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Happy Easter!

It’s Easter! And while this is supposed to be a blog about feminism and gaming, I thought I would take a moment to talk about the primary symbol of the holiday… Peeps*!

Personally, I’m not much of a fan of Peeps, and yet every year, I wind up getting at least one box of these things. Typically, I wind up just throwing them away, but this year, my wife has been finding all kinds of suggestions on the internet about what you can do with Peeps.

So far, my personal favorite has been PeepWars.net; a site with official rules for Microwave Peep Wars. Nevertheless, while I enjoyed this site, I found myself wanting something a little more crunchy, and a little less fluffy (no pun intended). So, in the spirit of the season, I decided to create a 3.5 stat block for the dreaded, Yellow Peep! Warning: This creature has not been playtested. Please consult your DM before operating heavy machinery.

peep_medium.jpg

YELLOW PEEP
Huge Ooze
Hit Dice: 5d10+45 (72 hp)
Initiative: -5
Speed: 10 ft. (2 squares), climb 5 ft.
Armor Class: 3 (-2 size, -5 Dex), touch 3, flat-footed 3
Base Attack/Grapple: +3/+11
Attack: Slam +1 melee (1d6+2 plus marshmallow goo)
Full Attack: Slam +1 melee (1d6+2 plus marshmallow goo)
Space/Reach: 15 ft./10 ft.
Special Attacks: Marshmallow goo, engulf, improved grab
Special Qualities: Amorphous bond, blindsight 60 ft., immunity to cold, electricity, and sonic, ooze traits, sticky body, vulnerable to fire and acid.
Saves: Fort +10, Ref -4, Will -4
Abilities: Str 14, Dex 1, Con 28, Int -, Wis 1, Cha 1
Skills:
Feats:
Environment: Underground
Organization: Solitary, pair, or cluster (4-5)
Challenge Rating: 5
Treasure: 1/10th coins, 50% goods, 50% items
Alignment: Always neutral
Advancement: 6-12 (Huge); 13-24 (Gargantuan)
Level Adjustment:

This creature looks like a malformed, baby chick. Its exterior is covered in a rough, sandy, yellow substance, except for its sides, which ooze with white goo.

A yellow peep is like the ridiculous dream of a mad wizard. Haunting dungeon corridors, caverns, and other dark, cold places, the creatures seem to suddenly appear in mass quantities every spring, disappearing again shortly thereafter.

While these creatures routinely dine on the flesh of living creatures, they are unable to digest harder materials, such as bone, wood, metal, or stone. Thus, yellow peeps are often seen with various objects- such as swords, spears, or bones, protruding from them as these items are slowly expelled from their body.

A typical yellow peep is roughly 15 feet in diameter, and weighs approximately 50,000 pounds, though much larger specimens are not unknown.

Combat

A yellow peep attacks by slamming what appears to be its head into its opponents.

Amorphous Bond (Ex): A yellow peep can adhere its body to another yellow peep of the same size as a full round action. Yellow peeps that are thus conjoined are treated as a single creature one size category larger than the two base creatures, gaining a +8 size bonus to Strength, and a +4 size bonus to Con. All penalties and bonuses to attacks, damage, Armor class, and skills gained because of the creature’s increased size also apply. If attacked with a slashing weapon, the amorphous bond between two peeps is automatically broken and all remaining hit points are split between the two creatures.

Engulf (Ex): Although it moves slowly, a yellow peep can mow down Large or smaller creatures as a standard action. It cannot make a slam attack during a round in which it engulfs. The yellow peep merely has to move over its opponents affecting as many as it can cover. Opponents can make attacks of opportunity against the peep, but if they do so, they are not entitled to a saving throw. Those who do not attempt attacks of opportunity must succeed on a DC 17 Reflex save or be engulfed; on a success, they are pushed back or aside (opponent’s choice) as the cube moves forward. In addition, a yellow peep can engulf any creature that it has successfully grappled, as part of a move action, one round after the grapple has been established (no save).

Engulfed creatures are considered entangled, helpless and unable to breathe inside the creature’s gooey body. Creatures that perish due to suffocation while inside a yellow peep’s body have their flesh slowly digested over a period of 1d6 days (see the Dungeon Master’s Guide for rules on suffocation).

Creatures who are engulfed by a yellow peep can attempt to break loose by spending 1 round and making a DC 20 Strength check, or a DC 25 Escape Artist check. Once loose, a creature is considered automatically entangled by the yellow peep’s marshmallow goo (see below).

Improved Grab (Ex): To use this ability, a yellow peep must hit with its slam attack. It can then attempt to start a grapple as a free action without provoking an attack of opportunity. Yellow peeps often use this attack in combination with their engulf ability.

Marshmallow Goo (Ex): Creatures that are hit by a yellow peep’s slam attack must succeed at a DC 24 Reflex save or be entangled in a gooey substance exuded from the creature’s body. Removing the substance requires a full round action that provokes attacks of opportunity. The save DC is Constitution-based.

Sticky Body (Ex): Creatures that attack a yellow peep in melee must succeed at a DC 17 Strength check, or risk having their weapons stuck to the creature’s body. This ability is particularly dangerous to creatures who rely on natural weapons to attack their opponents, as it makes them much more susceptible to the creature’s engulf ability.

Tune in next year, for the horrific, Purple Peep, updated for Fourth Edition!

*Unless you’re Christian. In that case, you probably think about lilies or Jesus as being the primary symbols of Easter, and then Peeps.

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Oh Goddes, My Goddess

Introduction

In response to my first blog entry, a reader told me, “This is probably your best post yet (besides the Lloth one). It is open, honest, somewhat balanced, and most importantly it is personal. It doesn’t sound like I’m reading a college paper, but a post from real person, with real feelings and experiences that she wants to share. I would like to hear more from this person.” Forgiving the fact that I’m a he and not a she, I have been thinking about this comment quite a bit, and I recognize that one of the things I promised at the very beginning is that I would share with people some of the things that Dove Arrow has taught me about feminism. However, while I have talked about many other subjects- all of which I would never have been introduced to if it hadn’t been for Dove Arrow- I have remained completely silent on the subject of the experiences that interested me in these issues in the first place. Therefore, I have decided to devote this entry to discussing some of my experiences as Dove Arrow, and to try and highlight how they have affected my own perspectives on feminism. Perhaps by sharing these experiences, it will help people understand why I feel so strongly about feminist issues, and will open their eyes to the issues that I myself was blind to.

Writing About Myself

Before I get very far, I have to say that I’m not very good about writing about myself. Often, when I try to write about my own experiences, I don’t write about personal feelings, or thoughts, but rather I use vivid prose to hide the fact that I’m not really saying anything. I also tend to write about ‘safe’ subjects (one of my college professor called them Reader’s Digest subjects) that won’t upset anyone, offend anyone, or hurt anyone. If I do happen to write about something deeply personal, I typically hide it behind a style of writing, such as fiction, that puts distance between myself and the reader, so that even though it’s personal, it’s never directly related to me. This is part of why I adopted the academic tone for my blog entries (that and because I thought the entries required it). The academic tone serves as a kind of buffer between myself and personal attacks. If somebody says something cruel, for example, they’re saying it about an impersonal, academic subject, not me. The academic tone is a shield I use to keep people from getting too close, because honestly, I don’t need people stabbing at the emotional wounds that are the ultimate, primeval source of all the opinions, ideas, and symbols that I discuss in my blog. With that said, I begin my story.

How Dove Arrow Came to Be

As I have said before, Dove Arrow is a female character that I created for the roleplaying chat rooms on AOL, in order to prove to my female friends that women weren’t treated any differently than men in today’s culture. However, I want to expand a little on who Dove Arrow is, and what she represents to me.

I think the first thing to do is to discuss how I settled on the name Dove Arrow. When I was initially naming her, I wanted to call her Arrow Dove. However, the screenname I wanted was taken, and so I had to settle for Dove Arrow instead. Today I’m rather glad that this happened, because I think the name Dove Arrow sounds powerful, whereas Arrow Dove sounds a little airy.

