I almost couldn’t believe it when I saw the news that finally, after all these years, the stars are finally right to create an expansion to my favourite ever board game: Betrayal at the House on the Hill. This has me utterly overjoyed for a number of reasons, but mostly because I’ve had so many great and just plain hilarious memories from this game in the past. For those of you who have never played it before, Betrayal at the House on the Hill is a procedural generated board game involving assembling a house from different room tiles (at random). As you go around exploring, you encounter various items, events, secret things and eventually omens.
I have wrote about my eternal love for Geek and Sundries Tabletop series on youtube before, which has already introduced me to the fantastic Dread in the past. When a preview indicated Wil would be playing a board game, which combined a lot of light roleplaying elements and had cooperative gameplay, I was immediately invested. That the game is about royal guards, who have been turned into adorable mice and yet still attempt to save their kind, was the twist I needed to be really interested. So I was very excited to finally see the first episode of the series come out and I was not disappointed.
Recently on facebook a friend of mine linked me to this interesting kickstarter for a game called “Cultists of Cthulhu”. If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you will immediately know that the words “Cultist”, “Cthulhu” and “Game” always manage to get my interest one way or another. After reading through the kickstarter and seeing what they were trying to do, I decided I wanted to make a post here about this game because it sounds awfully promising.
Pros and Cons of using a “Hidden Traitor” mechanic
Recently I have been asked about my Trail of Cthulhu game, where I have introduced some mechanics to increase the tension, horror and atmosphere by implying to the players one of them might be a traitor. Generally speaking, roleplaying games are nearly always inherently cooperative with the players all having their characters work together for a common goal. The idea of adding a traitor into the mix can actually be quite anathema to the way these games are designed. After all, players more worried about their fellows than your NPCs or antagonists can grind the game to a halt.
So when should you decide to add this to the mix and most importantly: When you shouldn’t.
If there is a hot button issue in gaming right at the moment, it’s about how do we best include people in our hobby who aren’t strictly of a specific general white male persuasion? In particular that there is some required concession to have women, people of color and other minorities getting more recognition and inclusion within various game products. The most recent edition of Dungeons and Dragons for example has some excellent diverse art of both adventuring men and women. Most notably, a lot of the art of the female adventurers portrayed in the books is distinctly non-sexualized and depicts several women of color as well (not to mention more racial diversity amongst the male characters as well). Likewise, for a long time now many PnP RPGs have been switching pronouns though the text to refer to the GM or players as he/she interchangeably. A small but important way to tell anyone reading the book they could be either running the game or playing it.
Similarly, many of the roleplaying games I have run that have been set in historic periods like the 1920s and 1930s of Call of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu respectively, discuss using themes of sexism and racism appropriately. Most notably they discuss them in a way that ultimately suggests you shouldn’t just throw these things at players just because of the setting. Sure it might be interesting for a female investigator to have to deal with sexism in the 1920s or 1930s in some way – but it can also just be a reminder to an actual player about what they still currently face. It’s less important to be historically accurate over how uncomfortable these elements may be for the actual player. An important discussion to at least start and get potential gamemasters and their players thinking about if they are comfortable with it in their games!
For me, as a socially awkward straight white male geek who didn’t think of this a lot back in the early 2000s, I got my first real lesson in how other people could get a very different view of the same books in a FLGS*. While perusing some Forgotten Realms books, I got into a conversation with a man who had moved to New Zealand from Nigeria. While talking to him we got into a discussion about the different races in DnD and he (having dark black skin) pointed out something I had never considered before: All of the “evil” races in the underdark had black skin. Drow, Svirfneblin, Druegar and so forth were all black, while in the players handbooks generally speaking the “good” races were always depicted with light skin.
At the time it never really struck me what the significance of that conversation was or even why it bothered this man. I walked away back then with a “Oh well, I agree to disagree” attitude but not really realizing what the problem was. Eventually I did realize what the problem was: To him this was saying that people like him, who had the kind of darker skin tones he did were being depicted as evil and that light skinned people were always the heroes. It was subtly, albeit not intentionally, reinforcing a negative stereotype that he suffered in his day to day life. Today I wish I could have a chat to him again and find out his current thoughts on the game, especially with the efforts to depict more diverse heroes and characters Paizo and Wizards have been undertaking recently.
Unfortunately there is still a tremendous way to go in the way certain groups or people are viewed as “outsiders”. If the hobby is to grow, expand and develop further it’s important that old stereotypes that roleplaying is just “for teenage boys” and that women or other minorities aren’t welcome need to be debunked. Especially from mainstream media sources, gaming communities and the way we approach letting new people into our gaming circles.
It’s been quite a while since I have had a chance to play another Cthulhu themed board game outside of Arkham Horror or Mansions of Madness (which I found quite fun as a keeper to say the least). I then discovered this game called Cthulhu Wars, which looks pretty fascinating and would be most useful for my own games (due to the wide range of figures). Unfortunately I don’t think I have ever seen it in a store before, but I’m going to have to keep my eyes out for it! Be curious to know what anyone thinks if they have played it before.