Sensitivity Reading

Since I have been asked to do sensitivity/cultural reads a couple of times now, it seems sensible to set out what I think that involves, what I can (and can’t) do, and what I think it should cost.

What It Involves

I will not do your research for you. I expect to read a manuscript containing all the cultural details you want to include. You should be hoping that I will send it back with the comment “This is all fine. Well done”.

One exception is that I will, on request, come up with a small number of appropriate Japanese names for you. This is basically impossible for people who are not fluent in the language, but not that much effort for me.

I will comment on things that are mistakes, and things that look implausible but might be true in a particular case. In some cases, that means that I will ask for your source for something, and I may tell you that I think your source is unreliable.

I will comment on particular points that are likely to be offensive to a significant number of Japanese people. There are oversensitive Japanese people, and Japanese people who are not bothered by anything, so I will do my best to take a middle path.

I will also comment if there is an overall approach that is problematic. This may not involve any specific problems. An example would be the treatment of Japan in Shadowrun. It is, like every country in the game, dystopian, but that dystopia is based on American wartime (and post-war) propaganda about Japan and the Japanese, not on what Japan is actually like. If this sort of thing is a problem, it is likely that it can only be fixed by completely rewriting the manuscript, which may not be an option.

Which leads to my final point. It is up to you to decide what to do with my comments. You may decide that you want to be offensively inaccurate on a particular topic. As a specific example, the US consensus view of Yasukuni Jinja is offensively inaccurate, but you may decide that you do not want to offend your American audience, and that possible offence to Japanese people who are extremely unlikely to ever read your product is a price worth paying. Thus, I hope that you will consider my comments (it’s a waste of money if you don’t), but I do not claim the authority to require changes, nor will I make a public fuss if you choose not to change something. (Although I do reserve the right to say that I pointed something out but you didn’t change it if someone criticises my feedback on the basis of the final product.)

What I Can (and Can’t) Do

I am Japanese, and resident in Japan, so I can comment on things set in contemporary Japan.

I am fluent in Japanese (I have been paid to write in Japanese, and to give a lecture course on logic at a university in Japanese). This means that I can comment on use of Japanese terms.

I have a good general knowledge of Japanese culture and history, so I can also comment on cultural and historical aspects. I have a substantially better knowledge of the Heian period than of most others.

I am an expert on Shinto, particularly contemporary Shinto, so I can give you more comments on this topic than you could possibly want.

I am not an expert on Japanese martial arts or military history. It’s fine if they come up as part of the background, but if they are the main focus, I am probably not the best person to ask.

I am ethnic minority Japanese, and spent seven years or so serving on local government committees dealing with the issues faced by non-Japanese residents (both as a non-Japanese resident, and as a naturalised Japanese), so I can comment on portrayals of ethnic minorities in Japan. Note that the Japanese situation is completely different from the US situation; ethnic minorities here face different problems. Thanks to my service on the committees, I do know quite a bit about the problems faced by ethnic minority residents of ethnicities other than my own. (I am also an immigrant, and thus can comment on the immigrant experience here — the other experience in this paragraph also applies.)

I am not Japanese-American, and I cannot comment on what they may or may not find offensive. It appears, for example, that a substantial minority of Japanese-Americans are offended by people not of Japanese descent playing dress-up in kimono, while the Japanese overwhelmingly think it is wonderful. Note that, if you are writing in English, it may be more important to avoid offending Japanese-Americans than to avoid offending the Japanese.

Japan is very diverse, just not in the ways that Americans normally mean when they talk about diversity. (Non-Asians make up less than 0.5% of the population; non-Asian Japanese less than 0.1%, and probably less than 0.01%. For fictional purposes, I don’t exist.) Greater Tokyo is different from Osaka is different from rural Aomori. Okinawa is particularly distinctive, and I am probably not the ideal choice for something set there. Similarly, while Hokkaido as a whole is sufficiently similar to the rest of Japan for me to cover it, I would not be ideal for something specifically concerning the Ainu. I may, nonetheless, be the best you can get.

I can comment on fantasy analogues of Japan, or science fiction or alternate history versions, based on the background outlined above.

On a completely different topic, decades of writing for and editing Ars Magica mean that I can still comment on things set in medieval Europe or a close analogue.

On the other hand, it is now around 20 years since I lived in the UK; I am no longer capable of doing a sensitivity read for the contemporary UK. (If you are more interested in the twelfth century, or even the late twentieth, I’m your man.)

What I Charge

A sensitivity read should be easy for the person doing it. If it isn’t easy, then you aren’t really qualified to do this sensitivity read. (If that happens, I will say so. If a manuscript goes deeply into a field of Japanese culture or medieval history I do not know well, it could happen.)

Thus, I think I should be paid about 10% of what the author is paid to write the manuscript. It is entirely possible, particularly in TTRPGs, that this will not be enough for me to do it. However, I want to support accurate and sensitive portrayals of the cultures I know, so it is worth asking, and I may take it on even if I do not think it is likely to be financially worth it.

