The Women’s Wargaming Network, launched by Yuna Wong at Connections US, now has a home at womenswargaming.org, where you can subscribe to connect with other women wargamers, and share your WWN-related news, events, and opportunities.
The Women’s Wargaming Network is open to anyone who identifies as a woman, professional and hobby wargamers alike. Our mission is to help women thrive in professional wargaming. It is not enough merely to survive as a woman in a male-dominated field: our goal is for women to bring their authentic selves, the full range of their talents and abilities, and their own vision and ambition to professional wargaming.
Our aim is to hold at least one zoom meeting a month. If you would like to present, have ideas about who you’d like to hear from, topics you’d like covered, or content you’d like to provide for the webpage, sign-up and get involved. We plan for events to be a mix of for-women and open-to-all (ie an opportunity for women to educate the wider wargaming community).
You can read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in wargaming here.
Everybody’s favourite WW2 Naval war correspondant, AJ McWhinnie, author of many marvellous articles on the Western Approaches Tactical Unit, dropped this tantalising detail in an article for the Liverpool Herald:
And then, would you beleive it, I found photographs, while hunting-up evidence of the Bombay Tactical Unit.
Just as the WRINS have fitted into the life and routine of other Naval Specialist Schools, they have also become an integral part of the Naval Gunnery Training Establishment, HMIS Himalaya.
Secretarial duties, assisting Instructors in preparing syllabae, arranging courses, and correcting confidential books and publications of modern theories of Gunnery were taken over by the WRINS when men of the RIN were urgently required for War Service afloat.
Besides doing office work they also assisted in the actual training of officers and ratings in Gunnery tactics. Theoretical lectures on Aircraft Recognition, High Angle Firing, Ship Recognition, etc were taught with the aid of cinema strips and some of the girls worked the projectors as qualified cinema operators. This was a highly specialised job needing a background knowledge of Electricity and Sound but they soon studied and mastered the technicalities and became proficient in their duties.
Gunnery in its practical aspects was taught at the High-Angle or Anti-Aircraft School which is also a part of the Training Establishment. This is India’s most modern naval school of anti-aircraft training.
Here potential Gunners practised firing at target-towing aircraft and WRINS were employed on Radio Telephones, passing messages to aircraft from control positions and passing orders to gun crews to carry out different forms of drill.
Apart from these jobs WRINS of HMIS Himalaya carried out ordinance duties. They stripped complicated close range weapons and assembled them again after cleaning and maintenance, thus keeping the condition of the arms at the high level of efficiency which is essential for accurate firing and good results.
WRINS and How They Served
This passage in particular delighted me:
They worked the complex precision machines which calculate the speed, range, angle of sight and height of ‘enemy’ aircraft and predict their future movements. This information is transmitted down to the guns by means of electrical transmission units and pointers. When the practices were over the errors in ‘time lag’ and ‘aim-off’ were analysed by the WRIN assistants and later explained to the classes.
This was the apparatus the charming McWhinnie paragraph described, and I thought I’d go a-hunting for this RCNVR Lt. For about two-and-a-half seconds I was disappointed to find McWhinnie fallible; the Lt was not Canadian, nor had any RCN connections I could find. But frankly who cares WHEN NOW I HAVE VIDEO !!?
PAXsims is delighted to present some recent developments in the WATU story. If proof were ever needed that the Derby House Principles were well-named—over and above the queer Wrens, the RN officers unfit for duty at sea through illness and injury, and Wrens standing watch as Midshipmen on a Destroyer in the Med in 1943, whose diversity is what made WATU great—enter stage right, the Bombay Tactical Unit:
Pre-1944 RIN officers took their tactical training at Liverpool.
This is Pritam “Peter” Singh Mahindroo:
He joined the Merchant Navy at 16, and on the outbreak of war he tried to transfer to the Royal Indian Navy but was denied entry because, being Sikh, he refused to cut his hair. By 1940 he was in, with his turban on, and in 1942 he took the WATU course before escorting ships to the Atlantic Ocean as a Lt on INS Godvari.
A Victory parade was held in London on June 8,1946 in which representatives of the three Indian Armed Forces participated. The senior Indian Naval officer was Commander (later Rear Admiral) A. Chakravarti and the Naval Contingent was led by Lieutenant (later Rear Admiral) P.S. Mahindroo. In keeping with the inter-service seniority in which the Navy was the senior service, the parade was led by the Naval Contingent.
Rear Admiral Mahindroo, who later commanded our first aircraft carrier Vikrant, reminisces on the occasion, “Needless to say, that as a turbaned officer leading the Naval Contingent, I was most prominent and I must have given hundreds of autographs amongst thousands of spectators who probably slept on the pavement for one or two nights to witness this historic parade.
Fearing imminent Japanese invasion in 1942, the Women’s Auxilliary Corps (India) formed to free every available shore-man for active duty. In January 1944 the WRINS formally stood up as its naval branch, as the focus of the war turned towards Asia.