The name, Dove Arrow, is dichotomic; each half representing a concept diametrically opposed to the other. The dove, for example, is a symbol of peace, while the arrow is a symbol of war. I’m not sure I could have told you at the time why I thought this dichotomy was important, but I certainly thought it was profound at the time. It was only recently that I realized that these images are also associated with a female character from mythology, but more on that later.

I’m not sure if this is the reason, but it seems logical to conclude that the reason I made her an archer is because of the ‘Arrow’ in her name. I also think it was the association with war and peace that led me to create the following quote for her profile, which remains in my Yahoo Profile, “I am the quiet one, the peaceful one. I come and go as I desire. But beware to those who cross me, for the quivering of my bow will be the last thing you see.”

Playing Dove Arrow for the First Time

When I initially started playing Dove Arrow, I did not start playing her as the sullen, angry character that you see in the comic of my first entry. Initially, she was just happy, almost radiantly so, as she wandered through the Mystic Forest and into the various inns that made up the AOL chatrooms. Over time, though, her attitude changed. She became angry about constantly being treated as some sort of object that male characters would fight over, and attempt to possess. She didn’t appreciate it, and she often called them out for their behavior.

A typical experience for Dove Arrow in the AOL chat rooms was not unlike the one in my comic. She’d be in an inn, or a forested area, when a male character would come up and touch her inappropriately, or say something to her that was sexually offensive. Being who she is, Dove Arrow would turn around and slug the person, calling them out for what she took very seriously as a violation of her body, and her personal space.

The interesting part about these situations is that many times a male character would step in to try and defend or protect Dove Arrow. This was often done while she was railing on the person that had violated her, and when it was clear that she had a handle on the situation. In those cases, the male character stepping in seemed to be doing so not out of some sense of altruism, but in order to rob her of power, and to reduce her to a hapless victim that needed saving.

Dove Arrow and Intelligence

I never let on to anyone that I was a guy playing a female character. Even when I was engaged in conversations that had nothing to do with roleplaying, if I was using Dove Arrow’s screenname, I always maintained her female identity. Part of the reason that I did this is because I wanted to see how people would react to Dove Arrow regardless of the conversation she was having. Not surprisingly, it didn’t really matter. She still got unwelcome IMs from people who were only interested in her for cyber sex, and comments that she did not find flattering in the least. What was surprising is the comment that she kept getting. “You’re pretty smart… for a girl.” In fact, some people assumed that since Dove Arrow was intelligent that she must be a guy (incidentally, I now get the reverse from people who assume that since I’m writing about feminism, I must be a girl). Granted, I was a guy using a female screenname, but considering the fact that I have met, befriended and even dated women who are far more intelligent than I, it seemed strange to meet so many people who honestly believed that intelligence is a quality that women do not possess.

Dove Arrow and Sex

This is the part that makes me feel very self conscious discussing my experiences playing Dove Arrow, because while I’m not gay, and have never had any interest in a homosexual relationship, my character engaged in sexual relations with male characters online. I’m not sure that I can ever fully explain what was going on in these situations, except to say that by this time, Dove Arrow felt less like a character I controlled, and more like an individual with her own drives, her own thoughts, and her own impulses. And while I felt everything she felt, and experienced everything she experienced, I never really felt like I was the one controlling the action. To me, it started to feel like she was in charge.

Dove Arrow was never very happy about sex, and she never felt any sort of relationship to the male characters she slept with. She used sex as a tool for trying to get revenge against the people who treated her so poorly. She thought that maybe if she could dominate the situation, that somehow she could make men feel as hurt, and as frustrated, and as angry as she did about being used as a sexual object.

Unfortunately, it didn’t work in reverse. No matter how hard she tried to control the situation, she always felt used, and unfulfilled. Meanwhile, it never seemed to matter to the male characters that she felt this way. They used her and they abandoned her, which I guess was pretty predictable.

At one point, Dove Arrow thought that maybe trying to teach guys about how to treat women was the best route, but it never worked out. They had one thing on their mind, and she wasn’t interested in that unless they could somehow reciprocate with real feelings, which of course, they never did.

Dove Arrow and Death

There was a male character, named Caylon, that Dove Arrow became enamored with for a while. I don’t remember much about him, except that one night, in the Mystic Forest, she saw him with another female character.

When she called him out, he tried to justify his actions by telling her that he had never said anything about having an exclusive relationship with her. In the back of her mind, though, Dove Arrow could almost remember something that he had said to her. Still, as hard as she tried, she couldn’t recall the exact words, and all the while, he kept talking, even as she told him to be silent so that she could remember what it was. Finally, it came to her and she told him, “You told me that you would never look at anyone again after having looked at me.”

At that moment, there was silence. He didn’t say anything. Then after a few moments, he said “I’m sorry. I was weak. I didn’t realize what I was doing.” By then, though, it didn’t matter. She’d heard enough. She left him, placed him on her Ignore list, and refused to speak to him.

Then something happened that she did not expect. A dark figure approached her, and told her he was an assassin. He said that he had been sent by Caylon to kill her, because of how she had treated him. Dove Arrow tried to explain that it was Caylon who had hurt her, and not the other way around. Still, he had been paid by Caylon to kill her, so to him it didn’t matter.

I don’t remember the exact situation, but the assassin told Dove Arrow, that if she just played along, he’d leave her alone. After some debilitating about what playing along meant, it was agreed that the two should engage each other in combat.

There was a dice roller built into the AOL chat rooms. I don’t remember exactly how it worked anymore, but I do remember that if you typed /roll, it would generate a random number between one and six. In any event, we decided to use this dice roller to simulate combat. I had never played a roleplaying game, so as far as I know, we sort’ve winged the combat. Unfortunately, because of a few bad dice rolls, Dove Arrow went down, and the assassin made his report.

I don’t know why, but after that experience, I didn’t really enjoy playing Dove Arrow anymore. Maybe it was because even though there were no real consequences, and it was agreed that it was all for show, it still felt like she died that day. In any event, I soon stopped frequenting the chat rooms, changed over to a different internet provider, and stopped going into chat rooms almost altogether. Nevertheless, I kept the name, Dove Arrow, and have used it pretty much exclusively ever since.

To Reality and Beyond

In college, I had to take a Perspectives on Gender class to satisfy a cultural diversity requirement for my general education requirements. I remember that on the first day, we were all asked if we wanted to get up and talk about our own perspectives on gender. I got up, and I told my story about playing Dove Arrow.

“When I was in high school, I created a female character for the AOL chat rooms to prove that women are no longer the subjects of discrimination and sexism. And what I found… was that I was wrong.” That line got a big laugh.

As the class progressed, I was constantly reminded of Dove Arrow’s experiences, and while I can’t recall very much about the class itself, I realized that I could suddenly see things that were once invisible to me, and could finally understand things that Dove Arrow had experienced.

Encountering Dungeons & Dragons

I cut my teeth on 3.0, thanks to the not so gentle urgings of my best friend. What I recall most vividly from these first introductions to the game were the elements that were designed to be female friendly. I remember being very excited, for example, at seeing the word ‘she’ used as a gender neutral pronoun, instead of the word ‘he.’ I had never seen it before, and it had never even occurred to me that someone might try that. I then started taking a look at some of the artwork, noting that all of the female iconics were portrayed as strong, capable characters, with distinct personalities that shined through. This is a game that is inclusive, I thought, a game that tries very hard to bring players of all genders together. I can get behind this.

Of course, there were some setbacks with the introduction of 3.5. Artwork that had once been quite beautiful, or only mildly questionable was replaced with hypersexualized images of female characters. Still, my game was mostly intact, and I could ignore these elements, so long as they didn’t continue to creep into my game.

