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It is finally the day of the Full Moon Ritual, but as the heroes prepare, they discover that something isn’t quite right. This episode is the conclusion to the first game of Unfamiliar Heroes.

Underneath the facade of ordinary reality lies a hidden world of monsters and magic. At Sylvan Community College a secret program teaches supernatural teens to deal with this dangerous world as they struggle with the mess and confusion of their own lives. Welcome to the First Responders Training Program, a tabletop game using the Monsterhearts 2 role-playing system!

As the seasons change I’m really excited to be wrapping up my first Unfamiliar Heroes game!

Listen now!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

Unfamiliar Heroes is a podcast series in which three disabled, neurodiverse, and/or chronically ill players and a game master play story-focused tabletop role-playing games where all of the player characters have disabilities, diverse minds, and/or chronic illnesses. In its core values, this project centers the experiences of people living at the intersections of oppression. Unfamiliar Heroes is part of the Writing Alchemy Podcast.

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In the fourth game episode of Unfamiliar Heroes the humor and drama continue as Tamara confronts Vanessa about her spying, Janus tries to figure out what the First Responders Training Program really is, and Vanessa has a vision that leads to an important revelation!

Underneath the facade of ordinary reality lies a hidden world of monsters and magic. At Sylvan Community College a secret program teaches supernatural teens to deal with this dangerous world as they struggle with the mess and confusion of their own lives. Welcome to the First Responders Training Program, a tabletop game using the Monsterhearts 2 role-playing system!

More silliness and teenage awkwardness in this episode along with some big reveals. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Listen now!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

Unfamiliar Heroes is a podcast series in which three disabled, neurodiverse, and/or chronically ill players and a game master play story-focused tabletop role-playing games where all of the player characters have disabilities, diverse minds, and/or chronic illnesses. In its core values, this project centers the experiences of people living at the intersections of oppression. Unfamiliar Heroes is part of the Writing Alchemy Podcast.

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Guesting on Modifier!

So excited to be a guest on the Modifier podcast along with game masters Jordan Green, and Anna Murray for Episode 43: Get Acquainted with the Unfamiliar Heroes – Part 1. Accessibility is a reoccurring theme of the Modifier podcast, allowing us to really delve into this topic in detail. This was a great conversation and I hope you give it a listen!

“Fay Onyx, the mastermind behind the Unfamiliar Heroes podcast project, and two of its GMs, Anna Murray and Jordan Green, chat about what it’s like to run an actual play with diverse players and characters at the core. This first part of our conversation focuses on addressing the needs of players, and considering how accessible your game system itself is.”

Modifier is a bi-weekly interview-style podcast focused on the cool ways people alter games and gaming in the pursuit of better storytelling and a super fun time! From fully-realized published systems to in-progress homebrews, we’re on a mission to highlight all the heroes that are modding games to better tell their stories.

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This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.

This is a digital artwork of a yellow and green budgerigar sitting on a branch with a tiger head that is the same color as its yellow feathers.http://writingalchemy.net/magic-goes-awry/

 

Magic Goes Awry: A high fantasy role-playing system that is light on rules and heavy on magical mayhem

This is a rules-light role-playing system designed for people who want to create a fun and interesting high fantasy story together. My goal in creating this game was to capture the fun of Dungeons and Dragons in a game that was free and accessible to a much wider range of people. I created Magic Goes Awry to have little math, fewer things to keep track of, and more room for creativity, while still having enough options and detail for people to create a diverse range of fantastical characters with exciting abilities.

This game is online so that you can try it whenever you want. It is still in alpha testing, and there is a feedback form for those awesome people willing to take the time to help me make this game better.

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In this third game episode of Unfamiliar Heroes, the humor and drama continues as Shanda gives Vanessa some subtle guidance and Tamara confronts Janus with an unexpected truth!

Underneath the facade of ordinary reality lies a hidden world of monsters and magic. At Sylvan Community College a secret program teaches supernatural teens to deal with this dangerous world as they struggle with the mess and confusion of their own lives. Welcome to the First Responders Training Program, a tabletop game using the Monsterhearts 2 role-playing system!

I’m really happy to be getting this episode online after a delay caused by the creation of Magic Goes Awry. After having listened to it multiple times in editing and production, I still laugh out loud when I listen to the ending. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

Listen now!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

Unfamiliar Heroes is a podcast series in which three disabled, neurodiverse, and/or chronically ill players and a game master play story-focused tabletop role-playing games where all of the player characters have disabilities, diverse minds, and/or chronic illnesses. In its core values, this project centers the experiences of people living at the intersections of oppression. Unfamiliar Heroes is part of the Writing Alchemy Podcast.

