Damn Y’all White Wolf

My [biggest] fandom is White Wolf’s Exalted. I’ve complained about it before and I’ll complain about it again.

I build characters because it’s fun and I often spend a lot of time working at it trying to make a person rather than a collection of attributes. Right now I’m working on a character who I actually have an expectation of playing and as ever I’m borrowing much from my life and some from various other places. This person is a rabbit (specifically this rabbit) shapeshifter with a very big hammer. Ou has told me ou doesn’t speak and I try to listen to my characters when they tell me things.

Also disabled folk can damn well be heroes. They don’t have to ‘overcome’ their conditions neither. I will try to not fuck this up too badly. Transient dysphasia and aphasia are conditions I have personal experience with but not full-time.

Thing is: Because I’m making a new character I’m taking an enormous hit on experience and power — the character I’ve been playing has more than twice as many experience points as the GM is giving me for my rabbit person. Ouch. (But I’m getting to tell a new story.) So I may do something I’m not entirely comfortable with: Use the Flaw system built into the game.

See, you can get points to buy Cool Shit by taking Flaws. Some of them are okay, like being wanted by authorities or being widely known as a demon or whatever. Some of them are more problematic, like missing body parts, mental illnesses, communication and sensory impairments.

Here’s the one for not speaking:

Cost: 1 pt. or 4 pts.
Your character is unable to speak normally. For one bonus point, the character is simply unable to speak above a whisper, while complete dumbness1 grants four bonus points. A character with the one-point version automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks that require public speaking but faces no penalty on social attacks as long as his target can hear him, which requires the target’s player to succeed on a (Perception + Awareness) roll at difficulty 2.

A character with the four-point version of the Flaw automatically fails all Performance or Presence checks based on verbal communication and suffers a -5 penalty on all social attack rolls made for her unless the attack expressly has no verbal component. While there is no universal sign language in the Age of Sorrows, the character and her allies can communicate through an informal sign language if each of them commits one Linguistics slot to it.

Just kind of as an aside they tell us there are no widely-known gestural or tactile languages. None. There aren’t regional languages even. Anyone wanting to use one has to make up their own and teach it to whomever they want to communicate with. Deaf people wanting to build a community are going to have a tricky time of it in canon Exalted.

Sometimes I hate my game. I could use those four bonus points but that’s some horrible shit. But not using this mechanic isn’t going to make it disappear from the game either (there’s another player whose character made use of it — as a hot blind assassin chick). The casual disablism is not exactly unusual for gaming (and this isn’t even the worst example of disablism ((or casual bigotry)) I could pull from Exalted) where currently non-disabled developers assume a currently non-disabled audience and write accordingly. Because heroes are CND or super-crip amirite?

So yeah. I’ll probably do it. I’ll just feel icky about it. :(

Cross-posted: Aperiodically Legible.

  1. Hi there, dumb means does not speak! I have not missed you.


  1. It’s an interesting point, but a little Wiki browsing suggests that the RL world doesn’t have universal sign language, or even nation-wide sign languages in many cases, and the majorones like ASL only came into being within the last 150 years.
    So why would you expect an universal sign language that spans all known cultures and races in a fantasy game?

    Especially given that it seems to have mirrored the RL point that most sign languages in deaf communities before the introduction of a formal language were developed ad-hoc and were highly localised.

    Additionally if someone is min-maxing and taking the mute option to bag 4 points to put into other stats, saying “OK my character can’t talk so I get 4 bonus points, but he can communicate with sign language so he can still talk fluently with everyone” is pretty much defeating the point.

    On the other hand, it occurs to me that if you establish IC that you have a *silent* and *personal* communications system that can be used over a distance by your group (The informal sign language mentioned in the rules), I’d say you’ve actually established a point of bonus because you can now:
    a) communicate silently
    b) communicate in a way that nobody else can understand.

  2. The point I was trying to get at (and probably doing a poor job of it; I don’t edit myself as closely when writing for my personal blog as I do on work meant for here) was that there aren’t equivalents of ASL or AusLan or Venezuelan Sign Language in Exalted. There are no standardised sign languages and no signed equivalents of the eight voiced languages.

