Tuesday, July 19, 2005

How to run a Con Game Badly

You know, running a con game badly is a fine art and one which I think few people spend as little time on as they could. Con games are a way for people to try new things and play with new people and have new and exciting experiences. It's really important to scotch all that as fast as you can. Since, I'm all about the helpful tips, Away we go!

You know, Everybody loves bashing a character. Even people who've never played an RPG before find that making a character before playing the game is sooper cool. Possibly the best part. Certainly better than playing the dumb game anyway. So in any game that you run for a convention, You should never prepare pregens for your players. Skindiving into a ruleset is big fun. And as an added bonus, There is absolutely no way to predict what sort of characters the players will come up with. (Although, seemingly, there is a statistically significant probability that you will get at least one fat guy who wants to play a lesbian catgirl stripper ninja. Doesn't really matter what game it is.)
Of course, since game time is fairly finite, you'll want to stay away from game systems that are actually fairly easy to make characters in a few minutes. You'll want hours of happy character making action. Another way to stretch this out is by having only a single copy of the core rules.

And while I'm on the subject of rules, You should definitely pick the most abstract and abstruse ruleset for a particular plot that you can find. You can always list it as a "Beginners Game" for maximum effect. If you only want advanced players in your game, then how will your game become more popular? Creating a game that's easy for beginners to learn is a fine art. Don't practice it. Forget Teenagers from Outer Space or TOON. Immortal, the Forever War, or Aftermath is where it's at.

Improv is the soul of the con game, As such it is important to remain carefully ignorant of anything that might get in the way of your freeform loosey goosey style of GMing. As a result, You'll want to be very fuzzy on the details of the adventure and completely foggy on how the rules actually work. Alcohol might help this process. Sleep deprivation is also good for this.
Also, it cannot be stressed how important it is to be free of the shackles of printed up sheets, dice, writing implements, or any other accoutrements that could bog you down.

Okay, It's important to realize that narrative structure is a trap. Having a beginning, a middle, and an end to your adventure is SO done to death. So, what's obviously called for a long pointless and meandering kind of plot with little in the way of actual action (Although, some do swear by a large chunk of pointless combat.) cause that kind of game is DA BOMB.
If I were you, I would create a plot that requires the PC's to be led around by the nose at all times, to do pointless things. I would also make sure that any of their actions are slowed to a crawl by dint of absolute ignorance of the concept of pacing.
I"d make sure that my NPC's are so much Kooler than the PC's and that the NPC's get to do all the cool things in the adventure. Also, I'd make sure that there was only one path to the end of the adventure and if the players are too dumb to "get it" then they'd just have to remain stuck where they were. Dopes. Extra bonus points if you can do this in a dull monotone.

You should definitely use every means at your disposal to make sure that the people that you play with regularly have prominent places in your con game. They should have the opportunity to play important "NPC's" in your game. Hey, maybe it would be a good idea to have them be a GM plant and at an important point of the game, start sabotaging the players and killing the other PC's with obvious GM collusion. That stuff is killer.

See! Wasn't that helpful?

Sono Finito

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Double Play

I have no difficulty with the idea of players who wish to play more than one role in the course of a chronicle. In fact it is useful to me and the rest of ST command to have more characters to play with (thus creating more drama and more plot.) Not only that, but the addition of human beings to any Vampire larp re-introduces a certain missing element from usual tabletop play. SECRECY! Masquerade maintenance becomes a very real concern again and a whole raft of merits and flaws become useful again.

That being said, I do have a few guidelines:

1) You cannot actually be in a scene with yourself. Unless of course you are playing the conditioned ghoul of a Vampire with Advanced Dominate. In which case, all bets are off. Try to avoid having your characters be involved in the same scene. The ball is firmly in your court on this. If you end having both of your characters in the same scene, then don't be surprised if something bad happens to one or the other or both.

