Battle Brothers Hits Early Access

So uh, yeah, breaking my 5 minute vow of silence to explain this whole thing out. It’s my interpretation, but I’ll try to support it with reasonably objective definitions and interpretation where possible.

From The Free Dictionary:

bringing (someone) to heel: To force someone to obey one’s wishes or commands; to make someone act in accordance with one’s authority.

The figurative interpretation of bringing someone to heel, especially in this medieval context is to get them under your control, doing what you want them to do. It comes from what I described earlier, commanding a dog to your heel.

This term transfers commanding a dog to come close behind its master to similar control over human beings or affairs.

Discarding the awkwardness, or indeed, physical impossibility of the interaction, the allusion the writer was conjuring compares your bro’s dominance over this woman to a master commanding a dog. There’s an obvious power disparity between humans and dogs, both physical and intellectual. So it’s implied this woman is weaker and dumber than our bro, and there are even subtle sexual connotations if applied in certain situations (and this obviously was one). This vignette married, literally and figuratively, your bro bringing a woman to their heel. Both meanings were present and intended.

Of course, the sexual connotation is immediately made explicit, because what use is power over women if you can’t have sex with them? So of course, they have sex after he brings her to heel like a dog. To top it off, they have a joke at her expense, to throw in a little slut-shaming shit cherry on top of the shit sundae.

The “easily impressed” line directly insults the woman’s discernment. The implication is that all it takes for this woman to sleep with a man is an effortless act of physical dominance. She’s so naive and feckless as to sleep with any guy who walks into town and does even the slightest interesting thing. Further, this fact should be pointed out and mocked.

To be clear, I’m not offended by the writing. As someone, who, I don’t know, doesn’t hate women and treats them with respect, I’m repulsed by it. To me it indicates a diseased mindset: someone imbittered by past experiences, able to paint an entire gender with a overbroad brush.

To answer your questions, I’m less disgusted by what specific acts were performed and more how they were described. If the writer alludes to slavery to describe a guy catching catching a woman as she falls down the stairs, he’s managed to turn an innocuous act into a horrific one.

Dude used some really base imagery in this event and others when he absolutely didn’t have to. He didn’t have to compare the woman to a dog. He didn’t have to mock her after. But of course he did, because he’s human garbage.

When @strategy says the writing drips with misogyny, this is what he’s talking about.

I’ll admit that I was sort of fishing for this response. That is probably the key bit. You look at it very figuratively. I tend to look at it much more literally. I’ve never had any desire to change your mind on the writing. I more or less agree with it but only on an academic level. When I read the text that isn’t what I think of. In the end I’m interested in that difference in perception partially because I think many of the people who have a very figurative perception assume that the more literal or detail people are being willfully dense.

Cool. Glad I wrote all that up to satisfy your curiosity.

I am (unsarcastically) glad you did also!

We are sitting here in a virtual “Tom Chick’s living room” talking. You clearly think differently then I do about some things. I enjoy hearing about that.

On my 60th day I found a Brigand camp, defeated the leader and got TWO legendaries. Some armor it will take forever to be able to wear and a two handed axe.

I still think the game is brilliant. I’ve enjoyed the conversation once I said my little piece. I am angry at everything all the time these days, so I am attempting to not let that part of the game deter me from playing. It has not worked with so many other forms of entertainment once I find out something like this even if it seems minor.

EDIT: So I am just going to put these comments behind a spoiler tag rather than delete them. I don’t trust now that my memory is as good as I thought. I said something in passing to help describe how it is difficult to separate artists and their products at times and I don’t want my hearsay to color someone’s opinion when I could be confused. Don’t trust my memory like I used to.

Summary

Like everyone, I love the voiceover in Darkest Dungeon, but after reading some of that dude’s views on things, it is all I can think about when I try to play that game, which I had put a couple hundred hours into between the PC and iOS versions.

I’m a bit broken, though. :)

I’m up to ~50 days on my current run with whatever the northern raiders start is called. It’s an interesting start since you’re enemies with the houses in the north and first thing have to try to get south to friendly settlements, but you’ve got three beefy starting bros once you’re there. Also interesting to be essentially cut off from half the settlements on the map pretty much permanently. I’m finally back north trying to fulfill my ambition to raid 4 caravans. That’s a fun thing I’ve never actually done before. Hoping if I just leave alone one of the two houses that hates me that they’ll eventually quit being hostile, so I’m just focusing on raiding the other house.

