28 January 2019

Tabletop roleplaying for kids

A friend recently asked what tabletop roleplaying games I recommend for getting kids into the hobby. I think Dungeons & Dragons is a bad pick: too complicated and violent.

To my mind, Fate Accelerated is ideal for kid games. It is easy to understand, very rigorously designed, and a good introduction to how TTRPGs work. I have a play report that is amazeballs:

So me, sitting there listening to them start to form their characters, I already I like where this is going. There’s plenty of variation in character types, and it’s easy enough to say they’re childhood friends who hang out and have adventures, and I’m getting ideas for what we might do for the next 90 minutes.

It was around here when they started saying “This is so fun!” They’re not even playing yet.

Because this was their first time playing anything like this, they didn’t bring any gamer-baggage to the table. This included, but was not limited to, second-guessing my every move. Nothing would be cliche to them! So I started things out in a tavern.

Another great Kid Game Play Report:

“We’re warning them of a battle!” Sebastian said.

“But not a bad battle,” Elliot said.

“A bad battle!” Sebastian said.

Elliot looked worried. Uh oh, a bad battle. Those kids are so cool I can’t even tell you.

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple is a TTRPG specifically designed for kids with much of the flavor of Avatar: The Last Airbender. It has the advantage that the book is gorgeous.

I bought Cat a while back because I love this story the designer tells:

I never need to pitch this game.

Standing behind my booth at a game convention, I have to pitch everything. Houses of the Blooded, Thirty, Discordia … everyone asks, “What’s this game about?”

I give them the standard pitch for those games. I’ve got them down to thirty seconds. A catch phrase and some follow-up to anticipated questions.

But Cat? No pitch necessary. When someone asks, “What’s this about?” I always say the exact same thing.

“It’s about house cats who protect their owners from Monsters they can’t see.”

And that’s it. That’s all I need. I’ve got the money in my hands and they’re walking away with the game.

Plus the character attributes are Claws, Coat, Face, Fangs, Legs, and Tail. Of course Tail is used for magic! This is such a great idea for both kids and adults that I know two similar games: Magical Kitties Save The Day is designed to be kid-accessible, and Fate Core (Accelerated’s big brother and my favorite TTRPG engine) has The Secrets of Cats.

A few games I have not looked at closely but have heard good things from smart people about:

  • Hero Kids is designed to be kid-accessible with a lot of D&D’s flavor and tops a lot of kid-TTRPG lists
  • Little Wizards is designed for young kids, with a cartoon-y feel
  • No Thank You, Evil! is also designed for young kids, and includes very nifty materials
  • Golden Sky Stories is made for Miyazaki-ish storytelling

  • Wanderhome is also about colorful critters having adventures, designed to avoid violence in the storytelling, suited to sharp kids and imaginative teens

Last but not least, this reminds me of Puppetland:

The players take the roles of puppets — finger puppets, hand puppets, marionettes, or shadow puppets in a horrific world ruled by the bloodthirsty Punch.

That one is not for children.

And if you are an adult running a game for kids, @SixHitPoints has some advice:

My encounters, by typical standards were totally cliche: fight dinosaurs, cross a rope bridge, kill pirates. Guess what? They LOVED it.

Why? Becauxse fighting dinosaurs is AWESOME. Crossing a rope bridge is just like in the movies only YOU’RE DOING IT. Fighting pirates? YES PLEASE

23 January 2019

An open letter to an anti-Zionist


Some things you said a few weeks ago have given me an itch. This itch feels familiar because your comments rhyme with other critiques of Zionism I have encountered many times on the left.

I do not count myself a Zionist. The Zionist project implicitly endorses the whole order of nation-states in a way that does not sit right with me.

Nor do I hold Israel apart from criticism. Contemporary Israel stands on policies of morally indefensible para-fascist apartheid. The brutal oppression of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is wrong, illegal, and merits inter- and trans-national effort to correct. To that end, I support the international BDS movement to pressure Israel to change its policies.

And yet.

The way you have expressed your opposition to Zionism troubles me. As a Jew, there are ways in which it frightens me.

I don’t know you but I recognize the commitment to justice which animates your words and actions, so I come to you with an open hand. I want solidarity in pursuit of justice, not a fight.

I invite you to consider how you sound to me.

