Sunday, October 04, 2015

Snakes in the Garden

You could be a kind, caring, loving god. You might have gotten most of your old testament tendencies out of your system a long time ago. Your Eden could be a masterwork of equal parts carefully designed chaos and effortless swiss precision order. Your world could be peopled by your finest creations, the beauty of the earth, the paragons of animals. And you could invite players from far flung corners of the globe to come and play in your Persistent Java-Chat paradise based on reputation and awesome game-play you personally witnessed.
And yet, good games to this very day are still such fragile propositions because somebody eventually comes along who just doesn’t get it. You might even go to the length of being completely willing to have a Java-Chat game that only has 20 players or so because you keep it more secret than a nun’s tramp stamp.
And yet, someone will always find their way in.
Most jerks are easy to spot. They make characters designed generally to blow a hole in your game, or failing that, in the tone you want to establish.
“This game is about the subtle shades of grey we find in our dark world and how we intend to navigate and try to keep some portion of our souls unsullied by the exigencies of our horrifying society.”
“COOL. I want to play a schizophrenic circus clown...”
These guys are easy to thwart, but they proliferate like whack-a-mole.
Some are a bit more stealthy, leaving their ambitions to fuck up everyone’s day off their sheets somehow and yet, when it comes to public gatherings In-Character, these guys switch on like the robo-narcissists they are, and everything in the game becomes about dealing with them and their shit.
True sociopaths and Narcissistic personalities eventually do SOMETHING that causes them to run afoul of the law, and in a great heaving sigh of relief, The Game Master is able to task his NPC’s with running the asshole down like a dog and meting out harsh justice to them.
And then there are those piss bastards who carefully go over the sites “Code of Conduct” with a fine tooth comb, and manage to stay inside the law in character, and just barely so, out of character. Those people seem to find ruining everyone’s good time, is their idea of fun. The only real solution is to finally lose patience and ban the asshole regardless of your own guidelines. And once you done THAT, well it’s hard to trust that you won’t do it again. Granted, banning assholes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But once you’ve opened the door to ignoring your own rules, it’s hard to close it again.
Organizations have a hard time protecting themselves from people who don’t truly want to belong to them and aren’t interested in allowing them to thrive and because of the 5 geek social fallacies, Internet communities have an especially hard time preventing people from joining them for nefarious ends.
The worst part is, no matter how vile a douchbag the offender is, there are going to be people, who will rise to his defense. “Dude...You need to lighten up, he was just being funny.”
(Sidebar: If you have to get rid of someone in your game, and he has friends who remain behind, you need to watch those people.)
Please understand I am not against people playing Characters who are jerks. I have played a couple. I know many other players who have played a few. I have seen a number of players who said and did things that so riled up the body politic that people were twitching and foaming at the mouth. I got no kick against a character who is a jerk. But there’s a fine line between playing a jerk, and BEING a jerk while playing a character.
Part of what helps is to communicate with other players, and let them know that you KNOW that what you’re doing might just get you killed, but you’re doing it to generate plot, and maybe a bit of gossip, and not to generate agita and maybe Lulz. This goes a long way to defusing a bunch of OOC drama that might occur because people might want you dead for various reasons.
I mean, if you’re a serial killer or something like that, you have to expect that some people are going to take issue with your activities. Maybe saying so in the foyer, or via PM might help people realize that you’re not just doing it to be a douche.
So yeah, there are going to be problem players, and the way you deal with them is a very public and open thing that demonstrates how you handle problems. As a result, you have to be very cautious.
The other end of favoritism is to be sunk so deep into siege mentality, that you assume that everyone is an asshole and out to get you. And as much as you would like to lend you tacit approval to players for the removal of the jerk in question, you really have to be Switzerland on this one.
It is ethically right, that a person that you may not like, can still come and have fun in your game, even if you and he/she don’t necessarily hit it off right away. But even if you loathe a player somewhat, they should still be able to play, and yes, even have a good time. Who knows, they may learn a thing or two, It’s possible that they can straighten up and fly right and make useful chaos in your game if given a chance or are allowed to make informed choices.
This is not to say you should allow abuse, or disrespect, or anything that is an active detriment to the game and the culture you are trying to cultivate. You can boot people, but you have to very upfront about the why’s of the booting and transparent about the decision making process. Evidence that you can post in the forum certainly helps. "Dude! He wasn't being racist!"
"Um, I'm pretty sure the statement in the foyer, "Asians kinda smell funny" is pretty much fucking TEXTBOOK racist."
Many times, if a player is a total nimrod, the players will rise up against him, and if THAT happens, oh well. You might take the post-demise time to sit down with the player and explain why you think the players decided that he no longer needed to be clinging to the skin of their world.
The one thing you cannot do however, is conspire against the character on the basis of his jerkitude UNLESS he breaks the law or deliberately triggers his own social demise. You can’t even allow the other PC’s to use an NPC as part of a plan to destroy him. If the PC is within the law and within propriety, YOU can’t really touch him ethically. If the player is within the code of conduct, then same deal.
Because, if you stoop to his level, and you don’t do so as a direct result of overt game sabotage, He wins.
You don’t want that guy to win.
You certainly don’t want him being able to tell other people about how he won without someone piping up and saying, “Bullshit! That’s not how it happened at all!”
Because expunging a troll from your game and your community should be a righteous thing. Your heart should not be clouded. Your motive should not be questioned. When you bounce them, there should be no question that what you have done was right, and meet, and proper.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Hibbitty Dibbitty

(Or, How to how to have cybersex in World of Darkness Chat games without causing yourself and others myriad problems.)

