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Author Topic: Native Americans in Dust Devils revised  (Read 3010 times)
Matt Snyder
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« on: January 03, 2006, 12:27:12 PM »

I am starting work on revising Dust Devils for an expanded paperback edition.

As part of that revision, I will include more Old West setting-type information. I do not aim to create a comprehensive guide to 19th century history, a timeline, or anything "authoritative." I aim instead to package a valuable section on giving context and "fuel" for your Dust Devils characters and creating good situations for play.

Included in this will be the role of Native Americans, or "Indians." I consciously omitted references to Native Americans in the first issue for a simple reason: I did not trust myself then to represent Native American tribes thoughtfully in the relatively small and simple game. In short, I did not want to screw up the plight of Indians in the Old West. I did want them in the game, but I didn't know how to do it "right" ("right" = "right for me" because I will never get it right for everyone else).

So, here's some what I want to hear from you in this thread. You need not reply to each question -- these are discussion "seeds" for this thread.

  • How have you handled Indians in your Dust Devils play? Was it an issue among players? Did you do it "second nature" or give it serious thought to include?
  • What do you think is NOT acceptable in my portrayal of Native Americans in a Dust Devils game? Why? Where do you draw the line? Do you draw the line at all?
  • What would you absolutely expect to see in Dust Devils revised regarding this topic?
  • Do you have any connections with tribe members? Can you put me in contact with anyone who could provide input or review?
  • Are you aware of concerns/issues with the title Indians, Native Americans, Indigenous, or other titles? Do you advise a particular usage, and how do you handle such usage with "Indian" in the fictional usage for the game (No one in the Old West said "Native American," obviously).
  • Do you think a separate supplement, download, or article devoted to Native Americans would be worthwhile?

People, this topic can be loaded, political discussion. It will not get acrimonious. I will ruthlessly delete aruging and bullshit. I may also split off threads if necessary.
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Matt Snyder
www.chimera.info

"The future ain't what it used to be."
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: January 03, 2006, 12:48:37 PM »

<Devil's Advocate>
Why do you think its necessary / desired to tackle this issue in writing at all?  People have been playing DD for years now and including or not including Indians on their own with their own level of sensitivity to the issue.

I mean one has only to go to the literature and film from which DD is inspired to see the whole gamut from Indian's as Orcs to be killed, through Indians as noble savages to be honored and respected and then killed, to Indians as morally and ethically superior to the evil white men.

Why even make an attempt to "canonize" (for lack of a better word) that treatment in the rules?  I personally think the absense of Indians in the text is one of the text's strengths.

</Devil's Advocate>
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #2 on: January 03, 2006, 01:17:36 PM »

Matt,

As I've now fouled up your blog with my ranting, I'll try to keep this more on the actual play track.

I've only ever played a handful of games of Dust Devils. One was very much a "Gunfight at the OK Corral" type game, and in that there was not a single First Nations character of any type and no one noticed. Not even me, and I'm sensitive and PC and all that baggage.

Another game was a cattle-town and cowboys game, and in that game we ended up with a black character, a mestizo character, and two First Nations NPCs. We played everything straight up, with all the characters using the same rules and everyone having Devils, and everything came off brilliantly. There were lots of conflicts based on racial tension, but we didn't need any special rules for them because the current rules let us all confront the issue without pussyfooting around it. I think this was because a couple of the characters had Devils related to racism, and so the game was inevitably driven that way. At that point the engine did what it was supposed to -- it facilitated us making statements about the issue, rather than trying to make them for us.

Which is why I think you should keep a light hand on the First Nations issue in the text. I WOULD like to see them introduced in the text in some way -- but I don't think that singling them out in the text as special is neccesarily the best way.

However, a sample scenario in which race and racism are a central issue to the game may be a good way to bring it up. Show it in context, show it as story, and it will seem less like a sermon. If you want to put it out there and make it something people can play with (but don't have to if it isn't the western they're currently dealing with) then putting it into an optional form, and a form that lets people colide with it rather than you driving it into them, will probably work out best in the end. As Eero pointed out, this is a game and is about stories -- so if you want First Nations then make them part of the story.