What you are saying and doing

You have sponsored a series of protests against a business in your community because the owner is a Zionist. The business, and the project it represents, are not Zionist, but the person behind it is.

Though you also have other objections to his project, you have said that you find cause enough just in him being a Zionist that the community should reject all of his works.

I’m down with running any business owner that is a Zionist out of FRISCO.!!!!

Indeed, you say that you want not just to disrupt his project but to drive him entirely out of your community.

We don’t hate Jews, We just don’t want Zionist in our community.

Are you objecting to an Israel hardliner who supports the worst policies of the state of Israel and advocates for Israel doing even worse things? Evidently not. You have named the rhetoric and actions to which you object:

He posted on Facebook congratulating Israel on 68 years (which is now 70) of independence. He also asked (on Facebook) could anybody recommend any Bay Area Zionist groups he could join.. There’s more, but that’s enough proof for me..

So you have said that simply identifying as any kind of Zionist, and celebrating Yom Ha’atzmaut, justify running him out of the community.

This is strong stuff.


Zionism emerged at the end of the 19th century. European Jews saw Europe moving toward the political order which today shapes the whole world: nation-states with crisp borders holding absolute sovereignty over the people within them. People were talking about how the citizens of a nation-state needed to be a single people: France and the French people, and so forth.

As a diaspora people spread across many countries who had experienced repression and worse for centuries, European Jews worried that these trends meant that Jews would find themselves left without a chair when the music stopped. So in 1897, when Palestine was not a nation but a region within the Ottoman Empire (corresponding to what is now Israel and Jordan combined) the First Zionist Conference declared:

Zionism aims at establishing for the Jewish people a publicly and legally assured home in Palestine.

This original definition of Zionism deliberately says nothing of borders, policy, or even the creation of a nation-state. [Update: More on that in an earlier post on the origins and consequent meaning of “Zionism”.]

What does it imply over a century later, in a world which has the state of Israel? It means that at its core, Zionism is not defined by any of the particulars of Israel — not any specific borders or policy or governance.

Being a Zionist today means neither more nor less that one supports Israel’s existence. I know many liberal and leftist Zionists who believe in the Zionist project … and who at the same time work for a dramatic transformation of Israel’s policies and society, in pursuit of justice for Palestinian Arabs who live in both the Occupied Territories and within Israel’s pre-1967 borders.

How I hear you

Given this understanding of what the word “Zionism” means, given that calling for the dissolution of Israel is the explicit position of countless anti-Zionists, in your anti-Zionism I hear rejection of the very existence of Israel.

Would you look a Kurdish nationalist in the eye and tell them not to yearn for a nation of Kurdistan? Would you tell a Pakistani nationalist that Pakistan should still be part of India? Would you tell a White South African that the historical horrors of apartheid mean that their citizenship should be revoked? Would you harass a US citizen for celebrating our Independence Day?

Perhaps you might. But since I have not seen you attack other national projects in the same way you attack Zionism, I hear a unique animus just toward Zionism.

What is so special about Zionism?

I want to underline the gravity of your reaction here. You have not made a statement of principle about Zionism as an ideology. You have not opposed a Zionist project. You have not attacked a public advocate of Zionism. You have not just discouraged people from working with someone who is a Zionist in their private life.

You have gone beyond all that, working hard to try to purge from the community someone who privately supports Zionism.

What is so special about Zionism?

This effort to expel this person from your community rhymes with the long history of Jewish expulsion which gave rise to the Zionist movement in the first place.

What is so special about Zionism?

What am I to think? The obvious answer is: Jews are what make Zionism so special.

And I must mention one more thing.

Around the same time that you were tweeting the things I quote above, you also shared this:

The conspiracy theory that the banks are secret masters who control the government and the media is only millimeters away from the longstanding antisemitic conspiracy theory that Jewish bankers are secret masters who control the government and the media.

Seeing this together with with your vigorous harassment of a Zionist? It troubles me.

So when you say “no, no, I don’t have a problem with Jews, I just have a problem with Zionism” it has the same ring to me as someone who says “I am not a racist, but …”.

In this moment when we have literal Nazis on the march in America, I am touchy.

It does not have to be this way

I believe that your effort to distinguish between standing for justice and standing against Jews is sincere. I do not believe that you are driven by antisemitic bigotry.

