10+ Alternatives to Dungeons & Dragons

There’s been a lot of hubbub recently surrounding Wizards of the Coast’s updated Open Gaming License, and while it appears that the worst of OGL 1.1 has been rolled back in iteration 1.2, trust has been broken and many fans remain wary at best and riotously upset at worst. With anxieties swirling it really does seem like a good time to be exploring other systems, which is always fun, but feels extra relevant at the moment.

Let’s start with Powered by the Apocalypse, which is a framework for games that have been built using core elements of the game Apocalypse World, among others. There are many, many PbtA games out there that will speak to a variety of interests. Like D&D, you play to specific classes, here called playbooks, and your selected playbook page also doubles as your character sheet. Unlike D&D, you’re rolling with two d6s instead of the full complement of d4 to d20. The three games I’m most familiar with are:

  1. The Veil, a cyberpunk world where life has become filtered through a digital “veil,” think constant VR overlay/Google glasses. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing it with a group of friends. I talk a bit about my character building process in my post on Jewish roleplaying games. 
  2. Monster of the Week is about well, hunting monsters. It’s based on the style of the episodic monster hunt common in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the early seasons of Supernatural. A really fantastic actual play run of Monster of the Week is season two of The Adventure Zone. 
  3. Urban Shadows is an urban fantasy game steeped in supernatural politics. It’s got vampires, werewolves, angels, ghosts and more living as rival/coexisting factions. This was the system used for The Adventure Zone mini campaign Dust. 

 A common thread of PbtA games is that they are incredibly versatile when it comes to personalizing both the world and your individual characters. For example, in Monster of the Week it is on the players to set up the final encounter with the monsters, and in The Veil there’s a move you can use to create an NPC that your character knows—of the course the quality of your role dictates how well that relationship is going. 

Next up is Blades in the Dark. This game is Victorian-esque gothic with lots of crime and seedy underbellies. Or at least, that’s the world that Blades sets up for you—The Adventure Zone’s ongoing campaign, Steeplechase, puts the Blades system to use in a much more futuristic criminal environment. While I’ve never played Blades, I’ve really been enjoying the play style presented in Steeplechase and it prompted me to pick up a copy of the game for myself. I’m particularly interested the stress/trauma mechanic, wherein if you fill up your stress meter you’re levied with a trauma that sticks with your character. It’s very cool.

A game I have played, many times in fact, is The Quiet Year. It’s a communal map-making game, where you create and act as community over the course of a year, answering prompts on a deck of cards. I know that both Friends at the Table and The Adventure Zone: Ethersea have used The Quiet Year to develop cities/towns that larger campaigns take place in. While you aren’t supposed to have individual characters, some friends and I (a different group than the Veil group) have taken to playing The Quiet Year with preset casts, which allows for a different and new set of dynamics to emerge than might come out in a typical game. The first one we did we used a selection of crew and officers from the Franklin Expedition and our current game is based on the Donner Party. 

Another staple of the role playing game world is the one-page rpg. They are everywhere and about everything, and they range from serious to silly, though the ones on my radar veer silly, like Honey Heist, where you play as bears trying to steal honey, or Dadlands, a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is a dad. Some other great one-page rpgs in my collection are:

  1. Lasers & Feelings, space exploration at its finest. You can check out The Adventure Zone: Hootenanny for an actual play experience. 
  2. On the Path, a Witcher-inspired hack of Honey Heist. Your stats are “Hmm” and “Fuck.”
  3. Escape from Triassic Park, You are a genetically re-engineered dinosaur. What will you do?
  4. Potato, you are a halfling trying to tend to your potatoes, but things just keep happening. 

Some other short games, but not quite one page short, are things like Northwest Passage, a Tunnel Goons hack; The Warmest Place to Hide, a The Thing-inspired game based on Caltrops Core, a d4-based system; and Lilliputian: Adventure on the Open Seas, which has a single page with all the rules amidst a more expansive zine about running an ocean adventure. 

Lastly, it’s…. Monty Python’s Cocurricular Mediaeval Reenactment Programme. You can strewth (nat max)! You can spam (nat 1)! You can meet your favorite Flying Circus personalities! You get to roll with exciting, nontraditional dice, such as the d14, d16, d18 and d30!

While the rulebook isn’t out yet, there is a quick start demo available for free from the publisher, which I used to run a game for my family over the holidays — it was very fun and encourages you to make things up and get silly with it. Additionally, one of the co-creators ran a live play session during the Kickstarter, which is available to watch on YouTube. It also should be noted that you don’t need to have an encyclopedic knowledge of Monty Python for the game to be fun. Sure, when I ran the game it had been on the back of binging Flying Circus in its entirety three times in a row, but my players certainly hadn’t. It is, first and foremost, a role playing game, it’s just got added flavor.*

*I have been strongly reminded (I have not) that Monty Python’s Cocurricular Mediaeval Reenactment Programme is in fact a reenactment programme where you will learn about British history and should in no way be considered a role playing game.

