Friday, January 31, 2014

Causes of GM's Burnout

I've already discussed the differences between burnout and GM's block over here, so let's discuss some causes.

Critical Players. Some players just like to complain or give a number of 'constructive comments' which might either be more negative than they realise or you might not be emotionally equipped to handle.

Perfectionism. Some GMs seek out a perfect game where all of the players experience Flow, just the right amount of Out of Character / In Character Bleed, and are perpetually enthralled by the game. Any session that doesn't meet these perfect requirements thus normal sessions provides no joy for them.

Lack of Recognition. It's human nature to start taking the good stuff for granted. A lot of players forget to recognise their Storyteller's efforts and even if they do it relatively frequently, it may not feel like enough if the GM is spending half a dozen hours a week on game preparation. There's also the chance the GM just can't take a compliment, either deflecting it or ignoring it, which makes it impossible to recognise their efforts.

Inadequate Repayment. It's essentially a volunteer role with no hope for reimbursement which can't be put on a resume. There may be travel costs, resources costs (printing, dice, pencils), system costs (books, which aren't cheap), miniatures costs in time (social events missed, entertainment time diminished due to game preparation, cleaning up after hosting) and sometimes even food costs (where the host provides food to all). As a general rule, the GM sinks more money into the game than the players.

Player Entitlement. Some players are especially demanding. They expect the GM to supply all the resources, complain if the GM doesn't have the supplement the player wants to use and even offer constructive criticism about how the GM doesn't have enough minis yet aren't prone to offering to pay for any of it ... even if the GM hasn't any more money than the player in question! They might also expect the GM to always be available to run a session (no personal leave allowed) or in games with a significant downtime element (like a LARP), they might expect the GM to be constantly available to them full stop.

Lack of Work. Some play groups want the GM to be a largely invisible force who sits back and waits for the players to call on them. In other cases, the GM really wants to work on clues, props and investigations while the players want to romp through pre-made dungeon crawls which leaves the GM feeling bored and underutilised.

Tasks With No End. Enemy stats created ... new enemy stats needed. Floorplan / map / clue path generated ... new floorplan / map / clue path generated. If you can wing it, then at least some of these tasks can be completed and then left to sit for awhile. Otherwise you keep on keeping on the same tasks with a vaguely fresh face.

Impossible Tasks. Some GMs also sometimes set themselves up to do massive undertakings - running 30 player LARPs single-handedly, running five campaigns a week which rely on pre-planning, or even doing both simultaneously!

Problem Players. Many GMs take on a player's problems as their own personal responsibility to solve. They convince themselves that they can do what highly paid and trained Managers and Consultants can't do to their paid employees ... change them to suit the role at hand. Only the player can change their problems and only if the players actually think those traits are problems.

Incompatible Demands. Some players needs stand in opposition to the needs of other players or the GM. Trying to integrate a player who adores gritty realism, historical accuracy and intellectual pursuits into your superheroes dungeon crawl in the long-term is difficult at best. Sometimes it just won't work.

Bureaucracy. Some GMs do all the paperwork, note taking, summarising, experience point tracking, damage tracking, rules tips and character sheet updates for their players. This might be because the players don't want to do it or because the GM thought they'd be helpful and took on too much work.

Value Conflicts. Some players / GMs see the other side as being subservient to their needs. The player sees the GM as a free entertainer whose every effort should toward player enjoyment and whose only reward should be a player's enjoyment. Some GMs see players as actors who must obey their every directorial whim. Sometimes the values conflicts involves, say, a historical reenactors' desires for accuracy versus a person of colour's desire for escapism from a racist world.

Meaninglessness of Achieved Goals. Once you get cynical, it's hard to find meaning in constantly being expected to provide entertainment for other people. There's no promotions, no pay rises, and no method of tracking your progress. Are you getting better or worse? This can be a particular problem for sandbox GMs who can't even grin at a job well done and a campaign well finished. What are the Key Performance Indicators of a GM, anyway for a GM anyway? Once you start getting burnt out and cynical, the goal of "give your players a fantastic time" starts getting a derisive snort and a "What makes players so special? Why is no one trying to give me a good time?" Once that sets in, the main reward is gone.

Role Ambiguity. What is a good game, anyway? How much are your players really enjoying it? How many liberties can you take with a campaign to ensure your own enjoyment before you become a dud GM? What are your obligations? Where can you ask for help? Confusion leads to questions leads to self-doubt, lost time and more expended effort as you mull it over.

Workload. Too much or too little are both problems. If you have too much to do, you become naturally exhausted by your efforts. If you have too little, you can suffer bore out where you start detaching from the game which can make the game seem like wasted time.

Regrettably, one of the first reactions to the start of burnout is often to intensify one's efforts. "Maybe if I put in more hours, I can make the game work again." "Maybe once this is fixed, everything will be okay." "Maybe once I try this, this irritant will go away." Maybe ... Maybe ... Maybe. Unfortunately one of the key causes of burnout is the levels of self-esteem crushing self-doubt, self-questioning and increased effort that some GMs pour into their games. It's like an exhausted swimmer flailing for a life raft and tiring themselves out sooner.

A GM's burnout has a multitude of causes. Only by recognising the particular issues affecting you, can you really start to pull yourself out of it once the dread, cynicism and sadness claws its way into your heart and brain. Yes, it's melodramatic, but having one's hobby start repulsing you is dramatic in its own right, especially when you have players scrabbling for you to keep running games.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

GM's Burnout vs GM's Block

One of my pet peeves is how a lot of advice about GM's burnout is actually about GM's block (akin to writer's block). This bugs me because they are very different kettle of fish and because I've been somewhat burnt out for several months now and the absence of solid advice on how to counteract it. I've trawled through dozens of advice articles and web-sites and most of them talk about ways to boost creativity. My creative stores are just fine, thank you. I'm quite happy to write articles, world build and create adventure paths. In fact, during my period of burnout, I've actually written and edited about 80 pages of player information (not all for the same players, mind, about 10 pages per covenant, 2 per clan, 20 of general information, which can be perused or ignored at the player's whim). My problem is that I'm starting to loathe my GM time.

So let's look at GM's Block.

Your ideas become stagnant and stale. In fact, just generating new ideas seems like hard work because you lack inspiration. Your players start to comment on how they'd like to see a little enrichment in their game. They're starting to get a bit bored and you probably are too but you just can't think of anything new and interesting to keep everyone going. In this case, watching movies, dipping briefly into a new genre one-shot, or letting someone else run a few sessions so you can start champing at the bit again are all good things. Heck, I've even gotten inspired by attending concerts by musicians I didn't even like!

Now let's look at GM Burnout.

1) Exhaustion. Simply thinking about running a game leaves you exhausted. The mental resources required to comprehend an upcoming session makes you want to go and lie down. You look at the game preparation and/or actual session time as a dreaded chore that will soon be over. Hopefully. When the players are distractable at the start of the game, you sit back and let them talk, chat, ruminate.... You let the OOC Chit-Chat time drag on and on and on as every minute of reduced play-time is a minute won.

2) Cynicism. Your players suck. Things will never get any better. You have to learn to live with all those irritations that any player brings to the table and (see Point 1), it really doesn't seem worth it to you. Why are you putting in all this effort for so little reward? You must be a real sucker for punishment. What did the players ever do to earn your slavish devotion? Why isn't anyone slavishly devoting hours and hours and hours to your enjoyment? You know you can't / shouldn't expect a player to put in thirty minutes a week for the game without being a slave driver. They expect hours from you! It's so unfair.

3) Sense of Inefficiency. You suck. You lack the skills to make things work. Maybe it's all your fault, anyway. You've rewarded poor behaviours. You've punished good ones. Or something. If you were a better Storyteller, all those things that bug you would cease and you could just get on with it.

Obviously people vary on where they sit on this burnout scale but, as you can see, it's more hard-core and pervasive than a simple lack of creativity. Simply taking a holiday might not help, either, at least not in the short-term. If your last few months of roleplaying was a painful waste of time then it makes sense that having a few weeks break from it won't necessarily help. Even a few months won't necessarily put enough distance between you and the bad memories. Because, regardless of how good the game actually is to an outside perspective, it doesn't feel good to you. It feels horrible. Besides which, if you go back to doing exactly what caused you the pain in the first place you will probably suffer from it again. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting different outcomes is a silly thing indeed.

The wikipedia entry on it has some interesting details on it, particularly the way it develops. It also gives players and Game Masters ideas on how to arrest the progression of symptoms ... or at least reduce the causes and therefore the progression.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Game Translation: Gears of War

Gears of War is a third-person tactical shooter that heavily relies on a pretty decent cover system.  You play a member of Delta Squad, a military unit who are desperately trying to defeat a subterranean race of creatures known as the Locust. You are Marcus Fenix, a former prisoner and incredibly muscular soldier who looks like he's been popping steroids for breakfast from an early age.

