Intro to Role-Playing Games featuring FATE Accelerated

For those uninitiated to the world of role playing games, getting started can be a little intimidating. Some people might only know of Dungeons and Dragons – but there are actually a wide variety of RPG systems, and they can be used with all kinds of characters and universes. We think that there are a lot of people who would love tabletop RPGs if they gave them a shot, so we want to make the introduction process a little easier!

At 1:00 PM on Saturday, September 16th we’ll be hosting an “Intro to RPGs” session with our friend Stephen Chast. We’ll play a game in the universe of “It’s Not My Fault.” This character and situation generator places you and your friends in increasingly crazy and perilous situations, all blaming each other. We can’t wait to see if art imitates life!

The system here is Fate Accelerated, a condensed version of Fate Core. FATE focuses more on role-playing and storytelling, rather than being a numbers-driven system. It’s easy to understand and allows for a quicker game than the full version, so it’s great as a less intimidating intro for new players – but it’s still a fun one-shot for experienced players.

This event is sign up only with a five person max, so message, email, or call us soon to save your spot – first come, first served.

The problem of Joss Whedon

(Author’s Note: It’s not only geek culture that has a problem with this, and it’s not only in regards to cishet women. The following is a very narrow assessment of a very broad problem, reduced for space constraints and ease of reading. I’d love to hear some expanded opinions on this from people of color, and those who identify as queer, trans, or otherwise LGBTQIA+.)

Just in the last couple days, the geek world has been turned on its head by a statement released by a woman about her male ex-partner, upending everything we thought we knew about feminism in Hollywood.

Or not so much. It’s honestly not terribly surprising that the men who are in power, especially in the sci-fi and fantasy media realms, tend to be problematic in regards to women. I’m inclined to think that the clay feet of our nerdy idols is a continued failing of geek culture to recognize the subtle ways in which bigotry is reinforced within our subculture. Don’t get me wrong, we can clearly point to individuals and incidents as being the predominant focal points of bigoted thought. But there is an overall environment which allows all men with power in geek media to get away with gross treatment of anyone other than straight, cissexual, white males, and that’s a problem which needs addressing.

Gene Roddenberry, Johnny Depp, and most recently Joss Whedon: all have a history of being vocal advocates for social equality (especially in regards to women), but eventually enough info comes out that they are exposed as exploiters and abusers of their spouses, significant others, and the women they cast for the characters they write. I’m going to try to keep this to just public material, rather than referencing personal matters that may be in dispute.

Let’s take a look at the stereotyping and presentation of women in sci-fi and fantasy, using some of Joss’ properties as examples.

Buffy is often pointed to as the obvious argument for Joss’ feminism, along with his penchant for writing female characters that appear, on the surface, to be of the “Strong Female Character” trope. Within the details of the story and dialogue, though, he falls into the trap of the male gaze: Any woman considered “desirable” is always model-thin and dressed to the nines, even when relaxing or performing actions that would be incredibly uncomfortable when wearing skirts and heels. The women who are dressed comfortably and practically are either an older generation than the main cast, or pigeonholed as “undesirable” for superficial reasons.

As one example, take Kaylee Frye, in Firefly/Serenity. The actress, Jewel Staite, was asked to gain 20 lbs to play the character in the show. The costume designers deliberately played up her frumpiness and provincial style (ex. her dress in “Shindig”) so that she would be a complete contrast to the refined and urbane Simon Tam. This is a long-used tired trope of “romance despite class differences,” frequently seen in Regency-era properties and romantic comedies. His interest in her despite her perceived undesirability becomes the plot point, rather than a natural outcome of character development.

As a contrast, take Inara Serra from the same show. Inara spends her life being an idealized object. Her position is that of being revered by the women and desired (mostly) by the men. In one of the more uncomfortable moments of the show, Inara points out the hypocrisy of this:

You have a strange sense of nobility Captain. You’ll lay a man out for implying I’m a whore but you keep calling me one to my face.