43% of the officers and 77% of the WRINS were Indian, and among the junior officers 80% were Indian. The rest were Anglo-Indians (born in India of British descent; the white ruling class of Empire) and Brits—a combination of women stranded in the Empire by wartime travel restrictions, and women from Britain who signed up to the WRINS instead of the WRNS (applicants who didn’t quite make the cut for the RN were sometimes offered a more favourable position in the RIN, RCN, or other colonial navy…)
[Of course, Indians and Anglo-Indians were British Citizens; that’s how Empire worked. A fact conveniently forgotten by the hostile environment policy and Windrush scandal.]
The WRINS offered opportunities for “intelligent and well educated women and girls when they pass out of their schools and colleges … [for] cultured Indian girls and women … who have the interest and well-being of their country at heart.”
Chief Officer Cooper’s somewhat idyllic view of Empire certainly reflected attitudes of the time:
[Cooper’s spelling] Here Mohammedans, Hindoos, Parsees, Pathans, Anglo-Indians and British lived side by side in harmony, the only allowance made for difference in tase were the meals, two sets being provided.
For the Indian girls it was the experience of a life-time, broadening their outlook, and helping towards emancipation—so important for their future role in India.
During the three-day Mutiny in February 1946 it was significant that the WRINS in all the ports stood fast, and showed no signs of disaffection.
Cooper, Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service
Given that the chief grievance of the mutineers was poor treatment of Indian ratings by white officers, it suggests a white leadership (and of course, it was all white at the top) somewhat out of touch with the recipients of their colonial benificence.
Roshan Horabin, who was turned away from the WAC(I) because pre-1944 “they did not employ native girls,” talks about the class and race tensions at play:
I was educated at the Cathederal. And in those days there were only 10% Indians and we paid double fees. And although [an Indian] could be a prefect, you couldn’t be a head girl.
Roshan came from the upper-crust of Indian families, and socialised with Baronettes. Even so, she was once challenged by a police officer for using the “European” latrine instead of the “Indian” one.
He said, “These are the rules of the Empire and Indians do not go into British latrines.” People are shocked to hear this, and think Appartheit was only in South Africa. And I say no, in fact it was the whole of the Empire.
In 1942 she joined the Intelligence Division.
We had English people, Germans, French, and Mrs Smith who was a Colonel’s wife, in charge of my section. I think we had four Anglo-Indian ladies but they didn’t talk to Bina [the Honourable Bina Sina] and myself, they just spoke to the European lot. But the English lot talked to Bina and me.
Later when the WRINS began accepting Indian applicants, the Intelligence Division wouldn’t let her go. You can hear the whole of her oral history interview here.
The WRINS were immensley proud of their Tactical Unit contribution. In WRINS and How They Served, a two-page spread is devoted to explaining the purpose and details of the Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit, while the rest of the book has photographs and only brief captions at-best, glossing over the rest of the WRINS technical duties. (My particular favourite: Cypherettes at work. Because intelligence officers and backing vocalists are so very hard to tell apart…)
The Royal Indian Naval Tactical Unit in Bombay trained officers of the RIN in one of the most thrilling and vital phases of sea warfare—the “Killer Group” tactics that played so large a part in the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic. Modelled on the lines of the Royal Navy’s famous Western Approaches Tactical Unit, this well-equipped establishment had WRINS assisting in the training of future commanding officers of HMI escort vessels.
WRINS and How They Served
Founding the Bombay Tactical Unit.
This is Cdr Arthur King:
The Tactical Unit was established in Bombay in 1944 and was disbanded shortly after the capitulation of Japan. As I was in charge of this unit it is of some historical interest that my thoughts on it should be recorded.
At the outset I should say that I do not have any clear idea as to why I was given this job. Certainly I never asked for it. But I have, nevertheless, for as long as I can remember, had an interest in naval tactics. This started when at school I read of Nelson’s conduct of his fleet. The positioning of ships to gain maximum advantage over the enemy was only achieved by a clear understanding of what was needed and how to use the elements—sea, wind, sun and moon—to gain the upper hand. A total understanding between the ships’ Captains was essential. Nelson developed this to the full, calling his Captains his “band of brothers”, and fostered this espirit de corps to a fine degree of understanding by calling them all together at every possible moment he could create.
In 1942, standing by HMIS Jumna building on the Clyde, a notice was circulated to COs of all escort vessels that they and their executive officers should attend as convenient at the A/S Tactical School located in Derby House, Liverpool, headquarters of Admiral Sir Max Horton, C-in-C Western Approaches.
There I met Commander Duncan
And this is the true joy of King’s account for me as a woman: to see the karma of the Williams’ biography of Captain Roberts, which mis-spelled the names of every single WATU Wren, repaid in kind by King persistently mis-remembering Roberts’ name as “Duncan”, and confusing him with his then-XO Lt Cdr Walter Higham, ex-submariner and ranking survivor of HMS Audacity:
There I met Commander DuncanRoberts, a dug out submariner who had been invalided out of the service in 1939 and recalled to set up a school to aquaint the Captains of the many escort vessels—sloops, frigates, corvettes—with the ways of the enemy they were going to face when they got out into the Atlantic, and how to deal with him. Technical schools had already instrcuted people in the mechanics of Asdic and final attack procedure, but they did not then have any experience of the tactics the enemy would use to get into the best position to get at the convoy. DuncanRoberts had made a study of such matters and had the added benefit of his Chief’s submariner’s mind.