Cover is a vital element of this tactical shooter so the first thing you need to consider when creating your campaign will be ensuring your game system's rules provide enough attention and benefit to using cover. Luckily most systems I've read which are in the simulationist vein have something in there on cover. Best to print out those rules and pass them out to your players. They'll take that as a bit of a clue. Especially if you don't include any other rules in the print out (except perhaps higher ground rules).

If you really want to play a Gears of War-style campaign, I'd come up with some excuse for regeneration (and huge muscles), perhaps involving genetic modification or chemical spills. Then, if you're playing World of Darkness rules you could take the werewolf regeneration rules. If you're using some sort of D20 variant, Fast Healing equal to level should work out fine. Stipulate that the healing factor only kicks in when the character is resting and you'll have players seeking cover so that their characters can hide and watch their health tick up - just like you need to do in the game when that health indicating cog appears in the bottom corner of the screen.

Remember that if you want to be true to the videogame (rather than just playing a game like it), you need to go science fiction but with a very Earth-like setting. I mean, I didn't even know the game was set on another planet (Sera) when I played it because all of the architecture and much of the flora looked pretty Earth normal to me. I had assumed that immulsion had just been found on Earth. Therefore keep most of the descriptive elements pretty modern (rather than futuristic) and ensure that the players know that simply evacuating the new planet is as unthinkable as simple 'evacuating' Earth. This is the characters' homes now. The fact that the characters can be baseball-playing heroes living in homes much like our own (before the Locust attack, that is) should help reinforce the kind of player protectiveness that comes from having your own home world attacked.

This is neither a "Simply shoot things" game nor a "Sandbox game". Therefore ensure the players have very specific, very simple goals, that should generally be broken down into sub-objectives. The first game ordered you to descend into the Hollow within the planet to detonate a Lightmass bomb but between the start and finish there were a lot of other objectives -- some of which only appear once a certain event occurs to the characters. Having a leader speak to them over the radio can help with this as they point out new duties and obligations.

This is a game that would work well with miniatures. Cover, after all, is a big thing. If you're going with this, I'd recommend creating chest-high walls out of paper that is shaped to look like Locust-cover points (metal fences) or rubble. In this way the players' miniatures may be moved up behind the cover, as can the enemies, ensuring everyone knows where the cover is and just how much protection it gives. Since all you need is a printer or, at worst, some folded up coloured paper, this should be easy to do. You could also use fish bowl decorations, doll house furnishings and real world rocks if you want to go all out.

Create an enemy the players don't have to empathise with. This game isn't about the "Horrors of War", in terms of sympathetic bad guys on the other side of the fence dying cruelly. The bad guys are BAD. Making them alien-looking creatures that spend their whole time attacking people with hardly an overhead Locust comment for colour, ensures that the players can gun them down and feel good doing it. If you're using a game with some kind of Morality system, scrap it, at least in terms of killing Locusts.

I like to imagine these guys are watching a Christmas pageant.

This is a game designed to be epic. Use massive setpieces. Have a monster swallow them up and make them tear their way out. Have them rush about on crumbling ledges above a bubbling pool of Imulsion. Have them outrun an explosion which nips at their heels and threatens to blow them through a wall. This is an action game. Go all out.

Anyway, a campaign based around Gears of War or including elements of it, should appeal to - you guessed it - Tacticians and Action Heroes the most.

Tacticians will love the cover system, complicated killing strategies (i.e. that giant worm thing) and focus on teamwork.

Action Heroes will love the explosions, gun play, running sequences and occasionally quite Big Bads that need to be taken down.

Explorers would enjoy the strange places, the apocalyptic wastelands of the cities and the underground places rich with odd architecture and alien beings.

Investigators won't have much to do here so throw them a mystery as part of the through-line to keep them interesting.  Something like "What happened to your wife?" might help if they're still pretty keen on combats.

Communicators won't like this game.  No real chances for social manipulation.  While they might find much to like if they double as one of the other categories, odds are they won't really like it.

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: Blood Dragon, Tomb Raider (the latest), Dracula: Origins, Outlast, Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or Dishonoured. If no one picks anything by next fortnight, it'll probably be Tomb Raider.

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, January 28, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 9

EPISODE SUMMARY (Nesting): Wherein James Paterson, Australian private investigator in New York, finds a cheap apartment in Hell's Kitchen with an ... interesting price. Afterwards he goes on the hunt to find Sydney Silvers at the New York Weekly Messenger while chasing up a hot tip on the London eugenicists given to him by Elias Jackson.

EASTER EGGS: We were pretty jokey this session but I think it worked well as a bit of a tension breaker following the funeral and graveside visits.

You might notice how my constant demands for him to mark down how much money he's spending actually builds some tension for the player.  This wouldn't normally be the case but playing an immigrant private investigator with only a few bucks to his name not only is thematically appropriate but actually motivates him to get involved in some shady business.

Those who know much about September of 1938 in New York might have an inkling about what the wind and rain suggests.... Then again, those who have read my earlier articles about this particular campaign might well know as well.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Horrors: Home Front Is Creepy

I'm actually surprised that the various European and United Kingdom Home Fronts haven't been delved into for horror games much before.  I understand that the Occupied and Axis-aligned countries had enough true horror there that you really don't need monsters, but the Home Fronts of Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and especially Great Britain work out quite well.

In a time with loud bombs a'crashing, sirens a'wailing and incendiaries a'burning, your neighbours probably won't hear you scream.  Especially if they've taken shelter.  The shelters themselves are overburdened by shelterers so you can come across nearly anyone in those claustrophobic confines.  You might even find yourself in a little-used shelter with a dangerous person for company.

The black outs drop you in darkness, turning a simple act such as crossing the road into a deadly exercise (especially when a shelled road could have treacherously deep pools of water), and preventing you from seeing just who is following you or what that snuffling sound down that alleyway is all about.

The government can get away with doing strange things which don't mean anything to you.  Cardboard tanks may lurk around a building, a block of flats could suddenly become off-limits, and odd fellows in suits could tell you to move along or forget that thing you just saw, and even the media will back them up on it.

There's just such horror potential there, even if you don't spike the risks with burning buildings, gas leaks, black out gangs and having to pull people out of the rubble, dead or alive and perhaps maimed.

But yes, still in musing mode so I thought I would post up a bit on why I adore the essential premise of Horrors on the Home Front.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Arrival: Vampires & Mountain Tops

Nico spun around in that white corridor to see an extremely pale man eyeing them rather hungrily. She tried her usual bluster and bravado, demanding to know who he was. He calmly demanded to know what she was doing and why she thought it a good idea to alter this layered spell. He also told her that she had to open the door. Apparently he was under a geas that prevented him from doing so. His job was to protect this place. He couldn't remember when it began but it was in a time of kings in old Londinium.

Oddly enough, he didn't speak medieval.

Nico point blank refused to open the door. If there was something in there worth sealing up, she sure wasn't going to release it.

He explained that the people who sealed it in weren't good people. What sort of good people would use one like him as a guardian? He stated that the entity inside may be simply trapped and in need of freedom. If it were released, he could leave also and all he wanted was to leave. He didn't seem to know about the apocalypse so Nico lied about their guns being capable of shooting both fire and lazers (figuring that should be scary enough).

All that did was get him to back away to the end of the corridor as they approached, leaving through the door. Of course, that gave him the advantage because they didn't know what he would be doing at the other end of the door. They knew he could be invisible, at the very least. So they set up camp against that door and tried to regroup.

After about an hour of trying to keep everyone's spirits up (Rochelle, in particular, felt at death's door), Nico radioed Gipontel for help. He seemed quite enthusiastic to get involved and a couple hours later he was coming in through the corridor, having met the men-in-black but having not met the vampire.

Feeling a bit more confident (she probably shouldn't have), Nico opened the door and demanded to talk to the vampire. They wanted out. The vampire re-iterated his demands. They had to open the door. Nico threatened him a bit more. He turned to mist and advanced. Moments later even the mist was invisible. Gipontel panicked a bit, though he could still "see" the invisible vampire and they all backed up down the corridor.

Finally when they had their backs to the wall, Nico offered the vampire a third option. "Come with us. We can break the geas."

He reappeared and they talked for a bit. He introduced himself as Malkiah. His memories seemed pretty scrambled and Nico pointed out the inconsistencies, which just made Malkiah grow more cross in that unearthly yet dominant kind of way he did so well. In the end, they called a truce so they could all take a look at the books in the place.

