Defunding the police: Is it enough?

After the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, protesters across the U.S. have pushed for cities to de-fund their police departments, if not disband them entirely. Already this week, the Minneapolis city council has pledged to dismantle its police department. While many grapple with what it would mean to abolish the police entirely (in addition to mainstream news sources, the Marshall Project explains police abolition); many cities are embracing a more conservative approach to reduce police funding.

As a baseline, everyone should be aware that while many U.S. cities have been cutting funding for public services, especially after the economic slowdown following the coronavirus outbreak, they’ve increased funding for police departments, even though city spending on police far surpasses spending on other public services.

Portland OR 2018-19 Budget, including $362 million for Public “Safety”

These ever-increasing police budgets have enabled the militarization of U.S. police, creating a unique tension between civilians and law enforcement, not found in other countries. Police officers in many countries—including Britain, New Zealand, Iceland, and Norway—don’t even carry firearms, let alone have access to tear gas and flash grenades.

The question is, will reducing a $5 billion police budget by $23.8 million (a paltry 0.4% decrease) do anything to address the NYPD’s ugly history of racial profiling (just as one example), let alone stop racist police officers from targeting and killing Blacks and other people of color? For decades, U.S. cities have spent millions of dollars on “implicit bias” training, but especially in light of recent events, there’s little evidence that this training has been effective. Several groups also argue that police reforms don’t work.

While some politicians are discussing ways to hold police accountable, the police abolition movement aims to rethink the entire way we address criminality in our communities. Groups such as MPD150 argue that if the majority of crimes in the U.S. result from a lack of food, well-paying jobs, affordable housing, education, accessible healthcare, and addiction treatment—then why not provide public assistance services, rather than spend billions of dollars to criminalize and punish those most in need? Not only does heavy policing and incarceration not address core issues that lead to criminal behavior (or in some cases, such as marijuana possession, unnecessarily define a recreational activity as criminal behavior); we’ve created a legal system that isolates and punishes offenders, making it more difficult for them to reintegrate into society and succeed.

More to the point, when law enforcement targets poor and vulnerable communities—especially Black communities who have suffered from centuries of systemic racism and who face growing wealth and income disparity—our police (and prison system) not only perpetuate criminal behavior, they become oppressors. (Although we’re currently focused on the police, it’s also worth nothing the U.S. prison system serves as a modern form of slavery.)

As Trump and his administration of wealthy elites foster racism in the U.S., as unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to increase homelessness, and as police attack protesters (for protesting police violence); it’s clear we need to do more than shave less than 1% off police budgets. We need to rethink the role that police play in our communities—and consider other roles and services to better support our communities, to provide all people an opportunity to enjoy healthy, fulfilling lives.

Our cities—our communities—must invest in nurturing lives, not taking lives. How we invest in our communities, whether in health, in education, or in military weapons and training, will determine the future course of the United States.

To (white) family & friends:

We must support, listen to, and learn from our fellow black and brown human beings during this state of emergency. We know racism is deeply rooted in this country. We must publicly acknowledge institutionalized violence against people of color and support positive change.

I’m not writing to explain why “all lives matter” is an offensive response to the black lives matter. Look it up. Figure it out.

I’m not writing to explain why “staying neutral” during these protests essentially endorses police violence and the execution of black people.

We can’t look away. We can’t stay silent. This is why people are demonstrating and protesting: We must acknowledge that cops are executing people based on the color of their skin, and we must find ways to end this injustice.

I’m not suggesting everyone I know needs to protest in the streets. It is dangerous, and we all must decide for ourselves how best we can educate ourselves and others, and how we can support positive change. That’s what I’m asking you to do.

Raise awareness of what’s happening

I know many of us—and our friends, family, and neighbors—are being fed disinformation or a politicized view of current events. I want everyone to be aware of what’s happening right now, so please make others aware:

In short, the current administration and police departments across the U.S. are attacking U.S. citizens for protesting against police violence and racially motivated murder.

“Not all cops are bad”

Let’s acknowledge the real problem most white people have: We’re afraid to suggest that cops are bad people. We’re afraid of upsetting police officers or those who have friends or family who are police officers. But why are we more afraid to offend a cop than to speak out against a violent and unnecessary murder? I’ll tell you why: Because U.S. police are armed to the teeth and dangerous, and we’re afraid of the police.

