Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Rules

Social contract is a powerful thing.  It’s also wildly malleable.  Anytime people get together to do something specific, whether it’s build a bridge, fight a war, perform necessary work, Save the World, or even just try to have a good time by pretending to be fantastical creatures of some sort, You’ll see politics and sometimes, even in the most well-meaning group, you’ll see ugliness.

It can’t really be avoided. It’s part of being human and being around other people. Look at it like this.
Life is a like wedding.  You have a whole bunch of people who come together for a singular purpose. And each of those people, may have, in their own minds, a vision of what the “Perfect Situation” is.  And even in the most well-meaning group of people, even in a group of people that ISN’T peppered and salted, with people who are socially maladjusted, afflicted with mood disorders, on the autism spectrum, you’re going to have these visions clash with one another.   And that’s not even taking into account the occasional ex-boyfriend who’s determined to crash and burn the whole ceremony.
   Add to this the idea that some people have done some serious thinking and planning to make the event happen, and others are just trying to add to the basic happiness of the event, but are pulling things out of their butt on the fly.

This is why, when I DJ weddings, I make certain that the Bride and Groom have a code word, so that if they send someone to me with a request, I can make sure it came from them as opposed to some wild-ass idea that some well-meaning person had on the spur of the moment.  “Dude, when the bride comes out, we’ve decided to change the song to Judas Priest’s “Screaming for Vengeance”
“Yeah. Sure. I’ll make sure THAT happens.”

But while this can’t be sort of thing can’t be avoided, It can be minimized.  The best way to do this is to communicate, to work hard to make sure as many people as possible are on the same page. To make sure that people understand the concept of collaborative art and how fragile it is.  Frankly the main problem with the social contract is that often, it’s not worth the paper it’s NOT written on

So. With that in mind, let me offer some carefully considered guidelines.

Respect the Venue
Finding a decent place to play is the single biggest stumbling block that most Larps have.  I mean, while Geek Culture has made great strides in the last couple of decades, it’s still considered weird to dress up in some form of sartorial excess, roam around in public and pretend to Vampires, Werewolves, Changelings or whateverthefuck.  Not all places are keen to have that sort of activity take place, but even if they ARE cool with it, they won’t be if you leave the place a mess, or you comport yourself like an asshole.  So don’t.
This includes the following:
1) Clean-up after yourself. And if you make a mess, ask someone for a mop and bucket and fix it yourself.
2) Don’t do anything that might constitute a “Physical Stunt” on the premises. You could cause damage and/or injure yourself or someone else. If this occurs, it could expose the venue to legal liability and most people who run places would rather have Herpes than a court case.
3) If Civilians are present in the immediate area, moderate your volume and refrain from molesting them. (I’ll cover this in more detail below)  The LAST thing you want to do is drive off their other customers.
4) If the venue sells food and drink, it is permissible to NOT eat or drink, but it is rude to bring in food and drink from an outside source.
5) Be nice to the Venue’s staff. They’re working and do NOT have to put with your shit.  Every single hotel, that I have ever played a larp in, I have made it a point to approach the front desk and thank them for the lovely, clean, venue they have provided.  There has been only one instance in which I thought rudeness was called for to the venue staff and it didn’t even get that far. We simply took our business somewhere else the next year.  TIP WELL, if tipping is involved.
6) If the venue is good to you, be good to the Venue.  Kind words on Yelp, Kick business their way if you can, the occasional letter to corporate extolling the virtues of the staff… These are all things you can do, and will likely cost you very little.
7) If the Venue is one that requires a site fee, Pay it.  In fact, over-pay it. If you really like the game and you want to see it thrive,  then make sure that you kick money in that direction.  There will almost certainly be an evening where you are short on cash some night.  But if you tend to over-pay you can still go play and not be wracked by guilt. 

Seriously. I’ve been saying that this is rule zero for years.If you larp this ought to be hardwired into your head by now. No one wants to be the guy or girl who did a completely stupid or classless thing that got the group bounced from their play-space.  Don’t be THAT player.

Respect the Storytellers
Just in case you forgot, let me put you wise.
Your Gm is not making any money off this little enterprise. He’s likely swiping office supplies from work just to make this game happen. He or she has likely done a non-trivial amount of writing in preparation for this shindig.  In fact, there may have been a non-trivial amount of planning, transport, set- decoration, props-making, and maybe even catering.
This has been done in the name of making a good time, not just for you, but for everyone.

