Monday, February 27, 2012

12: Running a Caving Survival Horror, Part 1.

Well, my forearms seem to be working again which is a good sign. I like having able forearms. Working wrists are also a good thing. Well, I guess they were working beforehand but they just liked to send pain signals which isn't such a fun thing. But now they seem to have settled down even if I have to have my chair up so high my lap is pressed up against the underside of my work desk (*sigh*) to keep them happy.

Anywho, me aside, what happened during that session?

Well, it went surprisingly well. I set up all their gear and equipment cards on the table in front of their places and handed out character sheet. I used a couple of WoD books as an ST screen because there was some information I had to keep hidden (behind that I put the various other card piles). There was nicely creepy music on the playlist and I bribed players to bring flashlights (plus I had several of mine).

One of my players even brought trail rations and beef jerky, like his character did, which was pretty neat.

Oh, and I made sure that everyone had their d10 clusters. I've bought a lot of d10s over the years so I can comfortably ensure that each pair of players has 10 between them.

One of my players ran an NPC because his character was predominately social skilled and thus stayed behind. He got to have fun playing an aggressive Ravener (well, officially, anyway) Devourer who really hated his old boss (an Eminence 3 Devil played by another PC). He was the party healer, which is always fun, since his Torment wasn't terrifically low ... nor was it terribly high but he kept high-Tormenting his rolls so now the party doubtless thinks he's sunk further into his Torment than he actually has. This NPC, Barzel, was also fun because he uses Flesh rather than Awakening to heal which means that rather than risking injuring the other PCs, he simply risks driving them temporarily insane (or permanently insane, in the case of a failed Willpower roll for humans). The player enjoyed being him quite a bit, actually.

A Devourer Hedonist (self-made faction, fairly self-explanatory) also tagged along and though he wasn't heaps useful (low physical stats, Wilds Devourer), his accumulating insanities made him pretty memorable. Since he was an NPC, this was pretty obvious when one of my other players took the reins of the NPC and his own character, and yet ended up favouring the Hedonist. This was something that player had offered to do and it really helped me out a lot.

Another player played yet another player's retainer, an army lieutenant and now thrall, who came along and tried to provide pragmatic advice alongside marksmanship aim.

So yeah, curse my players for ensuring that two NPCs came along but thanks be to them for taking them onboard and roleplaying them for me. This was a fairly ST-intensive session so I really needed to free up some brain space.

Well, if you've been following the other articles you have a fair idea of how I ran the session. The encounter cards worked like a charm and really helped me invent some interesting situations. Luckily enough, the hardest came last. It was a narrow passageway (one card) with water that came up to the PC's waists (another card) with two zombies with metal implants in it (third card). It was all the more amusing because that NPC Hedonist had collected an insanity around Hydrophobia and thus wouldn't enter the water until the insanity faded around an hour later.

There were three main water-logged dips caused by a broken water pipe that had been re-sealed using the Earthbound's magic. I made the players tell me the order of entrance in order to build up tension.

The first water dip one was free and easy. Nothing in it. The second one, of course, was equally empty. The third was the longest and it had been set up so that there was a submerged foot high gap in the walls by the floor where the zombies (that had their leg tendons cut) could crawl around. So of course as the players went by, the zombies ended up grabbing hold of their ankles and slashing at them. Things went pretty crazy after that. I think I have an Actual Play around here somewhere that I can post to give you a clue of what happened.

After all of this, they found safety in a cul-de-sac where they decided to rest up until they could regenerate some faith. This was where the session ended and where we moved the game onto the forum over the intervening two weeks where they discussed matters, had big fights, stressed out (there was plenty of tension, just like any good caving story), and fought off a few small waves of zombies.

I'll tell you what preparation was required for the next session in the next exciting installment, but for now you can always go back and read the prior articles over here.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Sorry for lack of posts

Hello everyone.

Sorry for the lack of posts but all the typing I've been doing has worn out my forearms / wrists and I'm trying to ease off for the next week or so. Typing up articles (or anything, really) wouldn't help me much so there'll be a bit of radio silence for awhile.

Hope to get back to it soon.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Chase Sequences

Just a link right now to an article that describes Pathfinder's methods for setting up chase scenes. As I've witnessed while running Curse of the Crimson Throne, this actually works out quite well. This technique can also be quite easily adapted to World of Darkness, BRP, or any other system, really.

11: Preparing for a Caving Survival Horror, Part 1.

So how much preparation went into the caving adventure?

In short, a lot. That session took more preparation than pretty much any of the other sessions I've run, including the one with the little 3D diorama of the old abattoir which I made comparatively easily.

For this adventure, other than all of the brainstorming, pre-planning, and ensuring the players put enough thought into their tactics and equipment that they weren't left with their pants down around their ankles at the main event, I also trialled a few different techniques that were quite successful.

I created a desk of cards instead of a map and that required coming up with, and writing down, around 60 possible encounters, from cave structures to enemies and their statistics to traps and pitfalls. You can find more information on the creation and use of these cards over here. This put the player's choices, quite literally, firmly into their own hands as I'd randomly draw 7 cards and they would randomly pick 3. I would then use them as a guide for how the next encounter went, whether by combining them into one event, stringing them out, or what-not.

I also created cards for everyone's equipment so they could swap weaponry and equipment at a moment's notice, use it up, mark off ammunition, and all the rest with a lot of ease. It took up a fair bit of table room but worked out quite well. This also prevented the players from randomly declaring that they had packed something they hadn't or chosen to bring something they had chosen to leave behind due to weight limits.