The week-long course consisted of very few short lectures. Most of the time was spent playing games and analysing them. The “play area” was a gridded linoleum (has anyone ever seen lino of the quality provided to the Navy?) floor, with the pupils behind screens out of sight of the main plot, positioned at desks and fed with data—some relivant, some irrelivant—of contacts, signals, D/F bearings, etc, from which each had to decided his actions—signals to others, course and speed of his own ship, whether to move towards the convoy or to go to help some other ship in trouble, etc etc. All this was then transfered to the plot on the floor and success or failure resulted. Understanding of how best to achieve the objective of getting the convoy safely through was undoubtedly improved as the week went on. One was better informed of what the Germans were about and how they operated their “Wolf Pack” tactics. Confidence in how to counter-attack was gained. It was Nelson’s band of brothers again.
Then, in 1944,
I was somewhat mystified to recieve instructions to set up a Tactical Unit in Bombay on the lines of the Unit in Derby House Liverpool. The intention was that, as the war in Europe was approaching finality, Churchill and the War Cabinet directed that more effort had to be made against the enemy in the East.
And so, in July 1944, in company with Lieutenant Ahsan, DSC, and four WRINS—2nd Officers E. Donoghue, E. Staveley, J. West and E.A. Twynham—we set off in a York to fly to Liverpool. DuncanRoberts was still there—actually he spent the whole of the war in this appointment—and for six weeks we understudied him and his team.
In Bombay we set up shop. Our first location was above Mongini’s Restaurant in Hornby Road. This was all right for operation as it had the space and was properly fitted out, but it was hardly the place to keep confidential books. We were soon found a corner of the dockyard.
VE came and was celebrated. Then some months later Hiroshima and then Nagasaki were attacked by atomic bombs and the war was over.
In the weeks following, we in the Tactical Unit considered what we should do. There was obviously no enthusiasm for VR officers to spend time learning something they would never have to apply in practice. People all around us were just waiting for demoblilisation and getting bored. So we decided to set up demonstrations, using the facility of the large gridded linoleum floor as our stage. We read up on the confidential reports of the major Naval batles of the war and prepared our floor-show. “The Sinking of the Bismarck” and “The Battle of the River Plate” were presented by us in Bombay long before they were made into films! And we had large audiences, weighted from time to time by gold braid. Admirals Godfrey and Rattray both came along to see what we were up to, and made some complimentary remarks at the end of the shows.
Like this, I imagine, only with less YouTube and more pipe-smoking:
Was the Tactical Unit worthwhile? This is difficult to answer. Certinly if the war had developed into a long battle against the Japanese, who up to then had shown every sign of being difficult to move and fanatical in their resolve, then there would have been an enormous increase in military activity in this sphere with all important supplies coming by sea and therefore entirely dependent on Naval supremacy.
The Tactical Unit at Bombay would then have become, as was Liverpool to the Atlantic, the centre for updating intelligence of enemy tactics.
Show me the WRINS!
Oh, dear reader, I can do one better. Please be upstanding for 2nd Officer Staveley (now Puckridge), only the third first-hand account of WATU’s activities by a Wren (WRIN) in existance (Wren June Duncan’s memoire, and Lt Carol Hendry’s oral history being the other two).
Here are the founding WRINS of the Bombay Tactical Unit:
Pinch me. I am actually exchanging e-mails with a WATU Wren:
My father had just completed a 6-year Army posting to India when war broke out and we were unable to return to the UK because of the new travel restrictions. I enlisted in the WAC(I) in Bangalore in South India when the local women’s services commenced recruiting (had to back-date my date of birth by a year to qualify). After a few months in a Recruiting Office, I was asked if I would transfer to the Air Defence Unit, still in Bangalore. Later (sadly I did not keep a diary, so am imprecise about dates) I was asked to move to Cochin to work on Cyphers and from there was sent on an OTC and promoted to 2nd Officer, WR(I)NS. I was then sent to Liverpool Western Approaches Tactical Training Unit and, on completion of the course, was posted to Bombay to help with setting up a Tactical Unit there.
On arrival in Bombay from Liverpool I seem to recall working exclusively with the small group who attended the UK course, ie the four of us in the picture, the officer named King and another IAF officer [Lt Ahsan], and a lovely girl from India whose name I can’t recall.
When this was disbanded after VJ Day, I was posted as Personal Assistant to the Chief Staff Officer to the Flag Officer, Bombay, [Capt Nott] for a short while until I was demobbed in 1945.
2nd Officer Anne Puckridge (nee Staveley)
That lovely girl from India was 2nd Officer Kalyani Sen:
It was decided that four WRIN officers should be sent to the United Kingdom for a two months’ course at the Anti-Submarine Tactical Course at Liverpool. Those officers on completion of their training were appointed to act as “movers” at the Anti-Submarine Tactical School at Bombay. The Deputy Director WRINS, Chief Officer Cooper and two administrative officers also proceeded to the United Kingdom where they were attached to Women’s Royal Naval Service establishments and training centres for a period of two months to undergo a course of instruction in WRNS methods of administration and training.