I’m not saying you have to treat your Storytellers with slavish adoration, nor am I saying that you aren’t allowed to call them on their bullshit.  I am saying, do what you can to smooth their path and tell them when they are doing a great job.   No one wants to Game master when it’s become a chore, or for people who are ungrateful.

Respect the Civilians
This really ought to go without saying. But unless you are threatened with violence, you should be respectful in your dealings with people who aren’t playing the game, that you might encounter while doing so.  This is especially true of law enforcement professionals.  If you are open, and friendly, and willing to talk about your hobby, you’re liable to engender more respect for the hobby as a whole in the minds of people who have perhaps stumbled across it for the first time. Assume, YOU are making a first impression, not only for yourself, but for the hobby as a whole. Be the ambassador. You know?
Who knows, you might even create a convert.
And be aware. If you’re in a hotel or in a residential area. People may be trying to sleep nearby. Keep an eye on your volume.  (I am especially bad about this, as an actor, I was trained to hit the back wall with my voice.I really have to watch it.)

Respect each other
It’s easy for this one to get lost in the shuffle sometimes.  We get wrapped up in Ic gossip. We get wrapped up in OOC gossip. We have people who embodying a full spectrum of neuro-diversity and the simplest inter-actions can be seriously fraught, if we’re not paying attention. We have differences in opinion on religion and politics. Sex adds a whole additional dimension of tension, and there can be varying levels of racism, creedism, sexism, and discrimination against LGBTQI people of all sorts and at varying levels from micro aggressions to great big fat honking aggressions. It’s a complicated world we live in. Almost more complicated than trying to follow the storylines in 8 separate X-men titles a month.

But here are two things you should always keep in mind.
1) We are more alike than we are different.  We all have hearts and minds, and blood that pumps. We all were born and all of us are going to die. and we all enjoy pretend-y fun time games…That alone binds us together in ways that other people may never even understand.
2) When you are weird, The first thing you need in your life is a place to go, where no one hassles you because you’re weird.

Remember kids, The one thing that you absolutely control in this life that can make the most difference in how you interact with the world, is your attitude.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Never tell these stories


I’ve been a larper for a long time. Not as long as I’ve been an actor, But I have been on live action role play for a very long time. Like dog years or some shit.

Here are the Stories that you, as a  Larp GM, must never ever tell.

Please note, that I have witnessed or heard about ALL of these happening.

1) Don’t ever tell the story  that you can only win by not participating in it.
In addition, while it’s okay to stack the deck., It’s NOT okay to make a “Win” impossible nor is it okay to TELL the players that a win is essentially impossible. Half will try to prove you wrong, the other half will believe you and fuck off for greener pastures.

2) Don’t tell the story where the only person who actually has the “Clue” that will make the plot lurch forward on greased rails, decided to get drunk instead on the second night of the con. 
It’s always best to make plots as modular as possible. And you should have a means of getting information into the hands of, bolded-for-emphasis, ANY player.

3) Don’t tell the story that is almost solely about some uber-prick fucking with your players, who happens to be untouchable, much less unkillable.  Hey the character may not be punchable, but the guy playing the NPC ISN’T.

4) Don’t tell the story about a fractious groups banding together to stop a serious threat, and then not make the threat all that serious.   Or have it be happening so far back in the background that the bad guys win all the things, and no one notices.

4A) Also: If you have a threat that is supposed to cause people to band together to stop it. Don’t be altogether surprised if they simply don’t. Fear does not generate trust.

5) Don’t tell the story that has horrible things in it just for shock value. Because “Triggery” isn’t always bullshit.

6) Don’t tell the story where a happy or heroic ending is simply not possible, “Because that not what real life is about…”   Save that Lit school wank for your novel. People don’t Larp to have a miserable time.  In fact, you may want to have the words, “People don’t larp to have a miserable time” tattooed onto your naughty bits.  So that when you pull them out while you have your players bent over the coffee table, you’ll be reminded.

7) Don’t tell the story about that one weekend where nothing really happened. I don’t care if it is the slow dreadfully tedious machinery of government. I can get THIS experience at the DMV.

Look, all i’m really saying here is that every large scale con larp ought to be the road to Glory for someone. Otherwise, what’s the point of writing it or playing in it.

8) Don’t tell the story where the bad guy has a weapon that dispenses hot and cold running holocaust.  If the only means of dealing with him is to kill him or divest him of his weapon, then the players will have the weapon. If it doesn’t work for them too, the seeds of hatred will be planted deep. If the weapon works for them though, then they have a weapon that dispense hot and cold running holocaust.  Never put a piece on the board that doesn’t fit in the game.