    The existence of signed versions of, say, Riverspeak or Low Realm wouldn’t make not-speaking not an impairment. The fraction of the English-speaking hearing population that knows ASL or AusLan or even signed English is not large. Spoken communication is highly privileged and those of us who are less than fluent have a difficult time communicating with most people. Barring unusual circumstances such as social engineering projects making entire populations fluent in spoken and gestured versions of their languages few people are going to know the gestured language in-game. It’s just that the existence of them makes community amongst people who aren’t fluent with spoken language much less difficult than having to make up new ones. And it’s fairly clear no one was thinking of what impact this lack would have on ordinary people — the purpose was to make it an impairment for a protagonist based on the presumption that such impairment would be nearly unique. Which is a common currently non-disabled assumption: there aren’t many of us and our needs are marginal and so needn’t be accounted for in policy and environmental design. It’s a flawed and false assumption, but one widely believed.

    Gestural languages are not super powers either. They occupy one’s hands, it’s fairly obvious that something meaningful is happening, and people who don’t have a really good reason to be fluent in them aren’t going to be expert in either reading or signing them. They aren’t anything like the wicked cool silent speech modes of fantasy stealth types — as pretty much every ninja / elf / thief fan person ever has discovered when beginning to learn actual gestural languages. Hand signals used in the military are highly simplified and are designed to transmit a limited amount of information.

    Of course it’s a fantasy game. It doesn’t have to be realistic in any way at all. I’ll just note that ‘realism’ is often used as an argument to justify contemporary real-world bigotries reflected in game settings and materials: the real world is sexist and racist and homophobic and transphobic and ableist and pick your prejudice so it is realistic for the game world to be sexist and racist and homophobic and transphobic and ableist and pick your prejudice. Fuck realism. I want my fantasy worlds to be better.
    kaninchenzero´s last blog post ..Juneteenth

  3. I used to play a tabletop game which specified that if your character went through one of several specified traumatic events, you had to choose a mental illness from a list to give to your character. I felt weird about it because it was very othering to people with mental illnesses obviously, and was making an inaccurate statement about how all mental illnesses are acquired. Sometimes players would choose a mental illness to give their character as a joke, which I thought was pretty horrible.

    I just went and looked up Exalted’s merits and flaws system. I find it interesting that they list “Diminished Senses” as a flaw but “Special Sense” as a merit. I have enhanced hearing due to sensory defensiveness, and I find it quite disabling. I wouldn’t really call it a physical flaw or merit, though.

    That rabbit is really lovely.

  4. As a former Exalted writer (and still a huge fan) I have my own complaints about WW and so on, and I totally agree that the game has a lot of depressingly ableist bits. Part of me wants to say, “Well, at least they did pretty well on the feminism and alternative sexuality stuff, and it seems to me that they did okay on the race stuff too although I don’t feel confident making assertions about that because I’m not very up on race theory, so I feel reluctant to get incredibly angry at them for stuff like ableism.” But then another huge part of me is like, “Dude, given that they did pretty well on that stuff, why the hell didn’t they do better on stuff like ableism?”

    After Grabowski, the original creator/designer/developer, left WW (right in the middle of the editing process for the Second Edition core :P), I think the game became much less thematically tight due to the loss of his vision (which included some dramatic anti-oppression agenda, I think). I think this is one of the reasons Second Edition has a more sexist, etc. “feel” than First Edition.

  5. I was reblogging this, and on of my friends came up with a good compromise you might run by your GM here:


    “Probably a better solution would have been to make it a 5-point flaw and make “sign language” a 1-point linguistics skill. IIRC, WW works languages through families anyway – i.e., you take a dot in “romance languages”, not specifically Italian or Spanish or whatever, so there’s no reason a dot in sign couldn’t represent fluency with your regional standardized sign language and the chance of passing familiarity with other versions that you might encounter.”

