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.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

You have to give up...

"You have to give up. You have to realize that someday you will die. Until you know that, you are USELESS."
-T. Durden

Lately i've been doing chat games and playing in larps. Mostly keeping my hand out of the storytelling side of things. I keep rolling along and there are times when i feel the itch, but lately i am just enjoying being a player.

Recently, an old character of mine was slain on a chat game. He was ambushed, incapacitated, and diablerized. I had to admit that the player who attacked me had a good plan. And it was even in character for him to do so. He was, up until the point of the attack trying to talk me out of clashing with the current prince, and hoping that i would see reason.

Did I get irked or plan horrifying vengeance on everyone involved. No.
The only point of serious stress during the whole debacle for me was right at the point where this whole thing went down, things went crazy at work and didn't stop until my character was dead. I was ready to pull the firehose off the wall and go to work on the servers as a result of that ill-timed bullshit. But did I have malice in my heart for the player or the GM?

No.
As most of you know already, I tend to take a broad view of character mortality. A character being slain allows me to make something new and try a new thing out. Also, I'm okay with a character dying if I can go out in some huge dramatic manner that affects the whole rest of the game.

But also it's because I feel it is in my best interests to show grace in defeat as well as in triumph. As long as my character dying doesn't involve cheating, I am perfectly okay with having a character go shuffling off this mortal coil. Don't misunderstand, I'm not going to make it EASY for you. You're going to have to work for it, sweat for it, probably even bleed for it. I don't lay down for nobody.
But if you did it right, I'll look at it as a learning experience, shake your hand, and go do something new.

The fact is, a lot of people forget that in a game like a larp or chat game where the bulk of your problems are going to be caused by other players, that you are going to be thrown up against players who are smarter or more capable than you. Sooner or later, no matter how smart you THINK you are, you're going to run into someone smarter and maybe they'll take it into their head to wax you as a result. Sometimes, that's a compliment. You were smart and dangerous enough that they felt they needed to get rid of you first!

It's a puny souled individual that whines and cries when his plans are upset and his character dies. You show even less class if you are furious and there wasn't a bit of cheating going on. (On the other hand, if there WAS cheating...Cry havoc and lets slip the dogs of war.) Learn to suck it up. Find a way to ally with the guy who stopped you cold in your next incarnation. Better to have that guy inside the tent pissing out, rather than outside the tent pissing in.

Sooner or later your character is going to die. Accept that basic fact. Better to die with your boots on, than like some cowering punk bitch. In fact, once you understand this basic fact of Game Life, then you can actually start thinking of the sorts of situations where your character might give up his life heroically.

In fact, there are some characters that seem to have a sort of death wish built into them, and yet, actual death seems to flee from them. Can't explain that one. I don't know why that is.

All i'm really trying to say is, stop playing your character like he's going to live forever. He isn't. If that doesn't make you pay attention to the consequences of your character's actions, nothing will.

Sono finito.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I have altered the Deal. Pray I do not alter it further.

There are many iniquitous practices in the world of gaming. People pursue them out of all manner of sickening motivations. Some cheat. Some fuck over newbies. Some eat a gallon of chili before game time and wear shorts. Some offenses are egregious. Others you can live with. Those of you who read this blog have heard me rail about such things. The universe is unfair enough without such everyday perfidy

But such calumny is hardly confined to players. I was reminded of a particular practice this week. I won't go into specifics about what triggered the ugliness. But I will tell the tale of the first time I encountered it.

In brief: I saw a game master change the rules of a game, without consulting or even notifying the players of that game. He basically decided to get rid of the Vampire players in his larp. He decided that vampiric powers and disciplines didn't work at all during daylight hours. He didn't tell any of the Vampire players this, but somehow the word got out to the various people playing hunters. Imagine that.

Now, he had an excuse. He mentioned that since Vampires didn't hang around during daylight hours too much that they didn't really know. But I'd been playing a vampire in the game for 36 years of game time. I think it would have come up at some point. And if I know about it, then other vampires did.
But beyond the fact that his explanation had massive holes in it. It robbed me and many other players of the ability to make informed choices. My haven's security would have been markedly different from the set-up I'd had previously. The only reason a friend of mine survived when the hunters came for him, was that he was markedly more paranoid than I and a goodly portion of his haven was built around the fact that he was quite a bit stronger than a normal man.