Reviving Dove Arrow

Then came the publication of Confessions of a Part Time Sorceress. I was very excited about the overtures that the company was making towards women, and I thought it said good things about the direction that Wizards was taking the game. I was also pleasantly surprised when I saw the creation of a new, female friendly forum, called Astrid’s Parlor, dedicated to discussing women’s issues in gaming. Very quickly, I got on the computer, created a new thread announcing my excitement about the creation of the new messageboard, told them that I thought it would give people an opportunity to voice their opinions about women’s issues, and threw my support completely behind Wizards’ new marketing campaign. I also told them about Dove Arrow.

Perhaps it shouldn’t have, but I was honestly surprised when I started getting responses to my thread from people who didn’t think Wizards’ new marketing strategy was so fantastic. They felt that it would create a wedge between gamers, that it was a form of reverse sexism, and more. To me, this seemed ludicrous, because Dungeons & Dragons had already made such sweeping overtures towards women, and nobody had ever had anything to complain about before. So where was the backlash coming from?

In any event, I started pulling together the idea of writing my own blog about feminism and gaming. I thought it could be a useful tool to try and disseminate information, and maybe generate some awareness about issues that nobody else was talking about.

That’s when I started thinking about my first post on Astrid’s Parlor, and about Dove Arrow and what she had taught me about feminism. I thought maybe I could use that as an introduction to my blog.

Dove Arrow Continues to Teach

“Treat her badly and she’ll treat you to a quiverful of arrows, for all that she looks so demure, so white, so chaste… [she is] an exterminating angel.”

The quote above is from Simon Schama, and it describes the goddess Diana. I first encountered it while reading the book “Goddesses and Monsters.” Like Dove Arrow, Diana is also an archer. In ancient times, she was compared with Astarte, a Semitic goddess, who was often depicted wearing a crown of doves.

I’m sure people see where this is going. Dove Arrow is a goddess archetype. The symbols associated with her are the very same symbols associated with Diana. What that says to me is that the feminine divine is in all of us, just waiting to be reborn and heard. It just takes a moment to listen in order to hear what she has to say.

Bingo!

For those of you familiar with the blogs, Girls Read Comics (and They’re Pissed), or Hoyden About Town you may recognize the following. For those of you who aren’t familiar with these blogs, I encourage you to check out their entries For Those Playing Along at Home, and Anti-Feminist Bingo.

In any event, I thought it was high time that we have our own Bingo card for discussing women’s issues in roleplaying games. I have also provided explanations for why each of these arguments is frowned upon. Take a look.

B

I

N

G

O

Men are victims of sexism too.

I’m a woman and I don’t have a problem with this stuff.

There are much more important issues affecting women. Why don’t you focus on those instead?

You’re reading too much into this.

This is fantasy.

I like pictures of women in chainmail bikinis.

If you don’t like it, then play something else.

So you want pictures of ugly, fat women?

Men are drawn topless too.

Why are you being such a prude? Isn’t the feminist movement about sexual empowerment?

You give feminists a bad name.

That’s censorship.

Mostly men play this game.

It’s only a game.

This is such a minor problem.

It’s better now than it was 30 years ago.

Just change it in your own game.

The game will never change. You’re wasting your time.

I’m not sexist but…

Most people don’t care one way or another about this stuff.

It’s not historically accurate to treat women equally.

Are you calling me sexist?

If women are going to be represented equally in roleplaying games, then every minority should be represented equally.

That’s just a relic from a previous edition.

Most male gamers are nice people.


Men are victims of sexism too.

While no one can dispute the fact that men experience sexism too, it does not preclude people from talking about how sexism affects women. Also, just because men experience sexism too does not mean that the subject deserves equal air time in a forum or other space dedicated to discussing women’s issues. If you really feel strongly about the issues of sexism and how those issues pertain to men, there are forums and groups devoted to discussing these issues, and I would highly encourage you to take your discussion of these issues there.

I’m a woman and I don’t have a problem with this stuff.

This argument is also sometimes phrased as “I have a girlfriend and she doesn’t have a problem with this stuff.” The problem with this argument is that while some women may not have a problem with sexism in roleplaying games, it does not mean that they speak for all women. Women are not a hivemind. They do not all have the same opinions. This statement does not, therefore, negate the opinion of the person who does have a problem with this stuff.

There are much more important issues affecting women. Why don’t you focus on those issues instead?

First of all, the fact that there are other issues affecting women does not, in any way, preclude people from discussing issues affecting women in roleplaying games. Second, who says that the person that you’re responding to isn’t devoting energy to these other causes? You’re on the internet. You don’t know what these people are doing in their free time. Third, the messages contained in pop culture references are often responding to and confirming beliefs espoused by the patriarchy, and they feed people’s ideas about how society should treat women in the home, in politics, in religion, and even in the workplace. Responding to these pop culture issues is therefore a laudable act, not a contemptible one. Lastly, unless you yourself are actually out there championing these causes yourself, you really don’t have any room to talk.

You’re reading too much into this.

“Thank Bob you came along and pointed that out to me. I guess I can pack up my things now and go home.”

If this is the response that you were hoping for, and it was not forthcoming, it probably means that the person you are responding to disagrees with you. Take time to reflect on why this is. Perhaps it’s because the person you are responding to has come to these conclusions based on observation, and from reading materials written by people who are knowledgeable about the subject. In fact, it’s entirely possible that some of this material was written by people who possess Bachelor’s, Master’s, or Doctoral degrees on the subject of Women’s Studies. It is therefore unlikely that their opinion will be swayed by some anonymous poster from the interwebs. This is particularly true if you have a) failed to follow up with any further analysis, or b) have followed this statement with one or more of the other arguments presented here.

This is fantasy.

That’s right. This is fantasy. It’s an opportunity to become immersed in a fantastic realm filled with daring adventurers, terrifying monsters, and magical artifacts from a bygone era. It is not, necessarily, an opportunity to indulge in every sexual fetish that the male mind has ever entertained. If you want to include erotic themes in your game, that’s fine. In fact, there are products out there designed to do just that. However, recognize that not everyone thinks that the word ‘fantasy’ is necessarily synonymous for ‘porn,’ and recognize that they may not want those same elements in their own game.

I like pictures of women in chainmail bikinis.

And that’s fine. However, what you find titillating and pleasing, others may find offensive and inappropriate. Respect the fact that not everyone has the same opinion as you, and recognize that declaring your preference for something is not in any way a rebuttal to an argument.

If you don’t like it, then play something else.

This is another popular argument used to try and counter the arguments of people who feel that the portrayal of women in roleplaying games is sexist. The problem with this argument is that it assumes two things:

1. That sexism is an inherent, and natural byproduct of roleplaying games.
2. That the people offended by these aspects do not enjoy other aspects of the game.

Many people who are upset about the exclusive use of male pronouns in previous editions, the depiction of women in hypersexualized poses, and the sexist portrayal of female characters, still relish the opportunity to play a capable adventurer who is able to take down creatures the size of houses with the swing of a wand or a sword. They may enjoy the mechanics of the game, the opportunity to tell incredible stories, the opportunity to slay monsters and take their stuff, the camaraderie they have with their friends when they play, the opportunity to geek out with fellow gamers, and the chance to collect little plastic or pewter figurines. Declaring that you dislike an aspect of the game does not mean that you dislike the game as a whole. In fact, constructive criticism of the game has often led to positive improvements both for women and for other gamers.

So you want pictures of ugly, fat women?

This argument is typically made in response to someone who has complained that they are dissatisfied with the hypersexualized depictions of women in fantasy artwork. The argument assumes that since the poster is upset about the depiction of beautiful women in hypersexualized poses, they must want to see ugly pictures of women instead.

First of all, the idea that the portrayal of overweight female characters, or the portrayal of characters that do not fit the cultural standard of beauty, is somehow offensive or objectionable does not say anything particularly favorable about you. Second, your argument fails to recognize that there are many other ways to portray women that don’t involve hypersexualized poses, revealing clothing, unattractive facial features, or excess body weight.

