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Author Topic: Horseplay gone too far?  (Read 25311 times)
John Kim
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« on: May 19, 2003, 09:52:29 PM »

So I'd like to talk about a particular event in the weekend's "Lord of the Rings" RPG session, and get people's opinions on it.  This was I think the fourth session of the campaign.  It is set during the time of the War of the Ring, and set in the area of Lake-town and Mirkwood.  The PCs are Thallen (a human bounty hunter from Lake-town), Ardan (an elf of Mirkwood and carousing soldier), Borri (a dwarven craftsman, nephew of Bombur), and my PC Gudrid (a Beorning woman, cousin of Grimbeorn and studier of nature magic).  

   There were many problems, but I want to focus on a particular incident regarding my PC Gudrid.  She is of the family of Beorn's wife: so not blood kin of him, but cousin to his son Grimbeorn.  I had that she studied healing arts, herbcraft, and magic from the women of her clan.  She could speak with animals, send an animal messenger, and even transform into animals.  The rules allowed her to change into any natural animal.  In previous sessions I had transformed into a bear and a horse.  However, over email just before this session, the GM had expressed balance concerns that magic was too easy.  I suggested restricting Mastery of Shapes to three forms (as that was her most potent ability), but the GM decided to limit her to only two: bear and horse.  

-----------------

   We had just travelled for a long month, trying to catch a darkly-dressed rider who we believed was headed to Dol Guldur (a stronghold of evil in southern Mirkwood).  We knew he had recovered a ring from among the bones of Smaug, betrayed his partners, and rode off taking only the ring while leaving a horde of precious gems behind.  We had caught up with him the previous day, apparently sleeping beside the trail.  However, when Ardan tried to grab him while asleep, he instantly disappeared and his horse disappeared shortly thereafter.  Two trolls then came out of the woods to attack us.  We eventually killed them, and tried to find tracks of him.  

   After a long day of tracking and various distractions, we again spotted his horse tied beside the trail.  Anxious that he might disappear again, the others started to circle around to try to box him in.  Suddenly I had an idea.  I transformed myself into a black horse which looked like his.  I thought I would try to switch places with his horse, which might confuse him during his escape.  So I walked up to horse and spoke to it.  

   Now, at this point, the GM hedged a bit and said "Gee, I hate to do this to a PC" -- but then he went on to pointedly say "This horse is a stallion".  I sort of shrugged, but others caught the sexual implication he was making.  Another player pointed out that a stallion would have no interest in mare unless it was in heat.  The GM then ruled that "Humans are always in heat, so that stays when she transforms into a horse".  Now, nothing eventually happened from this -- I ended up using an Animal Messenger spell on it to send it away.  However, I certainly felt something was wrong here.  Another of the players also objected to the ruling.  

   It's not like I can say that it's "unrealistic" for a human magician to always turn into an animal in heat.  Nor can I say that it was railroading or deprotagonization for my PC, per se.  Still, it definitely ticked me off and made me feel that the GM had some screwy problem with my PC being female.  The other player who spoke up said that after what happened, she was glad that she didn't make a female PC.  

-----------------

So I guess my questions are:
    [*]Did this cross some sort of line, and how do you draw that line?
    [*]Is there anything that can be done in game design to head this sort of thing off?[/list:u]
    One thing that I noted about the LotR RPG core book is that not only are all six example characters male, but all of the example players are male as well.  It also makes a point of saying that you cannot play a female dwarf. (?)  I'm not sure that this had any affect on this game, but it's something that I noticed in my review.  

    Now, I definitely don't want to do away with gender roles.  My PC Gudrid here is not a sword-swinging barbarian: she is a healer and magician with no combat skills and no direct combat spells.  (She can turn into a bear, but it takes her a full minute to change and the bear stats are pretty wimpy, so I basically did nothing in 3 of the 4 combats we've had.)  I wouldn't have a problem if someone were to take a romantic interest in her, say.  But on the spot of talking with a horse to rule that she is constantly in heat just crosses a line for me.  