Needless to say, it was a breach of trust. It was discovered on the same night that a bunch of other shit went down that was causing some bad-blood in the larp. And in truth, it wasn't the straw that broke the camels back. But it certainly added to the load.

I have mentioned in the past how important trust is to gaming. If you enjoy gaming,and wish to continue to do it. Do not do this. I am perhaps most charitable insofar as I simply left the game never to return, and in days afterward, chalked the whole thing up to a mid-life crisis and a crumbling marriage. Sure. Easy to have some temporary insanity during all that. But among my friends, the dissolution of that game is still, better than a decade later, a sore spot. And there are friends who still have significant, burning, vituperative, viscera-curdling hatred for the GM in question.

When a GM does this, he is essentially saying to you, "I have just wiped my ass with your trust."

In fact, the whole mess causes a failure of imagination in me. So, I had to enlist others in helping me to find a name for it. Suraya came up with the closest thing to what i wanted. Which was "Term Jerking"
To me, Gaming is a form of social contract. Trust is broken when someone changes the terms of that contract.

The other title was provided by the folks of RPG.Net along with the title of the article. "Bespin Gambit" Which makes sense if you know the context.

Sono Finito

Friday, May 08, 2009

Once again, you can ignore this if you want


A picture to host for my Dark Providence game

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Reset Blues

As of this writing, The Camarilla is going through a reset in their global chronicle.
I am watching this horrible thing play out and as a veteran of a multi-year campus vampire game, which has gone through multiple resets and i'm going to go on record.

Resets almost never EVER fix the problems they are meant to fix.

The main reason why, is that it is somewhat rare in the first place to truly understand the EXACT reasons why you might be resetting the Larp. A lot of that comes out of a feeling that a particular scene is played out. Sometime it comes from players and sometimes from GM's. But you know, if you feel like you've painted yourself into a corner. It's up to you to fix that for yourself. Causing a reset because you're bored is like setting the house on fire, so you can toast marshmallows.

Sometimes, you might reset a game because of power creep. This is actually a valid concern and sometimes is a good reason for a reset. If you've got a game where low powered newbies can't actually hit any of the antagonists because they are so beefy, in order to slow down the power players. Then, a problem truly does exist. But in truth, Power creep can be handled in a number of ways. Capping EXP for the higher powered players is one way. Another way might be to create a hard limit on experience so that once a PC becomes a certain power level, he or she becomes an NPC. Face it, once you've garnered a huge wodge of experience to the point where nothing and no one is a challenge, you need to fade into the background. You certainly need to stay out of plots made for much younger players.

Sometimes, you call for a reset in order to fix broken rules. Naturally, this is a source for much squeaking and beeping from every single player who perceives that the rule change works against him. But that's not the worst part. The worst part is that rule-sets are like jenga blocks. There is literally no way to tell how a change in a single rule is going to affect the myriad little rules hanging off of it. It's a recipe for disaster. I should know. A re-write of Masquerade celerity nearly cost me my sanity and all the color in my hair.

Sometimes, you go for a reset, because you're going from one game system to another. Like Masquerade to Requiem. An announcement that Gehenna is really coming this time, was like unto a death knell for the game i was running. fully 40% of my players just stopped turning up. Charitably, I'll say it was because the characters were so loved that the players didn't want to see them hurt or slain. Personally, i found it all a bit chicken-shit. But that's the way it shook out.

In any case, Resets cause all sorts of stress. Rarely fix the problem. and frankly aggravate the people who are putting time and effort into building the game world.
Calling for a reset, when other people are still playing in and building in that world is a bit like pissing all over their parade.

Me. Well. I've written a book based on a character and a second book is nearly finished. These are projects that i've done because i was having fun and i wanted to share some of that fun with other players who might enjoy it. Not to mention the work that i've done making the local Requiem game as wire tight as i could. Proponents of the hard reset want to trash my work without so much as a by your leave. Thankfully, the Camarilla is only doing a soft reset. So i get to keep playing
The Pinkster. But there are a lot of Hard reset proponents out there among the old guard of players.

Frankly, it's times like these when the drama of these situations is enough to drive me into the hinterlands.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Get Visual!

Sometimes, People write me and ask me questions.

