Friday, January 22, 2016

Iron Gods Campaign and the Value of Preludes

Well I have been talked into running Iron Gods for my players alongside Wrath of the Righteous which is good timing because I've also been thinking a great deal about how my LARP PCs and NPCs have oodles of interesting elements to unpick and yet most tabletop PCs are almost never considered an intriguing riddle to unpick by the other players.

In a discussion with two of my Iron Gods players, I discovered that it was because my players talk about their characters to the point where everyone knows everything about them already.  This excitable chatty phase was really important to them, though, and while it removed the chance for in-game discovery it gave them the ability to figure out just what they really liked about their characters.
So I settled on a compromise.  They were able to talk about their character concepts and generate them together in an initial character generation session but then after that point I would run each one through a secret prelude that they couldn't describe to each other.  The players were happy with this and it led each one to have a better understanding of their characters *and* meant that there were tasty little details that no one else knew about.
Our characters include:
Luna, a tiefling summoner (God Caller) from Sarkoris who is a demon-tainted elf (tiefling stats but elf appearance and longevity) who can summon a blue elemental dragon and who has worked at the Torch for the past several decades using her fire resistance to her advantage.  As with any elf, she has a long and colourful history that mainly focused on her childhood, adolescence and early adulthood.
Nathaniel, a telekinetic germ-phobic psychic who grew up in the Marrymaid Brothel in Torch, whose prelude was mostly day-in-the-life and building background ties with many of the NPCs which allowed him to have a great big list of characters.  The player was also allowed to have access to a map of Torch.  Since he's sixteen he has to hide his later delve into Black Hill from his mother and also gets a lock of flack during the final half of his prelude which was shared with Maxx since his mother bribed Maxx to shake his hand (Maxx requested disinfectant first which meant Nathaniel was okay with it) and to spend the day with him.  A few others not in the know thought they might be on a date when they went to the Copper Coin tavern which led to an incredibly awkward dinner and then Maxx ended up at the Evercandle Inn.
Maxx, a newly reborn android occultist with purple hair whose player conveniently modelled her appearance on the image found on the cover of the player's guide to Iron Gods, and who has inspired me to have all androids share one of 200 likenesses.  His prelude included a Shocking Beginning before he was finally picked up by Jhestine, the Torch apothecary, on her return to town and then he was introduced to Nathaniel and the two given the task of helping Jhestine make her deliveries. 
Bort was a wizard (BlackFire Adept) from Mendev who was accidentally dropped onto Nathaniel due to a teleportation mishap.  His prelude involved the loss of the Wardstones and his subsequent escape from Mendev as well as a grand conspiracy.  The locals thought him a high level wizard because he teleported in and didn't realise it was someone else's botched attempt to grab him.
Finally we have Cerulean / Rosa who woke up in Evercandle Inn with no recollection of her past and some sort of injection gun laying near her outstretched hand.  Her player didn't know what to have for her back story so I told her to leave it to me.  Foolishly she has chosen to do so.  The town of Torch contains many little hints and tidbits about who she is but as she isn't local those hints are few and far between.
As you can imagine there's a lot of easter eggs and references to previous occurrences in their histories which lend the game extra gravity and interest.  The short preludes also really set up the characters with some all the more interesting conversations and miscommunications.  Of course it helps that I've woven in their plot lines with the Iron Gods campaign and unintentionally they have helped me with this (such as Maxx's shared appearance with a certain purple-haired someone).
It already feels more cinematic with a great sense of interwoven narrative that has me squeeing with joy after only one session.  Will do the session write up soon though most of it will be minor social details as they haven't begun adventuring yet.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Wrath of the Righteous: The Sarkorian Prophecy

The Sarkorian Prophecy is a Pathfinder Society adventure for level 11 characters which it set in the rather interesting city of Storasta.  I thought it might make for an interesting segue into the very special rift-closing book featured in the actual adventure path by dropping in a few of the bark pages of that mysterious volume that sat among the text itself, thus tying the whole thing together a little more smartly to the players' own actions.

