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Bells and Thistles


by Meera Barry
February 14, 2001

For several years I’ve been threatening to write the "perfect woman’s RPG." My husband (the famed creator behind "Prestidigitator," "Wearrug," and "Leech,") found the perfect name. We were going to base the system on Conspiracy X. You guessed it: "Chromosome X." (Hey, just wait until we put up "Mars Magica." We are your friends.)

The idea behind "Chromosome X," of course, is that it incorporates all of the things women are supposed to love. You don’t just put points into a character, you go SHOPPING for character traits. We would have contribution "coupons" to make it seem like you got your attributes at a bargain. A GM would be able to declare a "sale," if she wanted. Graphics would be done in tasteful, women-friendly styles, with non-aggressive pink and purple shading on the cover. Campaign supplements would have their own "soap opera"-style digests to hand out to the players. There would be rules for romance, pregnancy, and all combat actions would be penalized if a woman PC said, "We need to talk."

The hard part would be to avoid treading too much on the same path as "Macho Women With Guns." You could take the guns out. Or make them pink, potentially even fuzzy. Of course, I am a fantasy gamer by choice, so we have to have a supernatural influence. No PC should have to buy "Women’s Intuition," but there could be categories like, "Sister Power," "Ability to Detect Gay Men So You Can Ask Them Advice," and the lucky, "You Go Girl!" trait that capitalizes on an even minor success after a difficult roll.

Unfortunately, the same kinds of things that have dragged me away from my column have interfered with my many other diabolical plans. On the other hand, I am a GM. I am a meddler by nature. I have to "keep a hand in," so to speak.

A few weeks ago, I premiered the idea of, "Plump Girls, the RPG" on a subboard here at RPG.Net that shall remain obvious but officially nameless. Within about a day, I had an offer to promote it, if I wanted the job of writing it. You can’t take something like that seriously…but you can take it humorously.

The premise behind "Plump Girls," and the reason I sketched out the idea was because of the traditional "games aren’t friendly to women," argument of "bimbo art." Don’t get me wrong, I love bimbo art, and I have to admit a strong fondness for cheesecake. I get it from my father, who also taught me a lot about gaming. Heck, I have a whole graphics collection (some of it from my dad) of furry flirts and superhero vixens. The reason there aren’t more men in my collection is because despite the fuss about women in chain mail bikinis, many game artists have not been able to draw a man attractive to my tastes.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m like just about everyone else; I like to glorify my characters. They don’t need to have my faults, just the dramatic GM-pleasing hooks that will ruin their lives. I do like them to look good. I like them to be attractive to…well, I’m a little queer…just about everybody. [wrenching tongue from where it was lodged into my cheek] I’ll still give them appearance quirks. Damascus, my recent "favourite character" (you know what I mean) is short, strong, and androgynous, with gold eyes. Sabine, one of my favourite NPCs, is naked, silver, furry, weighs 450 pounds, and has four breasts. Quirks, as I said. It’s a character thing. You probably understand.

So when I see chick art, I recognize it for what it is. I don’t think it’s oppressive. I don’t think it’s sending the wrong message…I leave that rant for some of the Mattel toys. After all, I’m an adult, and already warped in my sensibilities. (One of the reasons I deleted the description of my perfect male heartthrob.)

"Plump Girls," however, came out of the idea of, "What if artists drew more `realistic’ women." Well, for one thing, IT WOULDN’T SELL… except on the parody level. For the sake of amusement, though (and as humour is a cause I support…)

The first thing I know about "Plump Girls" is that it’s a game about women. I may already have lost some of the womyn audience by calling them "girls" but since I am a woman writer, and it’s a lot more polite than some of the words I could use in a woman audience… [My latest ex-girlfriend is cringing. She knows what I’m thinking. [waves]] {"Plump Chicks? Plump Broads? Plump …no… that sounds like the name of a bad x-rated video."} I could possibly bring it to "Plump Grrls," but I find that kind of silly.

Do I need to include men in "Plump Girls?" As characters? Probably. If I were doing it under our "Jig Noir Melt Productions" banner, I’d probably put in a few digs for WearRug. Plump men. Well, dumpy balding guys who can transform at will into blobs of quivering jelly. But Plump Girls have their dashing heroes, too. It’s a classic staple of Ugly Ducking romance fiction.

So, I have the concept of the characters for my game. They’re not quite as far-fetched as, say, vampires, but who would have ever predicted that a game about the most pretentious of the contagious, blood-sucking dead would sell? (Okay, so maybe I was in the minority on that one…)

Where is the conflict in my overall story. "Macho Women With Guns" has men… and Plump Girls, well, in my experience, we are fond of men, overall. We tend to associate them with things like snips, and snails, and puppies… sometimes with house maintenance and taking out our trash. So men aren’t a problem. Who are the people who make Plump Girls lives miserable?

This is a tough decision. I could go with the easy but controversial part. The "plump." That can bring plenty of pain. Body nazis. Mothers who make large dinners and fill up your plate with the argument, "How are you ever going to get a husband if you’re so skinny?" Mothers who don’t let you eat. Advertising executives. Stores that sell a size "0." Waiters who ask if you want a diet soda or a dessert, automatically.

Who wants to play an unhappy character? If these things are sore spots in real life, I want my escapism, darnit! Besides, I’m a happily plump girl. Skinny doesn’t look good on me. If I’m going to change my physique, I will want to go for the muscle-bound look. I want to bench-press my husband.

