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? 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Justify my Love

I absolutely LOATHE and DESPISE Justification systems in chat games.
The main reason is a personal one. There was a game I was involved in, and I rather liked it. The players at that site were actually a lovely bunch and I rather liked playing with them.
I got in at the jump of this game. As one of the very beginning players I had a slight advantage in terms of a small amount of points to spend, that once the first month of play had passed, I'd be able to spend freely. It was about 25 points, so, not trivial.
And if that was what had taken place, things would have been fine.
The problem was, the original ST who built the venue flamed out within 2 weeks of opening the place. It happens. I don't blame him. Any new place is likely to have a certain amount of turn-over in the first couple of months.
The fellow who replaced him, well...
Let me simply say, and I'll be clear that I am speculating here…I am convinced that he would have been perfectly happy to run a vampire venue where none of the players had any power, or money, or weapons, or clothing, or havens. Each and every single one of his NPC's was more powerful than any ten players combined, and they all acted like jerks.
This by itself, we probably could have weathered. We also probably could have weathered the fact that he and his Assistant ST, started going through people's sheets and removing things they found objectionable, things that the former ST had signed off on. Things that we'd sort of gotten used to having. I think he wanted his player-base to be hungry, naked, covered in pee, and on fire. I think they both did.
Many of us were unhappy. But the thing that made us most frustrated is that seemingly no one was being allowed to spend their points. See, They wanted you to justify your purchases. I got no problems with explaining to a storyteller how I'm planning to purchase something with my points. That's no trouble at all. But they seemed to want an inordinate amount of information. Like weeks of blue-booking. You know what? I have better things to do with my time than spend a lot of it writing about how i'm practicing this or that skill multiple times per week. I'm sorry that sentence is unclear. I have better things to do than POST multiple times per week about trying to pick up this or that skill.
Finally, deeply frustrated and sitting on about 50 points. I sent a PM to the ST explaining that I would gladly do whatever it was that they wanted in order to spend my points and I'm sure that the rest of the player base would likely do it as well, if only we knew what you required.
To which he replied, and I swear by Frank Zappa's guitar hand I am not making this up, "But figuring it out is half the fun!"
He, and perhaps his Assistant ST, had decided among themselves, that making us play guessing games was more important than running a venue full of happy players. Not only that, but he only ever looked at Character threads about once every other week, so these negotiations on expenditures dragged on for MONTHS.
At this point, i recognized that this venue was doomed. I spoke to the people I enjoyed playing with, and advised them to get as far from this place as possible. Some left, some stuck it out. I don't know if any of that ever worked. I heard after I left that the ST publicly wondered WHY I or anyone else would ever leave.
I didn't play another chat game for at least 2 years.
I admit, my feelings on this are just that, feelings. But my thinking on this is sound.
*Justification systems are a choke point in any game, especially for an ST who thinks he's still running a table-top game. They are different animals. If I am running a TT game, I already know what my players are doing and whether they've done the necessary things to garner something unusual. If I'm running a chat game with 50 players, i would have to read dozens of requests every single fucking day How much can an ST reasonably be expected to read?
* If you're running a justification system and you require your players to write a justification for something under 4 dots, or something that's in the core rules, then you are WAY too anal retentive to be in charge of your game.
* I have seen ST's require a player to write a justification for getting a fire-axe. Not Laser-guided missiles, Not mil-spec weaponry. This is a weapon that is available to any human/vampire that is near a Wal-mart that is open all night. This is being a control freak.
* Recently, A site that I play on has moved to a justification system after having only needed a set of training times, The site is relatively new and players are pointing out that their characters would have been designed differently if they'd stayed with the system they'd started with. Now, players who are making their new characters will have an actual design advantage over veterans.
I can look at my own sheet and see that it's true.
*Justification systems create game balance issues, especially in cross-over venues. Your Changeling ST may be very tight with point expenditures and require a lot of effort to prize loose good things. Your Geist ST may be fairly indulgent and as a result, you may have players that can mop the floor with players of other venues. I don't think there are too many GMs who will willingly accept draconian hard guidelines on what they can and must require of their players. It smacks a bit too much of being told how to run your own damn game. If you WANT the extra understanding of what a player is doing to acquire this or that, YOU can bloody well ASK for it. But if i'm running MY game over here…All i'm going to see is that your requiring me to do a LOT more paperwork than I was used to.
*J-systems also create favoritism issues. Look. This is a medium that enables people with fairly busy lives to have the opportunity to game. Pants-less if possible. Not everyone is going to have time to write a novellas-worth of blue-book. And odds are good, as an ST, you won't have time to read it. Not everyone is a shut-in with immune-deficiency issues and over-developed fingers.
Not everyone is good writer.(God knows I stink on ice.) and not every character is blue-book fodder. I've had characters that were a LOT of fun to write, and I didn't even care if the ST read my posts, other than my formal requests. And other characters, I just don't do that with. It depends.
In any case, what I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of factors that can tip your situation, and have the ST showing you, or not showing you,favoritism. Once a game acquires a reputation for favoritism, it almost never shakes it.
* Even the tacit message of installing a justification system is damaging to your games culture. it essentially says. "You players can't be trusted to spend your points responsibly without us checking up on you." And that's not a message I, or many others, are ever going to be comfortable with. Even if there are people who NEED checking up on.
Look. Maybe I'm over-reacting here. As like as not, when I talk to my ST's about what I'm trying to accomplish, I try to be thorough and clear. And for the most part, it's not a problem at all. But it only takes one real jerk to make you see how flawed a system can be. For instance, I have always held that the idea of pedestrians always having the right of way in a city street is a flawed system. It is predicated on the idea that a motorist can (A) See you. and (B) Care if you live or die.
Any system like that, is one I don't have a lot of confidence in