Gipontel figured out that the entity behind the door was thought to be a "supernal dragon" whose reemergence would mark the end of the world. The group of mages who used to live here both worshipped and trapped it here after accidentally summoning it, fearing what it might unleash. Gipontel seemed pretty keen on letting it out, figuring it would be an enemy to the Abyssals at least.

Nico wasn't too keen on letting out any new supernatural thing so barred that idea entirely.

Malkiah stated that if they freed him, he would obey Nico's demands and help her fight the demonic scourge. Apocalypses and the destruction of the human race meant the destruction of his kind as well. Jack's werewolf blood and regeneration could keep him fed, after all, though with the side effect of making him more aggressive.

Gipontel offered the team a private place to talk about the Malkiah situation and, upon their agreement, spirited them all away to a place in his pocket.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Arrival: Seeking the Gun

Piles of Stuff used as a Barrier
Dante had Johnny use his wind-ghost-thing to stash the notes up in a nearby building before they headed off in search of the gun that Dante had seen in his dreams that had been carried in the arms of a corpse destroyed by men in black suits. At about this time also, Dante transformed back into Nico. They had a fair bit of walking to do before they found the location. It was somehow within a single street barricaded on both sides with broken down cars and other equipment.

Annoyingly enough (and worryingly enough), the gun didn't appear to be at the other end of the street as it should be.

It seemed to be coming from somewhere underneath the soil.

Nico headed to a nearby door that was covered in government Do Not Cross tape and they headed inside a government building, heading downstairs to a large series of filing cabinets that seemed to contain taxation reports. They aimed to clear all the rooms but were assaulted time and again by men in black suits who told them it was a restricted area before trying to knock them down with fists. Soon after being 'killed', these men in black would simply disintegrate and shortly thereafter more would appear.

They would even appear out of recently cleared rooms!

The team eventually found a trapdoor with a ladder that led down into the dark depths of the sub-basements. There were two men-in-black on the ladder but they were easily dealt with. They started down the ladder and not a moment too soon as there was the clatter of dozens of footsteps as more of them made their way into the basement above.

The team made their way down to the fourth floor and started exploring, finding men-in-black with guns, some even set up behind kicked over desks, and Nico had to heal Rochelle when she got shot. Rochelle didn't even complain even though it were a bad hit. In the furthest room they found some creepy stone statues - angel and demon - with three sarcophagi. Needless to say that the team backpedalled from that little room. There was also an alchemists' room with a sigil-covered door that seemed magically sealed.

Nico could feel that the gun was on the floor above so up they went, exploring and shooting at men-in-black as they went. They found a classroom with books on magical formulae that boggled the brain. They found a few old laboratory rooms. They found the corpse that Nico had seen carrying the gun which appeared to be in a partial state of dissection on one of the gurneys. The gun itself had been placed in a hold in the wall.

Nico grabbed the gun, which had bandages wrapped around the stock, and which appeared to be both well-used and rather lovingly kept together and well-repaired. She had expected some kind of revelation when she finally found it. Some new flash of inspiration. Or at least the sense that the gun was ... well, magical. It seemed pretty ordinary to her so she just put it over her shoulder and kept going.

They found a few doors that led into kitchens and then into a long corridor flanked with fancy bedrooms well-decorated and well-kept. Most people might have seen rooms that people had lived in once. Nico saw possible loot just sitting around and being ignored.

They came across one room that just had a dirt floor with two big red fruit-like things dangling from the ceiling. Naturally Johnny poked one. Equally naturally it popped and released blood across the soil. That squicked them out a bit and Nico worried that they may have just set off some internal mechanism, but what could they do?

They kept exploring, hoping to find another way out since the one behind them was full of men-in-black.

They found a long corridor with white markings across it. The white markings grew denser as they travelled until the layers were so dense that the entire walls were pure white. At the end of the door was a thick door. Nico figured she should use one of her devil's traps before opening the door so she pulled out her spraycan.

Only to hear a masculine voice behind her ask: "What are you doing?"

Friday, January 24, 2014

Little Details: Can You See The Monkey

A monkey chained to a kennel in the loft of a brewery bar.
The world is full of off-kilter details.  Little oddities that draw the eye and capture the imagination.  Strange little moments are all around you if you keep your eyes open and notice them.  It's those strange little instances that really evoke the mood.  Mostly we ignore them or take them for granted, but when our mood is right, we see it and remark upon it.

If you wish to make things sad, point out little details that give that kind of vague air.  Oh, it doesn't need to be rain and sad refrains.  It could be an abandoned doll left in its pram in a trash strewn alleyway.  It could be a cute cottage with an overgrown garden whose windows are boarded over with patterns of graffitti.  The signs of a romantic life matched against abandonment and decay.

These details are particularly helpful to horror where the strange placed among the mundane can better keep your players mentally off-balance, creating the sensation of a world where the rules are not as one would normally expect.
So how do you find these little details?

See them in the world around you.  Keep your eyes open while a passenger in a car.  Take your mobile phone out and take pictures of oddities spotted on the way.  Ruminate on imagery.  Think about it.  Consider it.  Then when you need something to draw upon, some strangeness to reinforce the world, you'll have it at your fingertips.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

My Vampire LARP In Adelaide

Something suspicious about that sign...
Well, it's semi-official.  I am going to run a LARP.  My husband wants to run a Changeling: the Lost LARP too.  In fact, he gained inspiration for it first though wants more time to set it up and let all of the ideas bounce around in his head.  Together with a couple friends, we're actually considering going the incorporated not-for-profit route to ensure we have all the insurance and other details covered.

I want to relaunch my Vampire: the Requiem LARP but make it bigger and better next time.  The game developed a pretty neat history with some fun occult twists and turns, some interesting political connections and some hidden secrets that had only just come to light before the game ended.

I'm going to start with a single day session set in historical Adelaide for up to 40 players.  The funds raised from these tickets can go towards incorporation and public liability insurance. 

Initially I was going to have it broken into three sessions with each session set in a different time period buuut that seems pretty problematic to constume for.  Odds are the costume changes would take far too long to get back into the game.

As with most single shot games, each player will receive a set of goals to achieve and a set of abilities rather than a character sheet.  Players who are accepted into the persistent campaign may
use their current characters for it.

The persistent campaign will begin after this single day session.  Since there'll be fewer players and less of a plot focus during the main sessions, people can use their regular character sheets.  There'd be a monthly Elysium / Salon game with a heavy political and information sharing focus followed by coterie sessions which'll generally be a bit more tabletop in style and which will allow the players to do things that match both their covenant and clan unlifestyles.

The campaign itself will focus on the "lived" experience of being a vampire.  Therefore there'll be plenty of opportunities for feeding checks, interesting events and covenant-based activities such as religious ceremonies, Wyrm's Nest investigations and the destruction of court enemies.

The city of Adelaide in-game is also in a very precarious and dangerous state with three angelic figures threatening to wipe the vampires off the face of the city if they cause further problems and don't manage to halt the spread of abyssally tainted horrors.  You see, the void beneath the Adelaide Hills is releasing shadow manifestations through the ley lines of the city which means that those who spend too much time in darkness risk assault.

The people of Adelaide have responded to these risks (which few identify as supernatural) by increasing the amount of sensor lights in residential areas and neon lighting in commercial areas.  Those who have to travel at night for work purposes can also now more readily get a firearms license.  This is the Adelaide of 2044 where technology hasn't progressed in line with science fiction expectations but rather has increased predominately in the medical and communication fields as it has been doing for decades.

So, in short, I am planning to run a more investigative and occult-focused Vampire: the Requiem game with a backbone of political horror.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Twitter Links Repository

Twitter's short messages speak to the world!
So I've finally done it.  I've set up my own Twitter account over here.  Why, you say?  Well, I want to have a more easily browsable link repository and Twitter's quite good for that.  Besides which, being Twitter, folks might be prone to responding with links of their own maybe and I can then feed off other's finds and locate some tasty, tasty props and articles and other such pieces of magical horror candy....

The process will be simple.  Each month I will pick a topic and endeavour to do a daily Tweet containing a single link that matches that topic.  I'll aim for unique links - new web-sites or blogs, generally, though I may include multiple links to the same site if the threads are particularly disparate (i.e. don't share similar tags) or hard to find.  I may also put up a monthly tweet to my own blog (with the tag on it) if I have much on the subject.  If so it'll be my Day 1 post.  I've got good content here (I hope!).

I am fully aware that I may miss a day.  Since there's no way to schedule posts with Twitter, I can't see how I can avoid doing that though I will try.  Generally it won't be too hard as I can set up the link lists months in advance.  I'd just need access to someone's computer and an internet connection to put something up.

