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Representation matters. And for Codename Entertainment, this is more than just a pithy statement. Last month, it introduced Talin Uran to Idle Champions of the Forgotten Realms, its Dungeons & Dragons-based clicker game. Uran is a tiefling rogue from Waterdeep, and he mans a combat wheelchair for his adventures along the Sword Coast.
The combat wheelchair comes from Sara Thompson, who created it for her home game. It’s not only a cool item, but it also gives disabled players a way to represent themselves in D&D and other tabletop RPGs. I mean, look at the way that cool lantern hangs and swings on the chair as it moves around. I like that.
Sadly, a small but vocal minority has lashed out at the combat wheelchair, for reasons that border on the inane. Let people have their fun and enjoyment without ruining for others. My fantasy is different than yours, so don’t tell me (or anyone else) how to run it. No one is making you use it in your home game (though if you did, you might begin to understand how disabled people get about in the real world and might have some empathy for them). Finally, D&D has long had ramps and sloping passageways in dungeons and other adventuring locations — going back to first edition. Heck, dwarves used to be able to detect slopes when underground!
And this isn’t even the first time Codename has brought disabled representation to its game.
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“We do have other disabled characters in the game, such as Ezmeralda d’Avenir (from the Curse of Strahd TRPG book) and Lazaapz (an original character we created),” Codename CEO Eric Jordan said in an email. “During the design process for those characters, we hired Jay Justice (@thatjayjustice) as a disability consultant to help us accurately represent their disabilities.”
But it is the first time the combat wheelchair has been an official addition to a D&D video game. (It may be in a mod for Baldur’s Gate III or one of the Infinity Engine games, but I haven’t found one yet.)
“The combat wheelchair isn’t an official piece of D&D in any capacity, so it’s very exciting to see it be a part of Idle Champions!” Thompson said over email.
Jordan said Codename involved Thompson from the beginning, noting that “the Talin you see in the game is their vision made real, and we’re extremely privileged to have been allowed to bring Talin to the game.”
The message that Thompson conveys with the combat wheelchair — that “anyone can be an adventurer” — gets to the core of RPGs and video games. It’s one reason we’ve seen more talk about accessibility in games. But much of that focuses on making games more approachable to people with disabilities, not necessarily providing representation for them.
RPGs feel well-suited for bringing in disabled characters, especially turn-based affairs.
“They’re actually very well-suited, I think. All that’s required is for studios to sit down with disability consultants and take the opportunity to learn,” Thompson said. “I think there is a fear from companies when it comes to making disabled characters — a fear that they may misrepresent a disability or mess it up — but if a studio is willing to sit and listen to disabled folks like CNE has done here, it’s a great opportunity to both learn and create some interesting characters for a game.”
And as Thompson points out, sometimes you may want to use a wheelchair and not use a flying magical item to get around.
“Well, when using a spell like that for mobility, you always run the risk of ending up in an anti-magic field which can leave a character stranded. The combat wheelchair accounts for that and, as it isn’t a magic item, it can still be used in anti-magic field areas.”
But the combat wheelchair is about more than just getting around a beholder’s anti-magic cone or another anti-magic trap. It’s about making disabled people feel like they have a place not just in the real world, but in fantasy realms as well.
“There is a big kind of issue around disability only being OK in fantasy if it ‘looks cool’ or ‘is magical,’ and it’s something I’ve wanted to address for some time,” Thompson said. “Why is it that a character who uses Tenser’s Floating Disk for mobility looks cool, but a character who uses a wheelchair — a very real mobility item — is suddenly not cool enough? It’s important to remember that mobility items and aids belong in fantasy; they don’t always need to be replaced with high-magic equivalents. There’s a lot to be said on this subject, and this is only me touching lightly on it. But it’s important that we normalize mobility items and aids in fantasy, a character who uses a wheelchair is just as valid as a character who uses a spell like Tenser’s.”
And, of course, you get that cool swinging lantern.