If a cop is a “good person,” then they should be upset by the murder of George Floyd; they should be upset that police are attacking peaceful protesters. Any “good cop” knows police departments across the U.S. are filled with aggressive, racist assholes who have something to prove, whatever the cost, no matter who gets hurt or killed.

You don’t have to hate all cops to acknowledge that we have a problem with racially motivated police violence across this nation.

Local and federal governments have also effectively transformed the police into a paramilitary force. If we arm police departments with weapons of war, what sort of people do we imagine will be attracted to become police officers and control police departments?

What can we do?

Countless resources are being posted on social media apps and sites (I’m more active on Instagram), encouraging people to read, watch, and listen to black writers and speakers; and to donate and support organizers who actively proposing solutions (I’ll list several below). I know there’s a LOT to process right now, but I encourage everyone to please listen to black people. Don’t ask them what to do—educate yourself.

Here’s one great place to start: learn about Black Lives Matter‘s Week of Action in Defense of Black Lives. If you find me on Instagram (@wilperegrine), I’m happy connect you with Portland and/or national organizations, so you can learn more.

What I most want to communicate here is that turning a blind eye only allows racist violence to continue and worsen. Please, it isn’t difficult as a white person to support this movement. If you voice your support of Black Lives to friends, family, and neighbors, it will help combat propaganda and misinformation from the White House and by other white supremacist individuals and organizations. There’s much more to say and do, but if you haven’t already, please start by supporting these protests.

We must envision and demand a better future.

Sign the petitions:

Donate:

  • Black Lives Matter – blacklivesmatter.com
  • Black Visions Collective – blackvisionsmn.org
  • Minnesota Freedom Fund – minnesotafreedomfund.org
  • Charity So White – charitysowhite.org
  • Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust – stephenlawrence.org.uk

Contributing to the Rookwood Curse

The year 2020 has already been full of both strife and success. (Would I have it any other way?) Stresses aside, I’ve had two excellent reasons for spending less time with my blog site. In addition to launching my first Kult: Divinity Lost campaign (more about that soon), I’ve also been writing and editing my first official paid-to-be-published writing gig for friend and fellow game designer, Michael Addison of Nerdy Pup Games.

Thanks to a successful Kickstarter for the new tabletop RPG, The Curse of the House of Rookwood is already available to backers as a pdf and scheduled for print late spring. In addition to the core rule book, Nerdy Pup Games is also publishing scenarios (written by a number of contributors, myself included) that explore alternate takes on Rookwood’s otherwise British Gothic setting.

I’m excited for the release of Rookwood—and to contribute to its publication! I remember when Addison first came up with the concept many years ago, and our group of friends created a dysfunctional family, struggling to overcome their worst impulses and bad blood to face a common enemy. In true Addison fashion (given his love for Lovecraftian horror), I remember feeling both terror and dread as an unfamiliar supernatural creature, disguised as a human, revealed itself upon a Victorian ballroom full of unsuspecting guests, during a waltz no less.

A fairly rules-light RPG, with unique story-driving mechanics, Rookwood offers a loose framework for players to tell whatever sort of horror story they fancy. The setting offers new spins on old favorites, while leaving plenty of room for interpretation. What sets Rookwood apart in the horror genre is its focus on family. Rather play a campaign with the same characters in a single time period, each story arc in a campaign explores a different generation of a shared family with an evolving history, so that stories build upon and explore decades if not centuries of history. Theoretically, players could play the same character for a couple generations (in the character’s youth, then as an elder member of the family), but Rookwood effectively reimagines the RPG campaign as an epic tale of a family, encouraging players to focus on story rather than character building.

The scenario I wrote, “The American Frontier”, takes the Rookwood family to North America, not only to explore the history of the United States, but more specifically concepts of ambition, migration, and instability. I also created a couple new curses, well-suited to the American frontier setting.

I’m terribly excited for Addison and Nerdy Pup Games. The three crowd-funded games you can find on his website are but the tip of an iceberg. Addison has been a prolific game designer for as long as I’ve known him, since we attended college together—and I’m hopeful that more of his games I’ve played over the years will eventually see publication. He’s talented and dedicated (far more focused than I—haha!), and I encourage people to support and check out his work!

For the Love of Modiphius!