2) While it perfectly permissible for allied characters of the same player to share information it is assumed that unless In-Character time is taken to do it, that a pair of characters shares their information in the wee small hours of the night or another night entirely.(read: after the game) It very important to keep these knowledges separate until such time as they can be shared. If you have problems with keeping character knowledges separate, play the ghoul of your vampire. (or similar arrangement in another game.)

3) ST Command will take a very dim view of people who create ghoul characters that exist only to be used as a background or influence bank for the main character. If abuse is suspected, ST command reserves the right to tie up a portion of the ghouls backgrounds and influences (ostensibly for his own schemes and plots.)

4) It is possible to create characters that are enemies of one another. It does involve a bit of work though to deal with the fact that the two characters cannot actually be in the same scene with one another. An example might be a neonate or ghoul that has a grudge against a Tremere but is terrified of discovery, or of being subjected to the power of the Tremere's wards.
Another possibility would be to play the ghost of a victim of a supernatural creature also being played by you.

5) EXP will only be doled out to the player. It's up to the player to split it among his characters. Players will be left to decide what character gets what. Abuse of this privilege will be dealt with sternly. It's not fair to run your ghoul all night and then dump all your points into your vampire.

6) It is possible to be "active" as your primary character while playing your ghoul or ally. Examples of this might be situations when you are using Possession, Astral Projection or Animal Possession to move about and spy on people or places. This is not without risks of course.

7) Ghouls know instinctively when their Domitor dies or is knocked into torpor(described as a slow sinking feeling.) Reactions tend towards the hysterical. Some may require frenzy checks.
(This is a bit of homebrew that I use. As I often say, a good larp is like a soap opera insofar as ALL secrets eventually come out. I am firmly against having a character get killed and nobody but the killer ever knows about it. I'm also against situation where a player drops out or just doesn't show very often and dependent characters are just left to twist in the wind. This way, they get a bit of a new lease on life when I kill the character that they are dependent on.)

8) While Vampire/Ghoul, Ally/Ally, and mortal enemy dynamics are the most common forms. It is possible to play two characters that have nothing to do with one another at all.
If your Human Character becomes embraced he should leave the game, at least temporarily. (unless an ST has signed off on the whole thing. )

9) When at all possible, If you play two characters you should make them as different as possible. Perhaps a different hat, a different name tag. Different posture,voice,accent or whatever. This makes it easier for people to tell who you are driving at any given time and at a distance.

Sono Finito

Saturday, July 09, 2005

City X or City 2.0

Recently I have thinking about getting back in the business of Larp and/or running a tabletop game of some sort.
but I must admit that running games in and around the city of Lexington KY, have lost a lot of luster for me. To be frank, Lexington is kind of dull. Maybe it's just that I've exhausted it's dramatic potential. Or that I'm so familiar with it's ins and outs, that I've lost its mystery.

I think that if I pursue a new creative project, I will steal a page from the comic books. Perhaps the new city will be named Riverside (Coast City and Star City are too much of a dead giveaway, Gotham and Metropolis have too much freight built into them.) While building it will be real work, it will also be real fun.

When making a choice like this for yourself its important to sort out the potentials and see what would actually be good for you. You might be surprised to discover that the best use of your time is the least obvious choice. So let's take a look at the possibilities

City 2.0: (Or, "This City, only COOLER!")

1) Comes with it's own Flavor:
Each city has a specific feel. a taste, a texture, a patois, an energy running through it. People who live in that city know these things instinctively. Therefore when you lean into those things, the players know them for what they are. Unique local color. Of course, you can also use these things in an adverse way. When you work against the flavor of a particular city it can cause cognitive dissonance in the players. You can also use the expectations of the players against them in interesting ways. You might even get creative and start folding,spindling and mutilating the basic flavor of the city, mutating it for the needs of the story you want to tell.
In any event, the shared assumptions that the group have can be a tool or an obstacle but for the most part, you and your players are going to generally be on the same page.

2) Requires less Work:
You don't have to build your city from the ground up. Other folks have been so kind as to do that sort of work for you. Granted this may occasionally cause problems when somebody knows a little something more about your town than you do. But when push comes to shove, It's a great deal easier learn a little something about the place you live in rather than build a a whole fictional city of your own.