It's true! I'm not making it up!

Hey Pete, it's Del again.
Feel like tossing me and the ST's of my game a little helping hand?

I'm running my first official Elysium (well, technically a salon, since it's not the permanent location), and it's going to be a slobberknocker:
http://img518.imageshack.us/my.php?image=5f64rw2.jpg
BITE NIGHT, a friendly battle between the kindred of Tampa. Some IC stuff:

"We've all secretly wondered it: Could I take him in a fight? Would she destroy me in a brawl? Well now, with the help of my good friend Craig Forist, the most esteemed leader of Clan Brujah in the city of Tampa, Eric Skye of Skye High Productions is pleased to present... BITE NIGHT, a no-holds-barred battle among the city's kindred, in a safe and controlled environment where we find out - without that messy business of Final Death and all - whether you really are a bad enough dude to save the President.

Interested? Maybe you're not yet, but Mr. Forist has been kind enough to offer up a major prize for winning. I asked him to be more
specific, but he cagily replied, "Don't worry, it's gonna be Major!"
Here are the ground rules [OOC Stuff in brackets after each bullet]:

• It is one-on-one combat, in a caged ring. Two kindred enter, one leaves.
• Everyone starts on an even playing field. Vampires enter the ring with 5 blood from their pool; the rest is set aside for either the
next round or the rest of their night. (You make a note to the ST there how much you had before, and you get the balance of [5-your
total] after the fight)
• It is a battle until one vampire relents. Either through crying for mercy, tapping out, or simply falling unconscious, but when the
fight's over, it's over. (Battles go to Incap, no further)
• This is for bragging rights and the night's prize only, not grudge settling. NO TORPOR! Taking things too far and putting an opponent in Torpor will immediately disqualify you from the tournament, and additionally you will owe the office of Keeper of Elysium a Major Boon for disrupting the tournament and engaging in unsanctioned violence in a Salon!
• Winner moves on in a bracketed tournament, and you will have some or all of your blood pool refreshed in between rounds (if you advance).[There will be additional blood available for winners to replenish between rounds]

If you're interested, stop by the offices of Skye High Productions during the week. We're in Club Underground, upstairs. Just mention
'BNR1' to the doorman and he'll show you up [email me at tendrilsfor20 at gmail dot com to get on the list]

I'll see you all at the fight! Let's get it on!

Eric Skye neé emcee Up-Roc"

Now the OOC:
I am working with the Storytellers right now on an ersatz "sub-health- system" so people won't be crippled for the night/torpored
while still getting to compete and show off those sexy dots on their sheet.
There must be some way to voluntarily only use part of your health levels, assuming all parties agree to it, so that we don't end up with half the game torpor'd from a little diversion.

Any thoughts? This is happening this Saturday.


Now I'm going to talk about specific advice first and then more general advice later okay?
I've seen this idea turn up in at least a couple of places. It's a good one. It has mileage to be gotten out of it. I cribbed the same idea from a short story about vampires entitled "Dancing Nightly" We've used it a couple of times and here are some bits of general advice:

1) I like the idea of short rations of blood. It keeps the fights short. You might amend this on the fly, if it seems that the fights are TOO short or are triggering too many hunger frenzies. Also, it's good that you keep the battles to one on one.

2) Have the combatants tape their mouths shut with duct tape.Literally wind duct tape around the kindred's head at mouth level a couple of times, This prevents a hunger frenzy from getting very far and prevents vampires with dominate and majesty from hosing their opponents. Won't prevent animalism or nightmare though.

3) Force players who wish to participate in combat to provide you with a 3x5 card with the following information:
-BP, (the pool of course is five, but they may be able to spend more than one a round.
-Disciplines
-Combat merits
-defense
- all of their combat attack pools PREFIGURED
-Frenzy check pool
-Initiative
This gets the sheet out of the players hands for the duration of the combat. You will essentially be running combat.
Make a mess of these cards up ahead of time. It'll save you some prep.

4) Allow the players involved in combat to mark the movements of the combat in slow motion. It'll be nice and visual and will give the people watching something to look at.

5) Have at least one NPC who is keenly interested in betting. If you can cozen a few players into doing the same, then the action in the stands will get as heated as it is in the arena. It wouldn't hurt to have some covenant pride going on, it also wouldn't hurt for there to be side prizes being offered to winners and good losers.