UPDATE 1/27/2023: As it turns out Wizard’s of the Coast has completely rolled back their plans for an updated Open Gaming License.

Spring 2022 Behind-the-Scenes Reading

[Image ID: A pile of books spread out on a desk. On the bottom, from left to right, there is the trade paperback of "The Trial of Magneto" and a single issue "Xena: Warrior Princess" comic. On top, from left to right, there is "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett, "Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out and Empire in the New Work in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom–and Revenge" by Edward Kritzler" and "Dracula" by Bram Stoker. End ID]

For March to May, I began making a concerted effort to chip away at the pile of books that have been sitting on my dresser for far too many months, two of those books can be seen in the above image and with any luck there will be four more gracing next quarters list.


The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett- An excellent read. I already loved the movie and the Sam Spade radio drama, so it was sort of a guarantee that I was going to love the book too. Some older books you have to take with a very large grain of salt, but this, though it was clearly dated, really didn’t have too much to complain about. Even Joel Cairo’s homosexuality wasn’t as offensively written as I thought it might be. Was it stereotypical? Yes. Is Cairo a criminal? Also yes. But Hammett also gave Cairo a boyfriend who wasn’t the same sort of gay stereotype, you don’t even really know he’s gay until he’s revealed as Cairo’s boyfriend at the end, which was surprising and also kinda cool, in my opinion. 

I knew Cairo’s textual queerness had been cut from the film, but I was surprised at how much I unironically enjoyed how he was portrayed in the book. I would have loved him even if I wasn’t already a simp for Peter Lorre. It almost makes up for Hammett’s insistence on describing women as “erect.”

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean by Edward Kritzler – This is an interesting look at the history of Sephardic Jews in the “New World” as they fled the Spanish Inquisition and how they used piracy to move against against the Spanish and secure their freedom from persecution in the New World. Ranging in period from 1492 to 1675, the book is incredibly thorough both in providing the stories of the Jews (who were openly practicing) and conversos (who were not) in Portugal, Spain, Holland, Brazil and Jamaica as well as providing the surrounding context, which was incredibly helpful for me who is decidedly not familiar with this period of history. 

There is also the tantalizing mystery of Columbus’ Jamaican gold mine and some documents unearthed that hint at its possible existence. That said, the author does a decent job of separating speculation and conjecture from what we can prove as fact, reminding us that tracking the history of conversos can be difficult as they were often intentionally trying to obscure their ancestry. The one thing I will say is that Kritzler does tend to conflate privateering and piracy, but it is a fascinating read regardless.

Xena: Warrior Princes, issue #0 – I picked this up on a whim at my local comic shop because it was the only Xena comic there and it was an issue 0, which I assumed would either be a one-shot or the start of a story. I was half-right. There is a one shot story in this issue: “The Temple of the Dragon God,” written by Aaron Lopresti, which is a short, fun Xena story featuring zombies and a soul stealing dragon. The second half of the issue, however, was part three of the story “Theft of the Young Lovelies,” written by Robert Trebor. I do not know what a “part three” is doing in an issue 0, but it’s not a particularly good story anyway (uncomfortably heterosexual with racistly drawn villains). 

“The Temple of the Dragon God” is by far the better story, and any heterosexuality is forced and unwanted as it should be, though Xena is unfortunately not exempt from 90s comic artists deciding to draw women tits and ass first with limited regard to anatomy and physics. I will say that it is somewhat mitigated by the fact that they are very clearly drawing Lucy Lawless and therefore can’t get away with Rob Liefeld-level art crimes. 

The Trial of Magneto written by Leah Williams – First off, I refuse to acknowledge the “Wanda and Pietro aren’t mutants” retcon. There’s no reason Wanda’s abilities with magic can’t be influenced or part of her mutation. Barring that, this was actually a really great self-contained story and it gave Wanda the catharsis and healing that she has desperately needed for a very long time, although, ironically, the five issues the story covers revolve around her death. While it does play off other storylines, you don’t necessarily need to have read them in full, though certainly being aware of them and/or knowing the gist of them is helpful.

I also really love that we got to see Hope, another telepath, being highly critical of Xavier’s messing around in other people’s heads, comparing his manipulation of Magneto’s mind while he is unconscious to torture. I love a good in-universe calling out of Charles Xavier. 

In Progress:

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – Continues to be a delight. We got our first extra, non-letter bits, including pressed flowers and a “sketch” by our Parisian artist Gabriel, which was done as a print by the incomparable Marlowe Lune, who is providing all the artwork for the story. 

Dracula by Bram Stoker – I have read “Dracula” many times. It’s one of my favorite books, but I, like so many, have signed up for Dracula Daily, which emails you the novel chronologically based on the novel’s epistolary structure. It started on May 3rd and has been sending out a chapter/section every day there is journal entry or letter in the book. The novel isn’t written wholly chronologically, so this is a fun new way of experiencing the novel if you’ve read it before and also an easily digestible way to experience the novel for the first time. 