3) Plot ripped bleeding from the Headlines:
Now you actually have an excuse to read the papers and watch the local news. You can actually get plot ideas from things going on in your little community. This is especially useful for larps, where you normally have to deal with a broader canvas than in a typical tabletop game. It's also really good for when you get stuck for good plots. Look at your local news and make notes and you will always have enough nuts to get through the winter.

City X: (Or, a place where they keep big buildings, that is not this place in any way, shape, or form.")

1) Creative freedom:
Once you have laid your basic ideas about the city, you have a great deal of creative freedom and can build nearly anything into that city that you want. Granted you have a lot of building to do. But some of this can be done ahead of time and some of it can be done on the fly. You also have a bit of freedom in terms of shaping the evolution of your town as a backdrop for plots of various types.

2) Nobody knows more about City X than you:
Neatly prevents players from saying "Nuh UH!" when you make some assertion about your city. City 2.0 can be a hassle insofar as there will be players who know thing that you don't. Simply saying "No, I don't think so." when confronted with gaps in your knowledge makes you look autocratic, sloppy, and worse, ill-informed. This doesn't happen with City X. If you don't happen to know something about City X, you can make it up on the fly or allow yourself to be influenced one way or the other. For those who value greater flexibility. This can be very key to a GM having a good time.

3) Building a city can be Fun:
It's a lot of work to be sure, (And if you're doing it for a larp you might want to have some people help you out.) But there is nothing quite so heady as playing God on the city. Cities are about not only buildings and natural features. They are also about people and making a city is basically the work of creating characters. Creating cool characters for the players to bounce off of is, in my opinion, one of the best things. Making a city also requires a certain amount of knowledge of how actual cities are organized and arranged.

If I were going to do something along this line, The project would be to create something like a WIKI that was a fictional modern city. Make a map or something, Maybe add in a HTML chat or Java Chat of some sort so that players can go into "Town" on their own schedules and find things out on occasion. Take the WIKI side of things and make certain elements editable and make other elements password protected. "You spend influence to find out about councilman Gresham? Okay, go to his page and type in the word 'Croatan' and that should give you every thing you can find with a casual investigation."

The question would be would it worth it to put it all on a disk and maybe sell it or make it something subscriber driven with occasional updates and edits. The Key would be to create an epic city wide style of soap opera with no supernatural elements whatsoever. The user would be assumed to be adding those in himself, peppering and salting to taste.

That settles it. I need a staff.
Sono Finito

Horror Stories

In the wake of Origins, I have been thinking of starting a chapter of either the Camarilla or One World By Night. Having had an opportunity to talk to representatives of both groups I have come to the conclusion that they share one basic commonality. And this is, in effect, a tendency to ruthlessly and mercilessly slag the other organization at the drop of a hat.
Certainly, there are bureaucracy issues in each group and unfortunately, with White Wolf's new insistence on a subscription model for games that operate by collecting money. This muddies the waters even further.
Leaving aside WWGS's new PR fiasco for another time, let me simply address this. The OOC politics of both organizations is huge turnoff for those people who would otherwise join.
It saddens me that Larping is such an easy roosting place for loons, drama queens,favoritism,nepotism, Relationships fraught with ugly consequences, larp sluttery that exacerbates same, and whining and puling from seemingly every corner. I am deeply sickened by this because it hurts the state of the art. It makes people who would have something to give want to direct their energies elsewhere. Which is an even greater problem insofar as it leaves the playing field to those people I described above.

So what's to be done?

Rather than talk out my ass on this particular score, I'd like to try to come up with some ethical commandments for ST's and for players. Help on this score would certainly be welcome.

