Monday, March 31, 2014

Final Tweet for Masks of Nyarlathotep New York Chapter

Well, I've done it.  I have put up 31 tweets on handy web-sites, prop links and other miscellaneous web sites that'll help you run the Masks of Nyarlathotep New York chapter.  You can find the fruits of my labour over here.  I'm going to give myself a bit of a break for awhile and then in late April I'll start putting up some good links to travel sites, ship plans, and other such items to help folks in the bits in between chapters.

Friday, March 28, 2014

GM to Player - Confliction

As you've probably gleaned, I am most often the Storyteller, never the player.  Well, nearly never.  I've played in the occasional solo game but rarely with other people.  Since I've started playing in a Pathfinder game with three other people, I've started noticing the various habits I've gleaned over years of infrequent play with various tabletop group games.

(And yes, I'm well aware Confliction isn't a word but it sums up the general vibe I get.  An affliction with a vague sense of conflictedness - also not a word - and also an infection with an interest in the conflict.  It's a very ambiguous word, confliction.)

It is quite different on the other side of the screen, I must admit.  I've felt the urge to guide the storyteller, accidentally pointed out forgotten things (i.e. we're in pitch blackness), and second guessed plots (sometimes with too much rapidity).  I also tend to come up with ideas which could be awesome, which tend to annoy GMs because they're either really good ideas that put theirs to shame, really stupid ideas which make them die a little inside, or are actually the same ideas they wanted to run with.  Really I should stop voicing such ideas!

I also find it hard to be doing so little comparatively.  The player's brain sits on idle far more than the storyteller's brain, as you wait for your co-players to finish their actions, resolve their turns, and for the NPCs to do the same.  You don't need to respond to their choices (generally) and when you do, there's normally either another player who's happy to choose (social or environmental choices) or a roll the GM tells you to make (environmental or resistance).  Normally you just need to vaguely log their actions in your mind and prepare for your own, especially in games like Pathfinder or D&D where your combat options are larger at character creation than in any other games, yet feel reduced during them. 

This Pathfinder / D&D feeling of constricted choice in combat is likely an illusion due to the sheer frequency of combat and the sheer amount of choices at character generation, but it is there nonetheless.

It's just the nature of the beast for players to have an easier time of it brainpower-wise than GMs, most of the time.  There are exceptions, but generally you can go with the flow a lot more ... unless you're in a solo game where the entire direction of the game tends to rely on you.  There are *other* efforts a player must make (patience being one of them), but it's not the same *kind* of effort.

So it's been a learning experience trying to control and restrain my brain like a player rather than rushing a 1000 miles ahead like a solo gamer or juggling a dozen details, past and present and future, like a GM.

I've also learned a few other things in the current Pathfinder game I'm in and the few other party games I've played as well.  I've found that it's really easy to annoy other players (which I've always suspected).  I've learned it's way easier to give in than to negotiate, but that I'm okay with it if it gets us to the goal more quickly by requiring less OOC time, and that most other players (though not all) feel the same way.  Better an hour of unused IC time than 10 minutes of moving toward faster action.  It's logical but not something you first expect.

I've found that I can be patient and enjoy my character being taken out of the game with Dominate far more readily than I can enjoy having little to contribute yet needing to contribute anyway with something (an issue often found in World of Darkness games).  I've found that a long three-hour combat can still be entertaining by fulfilling a more board gamey instinct than I ever thought I had ... and that I might even enjoy those parts more than the generally negative (to me) player character interactions that devolve around any sources of conflict, no matter how minor.

I've learned that I get acclimatised to my crunch very quickly and that I equally quickly yearn for a new PC so that I can play with shiny new crunch.  This means that I'm happy for my PC to die.  In fact, if my PC lasts too long I look to opportunities to let the PC take the hit for another player (which may well save said PC) or ponder ways to retire my character without derailing the game.  After my years as a storyteller, it would be a gross act of negligence and hypocrisy on my part to knowingly risk derailing anyone's game.  I've also found I sometimes have to back out of putting my PC in harms way as many a GM will bend over backwards to avoid killing off a PC too readily.

I've learned that being Dominated into PvP can be a lot of fun and there's plenty of satisfaction and fulfilment to scrabbling ineffectually in an attempt to hit a PC (with the possibility of getting a *real* hit in) then was ever enjoyed against an NPC.  This is likely, in part, because it's relatively consequence-free.  It's not my fault, after all.  I'm just rolling the dice here.  I also learned that it feels really good when another PC has the choice to strike your PC, yet refuses to do so.