Time and again, I debate whether or not to dedicate time to writing regularly on my blog site. I often feel—like today, while I’m sitting at Coffeehouse Northwest with a dirty chai and chocolate croissant—I should be writing or developing my current RPG campaign instead (more on that soon).

But you have to write regularly to write well. I keep coming back to the idea of blogging because I know I need to write more quickly and freely without over-editing. I can save polish for finished works and need to retrain my brain and fingers to let words flow. It’s so important as a writer, and a lesson that I’ve taken too long to (re-)learn (over and over again, yes, I know).

As discussed in my earlier blog post, I want to blog (primarily) about tabletop role-playing games. Why? Because I feel like we’re in the middle of an exciting RPG Renaissance, and I want to draw attention to the games I love; I want to contribute to ongoing conversations about why and how role-playing games work, and why and how they sometimes fall short.

I’ll confess, right now I just want to share my excitement about several new titles released in the past year or so, but trust me, I’ll have plenty of criticism to follow if I begin blogging regularly (if you don’t hold me to it, it just might happen). Let me also confess that I feel a bit biased as a fan of Modiphius Entertainment, because they’re publishing and distributing some of my favorite RPGs, all by Swedish game designers: Mutant: Year Zero, Symbaroum, and Kult: Divinity Lost. Each of these titles have brought something unique to the tabletop, and Modiphius’ excellent taste and polished production values have secured for them the rights to several high-profile sci-fi titles that may transform me from a simple gamer into a collector.

Star Trek Adventures

What true sci-fi geek doesn’t have a soft spot for Star Trek? I was simply phasers-set-to-stunned when Modiphius announced in 2017 that they were producing Star Trek Adventures, a fully licensed RPG that appears to roll up all the different series into one expansive but consistent universe of possibilities. I haven’t yet dug into the rules of STA, which are based on Modiphiusown 2D20 system, but I’ve been impressed with all the visuals I’ve seen, and they’ve been continuously pumping out content, including the latest Strange New Worlds – Mission Compendium that I’m eager to review!

Vampire: The Masquerade (5th Edition)

Yes, like almost every other tabletop gamer geek, I was first introduced to role-playing games via Dungeons & Dragons (although I played a lot more Marvel Super Heroes as a teenager than I did D&D). But it was Vampire: The Masquerade that really set the stage for my love of role-playing and creating stories with RPGs.

I couple years ago, I ran a mini-campaign to introduce my game group to Vampire. (All but one were Vampire virgins!) It was right before 5th edition was released, and I didn’t want to wait for it, so we used the 20th Anniversary edition with slight modifications for the Victorian Era, using also Victorian Age: London by Night as a resource. The mini-campaign was, of course, set in London in 1885, following the Great Exhibition. A mortal mage, in possession of the Eye of Hazimel, is slain, and the player characters must find the Eye before it falls into the wrong hands. With all the tensions of London kindred politics serving as a backdrop—and a guest appearance by Victoria Ash—my ragtag group of player characters had to overcome my classic use of misdirection and navigate the uncertainty of whom to trust. Apparently, they all enjoyed it, because they’ve all voiced an interest in returning to Vampire.

Because of my current passion for other game systems (and admittedly, because I’ve read mixed reviews) I haven’t delved into Vampire, 5th edition, but I’m optimistic following the announcement of White Wolf’s partnership with Modiphius and the launch of new products. What really caught my eye was the new release of Fall of London. I’ve received a digital review copy and am excited to read it in depth, but just scanning through it, I’m impressed with what I see. To maintain continuity with earlier publications, London’s kindred (from the Victorian Age book) are present, but the new publication doesn’t rehash all the old stats and stories. Instead, brief overviews are given London vampires, and Fall of London presents fresh new story material. Visually, the publication is also rich and gorgeous.

Alien: The Roleplaying Game

WTF! I almost lost my shit when Modiphius dropped news of an official Alien tabletop role-playing game. As a lover of sci-fi, horror, and art that transgresses boundaries, Alien has long been a quintessential favorite. I faintly recall, decades ago, running a homebrew Vampire scenario for a group of friends in which a mysterious creature was stalking the city sewers. They guessed fairly quickly that they were dealing with an H.R. Giger alien.