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This the ninth post of my Trope of the Week Series.

Tropes are conventions (or repeated patterns) used in storytelling. They can include themes and plot devices. Underdog characters triumphing after dedicated training is an example of a trope, as is goodness being associated with physical beauty, and villains revealing their secret plans to heroes they have just captured.

Some tropes reinforce oppressive messages, and in this series I will be going through a list harmful tropes that are used in the representation of disabled characters. Because knowing what to do is just as important as knowing what not to do, I will end each post with suggestions for ways to fix things.

This series an expansion of my list of Common Harmful Representations of Disability from my Guidelines for Game Masters page.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left a toy Darth Vader points at the audience. On the right a silhouetted person stands, raising two crutches over their head in a triumph pose.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left a toy Darth Vader points at the audience. On the right a silhouetted person stands, raising two crutches over their head in a triumph pose.

 

Metaphorical Disability

Disability is frequently used as a metaphor, especially for negative things. This can happen when disabled characters are used to symbolically represent something about the world around them, such as poverty or intolerance. In this case, disabled characters are used as helpless objects of pity, as Tiny Tim was in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Other times disability is used to represent something about who the character is, such as when villains like Captain Hook and Darth Vader are portrayed with menacing prosthetics and medical devices in order to symbolically represent their cruel and inhuman natures (Villainous Disability). Either way, when disability is used as a metaphor, the meaning of that metaphor comes from societal ideas about what disability is. Whether disabled people are being portrayed as helpless, pure, bitter, villainous, or inspirational, these portrayals promote harmful stereotypes. This means that the act of using disability as a metaphor includes reinforcing harmful ideas about disability.

In addition, reducing a character to a metaphor is a dehumanizing process. These characters are frequently simplified down to the single message they are intended to give, losing the fullness of human complexity and agency. Even when these characters remain complex, taking disability and making it into a metaphor for something else denies an important part of the lived experience of being disabled. That is because making a character’s disability about something else (whatever the disability is a symbol of) means that the oppression and struggles that the character experiences around their disability also becomes about that something else too. For example, if disability is being used as a symbol for poverty, then the oppression experienced by a poor disabled character will be interpreted as being about their poverty only. However, being a poor disabled person is a very different experience than being a poor able-bodied person. While the two things may be connected, pretending they both are the same is harmful because it hides an important part of this complex reality.

Blindness is used as metaphor particularly often, so much so that it can be said that, “We’re just going to put this out there right now: any play/novel/story of some sort that features a character getting blinded is also probably saying something about metaphorical blindness. Like always,” (King Lear Vision and Blindness Summary). These metaphors exist on a continuum that ranges from common English phrases, like “turning a blind eye” and “being blind to the truth,” to major plot themes. Whenever a character lacks judgment or otherwise refuses to acknowledge the truth, metaphorical blindness is rarely far away. It is quite common for these sorts of stories to involve blind characters or to culminate in a formerly sighted character becoming blind, as happened to the Earl of Gloucester in King Lear (King Lear Vision and Blindness Summary). All of this together sends a terrible message about what it means to be blind.

Finally, I want to close by saying that these metaphorical uses of disability make stories exclusionary to disabled people. That is because metaphors based on a specific disability will have a totally different meaning to the people who share that disability. How are people who use respiratory devices supposed to feel about Darth Vader’s ominous labored breathing? How are people with mobility aids supposed to feel about Tiny Tim’s crutch being used to represent him as a frail burden? How are blind people supposed to feel about a character being blinded as a “poetic” punishment for their lack of judgment? I think the answer is that disabled people aren’t supposed to feel anything because the creators of these works never really thought about the fact that disabled people are actually members of their audience. This sends the message to disabled people that they aren’t part of the intended audience of these works.

What to do instead:

In general, I strongly recommend against using any oppressed group as a metaphor for anything else, whether it is in a big or small way. This is especially true if the person creating the metaphor isn’t a member of the group they are turning into a metaphor. There is a huge risk of bringing in myths and stereotypes about that group. And even if that pitfall is avoided, the process of turning an oppressed group into a metaphor denies an important part of the experience of that oppression. In addition, it sends the message to members of that group that this story may be about them, but isn’t for them because the creators never actually thought about what their experiences as audience members would be. Continue Reading »

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In this second game episode of Unfamiliar Heroes we learn more about Sylvan Community College, fill in a few key pieces of character background, and then jump into Vanessa and Janus’ awkward first meeting in the Pagan Student Association!