Like men, female gamers want to be able to choose from a variety of images that they think will best suit their character concepts. They want to play strong characters, they want to play formidable characters, and from time to time, they also want to play sexy characters. Having one option perpetually forced upon them, does not make women feel like they have much of a choice in the style of character that they are allowed to play. So when someone says that they’re tired of seeing only hypersexualized images of women in skimpy outfits, don’t necessarily assume that they don’t want any pictures of beautiful women at all.

Men are drawn topless too.

I want you to try something for me. Do an online image search for the term ‘male model.’ After the search results come up, I want you try to find an image of a male model (doesn’t have to be topless) that is posed like a topless, or scantily clad male character from any of the Dungeons & Dragons supplements ever produced.
When you are finished with that, I want you to try the same experiment, only I want you to do an image search for the term ‘female model.’ After the search results come up, I want you to try and find an image of a female model (again, she doesn’t have to be topless) that is posed like any of the topless, or scantily clad female characters from any of the Dungeons & Dragons supplement ever produced.

What did you find? If you’re anything like me, it was probably very difficult to find examples of male models that match the poses of male Dungeons & Dragons characters. On the other hand, if you’re anything like me, it probably only took you only a few minutes to find images of female models that match the poses of female Dungeons & Dragons characters. In fact, I’ll even wager that you didn’t have to look any further than the Core rulebooks for an example of a female character that was posed like one of the female models from your search.

So what is the point of this experiment? The point is that while male characters are quite frequently depicted as topless, or scantily clad in Dungeons & Dragons, it is often done in order to highlight their physical strength, and not their sexuality. On the other hand, if a female character is depicted as topless or scantily clad, it is often (though not always) done in order to highlight her sexuality, and not her physical strength. Because of this, the argument that men are depicted as topless too does not really address the primary concern that women are presented as sexual creatures first and foremost, while men are presented as strong and physically capable.

Incidentally, if during your online image search, you found any of the pictures of the male models disturbing, but did not find any of the images of the female models equally disturbing, perhaps you should stop and ask yourself why that is.

Why are you being such a prude? Isn’t the feminist movement about sexual empowerment?

Let’s get something straight. Objectification is not a form of sexual empowerment. Sexual empowerment is when women feel free to dress how they want and are free to choose who they engage in sexual activities with, without fear of social stigma. Sexual objectification is when women are treated as sexual objects designed to induce and satisfy male, sexual desire.

If a female player chooses to play a character that wears a leather bra and a rabbit skin for a thong, that’s her choice and may be called sexual empowerment. If, that image is forced upon her, that’s not empowerment, that’s sexual objectification.

You give feminists a bad name.

This is an ad hominem argument, a fallacy in argumentation where the respondent attacks the character of the person, and not the argument itself. Using this line of argument is not going to change the mind of anyone to whom you are responding. It will, however, expose you for the idiot and the troll that you are. I would advise against using this form of argument in the future.

That’s censorship.

Censorship is when a person in a position of authority actively excludes any idea that is considered objectionable. Pointing out that sexism exists, and trying to convince others to stop objectifying or marginalizing women is not censorship, because the person is in no position to prevent these images from being produced. The term that you are looking for in this second example is criticism. Try to keep these two concepts straight.

Mostly men play this game.

This is the argument most frequently championed by people who are against eliminating sexism in roleplaying games. The argument itself usually runs along the lines of “Well I don’t see why things should change since men are the ones who usually play this game.”

So what’s wrong with this argument? After all, it’s true that men are the primary audience for roleplaying games. The problem with this argument is that, while it acknowledges that sexism exists in roleplaying games exists, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that sexism itself is wrong. In fact, it assumes that men generally appreciate sexism, that they believe it is appropriate to marginalize women, and that they would be discouraged if they didn’t find sexism in the products that they purchase. If you don’t believe that any of these things I’ve said about men are true, then perhaps it’s time to reexamine your argument.

Finally, while it’s true that men are the ones that currently make up the primary audience of roleplaying games, it doesn’t acknowledge the fact that women make up roughly one out of every five players at the gaming table.1 In fact, it wouldn’t be surprising if at least one of the players at your own gaming table is female. Given that this is the case, it seems a little ridiculous to continue to marginalize and ignore this demographic, when it’s likely that they’re part of your own gaming group.

It’s only a game.

That’s right. And the fact that it is a game implies that it should be fun and enjoyable for everyone. If someone’s objection to sexist material is taking away from their enjoyment of the game, then perhaps that material should be removed. This is particularly true when the sexist material has no effect on the mechanics of the game.

Incidentally, if your response to this is that if players find certain elements sexist and objectionable, then perhaps they should play something else, congratulations! You have just helped the respondent fill out two squares on their BINGO card (see “If you don’t like it, then play something else”).

This is such a minor problem in the game.

Perhaps by itself, the issue that you are referring to is a minor one. However, keep in mind that the poster’s observations may actually be drawing attention to a larger, more systemic problem. Also, drawing attention to a specific issue does not necessarily mean that the person is unaware of other issues concerning women gamers. On the contrary, they may be acutely aware of these other concerns, but may want to draw attention to an issue that has thus far been ignored or overlooked.

It’s better now than it was 30 years ago.

Just because something is better than it was does not mean that it’s good. Surely, this is not a concept that is difficult for people to understand.

Just change it in your own game.

This is another, common argument which assumes that since players are free to change whatever they want in order to suit their own campaign, they can simply exclude anything that they find objectionable or marginalizing towards women. The problem with this argument is that the Dungeons & Dragons supplements produced by Wizards of the Coast provide players with a kind of shared view of how certain elements of the game are portrayed. If a DM chooses to portray a particular race or culture as different from the way that it is portrayed in any given supplement, the other players at the table may not choose to portray that race in the same manner in their own games. Also, if the player decides to play with another group, it does not mean that the new group will agree with the player’s interpretation of the race. Because of this, changing an element of the game in one’s own campaign does not necessarily address the underlying problem, which is that the element is sexist, and detracts from the game overall.

The game will never change. You’re wasting your time.

The nature of this argument suggests that the respondent is aware of sexism in roleplaying games, but believes that there is nothing to be done about it. If this is actually your perception on things, I certainly hope that the person you are responding to doesn’t take it to heart. If nothing else, discussing an issue makes others aware of something that might be a problem in the game. If it turns out that by doing so, the person has done nothing but waste their time, then it’s their time to waste, so let them waste it.

If, on the other hand, you like the way things are, and the purpose of this argument is to simply try and silence the people who want to discuss these issues, and make others aware of them, then may I ask, what gives you the right? If people want to speak, then let them speak, and if you want to disagree with them, then disagree with them. However, don’t try to tell people that they shouldn’t talk about something. That just isn’t nice.

I’m not sexist but…

Honestly, if you ever feel that you have to qualify something that you’re about to say with this statement, then please just stop typing and step away from the computer, because nothing that you are about to say is going to justify this claim. In fact, it’s quite likely that you’re about to follow this statement with any number of comments that will only help the person you are responding to fill up their Bingo card faster. Therefore, please take a seat at the back of the class and never forget that you are stupid.

Most people don’t care one way or another about this stuff.

This is one of my favorite rebuttals, because even if it is true, it doesn’t follow that nobody should care about this stuff. Also, if most people are indifferent about something, and only a select few are upset, then why not just get rid of whatever is making people upset? Seriously, that’s a win-win for everybody.

It’s not historically accurate to treat women equally.

Personally, I know of no period in history, and neither do you, when people had the capability of shooting fireballs from their fingertips. I also know of no era in history, and neither do you, when dwarves, elves, halflings, and gnomes wandered the earth. Therefore, it seems a little stupid to argue that sexism in roleplaying games should be institutionalized because of some vague idea that you have about what life was like in an era that doesn’t exist.

Are you calling me sexist?

If you have asked this question, because you do not have a problem with some element that the poster has identified as sexist, then honestly, I don’t think you’re going to like the answer that you are about to receive. In all honesty, though, if you don’t think that you’re sexist, then why are you offended by something that a person has said on the internet? If it’s because the comment struck a little too close to home, then perhaps you should take this as an opportunity to reevaluate your opinions.

