Saturday, October 31, 2015

...And one time, at band camp.

No one cares about your Character Background.
Seriously, it's like your Blog and your Facebook posts. Nobody cares about it as much as you do.
Which is not to say that shouldn't write it. If it's in you, you might as well right it down, if only to be able to keep it all straight in your head. And that's useful. Pinky's backstory got so unruly and unmanageable i had to write two books.

But really, Your ST has a LOT to read. Assume 50+ Players at 2 pages each. That's 100 pages of background material that has to be read and known. He or she is not going to devote a lot of time to reading a long-ass background, much less know it cold. Reduce your story down to its main elements and make it into bullet points that are easily chewed and processed. And ST's, stop kidding yourself that you're going to get around to reading all that and asking for it. Seriously. Give us all a break.

I know where that impulse comes from. It comes out of a desire to really get to KNOW a character inside out. and a desire to tailor stories to those characters. But this is, once again, a symptom of carrying over tabletop game dynamics to a Large Scale Dynamic game. The amount of work you're creating for yourself is huge and often unnecessary. Not only that, but not everyone wants to write a huge background for a character. Not everyone is even GOOD at it. Maybe they've only just made it and only really have the character's vibe in their heads, In such cases, they are looking to fill in the details of the character as they go, rather than shoe-horn it into a multi-page history. Not everyone approaches character creation the same way. Some are perfectly happy to think out every single detail of their character's past life before entering the game. But I think you'll find that THOSE players will be intensely resistant to revision. If your characters backstory is bullet points, odds are good that you'll be able to edit it with greater facility than the players who's backstory is the equivalent of the sistine chapel made entirely from toothpicks.

I have literally had a GM give me hassle because I hadn't mentioned my PC's childhood at all. To which my answer was, "What in the hell could you possibly need to know about my character's childhood? What are you, my therapist now?"

The main reason why I bring this up is because I've been there. I've been the storyteller and did something to a PC only to be told. "Well NOW i can't play my character because they would NEVER ever EVER EVER go along with that! I mean, it's like you didn't read a bit of my 47 page magnum opus. Anyone who had would KNOW that I would die before trying on green trousers at Tesco…"

Conversely, I've been on the end of having an ST be completely confused as to why my character felt he needed to immediately leave town or wage un-ending war on everyone in the place, after being publicly humiliated.  "Did you even GLOSS my sheet. Under concept it says, "Man of Respect" as in "Old School Mafiosi".  Were you paying ANY attention at all. I didn't think my backstory was so thick you got lost in the underbrush.

But, there ARE a few things that are helpful to do when creating your character background
*You probably should avoid making your background way more interesting than current play. If you only have 2 dots in firearms, you probably shouldn't have a backstory that points you up as the premiere assassin on the scene. That's fairly elementary. 
*When points are few, it is, to my mind, perfectly permissible to create what I call, the "reserve list" This would be the sort of stuff that OUGHT to be on your sheet but you can't afford from the jump. Many physical skills are frangible and if you don't practice them, they stagnate. Lots of skills are like that. So it's certainly possible that you could dust those skills off at some point. letting your GM know that you have that in mind might ease the path of justification down the road. Assuming that you have to justify at all. So, if you feel like your character really ought to have a specialty in french impressionist painters, but just can't swing it at the jump, why not put that in your reserve list? 
*I have this thing that I do. And I think it's a good idea, simply because It makes me feel a bit less confined in terms of my characters portrayal. I call it "Stress Statting".
The premise is that the dots on your sheet only measure what your character is capable of under stress, and this is not a radical idea particularly, it's enshrined in the rules already. You'll note that you can often use various skills even with no dots, at slight dice penalties.
To put this idea into personal terms, I'm a professional actor with over 20 years of experience on the stage. So even if my allergies are killing me, My parents are in the audience, I'm doing the next scene with my ex-girlfriend, and the burger I had earlier is sitting on me like a rock, I can still command 4 dots of expression.
On the other hand, my guitar playing is a great deal less accomplished. Among friends, or perhaps with a couple of glasses of whiskey under my belt, I might have a dot or two. However on a stage in front of strangers that facility melts away like dew on the spring grass.
With this idea in mind, There are a number of permutations. For one, I can play a character that perfectly capable of being sociable and personable, one on one. But maybe not so good in crowds or around scary vampire elders. Which is great if I, personally have good social skills, but my character can't afford them. This is of course, and age old problem in Chat and Larp games. But it needn't be. Storytellers don't have to go around policing interactions between players and so forth, They need only have an eye open for social interactions that involve stress, which, as like as not, would have required a roll of the dice for ANYONE.
Moreover, It obviates some of the stress of not having enough points for a single dot of some skill you think you ought to have, or even what an ST thinks you ought to have. True Story: I once had an ST give me an appreciable amount of grief over not having a single dot of socialize. His idea was that if you lacked a single dot in Socialize, you couldn't actually do it at all. Never mind that the only profession that I can think of right off the top of my head that requires Socialize would be "Wedding planner".
Vetting prejudices aside, Stress Statting makes it possible to elide these sorts of problems.

