Survival of the Able is a new game on Kickstarter that puts disabled characters front and center. We were able to sit down with the creator, Jacob Wood to discuss the game, it’s inspiration, and how disability plays a key role in the setting.
“In Survival of the Able you’re a person with a disability living in a European almshouse when the Black Death arrives. Little is known about where the plague originated or how to stop it, but those who die from it are rising again—and they’re hungry for flesh. Since everyone else has succumbed to the plague, it’s up to a handful of you to make your way out of town and away to safety. You may not be the biggest, the strongest, or the fittest, but you’re determined to survive.”
When we started The Redacted Files and the idea that I would become a regular player in a variety of games including Call of Cthulhu, D20 Modern and Numenera first started to materialize, a big question in my mind was how I would be able to roll dice. From listening to other actual play podcasts wrestle with large dice pool games, I’d heard about dice roller apps, and figured that would be the natural, and exclusive, tool I would be using if I wanted that function to stay in my hands. But that was way back in the Naïve days of 2014, when people were still figuring out a lot of what makes gaming as vibrant and dynamic as it is today: including the wonders of 3D printing.
When working to make the tabletop experience more accessible for someone with a visual impairment, some obstacles might be more prominent than others. For instance, many people gravitate towards that repository of essential information, the character sheet: but a bigger problem arises when you dig a little deeper and realize many of the items on such a sheet are inherently mutable. Since so many of them are subject to change, even an accessible version, such as one printed out in Braille or large print may not fully duplicate the experience. This is a problem Megan and I have given some thought to over the years and what follows are some of the suggestions we’ve worked out.
First, a discussion of making character sheets accessible will probably help ground this conversation. For most of the time I’ve been gaming, Megan and I have prepared plain text character sheets for any visually impaired players who might be joining our groups. This offers the most versatile accommodation as it can then be accessed by desktop or mobile screen reader or magnifier, or output to a Braille display. If the facilities are available, it’s also usually the easiest starting point for creating a Braille document suitable for printing using a Braille embosser or using enlarged font. So, in essence, we can make the sheet bigger, talk, or tactile. The problem once again is that once play begins, the values on the sheet aren’t likely to remain static for long.
Assistive technology is an amazing thing. I used to tell friends that for a large part of human history, careers for the blind were restricted to beggar, musician or soothsayer. That’s a fair bit of hyperbole, but by and large a wide swath of everyday occupations and leisurely pursuits were entirely closed off to people with even a minor visual impairment. But then came one leap forward after another in the world of computing and soon software existed that could read printed text aloud, turn computer output into spoken feedback and provide access to information in a coherent and digestible form. I graduated from law school in the top 5% of my class, record and produce a podcast enjoyed by literally dozens of people and make a nuisance of myself on social media just like anyone else. We truly live in a golden age. On Global Accessibility Awareness Day, I thought it would be useful to describe some of the tools I use to (effectively) run tabletop role-playing games online and in person as part of TRF. Continue reading How a Blind Gamer Runs Games
One of the principal selling points for the Cypher System is the ease with which a GM can pick it up and be running epic games of action, intrigue and suspense in just minutes. The thing is, that many of the steps that Monte Cook Games took to achieve this happens to make the game a dream to run as someone with a visual impairment.
Distances in the Cypher System are abstracted to immediate (within arms reach), short (10 to 50 feet), long (50 to 100 feet), and beyond 100 feet. This means that out of the box, the system doesn’t rely on movement grids, map squares or require you to establish ranges. Moreover, line-of-sight and other conditions are defined solely by the narrative. This means that with an imaginative group of players involved in the story the GM is telling, combat can move smoothly without having to manipulate miniatures or tokens as part of the core experience.
Simplified Bonuses and Penalties
My Cavalier in Pathfinder often has bonuses to his attack roll from his strength, the weapon he wields, abilities he and other party members are using, and circumstances of combat: so he can have a +9 to to a d20 roll as a level 3 character. The Cypher System’s measure of difficulty, in steps ranging from 0 to 10 with training, assets and circumstances decreasing the difficulty by steps, and bonuses only ever adding 1 or 2 to a roll makes managing the math at the table a trifling concern. I grew up having to manage complex equations in my head, but I’m glad that when I’m telling players what to roll, I don’t have to with the Cypher System.
The GM DOES NOT Roll:
Accessible dice rolling apps and random number generators aren’t that hard to find, and there are now even Braille dice on the market, but what requires even less time- not having to roll at all. The GM sets targets for the players to roll against, and when non-player characters enter combat against one another, players are designated to roll for them. It’s an elegant distribution of responsibilities that keeps the story flowing nicely while preserving the gaming aspect of the experience for the players.
All of this makes running The Strange for the podcast a breeze. I’m still what I’d consider a novice player, let alone a GM, so I think I’m still prone to making simple mistakes. But the consequences to the experience for the players I think have been far less than they could have been thanks to the features of the Cypher System. Blind or otherwise, if you’re interested in making the jump from running a character to running a game, I’d urge you to consider Numenèra or The Strange as terrifically accessible starting points, in more ways than one.