Monday, July 21, 2008

Let the circle be broken

You know me, I'm all about the art of games and a lot of what I talk about in this column has to do with various bits and pieces cribbed from various things and place, that i hope, will create a more fertile patch of land to grow these sorts of things in.

But I also am very keen to understand the social dynamics of gaming. One of the primary reasons to game at all is to be social. To find friends and have an excuse to get out of the house. Novel writing is a solitary activity. Gaming never is. Even Chat gaming is social. Gaming involves you taking your pristine, in-box, character and ripping open the package and playing with the other kids in the neighborhood.

As i get older, i notice certain changes and refinement in the gamer social dynamic. As people get older there is a tendency to be less tolerant of things. It's a known fact that men over the age of thirty have a much harder time making friends and their social circles tend to dwindle down.

I have observed, on more than one occasion, the slow calcification of gaming groups. As a group tends to become more cliqueish, it also tends to become more incestuous and ingrown like a toenail. This leads to schoolyard soap opera and drama and if left unchecked can end friendships and damage the gaming community at large.

And that's not just sad. It's tragic.
There once was a time when we'd think nothing of allowing a gamer friend to sleep on the couch after getting kicked out of his parents house. But too many stolen books, too many arguments over things that are truly trivial, too many nights schlepping another person's emotional baggage, and too many days of just dealing with our own crap can make us bitter.

Worse, in unguarded moments, it can make us wonder, "Is this the best i can do for friends?"
Let's say you're like me. You may work long hours at a dull job, but at least it gives you the opportunity to be thinking about other things. And what you think about, as like as not, is the upcoming game. In essence, you are working for the weekend. Making your way through the long hard slog in order to get to the thing in your life that gives it balance.
And you get there, only to discover that one of the people at the game has had a hard week and hasn't left it at the door. He's being a real cock. Or maybe you walk into the larp only to discover a couple of the players have decided to have a knock down, drag out, Out of Character fight and it has effectively ruined the night for everyone.
Maybe you walk in the door to discover that the young lady with the neurotic tendencies and the low self esteem has tossed over ANOTHER guy only to take up with one of the other players. She's hanging all over him like a cheap suit, and the Ex, and the 4 guys that came before him are all there trying to deal...Sexual tension so thick you could drive a nail through it.
Maybe you've walked in the door on the night where some person test drives the larp for the first time and his idea of "Fun" is VASTLY different from everyone elses.
Maybe you log onto the chat game, only to realize that people are completely blind to their own behavior. They act like pricks and then don't understand why people hate them. I have literally heard a person playing a vampire on a chat work himself into a self righteous tizzy over the fact that he had a blood hunt called on him, because he was a multiple murderer, Diabolist, and had made the Masquerade bend over and grab it's ankles. He seriously didn't understand that he had DONE WRONG THINGS!

God the list of bullshit that can happen at games is so deep and broad, it's almost a wonder that any of these games go right. And almost all of them come out of familiarity breeding contempt. Yes, that's right. The better you get to know your friends, the less you tend to like them.

Jeez. That sounds pretty fucking grim doesn't it. But with the exception of those people who are closest to you, The one's you've started to think of as family, Your social circle is very likely to implode under the weight of drama, bullshit, and slights real and imagined.

But there is a solution.
One of the main reasons why i do Larps is that they help me to expand my social circle. And I think i've talked about that here before. I go to great length to try to keep the larp in a constant state of expansion. I am firmly of the belief that the more you add new blood, the more vital the whole community stays.

It's occasionally important to break the same social cycles, before boredom and bullshit start to make you think that picking lint out of your bely button, would be a better use of your Saturday night. Each new person that walks in the door has the potential not only to bring something new to the community, but they also might have tips and tricks, you might never have thought of before. The new guy, might just teach you something about yourself. And you, might teach him something in return.

