Tabletop Handouts: Alternate Histories from Waking the Dead

October is #RPGSEA month! Roleplayers from the Philippines, Malaysia, and Singapore are coming together to share articles that put us on the map of the tabletop RPG scene. We’re loud, we’re proud, and we’re out to spread the love for our hobby. Tabletop roleplaying games are for everyone!

Girls Got Game will be sharing posts that we see from our friends in other countries on our FB Page. Make sure to check them out! If you want to participate, go right ahead: we’d love to see what you’ve got in store for us.


My current #1 fandom isn’t a movie, a TV series, a comic or a book. It’s a tabletop universe, and it’s called “Waking the Dead”.

A few years back, I was at my best friend’s birthday party when someone at the table asked: “Why isn’t Noey in the game with us?” I asked what they meant by “game”. Pam then explained that she was running a tabletop campaign; it was set in the Philippines, and I was more than welcome to join. The system she was using was New World of Darkness, which was more narrative-inclined compared to what I peripherally knew of D&D. It’s genre of choice was also urban fantasy/horror.

It didn’t take much to get me to decide that I definitely wanted to give it a go; I just wasn’t sure if I could commit full-time.

Up until that point, my roleplaying experience was purely online, and largely in the Livejournal and Dreamwidth circles. The idea of doing improv acting in the company of people I’d only met at that party was a little intimidating. But since I’d known Pam for years and everyone was genuinely game, I figured: why not?

My first character was named Cisco Montelibano. She was a half-Ilonggo, half-Italian contemporary dancer who fell into Waking the Dead (WtD, for short) in the campaign’s equivalent of Season 3. Since I was new to tabletop, I decided to go with a character who could explore the world like a n00b would. In hindsight, my first session should have clued me in that I was going to get hooked for life.

Saturday Gaming became a mainstay in my weekly schedule.

In much the same way as you’d follow a series that sinks it’s teeth into you, I looked forward to those sessions and found myself invested in the way everything – and everyone – fit. My character was running around in the familiar streets and spaces of a country I call home; alongside characters who weren’t half-assed caricatures and overdone archetypes that often populate mainstream Philippine media.

As a roleplayer, I hadn’t realized how much that would mean to me; playing in a setting that didn’t feel like a whitewashed world or a pale attempt at generalizing my locale. And since I’m an unapologetic fangirl of the things I enjoy, I took the initiative to eventually document as much of the table as I could. With WtD 1.0 it was a playlist. For WtD 2.0 – a 50 Years Later continuation of the first campaign – I started recording our sessions on my phone. I also wrote the odd, unfinished fanfic; and because I can’t do art for shit – I made picsets.

tabletop handouts Waking the Dead
Yes, we’re a CW show on an HBO Original Series budget, featuring local and international stars. This is a wallpaper I made for Waking the Dead’s 2.0 run. This is the iteration where I first played Joshua LaRue, my Sin-Eater.

 

Waking the Dead has since grown into something more than the mixed Hunter: the Vigil campaign that Pam first invited me to.

In a lot of ways, it’s darker and the stakes are higher. And while we’re still mostly playing using the nWoD/Chronicles of Darkness systems, Pam’s developing it as a totally different animal altogether. She’s done some heavy-lifting in terms of research and world-building; she’s also incorporated parts of other systems to make things like combat more fluid. Her Homebrew classes (like Cards, which is based off the Persona series) are also templates we actively use. Then there are the characters I’ve known since the first iteration. They’ve also changed, grown up, or have been integrated in different ways.

As a result, Waking the Dead: Drop the Game feels familiar, while also being markedly different from the one I was introduced to. The new set-up appeals greatly to the alternate histories genre fan in me, because I’ve seen that done for other locales, but very rarely for my own turf.

Then a few months ago, Pam showed me the prototype of a fictional TIME article that she wanted to write as part of the universe’s lore.

And in true bad fangirl fashion, I decided that I needed to up my game.

tabletop handouts Waking the Dead
No, you’re not seeing things. That does say 61 slides.

 

Working on this project was admittedly a chance for me to revisit being in a favorite character’s shoes.

Only this time, the medium was a Powerpoint file, and not the table itself. My challenge: images I couldn’t draw, points in history that I had to recreate visually for Pam’s text; in a document that (on my honor) had to look totally legit.

Joshua LaRue was the second character I built after Cisco. As a creator, I love my babies in equal measure; but I do admit that there’s a special place in my heart for this one. Pam’s decision to involve me in the process of adjusting Josh is also something I’ll always feel thankful for. Because I actually don’t know when I’ll be able to play him at the table again.

Print magazines have a particular aesthetic – particularly when they’re iconic ones like TIME.

We might not think about this very much when we consume media, but when you’re replicating the feel of them, it all comes down to the details. While scouring through the internet for a design case study on how TIME does its layouts, I learned that it’s photographs and the way TIME chooses to highlight them that really contextualizes the writing. Where Pam was writing as Cody Verges, the author of the article, I had to start thinking the way Naomi, Cody’s photographer, would have documented the sessions. That effectively charged me with picturing how Josh would move, when he’d be good with being photographed, if he allowed photographs at all.

My main inspirations while executing this were a set of images by artist Phil Noto, featuring some familiar comic heroes. I also took notes from the Pacific Rim: Monsters and Machines artbook, because sometimes, it’s about everything else around the character that gets you thinking in 3D.

Obviously, I didn’t want to end up photo-manipulating everything. I knew that I would have to, eventually. But I wanted to save those “photographs’ for when they seemed the most logical – and the most significant.