    I bet you’re thinking of “RIFTS”. IIRC, Kevin Siembieda, the founder of the company that made RIFTS and the author of the sourc ebook said that they were totally optional and not meant to simulate real mental illness/ So that makes it -slightly- les problematic, but still kind of :\

  6. [Trigger warnings for appalling imagery and violence against disabled folk advocated in quoted text and linked article.]

    Zoe: Isn’t ou just? [meltmeltmelt]

    And agreed on more sensitive being impairing. I’ve never really considered where it came from but I have really sensitive hearing and smell. Spoken language is hard because I hear so much and it’s hard to distinguish the meaningful sounds of language from everything else; and sometimes the sounds just won’t translate into anything meaningful for me and I need the person I’m speaking with to repeat ouself several times. People have asked if I’m hard of hearing but it’s the opposite if anything. Smell is… well. I have problems with air freshener sprays in bathrooms because I can smell the spray and the shit it’s trying to cover and it’s nauseating. Painful at times.

    Shataina: Thanks for writing! And reading. :) I’m sorry you had such an unpleasant experience writing for WW. It seems like a thing that should be way fun. And yes there are some appallingly ableist discrete episodes like:

    On the other hand, the Judges often show leniency when the murder was committed in order to alleviate the victim’s suffering. On one occasion, a murderess was rewarded with the opportunity for suicide and righteous dead status, as well as a significant promotion, after she killed her own father, who had been severely crippled in an accident.[1]

    Seethe. But I think I find the asides scattered throughout the texts noting that Exalts who have disabilities are rare and how perfecting exaltation is and how disabled folk need not apply to be world-shaping heroes to be more depressing. “We can’t imagine disabled people being heroes so we’re just going to say they aren’t.”

    I don’t want to get too much into it here in the comments thread — you’re welcome to email me at kaninchenzero [at the] disabledfeminists [dot] com if you want to continue this conversation — but I have highly mixed feelings about the sexuality and gender identity representations in Exalted. It’s nice to get representation at all. They get cookies for mentioning relationships between men about as often as relationships between women. But. Twin-Faced Hero[2] and Husk-Sculpting Apparatus[3] and Stone of Gender Transformation[4] all work on genital-essentialist principles. Changing your body changes your gender identity. Yes game not realistic simplified to make rules workable. It’s a cis-centric and binary-normative view of trans* experiences. Race… eegh. Have you read the write-up on Harborhead yet?

    Shawn Struck: It’s kind of you to reblog my piece, and to offer results from discussion at your place.

    I wasn’t looking for a compromise. I was pointing out that the writer of the Mute Flaw[5] had — likely without the least ill intention in the world — declared that people who would need to use gestural languages would have no common language and that’s a problem likely deriving from subconscious implicit assumptions. (Like the implicit assumption in the text quoted above that our lives are objectively worth less than the lives of currently non-disabled folk and death is the best solution and not improving the quality of our lives when there is a lack. It’s wildly discomfiting, this idea that genocide is for our good also.)

    I am entirely unmoved by the argument that some players will abuse rules if they are made to be less ableist [racist sexist hetero-centric cis-centric binary-normative etcetera]. The problem there would be the player: A person who thinks it’s funny to use infants as mêlée weapons isn’t a person I want to play with anyway. Deal with the player. Don’t justify the structural bigotries written into games as necessary defences against abusive players.

    [1] The Compass of Terrestrial Directions Volume II: The West p 81
    [2] The Manual of Exalted Power: Lunars p 136
    [3] The Manual of Exalted Power: Alchemicals p 155-156
    [4] The Books of Sorcery Volume III: Oadenol’s Codex p 97
    [5] While I’m doing page references: Scroll of Heroes p 66
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  7. Don’t justify the structural bigotries written into games as necessary defences against abusive players.

    You were talking about a general sense, and not directing that specifically at me, right?

  8. I’ve copy-pasted this response from a similar thread over at GeekFeminism (http://geekfeminism.org/2010/03/10/ableism-in-rpg-gameplay/).

