Sunday, July 10, 2016

Turn it up!

So, there are pitfalls in trying to run good games. Some are obvious, Some not so much.
I had to take a break from running games because i needed to get back to playing. I was burning out and like normal i had loaded my plate with too many things.  (A common problem for me at Golden Corral.)

So i throttled WAY back. Became more of a player in my larps, and refused to get into STing in my various chats. In some cases, this was unusually hard. My tendency to see what is missing in games can sometimes be a curse. Also i found my general permissive and improvisational attitude towards game mastering flies in the face of certain GMs with control issues.

But i am starting to feel the itch again. Maybe not to actually do a LOT of STing, but at least keep my hand in and keep the pot stirred.
Our last larp was a fairly quiet affair, bordering on dull. I'm not going to name any names, or point fingers or anything of that sort. Because these people are all my friends and i want things to stay that way. But lately, our membership has been in a slow slide and there are multiple causes.

This is a big one.  When it's time to Larp, you need to get your energy up and you need to be loosey goosey. Whether that means pounding some Mountain Dew and a 5 hour energy shot, or a shot of whiskey in order to loosen up. Do what you need to do. And i recommend that you do what you can whether you are a player or an ST.  Energy is contagious, especially in a larp. If you are literally falling asleep on your feet, you should stay home and rest. Seriously, not only are you not contributing, but you're sucking energy out of the larp without meaning to.
   If you're like me, (...and you KNOW you're dying to be...) You may have blood-sugar issues and need to step out for a moment or two to snack. Don't be afraid to speak up and say so. Also, if there are two games back to back, like we have (Changeling and Vampire with a dinner break between) The tendency can be to eat a big heavy meal which will steal your energy for the back half.   Not too many people realize this but the reason why you generally want a nap after a big meal is that the body needs energy to digest food. Sure it may mean you've got plenty of energy AFTER the larp, but that's hardly useful during is it?
    Energy management is important stuff. You can go to larp with a lot of problems but if the energy is right it can still be engrossing and pull people kicking and screaming into its shoggoth-like depths. And whenever possible avoid scheduling anything else on larp day.  And get some goddamn sleep!

When you hold your opening meeting, say what you need to say, and as quickly as possible At the top of the game, people are chomping at the bit to go, If you speak longer than ten minutes, you're stealing time and energy from your game. Use your opening meeting to ramp UP energy and get people excited for the game to come. 
Additionally. Don't stand up there and ramble and hope things come to you while you are talking. In the past i have advocated having a checklist of what you MUST cover for the opening meetings of a con larp. More and more i am coming to the decision that it's equally necessary for the regular games.

 if you've got pre-game stuff that must be handled before game starts, like blood draws, or ritual rolls, or any of a dozen other things, try to find means and methods to streamline these processes as much as possible. And if you can't streamline them, then farm them out to as many ST's and assistant ST's as possible. Make sure there is a standard policy for this and that it is written down for reference.

Moreoever, being an ST, means doing a lot of thinking about the game, away from the game itself. Be duly diligent. If you've got a piece of news for a certain subset of players, like everyone with Media influence, or everyone who's lived in the area longer than ten years or whatever, Put it on a 3x5 card.  That way instead of having half a dozen small meetings to disseminate information, you can just hand them the card and they can pass it around amongst themselves.  You might as create a list of the common influences as well as the ones unique to your venue. (For us: University influence, Horse industry influence, and Red Neck Mafia Influence.) and run them down prior to game time.

One of the things that i LOVE about our game, is that one of the players has taken to compiling the freaky things that happen in ALL of the venues and putting them into a "newspaper" along with a few real world freaky things.  It adds flavor, and it gives MY character things to do for each game session. I want to see more of this.  it also encourages a bit of cross venue stuff,   and as always, Cross venue play usually does aggravated damage.  

In most games, Court is deathly dull.  It normally involves a long damn wait for the prince and courtiers to get their shit together and then it's usually sped through like the tiresome chore it is.  Also: It's usually awkward, especially for the new players who often have to introduce themselves during formal court. Unless you walk in the door with some show business, you'll just be tripping over your tongue like everyone else.  I personally, have given up on trying to learn anyone's name at court, simply because most people mush mouth their introduction.

Court, needs to be jazzed up. In fact, i've long been a believer that Court ought to be like a long running soap opera with plenty of twists and political turns. Characters ought to be scared to miss it.
With this in mind, i'd like to  offer a list of things that nearly anyone can do to spice it up some.