February shall be LARP advice articles and web-sites.  It's a short month and there's not a lot out there so I think it's fitting.  The focus will naturally be on horror and investigative LARPs but I'll throw in some fantasy boffer articles for good measure.

March shall be Masks of Nyarlathotep - New York Section advice.  This will include links to adventures I've either run or considered running, alongside good prop reservoirs and research locations.  A few of these may be repeats.  I do want to gather them all in one place for the interested.  Plenty of them are bound to be ones I haven't listed before.

Other likely topics would involve running an Anime-style game (ala Tenra Bansho Zero), horror roleplaying links, world of darkness links, other Mask chapter links, prop links I'm specifically using (or have used) in my upcoming vampire LARP, and other things that are vaguely related. 

Maybe some photography or craft links if I get really into claymaking or picture taking for my game recruitment purposes. 


Anywho, stay tuned, and feel free to let me know if there's any theme you'd like to see upcoming.

Musings on Masks: Episode 08

EPISODE SUMMARY (New York): Wherein James Paterson needs to cope with his early days dealing with poverty in New York. Realising he hasn't enough money to buy himself a gun, he figures out a place to gamble and then spends a fair chunk of this hour trying to earn enough money to survive.

EASTER EGGS: I decided to reinforce how broke his character was by printing out some menus, learning some item prices, and keeping him busy for a few days until the hurricane happens (as he arrived early) by making him locate new sources of money and a place to stay.

I have to admit I got a sort of sick satisfaction from demanding various chunks of money from my player and having him slowly reduce his dwindling funds.

I think it also added a layer of grimy desperation.  He needs cash.  Therefore he needs cases.  It also encourages him to steal.  When he gets more cash I'll be less prone to spell out each expenditure but since his character is prone to randomly spend money I might make him roll 1d10s to determine how many dollars he wastes in a week above average living expenses.

I considered making his gambling experience a bit more lively, especially as it turns out to be illegal in New York, but decided against it.  I wanted to make this time work out ... so that next time becomes all the more climactic when gangsters chase him down.  Besides which, he'd had a bad run of it and I didn't want to break him too soon.

Oh, and as you'll doubtless figure out by listening to this, I know nothing of gambling, legal or otherwise.  I know very little about poker as well.

ALAS the fault for my Audacity problems seems to rest with Firefox.  I used Internet Explorer and it updated.  The situation should now proceed with better regularity.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Musings on Masks: ERROR is uploading the music files just fine but it won't add it to my item - or anywhere at all.  It just keeps saying that I have made no changes to the files.  So ... yeah, sorry about that.  I'm not sure what to do because I haven't changed my technique for making uploads.  I think I'll probably just need to find another audio hosting site that doesn't randomly ignore my uploads.  Oh well....

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Making of Horrors on the Home Front: Break Time

One thing nobody ever thinks about is the importance of a break. This is especially important if you're a largely one-man band (don't worry, I do have an editor and won't be doing the artwork myself). If you have the time, it's a good idea to sit on your drafts after a couple edits so that you can go back to it with fresh eyes. Otherwise your tired, bored and cynical eyes will glaze over the text and you won't catch out all those glaring issues and annoying writing patterns.

So right now I'm taking a break from it and will do so for another four weeks while I turn my attention to a couple other projects, namely a Vampire LARP I'm prepping for which will be very occult mystery focused with hopefully enough politics to give me the occasional lazy night where all I have to do is twiddle my thumbs, eavesdrop and adjudicate the occasional die roll.

Thus, since part of a good rest period is turning your mind away from your project, I will be talking about other things. Probably random horror advice and more cool links. We haven't had nearly enough of those!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Arrival: Rescues & Hasty Exits

The assault on the changeling loyalists' lair went rather according to plan. Sort of. The four of them climbed up the mountainside relatively well enough, avoiding the thorns and all, but then Jack lost his footing and plummeted to the ground beneath. That alerted some of the folks inside the loyalist camp who came rushing out to see what had happened. By that time, Blue and Billy were hiding in the bushes and it was up to Dante to stand his ground and attack those that came his way while the two allied changelings threw knives and the werewolf took people down while in urhan.

During all of this, Dante grabbed himself a sword that radiated heat. He didn't know how to work it, but hey. Worse came to worse he could sell it to Stix for something.

They found his mother tied up on a chair with some idiot holding her hostage. Johnny's wind-spirit-thing came rushing up behind him and killed him quick. Which was nice.

Mother wasn't too enthused about being rescued. That old adage, out of the fireplace and into the fire, seemed to have occured to her. Luckily she wasn't so contrary as to not even try to escape.

When asked about Daniel, Dante's older brother, Mother gestured out the window where his brutally tortured corpse swung from a noose.

Dante placed that image into a little mental ball that he pressed deep down into the acidic pit of his belly. Something to deal with another time. Or never. Never sounded good.

The group escaped to the sound of clashing armies at the gates as the loyalists and the Spring / Summer collection slammed into each other. They were taken to meet the monarchs for a rather tense conversation where the monarchs tried to suggest some kind of alliance which Mother resolutely refused. She wasn't about to do deals with demons, after all. The monarchs seemed to hope that Dante would speak for them but Dante knew better than to try to change Mother's mind.

Especially under the circumstances.

So Dante merely recommended Mother's release.

The changelings agreed but asked that Dante and Jack remain behind for a celebration. Dante refused, knowing that he had Mother's secret documentation and therefore needed to go now. Besides which, if she found out about the cold iron before he had the chance to remove them then he'd never get them back.

The monarchs stated that since his short sword was still in use on the field, they would need to meet again to return the blade. Dante made a time for noon that day at a particular location.

When they had been returned to their world, Mother asked Dante what her son had promised him for her rescue, stating that she would uphold whatever bargain was made. Dante merely stated that he was keeping the clothes, to which Mother was nonplussed. Luckily her recent torture and exhaustion kept her from being as suspicious as she normally would be.

So Dante left, taking his friends, his cold iron samples, and his stolen documentation with him. He had Johnny send the wind-ghost-thing to collect the cold iron dagger from the monarch, more out of fear that Mother would have figured out the theft rather than out of fear that the changelings would try to kill him.

The wind-ghost-thing returned with both the short sword and a note from the Spring King himself, who expressed regret that they hadn't met, mentioned that he had expended a lot of effort to have the opportunity to hand over the knife, and who expressed the dear hope that they would meet again.

Dante hoped not. The last thing he needed was another race to save.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Arrival: Team Building

While the others made their preparations, Dante and Jack met the other two. Billy didn’t seem to hold a grudge, though he did seem a bit dejected. He had known Nick Sanderson – the face that Dante wore – and had figured that maybe Shaitan had returned but hadn’t recognised him for some reason. He was apparently the "Billy" that had been mentioned in Alice the Demon's diary as part of the "Creature Clique" run by the demon, Shaitan.

The Blue Spirit wore a blue mask and never spoke, though Dante found that they both knew American Sign Language and communicated with him/her with that.

At one point, though, Dante got to talking privately to Billy about the school. Billy explained that he never visibly aged and had no idea how old he was, though his joints weren’t what they used to be. One day he would just die of old age with no warning. Dante pointed out that if he died of old age then he’d gotten lucky, considering the circumstances.

Billy stated that he had been at that school and how it wouldn’t let him go. If he tried to leave, it would seek revenge. So day after day, year after year, he had to keep going back to the monsters and the students to live out his life in the shadow of this threat. Eventually he got his hands on a dagger and a special crystal that flared with the brightest light. With these tools he went down into the corridors beneath the school knowing that the light would destroy those that attacked him. Unfortunately, after awhile, the light wasn’t enough. The dark would press in around him and the creatures could close it.

Then, at the darkest point, he found a doorway into the abyss and saw himself reflected there only it wasn’t really him. It was a version of him that was hollow and empty. It was a horrible sight, but he placed the crystal to the hilt of the dagger, and thrust the dagger into the doorway/dark mirror, hoping the flare of light would force it closed.

Yet they had made a crucial error in judgement.

The Abyss wasn’t afraid of the light. Only the weird creatures who had roamed the school halls were afraid of that. When he slammed the dagger into the mirror door, it only threw the gates of the Abyss open wide. There was a sudden crash of energies and when he woke up he was on his back in the school yard and there were these things, these demons, whipping around above.

So Billy ran into the Hedge and didn’t look back.

Part of Billy almost feels glad that he freed those Fallen from that awful cage but not at that price.

Dante pointed out that Billy just admitted setting off the apocalypse and that most people he told would kill him out of principle. Billy stated that he knew that and so hadn't told anyone else. For some reason, perhaps because Dante was wearing his friend’s face, he’d felt compelled to tell him. Billy was quite despondant after that little walk down memory lane so Dante made an effort with a Presence + Socialise + Willpower pool of 11 to cheer him (and the others) up during the rest of the training day. The last thing she needed was a suicidal creature during this vital mission.

