Wednesday, February 18, 2015

VtR: So what could a herd be?

A vampire's herd includes either a steady stable of humans or a varying array of humans who are consistently put into a vulnerable position.  The situation must be well-considered because overdrawing from the herd can put the individual members at serious risk which can affect everyone included.  Unfortunately for vampires there's only so many people who are either the right sort of people who would willingly enter their parlour or the sort of people who end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. 

Each type of herd can be affected by changes in society, i.e. herd from homeless shelters will improve if the homeless rates go up and will decrease if people start dying or starting rumours of a particular shelter.  Each form of Herd will have their own issues, as well, which need to be sorted out either by the vampire concerned.

Herd could be a group who are willing to give up their blood:
  • Religious Cult
  • Sexual fetishists (club members)
  • Groupies (if you're a performer)
  • Blood Donors
  • Secret Society with bloodletting ritual
Herd could be relatively aware of the wonderful necking potential:
  • Blood Dolls (blood bound or simply lovers)
  • Blood Donors
  • Romance (black book, cheating spouses, swingers)
Herd could be locations that allow good access to a variety of mobile yet accessible prey at night:
  • Caravan Park
  • Large Hospital
  • Large Low - Cost Hotel / Motel
  • Pub or Nightclub
  • Animal Shelters (low level) or Farms
  • Abbattoirs
  • Homeless Shelters
  • Brothel
  • Slum Housing

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Hunter LARP in Theory

So while thinking on the subject of LARPs, I started considering what a Hunter LARP would look like.  I could have certainly used the current city plots to lead to a consolidation of hunters as the primary enemies and shadow darkness manifestations aren't exactly organised enough to tear them apart the same way that would happen if a super-cell of hunters tried to target vampires or werewolves.

The consolidation of cells would meet at a certain central point to swap information, go over clues, mention tidbits learned elsewhere, and basically put the plot together from the various jigsaw pieces earned during downtimes, forum play, coffee hour or RtRs. Even those who passively set their characters' downtimes up (i.e. always having their PCs trawl the internet unless otherwise stated) would have something to bring to the table.

Balance would be a bit trickier as there are some compacts that would be useful but which just don't get access to the same stuff as the conspiracies. This could be worked out through a free assortment of merits, access to relics or even the creation of a mundane set of 'abilities'. There would be seven categories from which these hunters can be drawn though rather than separate compacts most of them are more like cells of right-minded individuals.

Heritage House would involve a family oriented group that have been hunters over the generations. There needs to be at least two, preferably three, PCs to activate this group. Free dot and two Specialties in Firearms, Streetwise or Survival. Gains one Tactic from this list: Arson, Bait & Switch, Battle Hardening, Hamstring, or Pack of Bloodhounds.

Long Night involves Christian hunters who believe that by destroying monsters they can bring about the second coming of Christ. Free dot and two Specialties in Expression, Persuasion or Politics. Gains two dots in Allies. Gains one Tactic from this list: Exorcism, Helter Skelter, Lobby, Moral Support, or My Brother's Keeper.

Loyalists of Thule are an occult group whose members have committed some great occult sin (causing the possession of a younger sister, as an example) and so mean to atone for it. Free dot and two Specialties in Academics or Occult; may take a one dot psychic merit or two dot relic. Gains one Tactic from this list: Corruption, Defile, Distraction, Cover Your Heart, Effigy, Resonance.

Network Zero uses radio, television and Internet resources to identify, understand and publicize monsters to the world so that people can unite and deal with it. Free Dot and two Specialties in Computers, Larceny or Stealth. Gains Backdoor (specify) into a particular part of the city's electronic infrastructure. Gains one Tactic from this list: Disappear, Measurement, Shadowing, Stakeout, or Tar & Feather.

Null Mysteriis are those scientists who seek to understand the world around them and also include a faction who wishes to try to redeem monsters through therapy and medication. Gain two free dots (may not stack) and two Specialties in Crafts, Medicine or Science. Gains one Tactic from this list: Confuse the Scent, Deprogramming, Domesticate, Excision, or Identification.

The Union are those blue-collar monster hunting vigilante who patrol the dark streets in an aim to keep people from being attacked and killed. Free dot and a specialty in any two physical skills. Gains two dots in a Fighting Style. Gains one Tactic from this list: Bloody Improv, Good Old-fashioned Beatdown, Controlled Immolation, Corral, or Territorial Recon.