The first Indian service woman who visited the United Kingdom was second officer Kalyani Sen, of the Women’s Royal Indian Naval Service. With Chief Officer Margaret Cooper and second Officer Phyllis Cunningham she went there at the invitation of the Admiralty to make a comparative study of training and administration in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.
There you have it. Women and minorities forging operational analysis. And casting gears for submarines, too (from Wrens in Camera by Lee Miller. Really stunning and unexpected photos of Wrens onboard ship and other non-clerical duties):
You can read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
The following report has been cleared for release by the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (public release identifier DSTL/PUB126772)
Always wanted to be in a video game? Frustrated by the lack of diversity in COTS wargames?
This is your opportunity to be the representation you want to see in Combat Mission, a commercially available wargame used by Dstl and wider UK MOD to support analysis. It’s a fully 3D game all the way down to representing individual soldiers… You can see a quick overview here:
In light of the Derby House Principles, Tom Halliday at Dstl has secured support from the developers (Battlefront.com) and publishers (Slitherine) to implement more diverse people into the game. This will include adding BAME and female graphical representations to NATO forces, and providing Dstl the ability to add-in voice acting from diverse people.
That’s where you come in!
We are looking for diverse people to contribute their voice to this initiative. Please spread the word, you do not have to be a wargamer, defence analyst, or service-person. Friends and family are welcome too. Here’s an idea of how the pros do it [warning: language !] in Company of Heroes (we won’t be asking you to swear) if you need some inspiration.
Everyone who contributes will recieve a splendid campaign medal Derby House Pin, and have their voice immortalised within UK MOD wargaming analysis.
Who do we want to hear from?
Anyone who identifies as a woman:
another country/ethnicity accents not already covered (even if you’re not British)
any other under-represented group (eg LGBT+)
Those who identify as men and are:
another country/ethnicity accents not already covered (even if you’re not British)
any other under-represented group (eg LGBT+)
Countries the British Army recruits from:
Antigua and Barbuda, Australia, The Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Brunei Darussalem. Cameroon, Canada, Cyprus, Dominica, Fiji, Ghana, Grenada, Guyana, India, Jamaica, Kenya, Kiribati, Lesotho, Malawi, Malaysia, Maldives, Malta, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Ireland, Rwanda, Saint Lucia, Samoa, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, St Kitts and Nevis, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Swaziland, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Vanuatu, and Zambia.
A note on age: as long as you sound like you’re between 18 and 55 you’re in.
What if I can do a few different accents?
If you can record the lines with different accents, that would be awesome. Please do a separate submission for each accent.
Note: this is not an invitation for white people to muscle-in on the representation space. Please no black-face voice acting, or bad approximations of accents that aren’t really yours.
What do I get in return?
Your voice acting will be immortalised in Dstl version of Combat Mission, a COTS wargame used by UK MOD.
The eternal glory of being part of a short film Dstl is making to publicise the new-and-diverse ORBAT and to celebrate the Derby House Principles in general.
The joy/pride/immense satisfaction of knowing you are playing a part in breaking down barriers for BAME and PoC soldiers, analysts, and gamers, by normalising the presence of female and ethnically diverse characters in computer games. Representation matters.
A Derby House Principles pin, which looks amazing on a pass lanyard. The Blue Peter Badge of wargaming ;-)
I’m in, how do I do this?
with Audacity & mic, or smart phone.
*.WAV, or if you’re doing it by smart phone I’ll also accept *.mp3 and *.m3a files (standard output from iPhone and android voice recorder apps)
Hang up a duvet in front or around you when you record if you can. This deadens the echo in the room. It will improve the quality of the audio enormously. There’s a nice demonstration of the effect in this video; you don’t need a fancy blanket, any kind of duvet works.
Have a real go at the acting if you can. The best stuff is likely to feature prominently in the film :D
Please do record three takes of each line, and doing each a little differently. It really helps us. We can pick the best performance you give us, and it also means we have an alternative for any stray noise/fluffed lines.
Please follow the naming convention in the instructions, it’ll make it much easier for us in the post-processing work. If you’re reallyreally struggling, just send me what you can, I’d rather have the voice acting than quibble over technical issues.
I’ve done it, now what?
Once you’ve recorded your lines, drop me an e-mail with a link to the files on your google drive/dropbox/other, or ask me to send you a link to my dropbox where you can upload the files.
Also let me know:
where to send your pin
what name you’d like us to use to credit your voice acting—if you want to be credited. If you’d rather not be named, you can either supply the most amazing stage name (points will be awarded for good puns) or we’ll put you down under “the wargaming community”.
Please complete and return the consent form or we can’t use your voice-recordings.
Combat Mission is becoming increasingly widely used within Dstl and also within wider MoD, such as the Fight Club initiative. This is a great opportunity to promote diversity and drive change in a way which normalises the fact that minorities and women both serve in the British Army. We cannot do this without your support (and the support of your wider friends and family if they want to contribute as well). As a straight, white man as part of a group in Combat Mission of other straight, white men, this is something we are literally incapable of doing ourselves but we really want to help to promote D&I as widely as possible.
