Chronicles of Gor – Sex, Gender, Race, Consent, Fantasy & Gor

RaceFUND IT!

This is going to be a bit of an essay, in which I try to address – or at least talk about – some of the worries, concerns and objections to the very concept of this game that have been doing the rounds. So, ‘For god’s sake, strap yourselves in!’ – keeping your foot on the red pedal is optional.

Race & Gor

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Despite being written in the 60s – up until today – Gor gets a lot of comparisons with the pulps, and with good reason. To the modern mind a great deal of the pulps were extremely sexist, racist and otherwise fit that dread phrase ‘problematic’. Certainly a lot of the pre WWII pulps contain a lot of racism. Robert E Howard’s assumptions about race are fairly explicit, HP Lovecraft’s even more so. Edgar Rice Burroughs was playing with racial perceptions in the early John Carter stories and Tarzan certainly plays around with the same topics. In writing my neo-pulp story collection Pulp Nova, I played around with some of the ideas and inverted some of the same expectations in the story ‘Wild’.

To a casual reader, Gor might – at first – seem racist. One sees references to ‘Red Savages’, ‘Red Hunters’, the Pani (ersatz Japanese) have a somewhat moustache-twirling cruelty to them but, not one that’s unjustified by history, and Bila Hiruma is referred to as the ‘great black Ubar’. Dig beneath this surface though and the books are surprisingly respectful, and even admiring, of the transplanted cultures that are found on Gor.

The hero of the stories, Tarl Cabot, ingratiates himself with the various cultures he encounters but never truly outshines them. It is often the secondary characters within those cultures that are the true heroes of the story, with Tarl as the observer to their genius, their sidekick or even their slave. The native American culture (Savages of Gor, Blood Brothers of Gor) is particularly interesting. A extremely militant and protective culture carrying the memory of mistreatment in the settling of America and organised, ruthlessly, to prevent the same happening to their lands on Gor.

Sex & Gender

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

The Gorean world is one of savage, might makes right, philosophy for the most part – though ‘might’ can take many forms from physical to intellectual or economic. It’s savage and cruel in many ways and a great deal of political and social power derives directly from the strength of one’s sword arm. As such it is a world of extremely stratified and defined gender roles with much of the political, and almost all the military power, residing with men.

Yes, men and women’s roles in society are – typically – very constrained but that’s a reflection of the wider (normal) Gorean society which is very stratified by caste as well as gender and by people ‘knowing their place and role’. That’s the very thing that makes defying those expectations and playing characters that defy, pervert or undermine those expectations (or embody them!) so interesting.

Since the criticism directed has been towards the roles available to women in the Gorean setting, I’ll direct this section towards that.

Tarl is an exceptional character, as the protagonist, and also an unreliable narrator coloured by his own experiences and betrayals. Still, he meets many women in his explorations of Gor and they’re not all helpless maidens or slaves – or at least they don’t start out that way.

  • Right from the start, in Tarnsmen of Gor, Tarl encounters Talena, who is – at least in the first books – much his equal in terms of cunning. The daughter of Marlenus she not only throws Tarl from his tarn saddle but wins him as a free companion – as his equal – but also survives amongst the panther girls, regains her position in Ar and overthrows its government.
  • In Outlaw of Gor there is a whole city, Tharna, run by women who – somehow – wrested control away from the normal male-dominated state of affairs. True they were overthrown, but women were the ones in power there, controlling and subjugating men (until the revolt).
  • In most of the plots of the Kur, their agents are women – and often those of Earth – running schemes and plots upon which the fates of worlds rest.
  • In Tribesmen of Gor, the bandit leader Tarna is a woman, and one who defies the normal gender constraints by wielding weapons and – by all accounts – being rather handy with the scimitar.
  • In Hunters of Gor, Verna – leader of a band of panther girls – is shown to be an equal of Marlenus and a woman who cannot be tamed. The panther girls as a whole are a countercultural defiance of Gor’s natural order and quite ‘hardcore’, even using scarification and self-mutilation to defy Gorean standards fo beauty and to render themselves ‘worthless’ as slaves.
  • By the time we get to Conspirators of Gor, we have the Lady Bina, once a mute grooming slave of the Kur, now – with Grendal in tow – potentially a major threat to Gor as a whole, with the ambition to rule the whole world.
  • We see huntresses, physicians, leaders and – yes – slave girls, some of which ‘top from the bottom’ with as much control over their Masters as their masters are supposed to wield over them. We also see women – like Tarna – with seraglios full of male silk slaves, serving their whims.