Okay, so there were still a few declarations where players later assumed they'd grabbed something they'd left behind, but I could easily disagree. All of the equipment anyone had indicated had been placed, in card form, in the center of the table and any equipment declared at the last minute was hastily sketched out on extra card paper. If they had literally chosen to take it with them, they would've taken it out of the pile, so there was no chance that I'd simply misheard, forgotten, or even not heard that they'd brought extra gear due to the kerfuffle of multiple character conversations that always occur before a big adventure.

I also created some Madness, Sickness, and Status Cards. This made it easier for people to remember what sort of bonuses and penalties they had, helped me keep it all straight, and helped keep some of the madness issues under wraps. It also kept the game from slowing down as I didn't need to explain the rules. I could just give the rules to them and they could keep track of it themselves from there.

I also created little clocks on card with the big hand pointing to the hour where they'd get their faith back, since I was running a timeline in my head. That way the players and I wouldn't forget when someone would be regaining their Faith.

I also set out tokens for their willpower and faith so they could spend them freely, be aware of what they had, swap faith, and be rewarded with willpower with relative ease. It also meant they could see at a glance what their reserves were. This worked out quite well and spend things up quite a bit.

I kept their Health levels hidden so I just needed a piece of card kept aside for this one.

But yeah, a fair bit of preparation went into this one.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

For Players: Research your character concept and skills

So you want to play a police officer, and not because you just think they're cool, but because you're really looking forward to using your skills and intellect to deal with crazy and uncertain situations. Perhaps you want to be a detective so you can deal with higher level cases, or a forensic scientist so you can conduct autopsies, and you figure that roleplaying it is the best chance you're going to get to really experience that 'Aha!' moment when you solve the crime.

The only thing is that when you rock up to game you notice a disturbing trend. Your case-solving skills basically boil down to rolling appropriate skills and hoping the Storyteller throws you a clue. You don't take any notes which means that you also have to keep rolling your system's equivalent of an Idea or a Know Roll to remember that little, yet pivotal, clue dropped awhile back. In other words, it's frustrating because you want to play a character that, in truth, you don't know how to play and there's only so far a good Storyteller can take you.

So what do you do?

Head to your nearest library and pick up books like Writer's Guide to Police Procedure (writer's guides are great for breaking it down into easily understood details), Idiot's Guide to Forensics, and general informative guides on any areas relevant to you. You could also always purchase them first-hand or scour second-hand bookstores for them as well if you want to be able to keep it handy. For Forensics, by the way, may I suggest Forensics: A Guide For Writers by D.P. Lyle, M.D. in the Howdunit series. You'll know more than you need to know at the end of it!

Depending on your relationship with your Storyteller and their personal style, you can also loan the books to them so that their clues can actually match the facts. But heck, even if they're not going to know the precise details of what happens to a crispy human, you can just pretend its Television Science and use all of the tricks of the investigative trade that you've read about it. Even if you have to rely on the rolls to understand the facts, you'll still know that you can check for footprints, tyreprints, and fingerprints. You'll still know what sort of trace evidence you might find and where.

In truth, even though I've researched forensics, I sometimes forget possible clues. If someone announces to me that they're looking for tyre tracks, I see no reason why they can't roll to find them, whereas if they simply made an Investigation roll, I may not have thought of those tracks.

The same can be said for your Golarion-trotting rogue. Read the various Location books. Know the differences between Riddleport and the Shackles. If you're a wizard with seven languages and a lot of Know Local, read up on the Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, Gnome, and Human companions so you know a fair bit of the culture.

Heck, if you're playing a pirate, perhaps learn your port from your starboard and read up on a lot of Napoleanic fiction (i.e. Horatio Hornblower) so you can start to get a bit of an intuitive feel for the parts of a ship. With some Dungeon Masters, this'll really go well. With others, you might need to make sure that you use new terms in context so they can figure it out until they get an intuitive understanding of it as well.

So there you have it. Do your research, get more from the game, and really get a chance to be who you always wanted to be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

No Interview Today - Just A Question

Well, I haven't sorted out an interview today (lazy me) so instead I'll have a chat about the Pathfinder game I'm planning to run. Originally I was going to run Skull & Shackles which looks to be a pretty neat Pathfinder Adventure Path but now I'm not so sure. I've been reading Horatio Hornblower and I've enough ideas to create my own home-brew campaign, set in the Pathfinder universe, which would allow the players to get off the rails and really kick around the world. At the same time, Adventure Paths have a neat beginning, middle, and end, and it certainly does sound like a good one.

Dilemmas, dilemmas....

Well, I won't have finished Crimson Throne by the time Skull & Shackles comes out so I guess I'll have to take a look and see what I come up with.

What do you guys reckon? Go with the Adventure Path or create my own campaign?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

WoD To Do With Luciferans, Part 3.

Thus far we've taken a look at both Luciferan moods, themes, and plot hooks and Luciferan goals, motivations, and daily activities. So in the final installment of WoD To Do With Luciferans, we'll be taking a look at five evocative locations which will really bring about that Luciferan vibe, 5 NPC concepts in 25 words or less, and a short playlist of thematic music. Let's hope you find it as inspiring to read as I'm going to find it inspirational to write. There's nothing like seeing other people's examples to really help crank the creative juices when you're making your own.

Five Evocative Locations:

Fish & Chip Shop: Flaking paint on an old sign and owners who've been running the store for over twenty years. There's an office out the back where the Fallen can discuss matters and they can sit out in the main shop after dark. With its green formica counter tops and orange plastic chairs, no one could possibly think it's where a militaristic squad gather to discuss the news around a pack of hot chips.

