Since J. R. R. Tolkien’s 127th birthday was this past Thursday I thought I’d date myself by telling you all the ancient tale of how I first got into D&D. It started with Tolkien, though not because I’d read the books. When I was a kid, back when we had idiot boxes instead of smart TVs, I saw the televised Rankin/Bass animated films The Hobbit and The Return of the King, and also Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, and immediately became immersed in the Professor’s strange yet endearing world of high fantasy. Oddly enough, I wouldn’t end up reading Tolkien’s works until I was sixteen, but that’s a tale for another time.
In those days I was a short, scrawny, quiet kid with glasses and buck teeth, painfully shy, nerdy, and anxiety-prone. School was a special kind of hell for me. I got bullied and picked on a lot. I was very much an introvert; far more so than I am now. I lived mostly in my head, and from the time I could pick up a crayon I’d been drawing worlds and characters to inhabit them, telling myself stories about them–and later writing those stories. So once I’d been introduced to Tolkien’s Middle-earth through those films, my inner world became fiercely populated by hobbits, elves, dwarves, goblins, trolls, and the like.
Seeing how much I liked to draw, one day my mother bought me a sketchbook and a pack of magic markers in an array of colours. It was a step up from crayons, and I was in world-building heaven. I’d sit for hours on the floor of our living room mapping out underground tunnels teeming with goblins. The goblins were represented by dots not much bigger than a pinhead, but they were colour-coded. One shade of green indicated a foot-soldier, another a guard, another a warg-rider, and so on. I never tired of this.
In school my favourite subject became geography, but only due to my fascination with maps. The first day of class one year I sat next to a girl who would become my best friend in the sixth grade. We bonded over our fondness for all the multi-coloured maps in our geography book, which we were made to share due to a shortage of textbooks in our over-crowded classroom. It started with a made-up game in which we were rulers of the world. As in the board game Risk, the joys of which I had yet to discover, we chose which regions of the world would be our territories and then started marking things like military bases on the maps–yes, we desecrated a defenseless textbook. But it wasn’t long before we began drawing our own maps of worlds that had never existed until then.
Then there was this boy in our class who was the class clown, but also the biggest nerd. I eventually became friends with him as well, and would hang out with him at his house from time to time. We’d play Zork on his personal computer, and I would map our journey. But my first experience with anything D&D official was through the Advanced Dungeons and Dragons video game we’d play on his Intellivision. Like most kids back then I loved video games, but this one was different. As you explored that world, you could only see so far ahead; a bit of realism which I would learn many years later from playing Baldur’s Gate was known as the fog of war.
My second encounter with D&D wouldn’t come until the following year, when I attended middle school. My mother, who was on the PTA, got me into a nerdy school with only around two hundred students. But I was still too shy to make new friends and I was feeling pretty lonely, until one day after class as the lunch period began I noticed a group of other kids had stayed behind and started pushing desks together and arranging chairs around it, accompanied by an older kid I’d never seen before. So out of sheer curiosity I lingered, sitting in the back of the classroom, drawing in my sketchbook. And that was how I witnessed my first real D&D game.
I can still recall one of the Dungeon Master’s exchanges with his very green twelve-year-old players, who all had first level characters, after they had comically blundered through one of his dungeons without a light source (they kept falling down slopes and taking damage even before they’d encountered any monsters). Having come to a small room lit by torchlight, they spied a chest in one corner.
Player 1 (to the DM): What’s in the chest?
DM: Do you try and open it?
Player 1: Um…
Player 2 (to Player 1): Don’t, it might be trapped.
Player 1 (to the DM): Well… what might such a chest contain?
DM: You don’t know. You have no idea. It could be anything. It could be treasure or a pile of orc shit. You won’t know until you open it.
We all laughed, and as the game continued I felt emboldened enough to sit a little closer, where I was able to look on with fascination at all these strangely shaped many-sided dice, rulebooks, character sheets, and crudely drawn maps on graph paper. And then to my utter surprise and eternal delight, as everyone was leaving after the session was over, the Dungeon Master–an eighth grader and thus infinitely cooler than I was–kindly asked me if I would like to join next session. Of course I said yes! And so began a glorious lifelong adventure, and one I’m happy to say I’m still on to this day.
And I don’t mean they cover their horse with protective armour, though they may certainly do that as well. No, when I say that a bard bards I’m Englishing in a time-honoured manner, turning a noun into a verb because I damn well can.
But the truth is I haven’t been barding much lately, largely due to this Tumblr debacle which hath called me to the front in impatient defence of my fallen fellows (and aye, I consider “fellows” a gender neutral term), sith that it so hath rankled me and ruffled mine feathers and all that.
Even my Tumblr has a tendency to veer wildly off topic, though, an inclination perhaps induced by the very nature of the microblogging medium itself, if not mine own chaotic bent. But be that as it may, this blog is just getting started; ’tis a fresh field, free real estate, my new hearth and home wherein I may sit and rest from my journeys across time and space and bend thine ear a bit.