6) Station 8 ghouls with shock-sticks and armor around the perimeter of the cage. Have a magnetic lock on the cage door which can be gotten open by the press of a button.Have that button held by the "Proctor" Have a fast-blood delivery system in case of a mishap. (Like an enormous syringe filled with blood. That way, the medical team, does NOT have to cut the tape to get the blood in the kindreds system.

7) Have at least one Mekhet acting as "Proctor" to keep an eye out for cheating, Don't tell anyone that this is happening.

8) Make certain that the competitors blood as well as a large store of animal blood and human blood liberated from a blood-bank are on hand to provide healing to competitors.

9) I wouldn't worry too much about the sub-health system. Give your players an opportunity to role-play daunting injuries for the rest of the evening. Since the promoter who arranges the fight wants to make sure that the fighters get home undamaged, he can also provide a secure means for returning to their haven. That way, nobody gets jumped after the fight and the subsequent party.

10) Make sure that there IS a subsequent party. Fete the winners and if the losers showed good sportsmanship, honor them too. Make certain that those who cheated, showed poor sportsmanship, or frenzied get stripped of status. That's Harpy territory. talk it over with them.

11) If you're feeling up to it, you can even pre-script some of the fight action. This is especially good for NPC/NPC fights. and obviates a lot of throwing chops. Can even be useful for bringing in certain plot elements. ("Dude! I had no idea the old man was that FAST!")

12) In case you don't have a lot of takers right up front, schedule an undercard of NPC ghoul fights. This will hopefully get them into the proper spirit of things. Get a couple of players to play NPC's and have them do the slow motion fighting stuff while you narrate to the crowd. You might consider asking your player base if anyone has any experience in Stage Combat. It might be worth the time to have that person teach a small class on that stuff for the next time you do something like this. Although, it's probably too short notice for this Saturday.

Now... A lot of the advice i give above, is to help with certain specific elements of a set-piece fight. Set piece fights are different from ordinary fights in larps, because you have a pretty good idea of how they're going to come out before they even happen. The main point of lot of the advice above is to help make the fight itself into a something very visual.
Visual events in a larp are very important. No one wants to sit around watching two guys throw chops all night. That's about as exciting as watching flies fuck. Granted, it's a different story when YOU'RE the one in the arena, or you have something riding on the outcome. But, if the fight is more visual, it's also more accessible to people who aren't as involved.
Visual elements also help people get out of the mindset of whatever dingy venue they've managed to scrounge up for the evening and into the vibe of being in another place, possibly another time even. Visual events and set decoration can cue the mind in subtle ways and aid in the creation of suspension of disbelief.

Well, actually. Now that i think about it. Since larper are both actors AND audience, maybe that ought to be suspension of SELF.

In any case, anything you can do as an ST or as a player to up the visual and dramatic potential of a larp, helps the overall performance of the larp itself.

Sono Finito.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Sneaky Bastards Guide to Animalism

On occasion, you run across a power or ability in a game that causes a compete failure of imagination. It's fairly easy to come up with interesting and useful applications for things, if it fires your imagination. But when you get right down to it, some powers leave you cold.


The best way to handle these situations is a little directed thinking. Sitting down with the book, reading the power over and over and trying to think of situations where the power might become more useful than for the most simple applications, the kind that you see all the time.


The project du jour is Animalism. I've seen a few interesting uses of this power and come up with a few myself. So allow me to share a few that hopefully will have your GM's scratching their heads and consulting the book to see if you can actually DO that sort of thing.


Guard Duty(Body):

One of the more common ways that animalism is used is to press gang animals into service as haven guards and body guards.

Body guards of an exotic sort will be problematical in the modern world. One can't just go swanning about with animals other than Dogs in most places. And even so, if you come rolling up to the club entrance with two large pit bulls they might tell you to piss off. If i were the bouncer of a ritzy establishment, I certainly would beat the shit of a door guy who let a dude with pit bulls in. You might get away with it, if you're blind or can convince them that you are, and that your dog is a Working dog.

As a Keeper of Elysium, i would be similarly ill disposed to allow animals into the premises whether the bringer was a Ventrue or a Gangrel. It's simply too easy for something to get out of hand. And if your animal bit someone, that could be construed as an attack.

