Wednesday, June 22, 2005

FISHMALK! (or: How to garner a well deserved beating at a Larp.)

I'm beginning to understand that gaming like most things requires a certain amount of development. Not everybody plays at the same rarefied esoteric level of gaming that I try to play at. For many, feeling the depths of a character's suffering isn't fun. A lot of people don't know that it's more interesting to try and put a person back together to fight an unstoppable foe than to come out of the gate just as powerful as the enemy. Many people are not on the same plane when it come to the idea of a "Fun night of Gaming."

Some folks, are more comfortable with a style of gaming that would put Tarantino and the Warchowski brothers to shame. Hack! Slay! Chop! Dismember! Defenestrate! All that kind of thing! Some are more comfortable with walking into a basic simple game and throwing a huge monkey wrench into the works and watching the resulting chaos.This, to them, is fun and creative and playing their character....

Are they wrong?

I wish I could say they were. But they aren't. To them it IS fun, the only sad bit is that it sucks for everybody else. Sometimes, this condition can be ameliorated and sometimes it can't. This article intends to tell you how to do this, what steps to take, and when to call the whole thing off and just bounce the fucker.

The most prevalent example of this situation is in a vampire larp when you've got weirdoes playing Malkavians being all antic and goofy and monkeywrench like. In talking about this problem I'll be drawing heavily from Larp examples. Hopefully you'll be able to see ways to adapt these tips to your games and be able to stem the tide of incredibly stupid and childish shit perpetrated under the rubric of "I'm just playing my character/alignment/derangement/whatever."

1) Let them know ahead of time

One of the best ways that I ever heard of was to create a Larp style sheet. This would basically be a page or two on the basic nature of the larp and the kind of story that the ST wants to tell. This would be useful in ongoing larps more than Con larps,(Since most Con larps use pregens) This at least give the players coming in a head-up as to what kind of game they're getting into. If they've got any sense at all they'll realize that bunny slippers and jammies will not be appreciated in a larp where the ST want a low down and gritty tale of back alley politics.

2) Early detection can mean prevention

In a Con larp, it's a bit harder to spot the troublemakers until it's too late. One of the best ways to circumvent this is to make the players fill out a survey before being allowed to play. This survey is usually to help ST's cast the players well, but also to help the ST figure out who those who might pose a problem. Anybody who express a desire to play a Malkavian or a Ravnos needs to be looked at. Heck, anybody who wants to play something like a Mokole Abomination or a Bastet with Faerie blood or the lone changeling in any other kind of Larp needs to be examined very carefully.
True Story: A fella I know was STing a larp at a con when he was approached by a player who demanded to be allowed to play a Malkavian with True Faith on the basis of " I want to fuck with your players." This player narrowly escaped a severe beating.

3) A word to the wise

It is just barely possible that a troublesome player might not be aware that he's causing a problem. Believe me it's true. Some folks are so keyed to spotting minutiae that they miss the big obvious things going on around them. So at some point it might be necessary to pull a certain players aside and say something along the lines of:

"Look, I know you're just playing your character and that you're just trying to have fun but you've got to realize that your actions are starting to queer the game for the rest of us. You're not helping the story along and you're starting to irritate me and the other players. If this keeps up I'll be forced to take action."
Get Socratic on them and start asking them questions. Is this fun for them? Do they think it's fun for the others involved? If it's not, why would others want to play with them? Keep asking questions until they see the light...If they ever will.

4) Plan for chaos

Running a Larp is a sure cure for too much anal retentive behavior. If you think the fishmalks are a problem that you can stamp out completely, then what are you going to do when one of your "good" players does something completely unexpected that causes your whole plot to come unglued? Plan events not reactions to events and you have the beginning of loosening control over your game. That way when freakishly weird shit happens it's merely a part of the landscape as opposed to an utter game stopper. Study on this.

5) Malkies with a real agenda

Part of the problem in a Larp whether Con or Ongoing is that there is a tendency to underwrite Malkavians. This is a failing that must be corrected. If anything, the Malkies need to be Overwritten. Malkavians need a real history and real agenda in order to function at all. In fact, your Malkies should be so well written that you don't want to entrust them to beginners. Give your Malkies Heart,Depth, and a real motivation and you might be surprised at what they'll do. They might even kill their own clanmates when they display dumbass behavior because it's getting in the way of good play.