Abandoned Pier: Sandy beaches, unkempt sand dunes, rough waves to hand, and an easy way to dispose of the body (decayed, first, with Lore of Death, of course) are what make this place a fantastic meeting point. The broken and crumbling wooden planks also make for an easy trap set up if the Fallen get some time to prepare things and Lammasu with the right form abilities or enough Lore of Storms can lie in wait in the ocean as invisible backup.

Port Container Maze: Big steel contains stacked high along an asphalt expanse with large industrial machinery sweeping here and there, lifting a container and dropping it off in place by the nearby warehouse or on docked ships. It gives access to a major transport corridor and allows the local Luciferans, who have all gained credible jobs or reasons to be there, plenty of space to have their conversations and ambush their foes late at night.

The Dump: Luciferans need weapons and Malefactors can make them -- if only they had enough of the right raw materials. A Malefactor has taken up possession of this dump with its stacks of cars and piles of old household furniture. She's even learned enough Lore of Awakening to tend to herself - and make the dump come alive if you cross her.

The Rooftop Garden Restaurant: For the discerning Luciferan with a large bank balance. Threaten enemies by dangling them over the edge of the building, head-first, or throw a charming soiree with which to dazzle the Faustian (may or may not end with them dangled off a building).

Five NPCs:

Arekhala (a.k.a. 'Death of Meerkats': Slayer. Legion of Majestic Liberation. Blonde, 17, American, holds to Iron Legion principles and so she is wary and judgmental around other Fallen.

Vritran: Scourge. Legion of Majestic Liberation. He has a wry humor and prefers to out-think his foes. Needs someone to believe in / fight for.

Pashdaniel: Fiend. Legion of Stark Defiance. Highly literate Japanese youth, speaks multiple languages, wears a powerful jacket relic, and tries to come off as mechanically intelligent around Fallen.

Gaviel: Defiler. Legion of Glorious Victory. Street smart, brave, poetic, energetic, pokes his nose into anything and everything he can find. Less tough than he seems.

Malakh: Devourer. Legion of Glorious Victory. Laid-back farmer who likes to take his time with things as he slowly but surely gets things done. Friendly enough. Likes to give good advice.

'Never Too Late' - Three Days Grace.
'Battle For The Sun' - Placebo.
'Citizen Soldier' - Three Doors Down.
'If I Don’t Make It Back' – Tracy Lawerence
'American Soldier' – Toby Keith

Next week, I'll jump across to Vampire: the Requiem and take a look at the Ordo Dracul (my favorite covenant).

Monday, February 13, 2012

10: Survival Horror Superheroes!

So you want to run a deep and dark exploration of the nastier side of life, but you don't have fragile and vulnerable protagonists whose stark similarity to your own players, with their visceral weaknesses, can really emphasise the terrible aspects of your frightening monsters. Oh no, you've got blood powered vampires or arcana wielding mages or, worse, a Level 13 Dungeons & Dragons party. Simply jacking up the difficulty is just going to make the whole thing frustrating, so what are you going to do? How can you make such people feel vulnerable to the horrors?

Well, there's a few tricks to it. I'm going to have to assume that you're not running a party of anti-heroes who are likely to cheer the monsters on as they eviscerate humanity. If so, the best you're going to get is to pluck at the player's sympathies and make them feel horrified at their character's own antics by making the NPCs very realistic and sympathetic and then nudging their nasty characters to ditch or kill the very NPCs the players have gotten attached to. Do this well enough, and you might get a Heel Face Turn with the anti-heroes becoming heroic because they don't want people to die.

But that's another article.

So, back to the superheroes. If it's a one-off, you could draw the players into it by creating a cunningly well-crafted story involving the loss of their powers - either through divine curses (dropping the 13th level party back to 1st) or conniving the storyline to ensure they expend too much of whatever powers them (vampires with 3 blood; demons without faith; mages without mana). But this is a rather crude tactic that not every player will appreciate, even for a short time.

If you do plan on doing this, explain it to the player so they know it will be temporary and is a chance to try something different. Also, it's best to severely lower the lethality of such an adventure. They've let you undermine their PCs to try out this special episode. Killing them kinda undermines the trust. Situations should be handled so that they often seem close to death, but barring stupidity, they survive. Don't let the players know you're using kiddy gloves. Let them believe they've survived against the odds. That way they won't be cross at you for killing a character that really should've survived that encounter if they'd been given the goodies they've painstakingly earned.

A less crass alternative, is to include very mortal NPCs who make up for their fragility with a sympathetic nature. This doesn't mean making them goody-two-shoes. This means making them interesting in a way that catches the player's attention. The bitchy cheerleader-type who struggles to keep up on a broken leg and fights with tooth and nail might gain enough respect, even if she was initially unlikeable. Have a think about your players and what would resonate with them and then create NPCs accordingly.

Then threaten the hell out of those NPCs. Be cautious about letting them drop like flies and instead set up the situation so that the PCs always had a chance to save them, but that they may fail. You can, of course, injure and mutilate them as much as you like. The exception to this is if you have a big Set Piece Death, in mind, though keep these rare and only use them if they're incredibly appropriate. In truth, unless there's some supernatural reason why they must die (i.e. they're already dead and are killed again and again because that is what they're fated to do), then you should always allow for the chance the PCs will keep them alive. However small that chance might be.

The enemies should be sparse on the ground to keep the superheroes from getting used to fighting them.

The enemies could be designed to discourage attacks in one of two ways: Resistance or Power.