I should add, I’ve been reading the event text more than I ever had before, but thankfully have avoided the events spoken of above. Outside of the event about the guy that was fucking a melon, I’ve not run into anything too questionable this run.

I guess I’m similarly broken. I normally feel that I can separate art from the artist. And upthread I admitted that I chucked as the monument comment from the BB writer that I guess others feel is insensitive. But this thread has made me realize that since I didn’t buy the BB DLC during the first part of the pandemic (the last time I played BB) I’m definitely not going to buy it after seeing his Islamophobic comments.

Darkest Dungeon has been on my wishlist but the wishlist is long and so is my backlog. Even your undetailed comment is probably enough to push it into the oh well I never got to that one pile.

Just to be clear, as I remember, they were more conservative views with which I do not agree. I would not ascribe to him what we’ve discussed here. So, this could be more of a “me” thing. In fact, I as now I am doubting exactly what it was, I may edit that out of my comment, as I certainly don’t want to color someone’s view based on my now cranky old man, faulty memory.

Especially because Darkest Dungeon is an amazing game.

Fair enough. I’ll try to at least give it a shot although I’m afraid that it has fallen into the category of being eclipsed by newer things so I constantly pick up something else.

I saw this thread blow up a couple days ago and finally had time to catch up and read the wonderful discussion that took place. Just wanted to say it warmed the cockles of my heart.

I think the developers and those who stridently defend the developers actions (not anyone here, referring to some rather nasty Steam discussion threads) in regards to their representation of women and lack of both women and people of color for your “Bro” roster do Battle Brothers a disservice.

Now I’m not saying the representation needs to be some mundane, interchangeable skin or whatnot that I think Madmarcus was referring to (a bit) in terms of BB’s theme. The backgrounds of the “Bros” provide plenty of opportunity to either weave women or people of color into the game or, with perhaps just a smidge of creativity, create new backgrounds instead of spending time on some frankly redundant or useless backgrounds (I’m looking at you, Cripple! Although it is kind of cool if one you recruited as filler somehow sticks around long enough that he gains some levels and might even kill stuff. But why do we have a Daytaler and a Vagabond? A Eunuch and a Servant? A Peddler and Bowyer? Peddler at all really.)

For example:
Why couldn’t there be female barbarians? Call them Amazons if you want, or not if you want to save that for an expansion later.
Why can’t the “Refugee” background be just about anything?
The “Thief” doesn’t need to be male of course.
There is a “Tailor.” Why not a “Seamstress?”
There is a “Wildman” why not a “Wildwoman?” I wouldn’t want to fight either frankly.
I get that the “Witchhunter” is going to be a dude but a “Warlock…huntress” (I am not creative) could easily be a woman. Plus, then you could have Warlocks doing Witch roles sometimes (or make it more specific if you want to invest more resources).

For POC, maybe they could’ve dropped one or two of their redundant characters (do they really need a Miller or a Ratcatcher? Well the Ratcatcher comes with a net but so does the Fisherman) and craft a particular background of some kind of visiting noble (there are like 3 different nobles - Adventurous, Bastard, and Disowned). I mean, couldn’t one of them be a visiting African-equivalent prince/princess?

Again, if they wanted to they could make some of these characters hard to come across in the main Germanic area or even tied to special events. But what irks me is that instead of choosing to do something like this they instead chose to make “Pimp” a background (rare event based, but still!). They spent time and effort (that I appreciate) on making extending events that have the possibility of allowing you to gain some other rather rare backgrounds as part of your crew, like King’s Guard, Killer on the Run, Belly Dancer (how is this NOT a woman?) and Assassin (not to be confused with the more common Southern Assassin, introduced with Blazing Deserts DLC).

The developers cry poverty now with their time and resources and frankly I’m in no position to judge what they do with their time in regards to Battle Brothers. But there really is no reason they couldn’t have made inclusivity a part of their game from the get-go and frankly BB would have been better for it. Toggle or no toggle is fine with me if they implemented this now but I would imagine none of us who have played and enjoyed our time with BB would have found anything wrong with it had it some more inclusive aspects from the get go.