1) Make a splash:  If you're introducing yourself to the player-base for the first time, you honestly need to put some serious show business into it.  If you stand up, mumble through your introduction, answer questions like you're having your teeth pulled, and then fade into the woodwork, then essentially you're sending the message that your character wants to immediately be forgotten and that you have no interest in making contact with anyone once court is over. Whereas it's a different message when the prince bids you rise and introduce yourself and you say in a clear strong voice. "I am Harrison Claymoore, Blood of the clan of Kings, and proud scion and knight of the first estate. I offer greetings to the Kindred of this city and I am willing to share news of my travels. I offer my service to the First Estate and I offer a minor boon to your grace for the privilege of settling in this fair city."
    That is the way to get noticed on the first night. Step up. Bring your "A" game.

2) Fight over stuff:
If you have covenants that are at odds with one another it should be standard practice for those covenants to claim swaths of territory and hunting grounds. Hell. if you're feeling froggy start claiming turf in the enemies area and force them to contest your claims. This spurs some political horse-trading and might even spur a few IC arguments in court proper.  If two players are staring at one another across a table and saying "HOW DARE YOU SIR!" then you're doing it right.

3) Bring news:
The gossip mill needs grist. It can't grind things unless people come to court with public announcements.  Enemy movements, things going on in neighboring cities, public oaths (Especially for the assumption of court offices.) crazy shit that happened at the Nightclub last night,  all these things are fair game.   In fact, if you're a highly improvisational player, you can use this as a means of building things into your character as long as the events you describe aren't too far ranging. For instance, public thanks to a fellow kindred for being kind enough to handle body disposal because of a mistake that was made during hunting last night. Such a thing doesn't create huge plot and allows you to show certain sides of your character.

4) Make the rounds:  
If your character is a social powerhouse, you're dumb if you sit on your butt and wait for players to come to you. You need to be up and around and meeting people. In fact, if you're seneschal or Harpy, that's your goddamn job.  You need to be out shaking hands, writing down names, peeling the moody loner off the wall, finding out what he's interested in and connecting him up with other players who have similar interests. People are a resource and need to fought over like every other scarcity in a good Larp.

Who gets the Stick
I'm going to go out on limb here.  If you are an established player or you've been in the game for a long time, The ST doesn't need to spend the bulk of his time with you.  When you reach a certain level of play, you should be making your own plot rather than depending on an ST to make plot for you.
Moreover, If you're a power player, you don't need to be hogging up the plot that is out there. Plot needs to be built for people who walk in the door. New and fresh.  Save your crazy high power plot for special occasions and for Cons.

Look. it's like this. If the bulk of the ST's are tied up running plot that new people would be instantly slain by, that's a choke point.  If you NEED an ST for something specific for your character, you can always make an appointment, maybe even handle some things via chat session, email proxy or Google wave.  But with game time so very finite, it is imperative that FUN is spread out to as many people as is possible.

It would seem that building plot for players you don't know would be hard. You'd be right. But it's also easy. There are lots of human level plots that can be used, abused,  and even recycled over and over again.  Human beings and their troubles and foibles aren't going away anytime soon. You can use this.   In fact, it's less useful to have a player take on the part of some high level NPC than it is to have him take on the role of a particularly crafty drug pusher or gun dealer.

Now you might be saying at this point "Durr!" but i'm talking about thorough planning.  Sitting down and seriously considering where you want to go with various plots and characters. Not only that but once the game is over for the month, you should be thinking and making notes for what you intend to do next month.   You should be on the prod for plot elements that you can use to make each game interesting and engrossing.  Once per quarter you ought to have some kind of kindred social engagement, hopefully something with music and possibly even dancing.   This bumps up the tendency for players to "dress up" for those game sessions at least.   Once a quarter you ought to have an evening where the various covenants have their meetings, which can spur some inter-covenant plot. This is perfectly acceptable for an evening where you have NO plans for combat,   Have a night of meetings and then court at the end of the evening.  That's a game right there and nobody has to get killed.
    Planning lets your players know you're working hard on making things as fun for as many people as possible. The more planning you do, the less you have to come up with solutions on the spot.

which does not mean, "Bad guys turn up just as Elysium security miraculously fails....AGAIN!" 
Look, i understand as well as the next ST that there are some players that just aren't going to be happy unless they get their claws wet. You invest a certain amount of points in being a combat gumby and you want to see a return on that investment. But just as there are people who are going to be annoyed if NO fight breaks out, there are going to be players that are going to be annoyed if a game is nothing but killbox after killbox.