I respect how the worst of Israel’s history — and the worst of Israel’s present — whets a hunger for justice.

I respect how hard it can be to gauge one’s response to those injustices when pro-Israel boosters attack anyone who offers even modest criticism of Israel.

I respect how difficult it can be to understand the context of Israel-Palestine when there are propagandists on all sides actively trying to confuse things.


You are demonizing Zionism in a way that holds Jews to a troublingly unique standard. You are echoing antisemitic conspiracy theories.

You are doing antisemitism.

I presume that is not what you want to do.

There are resources available for better understanding antisemitism. If you don’t have Jewish friends with whom you can have the necessary hard conversations, I invite you to come to me.

I want solidarity in pursuit of justice, not a fight. I invite you to consider how you sound to me. Please.

Equipto responds on Twitter and we get into a dialogue. I have marked his words for clarity.

Does the Israeli government support Zionism? Are children being murdered every 60 hours by the Israeli military in the name of Zionism? It’s simple. Of course Israel has the right to exist, but at the expense of who? It’s pretty simple. I appreciate your concern. But I’m coo.
Hitler was a vegetarian. That doesn't make vegetarians Nazis.

Not all Zionists support the Israeli government.

Bad analogy. Then those Zionist need to stand in solidarity with those that oppose the occupation. Simple again.
Many do.

Being a Zionist does not mean supporting the occupation. That is just not what the word means.
So why focus on the word & not focus on the atrocities.? That baffles me. Saying that “I do not believe that you are driven by antisemitic bigotry” is 100% on point. Btw, I have Jew friends that work w/ JAZ (Jews Against Zionism) & they’ve broken it down to me. Thanks though.
You focused on the word.

You said that being a Zionist was sufficient cause to drive Manny out of SF.
I’m focused on what’s being done to innocent Palestinians by Israeli military in the name of Zionism. Shouldn’t that be your concern too?
Is Manny doing something to innocent Palestinians?
When proudly celebrating the 70 year occupation of Palestine in public & social media, I would say yes..
Should we try to drive everyone who celebrates US Independence Day out of SF?

Or is the “occupation of Palestine” under a United Nations agreement in 1948 different from the occupation of North America by the United States?
Does the Israeli government support Zionism? Are children being murdered every 60 hours by the Israeli military in the name of Zionism? It’s simple. Of course Israel has the right to exist, but at the expense of who? It’s pretty simple. I appreciate your concern. But I’m coo.
It does not sound to me like you appreciate my concern. It sounds to me like you don't have a problem with doing antisemitism in the eyes of non-Zionist Jews.
Well, if that’s what it sounds like to you, you’re WRONG.. you’re going in circles trying to make me out to be anti-Semitic.. smh..
Do you respond this same way to Black people when they say you did something racist?
Aye, 50cent w/ the 21 questions.
Get at me when you’re in the city & we can talk face to face about it. How bout that?

I would very much like that.

I am out of town for a stretch; I will ping you about raising a glass when I return.

(At the time of this writing I still have not been in town to catch up with Equipto, but I hope to catch up with him eventually.)

Another response:

This is not convincing. Criticism of bankers is too close to anti-semitism...so, we shouldn’t criticize banking? False equivalencies with South Africa? I’ll pass. The Manny’s boycott is about in group/out group poseur radicalism, sloppiness, and xenophobia, but not anti-semitism.
Criticism of bankers is not too close to antisemitism. I am a banker-hater myself.

But saying that BANKERS CONTROL THE GOVERNMENT is reproducing conspiracy theories directly springing from the antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
What is false about the parallel with South Africa?

Israel’s current governance is an apartheid state (roughly) comparable to SA pre-1994. But unlike SA, Israel faces anti-Zionist opposition which denies its right to exist as a state and calls for expulsion of its citizens.
Also, I have to notice that you are telling a Jew what is and is not antisemitism.

I am skeptical that you respond to women that way about sexism, PoCs about racism, LGBTQ folks about homophobia ....

The legitimacy of opposition to Zionism

I want to add a fine distinction between my position and a statement from the London Centre for the study of Contemporary Antisemitism:

Antizionism is an anti-Jewish ideology that is strong in left-wing and liberal circles today, including on university campuses. It coalesces into ostensibly coherent worldviews that are distinct from ‘criticism of Israel’. It portrays Israel as uniquely illegitimate and as central to, and as symbolic of, oppression everywhere. It thinks of itself as innocent of antisemitism.