I've found that it's hard to make character-driven choices when you've been patchily in your character's perspective due to the rather off-again on-again nature of group roleplay (i.e. pause for die rolling, description, waiting your turn), and that while you're out of your character's mind-state it's so much easier to just select either the funniest or more strategic decision rather than try to forcibly re-immerse yourself for few minutes.  Perhaps experienced players have that skill down, but I find that my PCs are shallower than my NPCs ever were as while they were juggled between other thought processes, those thought processes were all directed to the game and not directed to that lazy state of patience and calm which allows me to float through the various waiting periods.

I've learned that my PC shallowness is also because while there may be the potential for death, the other sides of your PC may not be triggered, or tested, which leads to a flatter character.  As a GM you introduce an NPC knowing that your players or the circumstances of the game will prod them in certain ways, revealing certain traits.  As a PC you're more likely to have one set of consistent traits appear and remain everlasting.  If you get bored, those traits tend to become a little more humorous and exaggerated to compensate for a lack of depth or variety.  I've done this to players myself, so it's no judgement against GMs.  It's part of the issue of being part of an ensemble cast who generally aren't designed with the interactions in mind (unlike ensemble casts in TV) which means it can be hard to trigger any depth in more than one PC at once.

I've learned that there's a lot of waiting periods involved in being a player.  Many of them don't contain details that are of keen interest to me.  They're not often boring, but they don't arouse excitement and anticipation either.  This might be because I'm not worried about the outcomes of our actions, partly because I concede the point and therefore don't have much of a stake in things and partly because I don't mind losing in combat.

I'm not saying these are things I should learn.  In some cases, they aren't good habits.  I'm also not saying that my current GM or co-players are to blame for any negative lessons as I have been a player in several infrequent games over the years and so these have been learned over a combination of games.  I'm just saying this is what I've learned and it's been an eye-opening experience for me.

And yes, a lot of what I've learned has been rather negatively flavoured but that's likely because a) been brushing against burnout for awhile now; and b) there's a reason why I'm more often GM than player.  I think the downsides of being a player are more obvious to me than the downsides of being a GM or, potentially, my play style, expectations and perspectives lead to more negative experiences.

This isn't to say that I'm hating my time as a player.  I'm not.  I do find it enjoyable.  I just haven't found much about ensemble play that makes my heart sing the same way that watching a great movie or playing a brilliant videogame does.  I'm going to keep going because it's a fun, social way to spend the time with minimal requirements for me but I don't think playing tabletop roleplaying games are really my thing.

What about you players?  Do you find much to agree with about my experiences?  Are they minimal issues?  Am I missing the point?

And you GMs, are you the same way?  Do you find playing equally enjoyable?  Frustrating?  More fun?

Next week I'll mention some of the techniques, tactics and skills I've noted in some of my former GMs (especially my current one, really) which I would love to learn.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Unfun Side of LARP Organisation

Well, it's not a bad part of organising a LARP but it certainly isn't the most entertaining part of it.  Basically what I'm talking about involves writing constitutions (based off the state's model constitution), updating the Facebook page which has most of my likely members, determining the various logistics of running the LARPs and considering how much revenue needs to be made to keep it afloat.  Not to mention the little details of determining who might like to join the management committee and what resources we might need to do so.

If anyone has any questions about what I've done so far and what kind of logistical questions I've had to ask myself, feel free to drop a comment on it.  Over the next few months I'll be putting up some articles on the process as well though the answers might not quite fit what you want to know.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Musing on Masks: Episode 17

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, has been hired to investigate Sydney Silvers who went missing only a night or two ago but whose home was found ransacked by the receptionist. He has just rammed a car through the front gates of Mogens' mansion and has broken his way in through a window into the dining room while Charlie cowers in the car outside.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Ram Raid): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, must quickly explore Mogens' estate with goons on his tail.

CONSIDERATIONS: This is one of those times when a player goes haring off after the bad guys without much concern or self-restraint.  In this case it's because, all things considered, this really was the best way to try to take out Ambrose Mogens.  Luckily for James, the goons were hired to capture intruders rather than kill them and, ironically enough, Charlies' presence may have just saved his life as he's more prone to rash decision making when someone isn't pointing a gun at his kid's head.

Still it all worked out quite well in a pulpy kind of way and, I must say, props to the player for allowing his character to be captured in the end.  It's always hard, as a player, to know when to hold them and when to fold them, largely because most bad guys don't generally take hostages.

Personally, I find it a lot of fun....

Monday, March 24, 2014

Player Tip: PCs and ... Tact?