* Don't feel the need to fill every single minute of your characters backstory. Leave yourself space and wiggle room. At times, you'll want to build something into the backstory, whether it has to do with the rationale for a change in character direction, or it's simply an idea you had on the fly. Large portions of the legend of Pinky Berkowitz owe their existence to improvisation and the willingness to have a bit of unused territory in the backstory.

* The more you flesh out the people who have had an effect on your character, (The parents, The sire, The unit commander, etc…) The more weight their influence will have in your backstory. Don't come up with the person who dragged you kicking and screaming into the supernatural world as some kind of after-thought. It's lazy and it honestly doesn't give you much to work with. The deeper the relationship and the more complicated it is, the more mileage you'll get out of it, and the more it is likely to interest the ST staff.

* Talk about who you were in your life more than who you are now in the shadowy world if the supernatural. The everyday life you used to lead illuminates the world you live in now. This assumes of course, you aren't playing a creature who is intent on losing their humanity as fast as is possible. In which case, why bother? 

Monday, October 26, 2015

Justify my Love

I absolutely LOATHE and DESPISE Justification systems in chat games.
The main reason is a personal one. There was a game I was involved in, and I rather liked it. The players at that site were actually a lovely bunch and I rather liked playing with them.
I got in at the jump of this game. As one of the very beginning players I had a slight advantage in terms of a small amount of points to spend, that once the first month of play had passed, I'd be able to spend freely. It was about 25 points, so, not trivial.
And if that was what had taken place, things would have been fine.
The problem was, the original ST who built the venue flamed out within 2 weeks of opening the place. It happens. I don't blame him. Any new place is likely to have a certain amount of turn-over in the first couple of months.
The fellow who replaced him, well...
Let me simply say, and I'll be clear that I am speculating here…I am convinced that he would have been perfectly happy to run a vampire venue where none of the players had any power, or money, or weapons, or clothing, or havens. Each and every single one of his NPC's was more powerful than any ten players combined, and they all acted like jerks.
This by itself, we probably could have weathered. We also probably could have weathered the fact that he and his Assistant ST, started going through people's sheets and removing things they found objectionable, things that the former ST had signed off on. Things that we'd sort of gotten used to having. I think he wanted his player-base to be hungry, naked, covered in pee, and on fire. I think they both did.
Many of us were unhappy. But the thing that made us most frustrated is that seemingly no one was being allowed to spend their points. See, They wanted you to justify your purchases. I got no problems with explaining to a storyteller how I'm planning to purchase something with my points. That's no trouble at all. But they seemed to want an inordinate amount of information. Like weeks of blue-booking. You know what? I have better things to do with my time than spend a lot of it writing about how i'm practicing this or that skill multiple times per week. I'm sorry that sentence is unclear. I have better things to do than POST multiple times per week about trying to pick up this or that skill.
Finally, deeply frustrated and sitting on about 50 points. I sent a PM to the ST explaining that I would gladly do whatever it was that they wanted in order to spend my points and I'm sure that the rest of the player base would likely do it as well, if only we knew what you required.
To which he replied, and I swear by Frank Zappa's guitar hand I am not making this up, "But figuring it out is half the fun!"
He, and perhaps his Assistant ST, had decided among themselves, that making us play guessing games was more important than running a venue full of happy players. Not only that, but he only ever looked at Character threads about once every other week, so these negotiations on expenditures dragged on for MONTHS.
At this point, i recognized that this venue was doomed. I spoke to the people I enjoyed playing with, and advised them to get as far from this place as possible. Some left, some stuck it out. I don't know if any of that ever worked. I heard after I left that the ST publicly wondered WHY I or anyone else would ever leave.
I didn't play another chat game for at least 2 years.
I admit, my feelings on this are just that, feelings. But my thinking on this is sound.
*Justification systems are a choke point in any game, especially for an ST who thinks he's still running a table-top game. They are different animals. If I am running a TT game, I already know what my players are doing and whether they've done the necessary things to garner something unusual. If I'm running a chat game with 50 players, i would have to read dozens of requests every single fucking day How much can an ST reasonably be expected to read?
* If you're running a justification system and you require your players to write a justification for something under 4 dots, or something that's in the core rules, then you are WAY too anal retentive to be in charge of your game.
* I have seen ST's require a player to write a justification for getting a fire-axe. Not Laser-guided missiles, Not mil-spec weaponry. This is a weapon that is available to any human/vampire that is near a Wal-mart that is open all night. This is being a control freak.
* Recently, A site that I play on has moved to a justification system after having only needed a set of training times, The site is relatively new and players are pointing out that their characters would have been designed differently if they'd stayed with the system they'd started with. Now, players who are making their new characters will have an actual design advantage over veterans.
I can look at my own sheet and see that it's true.
*Justification systems create game balance issues, especially in cross-over venues. Your Changeling ST may be very tight with point expenditures and require a lot of effort to prize loose good things. Your Geist ST may be fairly indulgent and as a result, you may have players that can mop the floor with players of other venues. I don't think there are too many GMs who will willingly accept draconian hard guidelines on what they can and must require of their players. It smacks a bit too much of being told how to run your own damn game. If you WANT the extra understanding of what a player is doing to acquire this or that, YOU can bloody well ASK for it. But if i'm running MY game over here…All i'm going to see is that your requiring me to do a LOT more paperwork than I was used to.
*J-systems also create favoritism issues. Look. This is a medium that enables people with fairly busy lives to have the opportunity to game. Pants-less if possible. Not everyone is going to have time to write a novellas-worth of blue-book. And odds are good, as an ST, you won't have time to read it. Not everyone is a shut-in with immune-deficiency issues and over-developed fingers.
Not everyone is good writer.(God knows I stink on ice.) and not every character is blue-book fodder. I've had characters that were a LOT of fun to write, and I didn't even care if the ST read my posts, other than my formal requests. And other characters, I just don't do that with. It depends.
In any case, what I'm trying to say is that there are a lot of factors that can tip your situation, and have the ST showing you, or not showing you,favoritism. Once a game acquires a reputation for favoritism, it almost never shakes it.
* Even the tacit message of installing a justification system is damaging to your games culture. it essentially says. "You players can't be trusted to spend your points responsibly without us checking up on you." And that's not a message I, or many others, are ever going to be comfortable with. Even if there are people who NEED checking up on.
Look. Maybe I'm over-reacting here. As like as not, when I talk to my ST's about what I'm trying to accomplish, I try to be thorough and clear. And for the most part, it's not a problem at all. But it only takes one real jerk to make you see how flawed a system can be. For instance, I have always held that the idea of pedestrians always having the right of way in a city street is a flawed system. It is predicated on the idea that a motorist can (A) See you. and (B) Care if you live or die.
Any system like that, is one I don't have a lot of confidence in