Of course the monsters as written in that book are rather … dull … for a level 12 mythic tier 3 party which is fair considering that the book is written for an average level 11 non-mythic party.  Also there were far too many demons in it for my liking as Storasta's flair for me is the chance to get into some plant-kicking action.
Due to the teleportation muddle that occurs around Storasta, they set upon a slightly different plan.  Firstly they had Aravashniel teleport them to the nearest held city which was in Numeria (interesting fun times will happen there later but they didn't investigate so that'll make the Iron Gods campaign path even more fun) and then the rest of them team (Eliska the dhampyr oracle/rogue, Dantalion the half-succubus cleric/magus, Lex the umbral dragon/ninja disguised to look bronze, Alphy the tiefling monk/bard and Osprey the Pathfinder Druid who was along for the ride to show them the way) made the rest of the journey to Storasta using Wind Walk.  This allowed them to bypass all of the terrain obstacles but the abyssal tornado coming their way got them to hide all right.
So I had them face (yet another) night hag which was beaten rather simply since she had no means of hiding her alignment or changed shape.  Silly Pathfinder scenario.   The pair then decided to resurrect the paladin as a favour to Ollysta Zadrian (who had mentioned the loss of her paladin before they left).  They then sent the paladin back home with one of Dantalion's many spells.  They rested for a bit in the tunnels before setting off in Wind Walk some more down the weed-choked path through the vegetation that the tornado had hollowed.
Then they were attacked by two Ropers which gave them an interesting challenge and managed to last a few rounds.  When you're geared to fight demons, aberrations and plants suddenly become difficult.  Once in front of the Pathfinder lodge, I replaced the glabrezu (which they'd fought before) with two Baregara just to mix things up a bit.  Then they went into the Lodge and took out the various Shadow Pathfinders, though they figured out first that they weren't members of the Ivory Labyrinth when Dantalion strolled in with full half-succubus glory and demanded to know why they were late.  The reactions on the Shadow Pathfinders faces as they tried desperately to lie and pretend they were demonic subordinates rather than face them in battle was priceless.  They were subdued for later interrogation and Osprey kept an eye on them while they gave chase to the others.
They chased the main villain, who was both Shadow Pathfinder and cultist, through a tunnel that led out from the outskirts of Storasta into a wide open plain of cracked earth with lava peeking through the cracks.  I had the giant scorpion running alongside him as an assistant and surrounded him with swarms of a helpful CE version of hellwasps.  They were taken out pretty easily still, especially once the villain was surrounded by a blade barrier and attacked by flying PCs.  I added a sub-mission via Eliska Zadrian that they should capture his familiar as she'd guessed he was a witch (Oracles gotta be good for something and it felt like a neat little side-mission).  They succeeded in taking out the witch and saving the scorpion.
Weirdly enough I noticed the villain had Greater Teleport on his spell list….  I know that teleports go a bit off in this zone but surely he'd try it if in battle but it wasn't in his write off so I claimed to myself (and later, after the battle, to the PCs) that he'd already expended it that day.
We finished the session with the sight of a Crag Tarn flying toward them (CR 14).  They had time to escape but I put it on the table as a test to see just how potent they were.  So the next game they fled back to the tunnel entrance and then went all out on the Crag Tarn to take it down.  They were successful and managed to kill it before it could attack them (since it had been spotted quite a way off).
This makes me wonder if I can pull off having the Book 6 brothel occur earlier … such as a more interesting place to situate Minagho's rift but the CR 19 enemies in that book are probably a *little* too powerful for even my intrepid heroes.  Especially as there are so many of them.  So instead I might place it in one of the other interesting sites around and decorate it up.  Perhaps place the structure in the cradle of the Yathscar?  Or in the forest of burning dryads where they must fear the green dragon + succubus rider?  Not sure yet, but wherever it'll be, it shall be fun.
Tee hee … could always make them try all of the above in their search of it!  What do you think?

Friday, January 8, 2016

901 Posts! Woo hoo!

So with this post I've vaulted through 900 posts on this blog.  Wow ... just wow.  I can't imagine how long it would take to read them all.  I swear I should try it sometime, though.  See what I can find.  See what gems of wisdom I've promptly forgotten about moments after I wrote them down!  (Here's hoping there's gems of wisdom somewhere in 900 posts!)  But yeah, woo!  Go me!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

LARP Bleed -- Deal With It

So we've discussed that bleed exists (feeling emotions due to fictional experiences which occur during the LARP) and that it is normal but can be typically reduced (or enhanced) by taking certain actions during the design of the game itself.  Now let's look at ways of dealing with it when it does arise.