Besides, it was a little hard to comprehend meeting the person who caused the Apocalypse. Dante didn't really believe it.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Worthy Links: Call of Cthulhu Horror

It's that time of year where everyone dusts off the old bits and pieces that float around their house in the hopes of finally using them in the New Year. I thought that I'd celebrate by putting up some of my old linked Favourites for you guys to peruse.

Lovecraft Bestiary An awesome map of the various Cthulhoid entities paired with a neat little occult symbol. You could even use it as a prop if the investigators arrive at a place owned by someone who knows a little too much about the cosmos. The picture comes from Rogue Cthulhu which is a neat site in its own right. Hey hey! I rhymed.

Some cool music sites include Nox Arcana, Midnight Syndicate, and The Unquiet Void.  These are some creepy songs that can be bought independently and downloaded off the internet.

Some neat sculptures over at Arkham Bazaar includes a nice glow in the dark crow pendant I adore.  I am so planning on buying that at some point.

Zarona's Mythos Tome prints are beautiful works of art that I would love to frame AND use in a variety of game situations.

Meatspider has some very creepy sculptures of Cthulhu idols. Oddly enough, there are no byakhee whistles for sale anywhere that I can see which seems to be a very missed opportunity for an absolutely fantastic prop. Is making a whistle really so very hard?

Free 5 hour Egyptian Soundscapes have got me really excited for the Cairo section of the Masks of Nyarlathotep campaign.

New York Public Library Menus These are brilliant for anyone who wants to be able to print out props of old school menus and let your players salivate as their characters actually choose what to purchase.

Phrasebook Just because it's pretty awesome and certainly useful for folks who want to accurately give a sense of someone speaking a foreign language without having to memorise loads of phrases. These are the most likely ones in a Cthulhu campaign, at least.

The Nyarlathotep Idol *is* something I'm planning to purchase for my Masks campaign. It's just so dang creepy. Of course, I won't be telling my player that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Game Translation: ZombiU

ZombiU is a largely first-person survival horror where you play a person who is flagged down by the "prepper" while passing a particular subway station. The "prepper" gets you to perform a multitude of tasks for him as do several others during the course of the game. The game's premises centers on the Black Prophecy written by John Dee over 400 years ago which declared that zombies would overrun London in 2012.

ZombiU is a neat zombie romp where you play a variety of zombie survivors during the campaign. When one character dies, you start playing the next. There's no real difference between them except for appearance, name and a couple details on their ID (namely occupation and age). Having to kill your former zombie character is a neat touch, however, and brings with it the added bonus of being able to grab your old loot. There's also the option to just play a single character to see how far you get. If you die in that option, you have to start over.

It's a good idea in any zombie-based pen and paper campaign that the player characters can die and die regularly. I once ran one where all of the characters were pre-generated and randomly assigned. Some were better than others. Some were entirely useless. Some had epic weapons they couldn't use. Others had great weapons skills and a plank. Yeah, the weapons were randomly assigned as well. The players weren't too attached to the characters so it led to some truly interesting events. More of an idea for a one-shot, however.
For a game with longevity, I'd recommend getting the players to create their own characters and put a bit of thought into those character histories. It doesn't have to be heaps detailed. Just 5 - 8 dot points on personality and history should do. Players should, at all times, have two backup characters as though the average lifespan of a character should be 6 - 8 sessions, there may be the odd session where bad luck or a nasty horde slays two characters in the one session.

One element of the videogame won't translate so well, however, and that's the idea of luring a zombie out of a crowd by touching the edge of their perception *sphere* and then backing away. Unless you break out the miniatures, this isn't going to work. If you do break out the miniatures, it will feel artificial and contrived. In most forms of media, when one zombie sees you, the noises it makes attracts more zombies.

Another difference from the videogame is the fact that players will have greater choices in what their characters do. They may choose to hole up elsewhere, approach an obstacle entirely differently, or bypass it altogether. Let them. Part of the fun of a post-apocalyptic scenario is trying to think up ways to survive. If they manage to keep their characters alive for an entire campaign then good on them. Just don't stack the odds in their favour.

This is a game that exalts in a decidedly British locale.
The goals should also lead from one another. Often enough you can just let the characters exist and simply keep track of their dwindling resources. You (or a player) should take note of just how many bullets, guns, knives, cans of food, and hours worth of fuel they still possess. There's nothing to say you can't skip to the chase and briefly narrate their weeks worth of safety before forcing them back outside. Sure you can interrupt their safety occasionally, as safety in a zombie world is illusory, but do so sparingly and dramatically. You don't want to make all their hard work immediately useless, after all. What would be the point in that?

Also give the player characters a chance to bond, joke, converse and have times when the zombies aren't on screen. A dungeon crawl with zombies can get boring really quickly as zombies all have similar stats. It's not like going from a battle with three orc fighters to a battle with an elfen ranger to a battle with a medusa. Therefore provide plenty of brake pads.

Avoid letting the characters get the kind of armour where the zombies can't get at them ever. Otherwise you're forced to either throw a horde at them (which can damage them through sheer weight) or have them attacked unawares. If they do get some nice armour, reduce the armour benefits so that it doesn't render the individual zombie useless.

Funnily enough one of the easiest ways to roleplay ZombiU would be with the neat little Zombicide boardgame which I played the other day.  It would allow people to use tactics to lure out zombies by dropping noise tokens on its square and could be rigged quite nicely alongside a roleplaying system to allow folks to use cover, concealment and other dice-based attacks as per normal.

Anyway, a campaign based around ZombiU or including elements of it, should appeal to Tacticians and Action Heroes the most.

Tacticians will find the need to use interesting inventory items at all the right times (grenades, mines, flares, and guns) and the ability to lure and manipulate the zombies into all the right place.  This would especially be interesting to them if you used miniatures.

Action Heroes will love the chance to blow stuff up, smash down monsters and enjoy thrilling chase scenes where they flee hordes of zombies.

Explorers would get the most out of it if it were a location they recognised, either one that was famous (which you had researched) or from their own neck of the woods.

Investigators will, of course, need something to discover and investigate during the game.  Luckily zombie games are big on treachery, conspiracies and the occasional tidbit about how everyone else died.

Communicators won't tend to enjoy this sort of game.  Yes, you can create a game about in-group bickering, schisms and group politics but that wouldn't really be a very ZombiU game, now would it?

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: Blood Dragon, Gears of War, Dracula: Origins, Outlast, Vampire: the Masquerade (Bloodlines) or Dishonoured. If no one picks anything by next week, it'll probably be Dishonoured.

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, January 14, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 07

EPISODE SUMMARY (Graveside): Wherein James Paterson desperately digs up his beloved Walsh's grave in the dearly held hope that it isn't her body or that she has somehow crawled out of her own grave.

EASTER EGGS: James recalls a situation where Walsh was buried beneath a burnt down mansion in a previous adventure where he dislocated his own brain from his skull, reforged it into an insectile creature, and crawled out of the coffin only to go on a pigeon killing spree in order to bulk up and recreate a humanoid form.

The fact that there's no evidence of this happening this time makes him start to fear that he may actually be insane and that his best friend and confidante could actually be dead.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Horrors: What is the game about exactly?

Well I've talked about the setting and touched upon a little of the sort of characters you can create and the mechanics which support them but I haven't really spoken about the sorts of games it is designed to evoke. Naturally you can create nearly any sort of game with any sort of system, but certain games lend themselves better to certain types of gameplay.

Horrors on the Home Front aims for a few different interconnected styles:

The Lived Experience. The Lived Experience includes all of the ordinary elements of the British Home Front. It means drawing on historical details such as black outs, rationing and queues. It means dropping incendiaries even though it's not part of the main plot but simply because they went out during the Blitz. It involves excitement over a single pineapple in a neighbour's hands. It involves trying to figure out how to drive to that isolated hamlet when you're suffering from petrol rationing. Basically, it involves the feeling of "what it would be like to be there" so that, at the end of it, you feel like you have a clue about that other place and time.

Part of the Lived Experience includes richly drawn and sometimes odd NPCs. Not always odd, but sometimes. If you want to know the sort of odd I'm talking about, pick up a book by Ed McBain or strike up a conversation with ten others one by one on a public bus. People have strange habits, interesting eccentricities, and other subtle nuances which make people seem more real than the oddly perfect and straightforward NPCs most often glimpsed in roleplaying games and videogames and the minor characters in other fictional products.