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Stir it till it's gumbo

I'm going to give each and every one of you GM's a tip. I've always said that it's much better to have 10 little plots out there running around rather than one big plot.
There's a reason for this. Not all plots resonate with all people. If you've got one great big giant plot that is dominating play, then the people it doesn't resonate with are going to feel left out in the cold. Also, and I can tell you from personal experience, if your plot doesn't do a thing for me, DON'T fucking try to shoehorn me into it.
Look, If I'm playing an occult investigator type, I'm not necessarily going to be interested or motivated to deal with a big plot that revolves around politics or influence. If i'm playing a social manipulator, i'm not going to respond well to being harassed and chivvied into trying to decode sumerian rituals while methuselah vampires run about. My points are simply not stacked that way. I've been approached by Storytellers in the past who are angry at my non-participation in certain plots that they had running and been forced to say, "Sorry. I was having fun doing something else. And besides, I don't have a single fucking dot of occult. I'm sorry if your plan was, "All the vampires pull together to defeat the Thing", but a statistically significant number of us aren't interested in attractive forms of suicide."
OK. That sounded a little bitter.
Not every player NEEDS to have the ST come around and either hand them plot, or jack up their shit. I have always been more than capable of getting into trouble and making enemies all by myself. In most cases, i am the sort of player who has his own idea of what his character wants to do and I'm able to identify my goals and pursue them at my own pace. And I know i'm not alone.
This is why it is better to have any kind of uber-powerful plot WAY out on the periphery of what is going in your game. People who want it, will seek it out. Better to have dozens of small things going on at any given time. Small plot can always grow in size and complexity. Big plots don't have the option to size down or get simple. Some will gravitate to social warfare. Others will get involved in romance, or horror plotlines, I, personally am a fan of empire building. Not every plot is going to ring everyone's bell, but you don't have to. A well run chat with decent plot(s) is like a buffet table, whereas if you stick with one big plot, then it's like going to dinner only to be told that all we're serving is Yams.
What if you don't like yams? What if you had yams for lunch? Maybe you even like yams, but you'd also enjoy some squash. Is it really right to harass and subject your diners to peer pressure simply because they aren't digging the yams? What the fuck?
One of the problems of running a chat game like a table top game is that some of the assumptions about how the game is going to operate have to change. In a tabletop game, a storyteller often has to be ALL of the antagonists. As a result, they may be stuck in thinking that they have to supply all of the heat, shit, and pain that a Chat game requires in order to keep it's plots running.
You don't. In a chat or a lap setting, i find it's often best to allow a good 85% of your characters problems to come from the other players. I know, that often the very best games i've played have come out of matching wits with my fellow players. Which is not to say that an ST plot can't be engrossing and fun.  But honestly, the other players are a resource. LEAN on them.
On the other side of the coin is the understanding that Players cannot lean back and be passive. You can do that stuff in a tabletop game. You can be more engrossed in your phone or Ipad and only check in once in a while to see if anything is grooving you. Granted, it's fucking rude, but you can do it. The GM, for his part can always huck something plot-wise in your direction if he sees that you're bored.
But in a Chat, you've got maybe 10 times the number of players. Some will be vocal and the squeaky wheel tends to get the grease. There are players that will CONSTANTLY be joggling the ST's elbow to get their attention. "Hey, did you read my FPM's today?" (I once had a player who would send me at least 3 per day. I appreciated her enthusiasm, but DAMN!)
You can't just hang around, playing "Moody Loner" and expect the GM to wander by and hand you some bullshit "Lone Samurai" plot. The GM has other things to do.
Not only do you have to figure out your own goals, and determine who you're going to need to partner with or crush in order to accomplish them, but you're going to have to get proactive about going out and finding things to do, and meeting people and taking their measure.
Actors say, "Make active choices."
What does that mean? It means stuff like. "Find something", or "Find Somebody", or "Kill all the bad things", or "carve out a kingdom", or anything that means your character has not only something to do, but a whole fucking LIST of things to do. Don't make passive choices like "stay out of everyone's way" or "Protect someone who isn't usually in danger", or "wait until they come to me and then…"
If you're a player in a chat, you need to be on the prod. Sooner or later an NPC is going to realize you're a threat to her or him and they may take steps. Or one of the jerks in the game will step to you and you'll want to unlimber the SWORD OF JUSTICE on that asshole. Or one of the cyber-bunnies will garner enough points to gain a new combat power and they'll want to wander out of the boudoir and test that shit on the nearest person who looks at them. This has happened a sickening number of times in my direct experience.
You want to be ready.
If it be now, ’tis not to come. If it be not to come, it will be now. If it be not now, yet it will come—the readiness is all.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Sympathy for the Devil