I’m not going to get into a long essay about this. Except to say that anything that 2 or more characters get up to in a locked room, that EVERYONE consents to, is frankly nobody’s business. But there are a few things that people ought to take into consideration. So here are a few guidlines:
1) Take “No” for answer. Take “Stop” for an order.
2) If you’re being creepy or rape-y, Evidence is trivially easy to gather. Sooner or later, you WILL be caught.
3) If you’re crying “Sexual Harrassment” because you want to get someone ousted from a game, See number 2.
4) You should be aware that if you are a magnet for sexual improprieties, that reputation is going to get around and it will follow you from place to place. And just so you know, There is always going to be at least 2 or 3 people in every game who can recognize you from the way you express yourself, so it doesn't even matter if you get a new email address and tack on a new handle.
5) If you are an ST and you are caught ghosting in a locked room during a sexual scene, you should be relieved of your post.
6) If you want to show the GM or admin your boobs, or your cock, that’s one thing. If you do so in order to obtain preferential treatment, that’s quite another. Good luck proving that wasn't your aim in the first place.
7) It’s bullshit to spend the bulk of your time online having cybersex and then use your experience to buy combat abilities. Unless it’s (Weapon Specialty: Very small truncheon)
Social skills, i’m okay with. Also, Athletics. (it was also suggested that it might be okay to purchase Stamina and Dexterity this way.)
8) Do yourself a favor. The tendency when a sexual relationship is new is to go wild. But honestly, there’s only so many ways to write a sex scene...And they take hours and hours. Space them out some. You’ll thank me.
9) If you are involved with a love polygon of some sort, all the participants should know OOC what’s going on, even if they don’t all know IC.
10) Not everyone digs cybering. Some would just as soon say, “And here’s where we draw the curtain”
Respect that
Do not however use that as a license to tease. Be upfront about your tendencies in this regard.
11) By that same token, if you feel a scene is drifting in a sexual direction and you aren’t comfortable with that, SAY SO.
12) Since most players don’t have handles like Vagina-Centric or Sporting-A-Penis, you can of course sometimes run into players that are gender-swapped. I don’t think I have to tell you that it’s not cool to allow them to think you are a gender or an orientation you are not. But hey, just in case, It's NOT COOL to let other people think you are a gender or an orientation that you are not.
13) PDA in public places is probably okay, but may engender IC jealousy. PDA verging on soft-core porn in public places is a little more ticklish. Boning in the foyer is just tacky.
14) If you’re character is of one supernatural race and your paramour is of another. You are going to have to expect that your people are going to be watching to see if your paramour knows things they shouldn’t. If you or your paramour ends up knowing things you shouldn’t because of pillow talk, try not to act surprised when the hammer comes down. Some things are secret for a reason, and this ain’t “Underworld” dufus!
15) Rape is not cool. Rape is never cool. If you’re sitting on the other end of this article, saying something like, “Yeah? Well, what about...”
You might as well just stop.
Your venue is filled to the brim with all sorts of mortals npc’s and a few vampire npc’s of flexible morals. It is perfectly alright for your PC to go about doing anything to them that you can get away with. With fellow players, you might want to keep your kinks to yourself. Seriously, trying to do anything like that with other players is like trying to negotiate a mine-field with clown shoes on.
16) You should probably pay attention to the fact that certain types of depictions of sexual activity can be psychologically triggery. This is unpleasant for everyone. Moreover, in addition to people with real, honest, serious, problems gained from actual traumas, there are over-sensitive, hyper-dramatic loonballs who are more than capable of making everyone miserable based on their imagined “Emotional Distress”. Don’t give those persons a reason.
17) Speaking of things triggery, You might want to be aware of something. Sexual Harrassment is not predicated on a single event. If a person approaches you with sexifull ideas in mind, He or she may not KNOW that you aren’t interested until you tell them. (Which you should do in a polite, but firm manner)
It is only when a person makes a second sexual approach that Sexual Harrassment is constituted.
18) If you are in a committed relationship IRL, Don’t keep your fictional liasons a secret. It’s just a bad idea.
Hopefully these tips will help you steer clear of rough waters