Underneath the facade of ordinary reality lies a hidden world of monsters and magic. At Sylvan Community College a secret program teaches supernatural teens to deal with this dangerous world as they struggle with the mess and confusion of their own lives. Welcome to the First Responders Training Program, a tabletop game using the Monsterhearts 2 role-playing system!

I am so excited to be getting the second episode of this game online! It is so wonderful to have this project come together and I am so happy to have such awesome group chemistry and humor in this first game. I hope you all love it as much as I do!

Listen now!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

Unfamiliar Heroes is a podcast series in which three disabled, neurodiverse, and/or chronically ill players and a game master play story-focused tabletop role-playing games where all of the player characters have disabilities, diverse minds, and/or chronic illnesses. In its core values, this project centers the experiences of people living at the intersections of oppression. Unfamiliar Heroes is part of the Writing Alchemy Podcast.

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This the eighth post of my Trope of the Week Series.

Tropes are conventions (or repeated patterns) used in storytelling. They can include themes and plot devices. Underdog characters triumphing after dedicated training is an example of a trope, as is goodness being associated with physical beauty, and villains revealing their secret plans to heroes they have just captured.

Some tropes reinforce oppressive messages, and in this series I will be going through a list harmful tropes that are used in the representation of disabled characters. Because knowing what to do is just as important as knowing what not to do, I will end each post with suggestions for ways to fix things.

This series an expansion of my list of Common Harmful Representations of Disability from my Guidelines for Game Masters page.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left is a black and white photograph of an empty wheelchair on a road as a semi-transparent person walks away down the road. On the right is a life-sized plastic statue of Captain Hook.

This picture illustrates two common tropes in the depiction of disability. On the left is a black and white photograph of an empty wheelchair on a road as a semi-transparent person walks away down the road. On the right is a life-sized plastic statue of Captain Hook.

 

One-Dimensional Disability

There is a tendency in United States culture to treat privileged identities as the norm. This means that white, straight, ablebodied, cisgender men (to name just a few privileged identities) are treated as the starting point for all characters. Representation of diversity then becomes a process of swapping one (or possibly two) oppressed identities for the privileged identities in this starting point. This is why stories about teams, even those focused on diversity, usually end up being predominantly white and predominantly male, with few, if any, queer, trans, and disabled characters. Star Trek is a prominent example of this. The casts of The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager all had multiple white men, multiple white women, and multiple men of color, with maybe one woman of color and one disabled character.

This leads to disability representation that is overwhelmingly focused on white, straight, cisgender men and a smaller number of white, straight, cisgender women. Depictions of disabled people of color and disabled queer folks are few and far between. Just look at any top ten list of disabled characters. How many women, people of color, trans folks, and queer characters are there? Most lists have more straight white men than everyone else combined (not to mention a complete absence of queer and trans characters). In addition, there is a distinct deficiency of characters with complexly layered experiences of oppression, such as queer, disabled, women of color.

This lack of representation has serious consequences. As activist Vilissa Thompson, the creator of #DisabilityTooWhite, so eloquently said, “I think the lack of representation hinders our abilities to feel like we belong, to feel like our lives and our stories are important. We feel isolated and outcast when you don’t see people who look like you, not just racially but disability-wise” (Confronting the Whitewashing of Disability). I also believe that this lack of representation is also connected to the disparities in diagnosis that people of color experience, where they are diagnosed later and less often than white people (Children of Color and Autism: Too Little, Too Late, Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Diagnosis and Treatment).

What to do instead:

As long as privilege is treated like the norm, characters with intersecting oppressed identities will be rare. The best way to challenge this is to change who is centered as the most normal. Instead you can choose to center other experiences, like the experience of having multiple oppressed identities. To be honest, when you take into account all of the privileged identities in United States culture (including class, religion, age, and body type), there are actually very few people who are privileged in all ways, and a large number of people who have two or more oppressed identities. Continue Reading »

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I am super excited to release this beautiful cover image for Unfamiliar Heroes that was created by the talented Rose Adare. Rose is a queer, disabled, gender fluid artist who has shown a lot of enthusiasm for this project and I’m so excited to be highlighting their work here.