Once I have your voice acting files,
Your name will only be used to credit you in the Dstl film if you choose to be named
Your address will only be used to post you a Derby House Pin
Your e-mail address will only be used to let you know when the film launches
Your personal details will be deleted once the above is done
Your voice acting files will not include your personal details.
You may have noticed that when disability shows up in the media, it’s:
Short hand for evil: Bond villains, anyone? Limps, scars, prosthetics, mental illness. The media uses disability to other the bad guy. Not cool.
Inspiration porn: the disabled character isn’t a person so much as their tragical experiences are the plot mechanic to spur able-bodied people to become better human beings. Me Before You pretty much takes the biscuit here, but most disability biopics fit this trope through condescension and “good on them for trying”. To quote my friend: don’t say it’s good because I’m dyslexic; say it’s good.
The Overcoming Narrative: because the most important thing in the world is for a disabled person to be cured of their disability. All disabilities can be magically cured if it suits the plot! Nobody needs to be ok about disability, because Real People pull their socks up and defeat it.
Exceptionalism: a trope common to all marginalised people, that we accept your disability (or blackness, or womanhood, or sexuality, or immigrant-status) if you redeem yourself through exceptional achievement. It’s not all bad, but it’s a toxic message when it’s the only positive portrayal of disabled people. It sends a message that you’re doing your disability wrong if you’re living a perfectly normal, happy and fulfilled life like 99% of the rest of the population.
Disability Issues Only: the disabled character only gets to have storylines about being disabled. Because that’s all disabled people do, right? They don’t have lives, or jobs, or partners/spouses and kids *eyeroll*
Like “the Gay Agenda”, folks with disabilities just want to get on with life the same way all you non-disabled folks do: go to work, remember to buy milk, collect the kids from school, and see positive representations of people like them in books, films, TV, and in the games we play.
Sara Thompson has created a ruleset for what’s basically a murderball chair, which levels the playing field for an adventurer with a physical disability: it functions as a basic melee weapon (with ramming, crushing, and side-swiping actions), it laughs in the face of steps and stairs (you know, like able-bodied adventurers do), and has plenty of options for upgrading and levelling-up with your chair as you adventure—mounted combat, being one with your chair as far as spell-casting goes, and pockets.
Sigh. If you’re genuinely asking this question, alas dear reader, you have the ableist mindset that sees disability as broken, undesirable, and to be avoided and put out of mind at all costs. Yes, absolutely, disability is hard and frustrating, and at times and in certain situations, limiting (though you’d be surprised how often it’s not the disability that’s limiting, more society, infrastructure and assumptions). But, you know, so is having ginger hair or an Essex accent, or being a woman in a male-dominated field, and nobody is saying “OMG why would you want to play as these things in D&D, what’s wrong with you? Don’t give them the rules, don’t let that be an option.”
I wondered how could I get abled folks to understand and see us as people like them? – Sara Thompson
Everyone plays D&D as a little bit themselves. Why shouldn’t disabled people have the same choice to play as all-the-way-themselves as able-bodied players, if they want to?
One of the ugly things about ableism is the assumption that disability must be eradicated. That’s like saying the cure for racism is to get rid of all the non-white people, which is just about the most offensive idea going.
I have received death threats, mockery, and vitriol from people who don’t want to understand why this representation is so important – Sara Thompson
Not all disabled people want to be cured of their disability. In part that’s because it’s not an option and it would be a pretty unhealthy mindset to live your life waiting on your legs to grow back, the injury to un-happen, or your genetic code to rewrite itself.
Then there’s the matter of identity: disability is a part of who you are when you have one, particularly if it’s something you’ve had since birth. Not all of that is good, but excising the disability isn’t a clear-cut thing either. Maybe more akin to amputating your cultural identity.
And finally, the ableist notion that disability must be cured is based on the idea that a person can’t be happy or fulfilled with a disability, and that s#$t doesn’t happen to able-bodied people alike—it’s like saying poverty is the cause of unhappiness, so rich people must not have any problems… they just have different human issues to deal with. Admittedly, there’s a lot to be said for not going hungry, but having food and money for the rent is necessary but insufficient to a good life.
Which is all to say, that disabled people exist, and they’re not going anywhere, and a lot of the time they’re happy and fulfilled and expect to be accepted in society like any other person on this planet. Which means seeing positive representations of themselves in games, and having the choice to play with core aspects of themselves if they want.
I had a chat with Sara over e-mail:
What led you to coming up with the combat wheelchair rules?
There were a lot of factors that led up to the chair’s creation. I’ve had experiences of asking Dungeon Masters if I could play a disabled character at their tables and was generally met with an awkward “Oh, yeah, there’s no rules for that so you can’t,” or the unsurprising method of “Okay, but you have to take all these negatives and/or penalties,” which isn’t an accurate portrayal of disability/chronic illness/neurodivergency at all.