And that, all by itself, is worth the price of admission.
Plus, a LARGE community of players makes it easier for you to avoid people you really don't cotton to. If you don't particularly like that girl because she's a OOC manipulator, and you don't much care for the mouth-breather who plays one of the power characters, well in a large game, you don't have to deal with them a lot. In a large game, it's harder for one person to make it un-fun for everyone. A large game has more absorption for crap like that. The trade off is that large games tend to develop a certain amount of bureaucracy in order to function.
And who knows, If you approach things like an adult, and you keep your OOC drama at home, You might just rub off on those people. And if you keep an open mind, and a set of open eyes, you may come to find value in people that you didn't like at first. If nothing else, you might develop a grudging respect.

And just like Corn-bread. There ain't NOTHING wrong with that.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Occult Influence (An Iron Larper Challenge)

I don't know if this will shake out into a full-on series or not. Goddess knows my track record for STARTING such things is great, but my ability to actually keep going with them is kind of erratic.

But the idea occurred to me to start coming up with some Challenges for people with certain kinds of influences and since there are a few of them, i figure an actual series is not entirely out of the question.

Certain types of influence are easy. Or at least they seem that way to me. Underworld influence has a LOT of utility, and so does Police influence. Odds are good these are the first couple you might throw some points towards.

But being a sneaky bastard, I also like it when the Influences come back and create problems. Not only for the people who have them but also those that don't. If nothing else, it occurs to me that it's easier to involve players with storylines if they've got an Influence that occasionally makes demands of them too.

One of the more abstruse influences to deal with is Occult influence. There are a few reasons for this. Not every one is exactly clued into how Occult subculture works and in a lot of ways, occult influence is sharply curtailed in it's basic utility to a player. This is not to say that you can't get some mileage out of it as a backdrop to larger action. Also, you can show off the larger mosiac of a cities culture.

You might consider dusting of some Google-fu and Wikipedia for an in-depth look into the weirdness of your home town. While we can't all live in New Orleans or Savannah, Georgia. I think you'll find interesting weirdness.

My own Hometown boasts Transylvania University and it's extremely haunted environs. The oldest Masonic lodge west of the Alleghenies, and about 20 wiccan groups, none of them older than the 80's. You'll be surprised at what you dig up.

But beyond that, it's a good idea to have a few gambits to play when you want to highlight the basic weirdness quotient of your city.

Widget Comes to Town:
The local university has a set of stone tablets written in Aramaic brought in at the behest of the linguistics department. Perhaps the Star of Shamballah is on exhibition at the local museum. A copy of De Vermiis turns up in an estate sale. it may not be the key to the mystery you're dealing with, but it will certainly get tongues wagging. And the tales get taller on down the line of course.
I've even, on occasion, run what i've called the Traveling Salesman Storyline. A person comes to town with merchandise of an "Occult Nature" and arranges an Auction. Such things can get heated. Some people expressing a desire to acquire, others expressing a desire to keep potentially dangerous articles out of the hands of others. "Are you out of your mind? This is a Burundi wand! This is like leaving the gun out for the baby to play with!"
I even usually have the articles in the auction, more or less do exactly what they are supposed to. With some notable exceptions of course.
I once made the the Kindred population of a city nervous for several months, An article fell into the hands of a ghoul. It was useless to kindred, but in humans, it tended to stimulate them with psychic powers or a raw boost in magickal power if they were already mystical practitioners. The ghoul in question was gifted with precognition.
Only problem was, his sire got murdered, and he decided to take out his grief on the other vampires of the city. How do you catch a Precognitive Ghoul? Took them months to figure out how.

Specialist comes to town:
There's a lot of ways you could go with this one. Perhaps its just the world's foremost authority on tibetan funerary rites comes to town for a symposium. Perhaps one of those crews of ghostbusters that turn up on the Sci-Fi channel rolls through getting underfoot for everyone. Perhaps a notorious satanist retires to a country manse, and only comes out to the corner grocery, looking pasty and bewildered.
Maybe it's a bit more serious like a gathering of the lodge grandmasters. Maybe someone hears a rumour that the occult hit-man from up near jersey way is in town, and some of the people in town have been feeling some FIERCE evil eye action.
Either way, someone is in town and some people are a little stirred up by it.