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Crowd Scenes

You know, occasionally, when you see something done right, you have to take a few minutes and say so.
I was privy to a formal court scene recently in the Requiem game that I'm playing in. Mostly, I tend to dread big scenes. They have this way of dragging like Jacob Marley's chains. And I've been in a few of them over the years. So, Based on what I saw at my game the other night and a few independent thoughts, I thought I'd lay out some guidelines for the way crowd scenes can be run in order to maximize efficiency.
1) Proper Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance.
…And by this, I mean, you should pre-script a LOT and cut and paste as you go.
Now granted, Not all Chat software is amenable to cutting and pasting. Which is an aggravation barely to be borne. But if yours does, then there is NO reason whatsoever for scene descriptions and long speeches not to be written ahead of time. Truly, We don't mind a wall of text, and you can fire off description text in PM's to anyone who walks in the door late.
2) Keep it Simple, Stupid.
Resist the urge to load down the itinerary with a large amount of stuff. Much past 4 or 5 events, in the course of a formal meeting, and you are courting boredom. Some players when bored just stop listening. Other players, when bored decide it's time for the "My Character has decided to get Ig'nant" Show.
Also: If your formal court is likely to have something happen that is going to be time intensive, like a trial and/or sentencing, You might consider making it the ONLY thing on the itinerary, or conversely, making it a closed affair open only to certain players.
3) Allow your scene to breathe.
Keeping the schedule tight allows you the opportunity to actually throttle back some. Part of what is going on, is the player reaction to news and events at court. After you've dropped a bomb, Step back and let the PC have reactions to it for about 15 minutes. Allow your players who've spent a point or two on Politics dots get their money's worth. Our ST actually said, "I'm going to give you guys about 15 minutes to react to this before we move on to the next thing." It was invaluable.
4) Let me sing you the song of my people!
There WILL be attention whoring. As a matter of fact, If you've got the whole venue gathered, it's likely that the various attention whores will attempt to outdo one another in a veritable orgy of exhibitionism. The characters with multiple derangements will be under stress, making them volatile and unstable. The Anarchists will likely do everything but shit on the rug. and your frustrated novelists will post a wall of text describing in loving detail about how their character appears bored and could not possibly care less.
Let them.
Oh I know, Most hard-case vampire elders are not happy about that sort of shit. Most decent players are annoyed beyond measure too. But sometimes you just have to let the attention whores have some attention. 
This is like the Superbowl for them.
Granted. Not ALL of that attention is going to be wanted or desired. An elder might want to know exactly who that damn fool was who was nattering on constantly during the proceedings. That Elder might decide to teach that person some manners in ways both subtle and obvious. In fact, one might posit that this sort of thing happens all the time and that traditionally, one can get out from under an elders "regard" by making a formal public apology for one's behavior.
Don't like it? Don't start none. Won't be none.
Seriously, That Elder can pretty much have your car towed at will.
So. let them go. Let them do their thing. It's their way of having fun and occasionally they'll amuse others too with their antics. And you should allow those antics up to the point of allowing them to lay hands on another character with harmful intent.
Then, you should shut them down so hard that spectators ears pop from the pressure wave. There should always be an obfuscated Nos or Mekhet on the payroll, with a stake in hand, Rigor Mortis prepared, and a comprehensive list of troublemakers and ne'er-do-wells in their back pocket.
5) Elders can keep it in their pants.
It should be understood both in and out of character that Elders are not going to start shit at Elysium. There are many reasons for this, but the big one is simple. They have had a lot of practice at dealing with this sort of thing. Oh sure, You may be some pipsqueak mouthing off at your betters about things you have only the dimmest understand of. You may be someone's catspaw or just an idiot with nothing better to do than bark like a dog at the clouds. You may be disrespecting not only your elders, but your city and the traditions that have served the kindred since the earliest nights.
But elders know, there is always time to deal with such people. And if Elders stop respecting formal court and Elysium, then kindred society literally falls apart. Many elders have seen this sort of thing happen, once or twice in their unlives. So even though dealt a mortal insult, or marinating in a brain-pan full of homicidal mania, Elders have a lot of practice being patient. And if you lay hands on them…"Well, Keeper. I can hardly be blamed for being vigorous in the defense of my person."
Out of Character, what this means is, that the Elders aren't going to slaughter anyone in an Elysium unless circumstances are particularly rare. Again, this essentially falls under the rubric of "Don't start none. Won't be none." I've been to more than one kindred gathering where there was a scheduled coup or some other insanity and I have always asked myself, "Why didn't you do this far away from the eyes of any kindred who could stop you?" Jeez, just walk in swinging the prince's head by his stupid ponytail and people will get the message soon enough that YOU'RE the guy in charge now.
6) Break it up as soon as possible.
Big scenes are exhausting. As soon as you are able, allow your NPC's to break off into different areas and allow interested PC's to follow. This saves some massive scroll. Also, as ST, you should farm out as much of the NPC stuff to fellow ST's as possible. Give them a basic description of the character they're playing, an agenda, and maybe a scripted bit or two to use and turn them loose (Ask them, in return for playing one of the powerful NPC's that they take good notes or save the logs of their play.) As main ST, you should lay back in the cut after the main scene is over, so that you have plenty of energy for answering questions from your NPC players. Because they are going to be asked a lot of interesting things by the players. Tell the NPC players that it's perfectly okay to rub their chins, get a far away look, and say, "That's a very good question. Who is your sire, young fledge?" While you come up with an answer for them.
Ok. Going on the basic premise that you're not interested in having a fight during your big scene. There are things to remember.
A) Your Keeper is not going to fuck around. But in all likelihood he's not going to kill characters unless they make him. It's much better for the Keeper to allow you to live because odds are, the Prince is going make certain that the offenders, and probably their sires, are suddenly going to be in hock up to their eyebrows. Also, the Harpy can be leaned on to blacken the offenders name too.
B) If you're the ST, and you don't want a fight, Go Cinematic and put the offending jerk on the deck. Again, leave him alive. No one shot, one kill bullshit. You do that, and nobody wants to go to your damn scenes anymore. But make certain that everyone understands that Elysiums are where fights DO NOT HAPPEN.
Be sure to say something along the lines of: "I am not interested in having this scene grind to a halt because you're butthurt. You've gotten every bit of the attention you desired. And now you're done. Rub some dirt in it and walk it off."
C) If a fight is inevitable, and for whatever reason, you have to allow it to happen, allow every other kindred who wants to leave immediately, to do so. Prevent new players from entering the fray until it's over. Kindred fights generally take seconds of real time. Even if they take HOURS of real time. Also, If you think the fight has to happen, and it's already 11:00 PM server time. Seriously. Think again.
D) Elders tend to flee if they attack someone and they don't go down in three hits. This is mostly because Elders have learned to conserve their blood and if it isn't damaged in three hits, it may not go down at all.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Hopper and the Birth of Painted Corners

So. Once upon a time, I wrote this:

The Hopper
(Yeah. I know I keep hearing those stupid commercials in my head and the boston accent. But I haven't come up with a better name for this. "The Bin" just doesn't seem right.)
In any case. I've had this though percolating in my brain meats for a bit and I want to share it, because I think it's a good one.
I'd like to have a forum in the ST section called "The Hopper" and into the hopper i'd like to put things that I know we'll need for a game. Like Floaters, Floaters are NPC's that your players can bump into in play, that aren't necessarily attached to a specific character or NPC. For instance, any game set in a city is going to need someone who can manufacture fake identification. I've seen exactly ONE PC that was built around this concept in my whole career as a gamer. So, odds are good that there's a NPC out there who does this sort of work, and maybe he knows stuff and maybe he don't
Crimelords, Crazy street people, members of the city council, any person like that you can dump into the hopper.
Drop-ins are also a good thing to throw in the hopper. A drop-in is a description of a place, and maybe there's hinky supernatural stuff going on, and maybe there isn't. A drop-in normally has a full description of a place and some text about the people that normally inhabit it. Nightclubs, strip bars, all-night gas-n-go, stuff like that.
The next thing you can throw into the Hopper is widgets. Things with some kind of mystical juice that are floating around the supernatural landscape of your town. Mostly this will be a description of the item and just a bit about what it does. But you don't want to go into a lot detail, which i'll explain in just a bit.
The last thing you might want to throw into the hopper is Legendry. If you find that you've found some obscure bit of city lore or a rumor that just keeps coming back like a bad penny, this is where it would go.
There are only two rules about Using the Hopper.
1) Each entry in the hopper receives it's own thread. If you use something from the hopper, you must describe HOW it was used and who was involved. This helps others keep all the movements of things straight.
2) You must not get too terribly hung up on mechanics for things in the hopper. Especially if you're running a cross-over game. Not all games have the same sort of power level and not all things translate across well from game to game. (Spirits in both Mage and Werewolf leap to mind) As a result, a drug dealer that appears in a vampire game might be tougher than expected in a fight, but in a werewolf game, is still likely to be "Hors de combat". A widget in Mage might function differently for a vampire who's interested in it's properties. Nailing HARD mechanics on things in the hopper restricts who can use them and starts fights. And in truth, certain types of things ought to be outside the actual scope of mechanics.
Why would you want to have a Hopper in your game?
Because, those ST's who have an affinity for painting the corners of the World of Darkness, are likely going to make things and put them in the hopper making it seem as if you done a MASSIVE amount of work to detail a huge number of the nooks and crannies of your world. Hiding toys and little easter eggs in every square foot of your sandbox. Some people really appreciate that sort of effort.
I know I do.