A lot of my friends are also wheelchair users (both ambulatory and full-time) and it got me thinking about how we never see an adventurer in a wheelchair. We never see disabled folks represented as the capable people that they are – many of us, like me, have jobs and families and responsibilities. Our disability is just a part of us, and I think that able-bodied people don’t understand that. We are often seen as and used for pity or inspiration – there’s a real issue with inspiration porn in the media; look at Queer Eye’s episode about a disabled man, for example.
I wondered how I could represent us in D&D, how could I get abled folks to understand and see us as people like them?
Already, the average Level 1 character is above the typical NPC villager, so I decided to take inspiration from Paralympians. Essentially, I spent 6-7 months submerging myself into the culture behind wheelchair sports – I recommend to anyone that they watch some Murderball matches; they’re very intense! I made some very rough concept ideas which was Combat Wheelchair v1.0 and took feedback from wheelchair users in the community who play-tested it to tell me what I could do to better reflect a wheelchair inclined towards combat and adventuring. This feedback, along with the design for the basic chair being taken from sports chairs used in Murderball matches, was then put together and written up into what people know as the Combat Wheelchair v2.0 today.
What’s the response been?
The response in general has been overwhelming, regardless of it being good or bad. I never really expected the chair to take off and get as much coverage as it did. I posted it knowing that the people I made it for (wheelchair users and the disabled community) were the ones it would reach and I only cared for their reactions to it – I wanted more than anything to put positive and accurate portrayal of them into a game that has, for the most part, failed them on the representation front for the past 40+ years D&D has been running. But then so many people started RT-ing it, including writers at WotC and Critical Role’s DM Matt Mercer, and it suddenly had a lot of eyes on it.
In general, the response has been positive. For every 1 mean comment are 20 more that have kind words of support. But still, I have received death threats from sock puppet accounts, mockery for being disabled and making an item that doesn’t erase disability, and vitriol from people who don’t want to understand why this representation is so important. It has been a lot, but at the end of the day, it made the people who needed it and who I wrote it for happy, and that’s all that matters to me.
Where would you like to see the hobby in five years?
I would like to see our hobby and communities accept that a lot of the demographic of RPGs is disabled people – they are something disabled folks can play every week and, now that a lot of it has moved online, it’s become more accessible (not entirely accessible though). A lot of disabled people play ttrpgs and it’s time we all step up to acknowledge and work on bettering our games to represent everyone.
Anyone can be an adventurer.
What would you like straight-white-male wargamers to know about gaming from a disability perspective?
Don’t be afraid of disability; open up that dialogue at your tables. Talk to disabled folks about this and learn – there are a lot of free resources out there online for you to learn from. Stop treating representation of disabled folks as a threat and see it as an opportunity to learn, broaden your mindset, and help you become a better DM/GM and player. Disability isn’t a bad thing and it’s time we stop treating it like it is.
This is awesome, what can I do to make my games more inclusive?
The FATE Accessibility Toolkit is a great disability resource. It covers how to make your gaming table accessible to players with disabilities, as well as how to include disability in character design within the FATE system, which also translates well to other systems. You can buy a copy on DriveThuRPG.
If you want to get your learn on about disability culture more broadly, I recommend reading No Pity by Joseph Shapiro, a collection of essays on disability rights and history, and watching Crip Camp on Netflix, which tells the story of the 504 Sit In, the longest non-violent occupation of a U.S. federal building in history: 100 disabled people, supported by the Black Panthers, protested for 26 days for equal access to public services. Fun fact: disability equality is part of the anti-segregation ruling handed down in Brown vs Board of Education.
Read more about the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
PAXsims and the Derby House Principles are pleased to present Paul Strong & Sally Davis discussing queer and gender non-conforming representation in the military, from ancient times to the modern day.
Hear how war and the military created gay culture as we know it, and how gay culture has in turn shaped the military and how we think about war. Spot a few familiar faces, from WATU Wrens to Alexander the Great, QueenKing Christina of Sweden, Lord Kitchener, and others.
Peter Perla raised an excellent question in the chat during the Connections North round up at Connections 2020: how do we move beyond just making statements of support for diversity and inclusion?
First recognise the challenge:
On a homogenous team, people readily understand each other and collaboration flows smoothly, giving the sensation of progress. Dealing with outsiders causes friction, which feels counterproductive.
But [a]mong groups where all three original members didn’t already know the correct answer, adding an outsider versus an insider actually doubled their chance of arriving at the correct solution, from 29% to 60%. The work felt harder, but the outcomes were better.
In fact, working on diverse teams produces better outcomes precisely because it’s harder.
Honest consideration of our privilege. Not in an accusatory way, but to recognise the bigger patterns at work: if you don’t “see” colour you also don’t see the systemic biases faced by non-white people. You’re really saying you’re choosing to see them as white—which denies their identity, lived-experience, and gives you all the power to police what’s white-enough. It makes the topic uncomfortable for people to bring up at all. The same goes for gender, sexual orientation, and disability.
Engaging in acts of empathy towards others: shifting to a mindset of womens’/black/LGBT/disability rights and history are everybody’s rights and history too, not a niche interest. Women and minorities are expected to root for straight white male interests all the time, it’s time straight white men returned the favour. We’re a culture of red-teamers, what are we doing not searching out perspectives other-than-our-own? The diversity card deck is a good place to start.