So I was taking a look at one of Shimmin Beg's brilliant comments on another page and realised he'd brought up a point which I'm sure we're all familiar with when playing our characters and that's the question of tact, diplomacy and, well, sheer bloodymindedness.  I will exchange asterisks for numbers so that I can discuss alternatives afterwards but for now, take a look at the quoted comment:

"In particular, there can be an awkward clash of realisms when PCs and NPCs are working at cross-purposes. Players expect quite a lot of leeway in their actions and interactions, according to relevant genre tropes, doing things like:

* talking about NPCs in front of them (openly or by blatantly forming a whispering huddle)
* attempted bribery
* deliberate or semi-random threats, sometimes just to test the waters
* assuming their interests and goals are the most important to everyone
* generally giving excellent grounds for suspicion
* intruding on privacy without appointments
* asking large amounts of nosy and personal questions of strangers
* being highly reluctant to give away anything about themselves
* omitting small talk and niceties
* chopping and changing approach between flattery, formality, threat, wheedle, deceit and frankness

All of which would be disastrous as regular strategies in real life. At the same time, they tend to expect NPCs to be fairly simplistic, having one attitude to the party (from Hostile to BFFs), a small set of motivations and very little sense of personal pride, honour, politeness or ethics."

There are reasons behind this actions (which he describes in that Comments) and most of it, in my experience, boils down to expedience, keeping it In Character, and genre conventions.  It is more expedient to behave in this way because, regardless of time limits on the action, most players want to keep the story moving forward.  Many of these actions allow the players to decide among themselves what to do without discussing the whole thing out of character constantly.  Finally, in most games it is *just fine* to behave in these ways and to expect a more realistic mode of behaviour would be just silly, not to mention impractical.

But let's suppose that you're aiming for a more realistic / immersive game.  You don't want to do those things, or you know your Game Master's NPCs won't deal with you if you do, but you're trying to figure out ways around it.

Talking about NPCs in front of them (openly or by blatantly forming a whispering huddle)

There's a good reason for doing this.  How else can you, as a group, democratically decide on a way forward without either deliberating out of character (and killing the immersion for numerous reasons) or by going aside to discuss things?  The other problem can occur when the conversation begins logically enough with the kind of group querying the excluded (yet nearby) NPC won't mind but then the conversation veers straight into forbidden territory because you forgot the NPC was present.  It might be that you could work out a 'reminder code' with your GM and the other players - perhaps to rap their knuckles on the table to remind you all that the NPC is present and that this isn't appropriate behaviour.  Then, if it truly were a memory error, you could be allowed to take back what you said.

Of course, this won't stop the group huddle from happening but at least it might cause you all to be more circumspect about the situation.  The other trick is to consider it just another obstacle in the game.  You might want to deliberate about someone in the real world and, if so, what would you do to get that space to do so?  If you don't get that option, well, sometimes you have to fight in enclosed spaces and that's restricting as well.  Take the restriction as part of the in-game consideration and live with it.

Attempted bribery

If the game has some form of Empathy or Sense Motive skill, use it.  Alternatively a Knowledge Local or Politics skill could be used to let you know the appropriate methods of bribery.  Also bear in mind that the more lawful a society and the lesser the need for that extra money, the less likely bribery will work at all.  In other words, you'll have a better shot with a bribe in Riddleport or the World of Darkness than in Delta Green or Andoran.  When in doubt, try some subtle clues.  Ask "if there's anything I can do to speed things along or change your mind?"  If their ears perk up, perhaps inch your way along with it.  Even those who like being bribed don't like you to arrogantly wave money in their face like you're training a dog with a treatie.  If the person instead points out all the errors in your application or logic, leave it.  They're not interested.

Deliberate or semi-random threats, sometimes just to test the waters

There's a thick line between dominance and intimidation, but in a roleplaying game where you're often dealing with a semi-distracted GM and players, that line can appear pretty thin indeed.  Your best bet is to keep the threats in your pocket until you know you need them as generally most threats will cause the NPCs to "push back" in some way.  This may mean closing down the conversation, getting in your way, or otherwise trying to protect their honour.  If you're doing it to test the waters, accept that you won't get a positive response from them again (at least, not unless you save their life or do something epic to show your character complexity).  At the very least, people don't like those who threaten them.  If you don't mind those consequences, and you're not irritating the other players, then go ahead.  Being a threatening figure is a valid character concept, after all, just don't expect to gain many alliances out of it.

Assuming their interests and goals are the most important to everyone

This is a pretty fair assumption, generally.  Your playing protagonists.  Sometimes your goals really *are* the most important thing going on.  Just be aware that even if your needs do trump everything, you may still need to explain why to people.  Not everyone will know that your actions will stave off an apocalypse.  If what you're doing isn't so lofty, bear in mind this simple creed: "If you make other people believe that fulfilling your needs also help them fulfil their own, they'll be far more amenable."  So maybe quickly explain why your actions are relevant to them, if there's any trouble.  This needn't be longwinded.  Generally a quick summary will do.