Firstly, talk about it.  Mention it during game preparation.  Find an article on it that explains it just right for your game, print that article out and pass it around to your players.  Perhaps include it in your New Player Pack.  Talk about its importance and that it’s the flipside to immersion.  People can't manage it when it takes them completely by surprise.  Then encourage people to talk to you about it.

It can help to provide a few anecdotes about your own experiences with positive and negative bleed and to encourage other experienced players to do the same.  This will normalise the process.

Now is a good time to mention any disturbing content, triggers or likely bleed issues in your game.  If characters can die at any time, if NPCs committing suicide is a risk, or if characters will occasionally aim to publicly humiliate each other to score points with the prince, then it's a good idea to let the players know.  This helps empower them to know if this is the kind of game for them and, if so, the shared game contract allows them to prepare themselves for the worst.

I'd also recommend including some kind of gesture to reflect if someone is still feeling all right that can be subtly used in the game.  It might be the A-OK sign that I flash you if I'm uncertain if those tears in your eyes are a sign of an enjoyable immersive experience or one you want to end.

Having a sign where people can cut the scene, take a step back for a few minutes, then narratively conclude the scene when it gets too intense is also a good idea for some games though naturally if it is used a lot by a particular player in a particular game in situations that are typical of that game than that game may not be suitable for them.

So now you've talked about it during the preparation phase, I'd also recommend mentioning it whenever you experience it during the game and to encourage other players to do the same.  It doesn't need to be a big deal if you (or the player) aren't looking for reassurance.  It could be as simple as an observation like: "Oh, felt a bit of bleed with that scene back then.  All good now,  though."  Or: "I experienced more bleed from that than I thought I would!"

Typically people will discuss negative bleed as "bleed", by the way, and positive emotions by their named emotion.  "That was so exciting!" or "I felt so good when that happened."  That's fine and normal.  People won't always want to explain precisely what painful or aggravating emotion they experienced, only that it did happen.

A strong social backdrop will really help as well.  If you all go out for karaoke or meet up after game for food (eating together is a great social glue) then you will have a more positive network that will help people better identify bleed by divorcing the character actions from the player actions.  In other words, if I only ever deal with your character, how could I know if you actually don't like me or are a mean-spirited person?  If we've hung out together and had a great time, it's a lot easier to realise that it's a character event and simply bleed we're experiencing.

Finally after sessions if you have a heavy-bleed game having every player mention the most emotional moments they experienced during the game, either all together or in small groups (depending on game size).  Mostly they'll focus on positive emotions, but do encourage them to at least mention if they experienced any bleed during the session, even if they don't want to go into detail with it.

So now that you've set the groundwork, what do you do when someone is experiencing painful bleed?

Firstly, validate it.  Each culture treats reassuring and helping someone through painful emotions differently so go with a more sensitive version of that.  In general, listen more than you speak and always validate what they're feeling.  You can provide a few anecdotes of your own experiences but keep them short, sharp and shiny and don't let them take priority.  In other words, your anecdotes are merely to show that you've been there and you understand rather than serving as a chance to vent.

Just don't give any anecdotes of when the same player caused you bleed as that can lead to a bitching session where you both rant about the player, and that's a very toxic way to go.  If the issue is truly with the player, than it's not about character bleed and needs to be dealt with in other ways.

Gently providing perspective on the other characters' actions, or the GM's intentions, can help if the player seems frustrated as to why they were targeted in-character in such a way but should be done gently, in response to their queries, and without judgement.  Re-iterate that they have the right to be upset, it's just that the other player didn't realise how much it would have hurt them or that the other character was operating on different information or had some other goal.

Oftentimes you don't have to give the game away in terms of character motivations, simply providing a half dozen different perspectives of what might be the case can help as it helps the player think in terms of IC motivation rather than OOC personality traits.

Give the player a bit of space to come to terms with their own emotions and then encourage the involved players to spend time together, especially if it's due to character antagonism.  If they avoid each other than the bleed may become entrenched in actual resentment and that's the last thing you want.  Depending on the players, they might be happy to have a special antagonist's hangout to have a bit of fun with it or they might prefer it to be a big group activity that's not so large they can lose sight of each other.

These are the techniques I've used so far, anyway.  Does anyone know any other tricks?