You can still sign up as it will be running until November, and all the previous entries are archived on the Dracula Daily website for easy catch up!

Different Loving edited by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame and Jon Jacobs We’re back on the kink research train. I feel like this book is probably going to stay down here for a while as I read it alongside other books, since it’s rather chunky and also, based on past experience, I find that reading books that are predominantly interview compilations can be a slog to read cover to cover with no breaks.

I’m a couple chapters in now and I really appreciate that they have paired the interviews with additional context and discussion. Chapter two in particular was right up my alley with a discussion of early sexology and how that has influenced modern views on sex and what is deemed “perverse.”

No progress has been made with The Wild Beyond the Witchlight due to our game being on hold, but I hope that will change soon.

Winter 2021/2022 Behind the Scenes Reading

Hello, hello! I have returned with another recommended reading list, this time covering what I read behind the scenes from December 2021 through February 2022. 


SM 101: A Realistic Introduction by Jay Wiseman – In progress last time, now finished! This is a really, really excellent introduction to the basics of BDSM. It goes into thorough detail without being overwhelmingly technical and discusses a wide range of practices while also acknowledging that it is only the tip of the iceberg. If this book interests you, there is plenty more reading out there. The back of the book has several lists of organizations, books and other publications where a person could get more information. 

That said, this second, revised edition was published in 1998, so contact information has likely changed in the 20+ years since. My general recommendation is, if something in the resources looks interesting, google it, because chances are it may still exist in some form, even the old urls. Other areas of the book impacted are the chapter on meeting people, discussions of internet resources, and HIV/AIDS safety. This revised edition came out right at the advent of online dating and chat rooms, so they aren’t covered in depth, and long before the advent of PrEP and PEP pills for pre- and post-exposure to HIV. 

Eat Prey Love/“Bambi” is Even Bleaker Than You Thought by Kathryn Schulz – This article is a really interesting look at the original “Bambi” story before Disney butchered it, now rediscovered as it entered the public domain this year. It caught my attention because, as I was skimming the article, it mentioned that there was a reading of it that saw the book as an allegory for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe prior to World War 2 and that was more than enough to get me to read the whole thing. It wasn’t quite enough to get me to pick up an English translation of the book, but it was a fascinating read nonetheless. 

Marauders, issues 26-27, by Gerry Duggan and Marauders: Annual by Steve Orlando – We reach the end of an era with a major team swap. Bobby and Christian are going off for a romantic vacation, Pyro’s got a book tour and a horrible mullet (I still can’t get over Pyro as a romance novelist), and there’s a corporate shake up at Hellfire Trading. That’s said, while I’m sad to see my faves leave the team, I am excited to see that the new team isn’t going to be any less gay, as we’ve got Daken and some dude named Somnus who I’m not familiar with, but is in love with Daken, so I will be continuing to subscribe to the series. 

Harley Quinn The Animated Series: The Eat. Bang! Kill. Tour issues 4-6 by Tee Franklin – There’s so many wlw y’all, just oodles. On top of Harley and Ivy, these three issues give us Livewire and Nightfall, who are admittedly broken up atm, but still were a thing; Vixen and her girlfriend Elle, who is disabled and has a prosthetic leg; and Peaches, the stripper with vitiligo who gives Harley a lap dance and would really like to give both Harley and Ivy a private show. Anyway, from the queerness to the general diversity of background and side characters, I’m utterly thrilled and sad to see the series end, as I will not be watching the animated series anytime soon. 

Tut-Tut/Why King Tut is Still Fascinating by Casey Cep – An interesting article about the history of King Tut and the field of Egyptology, why King Tut still captures the imagination of people around the world, and how to grapple with the colonialist origins of Egyptology and decolonizing the field today. I would love to read something, article or book, that goes more in depth, because the colonialism inherent in the discovery of Tut’s tomb always horrified me, even as I was interested in learning more about the history. What Carter did to Tut’s mummy always makes my stomach turn.

Close Encounters/A Holocaust Survivor’s Hardboiled Science Fiction by Caleb Crain – I was fascinated by the conceit of Stanislaw Lem’s “Solaris” when I saw it used as an au setting for a fanfiction and further fascinated when I started reading it properly. It was dark and haunting, which is how I like my science fiction, frankly, and discovering that Lem was a Holocaust survivor made an awful lot of sense in terms of the book’s themes and musing on humanity and this article digs even more into that. This is a really great biographical sketch of Lem and his works and if you have even a passing interest in Lem’s books I’d recommend it. 

In Progress: 

The Wilds Beyond the Witchlight – My players have made it through the first chapter! We have left the Witchlight Carnival and moved into the Feywild, specifically the first splinter realm within Prismeer, Hither. This chapter is more complicated than the first, but is also a bit more guided, which is good for me the DM, because it means that I can actually make proper session plans now. The first chapter was very much a free for all exploration time at a carnival, so there was minimal prep I could do, which drove me a bit bonkers.