Generally giving excellent grounds for suspicion

This might involve dramatic pauses that make the truth sound like lies, speaking mysteriously, or breaking off from the rest of the group to start playing with the merchandise.  It could involve anything, really, that might be seen as suspicious.  Often this is because what you're doing is so big and important in your mind that you fail to see things from the other person's point-of-view.  Sometimes it's because you come to game so that you can forget such a constant drain on the human mind through the constant use of empathy.  It's pretty realistic that those involved in suspicious actions would generally appear suspiciously (because they, too, may forget how they appear to others) but if it's important to you to appear trustworthy or easygoing, nominate another player (not the GM) to tap you on the shoulder if you start being too dodgy.

Intruding on privacy without appointments 

A hard one to avoid.  You often need to ask questions and reach those people pretty quickly.  If time isn't of the essence, it may be worth just saying: "We make an appointment" and getting your GM to time skip to that point.  Otherwise, come up with a reason ahead of time for the person to want to speak with you.  At the very least, don't barge into their office unless you think they'll shred the evidence.  It takes little time to speak with the receptionist first.  Just have your questions ready and in priority order, in case they don't want to speak to you too long.

Asking large amounts of nosy and personal questions of strangers

 Anyway you can get some official clout here?  Become a private investigator or get a writ from the city guard?  This is pretty much impossible to avoid though sometimes apologising for the need to ask such questions, showing confidence without being arrogant, and being persistent can pay dividends when you can't appeal to your own authority.

Being highly reluctant to give away anything about themselves

If you have no reason to fear them, you might as well use the opportunity to shine by revealing tidbits about your character as often these hints can generate rapport and build trust, especially if your revelations connect to the NPC's own desires and history.  It also lets the other players get to know your PC a bit better.  If you haven't thought of enough background detail, make something up and decide later on if you were lying or not.  If you fear the results of such personal information in the wrong hands, lie and lie well.

Omitting small talk and niceties

While you may not want to spend half a session discussing the weather, you could always say that your characters does it and skip along if your GM is willing.  Alternatively, you could always make it *feel* like you used small talk and niceties.  Think about a television show.  They have less time to get more done than you do yet they can still reflect small talk and niceties.  Try using "please" and "thank you", where appropriate, even if you don't believe in it.  A quick "Hello, how do you do?" can provide a sense of thoughtful nicetie without having to go into things for ages.  When barging into a person's office, however, avoid small talk.  They probably want you gone so you're best off cutting to the chase.

Chopping and changing approach between flattery, formality, threat, wheedle, deceit and frankness

The hardest thing to change, really.  On an individual level you can keep it together a lot more than during the chaos of a multi-person conversation where each PC has their own style and perspective on what should work.  Even if each PC is taking the right path, the resulting muddle of all of their attempts will likely confuse and close up the NPC, but you hardly want to shut them up, right?  If the GM keeps NPC conversations like in a television show, revealing yet quick, then it shouldn't be a problem for two PCs to take charge of any particular conversation, swapping out as new NPCs are met.  In games where an NPC conversation can easily take thirty minutes, it becomes far more awkward.  Where possible, decide on your tactic in advance but don't let yourselves be swayed by the need to find the "perfect approach".  You don't want a half hour argument between players for a five minute conversation.  Most attempts, plied with consistency, will get you reasonable results.

So yeah, what do you guys reckon?  Any further advice on this stuff?  I could certainly use some pointers as I've noticed it in some of the parties I've been in.  I find it gets harder the larger the group as well.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Adelaide Roleplaying Cooperative

The world needs more LARPs...
I have created a new blog called Adelaide Roleplaying Cooperative which will be used for the roleplaying organisation known as, you guessed it, the Adelaide Roleplaying Cooperative.  We're not yet incorporated and we still have to fix little niggles in the constitution and get the insurance sorted out but we have one LARP designed and ready to go and are getting close to having a second one in place as well.

It's been a bit of a rapid ride to get to this point but I wouldn't trade it for anything.  It's been a lot of fun.  I've met a lot of people.  And now I'll get a chance to speak on the National ABC News to let other people know about LARPs in general and my LARP in particular.  I'm really looking forward to our game launch (likely in July) and I can't wait to see where we'll be in a few years time.

Hopefully we'll have a few more game organisers and some very different settings and styles out there for people to play.

If you want to have a chat to me about it, you can also find me at our brand new Facebook Group.

Only a few hours to the radio interview...  *shivers with excitement*  This shall be fun!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

What are your principles?

Probably a good idea to read (this link removed due to containing a Malware warning) for a really good and in-depth look at the subject in Dungeon World, but in brief, Dungeon World encourages GMs to run by certain game principles to get things moving in a way that fits the game style.  By making these rules explicit, it helps GMs figure out if they're helping or harming the style of the game with any particular decision they make.