Running a Chat is a bit different from running a larp. Even a larp that meets often will have downtime in between sessions. But a chat is essentially a 24/7/365 kind of deal and any given night, you can be asking yourself, "What ST stuff should I be doing right now?"
For a conscientious sort, this can be hard road to hoe. Personally, I don't even have the juice for blocking out a night for myself to go play, much as I might like.
It's no wonder that ST's tend to burn out, ask any GM around these parts and they'll tell you their stories.
But there are things we can do as players that can alleviate some of the stress of the GM. They are the sort of things that I try to do as best I can when I know that the ST isn't some loon or control freak.
1) Remember: Your GM is not being paid.
Every single bit of work that has been done to your setting, every single thing that has been done to your sheet, and likely most of the work you take for granted in the forums and in the Wiki are as the direct result of an all-volunteer effort. No one is receiving dime one. Even if you contribute to the cost of server upkeep, you still aren't paying anyone's salary and frankly, if the baby is crying, then THAT takes priority.
Look, Playing takes varying levels of commitment, time, and energy. You can go fuck off for an entire week and not have anyone say a mumbling word to you, but try that shit as an ST and it's a different story. As a matter of fact, On occasion, I got a little perturbed at my Larp players because often, I was expected to stay in town and run a game for a minuscule number of players who couldn't go to a regional convention, while everybody else was going to that same con. How the hell am I going to grow and stretch as an ST if I don't get to play in other people's games every once in a while?
And you know what, We GET that we've made a significant commitment and that being an ST is a serious responsibility. Not only are we called on to be entertaining at the drop of a hat, but we are called on to craft stories and render Solomonic judgement on all manner of things. They are big shoes to fill and they require poise, grace, energy, creativity, and most of all patience and understanding to pull off.
Hey, at least in a Tabletop game or in a larp, there is slight possibility that you'll be bribed with snacks. Chat ST's don't even get that.
2) Politeness is the grease that allows the machine of social interaction to function.
Look, I understand that some people just don't have the same understanding of social skills or may in fact be fairly blind to social cues and their own excesses of behavior. We've all got that ONE friend who requires a bit of set-up before new people meet them. And GOD, Role Playing games has always been a natural roosting place for people with a dim understanding of how to inter-act with one another. I am well aware that there are people, who, even among their own tribe, just don't know how to be cool. Hell, I used to be one of them.
But if you want to get better at it, step one, is "please" and "thank you".
And if someone is wondering why everyone hates them? Take a minute and explain "please" and "thank you" to them. Either they get it, and things get better for them, or they don't and what have you lost? Nothing really.
3) Most people forget that Cross-over blows chunks.
A friend mentioned today that players and even some GM's have a peculiar sort of amnesia when it comes to remembering that Cross-over games usually suck. Mainly because they heard about that one game that was supposed to be pretty good that one time. If you must do cross-over things. Do them small and conservatively. I am not interested really in learning a whole bunch of game systems for games I'm not actually running. I truly don't have the time to do the reading. I honestly don't care if you have a werewolf boyfriend or a Mage girlfriend or whatever, but the second you decide to do something that starts a war, then it's a problem. So DON'T. K?
4) If there's a preferred format, use it.
And the main reason why I say that, is because those things save the ST oodles of time. Even I have gotten cranky about certain types of things like this, but I've also seen the other end of it and I know that sometimes, the way something is organized can be the biggest help in terms of handling it.
5) Be as transparent as possible.
If you're stiring the pot for some reason, say why, and you might find the ST helping you.
6) Assume every mean word you type will find it's way into the ST's ears.
Because often they will. Even if it was said off the chat itself.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Suiting Up