Sealed with Honey by the Magpie Artists’ Ensemble – This should have been included with the last list too, but it completely slipped my mind, due, in part, to it’s nontraditional story telling method. “Sealed with Honey” is a completely epistolary queer romance set in the 19th century. Simon Ward and Gabriel Shaw, two young men, one in England and the other in France, strike up a correspondence after an introduction from Simon’s sister. The story is entirely told though letters that get mailed out on a twice monthly basis. The first letters went out late last year and it’s been a delight getting the letters in the mail and seeing new and tantalizing details revealed. 

There’s no way to pick up the story at the moment, but I believe there was talk about offering the story as a bundle once the initial run was completed. Information about the ongoing story can be found on the “Sealed with Honey” Kickstarter page.  

Different Loving: The World of Sexual Dominance & Submission edited by Gloria G. Brame, William D. Brame and Jon Jacobs – This book is an interview collection about, as the title implies, more BDSM stuff. It’s another older one, so, as with “SM 101,” certain aspects have changed. I’ve only just made it through the introduction though, and it does look promising, but I have had to put the book on hold while I do some other research reading for a short story I’m working on. 

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett – A classic detective novel that I have long wanted to read. I love the movie and I love the old Sam Spade radio drama. I wasn’t prepared to be punched in the face on page four by the line “Her body was erect and high-breasted, her legs long, her hands and feet narrow.” I was expecting some sexism because it’s typical of the genre and of 1929, but this really just sent me.

Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter’s Eve written by Craig Hurd-McKenney, feat. guest contributors

[Image ID: The cover of Some Strange Disturbances: A Cold Winter's Eve. Two figures are ice skating outdoors, Prescott and the Comtesse, Prescott has light brown skin and dark hair and is wearing a grey suit and a black bowler hat. The Comtesse is in a magenta dress with a white fur collar and a a matching feathered hat. The ice they are skating is cracking and beneath the ice is the shadow of a kelpie. The title "A Cold Winter's Eve" is displayed above this scene in a white and ice-blue color. The snapchat caption reads: "Spooky queers vol. 2.5a"

“Some Strange Disturbances” continues to be the gift that keeps on giving with the side story “A Cold Winter’s Eve,” a side side story and mini anthology.  

We see our protagonists, Prescott, Delilah, the Comtesse and Brandt, gathered together on Christmas Eve, it is following dinner, prepared by Brandt, and they have gathered in the parlor to share spooky ghost stories. While the framing story as a whole is written by Craig Hurd-McKenny, author of the main series, each of the stories told by the characters is written and illustrated by a guest author. There are seven stories in total, Prescott, Delilah and the Comtesse each telling two and Brandt telling one. 

All the stories are stunning and haunting in their own ways. I think my favorite is the second one told by Prescott, about a young man named Theo, who is haunted by the ghost of his lover Silas through the new telephone that was installed just after his death. It should be noted that there are stores that include racially and homophobia motivated murders. The murderers do get what is coming to them, but be careful if that is something you are sensitive to. 

Lastly, I want to talk about Brandt and his story. Brandt is mute and, as such, his story is told entirely without dialogue. Delilah, who we learn early on in the book has a limited knowledge of sign language, is the one who translates the story for their group, and translating sign language to the print form of visual only story telling is inspired. We don’t hear Delilah’s overlay telling of the story, we just get the visuals. It’s still showing Brandt’s disability through the structure of the comic. 

It is definitely worthwhile to pick up alongside the main story and I am very much looking forward to “Some Strange Disturbances: Nob’s Tale,” which is meant to be a companion piece to “A Cold Winter’s Eve” and is part of the HSP 2022 catalogue that is currently being kickstarted. The Kickstarter ends on November 4th, so be sure to jump on it soon (or sign up to get reminders for when it’s close to ending)!

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Trans Hair Care: An Unexpected Effect of HRT

Like many trans people I did extensive research before starting HRT. I wanted to know exactly what changes my body was going to go through, and thanks to trans men sharing their own experiences both on and offline, I learned a great deal about what I should expect from going on testosterone. I knew about the fat displacement, the increase of body hair, the odor changes… but there was one thing that nothing I read mentioned as a side effect/change. 

My hair changed texture. I went from having silky, wavy, fairly easy to maintain hair that only needed conditioning when I bleached it, to still soft, but courser, curlier hair that needs almost daily conditioning to be at all manageable. Of course, the current length of my has something to do with this too, but I had periods of long hair pre-T too and it was Not Like This. 

On top of this, I have remained as greasy as ever. I was a terribly greasy teenager during puberty number one and puberty two: electric boogaloo has been just the same. I know I’m not supposed to wash my hair every day, but if I don’t my hair will be so oily it feels wet and I just can’t do that. 

