Friday, June 24, 2005


Over the course of many years of writing this column I have been attempting to get at the bone under all the meat of gaming. Why does it affect it us the way it does? What makes a good game and why? How can we maximize the good and minimize the bad. Much of what I offer in this column are tips and tricks and ways to avoid some of the basic pitfalls of gaming. For the initiated, this column may not hold a lot of secrets or surprises but I like to think that even old timers like me can still find something new in these pages.

I have slowed down in recent years for a variety of reasons. I don't have to reinvent the wheel, so anytime I find good gaming advice on a particular topic, I let it rest in my mind. I don't feel I have to cover that topic. I also don't want to repeat myself too much.

Still, on occasion things occur to me that I think will make a good crank report and after they've rolled around in my backbrain for a while, I feel they need to be shared.

As a performer, Larping seems to be a natural progression for me. In fact, these days, Tabletop gaming is getting to be more like real work. I'm getting to play in more larps these days anyway.

As a result, I had an interesting conversation with a like minded fellow who described to me a large scale con larp that he had been to.

The plot involved the defection of a high level Tzimisce elder from the Sabbat to the Camarilla. The fellow I was speaking to described a scene in the conclave where the Tzimisce elder strolled in. He was dressed head to foot in white. White hat, white tailcoat, white shoes,

a white porcelain mask with "Flesh" seemingly holding it in place. (the makeup job he described sounded to me like the work of at least a few hours.I know a little something about stage makeup.) In addition to this sartorial exhibition. The Tzimisce Elder had 6 ghouls in dog collars.(also held in place by "Flesh") leashed to his hand. They scurried around dusting off his shoes, moving furniture out of the way and other sundry tasks

The fellow to whom I was speaking had this to say about large scale larps. "The are people in any larp who are willing to go that extra mile in order to make a larp get up and live. When you get a large number of larpers together...That number of people tends to reach critical mass and amazing things can happen.

I had to admit he was right. Heck a small group of dedicated players is way preferable to a large group of lackluster types. I've seen a few amazing things myself

Gaming is a social activity. This would seem to be fairly evident. It is simply a means to a pleasant end. It's an opportunity to sit down with friends in a structured activity that enables you to create a story and if things go right, Have fun, make art, and make memories that can be happily shared. By itself, Gaming is a community activity that is harmless,amusing, and a good way to meet like minded people.

So, why does so much of it suck?

Why does it go so badly wrong? Why are there so many snarky, humorless, assholes in the hobby? Why do friendships end over bad decisions and arguments over rules? Why does it seem like there are so few people who really "get it" and are clueful about gaming and there are so many spasmodic thyroid cases who can't shut the fuck up for five seconds.

Part of it has to do with the maturation process. As you get out of your teens and your hormones calm down, there is a tendency to not view everything as some kind of massive trauma. Life becomes less soap opera like and everyone breathes a sigh of relief as the ability to perceive events with some kind of actual perspective begins to assert itself in that gamers mind.. I was forced to restrain myself this weekend at my larp when a much younger gamer got into a snarky argument with the ST during a major battle scene. His character had just met an unpleasant demise at the hands of some Garou and he had pretty much decided to make everyone miserable, especially the overworked ST. As he was leaving that night I heard mutter that he would start his own larp...A Sabbat Larp...Yeh. That would be Kewl! I am proud of the self control that enabled me to keep from hurling a heavy object at this churlish boob.

Lest you think I'm bashing on younger gamers, this kind of behavior is certainly not limited to them. I've told the tale of the guy who showed up at a larp and demanded to play a Malkavian with true faith in order to (direct quote) "Screw with your players." He'd have done much better to arrive at the game asking the GM, "What do YOU want me to play?"

In my considered opinion, Most of the problems inherent in the game world are due to selfishness on the part of Players, Game Masters, or both. Instead of thinking "How can I make this game fun?" Most people think "How can I have fun." And therein lies the rub.

Sometimes, I think we get so bound up in our own idea of fun that we forget that it can be great fun to make things fun for others. Rather than be a star in our own fantasies we might want to try to make an effort to get into the "Hey Kids! Let's put on a Show!" vibe.

Each and every time you sit down at a gaming table with your friends, you are making a certain number of unstated, unwritten promises. You are making a social contract, as it were. When you approach a game selfishly, you abrogate that social contract and ruin the possibility of all the good things that gaming has to offer.

The main problem is of course that the contract isn't written or specific. Most people aren't even aware that it exists. Most people don't even understand that the basic idea of "Don't be a dick." is necessary for something to even continue.

Since this contract isn't worth the paper it isn't printed on, it can be abused from all sides. Gm's make players miserable, Players make GM's miserable, players make one another miserable. Misery loves company doesn't it? Once trust is broken play becomes very difficult.

In these pages I have told stories of people who have broken the trust in major ways, and in nearly every case found thereafter that no one really wanted to play with them anymore.

Is that what you want? Do you really want to be a social leper in a community of GEEKS?

Oh I'm sure that you'll find it fun to go to the vampire larp and play the Malkavian in the feety pajamas who likes to sing Christmas carols at the top of his lungs. I'm sure *you'll* have a good time. You might even get a few laughs. But the other players who are serious about their fun/art are going to be pissed. In Show Business we call that "Upstaging" or "Pulling Focus" Nobody want to work with people who do that sort of thing... And word gets around my friend.

Try thinking of a larp as a holistic whole and not as some place where you get to go and play your character and beat up other people and take their stuff. It's more than that. It's a stage to play on. A stage is far more compelling. While there is the occasional star turn, a larp is much better as an ensemble, working in harmony with one another. This means taking some responsibility for getting on the same page with the player and the ST's about the tone and flavor of the larp itself. This means taking an active role in making story happen rather than being passive and waiting for the ST to hit you with the plot stick. It means finding ways to deal with problems that don't always involve violence (because too much violence can get real old real fast.)

In truth, I have likened the larp experience to civilian folk as a sort of interactive improvisational soap opera. To this end, your players need to get into the habit of thinking like a troupe of crazy loving actors who are putting on a show. Even if it's only for one another.

Here is the nub of my gist:

If you work at it, If you learn how to share the spotlight, If you find ways to make things interesting and fun for everyone, not just yourself, if you learn how to manage your feelings and your temper, if you learn when to fight and when to back off of an issue. Then people will notice and they want to play with you. If you do the opposite of these things, then you will find nobody willing to put themselves on the line.

That's the key. Get into that crazy performing place in your mind. Every player of games has it. Some are simply more extroverted than others. Find ways to bounce off of your fellow players instead of trying your best to ignore them. Have an active agenda in mind and be willing to pursue it...And also be willing to chuck it at a moments notice.

Once while talking to a friend of mine. I likened the process of Gaming to BDSM. I was rewarded with a spit take for my insight. He defied me to prove it. I said "O.K. Bondage involves giving up a measure of control. It involves the master making someone hurt AND making them enjoy it and it absolutely isn't any fun unless everyone involved trusts one another. Think about this. If a player trusts me then I can make his character's life a living hell and he'll have a great time trying to navigate the obstacles and flying shit I'm throwing at him. If he doesn't trust me though, He's going to assume that I'm out to get him and ruin his night. He'll take personal umbrage at each tiny thing that goes wrong for him. Also, there is a tendency to go too hard which can be recognized if the players have some sort of prearranged signal...Like a safe word. (I then proceeded to tell him the "Karma" story that Tim Toner told me.)

He was forced to admit I was correct and as he had foolishly bet that I couldn't, he was also forced to buy the drinks. People ought to know better than to mess with the Reverend. I know whereof I speak.

Sono Finito.


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