The Hopper, as an idea, never really caught on. I shopped it to a few people who I thought might get some use out of it, but as it turns out, it never seemed to gel anywhere…At least as far as i aware. I'd LOVE to find out that I'm wrong on this.

I suspect I know why. Running a game on a chat site is an enormous energy drain. There's always something you should be doing and even more crap you should be reading. So who exactly has TIME to build an entire city of people, places, and things for a world of darkness. Chat games are, at their basis, ALWAYS a sandbox, and while some players might jump at the chance to detail a goodly swath of that sandbox, other players WON'T.  And not all players would even be good at it.
You'd need an editor for submissions from players and ST's alike.  And if there's a thankless job in any chat game, It would be this.

But, since it was something that I enjoyed doing. And since I knew I could do this project piece at a time, and since I wasn't running a game or setting something up for a specific city…I knew I could create something that was useful and maybe people would use it.

And that's how Painted Corners was born.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Short Attention Span Theater


No. I didn’t die or anything. I’ve been off doing various things.  I just haven’t had much in the way of original thoughts about game theory. Or at least, nothing that I thought was widely applicable. I’ve been mostly a player these days. Had a few brief flirtations with running games but thank God, they make pills for that now.

The thing that is prompting this Crank Report is not to get you hip to the various thing I have going on in various other corners of the web. Although I can certainly do that here:
The Templeton Institute of Advance Human Dynamics: (Which contains links to my Zazzle store and my downloadable books and the one's linked at Lulu. as well as original World of Darkness writings and Aeonverse writings.)
Painted Corners Blog: (Which is a repository for a largely mortal population i'm writing for use in any WOD game or urban fantasy game.)
The Berkowitz Blog: (The Place where Pinky holds forth on whatever he's on about this week.)

No. What’s prompting this Crank Report is a basic idea, that I think needs to be explored.

Ongoing games seem to be going the way of the dodo.
Which is not to say that Ongoing games are bad. They’re not.

The problem isn’t with the games. It’s with us.

I am on record as saying that you never get to game as much as you did when you had no money, and no booze, and you all lived in the same dorm. And that’s certainly true.  RPGamers are an aging demographic.  Video and computer games have surpassed our wildest teenage imaginings and now the idea of hanging out with fellow gamers and playing a game with pen and paper, built solely out of our imaginations seems quaint now, and worse, faintly ridiculous to outsiders.

And as we grow older, we have demands on our time. Jobs which eat up our free time in exchange for miniscule reward. Homes that require maintenance and cleaning. Kids that require looking after, and spouses that may not necessarily understand the deep spiritual need to throw dice and slay monsters.   Hell. Most adulthood consists of being too tired to do much of anything that isn’t heading off, or dealing with, a goddamn crisis.

Suffice it to say, the commitment necessary to make or play a good game is increasingly hard to come by. This is often compounded by the fact there are SO MANY interesting games out there right now that one can get caught up in the new shininess of anything that comes down the pipe and suddenly no longer want to run the thing your currently doing.

I often have the problem of desiring to run something flavored from the last good thing i’ve seen.  I watch a cool spy flick, and I want to do an espionage game. I see a nifty pulp thing and I have the itch to do something pulp-flavored.  Fortunately, they make an ointment for that now and I pick up a tube when i’m getting my Anti-GMing prescription filled.

And this sad state of affairs afflicts players and GM’s alike.  One really slow night at a game and you might consider staying in the next time and drinking instead. Not enough players turning up and having a good time? Why not pack it in? Burnout plays a role too.

And you know, Talking this over with a friend I was reminded that Google Hangouts are a thing, that Roll20 and Skype games and various types of Java-chat games  can certainly take up a goodly amount of this slack.  And that’s true as far as it goes.
Lord knows that I’ve been a fan of pants-less gaming in the past.

But one of the reasons that I enjoy Larps and actual tabletop games, is that I need excuses to leave the house. I have the tendency to live like a hermit when I’m not working on a show. Past the age of 30 a man’s social circle tend to start shrinking. And I want to fight that tendency tooth and nail.

Also: it’s been my experience that games that take place in person are more polite. It’s easier to enforce the social contract when you have a face you can slap.  I have seen over and over how the darkest impulses come out to play when people have anonymity and an audience, and frankly I don’t have the money or the time to get on a plane and dick-punch the players that so desperately seem to require it.

So, with that said, I’ve been thinking on a way to fix the problem. Because you know I’m all about the solutions. I’ve got a good friend who is a BRILLIANT gm.  But he’s seemingly unable to keep a game rolling past 8 sessions.  Hardly worth the time it took to write the game and organize the players into it.

Or is it?

The basic premise i’m laying out here is that maybe a game should only be planned in limited arcs. Like a television mini-series. Run a game that goes from 2 to 6 games as a solid story arc. Build the game as a story with a solid beginning, middle and end. Run it to satisfying conclusion. And you know, taking a cue from Hamlet, you could even work in a total party kill as a WIN.  And if you do it right, you can always come back to that world and tell new stories there.   This way, you’re  always working towards a real ending, and tendency is to not want to stop at a natural resting place, but press on to the climax and denouement.