But to the point, prior to starting T the only time I cared about what hair product I was using was when I needed color safe shampoo when I dyed my hair. After T, I all of a sudden needed to find shampoo that was good for oily hair and wouldn’t also wreck it like my shitty cheap garbage shampoo was doing. 

My first answer came with Lush’s I Love Juicy shampoo. It was great, it worked, and then Lush went and discontinued it. Since Lush had worked before I decided to search for another Lush product and found the Jumping Juniper shampoo bar. Even though I’d never used a shampoo bar I said, what the hell I’ll give it a go… 

It fried my hair. 

It made my hair an absolute rats nest even when I was using a conditioner. During this period of misery, (which was mid-2020, so there was no hope of me getting a hair cut to make my hair more manageable—and don’t tell me to cut my own hair, trust me, I’ve thought about it, it would be a disaster) I discovered the YouTube channel of Royalty Soaps and went on a binge watching spree of their soap making videos.

One day I decided to have a gander at the Royalty Soaps webstore to see if there was anything that interested me, as I was in the market for getting away from Lush who did me so dirty and I’d just watched a video where shampoo and conditioner bars had been mentioned, and I hit the jackpot. Two shampoo bars specifying that they were good for oily hair.

I bought the Sea Forest shampoo bar, as that was the scent that appealed to me more, and I fell in love instantly.

Listing for Sea Forest Shampoo Bar. On the left there is an image of a single blue shampoo bar. To the left is  the price, $10.00 USD for a quantity of one and the "Add to Cart" and "But it Now" buttons. 

Below that is the description of the soap: "Made with Sea Buckthorn to supply hair with vitamins and mineral and Irish Moss Extract to soothe your scalp and fortify hair fibers!" and specification for hair type: "All Hair Types, including Oily"

In a matter of days my hair was feeling better, and not only that, their shampoo bars are cheaper than Lush by roughly two dollars and you get more for your dollar too. I paid 12 dollars (plus shipping) for 1.9 ounces of shampoo bar from Lush and 10 dollars (plus shipping) for 3 ounces from Royalty Soaps. Definitely worth it in my book.

Eventually when I had the money to spare I went back to try one of the conditioner bars. I got the Citrus Sunshine conditioner bar, and it too improved my hair situation dramatically. I’ll be trying the Citrus Sunshine shampoo bar next and I’d also eventually like to try the Lavender Vanilla shampoo and conditioner bars, because those purport to be good for damaged hair and mine totally is. 

Online listing for the Citrus Sunshine Solid Conditioner Bar, the image in the listing feature approximately six rounds of conditioner bars. To the right of the image indicates a price of $10.00 USD for a quantity of one bar and below this are the buttons for "Add to Cart" and "Buy it Now" 
The description of the conditioner reads: "Made with Orange Butter, a hydrogenated, non-greasy butter blend that smells INCREDIBLE and Quinoa Protein, a complete protein, containing seventeen amino acids, including all eight essential amino acids for hair protection and hydration."
Below the description it indicates it is for hair types oily to normal.

The one thing I will warn for is if you are sensitive to smells. Many of these are fragrant soaps, though the Blameless shampoo and conditioner bars are unscented according to the website. However, I found that once you got the shampoo/conditioner bars wet to use the smell lessened dramatically. I was a little concerned with the Citrus Sunshine conditioner at first because the bar gave me a headache when I first took it out of the box, but the smell is so much more muted when I use it in the shower that it doesn’t bother me at all. 

So if HRT has forced you to rethink your entire hair care routine, or if you just need some relaxing soap making videos to sooth you through the ongoing pandemic, maybe check out Royalty Soaps. Their shampoos and soaps are also very eco-friendly, vegan and sulfate free, and all the ingredients are listed right on the website.

If you enjoy my content and would like to see more, please consider buying me a Kofi or supporting me on Patreon!

X-Men Zines and Headcanons!

Two zines lying on top of each other. 

The first, a quarter-page zine, is titled "Warlock Befriends Appliances" in between "Warlock" and "Befriends" is an image of Warlock's head inside a heart.

The second, a larger, half-page zine, is titled "Jay's Book of Irrelevant Headcanon." The title is enclosed in a thought bubble that emerged from a cartoon drawing of the top half of Jay's head.

The snapchat caption reads: "Who's up for fun X-Men headcanons?"

It’s been a long time since I’ve been so enthused about anything X-Men related as I’ve been since reading “And the Rest Will Follow.” Talk about a rejuvenating fannish experience. Anyway, when I received my order for the comic from Books with Pictures I also received two of Jay’s X-Men zines “Warlock Befriends Appliances” and “Jay’s Book of Irrelevant Headcanon,” both of which are wonderfully hilarious and heartfelt in measure.

Two pages of a zine. The first page shows Warlock sitting cross-legged on the ground hugging a Tube TV in his lap.

The second page shows the top half of Warlock's as he peers at a toaster.

The snapchat caption reads: "Some appliances are easy to understand."