Every game setting has their own principles, though naturally GMs tend to tweak them, and I think it's a great idea to make such things explicit.  Call of Cthulhu has something similar (at least in 6th ed.) which involves a sort of "What to Expect" section which is directed at players, yet still useful to Keepers.

While each game has its own principles, I thought I'd pop in a few that should be present in my Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign (which is one of the few that I'm running at present, breaks are delicious).
The Place Should Feel Real.
What's the point in going to exotic locales if it's just another Generic City?  I do my research, figure out transportation between key locations, and do my best to make each place feel and sound genuine.  I even occasionally make a meal that was common in that era / location, which thus far, includes types of sandwiches I read about in New York menus.

The Characters Should Feel Real
While not every character needs to be wacky or eccentric, they each should have a very real sense of being wholly and completely themselves in a way that draws attention to their traits.  This ranges from Elias Jackson's coolly manipulative journalism where he quietly and gently makes offers you can't refuse; to the youthful companion Charlie Adams' cheerful eagerness; to Jean Robbins (from the Half-Moon Cult adventure) being rational and reasonable in how she deals with the PC's blackmail attempts.  Each character is given as much depth as I can muster.

The Characters Should Feel Integrated
Part of the benefit of doing what will at least be a three-part prologue (London Awakening, Half-Moon Cult, The Midas Cult) is that I have plenty of opportunities to introduce characters that will become very important later on.  James has already met a pathologist, a journalist and a dodgy newspaperman who will all come up later on.  He will also end up revisiting a British Psychiatric Institution again as well.

Sanity Is Always In Question
By introducing a character from another genre / setting (Vampire: the Requiem), I have immediately given myself a platform to consider the intersection of the occult and sanity.  In a world where there is definitely both magic and other realms, is it insane to think you were a vampire in another version of Earth?  Yet in a world where magic shatters sanity there is a very good chance that if you've been dealing with it for awhile, you are insane.  Other characters, including potential companions, will also help him confront that possibility.

Death Ends Attachment
As a solo game, I can't really kill off the main lead without stalling the campaign and having to start over, so I have set up a situation where he doesn't die for good.  He has to go through a hellish dreamscape before pulling himself together again.  On the same note, I know my player isn't a massive horror fan (and abhors tragedy), so by making the side characters feel real I have to take some responsibility for his emotions when dealing with them.  If I randomly slay these characters, he will feel cheated.  Thus much of the horror will involve visceral threat, characters-in-jeopardy and psychological hazards, rather than a high risk of wanton death (at least for the major attachments).

Fear and Feeling Are The Goals
Since the aim of the game is to induce emotion in the player, including and especially fear, I don't really mind reducing the lethality of the game to engender that.  While it may seem counter-intuitive, the fact is that some players can open themselves up to the reality of the world better when they're not trying to keep their psychological distance from everything within the game.  Therefore I will aim to keep the tension at certain points (though not constantly), and whatever gets me to those points without over-stepping them is just fine.  If that means slaying an NPC, then fine.  If that means keeping them alive, then fine as well.

So yes, these are my principles for my Masks campaign as a GM.  What are yours?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Placeholder Sessions

Do you ever, every once in awhile, get a touch of GM's block where you have no idea where to go or what to do?  (Obviously only applies if you're a GM.)  Really?  Me, too!  I've found it helpful to either let the players mess around and do their thing (players are great at finding trouble) or I sometimes grab one concept and let it guide me for the session.  It might be a thunderstorm or an angry ex-girlfriend or a robbery or a particular monster I've randomly drawn from the Monster Manual (especially that last option).

What do you do?

(Apologies for the short post - had a co-worker's funeral on today)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 16

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, has been hired to investigate Sydney Silvers who went missing only a night or two ago but whose home was found ransacked by the receptionist. He is hot on the trail of Sydney Silvers who investigated the eugenicists who may be responsible for the death of James' beloved back in London.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Carjacking): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, seeks out Sydney Silvers at the Hammel Hotel with Charlie and Martha Collins.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Horrors: Light & Shadow

Darkness rules are always funny beasts.  Humans can't see too well in the dark so it makes sense that as the world gets darker, the character's chances to see or do certain things should become progressively worse but, well, how often do people use those rules to give a mechanical crunch to it - even when such rules are provided? 

Worse still, how often do GMs (who're sitting around in a brightly lit room) forget that the characters are roaming through a building with no light sources?  I know I've been guilty of it and I've certainly been in plenty of games where no one recalls issues with lighting until a darkness spell is used.  Sadly some of these instances include times where the character would be effectively blind without a light source.

Considering that this is a game set in World War II where the black out is a pretty big part of the game, the GM may be more prone to recalling the darkness inherent in the setting but how to help them along with it?