This open letter is a response to exactly this kind of political rhetoric which is all too common on the left. I would like a name for that position.

“Antizionism” is a very bad term to use for it. That makes a false implication that this is the only opposition to Zionism which exists, which is double-edged bad: it suggests that all opponents of Zionism share this entire ideology (which they do not) and it lets proponents of this ideology to claim opposition to Zionism as its heart (which it is not).

And then their statement gets weird.

Antizionism, pioneered in the USSR, by Arab Nationalism and by the Jihadi Islamist ideologues, is embraced today by people who think of themselves as liberal, progressive and democratic.

On our campuses it is antizionism that is especially pressing. It nurtures a hostile environment for Jewish students and academics, and for those who challenge its certainties. It delegitimises antisemitism scholarship as propaganda for Israel. Antizionism is part of an ecosystem of anti-democratic and conspiracy-fantasy ways of thinking that is considered legitimate.

While the thing which they are naming is a real pattern, and there are problems from it in academic environments — including, yes, at its worst feeding poisonous ideologies and delivering bad-faith criticism and pressures against legitimate antisemitism scholarship — this account of it is itself a crank conspiracy theory, projecting weird red-baiting and Islamophobic fantasies ... further implying incorrectly that it is the only real form of opposition to Zionism ... as well as implying correctly that this is reflected in all forms of Arab nationalism.

I reject all of those implications, and particularly the implication that all opposition to Zionism is antisemitic and illegitimate.

Another word about the word

In a recent conversation, a friend asked:

I understand the deep roots. Am I to take from what you are saying that it is impossible for liberal Jews who want a Jewish homeland in Israel to talk about that without identifying as Zionist? And that it is not possible or desirable to invent another term?

If so, why? It is not automatically clear to me, an outsider, that “To disassociate oneself with Zionism is to suggest that there shouldn't be a Jewish homeland in the land of Israel.”

I respect the question. And yes, it is impossible for liberal Jews who want a Jewish homeland in Israel the region of Palestine to talk about that without identifying as Zionist.

Because we happen to have a word which very precisely means “advocating a Jewish homeland somewhere in the region of Palestine”, where Israel now stands. That word is “Zionism”. It means exactly that. Nothing more. Nothing less. Nothing else. It meant that in 1897. It meant that in 1917. It meant that in 1947. It meant that in 1967. It meant that yesterday.

Surrendering the word because fascist antisemites, Israeli war criminals, Palestinian liberation advocates, leftist numbskulls, Islamist theocrat terrorists, 4chan chaos nihilists, and Christian nationalist zealots all insist on misrepresenting it would be like surrendering “socialism” or “sexism” or “liberalism” to their parallel (or suspiciously overlapping) bullshitters. It would be at once false, confusing, offensive, and useless. There is no option but to insist on what the word actually means.

I say this not in an embrace of Zionism. I am not a Zionist! I think the movement emerges from on logically, culturally, politically, and morally dubious premises. I think that history has clearly demonstrated how the movement was a catastrophic strategic blunder for Jewish flourishing. And as it happens, the day I wrote this I felt like burning the Knesset, the seat of Zionism, to the ground.

But. My rejection of Zionism is not opposition. I respect Zionism.

I respect the compelling reasons why the Zionists of 1897 — 1917 — 1947 — 1967 — and yesterday embraced Zionism. I respect the ideals of the liberal Zionist tradition threaded through all of that, not least because I share so many of those ideals. I respect Zionism as a place to stand to correctly insist that the State Of Israel has not one גרה less legitimacy than any other nation-state, though I need not stand on Zionism in solidarity to insist on Israel’s legitimacy because morality, history, logic, and plain honesty are solid enough places to ground that solidarity.

And “respect” is far too weak a word for what I feel for Zionism as the flower of millions of Israelis’ love for the only home they have ever known, a place I toast each year in joyous ritual, but have never set foot on.

So I can neither insult Zionism nor flatter those who misunderstand it by surrendering what the word “Zionism” means. I am not just unwilling. My brain and tongue cannot do it.