On more than one occasion I've gone into a game only to discover that there are no NPC's. Or rather there ARE, but only on paper.
Look. I get that running a game is an activity that is more than capable of eating up every single minute of your life. I know for a fact that on those occasions when I've run a chat game or run a larp, on those rare occasions when I have an actual opportunity to PLAY, i'm always thinking in the back of my headmeats, "What GM stuff should I be doing right now."
Having said that, I think it is imperative that you give some serious thought to suiting up in one of your NPC's about once or twice and week and taking them out for a spin.
Sure, it's alright to make appointments with various PC's and talk to them one on one, but this hardly serves more than a couple of players at a time. Have someone walk into a public gathering unannounced and you have a chance to make an impression on many players at the same time.
Also: And this is fucking important, so pay close attention. YOUR POWER NPC'S DO NOT EXIST TO MAKE YOUR PLAYERS MISERABLE. Not even in Vampire!
Your NPC's ought to come in all manner of flavors. Too often, on those occasions when an NPC turns up somewhere, they are invariably some kind of Douchebag who seems to live only to lord it over the PC's
This is wrong.
In fact, it's SO wrong that it is one of my major turn-offs. If it seems like an NPC wanders in and can mop the floor with any ten PC's that's one thing. But if it also seems that every single time I encounter an NPC, that not only can they mop the floor with me, but they seem to be parsing every word I speak for any offense they could take, reasonable or otherwise.
Fuck that shit. I've dated that girl already.
Look NPC's. Even old, spooky, and possibly entirely alien NPC's still were human beings once. And most of them didn't get to whatever positions of power they possess within your game by being entirely devoid of people skills. This means even if they have a soul that is as barren as a freshly cleaned deep freeze, they may still realize that young neonates are a finite resource and worth fighting over and poaching. So, on go the party manners and maybe the occasional strained smile. It's good practice, you know?
Cranky old NPC's aren't necessarily crazy. They aren't necessarily rude and they may have uses for younger kindred. Maybe even a desire to take one, (The least stupid one they can find) and mentor them. Granted, this may not be a bed of roses for the Mentee…But it beats a sharp stick in the eye.
You may even have NPC's interact with PC's just because they like it. Or maybe because they are lonely or any number of reason that don't involve intimidation or violence.
You know, even a sheriff or a hound could be like, "Sorry, I'm not going to be very chummy or make friends. I may have to come round and kill you some night. Nothing personal dude."
And you know what, CROWD scenes, Like a formal court, are also not entirely useful for allowing your characters to interact with your NPC's. Odds are good, that your players want some time to interact with your NPC's but they can't because you're playing a dozen of them at once, and they ALL want a piece of someone. On more than one occasion, I've been told, "We'll discuss this in more detail another night." Only to never have that night come.
Look, your NPC's are the best way for your players to come into contact with the history and the texture of your setting. You have to make them available for the players to bounce off of. AND you have to make into something your player WANT to bounce off of, instead of running as soon as they turn up.
Many times, the problem is that NPC's are only dots on a page and maybe a position at court, maybe a little flavor text and that's it. This is not the way that an NPC needs to be written.
A worthwhile NPC is written like a character in a soap opera, or maybe, more applicably, a character in a wrestling saga. They should have the following:
* Secrets (Preferably a few. And these secrets should always come out at some point. Plan on them doing so.
*Grudges (Preferably a few. Some small and petty. Others large and festering.)
