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Unfamiliar Heroes

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!

 

Overview

Right now disabled heroes are confined to a narrow set of roles and tropes in popular culture. This project aims to explode those limitations into a universe of possibilities. By combining the creativity of many disabled people I hope to create something more diverse and expansive than any one person could ever think up on their own as together we invent a multitude of ways to challenge ableism.

Unfamiliar Heroes is a podcast series in which three disabled, neurodiverse, and/or chronically ill players and a game master will play story-focused tabletop role-playing games where all of the player characters have disabilities, diverse minds, and/or chronic illnesses. Each game will be a one shot (a short complete game) that will be recorded in one to four sessions and then broken into multiple podcast episodes. For the moment, Unfamiliar Heroes will be released as episodes of my Writing Alchemy podcast.

In addition to podcast games, there will also be text based games to increase accessibility for players and audience members who are deaf or hard of hearing. In the future I hope to be able to afford transcription for podcast episodes and to be able to include deaf players in podcast games through interpretation (these are goals on my patreon page).

 

Unfamiliar Heroes Episodes

(Note that the numbering system used here is for just the Unfamiliar Heroes games, elsewhere you will see different episode numbers for the Writing Alchemy Podcast as a whole.)

Episode #0: The Foundations and Ground Rules for Unfamiliar Heroes

In this foundational episode of Unfamiliar Heroes, which I’m calling Episode Zero, I start off with a discussion of disability representation and the reasons why I feel that this project is so needed. Next I go over the ways that participants who live at the intersections of oppression are centered in this project. Finally I discuss the eight game ground rules which are designed to keep games accessible and inclusive.

Episode #1: Welcome to the First Responders Training Program Part 1

Episode #2: Welcome to the First Responders Training Program Part 2

Episode #3: Welcome to the First Responders Training Program Part 3

Episode #4: Welcome to the First Responders Training Program Part 4

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!

Episode #5: Welcome to the First Responders Training Program Part 5

  • Scheduled for release on Thursday, September 28th

Episode #6: Cat’s Paw Ghost Control Part 1

  • Scheduled for release in early November

Episode #7: Cat’s Paw Ghost Control Part 2

  • Scheduled for release in mid November

 

This is a picture of a large, old book that is lying open. Coming out of the book is a fairy-sized white woman with black hair. She is sitting on a field of grass underneath some large umbrella-shape mushrooms reading a small book. An owl is perched on the stack of books beside her and a red fox is hiding in the mushrooms behind her. This image is intended to invoke the magic and excitement of storytelling.

This is a picture of a large, old book that is lying open. Coming out of the book is a fairy-sized white woman with black hair. She is sitting on a field of grass underneath some large umbrella-shape mushrooms reading a small book. An owl is perched on the stack of books beside her and a red fox is hiding in the mushrooms behind her. This image is intended to invoke the magic and excitement of storytelling.

 

Goals

One important goal of this project is to make space for disabled, chronically ill, and neurodiverse heroes in speculative fiction and gaming. By having all of the characters be disabled, neurodiverse, or chronically ill, I intend to challenge myself and the other players to move beyond the narrow set of roles that currently exist for disabled characters in speculative fiction to. In doing this we will be calling into question assumptions and structures inherent in role-playing games, such as the assumption that heroes have to leave their homes in order to participate in the adventure.

By doing a series of one shots with a range of guests, I hope to include a greater diversity of experience and creativity than I ever could create on my own. Centering people living at the intersections of different forms of oppression is a priority for me and it will be a priority in guest selection, as will be giving guests a lot of power over how they are represented and how the project unfolds.

Another key goal of this project is to increase the number of positive and real-feeling portrayals of characters with disabilities, chronic illnesses, and neurodiverse brains (I won’t say that they will be realistic portrayals, because speculative fiction is by its very nature goes beyond ordinary reality, but they should feel true to the experience of living with a disability). Currently there is a big lack of representation of many oppressed groups within both speculative fiction and role-playing games and this project is aimed at filling that gap (working alongside many other amazing people and groups who are also working toward this goal).