SAPOL Serial Crimes Unit include police investigators who focus on dealing with Adelaide's serial killer and possession problem, generally involve psychics. Free dot and two Specialties in Empathy, Intimidation or Investigation. Gains one Tactic from this list: Behavioral Science, Exploit Tell / Bane, Interrogation, Profiling, or Net. Gains access to police databases and forensics reports and two dots in Allies (specific detective branch). On the flipside, is under more scrutiny from the government and mustn't leave evidence of self at crime scenes.

But yes, just my musings and general thoughts.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Foreshadowing Random Encounters

It can occasionally be fun to employ random encounters but such encounters often feel entirely "forced", not least because frequently running into monsters outside of an apocalypse makes one wonder how the local farmers survive without at least a ring of wardstones surrounding their hamlets.  At least those who can't help but wonder how various game elements should impact on the surrounding societies.  But you don't want to brush over every travel journey nor do you want to simply populate it with mundane sights (though you can do so).

Perhaps when you first roll to see whether an encounter happens, you then rolled a 1d6 to determine how many days (or hours, depending on the frequency) between when the characters first get an inkling of it and when they first encounter it.  If you get, say, a three on the 1d6 you pick which of the following foreshadowing elements you would like to use before they encounter the creature itself.

Distant Glimpse
Signs of Feeding
Sighting of the Creature
Threatened by the Creature (or see warnings left behind).
Actual Encounter

Naturally the way these elements would manifest may differ depending on the creature encounter.  A mohrg will leave different signs to a dire bear or a vampire, after all.  One might come across a damaged cart with an irritable farmer who hid when the bear slammed into it or spot the farmer dead and laid out across the back of the cart with his throat ripped out.  Tracks might be left by feet, tentacles or stalks bent by a heavy wind.

What do you think?  Do you ever make a point to really foreshadow your random monsters?

Monday, February 2, 2015

WoTR: Campaign Setting and Adventure Path books differ on Drezen

Now I noticed a very easy to justify difference between the Drezen in the Worldwound Campaign Setting book and the Drezen described in the Pathfinder Adventure Path.  The setting book states that Drezen has a population of 7,489 humanoids with roughly half as cultists and the other as prisoners and slaves.  The AP only has a several hundred tieflings and cultists - likely because the majority were slaughtered or marched down toward Nerosyan with the bulk of the demonic forces.

Still it does provide some food for thought for those hoping to expand the game even further.  Firstly think of their fates.  Were they butchered on the streets as a bit of fun before the demons left en masse?  Plenty of excuses for subsequent hauntings and occasional more powerful undead.  Marched out as meat shields?  Reports from afar describe them as such.  Pinned to the walls half-alive for the PCs to locate?  Driven to hide in the nearby Vescavor caverns or other more hidden cave structures?  Entombed in basements ready for the builders to accidentally unleash?  Infected with demon plague for similar purposes?

Hell I'm pretty sure I read somewhere that the initial inhabitants in Drezen were wiped out by abyssal contamination that drove them mad and made them kill each other.  If you like, you could have a bunch of Warped Ones still sealed up in an old ruin who could break out and cause some action at home if you like.

I'll have a bit of a think about how I'll introduce this little fact at this late(r) stage of the game and will put up a post with a few other mini-quests.

Friday, January 30, 2015

WoTR: Purchases & Slavers Row (322,700gp spent)

This article is more to show the joys that a few crazy people can have spending way too much money worrying about trivialities of running a city, creating a festival and gaining population in the Pathfinder settlement of Drezen in the Worldwound.  Give me a heads up in the comments box if you're likely to do the same kind of expenditure lists as I have below.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

GM and Player Advice About GM Burnout

So awhile ago I discussed the differences between burnout and GM's block over here and defined a number of burn out causes over here, but I never ended up going over what a player or Game Master can do to prevent or reduce it.  Today, we'll look at exactly that.  Naturally my list isn't the Be All and End All of burnout prevention.  It is based on my opinions, biases and assumptions, so feel free to chime in with your own ideas.

This article focuses on those who are either teetering on the edge of burnout or who are currently struggling with burnout so it's not going to address player needs.   The GM is presumed to have expended all the effort they can at this point on Tasks With No End (i.e. adventure planning) so simply improving their technique in order to get a better response from their players isn't a viable option at this stage.

Lack of Work.
This can become a problem in comedic games where the rules are either simple (i.e. World of Darkness dungeon crawl) or the GM is expected to be a largely invisible force who sits back and occasionally administrates actions.  It can also be a problem if the players desire a romp through the pages of a bestiary in a simple dungeon while the GM wants to create clues, props and rich locations.  In short, the GM's boredom is driving their burn out.  My best recommendation here would be GM honesty while appealing to player consciences (and desire for further games) with a request to occasionally run one shot games that are more complicated.  Alternatively, the players could always recommend such an occasional adventure and put a lot of effort into taking it seriously even if they normally prefer Beer and Popcorn games.  A few sessions a year to the GM's preference can do wonders and the players may even find they look a few elements of a more complicated game - even if they are turned toward comedic effect.