* Liaisons (Some Daeva are just not happy unless they've slept with over half of the Court. Some Nosferatu pine and yearn for love they know they cannot have. Sex is ALWAYS going to play a role in politics. It may help a player understand some of the grudge between two NPC's if they come to discover that they were once paramours.)
*Tragedies (No matter who you are, no matter what you've done. No matter how many heinous sins you've committed, you still will have some secret hurt that you carry with you. NPC's are no different. We all deal with grief differently too. Some will respond to a kind word with tears while others will respond with fists. But a personal tragedy is the one thing we must always respond to. No matter what. Some melt down. Some dress up like a bat and beat the shit out of themed criminals. YMMV.
* Interests (Ya, know running a city is a taxing affair. So maybe your prince likes building ships in bottles, or animal vivisection, or golf. In any case, a player wanting to curry favor might give a gift and receive an audience. That's just smart play. And who knows, if the prince likes it, he may decide he likes the cut of your jib.This of course, can be a double edged sword.)
*Rumors (You know, like the Fleetwood Mac album. Not all of the information floating around about the NPC's needs to be true. Lies, smears, disinformation, and garbled communications combine to make a slurry of swirling data that has little or no connection to the truth. Some rumors will make the target laugh to even hear it bandied about. Others will send them into a lathering wall-punching hissy fit.)
* An Ambition ( In wrestling, one guy has the belt, other guys want the belt or want to prevent someone they HATE from getting the belt. All plots flow from here. Even your most powerful NPC's may still have dreams and visions yet unrealized. Or maybe they've bargained their souls for 50 years of peace and now the bill is coming due and all they want is to wiggle out from under the Belt Sander of Destiny. In any case, your NPC's need some place to GO.
And hey, maybe their character arc is to flame out in some fashion, go crazy, seek golconda, ascend into the heavens, join up with the infernalists…At least if they do so, they will leave behind a power vacuum that players can step into. Not every thing in these games has to be acquired by violence.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I'm going to try not to get all fire and brimstone-y on this one but the subject is one that really raises my hackles, so I hope you'll bear with me.
If there is one thing that I utterly despise, that fills me with detestation and loathing and drives me into paroxysm of incoherent wall-punching fury, it is when a player does things in-character that draws the ire of other players and then drops the character in an attempt to escape judgement. Or worse, punches out when he realizes that the hammer is coming down, only to turn up 4 weeks later, acting as if nothing had happened, and why is everyone so upset anyway?
As a player, I loathe you. As an ST, I loathe the narrative hole you've left in my game, and as a direct result I will likely, publicly, speculate on your parentage and your parents marital status and/or species. In addition, I will likely speculate about your particular sexual proclivities involving barnyard animals and old school G.I. Joes with Kung-Fu Grip.
It is utter, base, abject cowardice. And it should be called what it is. If you play in a game somewhere and you make few moves and realize that you have called down the whirlwind, then you should by god stand up and take your medicine. If you can't manage actual bravery in an online game, then you might be too cowardly to live in the real damn world. In fact, On more than one occasion, when leaving a game, I have offered to allow my character to be hunted by the Vigil characters rather than leave a narrative hole. Oddly, No storyteller has ever taken me up on this.
This happens a great deal less in Larps of of course, but it still does occur. And even players who OUGHT to know better, end up throwing a fool fit that makes the game seriously un-fun. I mean, you had to realize that your serial diablerie was going to be found out sooner or later. What did you think was going to happen NEXT?