Alright, when I don’t want to get defensive, I should go offensive. Who is my target?

Cheerleaders. Pump Girls.

Well, yeah, they’re easy targets. Heck, I was a cheerleader for half the practice for homecoming game (so, about 20 minutes) in one of my Jr. High years. Until they kicked me out for getting creative with the lyrics. [Improvisation and cheerleading do not mix. There should be some sort of warning label.]

I work in the corporate world, now. Well, closer than I did when I worked for the comic book company I mentioned last time I wrote a column. There are cheerleaders in this department, too. They’re the ones who, in a "business casual" atmosphere still wear heels. I know, it’s a generalization. But my boots, at least, were made for walking.

So I have a good idea that the enemy is…ourselves. Formerly Plump Girls, now known as "High School Reunion Show-offs." Other women… I might even go so far as saying "vegans" because, well, we all know they belong to a secret cult from Vegas who like to eat the sentient children of the earth they insult by calling vegetables. Erm. Sorry. Wrong conspiracy theory. Anyway, anyone who watches what they eat is naturally suspicious.

"Use your special skills to best show-up the Pump Girls: cheerleaders, aerobics class instructors, sex-ataries, and the blood-sucking women of human resources."

So what is the world of Plump Girls like?

A long time ago, with my first column, I defined humour loosely as the twist that puts the ordinary into perspective. That change from ordinary into extraordinary is what a lot of us strive for with our games. Just take the "modern world with magic" category; Storyteller, Unknown Armies, even Feng Shui. Add the "k" to "magic" only if you must. [shudder]

What makes the ordinary Plump Girl extraordinary?

[buffing lapel] Our keen senses of humour? Well, it’s not too uncommon a trait, but unless you want to make humiliation rolls as plentiful as GURPS Horror fright checks… Our polished tough-as-nails exterior with the heart-of-gold interior? (Yes, complete with Improbability Drive.) Another good stereotype, but hard to milk for combat powers, unless it adds to our invulnerability to metaphorical hammers. [I wonder if there’s a list of GURPS Cliffhangers euphemisms anywhere…] Our ability to spread ourselves thin despite the obvious? No, amazing stress powers are a lot different than amazing stretch powers. Hmmmm. The ability to find a good seat is a cat trait.

So there may be no inherent magic in being a Plump Girl. Pre-Raphaelite artists and other lovers of the zaftig may disagree, but for right now, let’s work on the next stage.

I harken back to terms I will eventually have to unlearn. Since the Plump Girl race gets no special bonuses, what about the Plump Girl classes?

Well, the neutral good Plump Girl Ranger should probably get a bonus tracking high-heel wearing Secretaribeasts…no, wait, sorry. Bzzzzt. (It’s the dents they leave in carpets, you see. Oh, and the scent. Usually some sort of artificial floral blend that stands out in the great cube forests…)

From the original message:

"Technotater" Archetype includes: Flametongue, the ability to type scathing retorts, scathing reports, and knowledge of the secret Plump Girl Web Underground. Special powers include Chat Room Moderator and other superior SysOply positions.

I note in further that you may not know what a SysOp is. I’d like to console those of you who do with a nanosecond (or 20) of nostalgia for "the old days." [sigh] Alright, back to the present.

"Ravin' Receptionist" Archetype includes: Deathtones, the ability to listen to music not fit for man or beast, at volumes similarly described. Special powers include Hold, the ability to put someone literally on HOLD for an unnatural length of time.

Note to self: "Hi, Internet Help Desk. Please hold." [giggle]

"Goth Chickadee" Archetype includes: The Look, the ability to pass on entire conversations with a single facial expression. Special powers include Fashion and Anti-Fashion energy powers.

I can think of a few more. There’s the Grassroots Healer, a type I am beginning to run into more and more as I think of spawning my own gamers… able to hold a complete conversation about the history of divination and faith healing with a straight face. Can change strange green growing things into medicine. Attacks by way of hugging…[shudder]

Looking back, I am taking this a little too seriously. If I were to create my own RPG, these would be some of the questions I’d ask, and some of the ideas I might have…but I’m here to relate it to humour. What makes the idea of Plump Girls funny?

First, there’s the taboo nature of it. Funny in that way we’re not supposed to laugh at, because it’s "making fun" of someone. That leads to the second portion of humour in "Plump Girls" – it describes reality and adds that all important twist. Third, you look to the physical nature in the sound of the words. While not entirely onomatopoetic, "plump" has a pleasing sound to it. It could be "Zaftig Chicks," I suppose, but that’s too vigorous.

Is there any special way you need to handle this type of humour? Well, yes, there are some guidelines. First of all, we already discussed that there are issues. Vampires might object to me calling them pretentious. I try to avoid bringing up the subject with the undead in my gaming group. They’re so… touchy.

Humour is a tool, but it’s easy for it to be a hammer when you need a set of tongs. Your audience is always a consideration. You can shock them for a while, but eventually, they get a resistance. (Once your SAN starts to drop…) So you need to be creative. You need to hit the nail on the head smartly, not using it wildly hitting the coffin, the priest, and the guy next to you…unless, of course, it’s slapstick.

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What do you think?

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All Bells and Thistles columns by Meera Barry

Other columns at RPGnet

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