Tasks With No End.
There's a lot of nitty gritty details that must be done by every GM.  There are descriptions, locations, pre-reading likely rules, running characters and keeping the players updated on the plot when they forget details between the sessions.  It's a good idea for the GM to look at tasks that could be handed off and do so to a player ... or better yet, for a player to offer to help.  At the one extreme, players could keep their own notes, level their own characters, track their own experience, manage their own handouts, sharpen their own pencils, and take turns with the dishes rather than relying on the GM's generosity.  At the other extreme where the GM simply runs really high effort games, it may be a good idea to either spread out the sessions so you have more time or have a few simpler sessions in between more complicated "Key" adventures.  On the plus side, people can be habituated to anything so if you go from a regular session to one with no holds barred, they'll be more likely to notice.

Impossible Tasks.
Some GMs also sometimes set themselves up to do massive undertakings - running 30 player LARPs single-handedly, running five campaigns a week which rely on pre-planning, or even doing both simultaneously!   If it's an impossible task, acknowledge it.  You have a long life to live.  Figure out what you want to do and pare down from there.  You won't do anyone any good if you cut five campaigns midway through.  Of course, if you could take that advice you probably wouldn't need to be reading this so I'll turn to the players instead and recommend that you do everything in your power to make things simpler for them and show your appreciation.  Few games require the players to do anything between sessions so it shouldn't be too much to ask that players do what was suggested in the above paragraph and maybe also bake the occasional snacks or offer to fetch the GM a drink when they get their own.

Problem Players.
Many GMs take on a player's problems as their own personal responsibility to solve. They convince themselves that they can do what highly paid and trained managers and consultants can't do to their paid employees ... change them to suit the role at hand.  A GM is not a trained psychologist and it's unfair on yourself to think that you are somehow a change guru.  Also remember that issues your players bring to the table may only be a problem for you, your game or your table.  It can be hard but if you are getting burned out by one of your players, you really are best off either politely excusing that player from your table or if that's not possible you could end your game for a few months and then create something different and invite other folks to game with you.  If the person in question queries why, you can truthfully state that you didn't think the game would suit their style.  As an example, if they are an avid dungeon crawler and you design a primarily political court game then they should understand even if they're not pleased with it.  If this would leave you with 2 - 3 players, well, there are plenty of games that suit a lower number.

Incompatible Demands.
Sometimes it seems that each and every player wants something different and those differences clash terribly.  Trying to integrate a player who adores gritty realism with someone who prefers thematic supremacy with someone who just wants to feel empowered and hit stuff can be difficult at best. Sometimes it just won't work. You can have an open conversation about the clashes but I've found that isn't effective because the players can't change what they want.  You could declare each session to focus on one player's desires but that often comes off as artificial.  I'd recommend cancelling the game and running a series of one shots that can each focus on a different style or getting a new gaming table.  You might be able to slowly get them all to appreciate each other's styles but if you're on the verge of burn out, you just don't have that much time.

Some Game Masters do all the paperwork, note taking, summarising, experience point tracking, damage tracking, rules tips and character sheet updates for their players. This might be because the players don't want to do it or because the GM thought they'd be helpful and took on too much extra work. If you're feeling burnt out, immediately stop these sundry tasks.  If your players don't note down exp, they probably don't value them highly and will live with the occasional loss due to forgetting to jot them down.  That's fine.  They'll live with it.  What they won't do is appreciate that the campaign ended and you've sworn off gaming for a year because you kept their exp tracks for them.  If you are a player, step up to the plate with this even if you hate keeping records.  Your GM will almost always appreciate it.

GM / Player Supremacy
There seems to be two major camps of roleplayers these days.  There are the old school folks who see the GM as a competitive God who must abide by certain rules while the players show their desperate appreciation.  On the other side you have folks who see the GM as a dutiful and grateful servant who should bow and scrape and be ever so pleased that someone deigned to let them spend a few hours a week preparing to entertain them.  Both sides are wrong.  GMs and players are people and often friends and that should be the focus of any interaction.  Be aware that even if the players understand that neither should be subservient to the others' needs, the Internet might be putting stupid expectations onto the GM (or inflating their ego to dangerous degrees).  Since GMs spend more time (generally) reading advice articles than their players, they're more prone to being messed with by these beliefs.  Besides all of that there is always an inordinate amount of pressure for the GMs to put on a show and though the pressure is normally invigorating, once burn out starts to set in that pressure becomes poison.