9) It’s usually a bad idea to create a game that is about some entity “screwing with” your PC’s. Especially if your PC’s have extremely limited ability to affect the antagonist or protect themselves.

Friday, November 27, 2015

The tip of the iceberg

If there is one thing, that I would suggest to each and every GM looking to make a new Chat/Larp game somewhere, I would start with the pragmatic and save the cranky, mystical, zen flavored stuff for later. The most salient piece of pragmatic advice that I have to give is the following.
Hire someone to handle your wiki.
Pay them in EXP, boons, sandwiches, sexual favors, or actual cash for all i care, but get somebody, who is primarily concerned with keeping your wiki up, and running, and organized.
The reason for this is manifestly clear. Your wiki is likely the first contact that a new player has with your website. It is quite literally the tip of your games iceberg. It tells the new player the following things:
* What games you have
* How many players each game has (Or at least the number of players who can be arsed to put up a wiki page of their own.)
* How creative those players are (Based on how pretty and well designed the players wikis are, and how well written their flavor text is.
* Whether the Storytelling Staff is a bunch of control freaks. (Based on how large the page of Restrictions of character types/merits/bloodlines are.)
*Whether the players are a bunch of schizoid douchebags. (Based on how large the section is for "Code of Conduct" and "Sexual Harassment")
* How well organized the ST is as a whole (Pretty obvious, if the last book approved for use in the game was "Armory")
* Are the ST's decent writers? (Usually born out by any flavor text written for the Setting or added to the section on "Interesting Places" Interesting Places should make me want to go there, instead of making me want to sleep.)
In addition, there is one point of organization that I can't seem to make people understand no matter where I go. If you have House Rules, they belong on the wiki. They DO NOT belong on the constantly expanding Fora. If a rule is under discussion, or is being worked over. Fine, the Forum is the place for that discussion. But if there is finally some consensus over what the new rules is supposed to be…Then it NEEDS to go onto the goddamn wiki where it is easily findable. There have been multiple episodes of me, stepping on my dick, because of some rule, that everybody ELSE seems to know about, tucked into the middle of some 8 page thread on the fucking forum. That's like putting a building's directory in a washroom on the 6th floor.
Another thing about Wiki's: For god's sake, Do yourself a favor and use a very simple form of wiki like say PBWiki, but if you don't do that, AT LEAST make certain that there is a good Wiki help page and some well made templates for player use. It will make it much easier for players to get in and monkey around with the Wiki. If the wiki stuff is too complicated, players won't bother with it. 
That person who's handling your Wiki for you, make sure they periodically archive it, so if someone monkey's with it, you can tell and put it back the way it was. Some wiki software does track changes to the pages automatically.
Also: It might not be a bad idea, and many places DO do this, to add a section on how to submit your character via PM to the appropriate ST. Many times, this will be left up to the player stumbling around and asking questions. In fact, I'm so used to it, that finding it in the wiki is a nice surprise.
So as you can see, there are a number of first impressions that your wiki makes. Nice graphics on your homepage are pretty and all, but this is the place where a number of unasked questions get answered. And it's important that you have someone on staff whose gig it is to keep it up to date.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why crossover games suck!

Ok. I admit, I expect a bunch of pushback on this, but I'm going to simply come out and say it.
I don't think Crossover games work very well.
I've played a few. I ran a tabletop game for about 7 years that went all over the map in terms of crossover. (Mage:The Ascencion was the primary game and it seemed to handle crossover better than other games.) And I'm not saying that crossover games can't be fun.
But in my completely arrogant bastard opinion, they are simply not my cup of tea anymore.

I feel, that crossover games, by their nature dilute the themes, tones, and tropes of their constituent games. Moreover, I find that any part of a particular that players are prone to elide because it makes them uncomfortable or is inconvenient (I.E. Feeding and humanity loss in Vampire) gets lost in the shuffle entirely in a crossover game. Various player types stop being monsters. The tendency is for groups of players to stop dealing with the scarier elements of their essential natures and morph into kind of supernatural Sentai team.

Needless to say, running any kind of real horror story is right out. There's no sense of immersion, also there's no real sense of running up against something that your player Back-brain, isn't trying to stat up based on OOC knowledge. Also, there's the problem of one group having some supernatural based problem and being able to just hand it off to some other group. Vampires who run afoul of ghost are usually S.O.L. Most of their powers have nothing that works on them. But if the Prince can just call up the local head of the Sin Eaters, well. That sorts that out toot de suite.