Slavery

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Gor contains slavery. This is not unusual for game settings. Slavery exists in many fiction settings and games, as well as existing throughout human history and – in some forms – still today. What is different and challenging about the Gorean setting is that slavery in this context is not seen as an unambiguous evil, but sometimes even as something… good, it also takes it to an extreme.

Slaves are not only taken on Gor, they are bred and it is an accepted part of the Gorean culture that some people are natural slaves and that that’s the state they belong in and are most fulfilled as. Within Gorean gender relations that is most often taken to be women and that is the message of the entire culture, with female slavery in particular being something simultaneously full of dread and titillation to Gorean free women.

Gor, BDSM, Consent, Roleplay & ‘Rape’

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Gor exists in a space with some relation to the BDSM community. ‘Gorean slavery’ exists as a real kink, or style of kink at least, playing off some of the formalised slave movements, poses, recitations and behaviours played out in the novels.

The novels themselves are actually fairly coy, with very little in the way of graphic sexual activity being depicted. Most of it is simply hinted at or takes place ‘off screen’. The difference between them and, say, Conan, is that the sexual part is at least acknowledged rather than being simply implicit.

Something that is hugely important in the BDSM community is consent, even when the appearance of consent is absent (consensual non-consent, slave play or rape-play). It’s arguably more integral and up front in the BDSM community than it is in relation to any other aspect of sexuality in a way that’s only recently been brought to the fore elsewhere. This is even formalised in soft limits, hard limits and – perhaps most explicitly – in the practice of having safe words.

This is not entirely different to the social contracts we create around roleplaying, one form of fantasy play not being that different to another when you get down to it. We have rules to make it safe and it all operates on consent.

One last thing worth pointing out is the role of ‘rape’ in the Gorean novels. The word doesn’t quite carry the same connotation within Gorean society as it does to us, being more akin in meaning to the colloquial use. On Gor its meaning is more like ‘ravish’, to take with passion and strength and force. In a world where it is the considered wisdom of both free people and slaves that slaves wish to be slaves and where sexual fervour and freedom can lead to frenzies of lust, the context is also different.

Nobody is saying this is the state of the real world.

What I’m finding fascinating is the RPG people shaming the kinksters and the kinksters shaming the RPG people. Gor seems to exist at a Lagrange Point of contempt between two groups of people who really, really, aren’t all that dissimilar.

The Role of Fantasy

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

Fantasy gives us a space to engage in behaviours, to experience situations and to experiment within a safe space. For some reason, which continues to utterly befuddle me, this is considered fine when it comes to murder, warfare, horror, violence, torture etc, but is still considered – for many people – off limits when it comes to anything titillating or sexual and that seems to be spreading to other things as well. This isn’t really the place to get into that in detail.

uThere is a line between reality and fantasy and the vast and overwhelming majority of people nderstand and respect that line. You can slaughter a hundred bandits beneath your axe playing D&D and not think it too many, nor be held suspect (at least not since the 1980s) that it would make you a mass murderer. You can summon up fell demons from the warp and set them upon your enemies in Warhammer and nobody is going to think you’re a satanic cultist. You can read 50 Shades of Grey (I know, I know…) and nobody necessarily thinks you’re into everything that’s in that.

So why should a little titillation and fantastical gender relations be any different?

I don’t know.

Conclusion

Gor is a fantasy world that isn’t real.

The sexual aspect, even in the books, is background exoticism against the backdrop of which adventures, intrigue and exotic adventures take place. You can ramp it up or tone it down as you and your group prefer, but it is integral to the background. It is one of the most intriguing, difficult and different aspects to a game that there is. Do we not want to be challenged? To stretch our mental legs? Can we not enjoy things that are difficult? Imagine alternate moral systems and cultural norms? Is this not a big part of the deeper appeal of roleplaying games? If we’re only going to be playing in fantasy theme parks that reflect our modern sensibilities, with a thin veneer of magic, dragons or science fiction, then we’re selling ourselves short.

At least, that’s my opinion.