“Warlock Befriends Appliances” is exactly what it sounds like. Warlock, a Technarchy alien who was part of the original New Mutants, befriends everyday appliances such as a TV and a toaster.

Zine page of Warlock holding a personal massager/vibrator that is actively vibrating. Warlock's speech bubble shows a picture of a bee and a question mark.

Overlayed is a cropped image from the following page of the zine of Illyana Rasputin (Magik) standing in front of her dresser and looking into the empty top draw. It can be inferred that the massager belongs to her.

The snapchat caption reads: "Some are not. (And Illyana would like her personal massager back.)"

And also a “personal massager,” which the back panel of the zine implies belongs to Illyana Rasputin (Magik).

“Jay’s Book of Irrelevant Headcanon” is a little more robust. Dedicated to “Evan Sabahnur’s sneaker collection,” this is definitely my favorite of the two zines. I love Warlock don’t get me wrong, but I love some of the characters in this zine a bit more, like Quentin Quire (the minor but persistent Wikipedia troll) and Alex Summers (who spends a lot of time at the movies alone).

My personal favorite, which I did not take a snap of because the image wasn’t showing well with the lighting I had, is of Warren Worthington (Angel/Archangel), and it is that, as Archangel “Everything tastes subtly different than it used to,” which I just think is an absolutely fascinating headcanon about the implications of the physiological changes that Warren went through to become one of Apocolypse’s horsemen. I might just give that headcanon a nod if I ever get around to finishing that horseman Warren fic I’ve had in my drafts for ages.

The original images for “Warlock Befriends Appliances” can be found here (scroll all the way to the bottom) and “Jay’s Book of Irrelevant Headcanon” comes up in Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men episode 187: “Mermaids at the Center of Time.” (If you don’t already listen to Jay & Miles X-Plain the X-Men, you definitely should.) Both zines (and more) can be purchased at Books with Pictures and also if you’re able to catch Jay at a convention (once those start happening again, anyway.)

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Disability in Season 3 of the BBC’s Musketeers

Promotional poster for season three of The Musketeers. The four main characters stand in the foreground. They are from left to right: Athos (Tom Burke), Aramis (Santiago Cabrera), D'Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), and Porthos (Howard Charles)

So I’ve been watching a lot of Musketeers recently, specifically season three. It’s a good season, and I’m a particular fan of the primary antagonist of the season, Lucien Grimaud (Matthew McNulty). However, I have noticed a repeating trend with the other antagonists of the season that is rather troubling, namely, many of them are disabled and play heavily into the “Evil Cripple” trope, which is described by TV Tropes as “rooted in eugenics-based ideas linking disability or other physical deformities with a ‘natural’ predisposition toward madness, criminality, vice, etc.” This is most apparent in the character of the Marquis de Feron (Rupert Everett). 

The half brother of King Louis XIII (Ryan Gage), Feron suffers from what appears to be some sort of degenerative bone disease, and is frequently seen using a cane and having difficulty walking. For the first six episodes of the season, Feron is a co-lead antagonist alongside Grimaud, devising plans and using Grimaud and the Red Guard to carry them out. He’s also portrayed as addicted to opium, which he takes to manage the pain of his chronic illness; in debt and constantly after money; and perfectly willing to commit murder and bear gleeful witness to wanton violence. He is portrayed as wholly unsympathetic, whereas the narrative goes out of its way to let us in on Grimaud’s tragic backstory, which in turn, garners sympathy for the character. Feron is given none of this, and even his crisis of conscious at the end does not come with a full change of heart.

Another antagonist, a one off character named Bastien (Harry Melling) in episode seven, “Fool’s Gold,” plays into both the “Evil Cripple” trope and the trope of a character pretending to be disabled to be perceived as helpless and unassuming. Bastien is a criminal who was recruited into the French army, but then deserted. He and a group of others had stashed gold in the area where a group of women had built up a small settlement in an effort to escape the brutality of the soldiers passing through their old village. He plays the part of a man with a leg injury in need of rescue to be brought into the women’s village and uses his position from the inside to allow his friends to come in and raid the camp. When we see him on his own and after he’s been exposed, he does not have the limp that we see him with initially. 

Even more insidious is the treatment of the character Borel (Stephen Walters) in episode five, “To Play the King.” Borel is a prisoner in the Chatelet who is severely mentally ill. Borel has what is likely meant to be dissociative identity disorder or some other form of psychosis that leads to delusions of grandeur. As you may be able to guess from the title, Borel believes himself to be the King. There is an attempt made at a “this man is ill, he should not be in a prison”  story line, but it falls flat because, ultimately, Borel is the subplot antagonist of the episode and we are told under no uncertain terms that while Borel may seem helpless, he is also very dangerous and a murderer.