Intellectual Stimulation. Similar to Call of Cthulhu BRP, the game is also designed to stimulate one's intelligence through mysteries, puzzles, and clue trails. Unlike Call of Cthulhu, the game will rely on developing and understanding timelines a little bit better. In other words, *when* did things happen and *what order* did they follow. This is especially true for mundane crimes that might appear to be supernaturally related as the best way to solve a crime is to figure out who has the means as much as the motive and consistent timelines really is a big part of finding the means.

Even the supernatural entities need to be investigated first because some of them can't be destroyed by normal weapons. The entity could be briefly paralysed by a gunshot (losing a turn), temporarily chased off or even banished for a few nights, but that isn't the same as stopping it. The best way to defeat them is to learn more about the entity and then apply a few simple rules: The Law of Opposition, The Law of Contagion and the Law of Sympathy (or like calls to like). The players have some leeway in designing the right rituals though the Game Warden is in charge of the primary effects. I say ritual, but it can be a lot more brief and informal than what most people think about when they think of a ritual.

I won't give too much away at this stage, but a good videogame example are the darkness possessed creatures in Alan Wake. You have to turn a light on them to burn away the shadowy smoke they exude before you can use your gun.

Bleed. This is a game that assumes fear cannot be easily evoked unless other emotions are evoked first. This is one of the reasons why there's so often a mundane throughline alongside any occult plot. The mundane throughline gives players a chance to get to know their characters and the world around them. It also gives opportunities for a wider range of emotions. Irritation at the in-laws. Amusement due to the strange sights which greet you in an air raid shelter: like a nude woman wrapped in a blanket sitting next to another woman dressed in all of her furs and jewellery due to a fear her home will be struck by a bomb. Baffled anger at a zealous police officer who took a vital car part from your vehicle because you didn't adequately immobilise it and "y'never know when the Jerry parachuters will be dropping". The game assumes that the more you feel as your character feels, the more you will be open to the fear that forms the foundation of a horror experience.

Are there any other questions on the system or setting?

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Arrival: Prepare for War!

Dante steps out into a tall forest of thorny branches which they are advised by the Autumn Queen to avoid. Jack goes Dalu, all the better to smell and see things, and the two follow the Autumn Queen to a large and broad-trunked tree that looked like a mix between a boab tree and a normal forest one. With a gesture, the Queen causes a trapdoor to lift by its roots and they head down to a subterranean landing that overlooks a massive pit that drops down into nothingness.

The Autumn Queen steps out over the abyss and glowing tiles assemble a bridge beneath her feet, dropping away only a few feet behind her. Jack and Dante have to move close behind her, hoping that this wasn’t just a particularly elaborate death trap.

The raven shows its ability to speak and starts messing with Dante’s head, bobbing its head to look from Dante’s eyes to the abyss below, as though drawing his attention to it. Through menacing sign language, Dante lets the bird know that if he falls, his last swing will be for the bird's head. The bird then squawks "Friend," and gazes down at the Pit as though warning what might happen if they don't become friends. Dante cautiously agrees.

Nothing like a hopeless situation to bring out the best in a PC.

Finally they reach a landing and open a pair of large doors to gain entry into a large amphitheatre filled with sixty changelings of various persuasions. Instantly the conversation between the three seasonal monarchs stops as all eyes fall on the Autumn Queen and her two followers.

The three other seasonal monarchs sit atop three of the four thrones. The Spring Queen was an attractive elf-like male in robes who sat in an elaborately carved chair on a dais of flowers and fruit as offerings to his season. The Winter Queen sat in a boring and plain chair on a dais of snow with a goblet of water as an offering to her season. The Summer Queen had the pointed, tufted ears of a lynx and sat on an iron throne on a dais of sand with bracketed torches. The Autumn Queen took her place on a rather ordinary throne on a dais of autumn leaves and pumpkins.

Dante strode in with a confident air and smiled at the lad sitting in the stalls whom she had shot earlier. The winged lad seemed stunned to see him. The fact that he openly carried a cold iron gladius (since he had no sheath that would fit) also would have made an impression. Dante introduced himself as a witcher and Jack as a werewolf (since the kid would have doubtless already mentioned that bit).

The Summer Queen seemed displeased as apparently she wanted to take on the loyalists herself with her own forces. She didn’t see the need for human assistance. The Monarchs squabbled a bit. The Spring King asked to hold Dante’s sword briefly (which he allowed) and the Summer Queen stated they should keep the sword and force Dante and Jack to leave without it. That idea was quickly mooted as it went against the laws of hospitality. Dante and Jack were guests, after all.

The Monarchs also mentioned their interest in the Abjuration Stones which not only kept out demons in the real world but also fae from the corresponding patch of the hedge. The loyalists naturally wanted their destruction. The Monarchs wanted expansion – ideally through the construction of more stones. When the Autumn Queen referred to her as Nico Chetaine, daughter of the stone maker, the others expressed astonishment. Dante zapped himself with the rod to become herself, and then made herself a boy against so the outfit still fit.

The Winter Queen – who was currently the only one with a crown – ruled that they would hear Dante out especially after he gave his impressive resume of kills and rescues (including pointing out his level of insight by using the situation where Dante shot the ninja in the arm rather than the heart as an example of accurately gauging a situation).

The Monarchs withdrew with Dante and Jack into a back room where they revealed a map of the enemy’s location. Dante took a look and then hatched a plan. He would take Jack and two other stealthy types down the cliff and into the enemy’s camp to extract the hostages. Meanwhile the Summer Queen’s troops could mass their forces nearby to cause the loyalists to look outwards in the expectation of a frontal assault. In order to help make the case of the Summer Queen’s potency and a reason for her recklessness, Dante would let her borrow the cold iron gladius and they could give word of it within their day’s preparations to whichever gossip creatures they knew about.

Having the cold iron sword on the field would also have the added advantage that the true fae would be unlikely to show its face and would leave the situation to its loyalists to determine. The Winter Monarch assigned the Blue Spirit to the case and the Autumn Queen assigned Billy the Wing – the ninja kid. Apparently they had healed him up and that despite his sudden recklessness (which they felt must have been triggered by something situational) he was one of their best stealthy types. Dante went to meet the team.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Arrival: Prepare for ... Truce?

Nico Chetaine, currently transformed into a man who calls himself Dante, has managed to steal very important documents from her mother’s hidden compartment in her mother’s bedroom. However the whammy laid on him by a winged ninja shortly before he fought her werewolf friend and flew out the window into the Hedge, has left him doubting himself and shuddering so bad he can barely speak.

Dante takes out the hand-held radio that he had been given by Gipontel the last time they had spoken and updates the Fallen on the situation, seeking clarification on fae banes. Gipontel tells her that cold iron is the bane for the fae.

Gipontel comments that he actually has a small bucket of cold iron nails (about a hundred) and a cold iron tower shield. Apparently he is capable of crafting them as he technically neither hammers nor heats the metal to sculpt it. Also, being a Fallen, he has certain capabilities to deal with metal without it being count as ‘shaped by human hands’.

Dante asks him if he could skim off the top of the tower shield, turning it into a regular shield, and use the excess for some stones for a slingshot and a short sword. Gipontel tells him it’ll take him a couple hours but he could certainly do that. Dante points out a meeting place not too far from the Abjuration Stone protected settlement and tells him that Jack will be over to pick it up.

Then Dante fills a bathtub full of ice and water, needing to bring on some Infernal Visions but assuming that his twitching muscles will prevent him from falling into a trance-like state. Johnny watches over him to ensure he doesn’t a) drown or b) die from exposure.

Dante gets his vision of a battlefield full of torn bodies while a black-dragon-on-white-background flag slowly slumps into the bloody muck as well as a flash of a golden-eyed woman with feathers for hair and a raven on her shoulder. It’s not terribly explanatory on whether he should try to brave the Hedge or not but it’s what he’s got. When he awakens, Jack is back with a cold iron gladius, shield, pocket rocket (slingshot) and cold iron shield. Finally they were ready. Dante gets everyone down from the roof into the main house, sticky taping cold iron to every window and door to prevent anyone from gating inside. Despite specific instructions *not* to hammer them or do anything else that could deactivate them, a few people – being people – very nearly do. In expectation of this, Dante selects a few people to go around and ensure that folk don’t do that.

Dante also points out to Cameron that he wants his bag of dicks back at the end of this. Cameron seems honestly surprised that that’s all Dante wants but isn’t silly enough to offer payment – and is too confused to realise Dante has already extracted payment with Mother’s Notes.

Dante gets leave to access the family library with Jack and Johnny and they do a bit of general occult research to try to find out more about what they’re facing. They don’t have much luck though Jack does get to scoff about the Chetaine family’s knowledge of demons. Apparently some of them are *just spirits*.