Following on the heels of that are the reactions to Inara’s female client in “War Stories,” (“I’ll be in my bunk”) and the overall treatment of Companions within the Firefly universe, where they are reduced to the Madonna/Whore dichotomy. This is especially apparent in the few glimpses we get of their personal ceremonies, which appear to be a highly spiritual ritual, performed while wearing stylized and revealing clothing. This objectification of an entire feminine subset is common in science fiction and fantasy, and is seen in almost every major property (Orions in Star Trek, the women of the Red Room in Avengers/Marvel, most of the female villains in DC, the Twi’lek in Star Wars).

Assigning one of the characters from this subset as a romantic foil for the male lead is par for the course. It is a tired and overused trope, and one that turns the female half of the heterosexual relationship into a two-dimensional being, existing only to reflect the attitudes and desires of the male character. She is rarely developed on her own, and then only as an accessory to him, as either part of the exposition of his background or the establishment of him as her savior from an unsavory life.

Regarding Joss’ modern properties, one has to only watch The Avengers franchise to note the lack of complex female characters. For a long time, the only women in the Avengers franchise were Freya, Odin’s wife, Natasha Romanoff, a woman who was rescued by Hawkeye from a spy agency where she was trained to become any type of woman, and Pepper Potts, who exists only to be a foil or romantic interest for Tony Stark. Again, all are reduced to their roles as accessories to the male characters. In Civil War, we finally saw another major female character introduced – as a balancing act for the two conflicting groups, so that there was near-perfect symmetry between the sides (a flyer, a person of color, a marksman, a leader, a woman). Wanda Maximoff is less a real character than she is an object to fill a role.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. is slightly better, thanks to a trio of female characters, lead by Ming-Na Wen, who carries a long and noted history in television, and has developed significant professional capital. Combine that with a writers room that is not headed up by Joss on a daily basis (though he has editorial control over plots), and the formula diverts from his usual. Daisy Johnson and Jemma Simmons have both evolved far past their initial characterizations, and Melinda May has carried some significantly emotional storylines as a departure from her initial stoic façade.

And so a pattern emerges. The women in Joss’ properties are not fully realized characters unless they’re being written by other people, but rather objects to tick off boxes. “Hero? Check. Sexual being? Check. Innocent? Check.” It shows in everything he does, though in some cases it has been obfuscated behind the writing or directing of others. This portrayal of women is rather like the Queen on a chess board. She is powerful, yes, but only in a limited form, frequently used in defense of the King.

In the past few years, we’ve seen an increasing intolerance for bigoted and misogynistic attitudes within film and media creation. A cast of diverse female characters, as seen in Mad Max: Fury Road, is lauded, while obviously stereotypical writing is panned, as in the recent release, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. As a result, creators have become subtle in their coding: Male characters express superficially feminist views, while taking actions that belie their words – evident in movies such as Passengers. Female characters are placed in apparent positions of power, but are written as social stereotypes. This is parallel to how Joss presents himself: the vocabulary and phrasing of his public statements on women are all organized “correctly.” He says all the right things in press junkets, but his written dialogue and character development put the lie to his words.

One cannot separate the art from the person – the art comes from the person, especially when that art is the creation and portrayal of individuals who express opinions and fill theatrical or fictional roles. Dismissing the creator is to ignore the influence that creator carries, especially in regards to the shaping of society. To continue to idolize the art produced by men who have a history of misogyny, without identifying and critiquing that misogyny on a regular basis, is a reinforcement of the cultural biases which already run rampant through our movies and shows. We are fortunate enough to live in an era where the influence of media is becoming well-recognized, and there are occasionally successful attempts to create properties which better portray a diverse and complex society. It behooves us, then, to notice and highlight the properties which falsely do so – they are the most dangerous to an integrated and celebrated society, through their subtle reinforcement of dangerously bigoted tropes.