With Resistant monsters, perhaps they're immune to magic (so spells fizzle on them) with massive regeneration and a lot of hit points. The players strike them a few times, realise they can't kill it with a frontal assault, and look elsewhere for the answer. This can be perfect if you want to force them to discover back history on the monster and learn its bans that might strip away certain abilities. The Forbidden Siren series on Playstation are a good example of a resistant monster. They're at least as strong as you but you can only ever beat them unconscious. They'll always get back up again.

With Powerful monsters, they may not have a lot of hit points but they pack one hell of a punch. Make sure you showcase their raw might by showing the remains of a more powerful party of adventurers spattered across a room (perhaps have a spellbook show they can cast 7th level spells and yet still died). You could even show them in action against property, ramming into the side of a building and destroying it, before ambling away. Or show the creature destroy an over-eager and reasonably strong individual with a single flick of a tentacle. This is quite good if you want a stealth game or one involving a lot of tactics. It's often best not to make the Powerful creatures too perceptive or else the PCs will die unless they happen to be stealth monkeys.

And, of course, remember to use all of the tricks mentioned in my other survival horror articles. They can all help create that sensation of dread no matter what the PCs are capable of doing.

So, I hope you found that useful. If you'd like to read more in the series, you can find them here.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

For Players: Written Plans and Party Input

Okay, so let's say you have a really big goal. You want to take out that oWoD Ventrue Primogen by eroding his power base until the Daeva Prince gets so agitated he executes or banishes him. No easy task. If you start by hurling baseless accusations around, or take a step wrong, you'll likely end up the one executed. So what do you do? How do you take control in this situation?

Well, if you've been keeping accurate notes you'll ideally have a base to work from about both individuals' likes, dislikes, allies, enemies, assets and what-not that you can target, undermine, emphasise or whatever. If not, don't despair. You can start picking up this information. But what do you do, exactly? How do you find it out? What do you do once you know?

Since each situation is different I can't advise you on just what you should do but I can advise you on how you can figure it out. Other than going back over your notes, you can draw up a mindmap (basically a series of related details linked by lines to show you how they spring from each other) that can often jog your memory and help you brainstorm other options. You can learn more about this technique in trusty Wikipedia.

Another option is to simply write down your goal, brainstorm options, choose the best of those options and write them down on separate pieces of paper and then list out more options, ideas, etc. until you've whittled it down to baseline goals (with a record of how those little goals connect to the larger goals, thus ensuring that it may well lead to your primary goal rather becoming random tangents).

You can also list out your various skills (anything you have a dot in), alliances, and assets, and brainstorm ways they could be used to achieve your goal. Who knows? That dot you have in Socialize could come in handy seducing their childe into telling you information while drunk on drugged blood at the bar.

If you and the other player characters are on the same side, it's a good idea to try and get them involved in the brainstorming and planning stages but don't let them take over if it's your main goal. They have their own skills and knowledge to bring to the table and are more likely to be motivated to really give it their all if they feel like they're a part of it. You can even get them to do the same methods that you are.

One thing I'd suggest is that you jot down all suggested plans (a plan often has parameters, multiple minor goals, and a visible marker of hoped for achievement) and then get everyone to try this exercise. So that everyone gets their time to talk about the situation, tell them all to be quiet and have the person who came with it explain the plan. Then give each player (or player character) a minute or more to talk (uninterrupted) about their thoughts on a particular plan (say Plan A). Do the same with each person, ensuring that no one is interrupted, and the plan-maker doesn't comment on what's been said. Then let the plan-maker have their final say, fixing up any misunderstandings, and commenting on what's been said. Do this with each viable plan. And yeah, it may seem a bit artificial and forced, but it could work for your particular group.

So there you have it. Some ideas on how to use written plans and party input. Let me know if you have any hints, tips or tactics on these sorts of methods. Especially let me know if you are going to try any of them out.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Interview with a Changeling LARP Storyteller: Dastaplerthief

This delightful Camarilla (soon to be called Beyond the Sunset) LARP storyteller has been running the Changeling arm of that domain for well over a year. He's been around the block from old World of Darkness to new World of Darkness, played in many a game and certainly ran a few. So, without further ado, let's go to the first question:

Shannon: "What drew you to run a LARP for such a big organization as Beyond the Sunset?”

Dastaplerthief: “In part, necessity – the previous Storyteller stepped down due to university commitments, and I stepped up because I enjoyed the game and didn’t want to see the venue collapse. What kept me running it was that I was having fun! My players are a pleasure to run games for, and I get a kick out of the large world and supernatural ripple effects from each venue.”

Shannon: “Changeling’s a very deep and multi-faceted game. What do you think is the core of the game, as far as you’re concerned, and how do you try to evoke it?”

Dastaplerthief: “Strip away the magic and you get is a story about being human and all that entails: community, family, friendship...and fear, fragility and loss. How human can you be when all that you were was stripped from you by the Fae? When the thorns tore away some vital part of your soul that you’ll never get back? Even Changeling social structure is revealing - Courts, Motleys and Entitlements act as combined surrogate family, support group and political party."

"I keep a focus on interconnectedness, as the biggest threat to Changeling sanity is from threats to their mortal identity or too much time spent away from humans. I encourage PCs to remember they have friends and family. Allies and contacts have names and identities, and other NPCs provide friends, rivals, foils and even girlfriends or boyfriends. This is not without difficulties when at least one party is by default traumatised, paranoid and hunted by forces much bigger than them."

