Monday, April 17, 2006

Jumping the bear holding the shark

Recent conversations with various friends of mine have now got me thinking about games that jump the shark.

Now this is not a knock at anybody's game or anything, It's just that it goes along with my idea that RPG's need to be handled much like scripting and producing a television show.

Shows eventually jump the shark. Even really good ones.
So do games. This is not to say you can't run a good game or larp for years on end. I've done it. But it's often a good idea to consider your exit strategy for that day when you are wanting to pull the plug or your players are wanting to pull the plug for you.

But in thinking about jumping the shark, one wants to naturally consider what you can do to forestall such things. As long as the game is enjoyable and consistently so, why stop playing it? So hopefully, i can come up with a few possible things that can enable you to create a memorable game even if you are on the downslope.

1) Announce the Eschaton.
Okay, maybe things haven't been as hot as they were. It may also be that you've been having a lot of problems with illness, conflicts, exhaustion, bad or no-prep, and maybe you know that the game is ailing. Rather than just let the game slip away into nothingness, why not just pull your players in and say to them. "Look. This isn't as groovy as it used to be. We can, of course, play something else, but i would just as soon wrap the game up and not leave it hanging."

You have no idea what sort of freedom this may give your players. As a game master it allows you tie up loose ends and maybe open the door for some new thing later on down the line in the same world. The approach here is to realize that the network has cancelled the series, so it's up you, to finish up the series in a satisfying way for the fans.

Examine what worked in your game. Who were the bad guys that the players hated with every particle of their being? What were the elements of the game that moved and affected your players the most? Why not bring some of that back?
Pull the best cards out of the stack and shuffles them back in. Maybe that will breathe some life back in.

3) Fuck it. It's time.
Many times, i find myself in the unpleasant position of planning the metaplot of a campaign on a very long time line, and really enjoying that sort of thing, only to find that it's making it impossible to concentrate on what to do for the next game session. Gah! This drives me to distraction...or at least, it used to before i realized that it was because my brain was trying to tell me something. WHY must it be in the far off future? Why must you wait for the players to be powerful enough? You can always adjust the power levels of the players upwards if it serves your purpose...And your purpose is to get to the fun part of the game. Fun for you and fun for them.

4) Hey...Remember that background of yours?
I have a theory. I ain't really sure how potent this theory is, i'll be interested in hearing from you on this point, but many times, GM's will be more interested in creating a basic storyline and then start weaving the characters stories into it at a later date. However, i am begining to think that the faster you get the personal stories into the mix of the game and RESOLVE them, then there is a greater tendency for players to get involved with the basic GM storyline.
Now it's important to gather the intent of the player as best you can. If your player has a background hook that is simple and discreet, there's no reason you can't include it in the first adventure. if however, your player has a hook that is obviously meant to be strung out over time, (Like a vendetta against a mob family or a quest to rid the world of vampires) Then you can still string it out, but you can also make a decision to cut to the chase later.
This has a number of benefits. It helps your players get into the game because they know that you are playing attention to what they are trying to do with their characters. It enables you to deal with their stories and maybe get them out of the way, if they are in the way. and if it turns out that their stories turn out to be better than yours. (which happens.) Then see 2 above.

Sono Finito

Monday, April 10, 2006

Regular readers may ignore this with impunity

Since, i don't actually have a flickr or photobucket account, this is a low pressure way for me to host a picture. This particular pic is what i am using for my character picture in my White Wolf Chat game.

The above picture was yeilded by a bit of googling and it turns out, is in fact a picture of the legendary Sonny Barger, founder of the original Hell's Angels. I have been fascinated by these guys since reading Hunter S. Thompson's book on them. From what i understand Barger is still alive and has written 3 books.

Barger, to my way of thinking is a thinking man's bad-ass, and that's the kind of the character i'm playing on the WW Chat.
Plus, he resembles, at least in this photo, the fellow that i described in my character description.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Small is power

Being socked up with my show, I've had little time to game. I miss my weekend game of Demon: The Fallen and my weekend Vampire Larp. I can still get in a little Spycraft 2.0 but otherwise, I got to be jonesin.

So, I did something, I swore I would never do again. I got into a chat based game.