Oh, and I obviously use the words First Nations, indigenous, and even aboriginal. That's a thing I've picked up since being in Canada. So take it for what it is.
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- Brand Robins
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« Reply #3 on: January 03, 2006, 01:25:05 PM »

How did I handle Indians in Dust-Devils?

Quenah aka “Shotgun Red”, Comanche Bounty Hunter

No matter how fast on the drawn some hombre is, doesn’t do them a lick of good if they didn’t see it comin’.  And if they do see you comin’, it doesn’t take much finesse to use a scattergun.  Quenah has built his reputation on landing some pretty dangerous fish, and he doesn’t mind selling one white man to another, as long as it pays for fine clothes, rounds at the card tables, and woman or two.  Now he’s got a line on a rumor that says that one Jebidiah Strong has something in his possession that a bunch of folks would pay a mint to get.  Once that would have been a suicide mission, but word is that old Jeb ain’t all he used to be.

Hand: 3
Eye: 3
Guts: 5
Heart: 2

Traits: Silent as the Grave, Faster than a Striking Rattler

Knacks: Sneakin’ 4  Trackin’ 4  Ridin’ 2  Gamblin’ 1

Devil(2): Greed.  Golden or foldin’, Quenah will do just about anything for money.  Thing is, he can’t quite forget though he’ll never admit that the first bounty he ever earned was paid on the head of another Comanche.

----

This guy is totally a stereotype, but hopefully at least a slightly nuanced one.  Sherman Alexie would probably just roll his eyes though :)  He was designed as a one of the characters for DD one-shot demo I run, and he pairs up with a sidekick:

----

“Little” John Talmudge, Bounty Hunter

All “Little” John want’s out of life is a little respect, and at six foot five inches tall, and nearly as wide, that ain’t to hard to come by for a man what is handy with his fists.  Thing is, that sort of respect doesn’t lead to a man feeling welcome to stay in one place too long.  It ain’t that he and Shotgun Red are real friendly like, but at least the Indian don’t never talk down to him (when he talks at all), and he sure seems to have a line on where a man can pick up a few easy coins.  John figures he’ll tag along until something better turns up.

Hand: 5
Eye: 2
Guts: 3
Heart: 3

Traits: Strong as an Ox, Dumb as Stump

Knacks: Fightin’ 4  Intimidatin’  3  Drinkin’ 2  Ropin’ 2

Devil(2):  Spite.  John ain’t the brightest thing to ever fall off the chuckwagon, but he’s got his pride.  And John figures, if he can’t understand the joke, maybe its on him.  He’s got long memory for men what didn’t give him respect, and he figures on eventually checking off every name on it.

----

When I run the demo, any player picking Quenah is sure to encounter hostility and prejudice anywhere he goes.  I do not sugar coat that aspect of the setting.  Oh yeah, and the name Quenah?  half an hour on Google :)  Who knows if it's real?
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2006, 01:27:41 PM »

Hi Ralph! (and, I now see cross-posted, BRAND)

I don't think I'm trying to canonize their role, nor devote special / unusual amounts of the new book to that topic. It'll be in the book, but it won't take up pages and pages, either. Other stuff will be in the book, too.

Here's what I am trying to do (it'll sound familiar!):

Quote
As part of that revision, I will include more Old West setting-type information. I do not aim to create a comprehensive guide to 19th century history, a timeline, or anything "authoritative." I aim instead to package a valuable section on giving context and "fuel" for your Dust Devils characters and creating good situations for play.


No more, no less. There will be not much more on Indians than there will be on, say, the Civil War's aftermath. But, I consider the Native American issues to be slightly more difficult to tackle than, say, Confederates vs. Jayhawkers. Hence, this thread.

But, generally speaking, Ralph -- I'm sympathetic to your suggestion and observations. Include characters that run the gamut, and do so even-handedly. Groups will then settle that score on their own.

Also, let's nip this in the bud right away (not directed at you, Ralph -- just warning for all):

Negative concerns that I'm wrongly turning Dust Devils into a "historical" game will be ignored (nevermind that it's not correct). That's suggesting to me "what kind of game" Dust Devils is. Here's a hint: I happen to have an inside source on what kind of game it is. So, let it go.
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Matt Snyder
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"The future ain't what it used to be."
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2006, 03:31:14 PM »

So, let's take another stab at it. Brand: I'm reading the blog thing, but I'm too lazy to write in two places. So I'll just answer you and others here, after I tackle Matt's questions.