    Any thoughts?
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    - John
    clehrich
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    « Reply #1 on: May 19, 2003, 10:11:33 PM »

    This is very odd, and somehow creepy.  On the one hand, it sort of sounds to me as though maybe the GM was hoping for some crude high-school "getting it on" jokes.  Given that you are in your 30's, I'm guessing that the whole group is rather too old for that sort of thing unless everybody seems pretty into it, and clearly they weren't.  Could be a basic maturity question.

    Another possibility is that he was trying to prevent you from doing something clever by making up a dumb obstacle, but it does seem a strange choice.  I'm suggesting this because you already had him blocking you from using written powers from the game, and given that the bear form doesn't sound particularly powerful I wonder about that "balance" thing.

    Knowing you, I'd like to ask one other question: how well does this GM know you, as a player?  If he knows you quite well, he may be somewhat afraid of you, to be blunt.  He sounds like a fairly classic control-freak Illusionist, and you have a habit of challenging the edges of that sort of thing in a way that's difficult to block by ordinary means.  Just wondering whether this may be more about you than about female characters -- could he be trying desperately to keep you from doing anything interesting or unexpected?

    As to LOTR, I don't know the game, but it is worth noting that The Hobbit has no female characters -- not one! -- and there are very few in the trilogy.  I don't think that's excuse enough for this extreme gender bias, but you might think about it as a possible reason.

    With respect to gender in gaming as a general point of design, I don't see that it's much different from any other medium.  Does it make any difference whether some of the player examples are female, regardless of the sexes of their characters?  Yes -- it reminds everyone more or less subtly that 50% of potential players (hypothetically, anyway) are female.

    But beyond this basic point -- rather like using "he or she" instead of "he" -- I really have an ugly feeling about this situation.  Maybe we're both over-reading (although another player agreed) but I just get the sneaking suspicion that this guy to some degree thinks of females as passive sexual objects.  I shouldn't even say that, since I don't know him at all, nor have you provided more than one example, but for some reason it just strikes me that way.
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    Chris Lehrich
    Jack Spencer Jr
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    « Reply #2 on: May 19, 2003, 10:42:09 PM »

    Quote from: John Kim
      [*]Is there anything that can be done in game design to head this sort of thing off?[/list:u]

      This sounds like a bearded female dwarfs question, John. Stickly a matter of mileage may vary or personal taste. Possibly an issue for the GM to rules that your character would always be in heat, if you take my meaning.

      I doubt that there's anything that game design could do with this situation. I doubt anyone puts a "don't force the player character to have horse sex" rule, Jared notwithstanding.

      This does make me wonder about the GM to have considered the whole thing with your character and whether she would be in heat or not in animal form (that must be difficult) and to say "the horse is a stallion" and expect you'll make the connection right away.

      Sorry, but jeez.
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      John Kim
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      « Reply #3 on: May 20, 2003, 12:48:44 AM »

      Quote from: clehrich
        With respect to gender in gaming as a general point of design, I don't see that it's much different from any other medium.  Does it make any difference whether some of the player examples are female, regardless of the sexes of their characters?  Yes -- it reminds everyone more or less subtly that 50% of potential players (hypothetically, anyway) are female.  

      Well, it seems significantly different from other media to me.  In other media like novels or movies, you can just make strong female characters as part of your story, and not be a pig.  But a game book is there to facilitate other stories or characters, not to express its own.  

      There are some dead obvious things like "Don't make all your example players and characters male".  But I'm not certain that that is as far as it can go.  Here on the Forge many people have advocated the idea that a game has (or can have) a Vision / Creative Agenda / whatever of its own -- even though it isn't the narrative itself.  Surely gender issues are a part of that.  Now, mind you, I'm not saying that a different design would neccesarily have done anything to this case.  GM does trump system to some degree (I can run a dungeon crawl using Hero Wars), but system does matter.  