So. There needs to be more than one kind of conflict. There needs to be conflicts that have little to no combat element. Puzzles and investigations and trials for mentally based players. Influence wars and other forms of social conflicts for more socially graced types. In fact, these sorts of conflicts are best when they involve mortals and in addition can be the sort of conflict where killing the target is an unmitigated disaster.

Wednesday, July 06, 2016

"...As was foretold in the PROPHECY!"

Which, incidentally is another phrase I'm no longer allowed to say at work. Right along with, "That's what she said." and "Funnily enough, that was our prom theme" and "No kidding, that's also the name of my "blank-blank" cover band.

But I digress.

The path of life is full of twists and turns. Most people who have a bit of sense try to see the road ahead and figure out what they're going to do.  You, as GM, have to be ahead of the curve.

Let's tackle this one without being at all flowery.  You've usually got a few players who have made some kind of investment in some sort of prophetic powers.  Some are volitional, like tarot readers, tea leaf readers, those few gifted with enough skill to call a prophetic vision. But others are people who are willing to invest some points in an ability they have little control over.

Bless those people.

It can be difficult for a Game Master because players often want multiple ways of avoiding knowing about things. If they know about things, then they might have to do things, and by extension, do things they don’t want to, or do things that are manifestly dangerous.  It’s the same impulse that makes the hero turn away from the call of adventure, at least the first time...Which is cool and all. But that’s literary. It doesn’t make as much sense when you are playing a game that the point of, is to have an adventure. I often scratch my head over this, and look as puzzled as Amish folk at Best Buy.

In any case, when you have someone who WANTS to be told things, even if the things are all some variation on “DOOM IS COMING!” You should certainly treasure them, but you can’t exactly make it easy for them.  Prophecies are finicky and in order for them to work dramatically, They have a few rules.

1) Prophecies should be confusing.
Ideally, a prophecy is a hint of foreshadowing of a planned event, that is only ever figured out when it’s almost too late to do anything about it. In fact, you might hold a tiny piece of the puzzle in reserve right up until the players are running against the clock. Just so that you can drop it in their laps at the last moment. Oh sure, If they figure it all out righteously, don’t STEAL that from them. But if they are still struggling and the bad guys are about to win, give them a “Penny drop” roll and watch them run like hell.

As a result, You as GM, should have a license to be as opaque in the early going of trying to figure out what the visions mean.  If you run games, it probably means you have a few occult books on your bookshelf. Go out and buy a dream dictionary so that you can use the imagery in it to make the vision confusing and/or poetic.  You might see if you can’t find a good book on occult symbols and choose the most  obscure ones to figure prominently in your vision.  Visions should feel like a dream most of the time. with a sort of twisted, and yet internally consistent logic to them.

In fact, one of things that I have done in an actual game was to give a player a list of imagery on a piece of paper and then begin a countdown from 30, and at 30 take the piece of paper back.  I've even tinkered with the idea of making the list on a piece of flash paper, just for a bit of extra flair.
Memory can be treacherous, and dreams and visions fade as a person wakes. Ain't that a BITCH.

2) The more concrete a prophecy is, the more misleading it should be.
I’m not saying that you should ever give information to a person with these gifts that is flatly wrong. But you should on occasion make certain that the things that they experience in a vision or prophecy are never exactly straightforward, and that the ones that APPEAR straightforward are anything but.  My suggestion to you is that the television show, “The Dead Zone” is a masterclass in this basic concept.  I am particularly reminded of the episode where there is a bank robbery and Johnny keeps seeing different versions of the same vision with someone different dying each time.  Rapidly evolving situations, with many moving pieces, may do exactly the same thing. 
Also: there is the concept of point of view being very fluid. A trusted friend pointing a weapon at you and firing may be firing on someone behind you or your point of view may be from looking in a mirror. You or someone else performing some horrible act that you’d ordinarily NEVER do, may come about as the result of a necessity that you can’t SEE right now.   Hey, the prophecy says that the Chosen One will definitely die. But it doesn’t say anything about the Chosen One STAYING DEAD. know what I mean? Good thing I had that crash cart parked nearby.
The rule of thumb to follow here is that very little in a vision is exactly what it seems to be.

3) Prophecies should never be Proof.
Prophets are not necessarily the sort of people that rational people ought to take seriously. I mean those people who make pronouncements to the National Enquirer don’t hit more than 50 percent of the time. Otherwise the Pentagon and Wall Street would be all over that shit. Individuals are certainly free to make their choices as they will do. But you should never allow a prophet to walk into a situation, make a dire pronouncement, and have the entire group of players turn on the dime as a result.  There are safeguards for this.
*You should probably make certain that the NPC’s either don’t believe, or think that the prophecies are politically motivated.
* You might take some effort to make objective reality look like the prophet is foolish or crazy.
* You might mention to the Prophet that he sees the following thing happening in 6 out of 10 frames.  This especially good for extremely short duration visions.  It occasionally means that the prophet will be WRONG. and may make hash out of his credibility and/or his confidence.