Relevant background: I've played literally dozens of sessions of Dust Devils. It's a relatively old game, but I just might be in the top ten of most games played ever. It's one of my top three favourites ever. I'm also writing my own "extented commentaries" on Dust Devils, "modernizing" the rules based on my experiences. I've translated the game to Finnish. The above points are to be taken as context for my opinions, which might seem overly zealous. No disrespect of individuals or Matt's position as the author is intented.

For Matt: I write a lot of things below here. I explicitly realize that some of them are wide off the mark for your plans. Assume reading comprehension on my part. The text flows, as always, more as a function of discussing with everybody here, not just you alone. There might be some advice that's useful for you too, or not.

  • How have you handled Indians in your Dust Devils play? Was it an issue among players? Did you do it "second nature" or give it serious thought to include?
It's never been an issue. I've played games with savage racial stereotypes painted over with humor, where stupid indians and lazy mexicans stumble about cluelessly, wishing only to rob the white men of their prosperity. I've also played the same without the humor, glorifying the Christian civilization of the settlers. I've played heavy metal indians with bestial kung-fu. I've also played soft depictions of white devils realizing their follies. My favourite portrayal of indian issues was one where I myself played a buffalo hunter who's best and only friend was a buffalo at the end of the era - the whole thing was a massive, explicit analogue for the fate of the indian nations, with the "last herd of the buffaloes" refusing my character in the last scene, despite him sacrificing all to save his friend from the evil circus people.

What I've taken away from all this is a very hands-off approach to the "what kind of west" issue. The American west is a huge, huge setting and genre. Dust Devils is an extremely flexible game that gains the stature of a classic through the razor-sharp objective take it has not on the true history of the west, but the possibilities of depiction. When you play the game with many people over spans of time you realize that the shattered, multihued notions of the west we take to the table are a kind of fruitful void for the game. In every game I've played our depiction of indians has happened when the rubber hit the road, not before or after. What this means in practice is a very powerful statement and opportunity for dealing with the issue - when we have no preconceived notions of the issue we can deal with indian characters or tribes or whatever genuinely through the situation. This indian is evil, this indian is good, because of these, their contributions to the story. No unified answer or perspective is forthcoming.

Interestingly enough, we added historical material in the Finnish edition. There's a couple dozen historical perspectives in the book, but they're all vague in detail and contradictory with each other. They're enough to inform the reader of the issue ("There's a potential conflict between cattle barons and farmers? Cool, I'll read more on that."), but they're also clearly not an uniform viewpoint to be learned before play.

Let me also state: I am in no way saying that Matt is intending an authoritatitive look on the issue. I am sure he is not. However, I'm very much saying that I have great doubts about the necessity of an objective history text within Dust Devils - I play the game in Finland, where western has to be, like, one tenth as popular as the States, and we still have no problems at all with getting our game rooted in history and the genre. So my suggestion regarding background material: stick to the personal, stick to the contradictions, stick to giving inspiration instead of answers. Heck, Matt could work it like we did with the FInnish edition: lots of illustrations, each accompanied by a paragraph taking up a particular issue of the genre and history.

Furthermore: come on, guys, Dust Devils is very much not a setting game. We are not people who believe in setting games, are we? When I'm writing my own DD "remix" I don't thing there's one paragraph about how I have this fancy nice idea of how we could play a campaign set in a 1900s oil rush. The text is all about narration rights, advanced chip economy variants and stringing conflicts efficiently. The rules are what makes the game, not the setting text. In that regard I'm not even very interested in what kind of setting text Matt is writing for the game.

Quote
[li]What do you think is NOT acceptable in my portrayal of Native Americans in a Dust Devils game? Why? Where do you draw the line? Do you draw the line at all?[/li]

I don't draw the line. Personally I believe strongly in freedom of thought, rational judgement and artistic vision. None of these three leaves room for nancy-pancy limp-wristed political correctedness, whatever viewpoint that supports this week. Whatever Matt wants to write, that's his problem, barring any advice we can give him regarding his goals.