There are multiple advantages to this approach:
* You get to front load
I don’t know that I’ve EVER had an opportunity to play a character that managed to work themselves into the more powerful powers. You only have to have a game end ONCE, 2 points from acquiring the level 5 power to feel horribly horribly burned.  So, since you, the GM are going to be building the PC’s yourself, you can afford to front-load them somewhat. make them potent PC’s and the kind of people who liable to pressed into service to save everyone’s bacon.

Why are you building the PC’s instead of the players? Because you aren’t playing a sandbox game here. (You can always sandbox later, if you discover that the game has legs)  You’re telling a SPECIFIC story here and that specific story requires specific characters.   Make a spread of about 10 PC’s with different roles in the game to come.  Give your players a choice as to what ROLE they want to play, but make the effort to generate the PC’s themselves with the right talents, backstory, and attitudes for the story to come.   This also can obviate a lot of that whole, “Yes, i’ve come to play this game, but my character is impossible to find, talk to, or convince to come along on the mission” bullshit that I have seen so very often.

What about the PC’s that the players don’t choose? Heck that’s easy. Make part of the story about going to talk to or recruit those unused PC’s. Plus this makes it easy to get them involved with the players and then at a dramatically important moment, you can wax them.  Get all “Whedon” on those players of yours.

Frontloading also has another interesting aspect. Experience becomes less important. As the game progresses, you can gift your players more directly by handing them powers or various merits. Powers and merits that YOU know, they will likely need at the climax of the game. And, if you decide to continue the game at some point down the road, then you can always switch back to a more traditional form of experience expenditure system

*Metaplot NOW!
Fuck waiting 6 game sessions in before introducing the first hint that the conspiracy is moving about. You want to grab your players by the naughty bits and not let go until they are firmly in the business of SAVING THE GODDAMN WORLD.  You only have “X” number of game sessions to make the threat horrifying and the bad guys terrifying. Have those bad guys out there doing bad things.  DON’T EVER USE A WHOLE GAME SESSION FRUSTRATING YOUR PLAYERS!  The clock is ticking and if you have any bloody sense at all, you’ll fix it so that the players can practically hear it in their heads. If your game is scheduled for six sessions, each game session should have a conflict that has to be resolved.(Note: I did not say “Combat”)   In a game that is limited in scope, you don’t really have “No Plot Night”   When you start talking in your GM voice, people should understand that dicking around to no purpose or pursuing goals that have nothing to do with what’s going on right now, isn’t going to go well.
Seriously. In a short duration game it is ALL about pacing.  You cannot afford to bore the tits off your players for even one game session.

* Smash the Reset Button
The problem with most television is the stultifying sameness of it all.  A thing happens, somebody reacts to it. Maybe another thing takes place. Maybe someone learns a lesson or some crap like that, but by the end of the episode the reset button gets pressed and we start the next episode in essentially the same place, with the only major changes happening at the season finale.


You want to get your players attention? Get three hours into the game session and then nuke the city of London. That is some shit that is not going to get retconned and it’s not just going to fade into the fucking background.  If the players dropped the ball and London got nuked because of it, you should haunt them with the fact that the TV is talking about the atrocity 24/7 and now there is a benefit for the survivors and refugees being hastily assembled.  Springsteen’s going to be performing there.  
Do your actions MATTER in this game? 
Yes. Yes they do.

*Joe Bob is in the house.
Joe Bob Briggs is a film critic for the sorts of films that don’t normally enjoy the tender mercies of deep and penetrating film criticism. Horror films and grindhouse cinema and the like.  And Joe Bob is famous for the Joe Bob Briggs rule.
“Anybody can die at any time.”
There is exactly no guarantee that all of the characters will finish the game. There isn’t really a guarantee that ANY of the players will make it to the end of the line.   And you know, maybe that means that the players might have to pull their heads out of their ass during a serious combat instead of trying to succeed in spite of an abject lack of communication, tactics, or strategic understanding.
Good thing you have extra PC’s lying around right?

* “No, Mr Bond. I expect you to die.”
And since we’re on the subject, You don’t even have to protect the antagonist until the end of the line either.  It may be that his plan is such that it can completely continue after his demise.  It may be that his plan is even TRIGGERED by his demise.  I’m not saying make the antagonist into a pushover or even easy to get at.  The players ought to fight their way through mooks, and crunchy second string bad guys before finally bearding the dragon in his den. But there is nothing that gives a player blue balls like the feeling that the Bad Guy is impervious to their best shot.
Of course, it’s always possible that the bad guy they killed, isn’t the REAL bad guy.  Maybe they’ll find it out during the current game...and maybe they’ll only discover it if the game ends up continuing into another arc.

*Once they’ve completed the story. You get to rest.
Someone else gets to take the reigns, and hey maybe they decide to do something like what you’ve done and you get to play. Trying to schedule things against an ongoing may be seen as a social slight or even, in some circles, an act of war. But if most of the people in your gaming group are doing things like this, then having an opportunity to get in and GM something new and interesting is easy and requires less patience.

*People might try things they’d never commit to long term.
You know, back in the day, I had an interest in running all sorts of things. But I could never interest people in trying most of them, for fear of bolixing our various game schedules.  But today, I could probably put up a message to the effect that I am running four game sessions on the next four sunday nights of Victorian Hunter: The Vigil. and have people come out of the woodwork.  But I don’t think they’d do so for an ongoing game of the same. Do you see what I’m getting at here? 
Huge commitment is no longer required.

And that, is kind of the whole point.
More fun, less stress about making the fun happen.

Sono finito.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Blatant Plug

I don't know if I've mentioned it here or not, but I have a NEW blog entitled "Painted Corners" which all about me painting the corners of the World of Darkness, one mortal npc, one mystick tome, one urban legend, one magickal gee-gaw, one Genius Loci, at a time...