Sono Finito (for now)

Monday, July 04, 2005

The 2005 Origins Post Mortem Report

Overpacked as usual. Too many clothes, too many widgets, too many books. Picked up my paycheck. Filled up my tank, had lunch, set out for Columbus. As soon as I set out for Columbus my check engine light came on. Thinking quickly. I stopped at an Advanced Auto Parts store. Had them run their free diagnostic. Turns out that if the Gas cap isn't secure it can cause an alert.
With a tightened gas cap and huge amount of relief, I set out onto the interstate with a good map and a good set of directions.
Arrived without serious difficulty in the early afternoon. Because of the way I had arranged my lodgings through a friends company, I wouldn't be able to check into my hotel until they arrived in town many hours hence. As a result, I was left to my own devices for a good while. Still, I managed to pick up my pre-registration pack with little muss or fuss which is good more than the people who showed up on Friday and Saturday.
Convention center is a racket, but at least it's a well oiled machine of a racket. The thing that really irritated me was that Parking in most of the convention center lots cost 7 bucks. And if you left the lot for any reason, you'd have to pay another 7 to get back in. At least, the 7 bucks was for a whole day, but if they had had a weekly pass or a convention long pass for parking. I would have chunked out for it. it would have been worth it to be able to come and more easily.
Went to the One World By Night Larp after hunting for it for over an hour and finally locating in the face of extremely bad directions given to me by a young lady at an information booth wearing cat ears. Moral: Never trust information booth girls with cat ears. After a hike back to my car to change clothes for the larp and another hike back. I was utterly exhausted.
I sat down. Made up an off the shelf character to dive in with and started circulating.
After about an hour, the days exertions caught up with me dragged me into a bathroom and starting beating me with iron bars.
I was too pooped to pop from getting up too early. from driving, from packing, from hiking, from carrying around the backpack in full pack mule mode. Next time I go to a major con. I will require a caddy and a golf cart of my own. Or failing that, a trail of African bearers which will require the purchase of a pith helmet. Luckily about this time, my fellow travellers
arrived and gave me directions to the Day Inn we were staying at. I arrived there without incident and unpacked. Was invited to go to dinner but could barely keep my head up. I did NOT have the usual trouble with sleeping in an unfamiliar bed but I was missing the girl I had invited to come along on this junket. The room had some nice amenities, the bed was large and comfy and they had HBO but no actual porn channel. I sleep the sleep of the damned.

Thursday: Up early. Couldn't help it. Intelligence I had gathered indicated that the Dealers room would be open at 10 am on the dot and that copies of the new MET and MET Requiem would be there in limited quantities. Rather than lose, I elected not to snooze. As a result I was bright eyed and bushy tailed (or a reasonable facsimile thereof) and ready to drop some cash.
After listening to them hand out the Origins awards while people were waiting to get into the dealers room, they let us in.
I of course made a beeline for the White Wolf area which I had scouted out the day before.
Turns out, Justin Achilli is a really nice guy and not the raging psychopath he's been made out to be. He's also a lot cleaner cut than I expected. I bought all the MET stuff, Greg Stolze's new Requiem novel, Mysterious Places, and the Ordo Dracul Book. Had an opportunity to talk a bit with Mr. Achilli about various projects, and my hope (read=obsessive crusade) that WWGS would make the Aeon Continuum material into an open license franchise. I may have also snagged a berth on the playtest for Mage MET which would make me so happy I could implode. They were also pointing out to customers (especially ones like me who were buying in bulk) that if we signed up for a 6 month trial membership in the Camarilla, that we would get 15% percent off on related materials. This was awfully neighborly of them.
I bought a number of T-shirts.
-A lovely purple and orange Timothy Bradstreet vampire print on a black shirt.
- a very nifty shirt for a card game called "Gother Than Thou" The text on the front is so long and the prose so hilariously purple that I won't reproduce it here
- a black shirt with white lettering (most of them were like this) with the legend. "I put the Dynamite in Rock Paper Scissors."
a shoutout to my larping peeps
- light plum shirt with white letters that says "Obey Me! I have an 18 Charisma.""
- Another black shirt with a guys smiling face on it holding a die in his hand. The text reads: "Well, I rolled a 20. So you bitches can suck it." This I think is my favorite of the batch.
-A Mage the Awakening Shirt. with styling graphics in the back.