And what are some of the better darkness modifiers you've seen?  We've all seen games where it increases or decreases difficulties or simply modifies the dice rolls but regrettably I've rarely seen a game where players will request such modifiers - even when it would dearly help them!  I've also seen games where it creates a percentage chance of failure, which works well in combat, but perhaps not so well in other situations.

What about you guys?  How do you remind yourself about issues surrounding lighting?  It's a pretty nifty descriptive tool and can make for a great obstacle so I find it a shame that neither I, nor most of the people I game with, ever remember to invoke it.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Lessons Learned from reading about the Underworld LARP

The Underworld LARP is an impressive endeavour with an equally impressive web-site. At another site that I believe is related, there's some juicy session reviews that give a sneak peek into what it was like to actually be there. This can be really help for LARP organisers, as well, as some of the bits and pieces are pretty true across the board.

Players like to be comfortable, to a point.  If things start to hurt, they don't like it.  If the weather is particularly horrid, think about what to do with those who push against the plot (especially in a horror game where the risk vs. reward might be a worse ratio than you realised).  What might be fun the first time round (crawling through tunnels) can become painful the seventh time around.

I just wish there were more pictures of the events.  I'm still just wrapping my mind around how modules work and while I know I lack the resources to properly throw a module-based LARP just yet I'd still love to know quite how they work.

Regrettably I don't think there are any module LARPs in Australia.  By module LARP, I mean a situation where most of the players are doing their own thing together but were small groups can branch out to accomplish a specific task in LARP format.  Generally when a small group branches out it often becomes tabletop (which is partly because in a World of Darkness LARP the rules are too technical to be modelled physically).

This isn't a bad thing and is most suitable for a modern LARP where the characters could go just about anywhere at the drop of a hat but it does limit my chances to understand how this other type of LARP works.

I also like how Underworld links racial abilities to costuming.  Just as many boffer LARPs won't let you deal damage without a boffer weapon or won't let you be armoured without representative armour, so does this one require you to use some makeup or something similar to get your racial abilities.  If you don't want to do this, you can always be human.  While I don't think this is necessarily appropriate to all games (i.e. Changeling), I do think it works quite well in certain LARPs like this one.  Their forums have some good advice on makeup and prosthetics as well.

There's also some neat phys-reps for traps.  The pressure plate has to be the easiest, though I can't help but want one that makes a neat 'clicking' sound so you can put it under fallen leaves or something yet still know when it goes off.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Whether the weather can be weathered

I'm a big believer in making the weather a bigger part of roleplaying games.  This is probably because I've always adored natural disasters - not to live through, obviously - but the theory of them.  The same way people can adore the idea of world wars or medieval pre-medicine worlds without actually, truly, wanting to live with the repercussions of it. Some games actually give you information on how to fling bad weather at your players. They may describe the penalties of fogs, hail, thunderstorms and even hurricanes. Generally though that's about as far as they'll go. While Pathfinder and 3rd Edition D&D (can't comment on 4E) have some reasonable chunks of text dedicated to such matters, they still don't really capture all those little bits and pieces which make dangerous weather feel more real. Any form of storm, after all, which has rough enough winds could knock down a branch which could become either a driving hazard (especially when lodged in a windscreen) or a plain old hitpoint remover (especially when putting an egg on your head). Naturally game books, who are generally desperate to use space as judiciously as possible, doesn't go on to list all of those little details. So how do you find them? And what do you do with them? Oftentimes, once you know those little details you can think up ways of using them. How many ideas could you generate from falling branches alone? I'd recommend doing a bit of research when you're planning to throw some bad weather as your player characters, if you haven't faced it yourself. At the very least, it can lead to some interesting reading. Even a quick Google can you find you some interesting facts, like this article on how volcanoes can affect people. If you're planning on making an area that is natural disaster prone, such as a trade route through a Valley of Geysers or a section of the countryside that is a fantasy world equivalent of Tornado Alley, then it's doubly important to do your research. People can build up all kinds of superstitions and valid protections against natural disasters, so it's worth thinking about how you can integrate those into your fictional world. Even just talking about this topic makes me want to run a short campaign that straddles some sort of major natural disaster.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Game Translation: Tomb Raider (2013)

Tomb Raider couples some seriously hard core action sequences with some seriously brutal injuries and general roughing up of the protagonist.  Sullied by a trailer which showed a grope-y murderer try to kill her after feeling her up, a number of people thought the videogame would be simply trying to reinforce female weakness and sexual threat.  I saw her latest reboot as a queer mix between more realistic emotional responses and some crazy parkour through exploding buildings.  A good mix.

The game has a pretty tight focus.  Lara Croft came looking for Yamatai, a storm-wracked island whose strange storms shipwrecks her crew and leaves her battling cultists as she tries to find a way off the island.