Check it out here:

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Top 10 things you can do as a Player to improve your experience in a Chat or a Larp.

I am a big fan of Large Scale Dynamic games. Over the years I have written about them in various outlets and evangelized to various people i meet about them. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoy a good old fashioned table top role playing game from time to time. But mostly i enjoy getting out and making social connections and working on games where the primary thrust is on making a collaborative form of art, rather than leveling up. Internet chat games and live action role play often share a number of the same underpinnings that make them different from table-top play. Most good LSD games are typified by large player bases, multiple plots going on concurrently, player-on-player conflict, and a more laissez faire attitude towards the plot and the administration of those games. So with a few of those thoughts in mind, i'd like to explore at least 10 tips to help you get the most fun out of your experience.

  1) Friendly Rivalry In a table top game, most of the time you know where your characters troubles are coming from. They come from the GM. He's all of the antagonists and minor character who might knife you in the back at the worst time. So it's pretty easy to figure out where your stress is coming from. Often this leads to a misunderstanding of the role of the GM and people assume that the GM is out to get them, and GMs assume that they need to be horrible dicks to their players. This is all very wrongheaded of course, but not the subject i'm really talking about today. In a Large Scale Dynamic game, many times, a good 85% of your characters troubles are being caused by other players. As a direct result, the proper attitude towards your fellow players is vitally important. You should always try to approach play in an LSD game from the standpoint of "Friendly Rivalry" It is vitally important that you approach the game with the idea that if you're screwing someone politically, and someone else is screwing you politically, that once the smoke clears and/or someone ends up dead…That the two of you are able to have a friendly beer and figure out a way for your characters to work together on the next go-round so the two of you can screw some other guy. THAT is the proper attitude to have. It helps to prevent people from flipping out when things go badly for their characters. Because let's face it. sooner or later it's going to happen. Sooner or later you'll run headlong into some other player who is smarter than you and he/she is going to wax you. In fact, i kind of think that's a form of compliment. They saw you as a threat and decided that you needed to go FIRST. If you can't handle that idea at all, play video games. You have no place at a larp or a chat game. Always remember. Out of Character Soap Opera = BAD! In-Character Soap Opera = Good. If that means staying away from people who cannot grasp the above advice, then perhaps you have to do so.

  2) Do your homework and have your shit together. Once you get into a game, you have a certain amount of responsibility for knowing how the game works and knowing how your character works. Naturally, if you're a rank beginner, allowances will be made. But honestly if you have been playing a for a while you should make an effort to get the game system down and to know exactly what your character is capable of. This enables you to make informed choices even in moments of stress. If there are books you need to read in order to understand a characters faction or culture, do a deep read of them, don't just gloss them. I am continually shocked by the number of players who play religious characters with only a dim understanding of the tenets of the religion they espouse. Occasionally i am forced to say, "You do know that if you ever say something like that in public, the inquisitors will be round here like a shot to hook up a car battery to your nipples…You do KNOW that, right?" And in this same vein, it is totally cool to come to an ST and ask them if a power works the way you think it works before initiating its use in some intrigue, trap, or combat scene, whereas it is totally UNCOOL to throw a fit during the same because you didn't think to ask, it doesn't work that way, and now you're screwed. Another lovely side effect of having your act together is that it enables you to maximize your playing time. If you have detailed plans and are able to get them in to your ST by wednesday before the saturday game, (and bring along a copy just in case) then you don't have to spend a half hour of the ST's time laying it all out. You can proceed with other plans and schemes. Which leads to…

  3) Have a plan. If possible, have more than one. It's just good sense. You will get more out of any game session, or out of any chat event, if you have a plan going in. It means, that unlike a lot of players, you will not be reacting to the plans and machinations of others with nothing more in your pockets than lint. It's never a very good idea to try to beat someone in a foot race when you've only got a standing start, and they are already in motion. Now this is not to say that i'm one to denigrate improvisation on the part of players or characters. I have a character who often boasts he can improvise better on his worst day, than most can plot and scheme on their best day. And it's largely true, but even he doesn't like to get caught completely flat-footed. Now there are some nights obviously where i may not be feeling it and may just go with the flow of story and play. But in truth those nights should be rare. Your character should have things that he or she care about and they should be on the prod constantly to protect those things or enhance them in some way.

  4) Care. One of the most important things you can do when building your character is to consider what your character cares about. In fact, it's WAY more important than what cool powers your character might have, or what mystical gee-gaws you're carrying around. It is, quite frankly, the key to your characters identity. It is what moves him or her to any sort of action. A character that care about nothing, DOES nothing. A character that cares about little, does little. A character that cares about a number of things will always have plenty to do. Have friends. Have causes. Lairs and toys and powers are nice but they don't nourish you like the things you really care about. To some players this may seem counter-intuitive. After all, any person i care about is a potential hostage. Any thing I care about is a potential lever to get me to do something… To which I say, If you don't want to have adventures, don't play. I'm an LSD GM. That means I ALWAYS have more to think about than harassing and chivvying you into having fun. If you aren't interested in making any kind of emotional investments inside the game, then I need to spend that time working with players who DO.

  5) Manufacture your own trouble/ Make active choices Choices drive action. In acting, we always talk about making active choices as opposed to passive ones. In a table-top game you can be fairly passive and still be involved. and since the GM can see you there. He or she can always fling some plot in your direction. But in a large larp or chat you may not see the GM a lot, or even much at all. Heck i was involved in a chat game online where they had no regular GM. They hadn't had one for at least a month at the point where i came on board, but the players where a bunch of wild improvisateurs like myself…and for a couple of months we had a grand old time. What i'm saying here is, never wait for an ST to wander by and put a plot cookie in your hands. Find trouble you can get into all by yourself. Make active choices about your character. What they want to do. How they want to accomplish it. Who they've got to ally with or crush completely in order to make it happen. Be able to get into all sorts of conflict with the game world and your fellow players all by yourself. After all, only you can know what sort of story content serves your character best. Decide your OWN level of involvement.