Twenty Five Years Online

A while back, I was looking through some archived files on my computer, and found a very old page for my website listing updates. It started with an update entry for 25th September 1995, for the Latin translations of the names of the Animal spells in Ars Magica Third Edition. The pages were on Geocities at the time, but they are still available here, and have never been offline. Thus, I have had a website for 25 years.

Which is longer than Facebook, Netflix, Google, and possibly Amazon (it’s a bit of a race with Amazon; we set up at about the same time).

It’s also more than half my life. While there are lots of people who have had an online presence for more than half of their life, most of them are somewhat younger than I am.

Citadel of the Red Sun

Citadel of the Red Sun is a one-act adventure for Torg Eternity, set in the Living Land. A wonder, a fragment of another reality, appears within the Living Land, and the player characters go to investigate it. As this is an adventure, I cannot say a lot about it without getting into spoilers for the plot, so I will hide that part from the front page.

As I may have mentioned before, these projects do not make very much money. They generally make less than I spend on the stock art I use to illustrate them (although Dean Spencer‘s art is really good, so I have no regrets about supporting him). However, I do find it really satisfying to complete the process of making these, and see the final laid-out file. So, that’s one reason for doing this as a hobby.
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Feats of Prowess

Feats of Prowess is a supplement for Torg Eternity, available on the Infiniverse Exchange.

This short supplement contains a couple of dozen perks for characters in the game. Perks in Torg Eternity are like feats, or advantages, or merits, in other RPGs. They are special abilities that allow a character to do things that other characters in the game cannot, and they are a good way to make your character distinctive, and develop them to match your vision. Thus, in some ways, more of them is always better. (The downside is choice paralysis, or the existence of more perks that would be ideal for your character than you can plausibly take.) These Perks are not tied to a particular cosm, which means that any character in the game could, in principle, take them.
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Special Offer: Home Front Philadelphia

The Cover ImageWhile so many of us are stuck at home, I am having a one-month special sale on my Infiniverse Exchange product for Torg Eternity, Home Front Philadelphia. For one month, until May 7th, it is available for $2.50 rather than the normal $4.99, but only through the special sale link. (All the links to on Home Front Philadelphia this page are the sale link.)

You might be wondering why the strange choice of start and finish dates. The Infiniverse Exchange opened on December 8th, and I do my sales analysis by calendar month, starting from the 8th. If the sale period perfectly matches the analysis period, it is easy to monitor the effect of the discount on sales. It makes my accounting easier.

Before the Planting

The Cover ImageBefore the Planting is the most recent thing I have written for Torg Eternity on the Infiniverse Exchange.

This one is a short adventure, set in The Living Land, and involves gospog fields, which are a central part of the background for Torg Eternity. The Storm Knights have to chase kidnapped refugees through the jungle, avoiding natural hazards, and then ensure that they can get to safety. In short, it is supposed to be “classic” Living Land.
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Spirited Tools

The Cover ImageSpirited Tools is the most recent thing I have written for Torg Eternity on the Infiniverse Exchange.

In Torg Eternity, the rules of reality are different in different areas, and in the Living Land high technology and magic do not work, but there is a very high level of spiritual power. One of the fun things about the game is people from other realities trying to use tools that work perfectly well in the reality they are currently in, but which do not work in their own reality. Things can go wrong in entertaining ways. The problem is that, in the official material, the Living Land has almost no items like that. A lot of realities have technology that is above the level of many characters, and several have magic items in the same situation, but all the official things that draw on the Living Land’s high Spirit axiom are restricted to characters from the Living Land, who thus have the same Spirit axiom. That’s no fun.
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Infiniverse Exchange Bundle

The bundle cover imageThe Bundle of Holding, a very good source of digital RPGs at bargain prices, is currently running a bundle for Torg Eternity. I felt that this was a good opportunity to run a bundle of all the products I have written for Torg Eternity, and am selling on the Infiniverse Exchange. So, I have created a bundle at 50% off.

I actually made it yesterday, and I’ve already sold five of it. Five sales of everything (well, apart from the things that purchasers already owned) in a day is much, much faster than normal, so the limited-time special offer appears to be working its marketing magic.
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An Edeinos in Core Earth

The Cover ImageAn Edeinos in Core Earth is a small supplement for Torg Eternity, which I published on the Infiniverse Exchange earlier this year. In the game, earth (called Core Earth) has been invaded by a number of different realities, one of which, called The Living Land, has focused on North America. These realities have their own natives, who are human, or nearly so, in most cases. The Living Land, however, is an important exception. The native intelligent species there is the edeinos, who are humanoid lizards. This means that they are obviously “not from around here” when they travel in Core Earth.
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Home Front: Philadelphia

The Cover ImageHome Front: Philadelphia is another short supplement for Torg Eternity. In Torg Eternity, Earth has been invaded by different realities, and much of North America is under the influence of a primitive action reality called The Living Land. The city of Philadelphia, however, is an island of Earth’s old reality, called Core Earth in the game. I wanted to make it into a viable base for a campaign set early in the game’s timeline.
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