      To be harsh, I'd say most fantasy RPGs deal with gender by constantly assuming men and male archetypes in the design -- and then have token egalitarianism by technically allowing women to take any of those roles. Thus you have the busty Amazon warrior, the exotic sorceress, etc.  This stifles any exploration of gender, because once you start to question it, it is clear that these characters just don't fit.  

      I think that one ought to be able to do better than this.  I'm mulling over ideas, but I don't have anything coherent at the moment.
      Logged

      - John
      Jack Aidley
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      « Reply #4 on: May 20, 2003, 02:42:31 AM »

      Yeah, that does seem kind of creepy and off, but I suspect that Clehrich was correct and the response was more about stopping you following your course of action that any kind of reaction to your playing a female character.

      To look at it another way, what if the situation had been reversed, and a trasnformed male character had drawn the attention of a female animal - would that seem creepy in the way?
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      - Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter
      Jared A. Sorensen
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      « Reply #5 on: May 20, 2003, 04:23:36 AM »

      See? This is what happens when dudes play chicks.

      - J, "I'm just sayin'..."
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      jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
      Balbinus
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      « Reply #6 on: May 20, 2003, 06:36:15 AM »

      I think there are a number of problems here.

      Firstly, your GM is running the wrong game.  LotR, if we're talking the Decipher version, quite consciously discards play balance in favour of emulating the source material.  To try to suddenly reinsert it is bound to end badly IMO.

      Far more seriously, your GM has issues which sound frankly odd.  The always on heat thing was either a joke in very poor taste, a sign of extreme discomfort with female characters or a very clumsy attempt to block player creativity (or a mix of all three).  Whichever, I would be very uncomfortable in your game, the GM is arbitrarily messing with character concepts and in a rather unpleasant way.

      The big warning for me is the "I hate to do this to a PC" comment.  The answer to that is obvious.  Don't.  Why is the horse a stallion?  Because the GM made it so.  Why are transformed magi always on heat (a very peculiar judgement IMO), because the GM said so.  It's all GM fiat, there is no stallion objectively existing forcing the poor GM to screw over (no pun intended) your character.

      This isn't a system problem IMO, nor with all due respect to Jared's peculiar obsession with the subject is it a problem with people playing PCs of the opposite gender, the problem is a GM who appears to have issues with women and issues with characters not behaving as he wishes them to.

      Out of interest, were the other problems in the game compatible with the theory that the GM was uncomfortable with player creativity outside the bounds of his scenario?
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      AKA max
      Clinton R. Nixon
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      « Reply #7 on: May 20, 2003, 06:55:49 AM »

      John,

      I'm going to admit I've gotten spoiled by the cross-table communication at my games. Still - why didn't you just ask the GM, "Hey - take a break for a minute. This scene is seeming strange and uncomfortable to me, and I was wondering why you're taking it in this direction."

      If you can't do that, it seems like a bigger problem than this GM's particular sexual hang-ups. (I'm not saying it's your problem, by the way. Would this GM have responded well to that?)
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      Clinton R. Nixon
      CRN Games
      jrs
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      Posts: 373


      « Reply #8 on: May 20, 2003, 07:29:02 AM »

      Quote from: John Kim

      So I guess my questions are:
        [*]Did this cross some sort of line, and how do you draw that line?
        [*]Is there anything that can be done in game design to head this sort of thing off?[/list:u]


        First, only you and your game group can say whether a line was crossed.  That is dependant on your comfort level and whether you as a group could discuss it, as Clinton suggests.  From your description, it appears that at least one of you was able to indicate to the GM that his call was inappropriate.  I agree with Balbinus, that the GM's statement, "I hate to do this to a PC", is the main issue.  It indicates that the situation is definitely not in the player's favor, when it fact the player could have used the set-up as an opportunity to play Loki to Svadilfari[*].  