If women are going to be represented equally in roleplaying games, then every minority should be represented equally.

Now we’re talking! I mean seriously, is there some sort of danger that you see in introducing ethnic and cultural diversity into the game? Do you think people would be turned away from the game if there were pictures of men and women from various ethnicities included in the Player’s Handbook? If the answer to either of these questions is yes, then honestly, I hope I never meet you, because you are truly a terrifying, and messed up individual.

Incidentally, for those of you who are eager to point out that it’s geographically and/or historically inaccurate to have people of different ethnicities on the same continent in a medieval culture, then I would encourage you to read the response to “It’s not historically accurate to treat women equally.” You may find some points there that are quite relevant to this discussion.

That’s just a relic from a previous edition.

Just because something has become institutionalized, does not mean that it is immune to criticism. On the contrary, the fact that an element of the game can be identified as overtly sexist, and yet is still allowed to remain in the game, should be a major cause for alarm. The only way that things are ever going to change is if people voice their objections. If nobody says anything, then it’s likely going to stick around for another thirty years.

Most male gamers are nice people.

That’s true. And if you’re one of those people, then the comments that you are responding to are probably not about you. In fact, they’re probably not even about men. The thing that a lot of people don’t realize is that both men and women are responsible for promoting and perpetuating sexism. Just look at the women who rallied against the Suffrage Movement, and you’ll see what I mean. If you don’t feel that the comments you are responding to apply to either you or the majority of male gamers, then they’re probably not. Therefore, don’t assume that the person you are responding to has made that assumption themselves.

1. Adventure Game Industry Market Research Summary (RPGs) V1.0
http://www.seankreynolds.com/rpgfiles/gaming/WotCMarketResearchSummary.html

Introduction

It was my hope, in writing this entry, that I would be able to bring together all of the mythological elements associated with Lolth and show how she is connected to Ereshkigal, Demeter, the Black Madonnas, Lilith, and the various spider goddesses from across a wide array of cultures. Unfortunately, the difficulties in writing such an article were too numerous, and so while I hope to convey some of these ideas in future entries, I have chosen to focus this entry entirely on Lolth, and the goddess of the Sumerian underworld, Ereshkigal. By comparing these two goddesses, it is my intent to show that Lolth, like Ereshkigal, is a spiritually healing agent that helps orient women to the feelings they have had repressed by the patriarchal culture. It is also my intent to show how, in spite of appearances to the contrary, the goddess is not divisive, but rather an agent that demands only that women be acknowledged as equals to men.

Ereshkigal

Before we can begin to understand the similarities between Lolth and Ereshkigal, it is important that we understand a little bit aobut Ereshkigal herself. Ereshkigal, whose name means “Lady of the Great Place Below,” is the goddess of the Sumerian Netherworld, known as Irkalla. There are many legends associated with Ereshkigal and how she came to rule the Netherworld. According to one, she was carried off as a prize to the Netherworld, by the dragon god Kur.1 According to another, Ereshkigal- known initially as Ninlil, the grain goddess- followed her consort, Enlil (chief ruler of the gods), into the Netherworld, after he had been banished for having raped her.2 In the Netherworld, Ereshkigal becomes a creature of raw emotion, “full of fury, greed, fear of loss, and even of self-spite. She symbolizes raw instinctual feelings, split off from consciousness- need and aggression in the underworld.”3 After this transformation, Ereshkigal is banished forever, never again being allowed to return to the realm of the gods.

Lolth

With this knowledge of Ereshkigal in mind, we can begin to see the similarities between her and the goddess Lolth. Like Ereshkigal, Lolth was also originally known by another name, that of Araushnee, the goddess of elven destiny.4 After having tried to wrest power from her lover, Corellon Larethian, Araushnee was transformed into a spiderlike demon, and cast into the Abyss.5 This forced transformation, a symbolic violation of the female body, and banishment is not unlike the rape that Ereshkigal experiences at the hands of Enlil and Kur. Also like Ereshkigal, upon being banished to the Underworld, Araushnee changes her name to that of Lolth, the ruler of the Demonweb Pits. In this form, Lolth is described as “cruel and capricious,” which is not unlike the description given of Ereshkigal. Lolth’s transformation from Araushnee, the violation she experienced from her lover, her ultimate banishment to the underworld, her association with primal emotion; these are all aspects that are shared with the goddess Ereshkigal, suggesting that the two goddesses are part of the same archetype. With these parallels in mind, we can now begin to look at Lolth from a mythological and feminist perspective.

Lolth and Ereshkigal as Rulers of the Underworld

“From the perspective of the patriarchy, the rape of the goddess establishes masculine rule over conscious cultural life… and relegates feminine power and fertility to the underworld.”6 This quote, from Sylvia Perera’s essay “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy,” could just as easily apply to Lolth as it could to the goddess Ereshkigal. By violating her sacred body, and casting her into the Abyss, Corellon, a symbolic representation of the patriarchy, was attempting to establish his dominion over Lolth, a symbolic representation of the threat that women present to the ideals of the patriarchy. “But,” as Perera goes on to say, “from the perspective of magic-matriarchal consciousness… death is a transformation to which… the goddess willingly surrenders, and a process over which she rules.”In other words, by claiming rulership over the Demonweb Pits, the goddess transformed her defeat into a victory, claiming dominion over the aspects of the feminine divine that Corellon (the patriarchy) tried to suppress. Because of this action, Lolth’s power is still active in the world, reminding us that the feminine divine cannot be so easily denied or ignored.

Lolth and Ereshkigal as Healers

There is another quote from Perera’s essay, about Ereshkigal, which could just as easily apply to Lolth, and which is helpful in understanding the nature of the goddess. “When we are reduced to such depths of numb pain and depression, to timelessness, preverbal chaos and emotionality- all that we call awful or infantile and associate with the archaic dimensions of consciousness- we can know that the goddess we must serve and revere is [the goddess of the Underworld]. Contact with her grounds a woman. It coagulates feminine potency to confront the patriarchy and the masculine as an equal.”7 To put it another way, identification with the underworld goddess is identification with all that has been suppressed by the patriarchal culture. Lolth, like Ereshkigal, is the goddess that helps women make sense of their feelings of being treated as less than men. Her challenge to Corellon is a challenge to the idea that men have authority over women, giving women the power to make that challenge themselves. Her fury at having been given power over the destiny of the elves by Corellon is fury over the patriarchal concept that feminine power is extrinsic, not inherent, and that it must be given to women by the patriarchy. Acknowledging Lolth is acknowledging that the feminine and the masculine are equal, that anger is appropriate, that one must be willing to sacrifice everything- status, relationships, and security- in order to be acknowledged. There are no ‘shoulds’ in the presence of Lolth, no expectations of social or political correctness. She is the goddess who forces women to acknowledge their own thoughts, their own feelings, their own needs, and she is the one that orients them in a world that is otherwise hostile to and suspicious of feminine power.

Lolth and Ereshkigal as Feminists

There is one more subject about Lolth that needs to be addressed. To the uninitiated, the goddess of the underworld appears malicious, chaotic, terrifying, ugly, threatening, and anathema to everything that is masculine. Because of this, it is not surprising that some have described Lolth as “the original psycho feminist supremacist.” By trying to kill Corellon, and usurp his portfolio, it appears that Lolth is trying to exert her dominance over men. However, if we turn again to Ereshkigal, we begin to understand Lolth’s behavior. In one myth, the arrogant god Nergal refuses to stand in the presence of Namtar, Ereshkigal’s servant. Enraged, Ereshkigal demands that Nergal be brought before her so that she might kill him. After consulting with Ea, the god of Wisdom, Nergal agrees to descend into the Netherworld, where he overpowers Ereshkigal’s servants and threatens to kill her. Before he can slay her, however, she says to him, “Don’t kill me, my brother! Let me tell you something… you can be my husband, and I can be your wife. I will let you seize Kingship over the wide Earth! I will put the tablet of wisdom in your hand!”8 After hearing her words, “[Nergal] picked her up, kissed her and wiped away her tears, saying – in sudden enlightenment; ‘It was but love you wanted of me from months long ago to now!’”9 In other words, Ereshkigal’s reaction- which appears, at first glance to be a threat to the masculine divine- stems from a desire to be treated as an equal, one who is worthy of respect. Considering that Lolth and Ereshkigal share so many of the same qualities, it seems logical to conclude that Lolth’s desire to kill Corellon also stems from the desire to be treated as an equal, and makes one think that if the elven god had acknowledged her, then perhaps the wounds between the elven nations could be healed.