  6) Make Mistakes Again. this may seem counter-intuitive to some gamers. Many pride themselves on their cleverness and problem solving skills. And indeed, there is nothing wrong with having enough intelligence on the ball to wriggle out from under the Belt Sander of Destiny. But on the other hand, a game where no one is flawed and no one makes mistakes is deathly dull. Ever read a book where the hero is always six steps ahead of the enemy? I have. It was a waste of time. Ever see a movie where the heroes are never in any actual danger? Doesn't that seem sort of pointless? Sure, there will always players who are going to make dumb mistakes. But what i'm talking about is deliberately making some horrifying error in judgement and having to run around trying to fix it, or kill anybody who might know, or maybe even the combo platter. Now i'm not saying necessarily that having some IC mental pathology or substance abuse problem is automatically interesting. (I was involved in at least one game where there were FAR too many people who thought crazy = interesting+cool.) but that's a good jumping off point. Look again at the things your character cares about. Ask yourself, "How far would i be willing to go?" and then ask yourself, "How interesting would it be, if i went farther than that?"

  7) Paint the corners of your personal world. Because God know that your GM doesn't really have time to do it for you. In most table-top games a GM can afford a more hands-on approach to the minor characters in the lives of the players, and he can insert certain elements into a players backstory as a means of setting up events down the road that will (hopefully) pay off. But in a Larp or a Chat, ST's just don't have time or mental bandwidth to devote to the smaller elements of personal play. This is the time for you to shine with your personal creativity. Make your allies and retainers and hangers on interesting. Go wild like you're designing the fiddly bits of norway's fiords. Make them crufty and idiosyncratic. Give them strengths and weaknesses. Make them well enough and you might even convince other people they are worth playing in their own right. (Or at least be able to hand them to someone new and say "Go Play!") By that same token, you should probably never consider your character's personal history as a dry-as-bones recitation of facts, but rather a living document that you can flesh out as you go. Consider your characters backstory as a mere skeleton that requires more meat on it. Work to add points of uncertainty and wiggle room so you can build in new things in your past. You can even get pretty good at doing this on the fly. ("You know…this reminds of the time i had to break you out of that prison in Murmansk…Why exactly were you naked in public in the first place?") Besides, you never know when fleshing out certain elements of the minor characters around you, or your own personal backstory might afford you opportunities to save your own bacon. "Did i forget to mention that he's quite skilled with a shotgun? Damn…I probably should have."

8) Decide where your attention goes. Nobody can be good at everything, and it's kind of dumb to try. So as a direct result, it's important to make certain decisions in the character building stage about what sorts of plots you want to involve yourself in. Too narrow and you get excluded a lot or you're out of your element a lot. ("I have determined that my character is an expert in Enochian and will spend most of his time closeted in his library.") But then again on the other hand, you should take care not to spread yourself too thinly. Not only will it make it hard to become truly good at anything, but you'll occasionally find yourself running about trying to piss on too many brushfires. Look at your sheet and make an honest assessment about your strengths and weaknesses and when someone approaches you for this thing or that, look them in the eye and say, "My PC has absolutely no business being involved in that plot. But i'll happily introduce you to another player who will eat it up like candy." This ESPECIALLY extends to people who tag along on combat raids, who have no business being in combat.

  9) Take your meds and keep your cool. Look. I'm going to be painfully frank here. Gaming is a social activity. There are SO many things that can go wrong with social activities by dint of people losing their shit. Now naturally there is only so much help for this but you have a responsibility to your fellow players to help all of them keep the wheels from coming off as best you can. NO ONE wants to carry your mental baggage for you. True Story: Had a lovely game of Hunter: The Reckoning one night. One of the players had brought along his girlfriend who sat in the other room and chatted with one of my housemates. We had a great time that night. The players did well and I was happy with my own efforts and we were enjoying the nice warm glow of a game well played… Then the girlfriend came in from the other room, and with no preamble began to relate that social services were trying to take her child from her. This of course came with a half hour crying jag. Needless to say it was a serious mood killer. I'm not unsympathetic to her plight but seriously, WTF? It's like going to a restaurant and having the waitress tell you about how she's being pressured into having an abortion by her druggie boyfriend, when all you want to know is if the pies are fresh. Now imagine a meltdown like that at a Larp or a chat game. Keep your crazy in your pants. otherwise you'll be asked to keep it far away from me and my game. If you have meds for that stuff. Take them. If you have things that trigger your problems let the GM know and steer clear of those things as best you can. If you simply can't act like an adult, well…That's not something i can fix for you. Gaming can be stressful, Combat doubly so. This especially can be troubling in Chat games because, as a friend so eloquently put it, "It's harder to enforce the social contract when you don't have a face you can slap." So it's important to keep one's cool in the thick of things. Remember… We're trying to make interesting art here. Flipping out because your character might get hurt or even inconvenienced is childish bullshit

  10) Be an example of what you want to see. This is pretty much just a good rule for living, but it's especially necessary in gaming. If no one thinks political games are interesting, you can always make a political character and prove them wrong. If your fellow players are more interested in dots on their sheets and driving their characters like a rented Gundam, make a character that is all about personal relationships and personal plots. Sure, this sort of thing can be a uphill slog and there are times when it won't pay off. But when it does, it is absolutely worth it. So if there is something you feel is missing, why not plug that hole yourself?

 Sono Finito

WOD Mafia and the whole damn premise

So. Some of you are probably wondering what sort of madness I've roped you into THIS time. Well...I started to get the itch to play a chat game again. It's been a while. The last few attempts have been upsetting and off-putting. But even so, i've been away long enough, that I was starting to feel a desire to make a new character and play it someplace. So I asked around and was told about a place or two, which I've been looking at. And honestly, I started thinking about all the various experiences that have gone into some years of online play. Some good, some...not. And I started wondering if there was some means to raise the general level of play. I mean, I know some damn fine players, and some damn fine ST's but those people are in the minority. Most of you understand that a good Online Chat game is a collaborative art form...And if 20+ years in the theater have taught me anything about collaborative art forms, it's taught me that they are a bit fragile. But there are things you can do to make it less so. Sure, I can create a magnum opus of everything that is wrong, or fucked up, or broken, about Online games. But odds are good that If i just put it out there. The beast will simply roll over and go back to sleep. But if there were a secret faction of bad-ass players and ST's, that had the ideas and more importantly, the back-up to shout down the butt-hurt and the douchwaffles. Maybe we could effect some real change in the state of the art. That's the plan. At least, that's what I'm calling it.