        I'm not sure how game design could specifically prevent this from happening.  I mean, do you need rules to say that it might not be a good idea for the GM to tell a player that his character has an erection and will not be able to concentrate on anything else until he deals with it?

        Julie

        [*] Very briefly, Svadilfari was the horse of a man who bargained with the gods that he could build the gods' stronghold in one winter.  When the gods realized that the man would succeed primarily through the strength of Svadilfari, Loki turned himself into a mare to lure Svadilfari away and prevent the bargain from being kept.
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        Ron Edwards
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        « Reply #9 on: May 20, 2003, 07:38:45 AM »

        Hi John,

        Some of the following mirrors others' responses ...

        Damn, but I wish this all happened a few months ago; I would have asked your permission to include it among the many testimonials in Sex & Sorcery.

        What you've got here is the issue of Denial, Dysfunction, and Function when it comes to including anything about sexuality, gender, or (bluntly) horniness in the in-game world.

        Denial = uh-uh, none of that, our characters aren't about that, there isn't any of that, where's the foe, where's the puzzle, where's the story, where are we going next. Basically, Ken & Barbie do a fantasy game.

        Dysfunction = using sexual innuendo and/or graphic events to mess with one another as real people, ranging from the GM going "snuffle snuffle" when a dog encounters a passed-out female player-character to the infamous "the orc bandit leader rapes you four times that night" scene. These examples are taken from actual play.

        Function = including sexual material as in-game material in such a way that it serves the imaginative, creative purpose at hand, which necessarily means that the sexual or semi-sexual interactions among the real people have to be engaged in a way which I can only call "real" or "adult" in full knowledge that these terms aren't precise.

        Speaking over here from my armchair, I peg your GM as doin' some Dysfunction in this instance. What it's "about," I don't know. His comment "I hate to do this to a PC" is of course bullshit; if he truly "hated" to do it, then he wouldn't. I'd be awfully interested whether, if your character were male, he would have confronted him with a mare in heat.

        However - I betcha that if called on it, he'd have all manner of excuses. "It's realistic." "Real stories have sex in them." Blah blah ... all of which boils down to issues of story-control (perhaps you guys were being tactical regarding this NPC in a way he didn't like, e.g.).

        The way to disperse such blather is to think in terms of aesthetics and goals. Here you guys have this situation concerning hard-core Middle Earth material, like the ring in Smaug's bones and Dol Guldur and whatnot. Your character fits that perfectly, as does the nephew of the canonical dwarf. See what I mean? Your characters and the ostensible point of play are all firing on the same cylinders, to celebrate the richness of Middle Earth material and perhaps do some "underbelly" role-playing with canonical material.

        And then here comes all this stuff about equine pheromones and (God help us) a stallion-esque ramrod of steaming pink, and who knows what extremes of nudging and winking about what your character "has to do." It's not the decency or properness or "appropriateness" of the imagery that bugs me, though - it's the sharp-left-turn from the shared aesthetics of play.

        Does anyone remember all those suspense thriller movies from the 1980s and early 90s, in which the detective is tracking the killer and he's not sure whether the girl he's met is connected to the killer, or maybe is the killer, and all that crap? Jennifer 8, Sea of Love, Knight Moves, etc. Right in the middle of each one, there's this kind of red-light sex scene which has, frankly, nothing to do with the story. It's just a soft-porn sequence, thrown in for the ratings and for its own sake, and perhaps to cover the fact that the actual story is a flaccid mess.

        That's what this anecdote reminds me of. I'll betcha a copy of Sex & Sorcery that your-all's tactics regarding this NPC were out of the GM's comfort zone of control of the upcoming events. I'll betcha he even had plans for that horse in the upcoming scene, or at the very least, anticipated that you'd ask questions of the horse that he wanted to keep secret for some future-planned revelation. The entire point was to keep "the GM screen" up in terms of information exchange - so he threw a big wall at you, purposefully spiced with the hard-to-port-ensign innuendo, in order to back you up and head you off and keep you bloody away from his control of what was going on.