That morning a raven flies up to tap on the window with it beak. Wondering if it’s morse code, Dante taps back a message. It almost seems that the raven is intelligent but most of what it taps back are simple repetitions. Out through the window, however, Dante can see a woman who looked much like that feathered-haired imagining. Dante heads out to meet with her, Jack at her side, while Johnny rouses everyone else to be cautious and wary. The meeting is short but simple. She is the Autumn Queen and she believes that Dante is their champion. In her mind, he is the only one who can retrieve his mother. She has come as an act of faith and show of trust.

Dante’s not greatly confident about going but has figured out that the alternative is to stick around under self-imposed house arrest for the rest of his life with 200 people *or* go with her. Dante elects to go with her, taking Jack but leaving the other two behind in case it’s a trap. Johnny sends his wind-ghosty-homunculus thing in through the gate with them, giving them a grin and a pair of thumbs up before heading back inside the main house.

Dante takes a deep breath and follows the so-called Autumn Queen who, as soon as she is through the hedge gate, appears as the feathered-haired woman from his dream.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Dealing With Too Much Chit-Chat In A Casual Game

Out of Character conversation is tricky business. Some players only attend roleplaying games for an excuse to catch up with friends on a weekly basis, protecting the time slot behind a truthful defence of "But my friends are relying on my character to be there," which won't rub with a boardgame night, card game night, or movie night. Such players might still enjoy the game, especially if there are wacky hi-jinx or exciting combats to cut their teeth on, but it's not the main reason they're there. The conversation that surrounds the game is the point. Some games are built around this principle with the players and GM coming together to play something a bit more chilled which provides a chance to joke, chat, and get things done.

There's nothing wrong with that style of play though sometimes, even there, the chit chat can get to such a point that the GM is helpless to so much as run a combat as they have to constantly corral the players into acting during their initiative (which is exhausting), have to repeat their descriptions (which is galling) and even summarise the past turns to each player individually so they don't get confused about which enemies are still alive (which is apalling).

In these instances you're better off pointing out that the players are making the game too hard to run. Chat as much as they like but chat around the game not through it (metaphorically speaking). Perhaps even chat about the game so they can stay tangentially focused on it.

As a player, remind yourself and the other players that there are ways to talk during a game while keeping enough attention on the GM that you can at least have a rough idea what's going on. Basically, you keep it to running commentary, movie references and mock IC jokes rather than having a long conversation on any other topic. You see, with a proper conversation you start thinking in terms of the twists and turns of it, in what you want to say and where you want it to go, and on what new information has just been introduced to you. Five minutes can vanish in a heartbeat in a conversation. With your basic chit-chat, you can still have a lot of friendly fun but as it's tangentially about what's happening in the game it encourages you to pay attention to it.

As a GM, remind your players of the aforementioned player tip and if that doesn't work you'll need to get firm. Be tactful about it and friendly. Make sure to give them a few reminders over a few sessions first to keep their attention on the game and pre-warn them that it things don't change, you'll need to try a firm tactic or risk burning out of the game. The firm tactic means no re-explaining the situation or corralling the players. Figure out the ground rules with them so that you bring them onboard. It might be that you don't mind repeating descriptions, or calling the player's initiative twice in a row, but you won't wait five minutes for someone to announce their turn due to distracting conversation and won't summarise the past rounds events if it's due to player inattention.

Don't do this as a punishment! Use it as a tool. It's tricky to balance conversation with gameplay. It's not your players fault.

Unless you were all on board to play a game which relies on immersion, focus and a higher degree of GM and player investment. In which case, you'll be staring down the barrel of burnout in no time at all. It doesn't feel good to be talked over repeatedly and then judged on the lack of immersion, complexity and sensibility of the game. It's not fair at all.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Worthy Links from Run A Game

I've found a really good blogger who does the Run A Game blog. The person has only been doing it for a year but they've got some good articles up already. The below are my top picks:

Variant Combat Resolutions That Don't Rely On Murder This contains a good list of ideas including how one might utilise them - from how it might begin to what sort of challenges might be part of it.

Golden Rule Chicken The article talks about those situations when players try to get their hands on an incredibly potent power to bypass most plots you could throw at them, forcing you to either nullify that power (which won't be fun for them) or run a non-game where they simply state "I unleash Power X."

God Machine Chronicle System Review An interesting and in-depth look at the new World of Darkness system. Also known as World of Darkness 2.5. This has been really helpful for me as I have put myself forward to run a God Machine based LARP.

Social Arsonists Basically the idea behind LARP Storytellers trying to sow discontent between the various characters to cause them to start having a go at each other. After all, the worse thing that can happen with those big multitude of player LARPs is if peace breaks out. There's generally only so much straight up entertaining a Storytelling team can do for 20+ players.

Contingency Envelopes I considered doing this myself but then worried that it might be too clunky. Apparently it's not. Basically you give players little envelopes with information inside and a label on it saying: "Open if X happens" or "Open at X o'clock." The main issue I have with it is where the players are going to keep them. If they're wearing dresses or skirts or even some women's pants, they're not going to have pockets. Other than that, I really like the idea.

Elysium Style LARP Advice Really good advice on running a social / political LARP. I think the best advice comes from the warning about introducing too much external plot. External enemies have a habit of driving the different factions together and once peace breaks out the game generally dies. After all, there's only so much investigative action that can happen in an Elysium style LARP, which is generally designed for larger groups of players.

Adventure Style LARP advice This one gives advice on how to run adventure LARPs where the external plot is the focus of the game, such as is typical in a Call of Cthulhu LARP adventure.

Considering a LARP of my own

A few years ago I ran a pretty successful low-key LARP involving about fifteen pals and acquaintances in a free city venue under the banner of the Adelaide University Roleplaying Something or Other. It was a lot of fun but since it was a pretty closed group the membership dwindled away over two years until I had five regular players whose characters didn't get along.

Now I've gotten the itch again

So naturally, I start thinking back to how much fun my previous vampire LARP was. I mean, sure, you always get some kooky players with some kooky character concepts, but so long as the majority work out then it's fine. If the characters don't get along due to innate differences ... great! They can perpetuate their own stories.

Plus the end of my last campaign introduced a neat concept involving manifestations out of the shadows themselves that was inspired by Alan Wake (though most assuredly different from it too). Why not take that same Adelaide court, leap it thirty years in the future, get some new players and characters to populate the ruins of the old court and go from there?

Of course, everything seems a bit more complicated now.

I can no longer simply register is as part of the university gaming club, which means either seeking out Public Liability insurance and Incorporation *or* paying the higher venue costs and risking greater personal liability. These two elements create a barrier of several hundred dollars.

Since the majority of gamers are either broke or cheap and enough players aren't exactly kicking down the door to pay an up front membership fee of $25 plus session fee for an untested game that doesn't exist yet, it puts me in a bit of a bind. I decided to create a three part semi-standalone series of historical sessions to try to raise money but on further examination found that I'm likely to raise only a little more cash than the cost of the events.

The last time I ran a Troupe Vampire LARP, there were plenty of people looking for a different kind of experience to that presented by the Camarilla (less political, more of a gilded cage, less paperwork - which is an essential part of a global game). However most of those players got what they sought from my campaign and scratched that itch *or* they found my game style wasn't for them and left. This means that I don't have a ready cast of players.

While the rules aren't so much an issue, trying to balance the characters which have been submitted with an eye to creating a fun and coherent game is tricky. It's not that *I* particularly care about a custom ability or a potent combat wombat, it's more what it could do to the game. If one person sinks loads of dots into combat, then anyone who has a mere 3 & 3 (rather than 5 & 4) can end up feeling (or worse, being treated) like a joke. Custom mechanics can also affect the themes of the game in a way that the other players might not like, especially if it unfairly makes one character seem way more special than any other from the get go.

Trying to explain how someone's funky concept or highly focused stat lines could actually shatter immersion and ruin the game for other players is ... well, suffice it to say, it's often kinder to just spout some banal line about "It not being a good fit," and making it sound like I'm being a precious ST trying to protect my own artistic credibility.

So yeah, a lot of complications here. I'll have a chat on the upcoming weeks about the work I've put into it thus far. A Glimpse Into The Life Of A Start Up LARP Organiser.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Musings on Masks: Episode 06

EPISODE SUMMARY (The Funeral): Wherein James Paterson has to face his most terrible task yet - his co-investigator's funeral.  Miss Walsh, who had led him into the investigative business, is someone he deeply believes is an immortal entity and thus he finds it hard to comprehend the possibility that she could truly be dead.

EASTER EGGS: Jackson Elias' upcoming mission in South America ties him into the God of Mitnal adventure which will come up in early to mid-1939 for James.  You can find the God of Mitnal adventure included in the Masks of Nyarlathotep Companion.