Rainbow Cream Cheese & PRIDE

We are a nerdery that celebrates diversity in the geek world. What better way than to make rainbow cream cheese for Hudson’s Pride weekend? I identify as queer (and have done for many years), so there was no question that we’d have rainbows all over the place for the celebration. With the Awesome Bagels that we carry, it was only natural to think about some way of Pride-ifying them! We first started with cupcakes – to test our methodology. And honestly, the cupcakes came out SO WELL that we’ll be continuing to carry them through the rest of June. They may make an appearance further down the line as well!

Our food is very simple. Good ingredients with few or no additives, the freshest options possible, and a good dose of attention to detail. We tested a couple of different cream cheeses, including a highly rated and fairly expensive one, before coming back to the old favorite, Philadelphia. Only five ingredients, a perfectly creamy texture, and the traditional cream cheese flavors that we all expect. To lighten up the cheese a little, we whipped it with a dash of Stonyfield whipping cream (it’s the same one we use in our cupcake frosting). Throw four blocks of the cream cheese in a stand mixer, add 3-4T of cream, and beat it (beat it, beat it, beat it…).

Eventually it ends up with this amazingly fluffy texture which is absolutely perfect for tinting. We could have mixed up each of the seven colors of the rainbow, but we found an easier way: mix four colors, then blend them once they were on the bagels. It made for a quicker prep, and didn’t add any time or effort to our final product.

We used a gel/paste color – powder would be even better. Anything that doesn’t increase the moisture content will make for a better, brighter, more even color. Please don’t use liquid dye. It’s easy to find in supermarkets, yes, but it results in pale, barely-there color as well as changing the texture of the base. In the cafe, we use the AmeriColor gels, which give wonderfully deep colors. These are professional grade colorants, which are easier to use (and maybe a bit more expensive) than the classic Wilton – but they do require more blending of tints to achieve the goal colors. We found this pack on sale at the King Arthur Flour website.

Once the cream cheese is whipped, portion it evenly into bowls. Mix the color in until it’s smooth and even toned – go ahead and add an extra dollop of gel, if you feel the need. Sometimes it takes more than you originally thought, to get the right color. Heck, we kept some of the cream cheese as white, to have the option of diluting if the colors were too brash!

Once the colors are mixed, it’s time to bag them up.

For the original frosting, we used a classic method of creating multi-color icing. We spooned out each color in parallel lines on a piece of saran wrap, then wrapped it up and dropped it, point-first, into a bag. Clip the corner, and go to town. For the cream cheese, we decided to do it a little differently. We gave each color its own bag, piped them individually onto the bagels, then used a knife to spread and mix the colors to make the rainbow. It gave us quite a bit of control, and meant that we were able to create exactly the colors we needed while skipping a messy (and in this case spurious) step.

Our first test came out beautifully – but we knew we could do better. So we created a second bagel, which was a sight to behold! All day, we made rainbow bagels and celebrated an inclusive Pride here in Hudson. It was a bright and shiny weekend, with a colorful parade.

We know there’s still a lot of work to be done. Pride can be more inclusive, and the LGBT+ community can become more welcoming. But in the meantime, we can create new flags that are more representative of the various identities within our community, and we can eat rainbow bagels. Or pumpernickel bagels with rainbow cream cheese.

Enjoy!

 

Modern Gaming 101

Stay Tuned for details!

On the weekend of June 24th, A Friend of the Cafe will be in-house for a couple hours to teach one of our favorite gateway games: Splendor.

Stephen Chast will be on hand to instruct, demo, and otherwise teach the rules, strategies, and mechanics of one of the great modern classics. On the heels of the recent announcement that an expansion is to be released, Stephen will show off this simple strategy game in which players fight to build a precious gem collection.

This is the first in a series of weekend events, designed to introduce selections from the cafe library – especially those that are a great introduction or re-introduction to the world of gaming!

Carcassonne

Carcassonne! One of the modern classics. With straightforward rules and simple expansions, it becomes a gateway for nearly every new gamer. The wealth of strategies keeps most coming back for more.