"Fragility, of both sanity and the life they’ve clawed together from scratch, is something else explored. Loyalists certainly have their own mysterious agenda but in my game most frequently terrorise the PCs through threats on their cobbled together human identities and friends. When they’re watching your house, do you run and lose everything you’ve worked for, or risk them coming in and slaughtering your neighbours to remove human witnesses? What about if they’ve broken in? What if they’ve looked in your phone-book and sabotaged your job?"

"That's a huge worry for anyone, but a Changeling especially!"

"What if they do none of that but simply attack your Changeling friends – do you neglect your mortal identity and get driven just that little bit more mad in order to keep the few friends you have?"

"Finally, the Fetch is a fascinating foil. It arguably has a greater claim to humanity than the Lost, as it looks and lives the part. They may lack a soul, but can the Lost argue they truly have one? Just how do you cope with that?"

"These problems really are the bread and butter of a Changeling game.”

Shannon: “Changeling also very much relies on an Other World – the Hedge. How do you treat the Hedge and what are the best ways to evoke that sense of Otherness?”

Dastaplerthief: “Firstly, I do not map the Hedge or allow anyone else to. Why? It’s too complex. It’s five dimensional. It shifts with time, plus there’s a fifth dimension – proximity to Arcadia, which does not necessarily correspond to a cardinal direction. You also cannot predict where a Hedge-gate will open exactly for that reason. I emphasise that the Hedge is sentient, psychoactive and hungry – a living thing more than a place. If something seems off in the Hedge PCs tend to get very scared indeed."

"Secondly, through flora, fauna and locales. Most Core book Hedgebeasts shouldn't have Australian correlates – why would there be Briarwolves in a country with no native canids? On the other hand, thylacaleo, diprotodons and other extinct megafauna lend a sense of age and of scale. The Lost are definitely at the bottom of the foodchain. Add in ancient ruins, overgrown abandoned Hollows and of course the Goblin Market, where you can buy anything ... for a price, and it's very alien indeed."

Shannon: “LARPs and Table-top games are very different beasts. What do you see as the biggest differences and how do you cater for them?”

Dastaplerthief: “While the most obvious thing is difference in the LARP and tabletop rules, I’d say that a far greater difference lies in planning game and session structure. Tabletop games move at the rate of narrative. You can spend several months in the same few hours of game time, or skip ahead a week or more. In LARPs this isn’t possible – time moves on at a rate corresponding with the real world, making downtimes all the more important. There is always a time-limit, and therefore a bit more of a sense of urgency."

"There is also differences in designing session premises – while Changeling doesn’t have as large a body of players as some of the other BtS venues it becomes very clunky to do an investigation with eight or nine PCs all clamouring for ST attention. More often investigations happen in downtimes and sessions focus on deciding how to deal with issues and politics"

"Actually going in to deal with something either requires a great deal more planning on the players’ part, or something urgent to prompt it, otherwise things tend to go nowhere. It’s fairly rare for everyone to synergize completely, as LARP PCs aren’t designed to work as well in a group as tabletop PCs are."

Shannon: “Any advice you’d give to other people seriously considering running a LARP game?”

Dastaplerthief: “Worldbuild. Seriously. There are so many PCs compared to tabletop, each with their own agenda. You need to be prepared to react from things coming at you from all sorts of directions, and attempts to railroad plot rarely go down well. Be prepared to run a lot on the fly, and remember that with that many people you generally can fit in less plot than in tabletop, so make those clues count!"

"PCs have a lot more control over IC-politics than you’d necessarily allow in tabletop, as there is more likely to be the numbers to support it, so there will inevitably be a political game, regardless of original intentions."

"Finally, remember that good downtime responses really can add to a game, as well as being a brilliant way to seed plot. The world does not stand still between sessions."

Okay, thank you for sharing with us. That's a lot of good advice for those running Changeling and LARP, as well.

If anyone has any questions, comment below and I'll see if I can get responses from the interviewee.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Wod To Do With Luciferans, part 2.

Okay, so we've already looked at Luciferan moods, themes, and plot hooks. Now let's look at a selection of Luciferan goals, motivations, and daily activities might be. Obviously, finding Lucifer is a big one so I won't worry about structuring my list around that big boy because, let's face it, you've already guessed that was an option.

So instead, let's look at some more diverse options.

Daily Activities:
1. Running errands for a superior Luciferan. Since they're a very hierarchical faction, this could even be getting the dry cleaning.

2. Keeping up with general health and fitness.

3. Attending martial arts training.

4. Cleaning their gear and making sure their equipment is in top condition.

5. Attending their daughter's ballet performance. What? They fell for a reason, after all. Why not lap it up? It's what Lucifer would've wanted.

6. Party hard because tomorrow you might be dead. Whether it's coping through promiscuity or finding relaxation in a whiskey bottle, you need to find some way to unwind.

7. Catch 40 winks in the office or in a taxi heading to the next mission. Because, really, when else are you going to get to sleep?

8. Vetting your daughter's boyfriend. Perhaps stalking him and using lores on his family. Because, really, you know what's out there and you have to be sure.

9. Hang out with your Luciferan squad mates, fallen or human. You're comrades! Compatriots! And you need to unwind. Why not justify some R&R as a 'team building exercise' to your superior officers while you sit around and play X-Box?

10. Use your lores to get yourself off that speeding ticket or to retrieve that remote control. C'mon, you need to get that paragon status, after all, or you'll be no good in combat. Might as well practice at home. You can clean up any Tormented errors later.

1. Finding, and grooming human assistants who can hold their own in a bad situation. Whether this is cozying up to soldiers, insinuating themselves into a cop or bikie bar, or simply training up their own co-workers, a Luciferan can always use more back up.