I also came close to purchasing a cooks apron with the words " Miskatonic University College of Culinary Arts." Kicking myself now

Bought a Swordcane, hate the blade, it's cheap Pakistani steel but love the rest of it. When I have a chance I'll see if I can't remove it and put a long glass test tube in its place with a stopper. Turning it into a tippler's cane. Friend of mine has one and they are neat.

Bought a really well made black 8' bullwhip. I'll have to start oiling it up and working it around a bit. It needs breaking in.

Found a lady who makes custom buttons to order. She had a largish selection of stuff premade but for the niggardly sum of 2.50$ she would put any text you desired, in any font you desired, in any color you desired, on a button. and stamp and cut it right on the spot. Nifty! I want this to be my new hobby, but apparently it's not inexpensive to get into. I bought a button that says "Rocks Fall! Everybody Dies" and had her make for me a custom button that says. "Never EVER doubt my commitment to SparkleMotion."

Happily managed to stop spending money before killing my Food/Parking Budget. It was a near thing though. After that I wandered around in the Minis room and took pictures of some of the set-ups. I'll post them here another time.

I had planned to do the Vampire Larp later that night. So I was looking at a long night. But at least I had an opportunity go do a Mage Larp that was scheduled for 1:00 PM. My only difficulty? It was to take place in a hotel 4 blocks from the main hotel. Still, I was spoiling to try a Mage larp.

Now, I am hardly the most overweight person in the world. Gamers as rule tend towards an Endomorphic somatotype a statistically significant amount of the time. It's one of the hazards of living a life of the mind. I saw at least few people who massed as much as two or three of me. But I do get winded and the heat and humidity was serious in Columbus this weekend. So I popped for a cab ride to the other Hotel. I went in. I followed the signs. I fetch up in the appropriate place for the Larp.
Nobody showed. I checked my tickets. According to the tickets, I was in the right place and the right time. Not a soul. Not even another person showed up looking for the same larp. After a bit of a wait, I got discouraged and hailed another cab back to the convention parking lot. There's nothing like the heartbreak of a cancelled event. It's a good thing too that I caught another cab because on the trip back, the storm started. As it was, I was soaked to the bone in the time it took me to run 15 feet and unlock the car. Stopped off at Skyline chili on the way back and began perusing the new MET rules.

I went back to the Hotel. Decided on a nap while it was raining and sacked out. Slept through the Vampire Larp again and woke up around 3 AM-ish. Decided that maybe the reason I seemed to keep missing the vampire larp is because maybe I'm a little burned out on Vampire right now. Resolved to cash in those tickets and get some generics and be loosey goosey for the rest of the con. Went out to Waffle house in the middle of the night, watched a little TV, and then went back to bed.

Friday: Up early, against my will this time. Lolled in bed for a bit. Got up and went down to the hotel pool. Had to harass someone at the front desk to open it up. Had the place to myself. Swam around and floated and completely relaxed. After about an hour of this, I went back upstairs, got dressed. And hit Bob Evans on the way into the Con. I was wishing for a Shoney's instead. Bob Evans does a good breakfast, but nothing beats a Shoney's Breakfast bar form my money. The option to get a fistful of bacon if that's what you desire is a wonderfulness that cannot be completely expressed.
Had trouble parking but after a bit of scuffling around located a spot and went in. The main trouble that I had on Friday was that the Mage Preview stuff had been overbooked so, a fool like me with just generic coins was NOT going to get in. Also, for some odd reason, it seemed none of the white wolf games in the white wolf game room were providing any kind of Pre-gens.
I don't know if it was the case, but according to the Origins schedule, none of those games were providing materials. And I was not interested in bashing a character for a one-shot, at the cost of time to actually PLAY THE ADVENTURE!
Disheartened, I cast about for another possibility, I wasn't interested in playing systems with heavy detail. So that left out much of the Mini's games, and all of the Hero Games events. Brain burn was already setting in (making me feel like an old old man. The fact that my knees were playing up wasn't helping matters either. I was using that swordcane to get around.)
Finally, I wandered into one of the Call of Cthulhu rooms.
This turned out to be the best thing I could have done all weekend. I got to play a number of games, I got into the first round of a tournament and as thing unfolded managed to pass on to the semi final and final. The Final was great. CoC used a different basis from any other tourney I had ever been in. Rather than be a object oriented thing like most Ad&d tourneys of my youth, You only advanced in the tourney on the basis of your roleplaying. And that was based on the other players voting for you. As a result, the final was filled with damn fine roleplayers. More on this later. After the first round, I had planned to go do the Cthulhu Live event entitled Club Carcosa (The Rave at the End of the World) But once again fatigue caught up to me and vigorously sodomized me with a broken Coke bottle. Went back to the hotel and crashed hard.