Turf war:
Now, i'm not saying that Occult types are prone to drive-bys or anything like that. You might find the occasional Pentacostal ruckus at the Wiccan bake sale.
You might find differing rites of Masonry scrambling for influence and dominance. You might even find different factions of the occult world chasing after the same magickal dingus from time to time.
But the way that Turf wars in the Occult usually unfold is because of cults of personality. It's amusing to read about the various occult wars that Aleister Crowley was involved in with various other members of the occult community with character assasination and curses hurled back and forth. Sometimes these arguments have no teeth in them. Other times...Well. It gets ugly.
It's easy enough to see. People aren't really all that different from wolves and wolves are prone to arranging themselves in packs. Trouble always arises when an alpha proves himself weak. Or two strong alpha's contend with one another. Or less often, when a pack bothers a lone wolf. Some lone wolves are quite powerful.
In any case, in a world where cults of personality are built out of raw power, or the reputation of same, It can get ugly very fast when dominance issue rear their heads.And usually when that happens.... Someone has to go.

Turned off:
Communities go through cycles. Just as they go through cycles of expansion, they also go through cycles where they lose members. Some might call this a distillation. Some get married and have kids and leave aside some things. Some have bad experiences and leave the occult life. Some get sick of the persecution. Some get eaten.
In any case, it may be that your Occult community is undergoing a period of drawing back.

Recruitment drive:
Just the opposite of course, For one reason or another, the various groups in the Occult Communities are on the prod to grab as many people as they can. Not everyone is liable to stick of course. Some don't have the right attitude. Some can't handle the scholarship. Some will get one look at something beyond their ordinary life and run screaming back to sanity and normalcy. Some will get eaten. But at least for a while, the occult world will have larger posses than usual. They'll roll deep and might even get into a little trouble as a result of it.

Big holiday coming up:
You know, not everyone around here was raised baptist. So not everyone celebrates the same holidays. Some might venerate St Brigid, others might make a yearly sacrifice to Kali. Others might hold an annual grand convocation and dinner/dance. Different strokes and all. Certain holidays see a bit more traffic than others. The Wiccan high holy days of course. Hallow's Eve. Walpurgisnacht. You know. the big ones. And most occult types stay in on the Equinoxes.
Granted, it's not like the traffic you run into right after Thankgiving, but still, close around the holidays can be a jammed up time for occultists.

These are the bulk of the ideas that i came up with for grist for the story mill. You folks got any more?

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

2008 Origins Post Mortem Report

This one looked as if it weren't going to happen.

Oh, I had been diligent. I had gotten together with friends and gotten a hotel for a decent price and had paid ahead of time. But the one-two punch of crazy high gas prices and losing my job at the end of May, nearly conspired to rob me of my favorite convention.

I was laid off at work. Budgetary concerns and all that. At nearly three years, i still had less seniority than any of the other full timers in the shop. So i got bounced. They did however, give me all my vacation pay as well as 2 weeks of severance. So as it stands as of this writing, all of the bills are paid.

An unexpected bump of cash from a house-sitting gig for dad, a sell-off of some of my collections, and a timely and incredibly kind gift from a from a friend enabled me to go, and not worry every second i was there that i would be broke before trying to drive home.

Incredibly, i didn't even have to drive. Jimmy has a large-ish van and in a last minute change of plans, i left my car at home. and skived off to the wilds of Columbus with a van load of friends.

Our Cast:
Jimmy (The driver and my best friend)
Brandon and Maranda (The cute couple)
Alec (The "Navigator" and resident Blunt Object)
Megan (More Pervy than YOU!)
And your arrogant correspondent

Travelling with friends means that you have people to share the trip with, but it also means that your schedule is not your own. We were up early every day and home late every night. I got no swimming nor long sybaritic breakfasts where i got to make notes and consider the day before. It meant that i ended up playing more games this year than any other year previous.
Also, worried that i would have very little money for food, i had packed a bag filled with comestibles, but they turned out to be unnecessary, and thankfully so. The bag was heavy to bring along,even in the truck it would have been a pain in the ass.