2. Selecting, and defending, significant places from supernatural intrusion. They already consider themselves to be soldiers so it's not a good idea to sell vampire blood around their children's school.

3. Getting top-notch equipment and learning how to use it. I don't just mean guns, I mean rapelling equipment and vehicles.

4. Converting a hunter cell. Waste not, want not.

5. Inspiring Raveners to forsake their wanton destruction in favor of more measured and meaningful destruction for a cause.

6. Find something on the leading, local Reconcilers that supports the view of them as treacherous hypocrites. Then find a way to bring that to light. Preferably through the Cryptics. They need a purpose. It might as well be yours.

7. Keep your loved ones safe. You've got guns, lores, and maybe claws, and you know how to use them. Why wouldn't you want to keep those you care about safe and secure?

8. Become accepted as a Fallen amongst those you care about while still remaining accepted as their loved one. Leave it to the Faustians to want to be worshipped by their wife. You just want to kick back, relax, grab a beer, and flash your wings as their husband who happens to be a fallen angel called Gaviel.

9. Become the best at something, whether driving, hacking, or wildlife photography. You want to be the Go-To Guy, or at least the Gal With The Skills. Why settle for less than the best?

10. Convince that Fallen you admire to join your squad. Bonus points if they're from another faction so you'll need to convert them first.

Okay, okay, so some of them you could see coming a mile away. Still, I think it works as inspirational material. Can you think up any other options?

Oh, and next up are Locations, NPCs and Playlist.

Monday, February 6, 2012

9: Madness, sickness, and status cards.

So you have all of your players around the table and are well away into a tale of woe and dread. Everyone's managing to truly get their head in the game but the immersion keeps faltering here and there as the very rules you're using to enhance the horror and realism also seem to keep getting in the way of the game itself. You don't want to ditch the rules, but you are finding a few things annoying.

The characters have been at it for so many hours they're fatigued and you warn them that they're now suffering a fatigue penalty. You pause to explain the rules and then everyone, including you, promptly forgets about that when later rolls are made.

Someone cracks open a book that drives them mad! You want to add an element of randomness so you have them roll a d10 on a pre-prepared table of likely disorders and then inform them (and all the other players) of their character's affliction. You may also need to explain just what Trichotillomania actually is.

Another character goes mad and their roll means they're now hallucinating and they already had paranoia. Oops! Now the players are all aware of these hallucinations which drops some of the fear factor when so-and-so starts ranting and raving about the shadows.

A third character becomes struck by a mind compulsion to start plotting against the other players which means you either take them aside and slow down the game or you clue in the other players.

And a fourth character gets nauseated. But what does that mean again? What are the rules for that? Time to break the flow to explain it all to them (and perhaps later again to remind them).

To bypass all of this, I got several pages of card and cut them into 5cm long by 3cm high cards. I then wrote on the back of them Madness; Hallucination; Status, etc. I wrote on the other side either details of the hallucination; the name of the madness (plus a first person description such as "Pulling out my hair calms me down"); or the rules of the status ailment.

When they got fatigued, I'd give them that card and they could refer to the rules at their leisure. When they went mad or had a hallucination, I could either pick out the right card or simply shuffle the deck, pull seven cards, and let them randomly select a card. No one else needed to know. Heck, depending on how I positioned the cards, they might not even know what type of deck it was.

I could also write down little notes to pass along on black versions of those cards, such as "You hear a scuttling sound" or "Blake's reactions seem manic; has he gone mad?" or "You should attack them soon", depending on my needs. And let's face it, tabletop players get paranoid when you start passing notes as it's unusual. Normally, what is described to one player gets known to the others. You can also give them blank cards so they can pass notes back to you, such as "Stealth check to steal Blake's gun" or "Subterfuge on not stealing the compass".

When used well, it can actually be pretty seamless.

Oh yeah, also, I created Adrenaline cards to encourage players to buy into fear and panic. Basically, if something became frightening enough to their character, the players could elect that their characters become flooded with adrenaline. This gave them a temporary +1 bonus to Initiative, Feats of Strength, and Perception checks, and the downside was only that they had to roleplay being jumpy and hopped up on adrenaline. Well, half an hour later they'd also feel it by becoming strained and taking a -1 to Speed and Composure through sheer weariness.

I think at some point I might trial Panic cards. Better bonuses but your character must behave in abject terror, such as fleeing through tunnels and general mindless escapism.

It's not too far from the truth of the situation but it does encourage people to have their characters buy into the fear. Sure, good roleplayers will have fearful characters but only great ones will be able to bypass the emotional distance and player pragmatism to truly react in a troublesome way for realism's sake.

See the rest of the articles in this series over here!

Saturday, February 4, 2012

For Players: Doing Clue Reviews

In games that require a great deal of investigation, it can often help to keep detailed lists of clues, unexplored leads, and witness comments. Otherwise, you might not pick up on the contradictions between two witness statements or you might forget that red hot lead about the diner, and that can quickly and steadily grind the game to a halt and leave you scratching your head and feeling frustrated. If you're playing a political game, it also helps to jot down the relationships, likes and dislikes discovered over the course of the gameplay so you know who to target and how to target them.

The amount of notes you take, of course, should depend on the game itself and your own play style. No point burning yourself out taking lots of notes if you hate taking notes when you can just jot down the most important, and forgettable, details.

So let's assume that you've dutifully kept good notes from session to session (you may be able to wrangle extra experience points out of your Storyteller if you offer to do this). What do you do it with it now? Well, often times it's enough to simply sit back and re-read over your old notes before a session, but sometimes you'll want to go a little further.

You could take your notes and brainstorm other possibilities based on what you do know.