It seems like at this point it’s a pretty deliberate decision and nowhere on the radar (just watch them announce a Forest of the Amazons DLC lol) to just not have any women in the game other than the crass (putting it mildly, misogynistic to put it more accurately) story events where your Bros behave at their worst (generally, I mean, sometimes they murder kids so that’s pretty bad too). Ultimately, I think all of us are poorer for it and the community is the lesser for it, which is a damn shame.

A lot of the same arguments getting repeated here and all those ideas about female warriors are nice but as mentioned before their text engine isn’t as flexible as they would have wanted it to be in hindsight to properly introduce Battle Sisters. It’s the same reason why they can’t provide official translations in other languages (which would have increased their sales by an enormous amount, the developers and people here seriously underestimate this aspect). I think if they really could they would have done those things already. A harsh lesson for them but BB remains a debut game, what did people expect? These guys are challenging the likes of Firaxis and good old Sirtech on their own turf with limited means (they quit their day jobs during development) and have been learning on the go.

Can you replace such a contentious person of a writer in a whim and delete / replace all his work? No, that would have broken the base game as well (see that text engine again). It remains a shame of course but I don’t see as many controversial events as others seem to do, the majority remains balanced for what they are. I don’t know if they’re gonna keep working with that guy in the future but what I do know is that it would be a shame to miss out on those DLCs if you like the base game. You really feel they’re getting better at it.

And again, having the option to be a very ruthless mercenary feels awkward at times but that’s what most companies and medieval soldiers did in those days. They had to be paid and if no work was on the table then no-one in their vicinity was glad to see them roaming the land, period. You can’t soften up on that if historical warfare and building out a mercenary band are your main features. Having folklore and fantasy elements present in the game on top of a Germany-based medieval setting doesn’t mean the developers are obliged to crank down on the horrors that day-to-day folks had to endure. I’d say the game is even a bit too soft on that. Would have liked to see towns die out because of diseases and starvation based on your (in-)action. It could be more medieval I’d say.

As for folks following your warband in the game: Blazing Deserts introduced a Retinue mechanic. It’s limited (but then so is only being able to field 12-15 warriors in battles as well) and you need some achievements to unlock them but it’s well worked out for the most part. That includes some women (no whores).

They could fix the worst problems with the game in just a few hours.

Fixing / replacing text event files to make the game less degrading to women is straightforward. I’ve pulled apart their file structure. The text for events sits in individual Squirrel files. For the developer, replacing/tweaking the worst events is as simple as boiling water.

Localization for this game would be a huge project, I agree. Making it gender compatible would take some work, yes, but not on the same order of scale as localization. They’re not comparable tasks.

So, interesting timing for an email received about a board game I Kickstarted. The sequel to Gloomhaven, Frosthaven. For those who don’t know, it’s a ton of game in a big box and worth every penny if you like thinky RPG board games with a developing narrative. Anyway, I got an update on its development and they have hired a “cultural consultant” to address the issues of creating a world that they want to be inclusive while keeping the fantasy feel. The developer Isaac Childress sees this as monumentally important and is investing in it.

Granted, this is a completely different type of game, for a company whose first game was wildly successful and this sequel’s Kickstarter was also wildly successful. So financial considerations are different, but he describes how he did Gloomhaven and how he has made cultural consideration a priority in this one. Also, the debate as to whether BB is actually a fantasy world or not may muddy this comparison a bit. It’s lengthy and I’ll just put the whole thing in a spoiler tag as you may have zero interest as it is only tangentially related. I copied it from the email, so links and highlights mirror what Isaac included.

I don’t know as this conversation has evolved whether this belongs in a separate thread on the topic, but here’s the one snippet that kicks it off as a preview in case you’re interested.

But I may be getting ahead of myself. First of all, you may be thinking, “What does real-world cultural sensitivity have to do with a made-up fantasy world?” Well, back when I first sat down to create the world of Gloomhaven , my naïve self was right there with you . My general thought process was, “I am creating my own fantasy world completely divorced from reality, and so I can do whatever I want with the peoples in this world. There’s no risk of harming anyone, because it’s not real.”