Carcassonne, like last week’s focus, Qwirkle, is a tile-laying game. Unlike Qwirkle, there is more to the matching than just color or shape. You are literally building the cities, roads, monasteries, and farms surrounding medieval Carcassonne, in southern France, and then laying claim to them by placing meeples. By matching up specific elements on randomly-drawn tiles, you expand your area of influence and gain points: when the tiles run out, the game is over, and points are tallied. The version we have in the cafe also includes both the River and the Abbots & Gardens expansions, which adds an element of complexity to the base game. Both are optional expansions, and we usually recommend leaving them to the side until new gamers are comfortable with the core game.

We played it earlier this week with a group of four, but it plays just as well with two or three. It’s a core part of most game collections because it appeals to most gamers – the small amount of luck in drawing tiles and the moderate amount of strategy in placing the tiles makes for a versatile and ever-changing game.

A fun side note: the term “meeple,” used to describe the vaguely human figures seen in many modern games, was first coined to describe the pieces used in Carcassonne. The story is now a bit of gamer lore, but meeples have become a common representation of gaming – we even have one in our logo!

 

(P.S. Did you notice the shake shots in that top photo? They’re live, and have been described as “addictive,” amongst other words. Come try one and let us know what you think!)

Qwirkle – A Gateway Game

Qwirkle has been written up numerous times for how easy a game it can be. And it is one of my favorite gateways – it tends to be one of my primary go-tos when someone asks “what should I try?”

Part of that is because it has easy, familiar mechanics, such as those found in Scrabble and Dominos. It’s a tile-laying game, where each tile has only two variables: color and shape. By creating a row of one matching variable on each turn, you create a colorful, textured game board that grows as you play.

The rules: Each player draws six tiles from an opaque bag, and sets them up in such a way so as to hide them from the rest of the table. From those six tiles, the player is trying to build a line of either all the same color (different shapes) or all the same shape (different colors). Within a line, only one of the variables is repeated – the other must be all different. Scoring is done after each line is placed, and is the sum of the tiles aggregated in ALL rows. If a line of six is either placed or completed, the player doing so scores an extra six points. This is called a Qwirkle.

Example: Sarah draws six tiles. She can make a row of four blue, but two of those blue tiles are diamonds. So she can only make a row of three. Sarah scores three points. Jacob has five diamond tiles, in four colors – none of which are blue! So he can lay down the four distinct tiles perpendicular to Sarah’s row, meeting at the blue diamond that she laid down on her turn. Jacob scores five points. Mariam has the last available color for the row of diamonds, and can create a new, perpendicular row of three, expanding down from the end of the row of diamonds – she has finished the row of six, which scores her a Qwirkle (an extra six points) as well as creating a new row of three, for a total of fifteen points. After placing tiles, each player draws tiles from the bag until they have six, and play continues. The game ends when the bag is empty and one player has placed all their tiles. The first to do so gains an extra six points.

That row of six, finished by Mariam, is now complete. Rows can be built perpendicular to it, but no tiles can be added on the end. This provides a chance for some interesting strategies in blocking your opponents and setting up future Qwirkles. On Tuesday night, we pulled it out and played a not-so-quick game. With two experienced players and one new player, it became an exercise in pointing out possible strategies and looking at the board in a different way. The photo above was our final layout: this is why we have oversized tables!

The replayability on this game is very high. It’s absolutely a modern classic, and great for families as well as small groups. Happy gaming!

Welcome to House Rules Cafe!

Welcome to our blog!

Over the next couple weeks, we’ll be introducing our staff, the cafe, and our philosophies. We’ll show off the space, and talk about some of our games. For some of our informal, frequent postings about life in the cafe, check out our Facebook Page, Twitter, and Instagram.

We’ve started take-out, and are working on getting the bagels in stock. But we are here every morning from 7-9am (8-10am on Sunday) for all your caffeine needs!