Meaninglessness of Achieved Goals
Once you get cynical, it's hard to find meaning in constantly being expected to freely provide entertainment for other people. There's no promotions, no pay rises, and no method of tracking your progress. Are you getting better or worse? Are your efforts all in vain?  Do the players even enjoy the campaign you have slogged over?  Regrettably effort doesn't guarantee reward and many a player will doggedly remain at a table even if they loathe the game simply due to a mixture of habit and friendship.  To make matters worse, burn out and cynicism makes stated goals of "give your players a fantastic time" seem all the more depressing.  What makes the players so special?  Why is no one slaving over me to give me a good time?  Why is the person putting in the most effort getting the least out of it?  These are the circular thoughts that creep up and eat away all good will the GM might feel toward the game and can poison the players' attempts to counteract the burnout with appreciation and congratulations.  Your best bet at this stage is to become a player for several months.*

*Many GMs become impatient with the lack of environmental control, lack of creative outlets for game design and lack of constant stimulation which comes with being a player.  In other words, for many GMs it can help counteract their jealousy and cynicism by helping them realise that being a player is not necessarily better but different.

Role Ambiguity.
This is not always a burn out causing problem but when it rears it's head it can be awfully depressing.  It most commonly occurs when your players don't seem to be enjoying the game, when your more exciting ideas frustrate them, or when the players themselves spend much of their time bickering or outright ignoring the game you set up.  Such a dysfunctional table can be the fault of mean-spirited or ignorant players or the fault of the GM themselves.  Sometimes it's just a clash of personalities at the table.  More rarely, the players just like to complain and are perfectly enjoying a campaign that nonetheless makes the GM miserable.  The ambiguity here is what responsibility the GM holds for such behaviours, whether they can (or should) attempt to fix it, and what the best route forward truly is.  I have no idea how to correct this once it crops up as I have spent a year trying to correct a dysfunctional table and had no success despite repeated entreaties to the players themselves.  In the end, it was probably the particular combination of players and expected campaign style that created the problem.

If you have too much to do, you become naturally exhausted by your efforts especially since your efforts at designing a great campaign very rarely translate to success in other areas of your life.  Excel at work and you may get a promotion or better job opportunity.  Excel at your home life and you get a great house and supportive family to spend your life with.  Excel in a campaign and you have a bubble of happiness for a few hours but may lose promotions, damage career options, alienate family and neglect home and garden.  Try to remember to keep all things in moderation and if the rest of your life is starting to back slide, it's worth taking a few weeks or months holiday from your hobby so that you can rescue everything else.  If you've managed to keep up with all of your responsibilities by sacrificing every scrap of Me Time, well, maybe it's time for you to take a break.

Truly Focused Player Advice
Social Support is one of the *biggest* methods of preventing or reducing burnout. This might mean putting up with the GM complaining about player antics and their lot in life (as problematic as that can be). It also means getting the GM to do non-GM-related things with you and the rest of the gaming group ... heading out to a movie, going to the beach, and hanging out with some pizza can all go towards helping the GM feel supported by their player base and comfortable in their company.  You don't want your friend to constantly see you as an effort, do you?  Bonus points if you can get the whole team together for this purpose.

Practical Support can also tie into this. This might mean providing the GM with a nice food treat, transport to the game site (if necessary), and purchasing and loaning game books at the table (to show you care and are willing to invest as they do).  Considering that many systems live and breathe with their supplements and that players love to use those supplements, purchasing one of said supplements is a really nice thing to do.  Bonus points if you literally give that supplement to your GM.  Yes, we're all poor but GMs aren't generally more wealthy than anyone else and it can really grate if too much of their own wealth goes into the game.  If you can't afford a full book, a module they would like to run or a game aid like an initiative tracking table or critical hit deck can work wonders.  Bonus BONUS points if you wrap it in bubble wrap for extra stress relief!

Game Support can target the actual irritants if the GM has real reason to get fed up with the game. This could mean tilting the game towards the GM's preferred genre (i.e. let your character get scared in that odd horror scene the GM loves; roleplay your heart out at the occasional political scene; really embrace the trap mechanics in their dungeon sprawl).  Or it could mean that you cut down (or increase) the out-of-character joking and chit-chat, especially in terms of listening to the GM.  Whenever your interrupt the GM's game-based descriptions and comments, you sideline half the table and make them repeat themselves.  Once or twice isn't so bad, but these things can become a terrible habit.  Keeping your own notes and actually reading them rather than relying on GM summaries also shows that you enjoy the game and helps cut back on the amount of GM investment.  Obviously, bringing lead pencils and dice and knowing what your sheet can do (or your friend's sheet if they are truly hopeless with the rules) can truly help as well.