Being ok with feeling uncomfortable. Women and minorities are expected to do all the emotional labour of keeping straight white men comfortable, that needs to stop. Step out of defensiveness when folks talk about the problem—expressing your discomfort by shutting down the conversation or protesting your personal innocence is cheering for the wrong side. Regardless of intention it’s keeping straight-white-male comfort front and centre in a conversation about the very real harms being done to women and minorities. Women and minorities aren’t the problem, it’s on everyone else to do the work of change.
Stop and think before saying or doing something potentially insensitive, or ask if or how you should proceed. Of course, awareness of what might be insensitive only comes from having engaged with minority interests and history to understand life from their perspective, and the humility to accept feedback about your unknown unknowns.
If you make a mistake, apologise, do better, move on. Be ok with admitting vulnerability, “I don’t know how to do this right, but I want to learn.”
You can read the Derby House Principles on diversity and inclusion in professional wargaming here.
The diversity survey results are in and have been compiled into a handy deck of cards. Instructions are included for a group activity, but in these socially-distant times they work just as well for solo reflection. No plans for hardcopy just yet, but feel free to print your own.
The featured vignettes are just a snapshot of the real things actually happening to women and minority professional wargamers and analysts that have been sent to me through the diversity survey. It makes for some sobering reading.
A few thoughts on the survey itself:
1. It’s bad for women. But there aren’t even double-figures when it comes to non-white wargamers.
Yuna Wong joked when she was asked about her experience and the interviewer caveated that he wasn’t expecting her to speak for all non-white wargamers, “It’s fine, the other one is ok with me speaking for him.”
I think it would be easy to focus on misogynism only, because there are more women to complain about it. Wargaming really needs to ask uncomfortable questions about what’s keeping it so white.
2. A flavour of responses that didn’t feature in the card deck:
“Please note that you can use quotes but I insist on remaining anonymous. I don’t fancy the vitriol and trolling.”
“My husband points out [the fact] that being female makes me diverse is damning.”
“The Connections Community looks very non-diverse, but actually they are quite inclusive.”
3. Men might be shocked to learn that women wargamers have to think about keeping themselves safe from sexual assault.
4. Things that are good:
Representation! At games and in games
Groups that are vocal about being inclusive
Supportive (male) colleagues who make space at the table
Being seen as a player not someone with a disability (or other minority)
PAXsims is proud to present the world-premier of A short film about WATU! Lovingly crafted from the historical record, contemporary footage, and the voice-acting skills of the Chelsfield Players and Dstl analysts.
A Filmed In Lockdown production. Written and animated by Sally Davis. Starring: Diana McDonnell-Pascoe, David Bacon, Jo East, Ken Clarke, Jeremy Lowe, James Edmunds, Anna Fothergill, Philippa Rooke, Emily Edmunds, Nick Barnett, Anne Allocca, Gill Bacon, David Childs, Maddy McCubbin, and the Admiralty Collection.
You might be sat there thinking, the Derby House Principles look great, but in all honesty our organisation is a bunch of guys and nobody but guys apply to work with us, it would feel hypocritical to sign-up. Here’s a different way to think about it:
By putting out inclusive content—not just the characters and story, but the interface as well—a whole generation of diverse gamers and game-makers will come knocking at your door wanting a peice of the action.
Change begins with making content that says everyone is welcome here.
It’s the simple things, like allowing users to remap the controls in your game, that can make a huge difference.
Microsoft’s approach to disability access is really interesting: There are (approximately) 100,000 people in America with an upper limb deficiency. That’s not a commercially viable market. But six million people break their arm every year in the US, putting them temporarily in the same category. And parents are juggling children and laptops every other second in lockdown, putting them situationally in the same category. When you frame it like that, something that allows you to drive Windows and your Xbox one-handed is a mainstream need.
Disability is mismatched human interactions. That’s all.
So here’s a public service announcement ahead of the Connections 2020 games fair:
The MacOS screen-reader can’t get hold of content in Google docs in safari, so all the distributed wargaming I’ve been doing in the pandemic has been with rules and player stats and shared intent slides that I can’t read.
It can’t be that hard, surely? You have a degree and everything!
Too easy? How about this:
Sure, you can pick your way through it eventually, but do you remember anything you just read? How much gameplay will you miss wading through the mud to check a rule here and there? Could you even decipher that text while you have other players talking in your ear on Zoom?
Pop quiz: what’s provided in the slide deck…?
If you are running a distributed game at Connections please consider including a very simple statement on your sign-up sheet:
Please let us know if you have any accessibility needs so we can figure out what will work for you.
Are you BAME, POC, LGBT, disabled, a woman, or otherwise diverse?
I want to know more about your experiences in wargaming.
Please take a few minutes to fill in this survey. Thanks!
For the purposes of this survey, diverse means anyone who identifies as outside the majority in terms of backround, life-experience, class, as well as the protected characteristics covered by the Equality Act.