What’s even more exciting about the arrival of an official Alien RPG is that it’s designed by the makers of Mutant: Year Zero and Tales of the Loop! The Year Zero Engine is perhaps my favorite RPG system to date, and it’s perfect for bringing the lethal Alien universe to life. My partner has insisted that I don’t buy it yet, because if I do, I’ll abandon current projects and want to run a game. I disagree, but I’ve agreed not to lay my hands on it at least until my current Kult campaign is well underway.

So many exciting new RPG titles to explore and so little time!


I know my blog (in its current form) is in its infancy, and I’ve yet to build a reader base, but if you’re reading this and you want to hear my thoughts about a specific RPG system or module, such as those mentioned above, please let me know! I’m happy to spend more time reviewing products my readers want to know more about.

Why I’m (not) a writer

One of my most memorable experiences, while working at Longfellow Books in downtown Portland, Maine, echoes in my mind 14 years later, as I contemplate how I invest my creative energy and what future I may still have as a writer. It’s difficult, after you reach the age of 40, to look at all the years that have passed, all the time you’ve spent doing so many things other than writing, and you realize you’re not only not closer, but perhaps further from the dream you once had of becoming a published author.

Living and working in downtown Portland, Maine in 2005 was perhaps one of the best years of my life. I’d just finished my Masters degree in Ohio, had packed up everything I owned in my little Chevy S-10, and moved my temperamental cat Copernicus and I to the New England, to make a new home and live out my dream of becoming a writer. Two years in a graduate program had killed my desire of pursuing a university career, and I’d started writing my first full-length novel, Mirror Breaker. I knew no one in Maine. But with a sense of adventure and some determination, everything seemed to fall into place within a month after arriving. I spent one week in a motel and two weeks canvasing for a non-profit before I found a studio apartment downtown and secured what was and still is (if I could afford it) my dream job: working as one of four employees in a small independent bookshop.

One of my responsibilities included selling books at weekly author readings, hosted at the Portland Public Library across the street from Monument Square. It was a great opportunity to listen to authors talk about their work, and I often met the authors before or after the readings, even if only briefly. One such author (I can’t remember her name, sadly) asked about me, and I ended up telling her about my graduate thesis, wanting to write, and—I don’t know if it was how I spoke about my graduate work, or if it was her own elitist disposition as an author, about people who think they’re writers or want to be writers, but—she said to me flat out something to the effect of, “You’re not a writer. You should be teaching.”

I wasn’t sure how to take it at the time. I was mostly devastated that this published author thought I wasn’t capable or worthy of her profession, but it wasn’t as simple as that. She heard me speak as an academic, as a thinker, and it was clear that I was well-practiced (at the time) in theory, and deeply invested in the how and why of things, perhaps more so than in the simple doing or creating of fiction.

Unfortunately, my Portland, Maine dream was short-lived. When the reality of having to pay student loans hit a year later, fear overwhelmed me, and I retreated West, to the safety of family, friends, and a lower cost of living. I did eventually finish the novel I’d been writing, but many years later (and it still needs editing and rewrites I’ll likely never finish). I continued to work in book retail, and the prospect of returning to the academic world became more distant as I became more accustomed to the “real world” of retail.

I will avoid critiquing myself for my lack of productivity throughout the years. I’ve long questioned whether I’m a writer because my dedication to the relentless and often thankless task has waxed and waned over the years, depending on my circumstances and other pursuits in life, love, and wanting to love where I live. Ultimately though, I think the hard truth is that I don’t have the dedication and attention span for it; every few months, every few years, I find myself chasing a new butterfly.

I always come back to writing. I have an undeniable love for the written word. But it’s only one of many loves to which I return, and fiction—in its purest form—is perhaps not the form to which I’m best suited. I’m ultimately not content to lock myself away like Emily Dickinson, dedicated solely to the fiction (or poetry) in my head. For me, fiction is but a part of a living, breathing, flexible fabric I prefer to weave through a life lived.


What’s most noteworthy about my graduate thesis and memory of being told by a published author that I’m not a writer—it’s not the theory or my propensity for philosophy and critical thinking, but the realization that my graduate thesis was about tabletop role-playing games and why people play them.