Conclusion

Unfortunately, unlike Nergal, Corellon never acknowledges Araushnee’s desire to be treated as an equal. Instead, he does just the opposite. By stripping her of her power, and expelling her into the Abyss, Corellon is trying to ignore her demands of acceptance. However, as Corellon has undoubtedly learned, the power of the goddess cannot be so easily suppressed. Her fury remains ever strong, and she waits in the Demonweb Pits for his acknowledgment. Perhaps, the players, by acknowledging the goddess’s fury, and by paying her the proper respect, might be able to heal the wounds of history between these two deities, and bring peace between the elven nations that the gods themselves could not.

1. “Inanna and the Huluppu Tree”
http://www.piney.com/BabHulTree.html

2. “Enlin and Ninlil”
http://etcsl.orinst.ox.ac.uk/section1/tr121.htm

3. Perera, Sylvia “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy.” Feminist Archetypal Theory, p. 151. Lauter, Estella , and Carol Rupprecht. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1985.

4. Boyd, Eric L. and Erik Mona Faiths and Pantheons p. 40. Renton: Wizards of the Coast Inc., 2002.

5. Williams, Skip Races of the Wild p. 26. Renton: Wizards of the Coast Inc., 2005.

6. Perera, Sylvia “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy.”
Feminist Archetypal Theory, p. 150. Lauter, Estella , and Carol Rupprecht. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1985.

7. Perera, Sylvia “The Descent of Inanna: Myth and Therapy.” Feminist Archetypal Theory, p. 154. Lauter, Estella , and Carol Rupprecht. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1985.

8. “Nergal and Ereshkigal” (Amarna Version)
http://ereshkigal.net/

9. Stuckey, Johanna “Inanna’s Descent to the Underworld” Matrifocus Cross-Quarterly for the Goddess Woman. Beltane 2005 Volume 4-3
http://www.matrifocus.com/BEL05/spotlight.htm

Adventure Background

It’s been nearly two years since the Worm God Kyuss was defeated, and the prophecies of the Age of Worms were prevented from unfolding. With the destruction of the Writhing Tabernacle, and the defeat of Prince Zeech, a new ruler of Alhaster has been appointed, and life appears to have returned to normal.

Unfortunately, not everything is as it seems. While Kyuss’s plans have certainly suffered a serious blow, they have not been completely thwarted. Retreating deep into the Underdark, the spirit of Kyuss has made its way back to the plane where it was originally imprisoned and there, it has begun to reform.

Meanwhile, Kyuss’s minions have been gathering in the blighted lands of of the ancient empire of Sulm. It was in Sulm, where Kyuss was born, where he first learned the ways of magic, and where he first joined the clergy of Nerull. It was also here that he first began dabbling in necromantic powers so vile, that even the wicked people of Sulm could not tolerate his actions, and for that he was banished from the relam.

Now, Kyuss’s minions have returned to the area, to seek vengeance against the only remaining descendants of those who banished him in the first place. While they may have been transformed into horrid creatures known as scorpionfolk, Kyuss still knows who they are, and he will stop at nothing to destroy them.

Adventure Synopsis

The PCs uncover new information that leads them to believe that Kyuss has survived and that he has returned to the plane of his apotheosis. Knowing only that the plane is an alternate, Material Plane, called Zana, and that it resides somewhere in the Plane of Shadow, the PCs must travel to Magepoint to recruit the help of Manzorian. There Manzorian tells them that in order to travel to this alternate Plane, they will need to recruit the help of Shildhran, a wizard that helped in preventing the Age of Worms from coming to pass. Unfortunately, Shildhran is away on an expedition to the ancient city of Kyuss’s birth, in the hopes of finding out more information about the Worm God’s origins. The PCs must therefore travel to Sulm in order to recruit the mage’s help.

When the PCs arrive in Sulm, they discover that the city has been overrun by scorpionfolk, and that the wizard they are seeking has been enslaved by these creatures. They also discover that the scorpionfolk are battling with the vengeful minions of Kyuss, which have taken up residence in the ruins of an ancient temple dedicated to Nerull. Depending on how events unfold, the PCs can either agree to help the scorpionfolk defeat Kyuss’s minions in exchange for the safe return of Shildhran, or defeat the scorpionfolk and help Shildhran find the information he is seeking in ancient temple of Nerull where Kyuss was first rose to prominence.

Regardless of the PCs’ decisions, if Shildhran is ultimately freed by the PCs, he agrees to help the PCs, and by the end of the adventure are ready to make their journey to the plane of Zana.

Adventure Hook

One of the PCs has been plagued by dreams of Kyuss. In the dreams, they have seen the plane where the Worm God has been imprisoned for the last several thousand years. They have seen what will happen if the Age of Worms prophecy comes to pass. In addition to this, they have also heard the name Shalara repeated again and again. While the meaning of these dreams is certainly mysterious, they appear to be a sign that the Age of Worms prophecy is not yet done unfolding.

Understanding the Dreams

The dreams are cryptic, but there is at least one clue that opens up the investigation for the PCs. In the dream, the name Shalara is repeated again and again. The PCs can make a Knowledge (religion) check to learn more.

Knowledge (religion)

  • (DC 15) Shalara is the name of an obscure goddess, no longer worshipped, who was once associated with the movements of the sun and the moon.
  • (DC 20) Shalara is actually a contraction of the names of two goddesses, Shal (the Sun) and Ara (the Moon). The two were often worshipped together.
  • (DC 25) Shal and Ara are twin deities. Shal, the goddess of the sun, is associated with life, and light. Ara, the goddess of the moon, is associated with death, and darkness. While many worshipped these two goddesses as separate deities, others worshipped them as part of a pantheon. Still others worshipped these two goddesses as aspects of a single deity, a goddess who presided over both life and death.
  • (DC 30) Worship of Shalara did not originate on the Material Plane. Rather, Shalara is a deity from another realm, an alternate plane called Zana.

Knowledge (the planes)

If the PCs learn about Zana from their Knowledge (religion) check, they can use a Knowledge (the planes) to learn more.

  • (DC 15) Zana is an alternate, Material Plane that exists somewhere in the remote reaches of the Plane of Shadow.
  • (DC 20) Legends say that the Spellweavers- an enigmatic race that today wanders the planes in search of magic items- were originally from the world of Zana. The truth of these legends has never been officially validated, for the Spellweavers are a bizarre, and alien race that rarely communicate with outsiders. Neverthess, the scant evidence that has been pieced together from writings left behind by the Spellweavers over the last several thousand years remains persistent.
  • (DC 25) Long ago, the Spellweavers traveled from Zana to the Material Plane through a magical portal. This portal is located on the Plane of Shadow, somewhere in the vicinity of the city of Alhaster.
  • (DC 30) In order to reach Zana, the PCs must either be able to cast the spell plane shift, or travel through the portal originally created by the Spellweavers. In either case, the PCs will need a small, forked metal rod, in order to cast the spell, or activate the portal. This rod, which must be keyed to the plane of Zana, is exceedingly rare, and requires the skills of someone who is intimately familiar with the nature of the planes in order to create it.

Knowledge (nature)

If the PCs learn about the Spellweavers from their Knowledge (the planes) check, they can use a Knowledge (nature) check to learn more. This check works exactly as described in the Player’s Handbook.

Legend Lore and Vision

What the PCs are unable to glean from the Knowledge checks listed above, they can learn from the use of divination spells, such as legend lore and vision. These spells can reveal all of the information learned from the Knowledge checks listed above. However, it may take several castings to learn the full details.