Nor do we have to approve of the Gorean culture. Tarl spends a great deal of time in the first few books having trouble adjusting, as does Jason in the novels that focus around him. Those men are, of course, of Earth, while those brought up within Gorean culture – male or female – are unlikely to have the same trouble or to be able to understand the moral quandries that those men went through.

My aim in providing the game book, and the world book, is to provide tools to play YOUR games and to make YOUR Gor. Whether you want to indulge your swords-and-sandals fantasies and lead strings of captured women (or men) from burning towns, or whether you want to lead a revolt of panther girls to raid the border towns and liberate the slaves, that’s entirely up to you. They’re all valid choices.

With any game, I think the best thing to do is to provide the tools and the context, and then to let people make their own stories.

Gorean Chronicles: Art by Michael Manning

The artist we hope to use throughout both books, Chronicles of Gor and World of Gor, is Michael Manning.

Michael Manning (born 1963) is an American comic book artist and writer, fine art illustrator, and traditionally trained animator currently based in Los Angeles, California. He is best known for his graphic novel series, The Spider Garden and Tranceptor, which combine elements of pan-sexual fetishism and BDSM culture with complex characters in science fiction and fantasy settings. He is also active in the supernatural horror and fantasy genres, drawing adaptations of the work of authors such as H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, and Alexandre Dumas for the Graphic Classics comics anthology series, as well as illustrating an anachronistic version of the German folk epic, The Nibelungen.

The more money we have, the more Michael we can afford, so please, help FUND IT.

These are prelim sketches for one piece, if you want to see what his finished work looks like, please click on The Nibelungen link above.

Michael’s style is stark, graphically intense and most importantly – different. He will give Gor a distinctive and definitive style and visual appeal.

Art1

Art2

Chronicles of Gor – Worldbook sample ‘C’

Castes

FUND IT!

Caste System: Civilized Gor exists within a well developed and life-shaping caste structure. Everyone is born into a caste and, for the most part, will not change caste during their life. It is possible to, by companionship, apprenticeship or being accepted and initiated into the new caste, but most grow up proud of their caste and eager to take on its duties.

Children are considered to be of their father’s caste while female companions can retain their own caste or join their companion’s caste. While every caste has its secrets and its pride, regarding itself as essential, there are still divisions between the high castes and the low castes.

Rulers – administrators and Ubars – always come from the high castes and are advised by a council drawn from the high castes, though the Ubar need pay them no heed. Indeed, if a low caste ruler should ever rise, superstition tells that the city will fall to ruin.

Castes look after their own, providing caste sanctuary, contributing to caste based charities and taking part in entertainments and competitions determined by caste. Not all members born to a caste are necessarily talented enough to take up the main job associated with that caste. The physicians, for example, can only make the subtleties of their advanced medicine known to the most intelligent of those who enter the caste. Others may find work delivering medical products, working to grind ingredients or acting as couriers, taking scrolls of recipes and discoveries from one city to another.

Male children are trained in the workings of the caste from birth, alongside the rest of their education while women are not typically trained in the skills of the caste until they have given birth to two children. Despite this, many women run households, small businesses or make businesses of hobbies. They also often act as the ‘front’ of the caste, representatives of the rest of their caste in negotiations.

Outlaws and slaves lose their caste rights, though a freed slave may be able to reclaim them.

Gamers Aren’t Over

dead_on_computerThis weirdly out of synch article is doing the rounds and has stirred up a lot of the same old vitriol and hate, yet again. Why? Well it all stems from the same ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing I blogged about not so long ago. As I said there, the ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing is almost entirely bullshit, but it has raised some important issues about integrity in games reporting, nepotism and more broadly the relationships between studios, publishers and review sites. The best advice remains ‘listen to fan reviewers’ but that’s difficult if you want to pre-order and get all your extra shinies.

Whether the ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing is bullshit or not (it is) is largely irrelevant to this larger conversation and also irrelevant to the wider conversation about game content, creation and tropes that has been going on for some time now and that is a much more important issue to which this idea of the ‘erasure of gamers’ is a final, ungrateful, kick in the teeth.

Obviously, coming from tabletop gaming I have a slightly different perspective, but computer games are really just going through what we’ve already been through (and continue to go through) only tabletop games are smaller and more vulnerable and – perhaps – even more sensitive to these kinds of attacks.