We arrived around noon-ish, got checked in at the con. (Swag bag was a little light this year) And then made a look around the Dealers room. Had an opportunity to touch base with Fred Hicks of IPR games and chew the fat.
Also touched based with my peeps at the White Wolf booth. Donated the one and only physical copy of "Out in the Night Air" to Kelley who was pleasantly surprised and has vowed to put it up as a prize for ICC (Which is the international Cam convention, being held in Detroit this year.)

I managed to get in a game of Requiem for Rome. learned many amusing things about Gladiators. (Apparently during the neo-pagan revival, there were seven gladiator schools in Rome and they functioned much like wrestling federations. Some gladiators even had action figures.) Got to play a Daeva senator and try to unravel a mystery. A short game meant only to give a taste of the setting and system. 2 hours and out. Not a bad idea that.

A trip to the hotel, check in, unpack, sort out my gear, At this point i'd been awake 26 hours. A long hot shower and in a little over two hours, back out to the con and dive into Requiem Larp. No way in hell i'll fall asle...

Okay. Maybe there was a way in hell. The greater miracle is that i awoke refreshed and ready to go.
As per tradition, i'll detail my experiences in the larp in a separate post. Suffice to say here, i think we all had a good time and managed to do some cool things.
Requiem over, and back to the hotel after a stop at Chateau Blanche (White castle for those that don't know.)

A word about the hotel. A step up from the days inn of the first year, but a major step down from the Courtyard By Marriot from the last two. I missed the early morning jacuzzi and the hot breakfast bar.

-Ex Machina for Tri-stat, Have had an itch to maybe do some cyberpunk. Going to look it over. (5 bucks)
-Dogs of War for White Wolf. In the same vein as Precinct 13 for cops, this book handles military material. Good stuff from what i've read.
-Truth and Justice. Heard a lot of good stuff about this game and i like much of what i've read so far. been looking for a rules light game for supers for a while now.
-Floor plans from the cut-rate gear at the SJGames booth. 3 for 10 bucks. Got the Haunted houses, the underground labs, and the Mall of the Dead.
-Some new purple dice.
- A free disk of the Silvervine game from it's makers.

No weapons. Too expensive this year. Also, no T-shirts except for a white wolf shirt i got for playing the Requiem for Rome game. I have Zazzle now. I can make my own.

Day two
Up relatively early. into the con without too much muss or fuss. (Our navigator has the unfortunate habit of missing the proper exit.) And onto the games.

Played a lovely game called Silvervine. Was handed a character which was an orge, but not the usual ogre. I was large, and furry, and apparently an ex priest, with the ability to levitate. I carried a long spear with a hook end and because of this, i decided i was the rigger's mate aboard the sky-ship we were aboard. Jimmy was handed a goat-man with a penchant for firearms. We bumped into another skiy-ship that was unfortunately over-run with Zombies. The ships log read like the ships log of the Demeter. We cleaned them out Jimmy and I parted company and i went off to play Mage.

Mage: the Awakening is not a game for beginners. You should not be trying to teach introductory WOD system in addition to the vagueries of the Mage system, which is a touch baroque at the best of times. Still. I had a good time, and we got much of the plot sorted before time ran out. It may have also helped me to realize a work around for the problems i was having with it. I may yet find some ways to work with it better than i presently am.

Requiem that night, bloody and masquerade shreddy. Home and thence to bed.

Bitch: WHY IN GOD'S NAME AREN'T THERE MORE PEOPLE RUNNING SPIRIT OF THE CENTURY? I saw one game, it was closed by the time i got to it.

Computer Game News: I am officialy excited about Eve Online and Champions Online. Will hopefully try both and report here.

Day Three
Up early, and dragged out to the con. thought about playing the Mage larp at 9:00 am, but instead had an enormous breakfast at All American Burger and dug out a con booklet.
Ended up playing a game of Champions and surprised myself at how much i remembered. The guy who ran it was pretty good. He'd come up with a fun scenario involving the Grand Rapids Power Corps. The game was a cross between the "Mystery Men" and "The Office" I ended up playing the Martial Artist and grim avenger of Justice, who's the office grump and is a little bitter that he didn't go into management. Happily, the people who came out for this game knew Champions pretty well and we were off to the races. I had fun filling in the forms in an impertinent manner. A FUN and FUNNY game.