You must understand. I had a real bad experience with chat games. And in truth, the main reason why i stay away, is that I am something of a hermit and NEED an excuse to leave the house every so often. Gaming and Acting are my main social outlet and without an excuse to go out and be around my friends, I fear that I withdraw further and further into my self. God knows I'm self absorbed enough. So, I like a nice social game.

This is not to say that a chat game can't be social. If all text-based pouncing and snuggling is anything to go by, These things can be very social. Whole communities can spring up in the digital world. And some of these communities, can be quite tightly knit. I hear stories on occasion of people in far flung corners of the world, banding together to help someone pay for horrifyingly huge medical expenses.

Good is loose in the world. It's just running fast and keeping low these days.

But like i said, I had a bad experience with chats. Now i'm not gonna name names. Although i sometimes do. All i can say is that i got really tired of power players trying to rope me into elaborate forms of character suicide and then beating the crap out of me when i said I wasn't keen on it. I also got tired of hearing storytellers crabbing about " Nobody is following up on the plot i've been dropping" Only to discover that the guy was only dropping this "Plot" at 4 o'clock in the morning (Relative server time)
Tip: things on a chat take about 3 days or so to filter out to everyone, and sometimes it won't happen even then. Don't be a whiny ass.

I don't even remember what the final straw was. I do remember telling a large number of the storytelling staff exactly what they could do with their game in nauseating detail. I'm not a big believer in burning a bridge while i'm still standing on it, but it seemed that the occasion called for it.

It just seemed like the idiot-to-player ratio was tipped too far in the bad direction.

So like I said, I had a bad experience.
But. I was jonesin...

So I tried one out.
And i liked it.

It's a good place. Been on it for a week and change now and have yet to run into someone who was a real jerk OOC. (Although, the IC jerks are a real piece of work...) And it's kind of nice to be able to play an undead scooter trash/ warrior-poet without having to leave the house, or indeed, put on pants.
In fact, i could probably write the definitive book on pantsless gaming...But i digress.

So there are a couple of things that i'm picking up on, that i'd like to pass onto you.

1) Small is powerful
A lot of people place a lot of stock in the success of a larp or chat by the size of it. Unfortunately, this kind of math doesn't really fly. If you have a game with 30 hardcore and dedicated players. You have a successful game. If you have a game with a hundred people and ten of them are fucking it up for the rest of your players, then you don't have a successful game. The more people you add to any game, the better the chance that you'll add some well-meaning fuck-head or some slick jack-ass who gets by your jack-ass radar.
This is not to say that you can't let your game GROW, but it's better to grow slow and WELL.

2) There will be a lot of acronyms for things:
There just will be. Some of them will be universal internet speak. Others will be more homegrown. You might consider taking notes.

3) You will meet a number of frustrated novelists on the path.
Some of them are more bitter about it than others. Some are more in your face about it than others. You have to make allowances for these people. and by "These people" I mean, guys like me.

4) You will at some point inevitably tell your biggest secret to the person who can most harm you with it.
Well okay, maybe that's just me. But expect to step on your dick at least once or twice.

5) Everybody is a beginner at some point.
People forget what that's like. Don't be those kinds of people. Those kinds of people are Assholes. Being an Asshole is not necessarily a bad thing. As long as you're the RIGHT kind of Asshole. The "right" kind of Asshole is an Asshole with Class. Assholes with Class don't fuck over newbies. and they never forget the people who fucked them over when they were newbies. This "fucking over" did not happen in the new game. It was a pleasant change.

6) Larps and Chats go together like chili and hot dogs.
At least now that the tabletop system and the larp system are closer together. It seems as if you could build a fairly cohesive game both online and off. I am going to look into it a little more closely.

The name of the Chat is Wanton Wicked

It has a chat for vampires set in New Orleans (Post Katrina)
It has a chat for Werewolves set in Denver
It has a chat for mages in Boston (There are a LOT of Mage players)
And there is even a cross game chat set in Seattle.

Getting a character sanctioned is a little more byzantine than i'd like but if you read the rules beforehand you should make it through okay.
It may not be your cup of tea, but i like it. and you might too.