Which would be better, to pull your character out of a game because you messed something up and you don't want to see him die, or to go out in some sky-lighting grand guignol affair that people end up talking about for years…I know which way I'd go.
OK....Breathing now....
In a more charitable vein. I get how people tend to get attached to their characters and how it’s hard to watch them die or lose. but if your character is never at risk, then you’re not really playing are you? You’re just half-assing a novel that you’ll never finish, mainly because sooner or later your going to run up against ME, or someone like me. Someone with their own attitudes and agendas. If you’re in the way, i’ll figure out a way to move you or remove you.
And you know what, It’s not personal.
I may or may not KNOW you in person.
It’s got NOTHING to do with you and me. 
To my way of thinking it’s got EVERYTHING to do with our characters. In almost all cases of conflict with other players I have no knowledge of you or what your deal is, and if you think i’m pissed at you because I don’t like your face or whatever, then you are VASTLY overestimating how much thought i’m giving to YOUR part in this conflict.
It’s gotten so bad, that I might make an enemy out of another character, but I wouldn’t want to make a Nemesis out of anyone who wasn’t a close friend.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

You are NOT in control

Seriously. You aren't.
You may think you are. You may even feel like a tabletop ST who has the opportunity to look a player in the eyes and say, "That's the part of the dungeon that I haven't finished yet and you feel strangely compelled to avoid."
But you can't do that in a large scale dynamic game.
It flatly doesn't work, and the more you try to shove the game back into the place you think it ought to be, the more you will reek of desperation and insecurity. You will run yourself ragged trying to force people to play the game you want them to play and when the smoke clears, many many many of your players will have decided to move on to go play something else, because you decided to strangle the game to death.
I've often said that running a Larp or a large chat ought to be a complete cure for control freak tendencies. Clearly, it is not, as many games seem to soldier on even though their putative parents are trying to kill them because it doesn't fit with their vision of how things ought to be. No one seems to ask themselves the pertinent question: What would I rather have? A game that is exactly how I envision it with a microscopically small player base, or to release my grip some and have scads of happy players talking up my game to anyone they meet.
This is not to say that you can't do some enforcement, and the very nature of being in charge means you have to say no sometimes. But you have to find a balance that works for you AND your players.
Here's a tip: If you find that you get freaked out when players come to you asking about a plot you know nothing about. You're too controlling. Also, you might want to think about not going to great lengths to stomp it out, unless it's ACTIVELY dangerous to the entire game. Players are inventive. They come up with their own things all the time, also, information can get garbled in the re-telling, this can generate weird player action all by itself. If a player comes to you asking about something you've never heard about, your correct response is to say, "I don't know anything about that. Why don't you tell me about it." But if two factions are playing a game of He said/She said and you come in like a house on fire and start bubbling scenes and locking threads. Then you deserve to have bad things happen to you. Like to have a significantly large portion of your player base vanish.
Never mind the guy who comes to you and says, "I have a problem with the way this is being done." Odds are fairly good that he's ALREADY done and planning to go. It's the half dozen friends he has who see how he or she is threatened with banning for being critical. They'll just melt away like dew on the spring grass.
And what's THAT about anyway? Sure, bounce someone for sexual harassment or creeper behavior. Bounce someone who walks around doing PK for giggles, (although sooner or later the players will do it for you, if you don't) Bounce someone for racist, creedist, sexist, bullshit in the foyer. But threaten to bounce someone for being critical?
That's bullshit and if your admin catches you doing it, you're the one ought to be bounced. Oh sure, players may be less than gentle in explaining what they don't like and why they don't like it. God knows i've burned a bridge or two while i was standing on it, because my exasperation overcame my general tendency to diplomacy. That's all a matter of public record really. But honestly, it was the hail mary pass, because I wanted to continue playing but i just couldn't see how.
Look: Your job as a storyteller in a large scale dynamic game is not the same as it is in a much more intimate tabletop arena. In a tabletop game, you are essentially trying to get disparate players to play as a team by throwing common enemies at them and hoping they develop some sticky. This means playing all the little roles and developing all the antagonists. But in a Large Scale Dynamic game, Your main job is to create a setting, have things floating around in that setting for players to bump into, and stir the pot OCCASIONALLY. Odds are good that if you're doing things right, you have to do very little and your player base will be able to do fine with only a couple of scenes a month. Most of their problems will be generated by the OTHER PLAYERS. I've had great nights at larps where all I had to do was walk around, observe and answer questions. THAT is victory conditions. You shouldn't want to run everything. You should want everything to more or less run itself.
As I always say, Yes, plan events, but don't EVER plan the reactions to those events. I've seen ST's flip out because they did something unfair to a player, and the rest of his covenant ended up siding with him instead of the Elder chewing him out. And these were INVICTUS players! You are not smart enough, hell I'M not smart enough to determine exactly how players are going to react to stimulus. Players are, as i said, endlessly inventive. And you should let them be, or at least not act surprised when they leave your game.
This can be a bitter pill to swallow but the alternative is to be blind to problems in your game, I can remember hearing a ST bitching about how nobody seems to looking into any of his plot bombs and how nobody fucking cares about this fucking game and how every can just go screw themselves… At least until someone in the room at the time piped up and said, "Hey…Um. You're usually only on at about 4am and it may take a few days for plot to filter out to players who aren't."
That guy got banned.
That was pretty much it for me.
Large scale dynamic games are a collaborative art-form. They REQUIRE collaboration in order to work properly. If you're too much of a control freak, or sunk down so far into siege mentality that you automatically assume that anyone requesting anything is looking for a way to fuck up your game, you may need a long lay-off. Or go play…Maybe, remembering what it's like to play is what you really need.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Snakes in the Garden