Mickey Mahoney from the Scoop has been fully established and I think my player will get a real kick from the reintroduction when he returns to London later on.

I'm pretty sure he just sees all these guys as colourful characters and doesn't realise that they're actually core to Masks.  There he is, figuring this is all unrelated prologue to the campaign and thus doesn't read too much into them which is a fantastic place to be.

When Jackson Elias finally dies, he will be really shocked.

PS: Sorry about the delays with this post.  It's all sorted now.

NOTE: Since there's no numbers prior to Sedated, it has been lifted after Episode 06.  Since reuploading takes so long and it's already 10PM, I have labelled this tomorrow's problem.  If you're after tonight's session, it's 06Funeral.  If you want the previous episode, it is sedated.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Horror on the Home Front Q & A

So I've been talking a lot about my particular creation and I thought it might be time to ask you guys if there's anything you're interested in knowing about. Feel free to drop me a question in the comments box and I'll answer. If it turns out to be a little more complicated than a Comments Box reply would warrant, I'll make it the focus on another Monday segment.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Arrival: Meet The Other Side

So the entire room is silent for a long moment. The woman in charge has just been kidnapped as part of a coup by her eldest son who had just recently been pronounced heir. Her husband is unconscious and badly injured. The eldest son had then been attacked by his own troops and kidnapped as well. No one knew what to do ... or say. Tara looked absolutely lost. She'd been closest to Daniel and obviously had no idea what would come to pass. Michelle looked astonished. Cameron had absolutely no idea what to do.

So Dante (Nico in boy form) tells Cameron that he is in charge now and that he should get everyone to arm up and be ready.

Dante then notices a faceless man with grey skin come out of a nearby door and go over to where that strange door had been opened which remained open for a short while after they left. The Faceless Man crouched down and picked at some of the sand on the floor.

Dante ordered some of the locals to apprehend the Faceless Man, bringing him to their table, forcing him to sit while others went and grabbed the handcuffs to bind him in place. Dante interrogated him, expecting answers, but the Faceless Man insisted he lacked authority to reveal anything. All he revealed was that he had been sent by a monarch to track a group of Loyalists who had been hidden for a time but who had revealed themselves by stepping into that other world. The Monarchs had some vested interest in keeping this community safe and would likely soon send an emissary to speak to the settlement. When Dante inquired if this was the realm of thorns (recall the cupboard that led into such a place, the only other world he's entered), the Faceless Man seemed quite shocked. He slipped the cuffs, ducked the settlers, and disappeared through another doorway.

Now knowing these creatures could enter or leave by any doorway, Dante ordered Cameron to get the settlers onto the roof with their weapons so that they could at least see the enemy coming. Dante sent Johnny and Ruby (Rochelle) to fetch Jack and the weapons so that they could be properly armed themselves. They then retreated to the rooftops with some food and drink and set Ruby up with the sniper rifle from the highest point.

It was a boring couple of hours so Dante decided to head down with Jack and Johnny to try to lure out the bad guys. And to loot Mother's bedroom for information on those big rubies.

On the way to Mother's bedroom, they were intercepted by the Faceless Man and a woman wearing gleaming golden armor and beautiful golden blonde hair. The woman introduced herself as a claviger who worked in service to the Spring Monarch. Apparently some Raven Queen had a vision that Nico Chetaine (who the claviger had identified was Dante's true identity) was necessary for the assault on the Loyalists. If Nico didn't go, then a disaster was assured. Nico was invited to speak with the Monarchs.

Dante wasn't having any of that. Some supernatural demonic somethings-or-others wanted her to step through a doorway into some strange thorny place? A ridiculous idea. Besides which, Dante's upbringing had very much instilled the following belief: "If a demon has taken a loved one, accept that they are dead".

The Spring Claviger, shocked, left with the Faceless Man and the group headed into Mother's room. It seemed to be all above board and normal so Dante asked if Johnny could get a ghost to search about the place. Johnny did so, warning it may take a bit of time since the ghost would have to shove its head through every wall.

They found a trapdoor beneath the bed that led to a little cache of books and paperwork. They had just finished bagging it up when Dante noticed a figure dropping down behind him. Whipping around he shout out a foot, slamming it into the crotch of a short figure wearing grey camouflage nina-style garb whose face was covered with a ninja-style face mask.

Dante took a moment to be surprised by the now writhing on the floor ninja, and then placed a shoe on his chest and pointed his carbine at his chest. Dante demanded answers but, rather than give any, the ninja merely reached out to grasp Dante's ankle.

Dante sighed and shot him in the arm (two lethal). No way was he going to allow body contact!

The kid's fresh set of writhing knocked off his face mask and Dante saw a face that was both familiar and yet unknown. Some fresh-faced sixteen-year-old in this place should have been readily identifiable but Dante just couldn't recall who it was.

In that moment of confusion, the kid grabbed Dante's ankle. Panic, confusion and self-doubt swept through Dante (halving all my dice pools). Dante staggered away, too shocked to think, and tried to protect himself by using his shotgun to parry the kid as he reached for Dante again. Jack got in the way in a sudden burst of full werewolf fur and teeth, leading to a series of swipes that knocked the kid to the wall. The kid squirmed away, only to nearly get knocked down. Dante ordered Johnny to do something, and Johnny queried whether he should try to stop the kid or the big raging wolfman. Johnny settled on trying to stop the wolfman, using his Marionette powers to try to control the wolfman's arms, only managing to slow the big man's swings.

The kid made the sensible decision to scarper and leapt a window, turning it into a gateway into the Hedge as he went.

Dante turned away to the mirror and saw Smiling Jack gesturing for him to follow the kid but Dante just shook his head, too flabbergasted to do anything. The portal slowly closed behind the kid and Dante flopped down on the edge of the bed.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hunter & Vampire LARP in Theory

On the way to work today I got to think about why I'm currently planning on running a Vampire game. I mean, my love and adoration is for the occult paradigm, mundane conspiracies and investigative dilemmas so why do I want to run a LARP involving curmudgeonly vampires being all cranky at each other? While the answer to that question probably involves the variety of occultists, the fact that vampires can actually be the source of those occult blow ups, conspiracies and dilemmas I love so well and, well, the fact that they can mostly entertain themselves with socialising, politicking, and ruminating about history while I go off and have a doze (just kidding), where necessary helps as well.

I mean, straight up investigative games are *haaaard*. Especially LARPs. How do you provide enough clues for everyone? How do you make an interesting enough location? If the sessions themselves don't revolve around working a case by hitting the streets, then what could that session be about? Without city positions, inter-covenant rivalries and status climbing to occupy your time in between the real hard yakka sessions, why bother having a LARP at all?

So I was thinking about the framework for the current vampire game I'm planning and realised that with a bit of work it *could* be adapted to Hunter. I'm figuring on having it be a monthly game with the Kindred gathering as a city for various occasions hosted by the PCs where they gather together, connive for positions, build the reputations of their clan and covenant, swap resources, and also share information and request assistance on a variety of personal projects supported through merit purchases (gotta work for your Cruac), downtimes and the forums. There are mysteries that can be solved, wyrm's nests to clear, and hidden stockpiles of information to locate.

For those who don't want to use the forums, or need a face-to-face approach, I'm planning on including a coffee hour pre-court session where folks can come in, shoot the breeze, and book me for ten minute periods per person (multiple time slots could be booked for pairs or groups) to do downtimes or resolve minor RtRs. Finally, there'll be space on the other fortnight of the month for coterie, clan and covenant sessions which allows for either politicking and socialising to ensure tighter covenants, thematically important situations that don't make as much sense in city gatherings (i.e. Circle ceremonies and Ordo Dracul meetings), and, of course, the hard yakka of investigative or violent work. The aforemention Wyrm's Nest clearing, as an example. There would most likely be treated more as tabletops for simplicity's sake.

It would mean that most players spend most of their time in a monthly game but with two coterie spaces (three hour time slots) on the spare fortnight, they'd get something a little extra every five months or so. If there was something really pertinent that needed doing, I might do an additional coterie session to allow for it though I'd make an effort to spread the time around. Any really keen group can always meet up together to politic or work via the forums to get extra stuff done.

So anyway, keeping this LARP model in mind it's certainly possible to do a Hunter: the Vigil game as I could justify why the various hunter groups would create a central group better than I could with Call of Cthulhu (a beautiful game with very high standards and thus workloads for a LARP). Now I won't be doing this anytime soon. I've put far too much work into the vampire game. But it's something I can toss around and maybe try it out in a few years once this Vampire campaign has run its course (my plans include about two years for this LARP with the option of extending it).