If the PCs have already succeeded on previous Knowledge checks about Shalara or Zana, these spells reveal additional information, equivalent to a +5 to their previous Knowledge checks. So for example, if the PCs have previously succeeded at a Knowledge (religion) check of DC 20, the spell reveals information that would have been gained by a Knowledge (religion) check of DC 25. The casting time depends on the nature of the information already known by the PCs as described below.

  • If the PCs have not succeeded at any previous Knowledge checks, or have only succeeded at a Knowledge check of DC 15, the casting time for legend lore or vision is equivalent to if the PCs only know rumors about the subject.
  • If the PCs have succeeded at previous Knowledge checks of DC 20-25, or have made previous castings of the spells legend lore or vision, the casting time of these spells is equivalent to if the PCs had detailed information about the subject.If the PCs use legend lore or vision to learn more about the forked metal rod described in the Knowledge (the planes) section, they receive the following information. “The friendship of the mage Manzorian has proven helpful to you in the past. Go to his fortress in the city of mages, and ask him for his advice.”

Manzorian

The PCs have met many colorful characters during their journeys, all of whom have had information that has proven helpful in their investigations. However, of all the characters that the PCs have met, none have been as intelligent and as helpful as the great Manzorian.
By now, the PCs are relatively equal to Manzorian in level. Nevertheless, Manzorian still has access to resources that the PCs have only dreamed of, and therefore can still prove to be a useful ally.

Manzorian knows very little about Shalara, Zana, or the Spellweavers, and if asked, he knows as much as can be revealed by the lowest appropriate Knowledge check. Manzorian does not have the time to delve further into these subjects himself, but is willing to pull some strings at Magepoint’s Library Temple to allow the PCs to use the library’s resources without having to pay the usual fee of 100 gp. Access to the library temple grants the PCs a +6 bonus to all Knowledge (arcana), Knowledge (religion), and Knowledge (the planes) checks. Research in the library takes approximately 1d4+1 hours.

In exchange for granting the PCs access to the library, Manzorian asks that the PCs keep him informed about everything that they learn from their research. If the PCs come back to him with incomplete information, Manzorian listens intently, but suggests that there may be more information to find. If the PCs are unsure where to begin, Manzorian might ask helpful questions, provide suggestions, or hint about resources that the PCs haven’t yet considered. This will give the PCs clues as to where to start looking next in their investigations.

At some point in their investigations, the PCs will eventually learn of the forked metal rod they need to travel to Zana and will have to seek the aid of Manzorian. At that point, Manzorian asks the PCs to relay everything that they have learned, nodding as he listens intently. When the PCs are finished with their recounting, Manzorian says to them, “You have done well, my friends. Your research into this matter has been exceedingly thorough. Based on what you have told me, it seems obvious that these dreams are evidence that the prophecies of the Age of Worms are not yet done unfolding. I fear what may happen if these matters are not pursued.

“Unfortunately, I do not have the knowledge necessary to create the rod that is needed to travel to Zana. Nevertheless, I do know of someone who may be able to assist you in this matter. There is a man by the name of Shildhran, who was instrumental in helping us prevent the Age of Worms form coming to pass. He is a gifted scholar, whose knowledge of the planes is virtually unmatched. Unfortunately, he is mounted an expedition to the city of Sulm, the birthplace of Kyuss, in order to understand more about the Worm God’s origins, and I do not know when to expect his return.”

When Manzorian is finished, the PCs can use a Knowledge (history) check to learn more about the city of Sulm.

Knowledge (history)

  • (DC 20) Sulm is an ancient city, whose ruins lie in the blighted region known as the Bright Desert.
  • (DC 25) Sulm was part of an ancient magocracy, known as the Flan Kingdom. Due to the decadent ways of the arcanists that resided there, the kingdom was ultimately destroyed.
  • (DC 30) The city of Sulm was ultimately destroyed when the city’s last king, Shattados, tried to use an artifact, called the scorpion crown to gain perpetual control over his people. Instead, Shattados was transformed into a scorpion, the people of Sulm were transformed into scorpionfolk, and the lands surrounding the city were transformed into a vast desert.
Sidebar
The primary purpose of this investigation is to get the PCs to start thinking creatively about how to use all of the resources available to them. After all, the PCs are now epic level, and there are very few people in the world that they can turn to who are likely to have more information about a given subject than they do. As a result, they will need to start relying more heavily on their own abilities to find information, and less on the information given to them by powerful NPCs. For purposes of experience, treat this as an EL 21 encounter.

After writing my entry on the Age of Worms, and Elder Evils, I began thinking about what an epic campaign based off of the Age of Worms campaign would look like. This idea took hold of me, and after some preliminary musings on the subject, a story began to take shape.

The following short story is a prologue that I plan to use for my own campaign. Many of you may recognize Marzena from Encounter at Blackwall Keep. After the unfortunate death of my own character, I decided the easiest way to get back into the campaign was to start playing Marzena, and by happy accident, she ultimately became the ruler of Alhaster.

The other character in the story is Torus. He is one of the other characters in our adventuring party, a dwarven paladin and Hammer of Moradin. He and Marzena developed a sort of bond during the campaign, when it was discovered that several of the rogues in our party had joined an assassin’s guild. Not knowing whether the rogues had revealed any information to the wrong person about our party’s role in preventing the Age of Worms from coming to pass, the two put together a strategy to arrest the rogues, and to convince them to atone for their crimes.

In any event, I hadn’t initially intended to post this story, but since I missed the weekend deadline, I thought I’d put it up, along with the Introduction that I was planning to post.

***

Torus stroked his beard as he listened to the steady clop of the horse’s hooves. Above him, the carriage driver made gentle clicking noises with his tongue as he snapped the reins against the horse’s backs.

It was not an unpleasant ride. Through the trees, Torus could see the ocean, glimmering in the orange light of the evening sun; a sight that was almost soothing, even to a stodgy dwarf, like himself. Still, he felt uncomfortable sitting in the decadent carriage. It reminded him of the last time that he had ridden in such a carriage, on his way to the palace of Prince Zeech one year ago. Grimacing at the thought, he sniffed, and looked back down at the letter that he had received from his friend, Marzena.

Come to the palace, it said, in a florid script. It seemed uncharacteristic of the sorceress, whose language was usually so flowery and verbose. In some ways, it was a refreshing change. However, it concerned him, particularly when the driver indicated that he had been given special instructions to bring the dwarf in at night.

“Whoa!” the carriage driver said, bringing the carriage to a stop. Jumping down, the driver opened the carriage door for Torus.

“We’ll stop here for a few hours and wait for nightfall.” The driver said. “Come, I’ll start us a fire.”

Torus climbed down from the carriage, grumbling to himself about how the door was not made to accommodate dwarves. Outside, the driver was unwrapping some salted meat, and cheese, and was laying out various cookware.

“I was going to have some supper,” he said, laying the food out on the ground. “You’re welcome to some if you’d like.” Torus nodded, and began helping the man collect wood from the side of the road. Before too long, the two had a rather cheerful fire going.

It was getting dark, and the calls of various night creatures could be heard off in the distance. Torus sat by the fire, cleaning his gear, while the driver fried the meat in an iron skillet. Spearing a piece with his fork, he placed it into a wooden bowl and handed it to Torus.

“For you.”

Torus took it from him, and nodded. “Thank you.”

For a few minutes, the two ate their meals in silence. Then, over the fire’s popping cinders, Torus said, “We’ve been traveling together for half the day now. It would be nice to be able to call you by your name.”

The man swallowed. “I’m sorry. I should have told you. My name is Karel. Karel Greenwood. I’m a servant in the lord’s manor at Alhaster. I serve the lady, Marzena.”

“Yes, I assumed that’s where you came from. Can you tell me why your lady has sent for me, and why she has requested that I come in the middle of the night?”

The fire popped, and tiny embers, like fireflies, burst from the flames. “The lady did not say. She did, however, mention that it was a matter of great urgency.”