Then after a necessary hiatus, Requiem. Where the Pinkster was in rare form.
A long day. but good. Most of our people who were relatively new got something for playing

Mission: stay at the Drury or the Hyatt next year, Get myself a Zuca carry-all.

Up, packed, dressed, showered and out the door by 10. On the con floor for one last turn around the place before heading home. As predicted, many vendors had slashed prices. it pays to be a veteran.
After a false start, we haul ass for home.

Other things i learned over the course of the weekend:

-While the well of inspiration is usually a spring. Occasionally it must be refreshed by the rain. The rain comes in the form of hundreds of other people with similar interests and their own tips, tricks, gambits, and bits of creativity. These things are old hat to them of course, but to you they can be new and fresh.
-Every con is an opportunity to learn and tighten your own game.
-No matter raunchy and pervy you think you can be, Megan can top you.
-Brandon jumps in with both feet.
-Maranda has interesting Head-meats.
- Pinky still doesn't belong in a fight, but i am good at handling car accidents.
-The ST team is rarely ready for a batch of people who know a little something about working Influence.
-Euchered out of trying Terrorwerks again!
-North Market is NOT a grocery, but is collection of kiosk style micro restaurants and food vendors. A little pricey but not more pricey than the food court. Wish i'd known about it sooner.
-Corsets and Bustiers are not always an improvement, But they certainly better the odds. On balance, "Yes".
-Hot women dig on a fez wearing man. I am tragically completely oblivious in at least two cases, that were reported to me after the fact. There are times, when i wish i was a great deal quicker on the uptake.
-Occasionally, Teens needs to be punched. Trust me it will help them to develop better social radar, and maybe some fucking manners.
-Hunter is going to be Bad-ass. Everything i've seen for it, including the FREE scenario that i acquired, is superhumanly cool.
-More people this year than i expected. I sort of thought that gas prices would have crabbed the con a bit. But people really turned out. I still expect however, that gas prices may yet rip the tits off of the smaller cons.

Sono Finito.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

The System

No. This is not an article about 4E.

In my LJ F-list, i saw something that kicked my old head into working and i'd just like to share it with you all.
In the space of some years we have gone from being a culture of service to being a culture of entitlement, and from that to a culture of abuse. (A slight paraphrase)

It is a sad fact, that ultimately i believe the sentiment expressed above is largely true. In Larps and in Chat games I see people who may have all the right equipment to be full grown adults and yet they either cannot be, or they choose not be. And when things go against them, They do everything right up to throwing a screaming fool fit and laying down in the floor to drum their heels on the tile.

It is the Tragedy of the Commons all over again.
(Cribbed from WikiPedia)
The tragedy of the commons is a type of social trap, often economic, that involves a conflict over finite resources between individual interests and the common good. It states that free access and unrestricted demand for a finite resource ultimately structurally dooms the resource through over-exploitation. The term derives originally from a comparison noticed by William Forster Lloyd with medieval village land holding in his 1833 book on population.[1] It was then popularized and extended by Garrett Hardin in his 1968 Science essay "The Tragedy of the Commons."[2] However, the theory itself is as old as Thucydides[3] and Aristotle.[4]

To shorten, If something is available and unrestricted, then more people tend to exploit it than maintain it. I always wondered why a Larp that charges an admission fee had more dedicated players than one you could get into for free. I always wondered why it seems there is always a group of players that are gung-ho about keeping a a good chat game going and they always seem to be outnumbered, and unable to protect themselves, from players who seem to only get their fun out of wrecking everyone else's good time.

"The customer is always right", is a broken and unrealistic philosophy. I have long been of the opinion that more people being thrown out of more places might correct their acting up. America is afflicted with this loathesome entitlement illness to the point where people start shit on airplanes. Are you aware that causing a ruckus on a airplane,to the point where you interfere with the flight crew in the performance of their duties, is A FEDERAL OFFENSE! So, in essence, getting liquored up and losing your shit on an airplane because you got so used to screaming at the wait-staff at your local O'Charlies, will have you doing federal time.