Another problem with a crossover game is nobody you meet is going to be a plain vanilla human. Why in the hell would you play one in toybox full of exotic toys? Some people DO play P.V. Humans, but then they get other players fighting over them like some precious resource. The only exception that I ever had was character in a crossover game, that I had decided was destined to be a Vigil hunter. This was some months before the release of Vigil. I made a character with the idea in mind that he'd level up in mundane stuff pretty fast. (It's amazing what you can get for your points when you aren't supernatural.) And then once Vigil came out, the ST staff came together and decided they didn't want IC hunters in their game. I thought it was kind of a jack move, but hey, I didn't run the place. Eventually I elected to make him into a mage, but it just wasn't the same, and I dropped the character after that.

Let me put it this way, If nobody walking around in your crossover town is likely to be a P.V. Human or even a half template like a ghoul, or Second Sighter, Then whole SECTIONS of the game never come into play. Frankly, I'm of the opinion that Vampires need humans to rub up against in order for Vampire to be Vampire. If most of the players you bump into are in the know, the masquerade stops being something that you work to protect and becomes a minor inconvenience when talking out loud at one of the buck-jillion nightclubs littering the supernatural landscape.

Additionally, In crossover games you stop being in charge of your own game. When players begin to contend with one another, the ST's have to get involved and try to resolve it, usually in manner that leaves no one satisfied. Rarely, if ever, do things degenerate into a full-on war between the Supernatural races. But what this means is that often terms,methodology, and policy ends up being dictated by the Storyteller who is the biggest whiner. 

Recently, I was helping a friend build a venue for a site that will remain nameless here. We were trying to build a vampire venue and had made a few design choices already. We were taking over the former venue because the old ST had just had a baby and was swamped. Hey, it happens.
We were told at the outset that there were certain design characteristics from the old game that we'd have to live with, and after some discussion, we decided we could. So we began building. After submitting some guidelines on character creation, we were greeted with a chorus of squeaking and beeping from all of the other ST's that you'd have thought we'd killed Christ.

See, what they'd told us, was that we'd have a number of months as a venue by ourselves, and then after a while, we'd become a crossover venue. Which as you can imagine, didn't make me overjoyed. But apparently, a decision was made, without our input that the crossover would be moved up to the opening of our venue.
The next thing that occurred was that the Changeling ST threw a hissy fit, because we'd planned to allow our player to front load their characters. (Our plan was for most of them to be Ancillae level.) She went mental about the fact that we were going to give them any points at all. Even though her Changeling venue had been running the better part of a year, she opined that beginning vampires would be able to roll anyone in her venue. We dropped down to 10 points and a few free dots of Haven and things like that, and she still cried and carried on like she was having a nervous breakdown. Sadly, the head ST of the place and the owner, wasn't exactly much of an Alpha wolf about the whole thing. So we were constantly being hassled to re-tool our game over and over and over again.
Eventually, I tapped my wrist and looked at my friend with the questioning look, but he was convinced he could still save it. Who knows. I pulled the ripcord and then heard from him the whole sordid story of how it all flamed out.
Lest you think this was an aberration, I've heard more than one story of an ST finding out that another ST was wandering around in the forums of their games and causing trouble with the players of the other venue. I'm sure there are people here who've seen it happen.

I don't know about you, but I want to make decisions about the sort of game I run without having to worry about making a case to some other ST's about whether I can do it. I can tell you definitively that if you're another ST and you come around and say, "You can't do that." my response will be, "Watch me, fucker."

And here's another thing, If I want to run a Vampire game, or a game of Vigil, or something like that. I Do NOT WANT to have to have to be up on Changeling, which I don't dig, on the off chance that some Changeling will take it into his fool head to wander into the middle of my pissed-off vampires or hunters. I already have more to read than I know what to do with. My knowledge of the games I run is going to be comprehensive. My knowledge of whatever you're playing over there is going to be. "Eh. fuck it. He dies from sheer weight of numbers." And you know what, I don't really care what your Storyteller has to say about it. YOU DON'T BELONG IN MY GAME.  I am GOING to protect its integrity, even if that means killing you every single time you come around.  Assuming of course, you can't take a hint. I'll even have my elder bad-asses turn up, rip you to pieces, and punt your head over the St. Louis arch.

Look in my eyes and determine whether I am kidding or not.
If I'm storytelling, and my characters are having cross-over trouble with another group of Supernatural critters, there may come a day when I say to the other ST.  "One more incident, and the war we don't want to have happen, is going to happen.  And your players will lose. Rein them in, or reap the whirlwind."