Body guard duty is a bit impractical unless you're expecting direct trouble coming your way. Then, it's perfectly alright to rouse up your small army of ghouled gators, boars, wolves, junkyard dogs, or what have you.

You might however get a bit of mileage out of passive forms of guard duty for your animals. A sneaky bastard type might be able to get a coral snake to "nap" in his pockets. Which would certainly be a surprise to any light fingered types, and in a tight situation, you might even toss the snake into a person's face. I even think you might be able to create an Animalism/Resilience devotion that would enable you to pull the "Thulsa Doom Trick" of straightening a snake, and shooting him from a bow like a poisoned arrow. I could even see a Sanctified Gangrel or Ventrue doing something similar to an old school D&D "Sticks to snakes" spell. Except the snake would be a snake the whole time.

Sure as hell doesn't show up on a metal detector. and if asked, you can truthfully say that you didn't bring a weapon.


Guard Duty (Haven):

You should probably own the place. You probably don't want a huge boa constrictor or a puma guarding you if you live in an apartment. Also, certain types of animals require licenses and immunizations. But let's be honest, hosting a party at your home with a puma strolling around accepting ear skritches from guests, makes a certain impression.

If you care about your animals, make certain they understand what to do in case of fire, and how to get out. You might want to take some extra effort to camouflage your dog door or puma door, as the case may be.

With enough resources, one can conceivably have a number of animals in ones home. Perhaps the pull of a single lever, might release them all. Won't that be fun?

You can even, with some preparation, have animals guard you in a torpor. I can't think of a more secure place to sleep off some time, than in the soil at the back of a cave full of bears.

Even passively, animals can be used as a sort of burglar alarm. The English have been doing it for centuries with geese and ducks. Put a pond near your home and you're pretty much in business during the warmer months. Chickens can be used for this same purpose. and chickens have the added bonus of being dumbly aggressive.

On more than one occasion, my players have run headlong into the fact that my antagonists had gone to a small amount of trouble to make nice with all the neighborhood pets. In at least one case, the Gangrel in question had gone to the trouble of making sure that no one could set foot on their mountain without them knowing in minutes.


Search (and Rescue?)

Now a lot of players seem to think that Animalism is a great way to look for people from the air. This is impractical for a lot of reasons. The short attention spans of most birds, not to mention that there aren't many nocturnal birds suited for that sort of work. Sure, you can command whole clouds of pigeons, but they won't be as useful to you as one owl. Unfortunately, owls aren't nearly as numerous as pigeons, and so you won't be able to do any kind of picket-fence surveilance of a city with them.

Animals also don't sense the beast in the same way kindred do, so some kindred might slide by detection in that way. Plus, animals acting oddly usually tip off the subject that they are being watched. Crabby sorts will take a shotgun to them.

and the ability to compel an animal will only go so far.

Rats are useful for finding specific things as long as you're dealing with underground spaces. While their utility at scouring a city is limited they can be used to great effect in order to sense incursions from the surface world on the underground world. If nothing else, they can tell you if the public works people are working in and around your underground haven.

The best way to use Animalism for search applications is with dogs and other canines. Such animals have incredibly strong and sensitive olfactory apparatus. A properly trained dog, could tell you not only that a kindred spilled blood here in this crime scene, but if you bump into him before he's had a proper wash, the dog might be able to ID the perp.

Dogs, wolves and other canines can also track across great distances, This is of limited utility in an urban environment, but they still use dogs to find drugs in large airports. So your mileage may vary.

Interested kindred with the right sort of attitudes might be able to have dogs track and harry prey for practical, or in the case of certain covenants, ritual purposes.


Recon

While flying animals are not so hot at tracking across a city, they are a positive boon when it comes to recon on a specific targeted area. It's usually best to stay away from large and obvious predator birds, regardless of how cool they may be. You'll get noticed more often if you recon bird of choice is a raven or a hawk than if it's a bird that is far more common in your area. I mean, who's going to look twice at pigeons or sparrows?

You should also consider ground recon as well. You can probably get some intel out of the target area if there are trees, as long as you have a squirrel or two to work with. Paranoid kindred who clear trees from their house in a wide circular areas (Called "kill zones") might still be vulnerable to intrusion by a garter snake, and such a creature is unlikely to set off Geo-phones or other intrusion counter measures.