    The WW Flaws systems, particularly in the new edition of the game have been a really interesting experience for me. For those not familiar, nWoD Flaws don’t give stat bonuses, but do grant a small XP reward for sessions where the Flaw negatively affected a character, especially if the character found a clever way to deal with it. These flaws often fail to come into play, such as when a character with “poor sight” uses glasses.

    When I ST games, I usually require players to choose at least one Flaw, and I do use those flaws against them at least once an arc. It forces them to think about things, and I’ve found it makes them more aware of various issues in day-to-day life. I do, however, have unusually bright and progressive players, all of whom are players of color, and are either women, have a disability, or both.

    I agree that using disability as a lesson, and especially having someone “wear” disability is problematic, and on the surface, role-playing a character with a disability looks a lot like the fail-tastic Disability Simulation Experience. These neither examine the reality of disability nor show how to resolve disadvantages experienced in society. Additionally, there is no opportunity for a participant to learn strategies to succeed. Wearing earplugs for a day doesn’t allow time for acquiring lip-reading or sign language skills. Sitting in a wheelchair for twenty minutes does not allow time to develop the upper arm strength necessary to operate a wheelchair efficiently. Because of the long-term and introspective nature of the games I’ve seen the players who choose to take physically-based Flaws come away with a more complete and complex understanding than just “wow, being disabled sucks.” The characters are heroes, and have ample opportunity to succeed in many areas, some of which are affected by their disabilities, and most of which are not.

    Additionally, my group enjoys the ability to portray ourselves from time to time. I’m currently in a game of Innocents (new World of Darkness with children as the heroes) in which the entire party is playing as themselves. IRL, all of us in this particular group have learning disabilities/developmental disorders, and the “tavern” where the characters first met and do most of our planning is a SPED classroom. None of us have really talked about our LD’s before this game, and the Classroom has provided us a safely-distanced venue to talk about our shared experiences with the public school system, people’s perceptions of us, and how we cope with Dyslexia/Autism/ADHD.

    And, well, it’s really really nice to get more than just a pat on the head for managing to find ways to do the things that challenge us but “everyone else” has no trouble with.

  9. Shawn Struck: Mostly. I tend to write about structural issues. Of course we are members of societies which contain those structures and often our actions and thoughts are informed by those structures. To the extent to which you benefit from structural inequities or are shielded from the negative effects of structural inequities it applies to you. And to me.

    But like I said: When I write about social justice issues — in gaming or anywhere else — I’m not looking for compromise. Those of us who live mostly on the marginalised ends of privilege/marginalisation spectra make compromises with privilege constantly. I compromised with cissexist society by trying to live in a gender rôle imposed on me that didn’t fit until I got tired of bleeding for it (literally; I can show you the scars).

    I tend to the militant and revolutionary and highly idealistic: I want to tear down the structures that promote and reinforce systemic inequities and build something better in their place.

    Naphtali: I’m glad to hear you’ve found such a good group to play with. And agreed: The Flaw system in nWoD* does seem to be less amenable to the sort of min-maxing at character generation the Take Flaws Get Bonus Points system oWoD had and Exalted second edition has. (Maybe — hopefully — the mechanics of the inevitable Exalted third edition will be based on nWoD mechanics. I rather like what they’ve done with it.)

    And it might be less likely to result in the sort of bloody awful bad RP like we’re getting from the player in my game with the Hawt Blind Assassin Chick. (I can hope right?) He apparently did no research into how people with visual impairments navigate the world because he does not seem to have any ideas for his character beyond a) use an item that lets her have magic super predator thermal vision (but she can’t see walls stairs kerbs usw) or b) get a sighted person to lead her about. Siiiiiiiiiiiigh.

    I hope your Innocents game continues to go well. That sounds neat. :)

    * I haven’t had a chance to play much (and the little I did play was a mortal character on a MUX effectively as a statless game) but I have the core book and Vampire and Changeling and I’ve made characters because hey it’s fun. I loved oWoD Changeling and played a lot of phoukas — speaking of characters with communication impairments — but nWoD Changeling looks nom.
    kaninchenzero´s last blog post ..Also