are only 5 Heroic Classes to play in the game.
Jedi - Noble - Scoundrel - Scout - Soldier
But each of these Classes has *at least* three different Talent Trees, and each class is awarded a Talent selection every odd level in the Class. These Talents can give passive or active bonuses, special powers, penalty removals...tons of cool stuff, and it's all very straightforward in how it operates (again, going back to targeting one of those three Defenses, or offering an easy bonus/alternative combat choice). Some Talents require others in order to be taken (Talent "chaining"), but it's never too alarming; the connections make sense and are easy to do.
And Talents fulfill other requirements later, like Prestige Classes (Bounty Hunter, Jedi Knight, Ace Pilot, etc.), but you can always take levels in another class to gain access to another Talent Tree. Multiclassing is fully supported and encouraged because, at the end of the day, your character ISN'T just a Noble, or just a Jedi, they're a complete person with various skills and, ha, talents. Leia may have started as a Noble, but lord knows she has Talent with a blaster and we KNOW she's force sensitive. There are no "capstone abilities" in each class, just an ever-expanding web of Talents.
Now, Feats suffer the same problem they do in Pathfinder, but instead of 2000+ of them... We're under 75 easy. And so many of them streamline the choice down to the player. Take Power Attack, a Pathfinder staple, for example: trade melee attack bonus for damage. Except, the player chooses how much to take away every time. I want to deal an extra 10 damage? Take a -10 to the roll. Only 5 damage? Take a -5. You choose the level of risk; that's an interesting choice, and we don't need compounding Feats to work through that.
Feats exist to help specialize the player, each class offering Bonus Feats at ever even level in a Class from a select list that makes sense. On top of this, each character gets a Feat from the big list at 1st, 3rd, 6th, 9th, 12th, 15th, and 18th level...but the amount of required chaining is either nonexistent, or only 2 or 3 in, and the bonuses along the way make sense. Yes, using a lot of Feats take some getting used to when you come from 5E, but at least this system flows a lot easier and is much simpler to digest. And since I come from the other end, I'm happy to teach the transition. :)
The Force and Destiny
The Force operates in two big ways in Saga: in the form of Force Points (a D6 added to a roll) and Force Powers. Jedi and other Force users collect powers in their Force Power Suite to wield within the world, slowly expanding the suite as they take Force Training (a Feat taken multiple times, based on your Wisdom).
Now, as per Raw, the Powers you have count as one use of said power, and this is where I split from RAW and flow toward my own preferences.
+ The Powers in your suite are treated like spells known and prepared. It tracks that a Force user that uses a Force Push would be able to push multiple times; they wouldn't forget how just because they already did it once.
+ Some Powers require the use of Force Points to work, while others can be augmented by the Force (using points), but most don't require burning them. Your pool only increases and replenishes every LEVEL, so no.
+ Most Powers take a Swift action in combat. I've seen Obi-Wan swing a lightsaber and shove a stack of droids in the same turn, so you guys can do it too. Force Lightning, on the other hand, may take a little more oomph in the action economy (unless you're a certain skill level in the Sith traditions).
Destiny Points function much like inspiration, but I add a nice big D12 instead. It's not *just* a re-roll, it's a possible value (you pick how you want to use it).
AND - Because my setting is in the Old Republic, when the Force is prevalent and surging, I added a mechanic to wonderful effect last night.
Your Force dice and Destiny die can Ace. Acing is a mechanic utilized in games like Mekton, Deadlands, and the entirety of Savage Worlds (probably a ton of others, but those are the ones I know). Anywho, if you roll the max number on a die, you roll again and add the two values together (Ace again? Keep going and keep adding). And because you can add a Force die to anything, a punch to the face might send someone through a wall...and isn't that awesome?
So, in short, Saga Edition functions like a streamlined D&D in space with laser swords and wizards.
It was so good, and it reminded me why I liked this system so much and why I miss it so terribly.
Get ready for a resurrection - we've got more stories to tell.
See you at the table.
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, and aspiring fiction author.