Thursday, 10 July 2014

Working Towards Diversity

PowerFrame uses a set of four Game Helper characters, who act as the subjects of rules examples. They are kind of "iconic" characters, although given it's a universal game they tend to dress up as lots of different characters.

Here is the first group I came up with:

Alex, Chris, and Sandy
(with Soggy at lower left)
In the interests of diversity, I included one male, one female, and one androgyne. I included one Caucasian, one Asian, and one dark-skinned person. I mixed up gender assumptions a little by having the male with long hair and the female with short hair. All of the Game Helpers also have names that could be either male or female. The fourth Game Helper, Soggy, is a shapechanging blob that takes on the roles of monsters and adversaries in the examples.

Personality-wise, Chris likes strong and straightforward characters, Sandy likes playing support characters, and Alex likes playing mysterious characters and using the more complex optional rules.

These have been the Game Helpers for a few years now, but I recently looked at them critically and noticed I was playing into certain stereotypes and cultural assumptions.

  • Chris - the 'main' character - is a white male. He's also forthright and direct, preferring 'power' options in the game.
  • Sandy, while dark-skinned, has blonde hair. While this is pretty common in anime (and also reflected in Japan's 'Ganguro Girl' style), it's a form of exotification. She's also gentle, prefers playing support roles, and likes the simple parts of the system.
  • Alex is an androgynous and inscrutable Asian who likes complex rules. That pretty much speaks for itself.

Realising that some of these elements were as problematic as the issues the group was meant to address, I went back to the drawing board and designed a new group.

Alex, Chris, and Sandy
(with Soggy at lower right)

  • The leading character, Chris, is now a black female who likes to kick butt and take charge. Given I'm from Australia, her look is inspired by Australian Aborigines.
  • Alex is now a male Asian, who likes to take on social roles and be the party negotiator. This is a subtle shift from the 'support character' personality that used to be in this slot.
  • Sandy is now a Caucasian androgyne who likes playing mysterious characters and engaging with the advanced rules. Ze also now has a fuller body-type and glasses.

Are there still issues? Certainly there are some, but with only three characters there's limited conceptual space to be much more inclusive. Sandy could be seen as a 'sexless fat nerd' stereotype, or as a being inclusive of people with different body-types. The only disability represented is Sandy's glasses, which is a pretty minor thing.

I hope that this second group is a better example of diversity and representation than the first. If you have any suggestions as to how I might improve the situation, I'd love to hear some feedback!

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Travelling Onward

I'm slowly putting together the artwork for PowerFrame, starting with the essentials. Each chapter has a full-width illustration at the top. This is one I've just finished for the Travel chapter, so I thought I'd discuss Travel in PowerFrame a bit.

PowerFrame's Travel rules are detailed and comprehensive, based around a World Map made up of 20km wide hexes. Here's a sample page, which discusses how to use the World Map in play.

Land hexes are made up of both Topography and Vegetation, which can be combined to represent almost any environment - from Arid Flat to Jungle Mountains. Some weirder combinations create specific terrain; Arid Swamp represents a salt marsh, and Frigid Swamp becomes tundra. Personally I am quite fond of Forest Mesas.

In addition to the basic Terrain and Water icons, there are other markers for settlements, fortifications, sites, ruins, caves, mines, cliffs, beaches, roads, streams, rivers, cataracts, waterfalls, and oases.

Once you have a map together, the rest of the Travel rules respond to the variable terrain as the party travels over it. While you can skip stuff that's not important to your game, you can use the full rules to play a procedural hexcrawl and explore a fantastic landscape. There are rules covering Weather, Encounters, Getting Lost, Movement, Vision, and Exposure.

  • Weather is influenced by the terrain, and other factors such as season and latitude. It's based on separate sliders for Temperature, Water, and Wind.
  • Encounters provide general suggestions, since it's a universal system. The terrain affects your chances of encountering either Creatures or Characters. I've tried to make sure each Encounter is more than just flavour, and the Character Encounters have hooks to help get the PCs involved.
  • Getting Lost is a possibility in some terrain, with mountains and forests disorienting and misdirecting travellers. Use of the appropriate Abilities will make sure you go the way you intend, and don't just walk in circles.
  • Movement uses the characters' normal Movement rate on the World Map over a 12 hour period. However, travelling too much can sap Endurance, so it's often wise to slow down a bit unless you really need to be somewhere.
  • Vision is a key element when exploring new areas. As the party progresses, the GM can fill in the Players' Map with just the areas they can see. You can usually see all the adjacent hexes. Some terrain and weather obscures vision, but mountainous terrain can be seen from further away than usual.
  • Exposure is a risk if the weather is particularly hot or cold. It drains Endurance, which can make travelling more difficult and eventually prove fatal.

This flexible and adaptable system is designed to help you create and explore your own worlds, whatever they might look like.