This is an email interview I did to support a kickstarter project by a wonderful company called 64 Ounce Games. The kickstarter was to fund the production of a complete set of braille dice for role playing games like Dungeons & Dragons, Rogue Trader or World of Darkness.
- How long have you role played?
I was born with a significant visual impairment but became totally blind after a car accident as a very young child. I have role played since the age of seven and am now in my early thirties.
Off the top of my head, the role playing games I have played are: Pathfinder, Dungeons & Dragons (at least four editions), Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, The One Ring, Dark Heresy, Rogue Trader, Traveller, Shadowrun, World Of Darkness (Vampire, Mage, Geist and the core game across at least two editions), Traveller, Unknown Armies, The Strange, Pendragon, Apocalypse World, D20 Star Wars, Star Wars Saga Edition, Star Wars: Edge of the Empire, Iron Kingdoms, Call of Cthulhu (5th, 6th and 7th editions), Fireborn and 316: Carnage Amongst the Stars.
I am also an avid tabletop gamer. The tabletop systems I have played are: Warhammer Fantasy Battles, Warhammer 40,000, Mordheim, Necromunda, Epic Armageddon, Warmaster, Lord of the Rings, Chain Reaction, Dinomight, Warmachine, Hordes, Starship Troopers and Uncharted Seas.
As for board games, the more complicated ones I have played are: Arkham Horror, Hero Quest, Warhammer Quest, Dragon Strike, Talisman, Escape from Colditz, Settlers of Catan, Mice and Mystics, Zombies, Munchkin and Pandemic.
- What are your favorite systems? Do you have some preferred classes or archetypes?
My favourite systems are Pathfinder where I am happy to experiment with most classes and archetypes.
I really enjoy Shadowrun and usually play a rigger in that system. I do lament how complicated it is though.
I play a lot of World of Darkness (both “old” and “new” versions, but not the new God Machine iteration). I love the flexibility and variety of modern horror themes that you can invoke. I prefer playing Toreador or Gangrel vampires or just a plain old human trying to survive against all the odds.
I think the background that has possibly captivated me the most is the Cthulhu Mythos so I take any opportunity I can to play Call of Cthulhu. I tend to play kind of pulp heroes based on Lord John Roxton (from Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World), Alan Quatermaine (from the series of H. Ryder Haggard books), or a kind of Indiana Jones.
- What frustrates you the most about being a blind role player?
It used to be accessing the rules but PDF rulebooks from game developers themselves or sites like Drivethru RPG have probably been the most exciting thing to happen for me in the last decade. Besides, I’ve always been very good at remembering rules. Over all, it’s the dice. You can easily get D6s that are accessible, and there are dice rolling computer programs out there now, but it’s just not the same. Rolling a dice feels better. Rolling a dice sounds better. The reaction from a table full of excited gamers when a particularly good or bad dice roll appears in front of them is something you can’t describe. Just the braille D20 that I had from 64 Ounce Games as last year has been one of my most treasured possessions. The opportunity to get a whole set of polyhedral dice is just astounding. I honestly can say that it’s the one thing I’ve known I wanted to find since I was a child. The excitement is well worth the quarter of a century wait.
- What has worked well for you?
As a child I had somebody read my character sheets to me so I could braille them. This meant that they were hard to change, however, and I had to either remember my changing hitpoints (or whatever) or have someone else write them down. It also meant that somebody else had to remind me of precisely what all my abilities did. The laptop has been the greatest innovation for me so far. I can have an editable version of my character sheet at my disposal and can make as many notes as I need in a word processing document. The advent of PDF rulebooks and accessible dice rolling programs (GMA Dice is by far the best that I’ve found), has made my laptop even more indispensable.
- Are certain digital files better than others?
I buy all of my rulebooks, source material and supplements as PDFs. This is a great system that can be easily transferred across platforms and isn’t too bad to work with using screen readers. I do tend to save text versions of rulebooks for use while playing games, however, since I find these easier to navigate quickly with my screen reader in Windows. In general though, as long as the file is saved so that the content is text and not pictures, it has tended to work pretty well for me.
I was lucky enough to get a braille copy of the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Player’s Handbook but it is absolutely huge and not practical to take with you when gaming at other people’s houses. I also got copies of a few army codexes brailled for my Warhammer 40,000 factions but Games Workshop update these every few years so they quickly become obsolete.
- What companies have made an extra effort for accessibility? Which companies have been horror stories so far and we need to help be more inclusive?
Paizo have been a really good company as, not only is all the Pathfinder source material available in accessible electronic form, but there is also a free-to-use on-line wiki of all the rules.
Also, Fantasy Flight Games have been particularly excellent. They even publish PDFs of some of their board games so I was able to access and learn the Arkham Horror rules for myself (particularly useful when I won’t shut up about Cthulhu and it’s such a complicated game).
Privateer Press were unintentionally helpful when they published preview PDF versions of the faction stat cards for Warmachine and Hordes. These previews were straightforward text copies. Unfortunately, the republished versions are pictures and so not as accessible. Similarly, their free app with the army cards isn’t accessible either.
The stand-out company which has been the worst for me is Games Workshop. I’ve asked in-store and by telephoning their main office several times over the last 15 years or so if there’s anything they can do for accessibility. The answer has been universally that the risk of illegal copying is too great. In all fairness to staff in local stores, they’ve been very helpful to me by letting me touch the larger models I’ve wanted to purchase. I also highly praise the range of audio books and dramas they’re producing now in conjunction with Heavy Entertainment. They really are resistent to accessibility though and that’s not done anything to encourage me to maintain my passion for their games.
- If you had one thing that you wish that people understood about being a blind role player what is it?
The one thing I wish people would understand about being a blind role player is that there is no difference. In a role playing group, you all sit around the same table with the same page of numbers in front of you. Nowadays, lots of role players have tablets and laptops with them so even the fact that you’re using technology to assist you isn’t any different. All the action in a role playing game takes place in your imagination and I think I have one of the best imaginations of pretty much any of the role players I know well. It’s a way to hang out with friends and enjoy a hobby you all love without needing special help, equipment or asking if someone’s insurance will let you do it. You don’t need to ask “what’s happening now?” as you might if watching a film with friends where there’s no audio description. You all describe your actions as a matter of course. The story is narrated without you having to wait years for the audio book to become available. It’s arguably one of the most accessible participation activities there is.