“Talin already had a lantern from a short game I had played him in at a D&D group table and is very much something that, to me, is a significant part of his chair — a big part of what makes it recognizable as his,” Thompson said. “Seeing it be brought to life with so much attention to detail on things like the swing of the lantern was amazing to see!”
I just hope we see more of this sort of thinking from other game studios.
An old-school metal crawl
Earlier this week, I saw a tweet from Dave Oshry of New Blood Interactive (a retro game collective) about playing the demo of a cool-looking first-person dungeon-crawler.
We ended the #SteamGameFestival STRONG with INFERO: BEYOND THE 7TH CIRCLE
A metal as frick old school dungeon crawler.
DEMO: https://t.co/1CikwfDx9O pic.twitter.com/I1Q5XQU2lV
— Stonkshry (@DaveOshry) February 9, 2021
It’s Inferno: Beyond the 7th Circle from indie retro-RPG studio 68k and publisher Gamera Interactive. A first-person dungeon-crawler, Inferno is about the survivor of a doomed adventuring party seeking safety in a world where monsters and demons have almost wiped out humanity. It’s a turn-based RPG in the vein of Dungeon Master or Eye of the Beholder: It takes place on a grid, where you explore the map one square at a time. Combat has a stamina element, so you need to watch it when it comes to attacks, turning offense into a resource (you might want to actually “rest,” or pass an action, to rebuild stamina). And you type in phrases to cast spells (though once you do so, you can just hit a recast button to use the same spell again).
And it’s tough. It has perma-death, but since you can save at any time, you can just restore your game if you croak with a build you like.
Character-building is another cool aspect of this game. You start with attributes and skills, and while you can load archetypes, you don’t have specific classes. So you can create a mix of skills: magic, crafting, survive, and combat. It offers a great deal of flexibility, and depending on the final game’s maps turn out, hints at a great deal of replayability.
And the “metal” part comes from the design of the monsters and the music. Check out this spider — it looks more like a demonic take on an arachnid that the giant spiders we see in most RPGs. And a slashing guitar riff heralds combat.
68k should spend some time working on a few things before Beyond the 7th Circle’s launch. Figuring out what you can use in your inventory and when is confusing, and magic felt underpowered and too expensive, draining your mana reserves too quickly.
I’m eager to see how the final package looks when Inferno: Beyond the 7th Circle debuts sometime this quarter.
Spellbreak is a different take on battle royale — it’s about slinging spells, not blasting bullets, and it’s attempting to add a story to this genre of online games. And it recently releases Spellstorm, its first chapter of story-based content.
And as a free-to-play game, Spellbreak also has pass packages and other transactions. Development studio Proletariat gave me a bushel of codes for the Warlock Chapter pass (four each for the Epic Games Store, Steam, PlayStation, Xbox, and Switch). That includes:
- 13,500 in-game gold
- Chapter 1 Pass
- Sinister Warlock outfit
- Steely-Eyed Spellslinger outfit
- Menacing Aura Badge
To win a code, just email me the headline of this week’s The D20 Beat.
King’s Bounty II is now hitting in August
One of the games I’m most looking forward to this year is King’s Bounty II, a strategy-RPG from 1C Entertainment. Deep Silver announced today that it’s pushing the release from March to August 24.
This is the second time that Deep Silver has pushed back King Bounty II’s release date. It was first set for 2020, but thanks to the pandemic, it moved to March. And now 1C would like to spend more time polishing this strategy-RPG and fixing bugs.
I’m happy that Deep Silver and 1C are giving King’s Bounty II the time it needs. Given that I’ve spent over 600 hours with the earlier King’s Bounty games, I’d play it, buggy or not. But it’s nice to know that it may arrive in better shape in August than in March.
Making games during a pandemic is hard, y’all.
The D20 Beat is GamesBeat managing editor Jason Wilson’s column on role-playing games. It usually runs every other week, but like wandering monsters, it can appear at any time. It covers video games, the digital components of traditional tabletop RPGs, and the rise of RPG streaming. Drop me a line if you have any RPG news, insights, or memories to share … or just want to roll a digital D20 with me.
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