So. If you're an Admin for a site somewhere, do yourself, and your players a favor. Make the games separate and discrete. Do not give into pressure from the players who are suffering from delusions that crossover games are cool and fun and I think I was in one that was cool that one time... Players have a tendency towards amnesia about how cross-overs tend to work out. Trust me. I know.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Some thoughts on the art of Character Vetting

It is one of the major stumbling blocks in Chat gaming that you can't just put your character in some database and just go play. I am NOT saying that's what should happen. There are enough twerps, griefers, twat-waffles, and PK-nuts that such a thing would be wildly impractical for any Larp or Chat that wasn't incredibly exclusive and invite-only.
And even then, probably not a good plan.
But on the same token, Vetting can be stressful, and frustrating to the point of making a player want to rage-quit before they even get started. It flatly, doesn't have to be that way. I've had experiences with character vetting that have made me want to pull out my hair, not that there is much left, and other experiences that were so painless, that I wanted to sing hosannas to the Storytelling staff.
So let's see if we can find ways to make this thing a bit easier.
* The first questions out of your mouth as a Storyteller ought to be the following and you should ask them each and every time. Cut and paste this block of text into your first interaction with a player:
1) Have you ever played role playing games before?
2) Have you ever played this particular game before?
3) Have you ever built a character for this particular game before?
4) Have you ever game mastered before?
5) Have you ever game mastered this particular game before?
6) what is your actual age?
These 6 questions help you gauge your players level of rules understanding, his experience as a player and as a GM, and hopefully give you a good idea as to his general maturity level. As you can see, there are a number of Axes upon which this understanding might turn. You may have players who are prodigies at play but are only 15. You may have players who just got into RPG's but are in their late 30's. You may have players who are dew fresh and eager to be molded into some kind of role playing wunderkind. And you may have people who are old and crusty like me, who may resent being talked down to by some college kid. I have had to point out to at least 2 GM's that i had DICE older than them.
*I've talked about character background before and how important it is to the vetting process. (It isn't)
Whether a players presents you with a novella or a set of bullet points, you should be aware that the vetting process is NOT the place to be hyper critical of a person's creative output.
And that is JUST EXACTLY what it is. Dots on a sheet are nothing special, but the backstory is. At least to them, They may be great at it, but not right for your story, and they may be okay with anything you want to do story wise, but a terrible writer. Not everyone is good at this. But no one truthfully needs anyone busting their balls for it.
Be kind. And if you must be critical of something in the character background try to use the method of finding positive things to say and sandwich the bad things between the two slices of good.
*Also, it might not be bad idea to make sure that you keep your more aggressive tendencies in check. Although, you might BE an alpha wolf, (and as an ST, you probably need to be.) You need to not be aggressive with people who you are meeting, ostensibly for the first time. If you have a canned speech that you want to give every player that comes in the door, go over it for overly aggressive attitude and tone it down. It's certainly alright to be protective of your game and to let players know that there are certain behaviors that won't be tolerated. You can do that without threatening to shoot anyone in the face. No one comes off as cutesy as they think they do, doing so. In a larp you give such a speech with a smile on your face. That does not work in a private message window.
*The whole bloody point of Character Vetting is that you keep out undesirable character concepts from your game. This is unfortunate, as no two storytellers are capable of agreeing on what constitutes an "undesirable character concept" I think we can all agree that the Lesbian cat-girl stripper ninja and the character built around the concept, "I kill all things with my gun" are usually a good starting place. Beyond that, try to be flexible. 
*If there is a numerical problem on a player's sheet, don't be afraid to offer point debt to fix it. Most problems are fixable for less than 4 points and if you take a single point from each EXP earning, until it's paid off, it's almost completely painless.
*Do not assume, that because a character is front-loaded with combat skills that all they will be doing is combat. Some players, myself included like to make sure that their character can survive at least a mid-level threat from the jump, but may not be interested in spending much of their experience on combat stuff. Personally, i like to get that stuff out of the way early, so i can concentrate on social and influence spending during play. Even players who insist on creating a beginning level character with 5 dots in a martial art, you should maybe remember that each and every point that they spend HERE is a point that they cannot spend THERE. It makes them weak in some area or other. And frankly, it is morally wrong not to exploit those weaknesses.
* If you see a problem with the character, instead of being brutal and direct, why not get Socratic and ask questions. Sure, vetting a character can be a time consuming process, especially if you're doing it live rather than through forum PM's. But it's better to question than say "This is fucked up and/or wrong." in a dismissive or condescending manner. Tone can make a huge difference.
* I've talked about Stress Stating and Reserve Lists before, but one of the things, you need to be on the lookout for as an ST is players who are looking to play the long game. Combat Monkeys are short timers usually. So are griefers and they usually draw a fatal response from the rest of the player base. Any character based on a character from something else is usually a one trick pony and will be dropped in favor of something else. But if you have a player who has done some work to try and meld his story with your city and your existing player base, and has plans mapped out and ready to go, sit up and pay some fucking attention, because THAT guy is going to do his level best to generate plot. You won't have to come around and make sure he has plot cookies to chew on. He'll make his own. 
And let me say one more word about people who play the long game, although it may deserve it's own article at some point, They have plans and plots and schemes that have NOTHING to do with your plots. Just because they don't jump on your plot, doesn't mean they aren't interested, but they may have their own thing going on. Shoehorning them into the plot that everybody else is dealing with is a good way to chase them off. I'm just saying.
*Caps are bullshit
They just are. They are essentially the practice of saying to any incoming player, "You aren't allowed to play this clan or this faction because we have too many of them already, and it doesn't matter that a percentage of them haven't been around for months, and some of the players wouldn't know how to play that clan or faction if their lives depended on it."
It is actively psychically painful to watch others plays a character type you normally play and do it fuck-off badly.
Look. it may just be an element of your city that there are more Ventrue than you know what to do with. Or that Ordo Dracul are thick on the ground for some weird reason. Don't create artificial limits in order to fill roles in an arbitrary manner. It's bullshit. If you want to fill certain roles in your chronicle, offer incentives, like the occasional free merit dots, or some exp.
*Make them answer the question: "What are you doing here?" Don't be afraid to say, "Try again."
Because the reason why someone might uproot themselves from some other place and come to your city and set up shop should never be fucking trivial, or an afterthought. It ought to be at least ONE of the reasons that your character would involve himself in things. And it ought to be something serious. If some trouble comes over the horizon, and you don't have a very good reason to be in this city, then why in the fuck would you stay?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Not Everyone Can Be Saved