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Stir it till it's gumbo

I'm going to give each and every one of you GM's a tip. I've always said that it's much better to have 10 little plots out there running around rather than one big plot.
There's a reason for this. Not all plots resonate with all people. If you've got one great big giant plot that is dominating play, then the people it doesn't resonate with are going to feel left out in the cold. Also, and I can tell you from personal experience, if your plot doesn't do a thing for me, DON'T fucking try to shoehorn me into it.
Look, If I'm playing an occult investigator type, I'm not necessarily going to be interested or motivated to deal with a big plot that revolves around politics or influence. If i'm playing a social manipulator, i'm not going to respond well to being harassed and chivvied into trying to decode sumerian rituals while methuselah vampires run about. My points are simply not stacked that way. I've been approached by Storytellers in the past who are angry at my non-participation in certain plots that they had running and been forced to say, "Sorry. I was having fun doing something else. And besides, I don't have a single fucking dot of occult. I'm sorry if your plan was, "All the vampires pull together to defeat the Thing", but a statistically significant number of us aren't interested in attractive forms of suicide."
OK. That sounded a little bitter.
Not every player NEEDS to have the ST come around and either hand them plot, or jack up their shit. I have always been more than capable of getting into trouble and making enemies all by myself. In most cases, i am the sort of player who has his own idea of what his character wants to do and I'm able to identify my goals and pursue them at my own pace. And I know i'm not alone.
This is why it is better to have any kind of uber-powerful plot WAY out on the periphery of what is going in your game. People who want it, will seek it out. Better to have dozens of small things going on at any given time. Small plot can always grow in size and complexity. Big plots don't have the option to size down or get simple. Some will gravitate to social warfare. Others will get involved in romance, or horror plotlines, I, personally am a fan of empire building. Not every plot is going to ring everyone's bell, but you don't have to. A well run chat with decent plot(s) is like a buffet table, whereas if you stick with one big plot, then it's like going to dinner only to be told that all we're serving is Yams.
What if you don't like yams? What if you had yams for lunch? Maybe you even like yams, but you'd also enjoy some squash. Is it really right to harass and subject your diners to peer pressure simply because they aren't digging the yams? What the fuck?
One of the problems of running a chat game like a table top game is that some of the assumptions about how the game is going to operate have to change. In a tabletop game, a storyteller often has to be ALL of the antagonists. As a result, they may be stuck in thinking that they have to supply all of the heat, shit, and pain that a Chat game requires in order to keep it's plots running.
You don't. In a chat or a lap setting, i find it's often best to allow a good 85% of your characters problems to come from the other players. I know, that often the very best games i've played have come out of matching wits with my fellow players. Which is not to say that an ST plot can't be engrossing and fun.  But honestly, the other players are a resource. LEAN on them.
On the other side of the coin is the understanding that Players cannot lean back and be passive. You can do that stuff in a tabletop game. You can be more engrossed in your phone or Ipad and only check in once in a while to see if anything is grooving you. Granted, it's fucking rude, but you can do it. The GM, for his part can always huck something plot-wise in your direction if he sees that you're bored.
But in a Chat, you've got maybe 10 times the number of players. Some will be vocal and the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease. There are players that will CONSTANTLY be joggling the ST's elbow to get their attention. "Hey, did you read my FPM's today?" (I once had a player who would send me at least 3 per day. I appreciated her enthusiasm, but DAMN!)
You can't just hang around, playing "Moody Loner" and expect the GM to wander by and hand you some bullshit "Lone Samurai" plot. The GM has other things to do.
Not only do you have to figure out your own goals, and determine who you're going to need to partner with or crush in order to accomplish them, but you're going to have to get proactive about going out and finding things to do, and meeting people and taking their measure.
Actors say, "Make active choices."
What does that mean? It means stuff like. "Find something", or "Find Somebody", or "Kill all the bad things", or "carve out a kingdom", or anything that means your character has not only something to do, but a whole fucking LIST of things to do. Don't make passive choices like "stay out of everyone's way" or "Protect someone who isn't usually in danger", or "wait until they come to me and then…"
If you're a player in a chat, you need to be on the prod. Sooner or later an NPC is going to realize you're a threat to her or him and they may take steps. Or one of the jerks in the game will step to you and you'll want to unlimber the SWORD OF JUSTICE on that asshole. Or one of the cyber-bunnies will garner enough points to gain a new combat power and they'll want to wander out of the boudoir and test that shit on the nearest person who looks at them. This has happened a sickening number of times in my direct experience.
You want to be ready.
If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.