The game weaves in the legends of Yamatai, Queen Himiko and the Dragon's Triangle to good effect which adds greater interest to the game as it plays with the history and myth of our world and warps it into something infinitely stranger and more mysterious.  It is this mix of fantasy and fact that I would thoroughly encourage anyone running a campaign in the Tomb Raider mould to aim to do.

Much of the game relies on making use of movement mechanics.  Jumping, climbing, clambering with pick axes, and using arrows with rope attached as grappling hooks are all necessary ingredients of the game which helps make what could be a boring hike into a fantastic adventure.  This is a tricky thing to do in a non-visual medium like a roleplaying game.  Sure you could create a diorama using toilet roles and bits of string but it would lack the immediacy of the videogame.

So use your voice.  Make the descriptions interesting.  Throw dilemmas before the characters, one after another, so that they must take a risk to get the reward.  Take the quicker yet riskier journey rappeling across a rope or take a slower, safer route clambering down.  Don't use instant death as the risk, mind, but the risk of losing time or alerting enemies to the character's presence are all worthwhile.

And use plenty of descriptions.  Make the descriptions count.  Make it exciting.  Short, sharp sentences.  Sudden questions.  Describe the locations richly, the mythic highlights and the dangerous cultists.  Using your voice you can lure the players in and make the simplest die roll seem like the most exciting thing ever.

Think of it this way.  If a combat which largely involves dice rolls and the chipping away of health points can be made exciting through simple description and the risk of death, why not swinging across support struts beneath crumbling buildings strung across a massive ravine.  If you're not sure what to use to populate the game, what sort of obstacles and encounters, I'd mightily recommend replaying the game and jotting down the most inspirational parts.
Some quiet contemplation after the epic action...
This is certainly the type of game that benefits from having unrepentant bad guys who are truly evil.  The ones in this game do terrible torture to keep each other in line and murder any other survivors who end up shipwrecked on the island.  This is important because Lara Croft is a good person and if the cultists were ambiguous, if even one of them turned out to be a reasonable person who just wanted to help, then her resolve to kill so many along the way would be terribly shaken.

While I wouldn't say you couldn't have the occasional good guy, I'd have them be a new person still undergoing the trials or perhaps a bad guy pretending to be kind.  After all, you want them to be able to mow down as many bad guys as they need to do to get through the game.

Anyway, a campaign based around Tomb Raider (2013) or including elements of it, should appeal to -
Explorers and Action Heroes the most.  The former will enjoy getting to all those hard to reach places, picking up artefacts, learning the history of the location and finding out all about the assorted myths; while the latter will adore all of the action sequences and sudden blasts of combat.

Tacticians will enjoy using the terrain to their advantage and surviving the environmental conditions.

Investigators would enjoy a conspiracy or a plot to unravel, even if only to find out how the various survivors came to be what they are as well as what happened to the ones who didn't make it.

Communicators will have a temptation to make camp a lot and deliberate with the other survivors on their best course of action, sowing paranoia or attempting to undo it.  After all, cabin fever and a survivor mentality are fertile ground for the kind of crazed in-group politics that they so often adore.

Anyway, if you want to check out the trailer, you can find it here. If you want to read up on the TV Tropes you can find them here.

For the next Game Translation (which will be in a fortnight's time), you have a choice of these: Dracula: Origins, Outlast, Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or Deadly Premonitions.   Or a Television Translation in Once Upon A Time or Lost Girl.  If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it'll probably be the Television Translation.

If you want to see the list of games I've done thus far, you can find the Game Translation series starter over here.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 15

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, has been hired to investigate Sydney Silvers who went missing only a night or two ago but whose home was found ransacked by the receptionist. He needs to find Sydney Silvers because she had been investigating the eugenicists who may be responsible for the death of James' beloved back in London.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Tavern Trip): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, visits the Fraunces Tavern to try to find Sydney Silvers by retracing her steps and following the research leads listed on her note.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Kickstarter Games

Has anyone else noticed how many of the very successful Kickstarters include whole new books as stretch goals?  Some of them offer a half dozen free additions as stretch goals.  I don't know how they manage to budget it all in but it's great to get a slow but steady trickle of books over the year which is like investing in a series of presents to be delivered to you over the year.

I say deliver, but I mean 'activate links to its download site' because I'm in Australia and postage is often too painful to even contemplate.

At present I'm in with Achtung Cthulhu, Cthulhu 7th Edition and Cthulhu Britannica's latest set (can't remember what it's called).  I'm also in with the latest Tex Murphy videogame (squee!) which isn't relevant to a roleplaying blog, but hey, it's my blog I can squee if I want to!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bewailing The Player Preference!

One of the most problematic parts of tabletop roleplaying is that people tend to do it with the people they know.  Now this is a good thing, on the one hand, because it makes it a remarkable social activity where people can work together to build a shared story, cooperating and competing in an interesting and imaginative manner.