You could do a mindmap and get a visual on how the clues gather together and where they seem to be flowing (excellent in a political or conspiracy type game).

You could draw up a relationship chart of the NPCs and pencil in who dislikes or likes the others.

You could use the facts you've already gathered when talking to witnesses, suspects, or other NPCs, either to double check their details or catch them in a lie. If you want to use it this way, give the Storyteller a copy of your notes to help them keep their story straight and be willing to let them retroactively remove a comment if it was their mistake and not the NPC's slip up.

You could always use it when building your case with the Prince or Primogen, or with the other PCs, to encourage them to take your preferred course of action.

Create a list of leads to follow, or actions to take, and then cross them out as you've done them. This is also a great way to remember the things your character has promised to do.

So there you have it, a whole bunch of uses for those notes you've given.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Spirits and Cyberpunk

Well, Adam ran really cool mission in the Shaitan game. I was given a bounty on the augmented gang that had allegedly killed my host by throwing me through the window. Turns out that they don't match the description, at all, of the people I glimpsed when I gained possession of my new host, but that's neither here nor there. Anyway, their apparent motivation for busting into my office was because they were setting up an armed assault on their old street doctor whom I'd caught and dropped off to C-Sec (Council Security).

I dropped by the local area with my character's boyfriend (who had three subtle-looking limb augmentations) to take a look around his old place but didn't get very far when a couple of local hoodlums spotted those augs and ran off to tell their friends. We backed off and went to a pub further afield to ask some questions. I ended up working my way up toward bribing the bartender into giving me some information on this particular gang. Apparently, they've been killing augs (folk with augmentations) for their augments and then getting their street doctor to insert them.

The bartender didn't know much more but offered to connect me to someone who did know more - a Hells Angels bikie gang that were in the back rooms. The bikie leader was keen to get rid of them and told me a few more details such as that they've got a number of hangers on, but there's only five fully fledged members who've killed for their augs (which is part of their initiation), and gave me the address of their apartment building and the name of their local hang out (the Range - a pub that does wicked chocolate pancakes). My Awareness also pegs them as werewolves.

So what I do is I send off my auged up boyfriend (Belphigor, long story; oh, the crazy that happens after two years of game and giving him my host) and go transfigure myself using the Transfiguration Rod and a homeless guy as a base. Basically, I pay him to let me press the rod under his chin (thus recording a copy of him) and then head off. He looks like a real junkie, which allows me to scope out their apartment building. I even managed to talk my way upstairs pretending I was looking for a drug dealer before saying I was looking for a Russian guy and backing out when confronted by the real gangers.

I then dropped by the pub called the Range, settled into a booth, and noticed a few things about this gang. Firstly, the augs they'd nabbed were crappy. They were more replacement limbs than souped-up augs, except for some leg augmentations that helped the leader jump higher. The leader was also all about augs. I mean, he went on and on and on about how wicked augs were and he even pulled out his gun (while in a booth) and started waving it about nonchalantly until his mates convinced him to put it away. And his friends kept looking bored by the whole conversation, then randomly all perking up and getting interested. My Awareness soon reveals the reason.

The leader's been hollowed out by a spirit and is using spirit magic (numina) to make them keen on its topic of conversation. I later notice that he has weird dark veins under his skin.

I came back the following night in my Striking Looks 2 human host form, packing six strong sedatives in firm needles sheathed in my jacket (special design), and an adrenaline needle. I manage to charm my way into their good graces as a lower middle class girl slumming it a bit, ensuring I won't get shooed away by dropping the fact that my brother has an aug innocently into the conversation. I notice the leader's dark veins are slightly more obvious now and his pupils almost look like camera re-focusing lenses if you pay close attention. Shaitan doesn't know much about claimed but that was pretty creepy to her.

So she ends up charming her way back to their place with a lot of innocent flirtations and finds out that they've knocked holes in the walls of their apartments to join them up. She'd picked out the weakest (sleaziest) link and points out the lack of, ahem, privacy and is told the top floor is largely abandoned. The gangers can take their pick of any of the apartments up there. She convinces her mark to go up there with her, distracts him with a kiss, and fright over a spider, and needles him in the neck. She then records his image, and her own, on the transfiguration rod and swaps appearances.

She then calls Billy, a Darkling she befriended way back whom she took with her through the accidental jump in time, and he treks up the wall and takes the unconscious guy down to the van where Tara awaits. She heads back downstairs, cons the mechanic into going with her (now looking like his mate) alone to his auto-repair shop as part of a dare that one of his two old classic cars won't start.

Once the two get there, she tries to needle him while he turns on the car, but he almost notices her and it's only through sheer stealthiness that she keeps him from spotting it. So she raises the dare that the wheels don't turn and he lets it coast so that the wheels do. Then she pretends she heard something drop from under the bonnet, like a nut or something. He seems pretty suspicious but leans down to check and she needles him.

The next two guys are pretty easily dealt with in their bedrooms. Contracts of Darkness meant they never even woke up. Of course, before she let in Billy to do that she heard a scuffle upstairs and went and saw that Billy had stabbed some random guy in the thigh and twisted the blade, then dragged him down the side of the wall, because he could've sworn he'd seen "a glint of metal". The man had no augs but that's what happens when you take a Changeling across fifty years of time. Bit of a Clarity loss.

Finally, she tempts the Claimed out by telling him that an auger was spotted broken down by the auto-repair shop and that the mechanic was still out there distracting him. He heads down, she pretends to trip somewhat over a raised bit of pavement in order to fall behind him, and then she shoots him in the back with his ganger's gun. He's got a shotgun, but she gets one more chance to shoot him (due to the surprise and her high Initiative) and that's enough to drop him.