D’Artagnan (Luke Pasqualino), not wanting to send an ill man back to prison, leaves Borel at a convent, which leads to the murder of several nuns, a guard and ultimately an attack on Queen Anne (Alexandra Dowling). While the episode does fit into the season’s overarching theme of tension between the royal duties of the musketeers and their duties to the people of Paris, with D’Artagnan saying at the end “Why do I feel like I’m fighting for the wrong side?” the whole subplot leaves a sour taste in my mouth. 

Frankly, it almost feels worse that they teased the potential for the trope to be subverted. If they had let the Borel plot line end with D’Artagnan helping him and leaving him at the convent and with something good coming out of that, it could have been really good, and they could have put additional focus on the primary plot of the episode, which I do think could have used more time instead of trying to balance it equally with the Borel plot. I was actually really exciting the first time I  watched “To Play the King,” because it seemed that the mental illness plot line was going to be resolved well, which made it even more of a gut punch when they turned it right back around and ran head first into to the mentally ill murderer trope. 

As comes up time and time again with the way mental illness is portrayed in the media, people with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. A 2017 post on gun violence and mental health from Joel Miller of the American Mental Health Counselors Association notes that, “rates of violent crime victimization are 12 times higher among the population of persons with serious mental illness than among the overall U.S. population.” So no, I really don’t care what the show runners tried to do with that plot line, they used a tired and harmful trope and if they were trying to subvert it they failed. 

Lastly I want to talk about Annabelle (Naomi Radcliffe). She is not an antagonist, but she is another disabled character who gets treated rather poorly. Also in episode five, “To Play the King,” she is involved in the primary plot; a riot has been incited within the prison and the prisoners allowed to escape because Grimaud and Feron have plotted to break into the King’s gold reserves in the vault under the prison. Her husband Joubert (Ian McKee) was the locksmith who designed the vault door and is now in prison because he fell into debt. Annabelle, who is blind, is taken as hostage motivation for Joubert to break into the vault he designed. 

Despite the fact that the plot hinges on Annabelle telling Aramis (Santiago Cabrera) and Constance (Tamla Kari) that she believes they went after her because of her husband, which leads to them realizing that there is a plot to do with the royal vault, Annabelle is given very little agency. It is indicated briefly that she is good at identifying her surroundings; she recognizes Constance by the smell of her clothes and can tell Constance and Aramis confidently that the man who took her was not an escaped convict, but was well off because he had fur cuffs and rings on his hands. So I have to ask myself, why was she written blind? A seeing character could have filled that role to much the same effect. Was it necessary for this character, who’s only function in the show was to be a victim, to be blind? Or was it done just to add another layer of perceived helplessness to an already victimized character?

Now, I enjoy Musketeers. Its overall a fun show, bolstered by the fact that three of the four leads are men of color and there are some really strong, multi-faceted female characters, but it’s hardly perfect, and the things I’ve mentioned above can be deal breakers for many, many people. I have friends who I know would say, “No I won’t watch this show at all” because of the mental illness subplot in “To Play a King.” Media does not exist in a vacuum, and it’s important to recognize, even in media you enjoy, where things go wrong.

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Role Playing Games with Dreidels

Six d20 dice, with Hebrew letters, gimmel, nun, hay and shin. Three a  blue green mix with gold lettering and three white with black lettering.

Coming up on this past Hanukkah, I purchased some lovely dreidels from Ritualwell. Well, they are dreidels in the sense that they have all the proper Hebrew characters on them, but instead of the spinning top that we all know and love, they took the shape of a d20.

As a nerd, I fell in love as soon as I saw these beauties. Unfortunately, they were out of stock when I placed my order and the store said they were unlikely to arrive by Hanukkah, but then a miracle occurred and they were back in stock sooner than expected. I would be able to spend my Hanukkah playing dreidel with my roommate… using all of my other dice in place of gelt. 

After I received my purchase I was immediately struck by a thought. “In d20 form or in top form, I bet you could make a really cool role playing game using a dreidel. They’re basically just sexier d4s after all.” So off I went to search the internet for dreidel based RPGs.

From The Contemporary Quioxtist, we have a very simple easy to play game that is open ended in it’s story telling. Your character has skill ratings between 1 and 3, which dictates how many dreidel’s they will spin/dice they will roll and a pool of coins to dictate actions. The traditional rules are slightly modified to allow for game mechanics. Shin(add a coin to the pot), a total failure and you lose something; nun (you take nothing) a marginal failure, you fail, but lose nothing; hay (take half) is a moderate success; and gimmel (take everything), naturally is a complete success. 

Next, from Dan Siskin, we have “Maccabees,” a board game centered on the historic event behind Hanukkah. The goal is to lead a band of Maccabees to acquire the oil to light the hanukkiah, while fighting back the remaining foes. This one does cost money, but it certainly looks like a fun game.

Another specifically holiday themed game is “Maccabees and Menorahs.” The rules for rolling/spinning are very similar to the game by the Quioxtist, but this game includes characters created from a set of Jewish values and eight specific sessions that take you through the game, one session for each night of Hanukkah. This has the added advantage of being free and the rules are readily available online.