I’ve held a fascination for role-playing games ever since I was introduced to Dungeons & Dragons and Marvel Super Heroes in middle school. When I discovered Vampire: The Masquerade (1st Edition)—I think it was the summer of ’92—I fell in love. Vampire wasn’t just war games, dungeon crawls, and comic books re-imagined; it was a new canvas for creating rich stories about morally complex characters, trying to understand themselves in a modern, dark, and troubled world. I continued to play Vampire and other White Wolf games with college friends, then was introduced to Mind’s Eye Theatre live action role-playing. After playing a multiple night LARP, hosted by college friend Robert Bane one summer, I was hooked. Wherever I’ve had the friends and opportunity to role-play, I’ve invested myself creatively to the hobby.

The problem has been that I’ve always viewed it as “just a hobby,” a form of entertainment, as a lesser use of my time and creativity. Of course, playing published material was never enough for me (it was never only entertainment). In high school, I created new heroes and villains to interact with the Marvel universe. In college, I began re-skinning White Wolf’s Storyteller system for new worlds and genres, and experimented with my own custom rules. I wasn’t alone. One of my friends, Michael Addison, has been a prolific game designer ever since, now officially as Nerdy Pup Games. But it’s not until the past couple years that I’ve embraced the idea that my creative investment in role-playing—in writing scenarios, running campaigns, and creating my own settings and systems—could be just as valid and worthwhile as writing a novel.

In fact, setting aside the cultural value or prestige of a published work, in many ways, I find running a role-playing game for friends—in which they help determine the story’s course—far more rewarding that writing fiction alone. Perhaps I’m a more social creature than I’m willing to admit. I’d also argue that I find collaboration more personally rewarding, when a story comes to life in a shared imaginative space.


All this to say that 2019 marks a change of course and attitude. I’ve already been developing and writing on my own role-playing game system, Tempeste, as a legitimate writing project. But I’ve found myself happy to set that project aside to work on campaign development, to enjoy the more immediate rewards of role-playing with friends. That doesn’t mean I have less time for writing. In fact, I have more reasons to write, here on my blog site.

So let’s talk about role-playing games, shall we?

Writing in the Dark

It’s a challenge—for those of us with both a creative and an analytic mind—to learn what to keep simple, so that complexities can speak for themselves.

So here I am, after a long silence: I’m still gaming. I’m still writing. I’m updating my website, as I consider how to best make use of it.

Also, I’ve recently become infatuated with a new-ish roleplaying game called Symbaroum. Like Mutant Year Zero, it’s the product of a Swedish game studio (Järnringen), distributed by Modiphius Entertainment, but dark fantasy rather than post-apocalyptic. The aesthetic is grim, the mechanics brutal. Last night, I introduced my Sunday game group to “The Promised Land”, the adventure in the Core Rulebook, and so far, I think everyone’s loving it—with our own personal touches, of course.

What I really want to share with everyone, however, is that I submitted a short Symbaroum adventure for the Ballads of Blackhawk writing contest co-sponsored by fan sites, ordomagica.com and theironpact.com. You can read my submission, “Lovesick Caravan,” as well as more than 20 others on Ordo Magica. I’m moderately happy with what I wrote, though it suffered from procrastination and trying to squeeze too much into a 1500 word limit (I did it, but had to make sacrifices). Of course, I’d love for you to vote for my submission, but there are a few other gems, no doubt written by those who have more experience than I do with world and mechanics. Some of my favorites include “A Heart in Darkness,” “Blight Spoor in Blackmoor,” “Born of Graves,” “Oroke’s Eye,” and “The Feast of the Willow.” You can vote for a first, second, and third choice, and you have until May 31st, so check them out!

(Oh, and if you’re part of my Sunday night game group, please don’t read my submission unless you feel morally obligated to do so before voting; there’s a strong likelihood that I’ll use it in our campaign.)

Tempeste: Introductions

While I haven’t kept up with blogging—it’s been, what, four months since my last post about RPG development?—I have been writing, and within the past two weeks, almost every day. Progress still feels slow, but as my friend Addison keeps telling me, “One inch punch.”