You gotta understand, Malkavians have a hard road to hoe. They have abilities that creep out other vampires and set them on edge. They have these funky intuitions that make people nervous, Most princes and elders don't like upsetting surprises in their bailiwick no matter what the reason and undeath has a way of eroding the sense of humor unless it was gallows black to begin with. Hence, Most malkavians who embraced the comic relief role in a Larp are doomed from the get off. Malkavian have a higher attrition rate than even Tremere and are harder to play well.

This means that any malkie you create has got to have figured out some way to fit in to Kindred society in some way,shape,or form. Malkies might even gravitate to positions of authority that "lean into" their particular insanity in some way. Here are some potential examples:

-A rules obsessed Sheriff
-A justice obsessed Sheriff
-An obsessive-compulsive Seneschal (or Templar)
-A megalomaniacal Prince (or Bishop)
-A homicidal Scourge
-A sadistic Scourge
-A schizoid Primogen who is scheming to kill himself
-A Harpy with a betrayal fetish/pattern
-A Harpy with stalker tendencies (pity the poor toreador who catches his eye.)

6) Karma is a bitch!

When all else fails, it's time to get tough and usually I am of the "Let the Consequences be your guide" school of thought. In a larp this might be as simple as having the cops show up in force to apprehend the culprit or it might be as subtle as an elder gathering a group of disparate enemies to crush the offender.

Such players will start with the usual whining and puling about how they are playing their derangement or whatever. Below is a story written by the inimitable Tim Toner about how to deal with these types.

You know, I feel like sharing.
I ran a D&D game back in high school. We started sophomore year with 1st level characters in Village of Hommlet, and soon after, they embarked upon the Temple of Elemental Evil (ooooh!). During this adventure, the party can free a princess being held ransom (actually a prince, but the gender switch served my purposes nicely). She was assisted primarily by a cavalier, played by a kid who was very much introverted. This budding relationship wasn't overdone in any way, and I saw large potential down the road.

Anyways, they kick the Temple's ass, and from there, I decided to do the A1-4 Supermodule. For those of you not in the know, A1-4 details a campaign to smash a slaver ring terrorizing the region. To hook them in, I decided to use the fact that, while traipsing off to the Temple for the Final Showdown, they do to the princess what most PCs do to their horses--leave them unattended outside the Big Stinking Evil Temple. I pointed this out to them, but they blew it off. Needless to say, when they came back, she was gone. Inquiries indicated that she had been KIDNAPPED! GASP!

And so they were off, chasing after her, missing her at every juncture. Ernesto, the guy playing the Cavalier, was roleplaying his ass off, and I was quite pleased. The Supermodule ends with the nearly legendary A4, which involves the characters being captured, stripped of everything, and then tossed into a series of caverns (with no light sources!!). The slaver base is located on an island in the middle of a volcanic lake, which is quickly rushing from dormant to active. It's a real nail biting race against time. Of course they got out, and of course their stuff had been stashed on a boat ready to leave the sinking Pit of Evil. All they had to do was make short work of the Head Honchos, which they did quite readily. Paddling their ass off, they made it to shore. Yay!

Anthony, the Lawful-Evil Illusionist loosely modeled on Raistlin, asks me if the module's over. I think he wants to get a pizza. I say, "Sure!" He replies, "I pull out my wand of lightning, and shoot the princess in the back."

You could have heard a pin drop. Everyone's horrified. I ask him, "Why?" He replies, "I'm playing my alignment. I've been held back for too long." Everyone's too mortified to argue. Anthony rolls the dice--26 hit points. She gets knocked off the horse.

Ernesto is besides himself with rage. He tells me his character wheels his horse about, and charges the illusionist with his lance. There are two other cavaliers in the party, and they both cry foul. A charging lance against a wizard? That's not fair! They make it a point of honor, and order Ernesto's character to dismount, and face the illusionist on the field of battle.

Now Ernesto's cavalier kicks ass in the saddle, but sucks on the ground. Further compounding things, he isn't completely healed up, and Anthony's been holding back on the healing. Matt (one of the other cavaliers) announces that it is to be to the death, and that he will enforce that ruling. No resurrections possible.