Saturday: Up early, by design. Semi-finals for CoC tourney had two groups at 1 o-clock, and one group at 8:00 am. Gaming the system, I figured that, no one would be up for the morning round and it would be easier to get in and park. Turned out I was not the only one smart enough to think of this. Ah well. The scenario was set in the 1970's in L.A. That was kind of cool.
Met some pretty neat folks, most of whom passed on to the final round. It turns out that the 1:00 slots were undermanned, so morning people who performed well were given slot in the final where the games in the afternoon had empty slots.

Went back to the dealers room and talked again with Achilli. I wanted to be respectful because A) the man was in fact working and B) when I had spoken to him before, he had not been working for a couple of days straight. But again, still not a wingnut, Told him that I found the new MET to be very nice and tight and that he should tell Peter Woodworth I said so. While I've heard a number of horror stories about the Camarilla. It appears that they are very good at breaking rulesets.

After speaking to him again and sitting down and waiting for the final round of CoC at 6. I managed to make my way into the storytelling section of the book. I was horrified to find that large swaths of the MET World of Darkness book greatly resembles stuff I have been writing about in this column for a few years now. I can only imagine that one of two things has happened:
A) I am not the only person who is brilliant and insightful enough to come up with this stuff (Which is, upsettingly, likely.)
or B) The Wisdom that I have parsed and shared with the Larping community has penetrated it enough that it is now considered common knowledge and common sense. (Which is far less likely, but it is the theory that I'm gonna subscribe to and anybody says different is gonna get bitten by me. And then you'll be in for a long, painful series of rabies shots.)

We played the final round of the CoC tourney. I was handed the person with the split personality and I got into it really heavy.
I got into performance mode and I think of the other players did too. The cool thing about Coc one shots is that the odds are that you are doomed to die or go insane, so there's no point in Roll-Playing. Might as well take your characters and drive like them like a burning plane.
We also had the benefit of multiple GM's on that round so the game had a kind of frenetic pace.
In the end, the players balked against voting for the best player in the game and made the GM's. Which upset them greatly.
Your correspondent did not win the trophy but had a damn fine time nonetheless. And we did win a copy of the tournament games, a brand spanking new copy of Stormbringer. (Don't know how much I'd play it. But it's gorgeous.) and an album from Midnight Syndicate (the best in creepy mood music.) Had a nice measure of post game after glow. Feel like I made some friends.
Went to the hotel bar, decided not to drink, as I still had drive home and what with it being 4th of July weekend, was aware that every cop was out on the interstate. Met up, as planned, with number of people from RPG.Net and sat down and had a good time talking to them and drinking some Cokes. Mad Phat props to Metalian and Bull who organized the thing at the last minute. I will say this thought. I still think it's a bad plan to mix alcohol and foam weapons. Also have come down with a bad case of Fez envy. Must purchase a Fez at my next opportunity.

Sunday: Packed and drove home with a brief stop off in Hebron, Kentucky to see a friend of mine. Gave him my spare copy of Aeon Adventure which I think he will dig. He was ailing from nose surgery and needed a pick me up. Came home, unpacked,
Fell into bed with a purring kitty by my side. Best weekend in a while.

Sono Finito.