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

The core idea for this illustration was to have three characters, each with different disabilities or chronic illnesses, each from a different genre of game, and each with different intersecting marginalized identities. These are not characters from specific games, but instead are meant to represent the kinds of intersectional characters that I hope to bring to life in this project. In order to create such richly intersectional characters, this illustration started with a detailed concept for each character. I don’t want these three characters to be limited to the concepts that started them, but because I believe that the ideas behind each characters adds additional meaning to their illustration, I am going to share their character concepts with you here.

First we have Imani, a black nonbinary gnome archer from a high fantasy genre like Dungeons and Dragons. They have limited mobility in their legs, so they shoot their arrows from a dog pulled chariot outfitted with a chair. One of the benefits of having their chariot pulled by a dog is that they can direct their dog entirely with verbal commands, leaving their hands free.

Close up illustration of Imani seated in their chariot with their bow drawn. The chariot is decorated in greens and browns and pulled by a large shaggy brown dog. Imani's metal armor is silver with blue and purple accents.

Close up illustration of Imani seated in their chariot with their bow drawn. The chariot is decorated in greens and browns and pulled by a large shaggy brown dog. Imani’s metal armor is silver with blue and purple accents.

Next we have Star, a Latina trans woman with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity wearing an air filtering face mask. She is from a science fiction setting and is depicted with a cyberpunk aesthetic. Star is based on the character Fallen Star created by my partner, Tobi Hill-Meyer. In May 2018, Tobi will be performing Fallen Star, a one woman play about a trans superhero turned villain who tries to take over the world. The background to this play is that Fallen Star realized that the Heroes Regional Council perpetuates many of the forms of oppression that she aims to eliminate, so she left it to find her own brand of vigilante justice.

Close up illustration of Star looking over her shoulder as she manipulates a tech device on her wrist. She is beginning to go invisible, starting with her feet. Star is wearing purple, black, and red cyberpunk style clothing with a black and white air-filtering mask.

Close up illustration of Star looking over her shoulder as she manipulates a tech device on her wrist. She is beginning to go invisible, starting with her feet. Star is wearing purple, black, and red cyberpunk style clothing with a black and white air-filtering mask.

Finally we have Volt, a muscular white male superhero with electricity powers. An important goal with him was to portray a person with a visible disability as a tough, front-line fighter. Our other major goal was to make him as visibly gay as possible using a gay BDSM aesthetic.

Close up illustration of Volt wearing a very gay, blue and purple superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically.

Close up illustration of Volt wearing a very gay, blue and purple superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically.

I’m going to close by saying one more big THANK YOU to Rose Adare for creating this beautiful art! They are currently fundraising to transform their garage into an art school. If you want to support their work, or are interested in purchasing their book, PocketGuide for Badass Artists, I encourage you to check out their Indiegogo campaign.

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Underneath the facade of ordinary reality lies a hidden world of monsters and magic. At Sylvan Community College a secret program teaches supernatural teens to deal with this dangerous world as they struggle with the mess and confusion of their own lives. Welcome to the First Responders Training Program.

In this first game episode of Unfamiliar Heroes we meet Vanessa the judgmental witch and Janus the slacker ghoul, learn about Sylvan Community College, and discover the mysterious event that connects Janus and Vanessa.

Unfamiliar Heroes is a podcast series in which three disabled, neurodiverse, and/or chronically ill players and a game master play story-focused tabletop role-playing games where all of the player characters have disabilities, diverse minds, and/or chronic illnesses. In its core values, this project centers the experiences of people living at the intersections of oppression. Unfamiliar Heroes is part of the Writing Alchemy Podcast.

I have been working on this project for months and I am so excited to finally be releasing the first game episode of Unfamiliar Heroes! This was such a great game with awesome group chemistry. I hope you all love it as much as I do!

Listen now!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

This illustration depicts three characters, each from a different genre of story, and each with a disability. On the left is a black gnome archer riding in a chariot pulled by a large brown dog. The chariot has a chair in it so that they can sit instead of stand. In the middle is a Latina woman manipulating a tech device on her wrist as she begins to go invisible. She is wearing an air filtering mask of the type that people with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity sometimes wear. On the right is a white muscular superhero wearing a very gay, blue superhero outfit. He has lightning crackling between his two hands, which are shaped atypically. This beautiful work of art was created the amazing Rose Adare!

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