By Christopher Helton
Depending on whom you ask, Green Ronin's Blue Rose tabletop roleplaying game is the best…or the worst…thing to happen to roleplaying. Originally published 10 years ago, the idea behind Blue Rose was to do some things differently than with other fantasy roleplaying games. First off, it would be about different sorts of fantasy that informed the game. Instead of Tolkien or Howard as influences upon the setting, the designers and developers went instead towards the romantic fantasy of writers such as Mercedes Lackey or Diane Duane. The setting was also inclusive, with gay and lesbian characters in the forefront of the setting.
These things made the game "controversial" to some gamers, for many of the same reasons that we have seen "geek protests" over the last few years. People were upset that a game was being made that did not appeal to them directly. How dare Green Ronin do such a thing? In some ways the release of the first edition of Blue Rose was an early, angry shot of the "movement" within geek communities that would eventually bring us such hits as "fake geek girls," "cosplayers are ruining our conventions" and, of course, the biggest winner being GamerGate.
It is ironic that geeks, who have long triumphed their outsider quality and talked about how they would be different…they would not discriminate or exclude, would work so hard to exclude on the basis of things being different from what they liked.
This is a bit of a digression from talking about Blue Rose, however, but I think that a bit of background is needed to talk about why this game is not only important, but needed in the public space of tabletop game play and design. Green Ronin has a Kickstarter going to publish a second edition of the game.
The system for this new edition is different from the previous. Using a variant of Green Ronin's Fantasy AGE RPG (based off of their successful tabletop Dragon Age roleplaying game), the game itself is simple to use and easy to play. Where the first edition used a 20-sided die to do all the work, in the new Fantasy AGE rules, the commonplace six-sider is used instead. The Fantasy AGE system is a robust fantasy game that will be well-suited to playing in the lands of Blue Rose.
The setting is still the same romantic fantasy influenced setting that we got in the first edition, which is a great thing. Not being a big fan of the works of Tolkien, it was this different approach to fantasy that piqued my interest in the game those years ago. The developers and designers of the new edition have also said that they feel they can do a better job with representation of genders and identities than they did with the first edition, as everyone involved have learned from their experiences over the last decade. When Blue Rose came out, the idea of same sex marriage was a fantasy that you needed roleplaying games to explore in a lot of places in the real world. Now it is a reality.
Gaming needs more diversity in what it represents, from the genres that RPGs are about, to the people who are in all of the gaming groups scattered throughout the world. I have been lucky because I have always been able to play in fairly diverse groups, but we need more of that. We need to see more faces of all types at the gaming tables, and we need to hear more voices in the development and design of roleplaying games. Even if the games are not things that directly appeal to all of us as gamers, we still need to have these things made. Just like the young girls who are able to identify with the character of Kamala Khan, because she shares their skin color and struggles, so do we need to hear more voices of people of color and more gay, lesbian and transgender voices in the design space of tabletop RPGs. We need realistic portrayals of these people, and not just fetishistic portrayals of them.
Even if you don't think that Blue Rose is perfect in its portrayals (and, really, there is no perfect in these things, just people do the best that they can to do things right) and the voices that it lifts up, this is still the direction in which we want to move roleplaying games.
Whether you get involved in this Kickstarter because you loved the first edition of Blue Rose, and you want a game that calls to you in the way that game did, or if you get involved because supporting an inclusive roleplaying game pisses off the right sort of people, there really is no bad reason to support the Kickstarter. And…you get a great fantasy game in the deal too. There are only a few days left in the Kickstarter, so act soon. Otherwise you are going to have to wait for the game to hit the stores before you can find out what everyone else is talking about.
Christopher Helton is a blogger, podcaster and tabletop RPG publisher who talks about games and other forms of geekery at the long-running Dorkland! blog. He is also the co-publisher at the ENnie Award winning Battlefield Press, Inc. You can find him on Twitter at @dorkland and on G+ at https://plus.google.com/+ChristopherHelton/ where he will talk your ear off about gaming and comics. He also has a crowdfunding page to help offset costs of this summer's Gen Con coverage.