4) Prophecies should never be free.
Magic is a not a gumball machine. You don’t put in a nickel and then get a piece of gum, like some protocol of cause and effect. There used to be a magic item in a game of mine which was an Italian water clock. It would give it’s possessor visions if a certain ritual was enacted. but the ritual involved filling the water clock with the blood of a living creature. And as time went on, it was discovered that the accuracy of the visions was augmented by the purity of the blood involved.  Animal blood was fine for some things, but when real stakes were on the table one had to consider how much clearer it would if someone sacrificed a young virgin...or even, an infant.
   In a similar vein, I had an NPC Demon, who was the Demon Prince of Awful Truths. He could look into things for a player, unless they were shielded from observation. But his price for doing so was a sliding scale.  To do so once, he would require the player to tell him a true secret.  To do so more than 3 times might involve the Awful Truth Dare, where a petitioner would have to avoid telling a lie for the turning of a moon.
If they did tell a lie during that period, then they would be struck for a non trivial amount of unsoakable aggravated damage.  Big jobs might require that you become INCAPABLE of telling a lie for a limited time. See the movie “Liar Liar” for how messed up a persons life can become as a result.
   The point i’m trying to get at here is that there is always a price for magic.  Sometimes it seems incidental. Like maybe during a vision, you happen to see another player who has a secret, and maybe that shows itself like the player’s character has two shadows and one is always whispering to the other. This will, by necessity CHANGE how that player interacts with the other person, and you should give that other player a “penny drop” roll to figure out, “Oh shit. HE KNOWS!”  Neither player has a scrap of proof of course.   
Sorry. Had to make some effort to wipe the sadistic smile from my face.
  There’s always the more pedestrian effort of making certain that the vision is actually frustrating AND painful.  I remember a Mage game some years ago, where the players were tracking a serial killer who beat his victims to death with his fists.  When our Cultist of Ecstasy attempted to use retrocognition at the crime scene, she found herself in the shoes of the actual victim and found herself being beaten to death by a masked figure.   When she came out the vision, she had plentiful bruising damage and we asked her what she had found out, and she said, “Apparently, it hurts to be hit repeatedly.”

Hey, if a hypnotist can poke you with a pencil and say, “I am burning you” and it will raise blisters in about an hour, then a vision of a nuclear apocalypse could result in a nasty sunburn and temporary blindness. I’m just saying.

Things to do In Character when you're dead.

Maybe you should have zigged, instead of zagging.  Maybe you should have found ways to solve your problems that didn’t involving killing as your first option. Maybe, you mouthed off to someone that, hindsight being 20/20, you probably wouldn’t have done if you’d known... and now, you are quite deceased.

It happens. 
In fact, in some some games it happens distressingly often.

But you know, while you are creating a new character to jump back into active play. You might give some thought to the repercussions of your former PC’s demise.  None of us live in a vacuum and when we die, we aren’t exactly sucked up whole and entire.  Too often, I feel that Larps pay short shrift to character mortality and as a result, no one seems to look beyond, “Gank the fucker” as a solution to the problem he or she may represent.  Done correctly, and with a bit of collusion from the ST staff. You can fix it so that killing your character might end up having all sorts of nasty nasty consequences.  MAYBE, it will be enough to get that maniac to think twice, or at least keep it in his pants

In most larps, there are secrets.  If you’re any good at all, you may have acquired a couple.  In WOD Larps most people live in some kind of society built on secrets. So, now that you’re dead, maybe its time to set those biscuits free.
Consider: Maybe you’re a vampire, and you’ve been told all your unlike, that keeping your existence secret is the utmost responsibility. But maybe, at some point down the road you begin to see that you are going to meet some horrible demise.  And if that really bothers you, you might think to yourself, “Well. If I’m going to be dead.I don’t think I give three-penny fuck about the sanctity of the Masquerade.”