This was an opportunity to visually craft the world that Josh existed in. After all, not everyone who comes into WtD will be familiar with the odds and ends of Pam’s universe. I threw in references where I could: ads that alluded to NPCs; nods to canon World of Darkness lore incorporated to fit the story. In some cases, I repurposed actual, existing ads as subtle references to how history is different in this version of 2012. There was enough to play with, given that Pam’s world is just that expansive.

 

That said, I didn’t expect to do a crash review of my Philippine history while working on this.

Martial Law and the years leading up to it is a period that’s polarizing and one that is difficult to talk about. Narratives – fictional or otherwise – do not get told. While these narratives exist, their distribution is limited and controlled. Audiences often have to seek them out, not the other way around.

Learning about history should be our right. But just because it should be that way, doesn’t mean that it is. The very real problem of fake news aside, I’m glad that we live in an age when information is usually at one’s fingertips. Because now, we can digitize and democratize access to texts. This naturally assumes that records are available, so I’ll go off topic for a bit in order frame the process by which I handled this section.

We Filipinos are really bad at talking about our history.

You’re lucky if your roots are deep enough. If you have family who can talk about things as far back as Martial Law; or further still from World War II. But if all you have to go on is what you pick up from school and the textbooks they prescribe, history tends to be (a) sanitized, (b) skewed according to interest groups, or (c) glossed over completely.

We’re big on memorizing dates and facts, but we never get a holistic picture. We don’t get the stories that make these dates and facts more than numbers and trivia; or which flag pattern was used at what time and by whom.

It’s even more distressing when you step outside of Manila. Because the way most people talk in this country, you’d think that the capital sums up an entire archipelago. I didn’t, for instance, learn about the impact of Martial Law on my family’s home province, Negros, until fairly recently. What I did learn are fragmented. Stories from friends’ families, who recount it so that they don’t forget.

We’re also really bad at framing our own country’s history in reference to the rest of the world.

It’s almost like we’re talking about two completely different planets: the Philippines vs. everywhere else.

But history doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And I’m tired of feeling like the the only time we ever decide to talk about how we’re connected to the rest of Planet Earth, is when we want to rail about how badly we’ve been wronged; or because it’s convenient enough and attractive enough for us to “proudly” shout #PinoyPride.

It’s laughable… and more than a little depressing. Google search and Wikipedia are nebulous spaces where information can change – but these are what serve as the “impartial” catalogs for facts and events.

But where else am I going to look? I can’t, in good faith, trust our textbooks. Not when censorship erases so much.

tabletop handouts
Looking for photos to fit pro-looking handouts can be a bitch. Background is a screen capture from the Road to Ultra MANILA recap video from 2015. I’ve rarely seen shots like this from local media.

My biggest takeaway from participating in Waking the Dead’s playgroup since 2013, is that roleplaying in familiar settings like my country are important.

There’s a paragraph from an article in Tor by Whitney Strix Beltrán that resonates a lot with me: as a gamer, as a person of color – and most importantly – as a girl.

Defaultism is the idea that we fall back on the status quo when something is not defined. We go with what is most familiar and “normal”. White Americans are a little over two-thirds of the population, but the vast majority of our media is dominated by this demographic, not just in games, but movies, TVs shows, and books. Because of the primacy of white characters in media, if a character is not explicitly stated to be of a different race they are often assumed to be white. Similar problems arise with gender expectations and sexual orientation. Women are commonly typecast as secondary characters, like the love interest, or the victim, while queer characters are rarely seen, or used only as comic relief. Most gamers unconsciously gravitate to the straight white male as our hero, our role model, and the baseline for play.

There’s a lot for me to unpack about my frustration with local mainstream media.

The most obvious one is the portrayal of women, which is rife with gender coding and tropes that are overdone, overused, and oversaturated. I don’t feel for them. I don’t see even a bit of myself in them. And it’s because I know that the kind of representation I’m looking for, I don’t get.

Then there’s also how I’ve spent most of my life frustrated at the hypocrisy of how we market our country as a land of diverse people. 7,107 islands! A melting pot of cultures! But when I turn on the TV or see the latest trailer for whatever movie they have out, it’s the same formulaic storylines rehashed and repackaged from as far back as 20 years ago.

There are some really damaging stereotypes: Mindanao is full of terrorists and Muslims. Visayans are loud, crass and are always portrayed as household help. Foreign minorities and LGBT are reduced to default assumptions that don’t give them room to breathe.

This is what reaches audiences the most. And I’m really tired of it.

I’m thankful that my playgroup shares similar sentiments. I’m grateful that at least, whenever we play, we make room to explore characters that make us care. And when we explore the map of our country and add to our Storyteller’s lore, we come up with memorable characters to whom we can relate.

It’s a great way to appreciate spaces that we can own. It’s even better when opportunities open up for us to share them with others.

So without further ado, here’s the TIME article from Waking the Dead: Drop the Game for your reading pleasure. We’ve embedded it so you can browse it at your leisure, but feel free to download the file as well.

 


Girls Got Game would also love to feature your homebrews (and handouts) for any tabletop system. Feel free to contact us if you want to strut your stuff. Leave us messages in the comments, we’d love to hear what you think!

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Noey Pico
Audioromantic, geek and gamer. Currently a contributing editor to both Girls Got Game and What's A Geek, while occasionally moonlighting as fictional characters online. Flails a lot. A LOT.

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