One of my aims here at PAXsims is to raise up the voices and experiences of professional gamers outside the “male and pale” majority. So here’s your starter for 10, from the Wavell Room:
If you want to be the best Armed Forces, then the only way to go is Feminist. If you don’t believe me, there’s stacks of writing out there about the importance of diversity and inclusion to making the best decisions, and being the highest performing team. And there’s also stacks of writing about the importance of feminist thought and analysis when it comes to conflict and peace.
This post, however, is not about the necessity of Feminism. This is about how men in Defence can start to change themselves and lead their conservative, homogeneous organisations into a better, more gender-equal future.
Nick P, So you want to be ‘Feminist AF’? at The Wavell Room
It’s worth reading the whole article, but I’ll pull out this one paragraph, and invite PAXsims readership to take up the challenge:
One small sign can be the sight of (particularly senior men) reading the kinds of books and articles that I recommend below. It’s commonplace for someone like the General I originally wrote to to be reading a weighty, male-authored tome about strategy or leadership. It’s the kind of thing aspirational juniors will always see on bookshelves and in briefcases etc.
I asked him to take Soraya Chemaly’s “Rage Becomes Her” and make it something that he carries around with him, to be read as he goes from meeting to meeting, location to location, in the car, on the train, and that people see him reading and carrying, that he places on the table during meetings along with his notebook and briefing papers etc.
People will see this, and it will send a sign to women in the room, and to men who are shy of being allies but want to participate, and it will begin conversations.
Nick P, So you want to be ‘Feminist AF’? at The Wavell Room
In 1945, Roberts was sent to Germany to the headquarters of the German U-boat command at Flensburg. His task was to find out and confirm U-boat tactics, obtain all confidential documents and records and to interrogate any U-boat command officer he could. …
Roberts was pleased to find that there was little new to him. Western Approaches Tactical Unit had got it right, they had correctly assumed the U-boat strength and tactics. … Roberts asked to see the plots of the overall situation on the 2nd June, 1944, just prior to ‘Overlord’. He was pleased to see a situation identical to that presumed by WATU. …
It was noticeable that, whenever Roberts appeared, a sudden silence descended on the Germans and anxiety showed in every face. For Roberts’ was a face they all knew. In the German Operations Room was a blown-up photograph of Roberts taken from an illustrated magazine and underneath, ‘This is your enemy, Captain Roberts, Director of Anti-U-Boat Tactics’. He never bothered to take it down.
Williams, “Captain Gilbert Roberts, RN, and the Anti-U-Boat School”
This was a photo I needed to find.
It took a year to track down the text of Roberts’ Trinity Lecture, teased in later chapters of the Williams’ Biography. (And which turned out to have a lot in common with passages from The Cruel Sea.) It took two-and-a-half to track down the illustrated magazine.
After an exhaustive search, and much thanks to Ed Butcher’s ebay bidding wizardry, I give you, most likely*, Your Enemy, Captain Roberts, Director of Anti-U-Boat Tactics:
The article is light on the contribution of the Wrens, but does a stellar job of putting the fear of god good operational research into the enemy:
Captain Roberts plays a grim battle of wits with his opposite number in Germany. He spends weeks working out what Doenitz may think of next, and then, translating that next possible manoeuvre into a situation in the game at the Tactical School. …
The more exciting the game becomes, the better pleased is Captain Roberts.
At the end of the game he sums up. Some of the decisions have been brilliant. Some have been faulty.
“But,” says the tactical school director, “make your mistakes here and you won’t make them at sea.”
So thorough is the course, so clever the setting of each game, that many naval officers fighting actual U-boats in the Atlantic suddenly realise that they first saw the same situation present itself when it was only a game on a make-believe ocean. …
Meanwhile, in the main building—Atlantic Battle G.H.Q.—at the other end of those underground passages, Admiral Sir Max K. Horton, C-in-C, Western Approaches, smiles as he peers at the plot of what is actually happening at sea.
For more than a year he has been directing our Atlantic Battle operations and seeing the Allied sea-war effort reaching a stage where, for some time, every Atlantic convoy ship has almost a 100 per cent chance of getting through safely.
It was not always like that. But Admiral Horton knew, like all the experts, that given adequate naval and air escort strength around the convoys, the U-boats could be beaten.
“Maxie,” as the Navy calls him, had the satisfaction of seeing the Atlantic Battle so develop during this winter that with increasingly powerful naval and air strength around the convoys, U-boat packs could often not get within fifteen or twenty miles of the actual convoy ships.
But, well as we have been doing at sea, there has been no relaxation for the Western Approaches C-in-C or for his men. Where Doenitz, Hitler’s naval commander-in-chief, failed in the winter, he may hope to stage a comeback in the spring.
March is the month to watch. March was the only good month for the U-boats in the whole of 1943.
But Max Horton is prepared for a new submarine campaign. He knows the tricks of the trade. He established a world-wide reputation as a submarine man himself.
And he, of all men, knows the value of working out new tactics for yourself and, at the same time, anticipating the tactics of your enemy.
A.J. McWhinnie, “Behind the Atlantic Battle”
* There are several great pictures in the article. This one has such a marvelously intimidating shadow cast on the wall, it feels sinister enough to put fear in the hearts of U-boat command.