In fact, I am reminded of a number of occasions where animals where able to invade my grandmother's house via the dryer outflow pipe. a few times, they were frog. Little teeny buggers. The whacky thing was, they looked just like the floor, so I only saw them when they moved in my line of sight. Don't know if they had chromatophores or if they were just the same color as the tile. On another occasion, the animal in question was a two foot long black snake. Which i had to kill with a rake.

A house is rarely impenetrable. Once, we lived in an apartment where the pigeons had managed to get inside the attic. There was a small hole into the top of the closet that housed our water heater and they would get in. I became very very adept at catching pigeons, before the kitties could do so. (Tip: use a towel.)

Small animals can exploit plumbing and HVAC systems in a number of ways to get inside of a house. After a certain point though, you'll know what you need to know, but it might be worth it to continue, just for harassment's sake.

Another way in which you can use this basic application is getting the animals to help you map a certain area. learning landmarks, Helping to find underground areas, Stuff like that. Could make cartography in a particularly non-urban area fairly easy. In a place like my home state, a quick word with the local animals might help you locate mineral deposits, toxic waste, sinkholes, and a dozen other things, as long as the animals know what to sniff for.


Training:

Animals that will take training are a positive boon to users of Animalism. When compelling an animal, you have to make them understand what you want and why you want it. But animals that will take training can understand that you require certain behavior from them even when you aren't around. And if you're smart, you can help them learn to do things that animals don't normally know how to to do.

Say i have 5 attack dogs. Say i've chosen a pit-bull/rottweiler mix for maximum ferocity. Pit bulls also can breathe through their nose while latched onto an attacker. They are the only breed that can do this, which adds to their utility in this regard.

So i've got dogs roaming around, peeing at the fence-line to scare off smaller predators and herbivores. Let's say you and your bunch of dudes come round to my place to roll me,

But if I am intelligent user of Animalism, Not only will i have trained my dogs not to accept food from any hand but mine, i will have trained them to move around singly or in pairs. In addition, i will have trained them to bark during a frontal attack. but not to bark during a flank attack... What this means, is tactically savvy doggies.

One or two who will bark when they site prey but the other three who will not bark as they flank the targets, and before you know it, they'll be on those dudes, like cheap on a K-mart.

Another application for this is training horses. Horses are skittish animals, but with proper training and reinforcement can be a positive terror on the battlefield. Some older kindred know this, and may keep a ghouled horse around for open warfare, should that sort of thing come to pass. A properly trained horse might even be able to put an iron-shod hoof in the face of a nosferatu attempting to cow it with Nightmare.

Another application would be the passing of extremely covert messages. Carrier pigeons can move messages about, but a properly trained Mynah bird could deliver the message directly to the user, even mimicking the speech patterns of the sender. All your target needs is a window. If the kindred on both ends have Animalism, then the messages length and complexity are no longer an issue. Even less so, if the animal is possessed by it's sender. In effect, that then would become a kind of low grade telepathy. Or at least would greatly facilitate informationally dense communication.


Body disposal;

Not everyone has access to sharks,alligators, piranha fish, or even ill-tempered sea bass. And if you do, great, good on you. You're probably a not very frugal Ventrue with an Ernst Stavro Blofeld fixation, and a small white kitty that you stroke while planning your dastardly deeds.

But you hardly need that, while you might want to keep your DOGS from eating people of a regular basis, you might consider your HOGS a different story. I always joked that i'd have a character one day with a closet full of ghouled pygmy marmosets. (Which is a type of tiny monkey, no bigger than your fist. ) Just toss the living or dead person you want to be rid of in the closet ,and shut the door. Odds are good they'd strip the flesh from his bones as fast as piranha could.


Urban Warfare:

While pushing around insects isn't exactly easy it can be damned useful if done with an eye toward working with their natural instincts. Tiny critters means tiny tiny brains, so you can't really do much out of the ordinary with them. But with the right work, there is nothing better for a long term urban harassment campaign.

You might have to take a specialty in Animal Ken for insects, and to do intricate work, you might even have to subsume an insect and direct the work from inside the hive as it were. But one wasps nest, or a batch of brown recluse spiders in the right spot can make an entire corporate building or apartment building uninhabitable. I mean seriously. Think of the lawsuits.