I think if there is any harder lesson to learn in life, it is this.
most of us start out pretty innocent. Some of us even start out with an extra helping of smart, or even kind.
And as we grow we see a world where transcendent beauty and viscera-curdling horror live cheek-by-jowl with one another, like Kentucky weather.
If there is one thing, that I could change about Chat-games. If there is one thing out there that i could extol and expand upon, it is the desire to make the online chat world into a much stronger community.
I would wish that the Online chat community could be something that was so strong that it could weather the storms of human behavior. That you could play a character and have fun, but also have a place to go where you have people who don't hassle you because you're weird. Because when you're weird the FIRST thing you need in your life is a place to go where they don't hassle you for it.
We are all ages. kinds, creeds, religions or lack thereof, Sexes, or lack thereof, and orientations. If we share one thing in common, it is a desire to pretend, and that gives us more in common with one another than many of us share with our own damn families. We ought to be sharply aware of how important that is, in the lives of some people. It may be that the person on the other end of the net is struggling with gender identity, or addiction, or any number of problems. On any given night they may desperately need to talk to someone. You may, without even realizing it, have saved a life or two. Maybe you sat and talked to someone in PM's until the wee small hours. Or maybe your character said something to them that put the finger right on the problem they were having. You may never know.
And if you, like me, are an open-hearted individual, you can hopefully understand how a good game brings people together and how collaborative art can be the most healthy and therapeutic thing in the world. Not that that's what it's designed for. But hey, helpful hack? I'll take it. Games, especially games among friends, or even potential friends ought to be, by their very nature, a safe haven for people.
You may even come to a point where you realize that people don't always even have the same definition of "Fun" as you. You may enjoy dealing with the horrible consequences of a character's loss of control and desperately trying to handle the aftermath. Another player may enjoy playing his character as if it were a Gundam suit made of paper and dots. Neither of you are WRONG about what constitutes "Fun" and once we can see THAT clearly, we can make in-roads to understanding one another and building games where all sorts of types of "Fun" are possible. I like to delve into the dark corners of my character psyche, but I also can enjoy blowing shit up. Variety is the spice of life.
And you know, there ARE people who can be turned aside from doing wrong in a chat game. Sometimes, all it takes is one person to come along and say, "Dude. Not Cool."
Other times it takes a "Come to Jesus" talk where it gets explained, that maybe your actions or language was a little bit racist. Or sexist. or triggery to someone else. And maybe all it takes is the phrase, "I'm sorry. but that behavior is unacceptable and if you're intent on continuing to play here, I expect it to change."
Some people can be turned aside from that. if they see that the power players are responsible adults and that the culture of the game is the same way, then sometimes, that's all it takes. If you give someone a chance, they can surprise you.
I am a believer in the idea that people, on balance, can be good. Not everyone is a potential saint mind you, but even the crabbiest people may yet have hidden reserves of tenderness and compassion. Someday, i'd like for the Online Chat community to be the sort of place that a person can feel safe in being a good person…even as they play horrible despicable monsters. 
No. I haven't missed the irony of that.
But as much as I want these things. I know, in my heart, that there will always be a segment of the gaming community that is pure troll.
There's a fine line in playing a douchebag, and playing your character while BEING a douchebag. Sadly, most who do the later, don't even see the line. My god, the stories I could tell. Hell…I bet each of you have some horror story of players you've had to deal with in some way. And feel free to share them below. Remember rule one: No NAMES!
I am all for compassion. For second chances. I am for trying to help. I am for trying to be an example. And I don't get het up over people who offer offense by accident. That doesn't sweat me.
But if you're actually working pretty hard to offend me, then you go on the shit-list. and very few people come back from the shit-list.
Just because I desire peace, and fun, and all that good-happiness-stuff does NOT allow me to abrogate my responsibility to protect myself, to protect the people I care about, and protect the community. In fact, it strengthens my responsibility. Because the good parts of the community aren't possible without it.
I don't think there's anybody here who is a troll, or sexual harrasser, or a racist, or any of that. So if you would be so kind, carry this message to them when you meet them:
"Hi. You don't know me, but that's alright. If things have worked the way they are supposed to work, you've been given many chances to amend your behavior and if I'm speaking to you, it means that perhaps those chances have failed. That's sad.
We'd like it a lot if you'd straighten up and fly right, but most of us have given up hope that that may happen. Also, very sad.
Unfortunately for you, We've reached a point where you cannot be allowed to damage the community any further. Odds are good this will mean a ban.
I'm sure, a person like you will find a means to sneak back in and try and cause more trouble. We'll be on the lookout for that. If it mean banning an IP range. Then that may have to occur.
If it means banning the entirety of Des Moines, Iowa. in order to keep you from coming round. Then that will occur.
If it means contacting your local ISP and telling them you are abusing their terms of service. Then that will be done.
If it means contacting your local police and making a harassment complaint or reporting terroristic threatening. That will be done.
If it means we need to take up a collection, purchase a plane ticket, have someone fly out to where you are. locate you, and then punch you repeatedly in the throat. Then that will be done.
We are kind.
We are compassionate.
But even we know that not everyone can be saved."