The above is, of course, my opinion in unadulterated form. In practice I'd find it sad if you insisted on emphasizing some particular viewpoint at all, whether multicultural or not. I don't think the game has any rules that pertain to indians, so I don't see the need for any strong "takes" on the matter. So anything is fine as long as I don't feel like the text is trying to impose something on me. If it is, I certainly hope it's better than the glorious tapestry of plurality we've put the game to during the last year hereabouts.

Also, a viewpoint: I don't know why you Americans (I feel justified to use the appellation; I don't personally know anybody from Europe with this kind of doubts, while I know many Americans indeed) insist on making a big deal out of political correctedness (which this discussion is clearly a form of). It simply doesn't make sense most of the time, and it's not manly to be that worried about what others will think, as long as you yourself feel justified in whatever it is you do. If you're worried about your depiction of indians, why not, say, blacks? Black slave cowboys seem like a good topic for lots of soul-searching and anguish. Similarly chinese railwaymen and miners, not to mention mexicans, religious minorities, confederates and women. You'll have your hands full if you start overly worrying about the "correct" depiction of American history.

Quote
[li]What would you absolutely expect to see in Dust Devils revised regarding this topic?[/li]

Indians? Well, not much, I guess. I'd expect you to mention them. Perhaps put them in the list of available character types, in case somebody doesn't figure it out otherwise.

If you decide to write lots of background, I'd like you to include the indians as well. In that case I'd be excited if you made the effort to include as many dramatically fruitful viewpoints as possible. Indians as a mystery of the woods early settlers know nothing about. Indians living in large cities in California in the 1500s. Indians as savage beasts. Indians as noble and mystical new age heroes. Indians as shrewd merchants of furs, land and metals. Indians as fearsome war parties fighting a desperate guerrilla war. Indians as victims. Indians as sophisticated nations. Indians living outside nations. Indians as partners in the union. Indians as converts. Indians as historical fact. Indians as early fiction. Indians in the movies. Indians now.

But then, I'd expect you to give the above treatment to spaniards, chinese, Russians (there were Russian colonies in the west coast, you know), Irish, sheep herders, white slave owners, mormons, carnies, Canadians, negroes, union fathers, bankers, railroad workers, cattle barons, cowboys and everybody else in the huge cast of possibilities the era offers. I don't see indians any different from the others.

Rules-wise I think the game handles indians just fine as it is. Having any special rules or whatnot would be, I feel, somewhat derogatory and suspect from a human-values viewpoint.

Quote
[li]Do you have any connections with tribe members? Can you put me in contact with anyone who could provide input or review?[/li]

Nope. I'm answering this one just so Brand can feel secure about having a more intimate connection with the issue ;) In my defense I'll state that I'm a patriotic member of a people that colonized a country the size of France, vanquishing the indigenous people, before being colonized itself, only barely surviving into an independent nation after five centuries of oppression. So I'm certainly willing to compare moral cojones if somebody feels that I can't relate to the indian genocide because I don't live in America. (Which, to make it clear, is not my stance; I think my country of origin has nothing to do with the validity of my moral opinion.)

Quote
[li]Are you aware of concerns/issues with the title Indians, Native Americans, Indigenous, or other titles? Do you advise a particular usage, and how do you handle such usage with "Indian" in the fictional usage for the game (No one in the Old West said "Native American," obviously).[/li]

I suggest writing the whole text from a pseudo-IC POV, which neatly sidesteps the issue and works better for all intents. This means using terminology like "savage", "redskin", "indian" when taking a white POV, and using proper tribe and family appellations when writing on behalf of an indian POV.

There's about one place in the rules text where you need to refer to indians withouth IC context (chargen, wherein you need to mention the possibility of playing an indian). I suggest using "indian" in that place, because it's historically most valid (being the term used by the majority of the literary cultures of the time period) and stylistically most appropriate (being used in a great majority of western fiction). Most other choices are stylistically jarring.