And yes, I will be dispensing bardic lore at some point. So whether thou art a bard thyself, in real life or just fantasy, or whether bards and their lore merely tickle thy fancy, welcome. I’ll also be blogging about pop culture and politics from time to time, and I have a penchant for filking as well.
Even if you don’t post or reblog porn or nude pics on Tumblr, you may have noticed that many (if not all) of your posts are getting flagged by the site’s idiotic bots, or even that you’ve been shadowbanned. But suppose for a moment that Tumblr’s algorithm or whatever it is really did work like it was supposed to. Why should you care about the NSFW ban if your blog is safe for work?
Well, for one thing, Tumblr has long been a safe space for LGBTIQA+ people to gather and support each other, many of whom are otherwise isolated, and particularly young people who are looking for others in the community to guide them when no one else can or will. As the user in the post I linked to above states, Tumblr was “home to a queer getaway in a politically regressive world full of censorship. This was where I gained extraordinary knowledge of Queer politics, inclusivity, and further strengthening my intersectional feminism. This isn’t just about porn. This is an act of violence against the queer community.” The ban is also harmful to women and feminists as it demonizes the female body, even insofar as to explicitly state that “female-presenting nipples” are verboten.
And it’s undeniably true that the ban has never really been about porn, for as we’ve all seen, the porn bots still exist. The bottom line is that those who own Tumblr now just want us gone. They don’t care about individual users and their idiosyncrasies, they don’t care about small and/or marginalized communities like ours, or fandoms, or artists and writers. What they care about is revenue and what they want are cash cows; users who can be marketed to because they have money to spend on their advertisers’ products.
It’s also not about protecting minors. While it may be true that Tumblr’s App was removed from Apple’s App Store because of some instances of pedophilic porn (I for one have never seen any of that on Tumblr and I’ve been using the site since 2010, but then I didn’t go looking for it in the first place), it would seem that the real impetus behind this ban is a new law known as FOSTA-SESTA (Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act/Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act), which basically puts the anus–oops! stupid autocorrect–onus on sites like Tumblr, Twitter, and Facebook to remove any proscribed content and also holds them responsible for said content if it is not removed.
Tumblr already had a way of flagging NSFW blogs in order to hide them from minors, and let’s face it, if a minor wants to view porn there’s really not much that can stop them from doing so, short of raising them on a desert island free of modern technology. But even if the ban really worked and wasn’t flagging things incorrectly (including, laughably, Tumblr staff’s own post about what would and wouldn’t be allowed on the site), who gets to decide really what is porn and what isn’t? Are artistic nudes porn? Should the works of Mapplethorpe be banned?
According to Tumblr staff, content that is still allowable includes “nudity related to political or newsworthy speech, and nudity found in art, specifically sculptures and illustrations.” While they admit that some of these may be mistakenly flagged they assure us that submitting false flags for review will result in a human being making the final determination as to whether the flag should be removed or not. But either there really isn’t a human reviewing them or that human believes that a picture of the statue of David, to use one notorious example, is pornographic. Either way they lied.
Even those who of you who don’t use Tumblr should be concerned about where this is all headed. Many of us who were around in the early days of the Internet remember when it was a vast network of thriving online communities, a haven of freedom of expression for writers, artists, and armchair philosophers; not the corporate money-making monster it has become today. And we’ve watched with sadness as that wonderful old World Wide Web slowly but surely disappears.
As one user put it, Tumblr “was (and is, at least for now) very much a part of the Old Internet, the internet of the early 2000s, where you had a space to be weird and experiment and play around however you want”. And if history is any indication, the likes of laws like FOSTA-SESTA will eventually lead to the strangulation of freedom of expression on every site, not just Tumblr.
In this house we respect women, including trans women, support LGBTIQA+ rights, and punch Nazis, so if you’re misogynistic, homophobic, transphobic, racist, fascist and/or a Nazi do yourself a favour and fuck off right now.
To the rest of you: Greetings. I am a Bard IRL, tend to favour Bards and Rogues in D&D (as a player, not a DM), and also in video games when such characters are available. I am a proud bisexual non-binary person and as such I have adopted the gender neutral pronouns they/them, but I don’t mind if someone refers to me as he/him or she/her. I’m also older than dirt so please forgive me if I accidentally misuse a neologism.
Raised a Christian, I became a Neopagan at age sixteen. In my twenties I hung out with a lot of Wiccans and Traditional Witches. I eventually became a Trad Witch and an Anglo-Saxon Heathen. I am a longtime member of Heathens Against Hate. While I am not anti-Christian, I decry the blatant hypocrisy of those who call themselves Christians whilst continuously preaching a “Gospel” of hate. And despite them, I am a Jesus fan.
Some of you may know me from my Tumblr or my Twitter. Given the recent changes to the former, which I will probably be writing about at length very soon, I was motivated to launch this WordPress blog. However, I had always intended to do so, I just tend to procrastinate.
I also tend to look on the bright side, so maybe one good thing to come out of the whole Tumblr debacle is that I finally got up off my ass and did this.
At any rate, welcome to the new blog. I look forward to showering you all with effulgent wisdom and of course, bardic lore. 😉