Saturday, October 31, 2015

...And one time, at band camp.

No one cares about your Character Background.
Seriously, it's like your Blog and your Facebook posts. Nobody cares about it as much as you do.
Which is not to say that shouldn't write it. If it's in you, you might as well right it down, if only to be able to keep it all straight in your head. And that's useful. Pinky's backstory got so unruly and unmanageable i had to write two books.

But really, Your ST has a LOT to read. Assume 50+ Players at 2 pages each. That's 100 pages of background material that has to be read and known. He or she is not going to devote a lot of time to reading a long-ass background, much less know it cold. Reduce your story down to its main elements and make it into bullet points that are easily chewed and processed. And ST's, stop kidding yourself that you're going to get around to reading all that and asking for it. Seriously. Give us all a break.

I know where that impulse comes from. It comes out of a desire to really get to KNOW a character inside out. and a desire to tailor stories to those characters. But this is, once again, a symptom of carrying over tabletop game dynamics to a Large Scale Dynamic game. The amount of work you're creating for yourself is huge and often unnecessary. Not only that, but not everyone wants to write a huge background for a character. Not everyone is even GOOD at it. Maybe they've only just made it and only really have the character's vibe in their heads, In such cases, they are looking to fill in the details of the character as they go, rather than shoe-horn it into a multi-page history. Not everyone approaches character creation the same way. Some are perfectly happy to think out every single detail of their character's past life before entering the game. But I think you'll find that THOSE players will be intensely resistant to revision. If your characters backstory is bullet points, odds are good that you'll be able to edit it with greater facility than the players who's backstory is the equivalent of the sistine chapel made entirely from toothpicks.