The Claimed lies on the ground, asking her what she is, and they have a bit of a conversation about what it is. It used to be when-flesh-meets-metal but the murders had changed it to murder-for-perfection. She ends up shooting it again (this time with its own shotgun) to put it out of its misery and then sees it crawl out of its corpse, this twisted abomination of raw muscle connected to steel with camera lens and shutters for eyes. I can't do anything to it in its Twilight form so I just watch it and, with malicious glee, it possesses the body's augmented legs.

The legs manage to right themselves, carrying the weight of a broken corpse behind it, and it starts kicking out at me with the foot pistons that help it jump so far. I'm shooting at it, trying to heal the bruising when I can, and trying to get a good shot but shotguns don't do as good at damaging steel. Finally, I manage to break the legs so they don't work no more, and it crawls out again. Right now, I'm sensing that I'm surrounded by werewolves but I hope that if I don't let them know I can see them, maybe they won't mess with me.

So I turn my attention to my task at hand. I don't want it to claim any more people but I can't hurt it so it has to cross the Gauntlet on its own accord. I threaten it by pretending to be a Mage and thus capable of shredding it with the use of a single spell. It's hard to intimidate a spirit (being as they don't think like we do) but I manage to trick it despite all the penalties and it vamooses.

Lo and behold, the lead bikie comes out and scolds me for not letting them deal with it! But, he states, he doesn't want any trouble with Others (meaning Mages) and lets me go.

Of course, considering the Mage-Fallen War, I know I can't use that trick of pretending to be a Mage too often. Don't want them tracking me down to see what's up and finding a demon.

So yeah, there you have it. I've gotta admit I love how Adam managed to really bring out the major tropes of Cyberpunk through a very World of Darkness lens. Hope you enjoyed the tale!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

25 Player Motivators

Well, since I don't have an interview ready to post up for you I thought I'd give you something else while I attempt to gather and stockpile a few for the upcoming weeks. In everything we do, there's a bundle of things that can either motivate us to continue doing something because we find it satisfying or de-motivate us into avoiding something because we find it dissatisfying. Increasing satisfaction increases player retention and interest. In truth, what one player finds sufficiently motivating that really draws them further into the game can actually be a complete de-motivator that makes another person drop out so this list isn't so simple. These are also ranked in no particular order of importance.

1. Recognition - either in-character or out-of-character. This could be for their skills, intelligence, or achievements. We rarely get enough of this in real life.

2. Social Reasons. An excuse to catch up with friends once a week, get out of the house, or otherwise socialise.

3. Catharsis. A way to get some emotional catharsis by experiencing second-hand tragedy or horror through the vehicle of a character.

4. Adrenaline. The thrill of the chase, the buzz of the hunt, and the fear of being caught. There's too few opportunities to get safe adrenaline in our world and some can get it through roleplaying.

5. Laughter. A chance to get the endorphins running through either tension-relieving laughter, in character banter, or out of character game references.

6. Power. Our lives are filled with compromise and a general sense of powerlessness. Whether it be political power or combat power, it's great to be able to make others bend to our wishes - even if only in a fictional universe.

7. Control. Again, our lives so often feel out of control, and the world all the more so, so some enjoy being able to bring their will to bear on the universe and be able to shape it - even if only from the shadows.

8. Exploration. Ever wanted to see another world? Or explore what might be? Or enjoy a historical era? Or perhaps simply peek into that exclusive nightclub you'll never get to enter? There's a lot of entertainment value in another person's imagination.

9. Doing what can't be done in real life. To fly to the heights of the world or swim the depths of the oceans. To experience telepathy or travel through time or murder with a sword.

10. Being impressive. This can also feed into the Power and Recognition motivators, but not always. A great dice roll or a brilliant plan can just make you feel like a real badass.

11. Using Skills You Don't Have. Ever wanted to sing so well you bring tears to their eyes? Or be a master at le parkeur? Or be a badass biker and win a bar room brawl? The chance to do this can bring some players back again and again.

12. Gazing through another person's eyes. What's it like to be a woman? Or a vampire? Or a lazer-shooting cowboy? Being able to actually 'get it' when it comes to another person's psychology can be deeply thrilling to some.

13. Free Choice. The main joy of a pen and paper role playing game is, well, the freedom. You can try anything. Even if you can't succeed.

14. Solving puzzles. The brain teasers can really keep bringing some player's back, whether police investigations or literal riddles and puzzles.

15. Genre Interest. They love the genre. They love the tropes. They want to engage with them on a more personal level.

16. OOC flexibility. Maybe it's plug and play and players can either rock up and play when they can or perhaps the game can be shifted to a time that suits them.

17. Regularity / Predictability. Some people are motivated to attend a game simply because it's become a habit. It's easy to go there and that works well for them.

18. Shared Interests and Expectations with other players can really boost satisfaction with the game.

19. Learning opportunities. Some people want to learn something new in the game. Whether to learn about people's psychology through NPC interaction, historical facts, or how a gun works.

20. Attachment. If players are attached to locations or characters in the game, they'll certainly be keen to keep coming back.

21. Ability to contribute.

22. Heroism / villainy / badassery.

23. Good, fun atmosphere. Basically, the happier the group is with the game and each other, the more enjoyable the game will generally be.

24. Casual vs. no OOC talk. Some players really enjoy a totally casual atmosphere and find restrictions, well, restrictive, while others are motivated by more serious games with rules against OOC chat.

25. Interesting IC conversations.