        Best,
        Ron
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        ADGBoss
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        « Reply #10 on: May 20, 2003, 07:48:24 AM »

        Again not knowing the GM in question its hard to put a finger on what exactly is the problem here.

        I would ask three questions:

        1) Does he do this to other players ie does he treat the female player badly in gerneral or just female PCs?

        2) Where does he scientifically get the idea that Humans are always in heat? Always fertile is not necassarily always in heat and what if your character is a cold fish or can't function that way? I mean there are enough variables to warrant a role... also of course if the Rider knows his horse, maybe he would have noticed the uh difference.  However if you could explain the rule for it to those os us not having LOtR, when you said a horxe just like his horse, why did you not also become a stallion?

        3) Were you the only character who had to have "balance" added?  

        Creepy

        Sean
        ADGBoss
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        Balbinus
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        « Reply #11 on: May 20, 2003, 07:59:07 AM »

        Quote from: ADGBoss
        2) Where does he scientifically get the idea that Humans are always in heat? Always fertile is not necassarily always in heat and what if your character is a cold fish or can't function that way? I mean there are enough variables to warrant a role... also of course if the Rider knows his horse, maybe he would have noticed the uh difference.  However if you could explain the rule for it to those os us not having LOtR, when you said a horxe just like his horse, why did you not also become a stallion?


        This I suspect is a side issue.  I would guess that Ron is right and that the guy would have said "it's realistic" or made up some lame excuse.

        I also agree with Ron that this is most likely a story control issue, albeit here a story control issue that may have inadvertently flushed out some other problems present in the group.
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        AKA max
        Liz
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        « Reply #12 on: May 20, 2003, 09:17:11 AM »

        I was there too and this is my take on it:

        Before this happened, some of us had been making tacky "I mount you... hahahaha" jokes.  Which was funny at first but may have also gone over the line, because we kept doing it in a kind of escalating series of obnoxious one-upmanship.  This probably contributed to the line-crossing of the GM, who frankly doesn't seem like he hangs around very many women, and was thinking "Hey, look, a girl who jokes about sex, how freeing, now I can say anything!"  But because I laugh at an elf/dwarf slash porn joke does that that mean it's open season, let's rape the female PC ?  I think not...

        When the GM tried to apply this "you're in heat" rule, most of us were saying "That's so wrong!" and shaking their heads. I said flat out that it was stupid.   Actually I also sarcastically suggested that Gudrid keep track of her period, and that as a human she would be fertile around 14 days before the start of her period, and maybe her animal forms could be in heat then.  This was ignored, and I dropped it.

        <rant>However if I hadn't shut my mouth I would have added that I'd only accept "being on the rag" and "heat" simulation rules if teenage male characters had to roll every 5 minutes for "distracting and embarrassing erection" and in combat all male chars had to check each round for whether they're completely incapacitated by being kicked in the balls or not. </rant>

        I was somewhat ticked off by this incident, but I realize if I had been playing Gudrid, I would have been absolutely over the edge furious.  I have to think about that a bit and post later.  But yeah, this is part of why I don't play female characters. The constant gender stereotyping or even the joking about stereotypes and sex become very wearying.

        As far as game books go, I have had much better experiences playing in people's homebrew systems, and in fantasy worlds where sexism is not so bad as it is in our real world, or where it's at least different.  I get enough of irritating patriarchy in real life.  Sometimes I want to play with gender issues in games, but when that becomes just as frustrating as it is in RL, it's not fun.
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        Ron Edwards
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        « Reply #13 on: May 20, 2003, 09:25:10 AM »

        Hello,

        Hi Liz, welcome to the Forge!

        This issue is so central to role-playing in my experience that I decided to frame an entire supplement for Sorcerer around it. This is kind of a roundabout set of links references, but at my Sex & Sorcery news update at the Sorcerer website, I list a bunch of Forge discussions about the new supplement's contents under development, and in them are linked some more general discussions. So my apologies for the weird mulberry-bush approach to links citations, but I'm presenting them 'cause John's & Liz's situation, as presented in this thread, is exactly why I wrote this supplement in the first place.