I have literally had a GM give me hassle because I hadn't mentioned my PC's childhood at all. To which my answer was, "What in the hell could you possibly need to know about my character's childhood? What are you, my therapist now?"

The main reason why I bring this up is because I've been there. I've been the storyteller and did something to a PC only to be told. "Well NOW i can't play my character because they would NEVER ever EVER EVER go along with that! I mean, it's like you didn't read a bit of my 47 page magnum opus. Anyone who had would KNOW that I would die before trying on green trousers at Tesco…"

Conversely, I've been on the end of having an ST be completely confused as to why my character felt he needed to immediately leave town or wage un-ending war on everyone in the place, after being publicly humiliated.  "Did you even GLOSS my sheet. Under concept it says, "Man of Respect" as in "Old School Mafiosi".  Were you paying ANY attention at all. I didn't think my backstory was so thick you got lost in the underbrush.

But, there ARE a few things that are helpful to do when creating your character background
*You probably should avoid making your background way more interesting than current play. If you only have 2 dots in firearms, you probably shouldn't have a backstory that points you up as the premiere assassin on the scene. That's fairly elementary. 
*When points are few, it is, to my mind, perfectly permissible to create what I call, the "reserve list" This would be the sort of stuff that OUGHT to be on your sheet but you can't afford from the jump. Many physical skills are frangible and if you don't practice them, they stagnate. Lots of skills are like that. So it's certainly possible that you could dust those skills off at some point. letting your GM know that you have that in mind might ease the path of justification down the road. Assuming that you have to justify at all. So, if you feel like your character really ought to have a specialty in french impressionist painters, but just can't swing it at the jump, why not put that in your reserve list? 
*I have this thing that I do. And I think it's a good idea, simply because It makes me feel a bit less confined in terms of my characters portrayal. I call it "Stress Statting".
The premise is that the dots on your sheet only measure what your character is capable of under stress, and this is not a radical idea particularly, it's enshrined in the rules already. You'll note that you can often use various skills even with no dots, at slight dice penalties.
To put this idea into personal terms, I'm a professional actor with over 20 years of experience on the stage. So even if my allergies are killing me, My parents are in the audience, I'm doing the next scene with my ex-girlfriend, and the burger I had earlier is sitting on me like a rock, I can still command 4 dots of expression.
On the other hand, my guitar playing is a great deal less accomplished. Among friends, or perhaps with a couple of glasses of whiskey under my belt, I might have a dot or two. However on a stage in front of strangers that facility melts away like dew on the spring grass.
With this idea in mind, There are a number of permutations. For one, I can play a character that perfectly capable of being sociable and personable, one on one. But maybe not so good in crowds or around scary vampire elders. Which is great if I, personally have good social skills, but my character can't afford them. This is of course, and age old problem in Chat and Larp games. But it needn't be. Storytellers don't have to go around policing interactions between players and so forth, They need only have an eye open for social interactions that involve stress, which, as like as not, would have required a roll of the dice for ANYONE.
Moreover, It obviates some of the stress of not having enough points for a single dot of some skill you think you ought to have, or even what an ST thinks you ought to have. True Story: I once had an ST give me an appreciable amount of grief over not having a single dot of socialize. His idea was that if you lacked a single dot in Socialize, you couldn't actually do it at all. Never mind that the only profession that I can think of right off the top of my head that requires Socialize would be "Wedding planner".
Vetting prejudices aside, Stress Statting makes it possible to elide these sorts of problems.

* Don't feel the need to fill every single minute of your characters backstory. Leave yourself space and wiggle room. At times, you'll want to build something into the backstory, whether it has to do with the rationale for a change in character direction, or it's simply an idea you had on the fly. Large portions of the legend of Pinky Berkowitz owe their existence to improvisation and the willingness to have a bit of unused territory in the backstory.

* The more you flesh out the people who have had an effect on your character, (The parents, The sire, The unit commander, etc…) The more weight their influence will have in your backstory. Don't come up with the person who dragged you kicking and screaming into the supernatural world as some kind of after-thought. It's lazy and it honestly doesn't give you much to work with. The deeper the relationship and the more complicated it is, the more mileage you'll get out of it, and the more it is likely to interest the ST staff.

* Talk about who you were in your life more than who you are now in the shadowy world if the supernatural. The everyday life you used to lead illuminates the world you live in now. This assumes of course, you aren't playing a creature who is intent on losing their humanity as fast as is possible. In which case, why bother?