The words ought to read "The customer is right up until they damage the system. Then they have to go." I'm certainly not against helping people with problems, even frustrated and upset people can be handled with aplomb and grace. But once rudeness is given, then rudeness needs to be repaid. A person shouting at you over things you can't fix or control, does nothing to help your situation or improve your business.

Now, i know there are people who take the tack that any person who has a bad experience at your business/larp/chat game is going to tell at least six people about it. Thus damaging you further.
To which, I answer. "Good. I don't want that fuck-heads money. and i sure don't want to deal with his asshole friends either."

I have seen a few situations in the course of larping, that were I charge at the time, i would have stopped the larp, turned to the person(s) causing the problem, refunded their site fee and told them in front of GOD and everyone that they had 2 minutes to collect their gear and leave my larp or i would summon the police and have them removed from the premises.

As a character, i tend to adhere to the basic credo of "Evil we can understand, Treachery we can appreciate. But we do not tolerate rudeness." And it's a credo I try to live out as much as I can in real life. Politeness is the grease we apply to social interaction to enable the machinery of society to function. Rudeness is like throwing sand in the gears.

Certainly there are things that can cause problems and in many cases, there are things in place to keep players and ST from damaging a game beyond repair just because there was a messy break-up, or someone hasn't had enough sleep, or is on the rag, or any number of a dozen other things,
Sadly, no amount of appeal process or code of conduct can substitute for a proper attitude and basic politeness and kindness. You can have all the safety equipment you want on a kitchen meat slicer, but none of it is a substitute for paying attention to what your doing while the blade is moving.

Look. Each of us wants to have a good time. The things that may be stopping us is that we don't always have a good handle on what each of us considers a good time. I've talked about this before. Some might enjoy an approach that seems deathly dull to outsiders while others might consider a more cinematic approach that seems crack-filled and stupid.

Also: Before you send that email or throw that hissy fit. Remember that every larp and chat game is a volunteer operation. It functions as well as it can manage on the schedules of it's volunteers and REAL LIFE always trumps. Hell, there have been situations i've seen where the hissy fit was simply the final straw, and the person it was thrown at simply folded their tent, and went the fuck home. Is that what you want? If so, fuck you anyway.

Lately, the chat i like has been plagued by a trio of players who have been poor-mouthing the GM staff. The staff for their part has hard guidelines about how often you can change characters and these people were way abusing the system and then acted childish and petulant when the rules wee pointed out to them, to the point where one of the asshats would sit in the foyer of the chat game and go on an endless diatribe about how shitty the ST staff was. Finally they were permabanned, but they were making the game un-fun. If they had spent a quarter of the energy they wasted on that behavior on playing their characters. They wouldn't have been a problem.

In order to battle the Tragedy of the Commons, we have to refine and redefine our approach. Too many people feel like "suckers" if they pay into a public system. They also feel like "suckers" if they don't exploit and abuse the public system as much as they can. This is self interest. and moreover, it is dumb, short-sighted, moral-killing self interest. You see that shit in corporations, where people are more concerned about protecting their bonus than keeping their team working like a well oiled machine.
It's exactly backwards. One should try for Enlightened Self Interest instead. We all want to have fun. We all want to be here. The best way we can achieve it is by working together. When people care, the Commons flourishes and guess what, Not only do YOU get what you want, but everybody else does too.

The social contract is a finicky thing and it work less well when people don't understand it or notice it. Sometimes it's very important to take another person by the hand and say, "we have a code of conduct here and it is important to realize that this little society is entirely ad hoc and volunteer. If you want to be a part of this community, then you have to realize that we have certain rules, and rule zero is, Don't be a DICK!" So maybe it's me on my hobby horse about people making informed choices. But i can honestly say that i think it's best to help people realize that even though no money changes hands, there is a price to be payed for being a part of a community

And that price is courtesy.
Pay it, and it will pay you in return.
Invest in your community and it will pay you dividends.

Hopefully, i will coalesce my 2008 Origins Post Mortem into some concrete form in the next couple of days.
Sono Finito.