Quote
[li]Do you think a separate supplement, download, or article devoted to Native Americans would be worthwhile?[/li][/list]

As the rules stand, not as a Dust Devils supplement. There's not enough rules hooks for specifically indians. As a separate article, I'd be interested in reading it. The problem is, I genuinely fail to see how it'd be a roleplaying project and not a general history one. I give you high odds that you can find a good basic article about indian history with a little googling already in teh intehweb. I feel that any "rpg emphasis" will necessarily weaken the impact of such an article. What would such rpg usability consist of? Indian kewl powerz?

Matt: if this is just about you worrying about PC and feeling bad about the indian genocide (forgive me if I've misunderstood your ultimate motivation), how about if we wrote a Dust Devils conversion dealing specifically with indians? I can pretty confidently say that I have some insight into how the game should be properly modified for a good mod a la Deathwish. So just put up a "sub-game" concerned solely with the indian viewpoint and stop worrying.

Let's see... it'd be something like this:

Ghost Dancers

Your character is not necessarily a Ghost Dancer, militant or otherwise. But a Dancer he is, regardless, with the Dance thrumming in his soul, calling up emotions and visions that will not be controlled. You are one of the people of the First Nations and Great Tribes during a time of great change. How far are you willing to go for the Dance? Where will the Dance lead you?

Character attributes are almost identical with Dust Devils. Hand is Hand and Eye is Eye, but instead of Guts you will have Spirit, depicting your connection to the ancestors, strength of will and vitality. Instead of Heart you will have Tribe, depicting the strength and influence of your tribe, and your own influence, position and wealth within the tribe.

Skills are identical with Dust Devils, except most Dancers will not have Shootin' and the like whiteman skills, instead resorting to Huntsman and Warcraft for different needs. Otherwise typical skills are dependent on your tribe (see below) and background.

Your character will have two special traits, his Culture and his Totem. The Culture is defined at character creation and depicts the special aptitudes and heritage of the tribe the character is from. The Culture is written in the form of a "My ancestors were" statement. ("My Ancestors were white" is the Culture for halflings and white men.) Whenever the character confronts a situation where his Culture is relevant, deal the player one card extra. Similarly, the Totem is the character's ultimate nature, and is written as a simile of an animal or other animistic force of nature. Whenever the character approaches a situation in a manner analogical of his Totem, deal the player one card extra. ("My Totem is the One Crucified" is the Totem for all white men and converts.)

The protagonist characters in Ghost Dancers are separated from their kin by the Dance, which functions somewhat like the Devil in Dust Devils. The Dance is written by the player, and it depicts the supernatural vision, driving passion or moment of import for the character. The dancer dances the Dance, which may lead him to unexpected places. Also, the Dance dances the dancer, singing in his head and egging him to deeds he will come to regret. The player chooses the strength of the Dance the same you do with the Devil. Should the character ever be played out of the game, the narration will establish whether the dancer made his peace with his Dance.

Ghost Dancers can be played with Dust Devils as a cross-over. If this is the case, the following special rules are used:
- White men can never have the Dance, Culture or Totem.
- Red men can never have a Devil or Traits.
- Harm narration follows the attribute definition of the winner; should a white man win, Spirit and Tribe harm are narrated as Guts and Heart for that conflict. Likewise, if a red man wins, Guts and Heart damage are narrated as Spirit and Tribe damage.

There. Just flesh out the text, add some illustrations and put it up! Then nobody can say that the game doesn't respect the original peoples of North-America.

Quote
People, this topic can be loaded, political discussion. It will not get acrimonious. I will ruthlessly delete aruging and bullshit. I may also split off threads if necessary.

I hope the above is not too political, but I see no way of discussing the issue without going into morality and history. That's what you're asking about, after all; opinions about a very loaded issue. While I don't think it's necessary with my track record of discussion with you all, I'll say it anyway: this post represents my opinion only, and is not especially acrimoniously directed towards anybody else. Deal with it, and answer in kind if you think I'm misguided.