Image of the Macabees and Menorah's rules. Not high enough quality to read most of the text.

I’m sure there are other games that exist, but these were the first three I found in my searches. There’s also nothing to say you can’t make your own dreidel based RPG, especially if you’re like me and constantly hungry for new RPGs to try. Maybe I’ll make that a project for myself this year, design a dreidel based RPG by next Hanukkah. 

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On Demand Books: How to Acquire Them

While I did not go to school to become a historian, I’ve always loved history and 9 times out of 10 it winds up playing an important role in what I do, be it my queer studies or simply fan projects. It may not come as a surprise, considering my recent posts about “The Terror,” that I have fallen down  a research rabbit hole. The sexy thing about working with texts from the 1800s is that sometimes they’re freely available to read online, the unsexy thing is that I vastly prefer reading hard copy books and don’t always do well reading books on a computer screen. Enter on demand book printing. 

Google books has an option that allows you to find a bookstore with on demand printing services to print public domain books that also let you to order online. The availability of these books does depend on things like what stores are currently offering services, but so far I have acquired two books this way to great success. “Lieut.  John Irving, a Memorial Sketch with Letters” edited by B. Bell (John Irving was a lieutenant aboard HMS Terror during the ill-fated Franklin expedition) and “Passages From the Life of a Naval Officer” by Edward Philips Charlewood (BFF of Commander James Fitzjames, captain of HMS Erebus on the Franklin expedition).

I had used Google books before, but had not known this magical secret. So I am going to take you through  the steps I took, so that you too can acquire old out of print books. I’m going to use “Passages from the Life of a Naval Officer” to take us through the steps.

Step one: Google your book and find the Google books listing.

Step two: Once you’ve clicked that link you should see a page like this:

Now head over to the bar on the left  hand side of the screen and click the blue link that says “Get this book in print”

This will lead to a pop up menu, where you can then select “On Demand Books,” which is the second  option on the list.

Step three: Once you’ve selected “On Demand Books” you will be brought to the Espresso Book Machine page. Where you can select a book store.

I’ve been using Schuler Books in Michigan, because they’ve given me the best price with book cost and shipping, but another location might work better for you. 

Once you’ve made your choice hit  “Get it”

Step four: Add that book to  your cart and check out!

Once you’ve reached this stage, if  you realize that the shipping costs don’t work for you, backtrack to step three and pick another option! (Shipping costs were why I went with Schuler Books over the Harvard Bookstore, even though the listing price for the Harvard Bookstore was cheaper.)

This isn’t foolproof, the book I tried to first use for this tutorial, didn’t have any print on demand options despite it being published in the 1700s, which was sad. However, if you prefer hard copies to ebooks or have trouble reading on screens, this might be a good easy way to get a hard copy of a book you want or need. 

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Let’s Read Books by Women

After much deliberation I have made a self imposed limit of four books for this post. There are so many wonderful women authors that I simply do not have time to highlight all of them. So I will be narrowing my criteria to four queer women authors, two nonfiction and two fiction.

Four books: "Tranny" by Laura Jane Grace, "Long Black Veil" by Jennifer Finney Boylan, "People in Trouble" by Sarah Schulman and "A Low Life in High Heels" by Holly Woodlawn.


1. “A Lowlife in High Heels” by Holly Woodlawn – subtitled “The Holly Woodlawn Story: A Walk on the Wild Side with Andy Warhol’s Last Superstar,”  “Lowlife”  is an incredibly fun and interesting read that highlights not only the incredible and wild life of it’s author, but also the queer and arts culture that was thriving in New York in the 60s and 70s. Did you know that Holly Woodlawn once sang with the band that would later become The B-52’s?

2.  “Tranny” by Laura Jane Grace – “Tranny” is a really great book whether you’re just curious about the band Against Me!  or more want to know more about about Laura Jane Grace and her life. It deals in both formation and progression of the band and how Laura was dealing or not dealing with gender feelings while her career was moving forward. 


1. “Long Black Veil” by Jennifer Finney Boylan – A group of friends, a cold case, a transgender protagonist, who has kept her new life away from her old. When new light emerges about this case and one of that friend group is accused of murder both new and old worlds come crashing back together. It’s a very thrilling book in an slow suspenseful way. It’s not flashy or fast, but it’s paced exactly as you would hope for a mystery.

2. “People in Trouble” by Sarah Schulman –  Also known as the book Jonathon Larson stole plot points from for “Rent.” If you enjoyed “Rent” or are just looking for good fiction that deals with HIV/AIDS activism I would highly recommend this. It’s also a book I would recommend if you enjoyed “Stone Butch Blues.” It is unfortunately out of print and therefore can be difficult to find a cheap copy to purchase, at my typing this Amazon has copies from 14 to 233 dollars, but I would check around at libraries. Remember, the more a book at a library is checked out the more likely they are to keep it.

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