This is a big problem , however, because nothing is created in a vacuum. Everything we do is stamped with our own biases and influences. And while the intent may be to not harm, our biases have a tendency to cause harm anyway .

Summary

Alright, so last month, we brought James Mendez Hodes onto the Frosthaven team to do cultural consultant work , which I could not be more pleased about. If you have the time, I’d highly recommend watching this Shelf Stories video or listening to this episode of Ludology he was in, where he explains the importance of cultural consultants.

In a nutshell , he is looking through all the narrative of Frosthaven and at all of the different cultures depicted within, and he is making sure everything is internally consistent and that it isn’t co-opting any real-world terms or ideas that may be harmful to players or any real-world cultures. It’s not just about pointing out problems, but also collaboratively coming up with solutions that expand and strengthen the narrative . It has been an enjoyable process that not only makes the game more ethical and welcoming to a wider audience, but also simply just makes it better .

But I may be getting ahead of myself. First of all, you may be thinking, “What does real-world cultural sensitivity have to do with a made-up fantasy world?” Well, back when I first sat down to create the world of Gloomhaven , my naïve self was right there with you . My general thought process was, “I am creating my own fantasy world completely divorced from reality, and so I can do whatever I want with the peoples in this world. There’s no risk of harming anyone, because it’s not real.”

This is a big problem , however, because nothing is created in a vacuum. Everything we do is stamped with our own biases and influences. And while the intent may be to not harm, our biases have a tendency to cause harm anyway .

If this is all sounding a little abstract, let’s talk about some specific ways in which I fell down on Gloomhaven . I think one of the most obvious ones is my use of the word “race”. “Race” has, of course, been used extensively throughout the fantasy genre as a way to group different peoples, to the point where it is just second nature. But when you stop and think about it, it really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense .

“Race” is generally not even a useful delineation of peoples in our reality. It is much more precise to classify someone’s culture or ethnicity. And even if we wanted to use the term in a fantasy reality in the same context that people in our reality mistakenly do, that doesn’t work either . The Savvas are sentient rocks given life by some mysterious divine force. They aren’t a different race from humans. I’m not even sure the words species or genus would do the trick.

And, yeah, sure, you can just go back to the mentality that it’s your fantasy world and you can do whatever you want. Maybe the word “race” has a different meaning in my fantasy reality, but the catch is that people in our reality are the ones playing and experiencing the game, and by using the term “race”, I am not only reinforcing this outdated way of delineating people, but I’m also reinforcing the idea that these delineations are so extreme – that the difference between a black person and a white person is as great as the difference between a squishy human and a pile of rocks.

And so, once I set up this idea of “races” in Gloomhaven , I took it one step further into a bad place by assigning personality and mental traits to these “races” in a blanket way, reinforcing the concept of broad racial stereotypes : “All Inox are proud and stubborn.” “All Quatryls are hard-working and helpful.” Yes, certain cultures or societies may see varying traits as virtues and foster them in their populations, but no culture is monolithic, and not all Valraths come from the same culture anyway. Not only does implying that reinforce harmful stereotypes in the real world, it’s also just bad world-building .

And I think this gets at the larger point. I could go on and on about all the things I did wrong. We didn’t even touch upon how the descriptions of some peoples in Gloomhaven , like the Inox and Quatryls, hew dangerously close to very harmful stereotypes of real-world cultures, because of, again, my own unconscious biases. But the point is that I need to fix them . Not only to stop real-world harm for players who may react negatively to such depictions, but also to just make the world-building stronger and more carefully thought-out for all players to enjoy .

Back when I was creating Gloomhaven , I was just blundering along, doing all the narrative myself. With Frosthaven , I have so many more resources and people willing to collaborate with me to improve the game in every conceivable way, so it was an obvious step to improve in this way as well. And like many other aspects of board game development, the process has turned out to be so much easier once I brought in a professional , I realized I really should have been doing this from the beginning.

And it’s important to note that this isn’t a compromise of anything . We don’t have to trade the quality of the story to make it less harmful. We can improve all things at the same time, so that this whole experience is just a win-win. There’s nothing to even change mechanically – it’s all narrative . And we can do it in parallel to all the other efforts we are also working on to finish up the game, so that improving the narrative won’t even delay production. All upside, no downside.