Host Support is important because most GMs host the game for logistics purposes - they have all those books and potentially miniatures and hand outs, after all.  However that means they not only have the weighty and effortful GM role, but they also need to clean up and pack up as well.  While some GMs will look askance at the guests doing the dishes (never hurts to ask, though), you could certainly stack any used dishes, put away the dice, and put any trash in the bin.  This is especially wise if the GM isn't one to do housework as parents, spouses and flat mates will all be far more respectful toward your game if you don't leave the place a sty before you leave.  This will reduce the amount of flak your GM gets for running the game due to the extra work involved and you can never know when you could benefit from cashing in those brownie points!

HANDY TIP: Non-gamer spouses and parents, especially those responsible for housework, can generally be won over by sweets and treats as well.  If you bring over baked goods or crisps, remember to share with the rest of the household if you can.  Not only can the good will really help in terms of preventing random game cancellations but it's just a really nice thing to do.  Also make sure that you acknowledge said spouse / parents with a smile when you come into their home.  While not a common bad habit among players, guests who scuttle around and avoid eye contact tend to make people nervous.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

WoTR: Convincing the Churches, part 5

"I'm sorry.  We already donated at the office."
(Dragon Age Inquisition - quote mine)
Rellius, Archpriest of Asmodeus, is actually quite willing to assist against demonic incursions and will even happily set up, at the church's own expense, a cathedral within Drezen so long as he is convinced that they have a method to hold the city and so long as they can maintain that cathedral for 100 years (non-consecutive if the city falls again) and allow the Chelish to take command of any 10% treasure located by any army containing Chelish troops.  If they accept, they will gain two squads of Hellknights, twenty clerics and three armies of 100 Chelish soldiers.

ITEM OF INTEREST: He wears an elaborate wig (Judge's Wig) that grants a +4 bonus to Intimidate and Diplomacy checks as well as being able to scrutinise individuals with Discern Lies so long as they are within 30ft.

QUEST TO IMPRESS: None.  They just have to accept his terms.  If they negotiate firmly enough, he will drop the 10% rule to only those armies that have 50% Chelish troops.

The Seventh Church is the site where Iomedae called forth the Undenying Light, causing stars to shine through a terrible storm that was wracking Absalom. With torches and lanterns blown out, rain sleeting down in sheets, and waves cresting into the streets, on the night of that miracle a pack of sea-ghouls swarmed into the city. With the guard blinded in the darkness and communication by horn impossible, the ghouls ran roughshod through the city. Iomedae, still mortal, called for the Starstone to ask its brethren in the sky to light the city. The Cathedral of the Starstone glowed with blue fire, and the night stars shone rays of blue light through the clouds. The light pinpointed every ghoul in the city, and allowed Iomedae and other defenders to find and destroy them. This is the seventh of her 11 miraculous Acts, and the event is commemorated not only with the Temple, but with the Iomedaenne, a 10-foot statue of the goddess carved from red limestone thinly banded with sapphire.  Staffed with younger priests who are still in training, or very old priests who operate it as a form of retirement.  It is also a common destination for those so maimed, cursed, or aged as to be no longer sharp blades in Iomedae’s service, and who are fit mostly to train younger faithful.  The current head priest, Genedair the Faithful, is a human man in his early 90s. A hero of the Mendev Crusades, he now requires a staff and two young acolytes at his side to walk, though his mind remains as sharp as ever.

ITEM OF INTEREST: He wears a simple brass headband with a symbol of Iomedae that is a Headband of Ponderous Recollection (+2 Intelligence, skill bonuses can only be placed on Knowledge skills, swift action thrice per day to identify abilities and weaknesses as with a Knowledge check).

QUEST TO IMPRESS: Genedair is already impressed and eager to assist but he has provided all that he can.  If the PCs can arrange for access to a Teleportation Circle, they can speed up their assistance.
The Tempering Hall sits across the main street from the Seventh Church and is a training ground for Paladins of Iomedae and, by long-standing tradition, also those called by Abadar, Irori and Shelyn.  The Knight Lord of the Tempering House is Rochae Swiftblade, an experienced warrior who turned to Iomedae first as a cleric and only in the later years of his life as a paladin.  He can mention that there have been more paladins of Shelyn now than in previous years with three ready for creation.  There are 2d12 level 1 paladins ready for assignment.