I’ll be repeating a lot of the same sort of things I’ve said before, but there’s no harm in collating them in a single blog post and updating them.

I also think that this is a good time, not a bad time, to speak up on these things because there is a head of steam and an existing, engaged, public conversation with a relatively high degree of awareness that can’t just be swept under the rug this time.

So let’s deal with some of these things:

  1. Corruption in games journalism.
  2. Social Justice Criticism
  3. Gamers Are Over
  4. Where do we go from here?

Corruption in Games Journalism

Video games journalism has hardly ever been particularly honest. Perhaps in the early days of hand-coding and fanzines things were different and the internet has allowed the bloggers and youtubers to create something more like that where the message can’t necessarily be controlled and you can – perhaps – get a halfway honest opinion out of someone.

Big sites and what remains of games magazines though? As I talked about in the other blog on this subject, if you want free product to review, if you want early previews and information and to get into launch parties etc, you’d better do what you’re told. A friend who used to work in games journalism once reviewed an MMO and gave it an average, not even a bad, score. This caused a series of issues with editors and with the publisher of said game, relations between the site and the company and eventually led to them leaving that job. This is why scores tend to congregate around 7 – as one of the lowest ‘acceptable’ scores.

Smaller studios, foreign ports and indies can’t – usually – have that much pull but issues such as reviewing games you’re funding or those written by people you have personal relationships with are a problem there too. Even if there’s no actual problem it can create the appearance of one.

If you want an imperfect analogy, most games journalism is like Fox News. It’s ‘a news’, not ‘the news’.

Where this starts to get a bit muddied is when it intersects with…

Social Justice Criticism

Gamers have basically been being shat on via dubious, ‘social justice’ based criticism for some years now and the only reason – I think – that there hasn’t been that much of a backlash to it is because the tactic of branding any dissenters as misogynistic trolls is such an effective tactic. This is especially true when there ARE horrible trolls out there (personally I doubt many, if any, actually hate women they just know how to get a rise).

Still, without condoning the nastiness that does go on it is very easy indeed to understand where the resentment and anger comes from. When you’re told you’re evil, toxic, hate women, hate minorities, are shallow and every other horrible accusation in the book – as a community – day after day, week after week, year after year, resentment is bound to build up and it’s bound to explode in the form of anger.

Is there valid criticism to be made? Is there constructive criticism to be made? Absolutely, but we don’t get that. We get hit pieces and hatchet jobs, we get frauds like Anita Sarkeesian being elevated and lionised by an industry that is apparently running scared and unwilling to plant a flag in the ground and say ‘no, we support free expression and we’ll make what we want to’.

And yes, I’m satisfied Sarkeesian is a fraud. There are plenty of exhaustive resources online detailing the hows and whys and I’ve found it sufficient to convince me of the fact. If you want to see things that address her actual videos I recommend Thunderf00t’s series about her on Youtube and you may also wish to back The Sarkeesian Effect (its far from perfect as a project, or in tone, but it’s at least something).

Why get so worked up over the censorship and attacks on gamers and gaming? It’s only games right? It isn’t important, it it? The people attacking it seem to think it is important and to a great many people their safe haven, their escapism, their fantasies, are tremendously important and as a maker of art, games and other creative endeavours its important to me in terms of both livelihood and creative freedom – a basic human right.

From a gamer perspective, Sarkeesian and her ilk just look like yet another Jack Thompson or Patricia Pulling – and there’s really no reason to think they’re not.

Gamers are Over?

People just love their bad statistics and will often quote various spectacular sounding figures, especially when it comes to the gender split, to justify criticising whatever game or product has upset people at the time. Over the last couple of days it’s been talk about a near 50/50 split, or that adult women gamers now outnumber teenage male gamers.

The problem with this is obvious to anyone who has been through this roundabout before. It’s including games like Farmville and Bejewelled, it’s including people who watch Netflix on their Xbox and it’s not reflecting the reality.

What makes a ‘real gamer’? I have no bloody idea really. I guess it’s someone who isn’t just a consumer of games, but a fan. Someone to whom that’s a part of their identity much as you might identify yourself as a punk, a goth or a heavy metal fan. A lot of people look down on what you might call ‘casual gamers’ but I don’t want to do that. It’s great that more people are playing games of all kinds, but the fact that a lot of grannies started playing Wii Sports or that Madge in accounting spends her whole lunchtime matching fruit tells us precisely nothing about how we should approach AAA console titles (which are still predominantly a male audience, generally 3/4 male or more).