There are many ways you can generate a decent amount of plot by simply having a certain amount of information in button-down mode. Say you get ganked, or driven into a very long torpor. Perhaps you have files that could be sent to journalists, police, feds, and scrappy hunter groups you’ve had your eye on.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if your online diary got sent to everyone in the community? So that they know PRECISELY what you really thought of them.  And if you’re doing that, well... Who says all of the conversations you’ve had with the others were strictly verbatim...or even happened at all. Perhaps your diary is a masterstroke of disinformation designed to jack up the vampire court that wronged you so terribly. Serves the fuckers right.  Hey, if you have a mailing address for Werewolves, a detailed treatise on vampire weaknesses could destabilize an entire region for generations.

Ok. Maybe that’s not your cup of tea. Maybe your character lived and died by the credo, “No Snitching”  Doesn’t mean your killer(s) ought to get off scot free.  Most supernatural creatures have a kind of “Family” structure even if they aren’t necessarily related by blood.  So, if you’re character buys the farm, wouldn’t it make a certain amount of sense for members of your family to turn up and start demanding answers? Especially if your family is WAY scarier than you.   Ask your ST if you can play a short duration NPC with some meat on it.  Be careful that this is not a revenge trip or that you use OOC knowledge to fuck someone over.  THAT’S NOT COOL.  But do show up and make trouble and show that when you kill someone, the people close to them may come calling.

You know you can even work this backwards. Say it’s the mortal family that’s flipping out about their son or daughter’s disappearance. And maybe, they start asking questions, and maybe they start finding answers. And maybe the family goes from being a support group, to a hunter group. And maybe killing them just starts drawing more and more attention.   You know, if I was a mage or a werewolf or some other creature with an ax to grind against the vampires, I would see to it that the family got a certain amount of support-that-you-would-never-be-able-to-prove-I-provided-so-there.  Weapons, Cash, Secrets...You’d be surprised what falls off the back of a truck in this neighborhood.

 Sometimes, we have plans about what’s going to happen when we die. The sort of plans that make for a Mona Lisa smile as the blade rises and falls, and maybe the killer(s) have no idea of the metric fuck-ton of hurt that they are opening up for themselves. Sometimes, it can be fairly immediate. I used to have a Nosferatu who, if he suspected someone was coming around to kill him, would cut open his belly and pack white phosphorus grenades into his long dead intestines.  Of course, He’s pull the pins but prevent the spoon from popping. and pack his belly tight and use his blood to heal.  That way, if he ever got ashed in combat, his killers were in for a rude surprise.  Other times it can be more long term. An actual will, triggered by certain code words to a trusted attorney, a number of pre-signed transactions, and a general liquidation of assets which are then donated to accounts and slush funds belonging to enemies of the community.  Could be a disaster if the vampires discover their favorite nightclub is now owned by vampire hunters.

Some night, The bad people might prevail, and that’s a shame, because there are people who depend on you.  But you should have a plan in place for THEM too, should you be taken off the count.  Generally, when regular mortals are bereft of leadership, they scatter, and GHOULS have it way worse, as they tend to become suicidal.  But there are times, when a sealed letter “In the Event of My Death” can give guidance and purpose to a ghoul after his domitor is gone.  Once, I was playing the Ventrue prince of a city. An old school southern gentleman. His children had been warned that if he was ever slain that his ghouls had orders to burn as much of the city as they possibly could.  Ordinarily, this wouldn’t have been huge threat, But this game was set in the 1790’s. It was a bit more serious when your home city doesn’t actually have a fire department.

I heard about one that I rather liked. The seneschal of a particular city was a bit obsessive-compulsive and a touch paranoid.   It didn’t help that he spent a LOT of his time developing his influence.  They put the guy into torpor, down for the long count. and the whole fucking city ground to a halt and started to fall apart because of mis-routed funds and bureaucracy that had been smooth as glass as long as the seneschal had been in charge.

Another time, I ran a game where the prince of a city got perished. Some months before the event, she had purchased at an occult auction, an emerald pendant. It read as a magic item, but so far, no one had been able to make it work. She bought it because it was simply pretty and hoped to get the Tremere to figure it out for her in repayment of certain boons.  What NONE of them knew was that pendant was only useful to humans, and tended to amplify their natural psychic affinities. usually in a shocking flash.   After that lady prince had died, her morose ghouls were packing up her goods, and one of the ghouls picked it up.
Suddenly, the community was now being plagued by a precognitive ghoul with a serious axe to grind.  Do you know how HARD it is to track someone who has inside knowledge of the vampire community, has ghoul powers,  is willing to kill to keep those ghoul powers, knows exactly when and how to hit his targets, and ALWAYS knows when you’re coming?

My players do.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Never tell these stories


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 27, 2015

The tip of the iceberg

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Why crossover games suck!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Some thoughts on the art of Character Vetting

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