Now, I'll answer Brand here: I'm basicly agreeing with you and the majority here. It seems most of us agree that there's no special emphasis required for indians. And yes, I'm European, from Finland. My country is young and never participated as a machine of violence in the colonization of the United States. Thus my perspective on the matter is not colored by patriotic guilt. Let's discuss the Finnish civil war if you want to see me twitch ;)

But for what you say over at the blog... I don't think the matter of pressing issues and personally significant stories has anything to do with writing historical backgrounds into the game. Rather, the opposite: if you have a personal stake in, say, indians, how does it help you play the game if the author gives you his historical interpretation about it? I would think that, to the contrary, you're well equipped to bring in any and all facts you feel pertinent for the game.

But that's a slightly separate matter and not really the topic here. You seem to think that game book fiction has some role, while I find anything not read by the majority of players (which is usually the case with game book fiction) a probable waste of time insofar as it doesn't influence the GM. And in this case I'm nearly pissed by the very idea of influencing the GM; why ever should Matt write some politics about depicting indians into his game? If indians there be, let him open up possibilities, not close them by carefully coordinating some PC line in his writing.
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Brand_Robins
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« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2006, 04:18:36 PM »

Eero,

That was one heck of a reply.

I do think that we're agreeing, in the main. I don't think that you being Finnish means you have any less of a moral take, or right to an opinion, on the matter. On the blog I just meant that yours will be different than mine, it can't help but be. Just like my take on the Winter War of 1939 would be different than yours.

The one point I think you may be misreading me (or I may have misspoken) is the story/game fiction aspect. I wasn't suggesting a game-fiction story. I meant a pre-gen scenario, like the one in the current edition, that features some characters with racially motivated or directed Devils that showcases how racism can be used in the game if you chose to. I don't think anything would be more useless than a game-fiction story, and I don't know of much that would be more useful than a carefully prepared situation for players to beat their brains against.

The other thing that I would like is if Matt is doing a more "handbook of the old west" style approach, or even a "handbook of western stories" design, that there be some backgrounding and info about the First Nations. Not a lot, but some "here are the Nations in the region, their relationship with the cowtown and cowtrails, and the military" type stuff that's good for generating story. Something like a historically backed version of what Dogs did with Mountain Folk -- here is who they are, where they fit in, and then what you do with them in the game is up to you.

I think this would be useful because I think there are folks that would like to address this kind of thing in their game and may need a little help or background in doing so. You, Eero, really don't -- and I get that fully. However at this point you may not be the main target for the new edition. It sounds like you've already made Dust Devils your bitch, and can use it up one side and down the other. For those that can't do that, or just aren't comfortable doing that without some more backgrounding (folks that are sensing rather than intuitive types), I think having a short section of background and a tangible demostration of how to work it in game could be a good thing.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #7 on: January 04, 2006, 08:20:07 AM »

Yeah, that was a little overblown. I'm sure Matt is now wondering what's the problem with us, getting incenced about something small like this. For me it's a matter of having been breathing the game for the last year or so, which makes me perhaps a tad more invested than I should be.

Otherwise, I think I'm with Brand on the practical end of things. IMO a short primer on the American west is a matter of general education, but if you write it in a neutral enough voice, I could see it as a part of Dust Devils as well. (As you can see, the resident prophet of Finnish roleplaying certainly thinks the lack of historical background is the single greatest problem of the game ;) I'd be daunted by the task myself, though, thinking back on the huge amounts of different material and viewpoints offered by different sources.

Adding the token indian into an example adventure... well, my take would be to increase the number of scenarios in the book, actually. Dealing with the indian issue by replacing the example scenario with an indian one is screwy, because for all the attention it allows for indians it takes the same amount away from other, equally important things. So perhaps a range of short, <5 page scenarios would be the best option. That'd allow for variety, including indians. But that's Matt's problem, not ours.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #8 on: January 04, 2006, 11:43:48 AM »

Eero's point about multiple scenarios is right on.  Particularly, I would love to see an adventure where all of the PCs were Indians.

yrs--
--Ben
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #9 on: January 04, 2006, 01:10:29 PM »

Eero & Ben, you're right on. The new edition will have multiple starting scenarios, which people can use with characters in place, or as demonstrations of how to set 'em up. I'm thinking at somewhere around 3-5 scenarios.

Eero, great post, and I'll reply when work lets me breathe again!
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Matt Snyder
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"The future ain't what it used to be."
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