I write tabletop role-playing games. What can the popularity of monopoly (an awful, awful game that’s nonetheless hugely popular) really tell me about designing dungeon encounters, combat systems or how to make my – very different – game appeal to a wider audience?

It can’t tell me a damn thing.

The data is bad – and it would be useful to have good data. If we had accurate data from the appropriate genres and subgenres – and we wanted to reach out to a larger female or minority audience – we could do so based on actual data, rather than on hearsay, rumour and opinion. Of the triple A titles, which ones do appeal the most to women, and why? Which ones appeal to racial minorities, and why? ‘50% of women are now gamers’, when you define ‘gamer’ to include people who play Minesweeper on their office PC, it’s effectively meaningless.

Another analogy. What can a successful romantic comedy tell us about how to cast and direct our next blockbuster action movie?

Answer, almost fuck all. What makes a successful romantic comedy is hugely at odds with what makes a successful action flick.

Are ‘gamers’ over? No. No more than comic book fans (as opposed to ‘people who read comic books’) are over, or film buffs are over.  Some people are more than just consumers of a particular form of entertainment, it’s part of their identity and who they are. If ‘gamers’ are anything they’re the fan-leaders, the opinion formers, the motivated consumers that shape and lead and can make or break a game.

They’re not over, they’ve not vanished, they’re still important and trying to erase them or characterise them as trolls is to insult your main fanbase.

Where do we go from here?

The whole ‘Quinnspiracy’ thing might be bullshit, but it has created a large scale public discourse that could become useful, if it’s not derailed in the usual way by painting every critic and concerned gamer as a misogynistic troll. There are real issues that need to be discussed but it needs to be an actual, respectful, thoughtful discussion.

It needs to be a discussion with two sides.

It needs to be a discussion that uses all the facts, not just the convenient (or inconvenient) ones.

Will that happen? I don’t know. I can hope so and – as a hopefully reasonable, intelligent and engaged gamer and game creator – I would like to try and steer things that way.

I guess we’ll see.

Gorean Chronicles – Men are from Gor, Women are from Erskan

sexFUND IT!

A lot of ink (pixels?) have been spilt over the years about the misogynistic and patriarchal nature of the Gorean world and – more recently – about this fundraiser and this game as a whole. The Free Woman/Slave division is seen as the virgin/whore dichotomy writ large. Michael Moorcock even campaigned for Gorean novels to be put on the top shelf and Norman himself has blamed these criticisms for various setbacks over the time the novels have been published, though I’m not sure how true that is.

Still, we live in a more enlightened age, don’t we? People are much freer about sexuality than they used to be and after the Comics Code, Satanic Panic, Murder Simulators and all the other nonsense we’ve had to put up with we’re all well aware that (for the vast and overwhelming majority of people) there’s a sharp delineation between fantasy and reality? Right?

Right?

It seems not.

Well then, is there a role for women in a Gorean role-playing game or are they destined to just be – as some wag asked me on Twitter – ‘part of the equipment list?’

There’s no getting away from the fact that the Gorean society, as written is deeply patriarchal – as in genuinely, actually patriarchal. Men hold the power but in the Gorean world that is largely because men still hold the means of production and the military might. Gor is largely pre-industrial, everything is done by hand and muscle power is more important in fighting, agriculture and in generally keeping the world moving. Men cannot be done without and as such hold the balance of physical power.

Women are not without power though. Many castes do not disfavour women, the Scribes, Physicians and Initiates certainly don’t, and there’s nothing to prevent a woman becoming the head of her caste in a city. The caste of Warriors lacks examples of women in the books, but as an hereditary caste there seems no reason to think that there aren’t female warriors, though they might be more likely to fall into support roles, espionage and the like. Women in the Caste of Builders might be supply sellers, architects, researchers, even if they’re less likely to be hod-carriers or bricklayers.

Women hold a great deal of economic power as well, running most of the shops, leading merchant houses, investing their money, managing estates and breeding racing tharlarion (examples from the books). Free women are accorded a level of respect that – within certain bounds – give them a decided social advantage over Gorean men. Nor are free women asexual ‘Madonnas’. Free women have access to male silk slaves and are presented as sexual beings throughout the books, slavery is not an inevitable fate and many women and men find free companions to be with (equivalent to marriage) though both may also have slaves to entertain them on the side.