Of course, the illusionist cheats like a bastich, and of course Ernesto is too flustered (prolly by his abandonment from his presumed brothers in arms) to mount an effective defense, and thus a lowly illusionist kills a Cavalier of comparable level.

"Good!" Anthony shouts. "I incinerate the body. He's gone! Forever!"

Now while all this is going on, I reach over to my tattered copy of Temple of Elemental Evil, and look up the stats on that there princess (prince). Hm. Seems she's no slouch in the combat department (something I always factored in, but never precisely). 42 hit points? Dear me. 42 take away 26 isn't dead...hrm...roll her save...made it. Oh, my!

Anthony gets off exactly one extra bolt, when the princess (we did it with miniatures, and NO ONE WAS LOOKING) sucker punches him into unconsciousness. She's still carrying her sword, and she strikes again, a Natural 20. I consult my charts o Doom, and rule that the prone illusionist's hand has been hacked off.

Anthony opens his mouth to complain, and I throw him the module with the stats (the real reason why I dug it out). She lashes her lover's corpse to a horse, while the rest stand there, stunned by this turn of events. They try to reason with her, telling her that honor was served, and that Ernesto's character could not be resurrected. "What do you know of honor,"she calls down from the saddle, and spits on Matt's character before riding off.

Carl, the third cavalier, mutters, "I think when she gets back home, we won't be cavaliers anymore." And they weren't.

I had intended to start GDQ the next weekend, with plenty of opportunity for the illusionist to be as EEEEEVIL as he liked, and as it was, he'd been getting plenty of attention already. He'd done something unforeseen that had thrown the campaign into chaos, and all because he decided to "play his character" in a way that would make the game unplayable. I took a month's break, reconvened the group, and announced that 1) there would be no more evil characters, since I didn't think anyone was capable of playing them correctly (I have a similar rule for Malks in Vampire, too), and 2) actions would have consequences. Each player got a secret word that I'd blurt out whenever they were doing something that, in my opinion, threatened the enjoyment of everyone, and if they persisted, well, they'd find the world as cruel and vindictive as they wanted it to be. And although we never talked about that day, I never once had to use any of the secret words, which was the same for all -- Karma.

Sometimes good medicine can be very harsh indeed. It is mainly this way to motivate you to get better and quick. I want to thank Tim Toner for the use of this story and the wisdom it contains.

Sono Finito.


At 5:35 PM, Anonymous Acid Reign said...

.....In my experience, cavaliers can be more trouble in a game than evil illusionists. And when the game gets to double digit levels, an illusionist is almost useless. All the worthy bad guys can see through that stuff... Always have the bad guys with True Seeing have it running. After all, they probably know the party is coming!

.....Would a cavalier REALLY go adventuring with a band of Commoner bow specialists and magic-users, not to mention thieves? "Yes," says the problem player, and "You're all a bunch of cowards!" "We can't do that, it's unfair!" "I'll never retreat! (You better have me raised, damnit!) You shoot that demon in the back, and I'll be forced to kill you!" You get the idea...

.....I've also experienced the corollary to the above rules, the storyteller whose game is nothing like his stated vision! We were warned not to put twink characters together, as this was a social campaign. I pieced together a liberal, working class former union representative embraced by the Ventrue to influence certain interests. Of course, I did put a lot of points into Manipulation, Charisma, Leadership, etc. But no dodge, firearms, etc. After a terrifying meeting with rude and insane elders in town (I was called a "useless suck-up," we were treated to a pickup truck full of Sabbat with molotov cocktails, uzis, and sawed offs. We were thrashed, of course. Our ref told us out of character that we sucked! "You've ruined my game! You ought to at least be able to take out a rat-pack!" And he had disallowed the Tremere using Movement of the Mind to smash a rock into a lit, Sabbat-held cocktail... Should have been a fire-dance to enjoy, I tellya!

.....I have to totally agree with the beforehand warning to gamers. I've done the same thing in my vamp game. And yes, some had to be shown for real. Lodin knows how to look your big family full of allies up in the phone book, visit them, and turn them against you...



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