GM's STOP killing yourselves!

Too often, the most tellingly inefficient thing about an online chat game is trying to run it in the same way you would run a table top game of 4 to 6 players. It's madness. I have seen more GM's flame out from this more than any other cause. Some don't seem to grasp that it is an entirely different dynamic. Maybe it's a matter of being unable to delegate, maybe it's down to not being able to find people who can help. Often you'll see one GM for the entire spread of a venue and as soon as school starts or the day job changes hours, the venue takes two in the head and two in the center mass. This is wrong. To my way of thinking, there are about a dozen reasons that your Storyteller staff ought to be as large as you can make it. A good game is like managing a project at work…and it is WORK, especially if you're the only one doing it. Many hands make light work.
 Your role as Storyteller is to essentially be the head writer of a writer's room for a television show. You create the setting. Maybe a few of the main problems and characters that the players will bumble into. You set the tone and determine the themes. But nobody ought to be asking you to write the whole damn series, direct it, choreograph the action sequences, and play all the bit parts. Fuck a whole bunch of that! Here's what you need:

*One executive ST:
 This would be the person who is essentially the guy who makes the big decisions. Most of his time would be spent having online meetings with the ST's who implement the decisions. Occasionally, he takes the field as a power NPC, or as some force of antagonists, but honestly, he shouldn't have to do that more than once a month at most. Also: he should be the record keeper for the venue. Or at least be able to help out with and direct the archiving of the venue. As head of the ship. It is important for the HST to communicate as much of his ideas about tone, theme, attitude, design, and philosophy as is humanly possible. The work of an HST is helping to get the entirety of the ST staff on the same page. If you can do this, trust and delegation stop becoming a problem. You must communicate, loudly, often, almost to point of annoying the hell out of your ST's because if you don't, they won't understand what you have in mind, and they won't be able to contribute. Too often, I've seen people in charge of projects, shows, games and other things that require communication and cooperation, turn into complete autists. Leaving thier staff's to try to divine the course of the thing via signs, portents, and fever dreams. Once, while i was charge of a Larp, i discovered that certain house rules had 5 or 6 iterations and NOBODY seemed to know it exactly. As a result, I instituted the Red Book of DOOM. The premise was simple: If there is a question about rules, refer to the Red Book of DOOM. If a house rule is not in the Red Book of DOOM, it is not a house rule. It is merely rumor.

 *A handful of full ST's:
 Who are entrusted with implementing the HST's Decisions, running scenes and combats, and generally creating all sorts of mayhem. Full ST's are responsible for creating the paperwork that the HST archives. They handle crafting projects, equipment requests, sheet upgrades, and keeping track of what the players are up to. And please understand, You should, as an ST, be as flexible as possible. If you're a vampire ST and you have a special flair for running Circle of the Crone, then by all means do so. But do not lock yourself into that role and fight others who might want to play in your sandbox. That's bullshit, and is less helpful to the team as a whole. You want as many full ST's as you think the venue will support, because they will help your venue be active at more times of day. Each ST ought to be responsible for running 1 scene per week unless their sole purview is record keeping. As a perk of being a storyteller, you should award your ST's banked EXP that they can use towards their next PC, Or, alternately, You might consider giving them extra EXP for a character in the venue, that is NOT a primary character. Say, if you have a Full ST for Vampire. If he's got a vampire character, such a character would not receive additional exp, but a human or ghoul PC would. I say this because you should encourage your full ST's to periodically, lay down their ST Burdens and go play in the venue and remember what it is like to BE a player again. Another alternative, would be to offer an agreed upon cost break for a particular purchase once a month. Full ST's might be offered an "Above and Beyond" bonus once a month that gives their primary or secondary character a free dot bump for something. This could even extend to a power stat if the ST chooses. Always incentivize if you can. Another job for the ST staff is to "Peer Review" content submissions like new powers or widgets. This way no one can point at the HST and say he's favoring or hating on a player. If a number of ST hold their noses and give the thumbs down, then it's hard to argue that you don't need to go back to the drawing board.

* The Goon Squad:
 There are people who are just damn fine players. They've got a proper attitude and they have a protean soul, insofar as they can put themselves into a number of different and disparate roles. You should tap such players and use them like the resource they are. Sure, give them extra points for their primary and encourage them to play that primary as often as possible. But in addition to that, hand them one of the mid-level NPC's and encourage them to walk that guy around some, with some goals and relatively vague guidelines. "Dude. Are you busy right now? Can you pull out that ancillae gangrel of ours and go throw the fear of god into those guys in that room over there?" Allow them to have as many secondary characters as possible in order to fill out your venue. As long as they keep good notes, it'll make your venue seem like it's ten times the size. Also: let them know when large events are coming up and tap them to play roles in them too. It will take some of the load off the ST staff. Even if your venue is relatively small it can benefit from a robust Goon Squad. If nothing else, you'll have plenty of people stirring the pot.

 Sono Finito.

WOD-Chat Mafia

So, I started this group on Facebook. It's essentially a gathering place for people that I have had contact with via Java-Chat Games and a few of my fellow larpers. I started writing about what I like to call, Large Scale Dynamic Games. Or LSD games for short. (Because I am juvenile and easily amused.) This new and relatively secret venue proved fruitful for some game writing, but now I find there are people I occasionally want to share it with, and they're all like. "Facebook? Seriously?" So. That said, I intend, over the next few days or so to crib the rants from the Wod-Chat Mafia and put them up here. Some of this material might seem familiar to you. After all, I don't need to reinvent the wheel, do I? If you would like to JOIN the super-sekrit WOD Chat Mafia, Hit me up on the Facebook (Pete Sears) and I'll add you in.