Tharna, until it was overthrown, was a vicious matriarchy. There are Panther Girls in the northern forests and in the great jungle of the interior (called Talunas) who are runaway slaves and free women who reject the dominant male society. So tough and committed are they that some scar their faces or otherwise mutilate themselves to show their rejection of Gorean society.

Nor is there any reason you can’t play as a slave girl (or slave boy) within the group. Many slaves are loved and cherished, fought over and for and many slaves have played key roles in important events on Gor. A slave may also only temporarily be a slave, seeking to earn their freedom or perhaps a skilled thief put in a collar as a punishment and simply biding their time.

Nobody, male or female, at the table should be – or is – forced to put up with anything they don’t want to.

Fantasy games, books, graphic novels, heck – fantasy art in general – is an opportunity to engage with and experience a world that doesn’t even have to exist. We don’t even have to like what occurs there to enjoy it. Just consider the popularity of horror novels, of splatterpunk films, reaction videos. It’s OK to enjoy ‘problematic things’ and you don’t have to agree with them to enjoy it. A game world that is genuinely different is interesting, conflict is interesting, a bland, generic, everything is shiny and happy game world is dull as ditchwater.

It’s fantasy.

Your game is your own, make it your own.

Repeat that mantra.

When it comes to sexuality, Gor in the novels is presented as almost 100% heterosexual, though there are a few hints as to otherwise and one glaring exception that gives some hints that homosexuality is accepted within Gorean society and catered to by slavers. In short, there’s nothing whatsoever to stop you playing a gay or lesbian character and Gorean society doesn’t seem to give too much of a fig about it on a societal level.

Transgender issues are a bit more thorny. So if you’re sensitive, stop reading now.

Still want to read on?

Good.

Intersex conditions are likely to be viewed as deformity and the Goreans are pretty ruthless when it comes to babies with deformities, killing them almost all the time – for any deformity that cannot be healed or prevented by the physicians. Deformed people and cripples are viewed with disgust more than pity and even begging a living can become virtually impossible for them as in Gorean society it is seen as a deep insult to either be pitied or to be shown pity. It’s all a bit Spartan.

With that unpleasantness out of the way, what about people who aren’t intersex but feel that they’ve been born into the wrong sex? Given Gorean views on the importance of gender this is likely to be a very difficult path to go down and they’re more likely to be slotted into the homosexual identity than anything else. Some cultures have room for those who live differently than their obvious gender, the Red Savages in particular make young men who fail to become warriors live as women and it seems likely that the transplanted cultures of the jungles and of the barrens have also carried over cultural acceptance and spiritual reverence for this kind of thing.

It’d be a hard thing to play out, just as its a hard thing in real life, but the conflict between the hugely strict and important Gorean attitude to gender and someone who defies that could make for fascinating RP.

(Sort of) Review: 5e D&D Player’s Handbook

10390393_10152396043581071_7602083816466343216_nHere’s your capsule review of 5e.

There’s nothing particularly new here except an optional, mild nod towards developments in Indie-Gaming over the last 20 years or so in the form of ‘inspiration’. That is rewarding good roleplay, or at least roleplaying according to your character’s personality and background – with mechanical benefits in game, rather than just in terms of experience points. That’s a small, but significant, update to the game in my opinion.

Otherwise there’s nothing particularly new here, the game is a sort of ‘greatest hits’ or a remix in many ways. 3e and 4e were emach radical departures for D&D with 3e arguably being the better modernisation of the two, 5e is much more retro.

On the good side multiclassing doesn’t suck like it did in 4e and ‘build optimisation’ isn’t as broken or as big of a deal (yet) as it was.

On the minus side, the Feats instead of Ability Bonuses thing makes you make a very, very hard choice and removes a degree of character individuality. Also the skill system blows goats, reducing it to a binary yes/no and a level dependent bonus (proficiency) making it more akin to non-weapon proficiencies from back in the day.

The game’s solid and, probably, the right move in the current market.