        Best,
        Ron
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        John Kim
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        « Reply #14 on: May 20, 2003, 10:39:09 AM »

        Quote from: Balbinus
          This isn't a system problem IMO, nor with all due respect to Jared's peculiar obsession with the subject is it a problem with people playing PCs of the opposite gender, the problem is a GM who appears to have issues with women and issues with characters not behaving as he wishes them to.

        Out of interest, were the other problems in the game compatible with the theory that the GM was uncomfortable with player creativity outside the bounds of his scenario?  

        About system -- I completely agree that this isn't a system problem.  However, this is a game design forum and I wanted somewhere to take the conversation other than just shrugging and saying "Dude, your GM's got issues."  

        Regarding the other problems, the short answer is yes.  At least originally, I think the GM was nominally following the advice of the LotR book.  He had a series of chapters, and each chapter has a primary goal and a secondary goal.  XP is determined by how well we accomplish those goals.  He seems to make a genuine effort not to force the PCs to do things.  However, as we stray further from the chapter, he does get more uncomfortable.  

        Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon
          I'm going to admit I've gotten spoiled by the cross-table communication at my games. Still - why didn't you just ask the GM, "Hey - take a break for a minute. This scene is seeming strange and uncomfortable to me, and I was wondering why you're taking it in this direction."

        If you can't do that, it seems like a bigger problem than this GM's particular sexual hang-ups. (I'm not saying it's your problem, by the way. Would this GM have responded well to that?)

        Well, it's not like I was horribly shocked at this -- and it wasn't an impossible problem for my PC to deal with.  But it certainly was strange.  As I said, I don't have a problem with sexual elements or sexual attentions in general, so I couldn't point to a specific line that was crossed.  We had all been laughing uproariously over Jim's puns about riding.  (Mock comment to Grimbeorn: "I'm really sore from riding your niece all day".) Also, as a player, it takes a pretty major break for me to drop out-of-character.  For example, one of my peculiarities is that I will signal "time out" (a T with my hands) when I speak out-of-character.  

        If I had brought it up, I think we could have agreed to just skip over it.  

        Quote from: jrs
         I'm not sure how game design could specifically prevent this from happening.  I mean, do you need rules to say that it might not be a good idea for the GM to tell a player that his character has an erection and will not be able to concentrate on anything else until he deals with it?  

        Well, no, obviously.  As I noted before, I brought up system mainly to have some sort of constructive take on this.  That said, isn't this the whole argument of Ron's "System Matters"?  Sure, a good GM can avoid railroading, and have a morally-interesting theme, and so forth.  I guess I would say that ignoring sex and gender in the rules is like ignoring story in the rules.  Yes, a good GM can still have good stories in his D&D game even though there is nothing in the system about it.  But system is an influence, even if the specific case isn't ruled out.  

        Quote from: ADGBoss
        I would ask three questions:
        1) Does he do this to other players ie does he treat the female player badly in gerneral or just female PCs?
        2) Where does he scientifically get the idea that Humans are always in heat? [...]
        3) Were you the only character who had to have "balance" added?

        A1: I don't want to dump on the GM too much here.  This was a particularly notable case which was why I brought it up, but he is not constantly doing stuff of this scale.  I am still playing in the game, after all.  That said, Liz did feel that when she joined, she was treated as just my SO, and not a "real gamer".  
        A2: I have no idea.  
        A3: At this point, yes.  We have discussed some other house rules but they haven't yet been implemented.  Now, admittedly, I think everyone in the game thought it was a mistake when I noted that Mastery of Shapes let Gudrid turn into *any* bird or beast as a starting PC.  For example, that 2-pick spell would have allowed Gandalf to fly off of Orthanc.  But he did go further than my suggestion of three shapes to only two.
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        - John
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