I’ve a tendency for humility, so this post is prompted more by Jonathan G. Nelson (over at AAW Games) than anything else—if someone with a disposition as sunny as his is telling me to explain what the Vestraadi are really about, I should do so, right?
I’ve known Phil since I was a tween, and back in high school (for him that is—so the Stone Age) he was friends with my mom and my uncle Jimmy. He owns Game Masters, which has been my go-to spot for gaming for coming up on two decades (augh!? AM I AGING?!).
When I was a kid he could spot you (and yell at you) for browsing a book as if his store were a library or if you were otherwise being mischievous, though at this point his visual impairment is taking its toll. He’s not completely devoid of sight just yet, but he can only listen to movies these days (which he does often).
To be perfectly honest if I were Phil I’d be totally dejected, collecting a check and just cashing out, but that’s not what he does. He goes to work six days a week, he takes care of his wonderful daughter, and he and his wife make Game Masters function (and THANK YOU TWO FOR THAT IT HAD A PROFOUND EFFECT ON ME).
Phil also, obviously, plays a ton of card, board, and tabletop games. It’s really touching to see somebody as dedicated to the hobby as he is, and he is often an inspiration for me to get my guff up and go to work.
BLINDNESS IN ROLEPLAYING GAMES
Despite his lack of sight, Phil is much like other game store owners and unfortunately his visual impairment does not stop him from going on long, drawn out tangents about gaming.
Please don’t misunderstand—I deeply value our conversations and Phil has a vast, tactical knowledge of the RPG industry that I frequently tap into—but the man can go on, and on, and on about the 4th ed D&D bubble burst, the 3E splat bloat, what about GURPS is lacking, and a host of other topics (most of which I bet I haven’t even heard yet).
One of his BIGGEST GRIPES is blindness in RPGs.
I can get that, but he’s expounded on it quite a few times so it’s been strongly reinforced that for whatever reason (I’ve argued for simplicity many times but he reckons there are more) every blind thing in an RPG is built like Daredevil, and that most of the time it’s better to be a blind character because they functionally perceive the world (ie: combat grid, map, etc.) better than regular characters—not like it is in real life.
After the umpteenth time he went on to that effect, I suggested that we make one of the Underworld races I was building for AdventureAWeek.com a blind one.
Which brings us to:
Actually building sonar—creating a truly realistic portrayal of what it’s like to be deprived of sight, translated into a tabletop RPG—was not a simple process. That blind son-of-a-bitch had me walking around blindfolded for a good hour the one day and I banged the hell out of me knee, but with his directions, I started to get a real appreciation of how Phil sees the world.
All of the sonar rules for vestraadi reflect that.
It’s mostly about motion. That thing about your senses getting heightened is a bit exaggerated but there’s a ring of truth to it as well, and I got a good idea on how he does it (hearing how sound and the wind plays off of things and then creating an understanding of how much distance there is based on echoes, though that doesn’t really do it justice). When stuff starts moving about (even as simple as swaying) is when things get more difficult.
But you can find out more about that after you download your copy or order a print of Underworld Races: Vestraadi!