Torus frowned. “Of that, I was already certain.”

Karel smiled wryly, as he popped a piece of meat into his mouth with his fingers.

The two sat in silence for the rest of their meal, before packing up their things. Opening the door for Torus, Karel helped the dwarf clamber back into the carriage, before hopping up onto the seat above.

Karel lit a small lantern on the side of the carriage. “It should only be a couple of hours now before we reach the city. Hopefully, the lady will be able to answer your questions as soon as we arrive.”

As the carriage drove on, Torus soon found himself dozing, the steady beat of the horse’s hooves soothing. Slipping down upon the velvet cushions of the carriage, the dwarf soon sound himself fast asleep.

***

“Karel Greenwood, servant of Lady Marzena bids the soldiers of Alhaster to open the city gates!” Torus awoke to the announcement with a start. Outside, he could hear the sound of metal and wood groaning. He rubbed his eyes, and rubbed his face, trying to get his bearings.

The carriage started moving again. Turning to look out the window, he could see tall brick houses lining the streets. They must be in the city of Alhaster.

The carriage made its way down the main thoroughfare of the city. To his left, he could see the Scarlet Spire, Alhaster’s temple dedicated to the god, Kelemvor. He could also see the newly christened Church of Pelor- formerly the Church of Hextor- with a large symbol of the sun emblazoned on its closed doors.

Fitting, thought Torus, that the gods of death and birth should have their temples sitting side by side.

It wasn’t long before the carriage made its way through the gates of Zeech’s Palace, now renamed the Lord’s Manor. Passing through the gates, Torus couldn’t help but notice that the many statues of the terrible prince had been removed from the gardens. Still, the sheer opulence of the palace and its gardens were enough to remind the dwarf of its former occupant.

The carriage stopped at the entrance to the palace, and a servant opened the carriage door. Clumsily, the dwarf stepped out.

“Her Lady has asked that you await her in the Main Hall,” the servant said to him. Torus grimaced at this, but nodded in compliance. Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out a small, gold purse and tossed it over his shoulder to the driver, Karel. Torus heard the coins jingle as the man caught it.

“Thank you!” Karel called out to him. Torus waved his hand absently, but never looked back.
 Torus followed the servant as he led him through the palace to the Main Hall. Standing by the doors, the servant gestured for the dwarf to enter ahead of him. For a moment, Torus hesitated, then sniffing, he stepped into the room.

Inside, the lights were dimmed. The severed heads, and the many portraits of Zeech and Lashonna that had once lined the walls had thankfully been removed. Nevertheless, the mahogany table, and the stained glass dome above were all still there to remind the dwarf of his previous visit to the palace.

Torus turned as he heard the doors into the banquet hall shut behind him, the sound echoing through the near empty hall.

“I’m glad you’ve come,” he heard a female voice say. Torus whirled around. Standing in the shadows, at the far end of the hall, was a woman, her hand pressed against the wall, as if for support. She was dressed in a long, silken gown, her head crowned by a crystal tiara.

For a moment, Torus just stood there, staring into the shadows at the figure. Then, almost apprehensively, he called out. “Marzena?”

“Yes,” she said.

“Marzena, what is going on? Why did you send for me? Why the secrecy? Why all of the clandestine charades?”

“I assure you that they were all very necessary. I couldn’t risk the citizens of Alhaster knowing that I had sent for you.”

“Why?”

“Because they have already begun to suspect that I am not well. I fear that if they knew I had sent for a paladin, they would be even more suspicious of my current condition, and that it would cause them to sink into despair.”

Torus took a step towards her. “What has happened?”

“I do not know. There are none here that I feel I can confide in, so I have had little opportunity or resources to investigate the matter. That is why I have called you here. I don’t know who else I can turn to, but I need to tell someone what is happening.”

Marzena stepped from the shadows, her body hunched as she made her way towards the chair at the head of the banquet table. Using the back of the chair for support, she found her way to the front of it before finally collapsing into the seat, exhausted from the effort.

Torus made his way toward her, watching the sorceress intently. Marzena looked up, smiling weakly as he approached.

“As you can see,” she said, struggling to catch her breath, “I am not myself lately.”

Torus took her hand. It felt frail, and cold to the touch.

“You are sick,” he said to her.

“Yes,” she said.

Bowing his head, he closed his eyes.

“May the blessing of Moradin be upon you,” he said, “May his hand heal you of all sickness.”

Marzena’s body was bathed in a warm aura of light, and for a moment, she appeared as if at peace. Then, the light faded, and her face turned ashen white. Grimacing, as if in pain, she leaned over the chair, and retched. From her mouth, green worms spilled out onto the floor.

Torus recognized the worms instantly. They were the worms of the god, Kyuss. Quickly, he pulled out his hammer, and began smashing the deadly creatures on the floor. As soon as they were dead, he returned to Marzena’s side.

“Are you all right?” he said to her. Slowly, Marzena raised her head.

“Yes,” she said to him.

“Can you stand up?”

Bracing the arms of the chair, Marzena struggled to stand, but ultimately sunk back into the seat.

“Come,” Torus said, “I’ll help you.”

Torus wrapped his arm around Marzena’s frail body, but before he could lift her, she grabbed his wrist.

“Wait,” she said, “I have not shown you everything.”

Torus stared at her for a moment, almost as if he was afraid of what she would show him next. Then slowly, he laid her back in the chair.

Marzena closed her eyes. Raising her hands to her temples, she lifted her crystal tiara from her head. Almost immediately, her body began to wither. Her cheeks sank, her arms shriveled, and her skin stretched taut over her now skeletally thin frame. Opening her eyes, she looked up at Torus.

Torus took a step back. Where the irises of Marzena’s eyes should have been, there was now nothing, except… Torus cocked his head. For a moment, he thought he had seen something; some living thing swimming in the black pools of her eyes. Leaning in closer, he squinted.

“You can see now,” Marzena said, as the horror of what was behind her eyes began to dawn on Torus, “why I have such need for secrecy.” In the black pools of her eyes, where the pupils should have been, two green worms, opened their maws menacingly. Gripping Torus’s hand, she leaned in close, until he felt as if he were drowning in the dark nothingness of her eyes.

“I have seen it,” she said, tears streaming down her face. “In my dreams, I have seen the dead rise, and the worms rain from the darkened skies. I have seen it. The prophecy… the prophecy is still unfolding. Even now, he draws power from her.”

“Who?” Torus asked.

Marzena looked at him, almost as if not comprehending. Then she whispered. “Kyuss… Kyuss is still alive!”

Marzena fell forward, but Torus caught her in his arms. “Marzena,” he said, leaning her back in the chair, “Marzena!”

Marzena opened her eyes.

“Who is Kyuss drawing power from?”

“Sha… Shalara.”

“Who is Shalara? Who is Shalara!”

Marzena eyes fluttered for a moment. She tried to say something, but before she could, her head fell forward in a dead faint.

Torus reached for her crown, and replaced it, watching impatiently for the illusion to once again take effect. He then lifted Marzena into his arms. Bursting through the doors that he had come through, he saw the servant still standing there.

“What happened?” the servant screamed. “What’s wrong with her?”

Torus didn’t answer him. He just kept walking. He didn’t know where he was going, or what he was doing. All he knew was that he needed to get her out of there. He needed to stop this thing that was happening to her.

Update Schedule

When I started this blog, I made a conscious decision not to post a schedule for updates, because I wasn’t really sure whether or not I would be able to stick to one.  However, I’m starting to get a readership now, and having done several entries, I feel confident that I can commit to a schedule of one entry every two weeks. I don’t want to commit to any particular day, since this last one took considerably more time to compose than I anticipated, but let’s shoot for some time before Monday, and see how that goes.

As far as updating more frequently, I think anything more than what I’m doing right now will tax my capabilities considerably, since I usually spend the down time between entries reading books on feminism and mythology, and scouring the internet for information that will help me write my next entry. Hopefully, you’re all enjoying what I’m writing. Take care.