On the other hand, it makes you a bit ... limited ... in your options.  You see, each and every GM (by and large) have their own genre preference and their own style preference on top of that.  So does each and every player (by and large).  Since some genres and styles are pretty popular (such as classic high fantasy), if you happen to like that style then you're in luck.

If you prefer another style, you have to enter compromise after compromise until you manage to find some comfortable spot where everyone can enjoy it *just enough*.  The preference which takes precedence is often the majority preference, since folks can't help but nudge the game toward what they love, though naturally the GM - who is actually designing the game - has an opinion which lends its sharp weight to what gets played.

What makes this so unfortunate, is that you may have, say, six die hard investigative horror fans spread out across ten roleplaying games who would get along brilliantly but since roleplaying games tend to occur within one's social circle and since few people advertise (for fear of getting real pain in the necks applying) and fewer people take them up on their offer (for campaigns, at least), it's unlikely for those folks to draw together.

This is further complicated by the fact that many players don't know exactly what it is that they love about a game.  If it's wonderful then it all feels so seamless.  If it's terrible, then the jarring edges show.  Sure, they may know the basic genre but even something as specific as investigative horror can differ quite dramatically from Pulp Cthulhu to hardboiled detective fiction where a single shot can kill.

On the plus side, the range of preferences can encourage people to try games they would never have tried before and to mix genres and styles which never would have occurred to them.  And when it works, the strange alchemies of the game world, players and GM all come together to create something more fun than any of them would have individually intended.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

LARP ideas

Oh so many LARP ideas!  It hasn't helped that I've been researching them and therefore seeing everyone else's juicy, juicy LARPs.  Cthulhu-based occult mysteries?  Yes, please!  Trail-esque skill point spends?  Why not?!  How about fantasy romps through myriad modules?  Mm, yummy!  Zombie bash ups?  How is this not a thing already?  Mainstream murder mysteries?  Should be plenty of these out there.  Covenant-style vampire games (each covenant has their own sessions)?  Already written up a booklet per covenant!

I think the hardest part about running LARPs will be limiting myself to only running certain LARPs.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Player Perspectives In Game

At this distance, you can hardly see me by that wooden piling.
An interested thing I have noticed while behind the GM screen is how often the player's perceptions are warped by their character's minds.  Other character's antics, enemy plans, and NPC motivations which are quite clear to an observer become nonsensical to a player - not because they didn't hear or see the information but because the character's perceptions warped what they saw and heard.

While yes, I could be wrong.  It *is* possible that it's just insufficient knowledge, I have a feeling that it isn't the case.

You see, the more detrimental the actions are to the character in question, the more likely that character's player will misinterpret the action and consider it to be a failing on the part of the character.  The negative interaction seems to cloud the player's empathy and ability to consider the motivating forces behind certain behaviour, *especially* if such motivating forces are actually due to that player's character's actions.

This matches what has been found in psychology.  People tend to attribute negative actions performed by other people to be fundamental parts of those other people's psychology while they consider any foolish actions they take to also be the result of external forces (generally other people).

While players can be quite capable of interpreting fictional actions without this bias, generally, and while a conversation which encourages them to put themselves in the other character's shoes ("What do you think might have caused them to act like that?  How did it benefit them?  How might the situation beforehand affected them?") tends to re-activate that empathy and allow them to better interpret those actions, *unless* the player is forced to do so (or is in the habit of that kind of detached introspection), they tend to carry the same assumptions as their character.

Now obviously this doesn't happen all the time in all cases.  It also likely occurs less to players who don't put themselves in their character's shoes so firmly but it is something I have noticed.  Since I rarely play and most often GM, I haven't been told whether I do the same but I imagine that I do.

What's the point in an article on this?

Partly to talk about an observation and partly because it means that the GM may sometimes need to step in and encourage a detached introspective position in a player who is having difficulty accepting an NPC or PC's negative actions - thinking them arbitrary and mean.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 14

CAMPAIGN SUMMARY: James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, has been hired to investigate Sydney Silvers who went missing only a night or two ago but whose home was found ransacked by the receptionist. He needs to find Sydney Silvers because she had been investigating the eugenicists who may be responsible for the death of James' beloved back in London.

EPISODE SUMMARY (Conjure Man): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, spends this shorter than usual episode visiting the Conjure Man to try to find out more information on what to do and where to go.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Squee ABC Radio!

I've been contacted by someone from that National ABC radio about doing an interview on my upcoming Vampire LARP.  I had no idea anyone from the media would ever find about it let alone that they would care.  I said "YES!", naturally.  I think it'd be a good thing for people to learn about and it's some great free publicity.  Yipee!