The presentation is where it kind of gets confusing. I’ll get into some of that a bit later, but it definitely lacks a definitive look and feel of the kind that 3e and 4e had. It’s all a bit… brown, wishy-washy, insipid and uninspiring. The best bits, the bits that actually catch the attention or make you want to play are the few illustrations that are outside the bounds of the Social Justice influence, the huge-ass dragon on page 171 and the little humour-filled B&W sketches for things like the condition effects (which even include some same sex dwarf/tentacle action).

Score
Style: 3/5 (Especially halflings and gnomes. Dude… wtf?!?)
Substance: 5/5
Overall: 4/5

So, into the post-script, because nobody REALLY needs another review of 5e. The ‘meta level’ discussion has been about some of the consultant’s presumed biases (spoiler: they’re not bigots) and the paragraph on gender. This all taking place as part of a much broader discussion about media representations (primarily of women and racial minorities).

This has obviously had a rather big influence on the art direction in 5e and while I have described the art as weak, uninspiring and insipid (and brown) I don’t think this is down to the pressure to diversify the depictions. While it’s true that the illustrations that are less ‘inoffensive’ tend to have a bit more animation and fun to them, the relative variety of ages, body-types and races is well handled and doesn’t feel like tokenism – which is always my big worry when people get into this.

I’d have liked to see more stylistic and sexy illustrations – especially as I like playing sexy male characters when I RP – but that’s a matter of personal taste and I’ll take the hit. Diversity is a good thing, but it needs to make sense in the context in which it is presented and assuming Forgotten Realms is the default, there’s nothing that sticks out like a sore thumb in this.

Besides, the black fighter guy is fucking badass.

Anyway, I made a decidedly unscientific survey of the images in the PHB, breaking it down some, along with my observations. I was looking at visible characters in the pieces, ignoring monsters, basically going on what I noticed, rather than poring over every page with a magnifying glass. Still, here’s the results:

Significant Male Illustrations Vs Significant Female Illustrations

MvF

Significant Illustrations by Race

Note that some illustrations were hard to tell and I gave them the benefit of the doubt. East Asian, Middle Eastern and African style illustrations were present but South Asian and Hispanic style illustrations were largely absent. Normally I’d hate to conflate PoC into one big thing, but it wasn’t especially useful with the sample size here to break it down more. ‘Green etc’ is to cover all the fantasy races with abnormal colours – such as drow and orcs.

racial

Titillation Index

The proportion of images that were, IMO, even mildly titillating or ‘impractical’ versus the number that weren’t. This is very subjective so I had to make a category for ones that weren’t – quite – either. Your opinion may fall either side of the spectrum on that.

Sexy

So what does all this mean, if anything?

D&D 5e has clearly catered – to a degree – to the small by vocal crowd who have been causing ructions. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing depends on your perspective. I like diversity, but have worried about it being done ‘just because’. 5e handles it about as well as we can expect I think, having the added bonus of not really being tied to any explicit setting as, say, something like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, Middle Earth or Game of Thrones would be. This gives D&D a bit more wiggle-room than a lot of settings to include diversity without shattering suspension of disbelief.

Not every game has that going for it and while D&D has handled it well the overall presentation isn’t that inspiring and since writing the review section of this post my opinion was swished the other way. Given that the better illustrations with more interest, inspiration and panache ARE the ‘sexier’ ones, perhaps the ability to excite and engage an audience has been sapped a little by this concern.

D&D always sells well, relatively speaking (even 4e) so it’s not a great benchmark for the rest the industry. It will, however, now be cited whenever someone wants to try and influence art direction in another project so the best I can suggest is wary, cautious optimism.

Chronicles of Gor – Dead Trees

FUND IT!

It’s been suggested by some that I’m just in this for the moolah (which at this point remains to be seen), rather than being a TruFan™.

Here are the Gor books that I was gifted some 20+ years ago.

And some of my favourite covers.

As you can see. They are actual, real, physical books, wot I own.

The Roger Dean-esque font is delicious, but sadly probably a little tooooo 70s for anything but nouveau-prog rock album covers any more. The free font Medusa is very similar, if you fancy having a go with it yourself.

Some of the fantasy greats worked on covers for the paperbacks.

Burns being one of my most favourite fantasy artists, and the one I think made the best Gorean cover, this one for Explorers of Gor.

With an art pedigree like this, you can see why I want enough money to make these books visually striking!

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