One other thing you may be asking is whether these changes to the story are going to cause Frosthaven to lose its edge. Whether it is going to soften the story in an attempt to please everyone, and that is not the case. You are still a group of hardened mercenaries trying to survive in a hostile environment. Hard choices will still have to be made , but I think “choice” is a key word here.

I’ve received plenty of negative feedback over the years about the ending of scenario 3 in Gloomhaven (rightfully so), and the problem there wasn’t necessarily that players were inflicting trauma on children (though that too wasn’t great either), but the main issue was that there wasn’t a real choice. The setup for the scenario did not do a good enough job of telegraphing what was to come so that players could opt out and go down the other path if they wanted.

If you look at the history of Frosthaven I wrote during the Kickstarter, you may notice the religiously fueled colonialism vibes running rampant through it. This itself isn’t an issue. This is how the main human nation behaves in this fantasy reality. But I’ve since become uncomfortable with how the story written in that update forces the player to opt in and become complicit in this behavior without choice . Some people may not be comfortable with that.

So we’ve shifted the story around so that Frosthaven is a separate entity that doesn’t want to, by default, take over by force a territory inhabited by other peoples. The story is still just as rich or richer than before, and certain individuals will still come in, recruiting you to advance the colonialist agendas of the capital, but now the player has agency in how the story plays out , which is always a good thing.

And since I’m kind of laying it all out on the table here, publicly recognizing that Gloomhaven did a lot of things wrong, I would also just like to take a moment to apologize to anyone who was harmed by my ignorance in crafting that story, and I want to thank all the people who have helped me realize my mistakes in the intervening years. We all make mistakes , and the important thing is to learn from them and do our best to reverse any harm that those mistakes cause . There’s more work to do in that regard, but I think making sure Frosthaven doesn’t repeat those mistakes, and talking about the process openly are good first steps.

And finally , I recognize there may be some small percentage of you that will be upset by these developments. You are more than welcome to your own opinions, but voicing those opinions in the comments in a combative, disruptive, or derogatory way is not okay. I would encourage you to simply reach out to [email protected] and request a full refund if you feel strongly enough about it. We’ve already done that for a couple people who didn’t think black lives matter, and we’d be happy to do it again for people who don’t think board games should be a safe space for everyone…

Wow, that’s both awesome and commendable. :)

Do you mean “to Medieval England,” or did he do another one? I searched Amazon but didn’t see a generic “Middle Ages” one. Anyway, that aside, the most mind boggling thing that I came across in that excellent book, and the only tidbit I can remember offhand years later, is that the median age in England during whatever segment of the middle ages the book covers was twenty one. Half of all people were younger than that! I believe I also recall a 16-year old general. No wonder the past was so fucked up.

I also just got this email (what a coincidence!). I thought about posting it in the Gloomhaven thread, and there’s a thread somewhere else that mentioned the consultant he’s bringing in, too. But in any event I’m glad he’s doing it.

I made the mistake of reading the comments on KS, and it really wasn’t all that bad. Maybe 80-90% positive, and the negative ones were basically what you’d expect.

Yeah, if this conversation had gone quiet for a few days, I wouldn’t have shared as it would have just bumped the thread for a topic that had run its course, but it seems at least marginally related.

And very clever imho.

Thanks for posting it.

Once again I find it personally interesting that my perception is very different from his. I end up in the same place thinking he made the absolutely right call but I see his statement about creating a fantasy world as odd (unless Gloomhaven was initially created long before we saw it). That seems like something hat has been understood for many years.

An interesting, to me at least, question isn’t something that the creation of Gloomhaven touches on but instead what should be thought about fiction created in a historical setting and where the line of historical is. To me BB feels historical. To borrow the subtitle from a different historical fiction (although a novel not a game) Bridge of Birds BB is a game of the ancient Germany that never was.

It was “Medieval England”, yes - managed to mangle the title. And generally speaking, I think it’s pretty good, apart from that little detail about castles - especially since there is no other supporting evidence. It’s just one of those annoying little things that makes you wonder what else he’s missed.