I’ve bounced around a lot with game development. It felt like a priority to determine basic mechanics, what dice to use, how to handle difficulty variance, basic attributes, etc.; I don’t have much written out longhand (very little in fact), but the notes and basic structure are in place. From there, I moved onto character creation, creating professions (the equivalent of traditional “classes”), skill lists, and I began considering special abilities for each profession. This led to thinking about experience and character enhancement—and then I jumped backwards to determine what steps happen before a player chooses their character’s profession. I realized how important I want it to be to conceptualize one’s character and personality prior to choosing a profession. Rather than just choosing ‘race’ and ‘class’, I want players to consider in what city their character was born, what were their circumstances before becoming a mercenary—why have they become a mercenary? Of course, players are going to choose what they want to choose first. But nonetheless, I want a character’s background to play an important role.

I think part of what led to my change in focus was visiting my friend Jeff Hawley in L.A. several weeks ago. I was in town for a business trip but arrived a few days earlier to hang out with him because we hadn’t seen one another since, when? I think since I first moved to Portland eight years ago! He was the only person I knew in Portland at the time, but unfortunately, he lost his job in Portland and shortly after my arrival, returned to Los Angeles for work. But with common interests in games and game development, I was eager to bounce ideas off him—and he asked me to play through a few rounds of combat using Legend of the Five Rings, 4th edition. He was planning to run a short campaign for a few friends but had never used the system before, so he wanted to get a feel for it. Of course, I had to create a character (we both did) to see what sorts of effects our choices during character creation would have on our respective combat abilities. Much to my surprise, I built a quick and adept swordsman and gained the upper hand in combat!

But what interested me most about the game design was not the intricate combat system (I tend to prefer simple combat systems anyway), but rather, the importance of choosing one’s family and education, and how these shaped one’s character just as much as choosing to be a courtier or a samurai, for example. All the details about the clans also helped immerse me in the world, if only briefly.

I think one of my biggest challenges with Tempeste will be immersing players in a new world and convincing them it’s worth the time and effort. Of course, the other side of the coin is that—although players love to discover new worlds, they’re unlikely to stay there if the mechanics are clunky, too basic, or too complex. The trick is to wed content and structure together. Well, I guess I decided to put down mechanics for now and to focus on world building a bit.

I again found myself bouncing around, thinking about how to structure the book, how familiar a player should be with x or y by this or that point in reading the book, and I decided, what I need to do is start writing the introduction. I need to lay the groundwork for the Tempeste world, to give a common point of reference.

So that’s what I’ve been up to, writing the first few pages that introduce both the natural and civilized world of Tempeste, and that essentially explain what’s different about Tempeste. It’s a lot of work, trying to perfect an introduction, to be succinct yet descriptive, to give detail without bogging down the reader with too much too soon. If it takes too long, I may need to skip ahead. Haha! I’m anxious to start detailing cities, because I think making the cities come alive again—for me—will help reshape the world and breathe new life into it.

I know, I’m not giving you a lot of details. But hopefully, you’re a little curious.

Alright, back to work with me. I’ll try to write again soon!

 

“Be my Angel, cuz you need me…”

I haven’t always been a fan of character classes in RPGs (e.g. fighter, thief, wizard), but ultimately, my issue has been with needlessly complex leveling mechanics and the over-compartmentalization of character abilities. Yes, I prefer skill-based RPGs. But even in skill-based RPGs, it’s helpful to have a guideline for character advancement and to identify a character’s strengths, what sets them apart from other characters. For this, character classes—or roles, archetypes, playbooks, whatever you’d like to call them—can prove helpful. Character roles in RPGs can also help players by providing characters with background, motivation, even personality. In this regard, the playbooks of PbtA games work really well. Playbooks not only provide characters with unique abilities, they create the structure of a character’s purpose upon which to build a character-driven (rather than action-driven) story. Even D&D—who set the standard for character classes and leveling mechanics—flexed its storytelling muscle in 5th Edition by making backgrounds an integral part of character creation.

In Tempeste, I’ve decided to call roles ‘professions’, at least for now. (I may need to use a different word later, as the initial ‘professions’ will be subsets of a broader mercenary role, and I envision future non-mercenary roles. I may, in fact, use ‘classes’ for the broader categories, e.g. mercenary, aristocrat, civilian, etc., as social classes play a significant role in the Tempeste world. But I digress…) Although I appreciate the way that playbooks encapsulate character creation, I envision Tempeste character creation requiring a few separate questions, each carrying its own weight: What’s your character’s profession? To what mercenary company do you belong? And in what city were you born and raised?

Continue reading ““Be my Angel, cuz you need me…””