 

Timeline

The first Unfamiliar Heroes game (Welcome to the First Responders Training Program) is being released right now. The next game (Cat’s Paw Ghost Control) has been recorded and is planned for release in November. Additional games are in various stages of planning. I am also currently in the process of recruiting more players and game masters for future games.

 

Centering Participants Living at the Intersections of Oppression

Note: This section is read aloud in Unfamiliar Heroes Episode Zero.

It is my goal to center people living at the intersections of different forms of oppression. I believe that this will only truly happen if the game is structured to put that priority into action. To that end, I am establishing structures to prioritize inclusion, to reduce oppression in the game environment, to interrupt oppression when it occurs.

I recognize that one effect of oppression is that some marginalized people have had less time and energy to learn about the oppression affecting themselves and others. Therefore it is particularly important to find ways of reducing and interrupting oppression that are accessible and inclusive and that assist change without shame.

The current ways in which I plan to accomplish these goals start with the selection of the gaming groups. I aim to pair more experienced people with those who are less experienced, both in terms of game play, and (to the best of my ability to assess) also in terms of social justice awareness.  In addition, I will be moving people with intersecting marginalized experiences and experiences of disability that are rarely represented to the front of the line for inclusion in games.

To reduce oppression in games I am establishing Guidelines for Game Masters that include a list of harmful patterns of representation to avoid and Game Ground Rules. Once completed the Game Ground Rules will contain a system for quickly changing oppressive language as it comes up to neutral language, as well as a time-out system in which players can pause play to address any needs they have (for example if someone is overwhelmed, triggered, or if the story has run into subject material that is a problem). In addition, I plan to start of each gaming session with a check-in about access needs.

If you have ideas for additional ways to prioritize people living at the intersections of different forms of oppression or ways to make what I have more effective, please share them in the comments below.

 

Game Ground Rules

These rules are open to input and change through discussion with the players and game masters participating in this project. I expect them to grow and change over the course of the series. You can read the full ground rules description here.

  1. Use respectful and inclusive language
  2. Replace oppressive language as it comes up
  3. Respect the access needs of the other participants
  4. Avoid stereotypical characters
  5. Don’t recreate oppressive patterns
  6. For games with sexual content, characters will be eighteen or older
  7. Focus on positive representation
  8. Use the timeout system if you need it

 

Want to Participate?

I am excited to bring in a range of guests with different experiences and approaches to game play. At this point all players are required to have a physical disability, a chronic illness, or a diverse brain/mental illness. This is not required for game masters, but it is preferred. If you are interested in being a player or a game master, please fill out the participation survey.

In addition, I want to make these games welcoming to people with no role-playing game experience and I have created a page of New Player Information to help new players get started.

 

Further Reading

If you want to know more about the reasons why I feel that Unfamiliar Heroes is so important, you can read my short article, “We Need More Room for Disability Representation.”

You can find a work in progress list of those things I want game masters to avoid, include, and be aware of as they craft their games in the Guidelines for Game Masters. I expect this list to significantly grow and change over time. There is also an expanded list of harmful patterns in the representation of disability with a lot of focus on how to do better in The Trope of the Week Series.

And here I have a list of Gaming Recording Practices for gaming in a way that will be the most fun for podcast listeners. These things don’t need to be done perfectly, but I’m hoping that we can all work together to do these as much as possible.

 

This is a photograph of three twenty sided dice, two purple and one pink, on top of a black and white Dungeons and Dragons character sheet. The photo was taken at a dramatic tilted angle to invoke the excitement of playing a tabletop role-playing game.

This is a photograph of three twenty sided dice, two purple and one pink, on top of a black and white Dungeons and Dragons character sheet. The photo was taken at a dramatic tilted angle to invoke the excitement of playing a tabletop role-playing game.

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