I bet that snooty elder who lives on the hill is real proud of his ancestral manse. Wouldn't it be an awful shame, if he got a bad case of termites. Especially termites that had been directed to feast in certain....LODE BEARING...spots.

There are companies that sell insect eggs online. You can drive the other kindred's animals to distraction if you plague them with fleas, ticks, mites, and nits. Might make his house damn near unliveable.


Crossbreeding:

Certain animals have desirable characteristics. With blood, and time,and judicious use, you can crossbreed certain species and enhance those characteristics. Mortal horse breeders have been doing it for centuries. Dog breeders too. Suppose someone with the right attitude and tools decided to breed snakes for greater venom toxicity, and toads for greater hallucinogenic properties. How about hedgehogs with a decidedly aggressive edge? And Animalism certainly makes the task of milking poisonous animals for their venom a good deal easier. Certain types of animals even deliver contact poison, (Spitting snakes, certain frog types.)


Animal based jobs:

If you have to pull up stakes and go somewhere else, getting back on your feet monetarily might be fairly easy if you have animalism. You could get a job as a third shift animal control officer. Keeping some of the more exotic and vicious animals for yourself. You could get yourself a job as a horse trainer or horse "whisperer" which for a vampire is nearly ideal. Almost all of those jobs are paid under the table and are done in the EARLY morning hours.

With the right knowledge and forged credentials, you could have a semi-lucrative veterinarian practice. You might have to hire on an actual vet to take care of cases during the day, but if the calf is foaling in the middle of the night, You could be the guy the farmer calls at 3 am.


Spies on the street:

While most animals are not adapted for urban areas and most domesticated animals have very circumscribed limits on their movements, It is not impossible to create a spy network in a city with animalism. Squirrels, pigeons and badgers have all become acclimated to urban areas and move around in nearly all season. One could even pair them with a human partner, someone trained to interpret their behavior, or even a homeless ghoul trained in the use of animalism. Such a buddy system has many many intelligence gathering use as one can go where the other cannot.


Distraction:

While it is technically a slight fracture of the masquerade, calling up a shitload of pissed off bats, like Batman does in "Batman Begins" is an excellent distraction and/or getaway plan.


War form:

Once you've reached a certainly level in animalism use, you can of course put your soul into an animal and move about in daytime, if you like. Marry this ability to earth melding and you are fairly well secured to do so. This means that any animal in your menagerie can be possesed by you as a way of defending your lair. If i was you, I'd keep a bear around. Or maybe a mountain lion. And since you can use your animalism in animal form, you can make yourself the Alpha wolf, and command an entire pack.


Food:

Lest we forget, Animals also supply blood to hungry kindred. Granted they aren't as succulent as humans or other kindred. But in sufficient bulk and with the right tools and storage facilities, you can not only feed well, but develop enough overrage that you can feed other kindred. I'm certainly not talking about snacking on squirrels, but what's to stop a kindred with a little bit of money from starting his own cattle ranch. You could have a pig farm. If you really want to spend money, why not a full on horse farm. even a rabbit, sheep, or chicken farm can supply plentiful warm red food, and can also supply incidental commodities.


Frenzy management:

In order to evoke a frenzy or cool one out in another kindred, you must be within line of sight of the kindred in question. While you can certainly insult a kindred into a frenzy, or talk him down, Neither need necessarily be done by making any outward sign. This can lead to all sorts of sneaky work if played right, but if you get caught doing so in an elysium, it can be bad business. Not that Auspex immediately reveals it or anything. You can even do so while possessing the animal ghoul of another kindred. (which is another reason that smart keeper will want to keep animals out of Elysium.

You might even work with another kindred to provoke a frenzy. The other kindred insults or provokes the kindred, ostensibly with some minor cutting remark, and then you tag them with the Animalism sending them over the edge.

You might even make a case, that you could use the 5th dot of Animalism as a kind of preventative frenzy maintenance, cooling the fires of the passionate vampire nature, BEFORE stepping onto the political stage, That would also provide some preventative bulwark against sneaky pricks trying to push you into a frenzy at court.


If YOU can think of more sneaky bastard ideas for Animalism, I encourage you to add them in the comments below. I will be giving out sick twisted bastard points for the most creative.


Sono Finito.