You could be a kind, caring, loving god. You might have gotten most of your old testament tendencies out of your system a long time ago. Your Eden could be a masterwork of equal parts carefully designed chaos and effortless swiss precision order. Your world could be peopled by your finest creations, the beauty of the earth, the paragons of animals. And you could invite players from far flung corners of the globe to come and play in your Persistent Java-Chat paradise based on reputation and awesome game-play you personally witnessed.
And yet, good games to this very day are still such fragile propositions because somebody eventually comes along who just doesn’t get it. You might even go to the length of being completely willing to have a Java-Chat game that only has 20 players or so because you keep it more secret than a nun’s tramp stamp.
And yet, someone will always find their way in.
Most jerks are easy to spot. They make characters designed generally to blow a hole in your game, or failing that, in the tone you want to establish.
“This game is about the subtle shades of grey we find in our dark world and how we intend to navigate and try to keep some portion of our souls unsullied by the exigencies of our horrifying society.”
“COOL. I want to play a schizophrenic circus clown...”
These guys are easy to thwart, but they proliferate like whack-a-mole.
Some are a bit more stealthy, leaving their ambitions to fuck up everyone’s day off their sheets somehow and yet, when it comes to public gatherings In-Character, these guys switch on like the robo-narcissists they are, and everything in the game becomes about dealing with them and their shit.
True sociopaths and Narcissistic personalities eventually do SOMETHING that causes them to run afoul of the law, and in a great heaving sigh of relief, The Game Master is able to task his NPC’s with running the asshole down like a dog and meting out harsh justice to them.
And then there are those piss bastards who carefully go over the sites “Code of Conduct” with a fine tooth comb, and manage to stay inside the law in character, and just barely so, out of character. Those people seem to find ruining everyone’s good time, is their idea of fun. The only real solution is to finally lose patience and ban the asshole regardless of your own guidelines. And once you done THAT, well it’s hard to trust that you won’t do it again. Granted, banning assholes isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But once you’ve opened the door to ignoring your own rules, it’s hard to close it again.
Organizations have a hard time protecting themselves from people who don’t truly want to belong to them and aren’t interested in allowing them to thrive and because of the 5 geek social fallacies, Internet communities have an especially hard time preventing people from joining them for nefarious ends.
The worst part is, no matter how vile a douchbag the offender is, there are going to be people, who will rise to his defense. “Dude...You need to lighten up, he was just being funny.”
(Sidebar: If you have to get rid of someone in your game, and he has friends who remain behind, you need to watch those people.)
Please understand I am not against people playing Characters who are jerks. I have played a couple. I know many other players who have played a few. I have seen a number of players who said and did things that so riled up the body politic that people were twitching and foaming at the mouth. I got no kick against a character who is a jerk. But there’s a fine line between playing a jerk, and BEING a jerk while playing a character.
Part of what helps is to communicate with other players, and let them know that you KNOW that what you’re doing might just get you killed, but you’re doing it to generate plot, and maybe a bit of gossip, and not to generate agita and maybe Lulz. This goes a long way to defusing a bunch of OOC drama that might occur because people might want you dead for various reasons.
I mean, if you’re a serial killer or something like that, you have to expect that some people are going to take issue with your activities. Maybe saying so in the foyer, or via PM might help people realize that you’re not just doing it to be a douche.
So yeah, there are going to be problem players, and the way you deal with them is a very public and open thing that demonstrates how you handle problems. As a result, you have to be very cautious.
The other end of favoritism is to be sunk so deep into siege mentality, that you assume that everyone is an asshole and out to get you. And as much as you would like to lend you tacit approval to players for the removal of the jerk in question, you really have to be Switzerland on this one.
It is ethically right, that a person that you may not like, can still come and have fun in your game, even if you and he/she don’t necessarily hit it off right away. But even if you loathe a player somewhat, they should still be able to play, and yes, even have a good time. Who knows, they may learn a thing or two, It’s possible that they can straighten up and fly right and make useful chaos in your game if given a chance or are allowed to make informed choices.
This is not to say you should allow abuse, or disrespect, or anything that is an active detriment to the game and the culture you are trying to cultivate. You can boot people, but you have to very upfront about the why’s of the booting and transparent about the decision making process. Evidence that you can post in the forum certainly helps. "Dude! He wasn't being racist!"
"Um, I'm pretty sure the statement in the foyer, "Asians kinda smell funny" is pretty much fucking TEXTBOOK racist."
Many times, if a player is a total nimrod, the players will rise up against him, and if THAT happens, oh well. You might take the post-demise time to sit down with the player and explain why you think the players decided that he no longer needed to be clinging to the skin of their world.
The one thing you cannot do however, is conspire against the character on the basis of his jerkitude UNLESS he breaks the law or deliberately triggers his own social demise. You can’t even allow the other PC’s to use an NPC as part of a plan to destroy him. If the PC is within the law and within propriety, YOU can’t really touch him ethically. If the player is within the code of conduct, then same deal.
Because, if you stoop to his level, and you don’t do so as a direct result of overt game sabotage, He wins.
You don’t want that guy to win.
You certainly don’t want him being able to tell other people about how he won without someone piping up and saying, “Bullshit! That’s not how it happened at all!”
Because expunging a troll from your game and your community should be a righteous thing. Your heart should not be clouded. Your motive should not be questioned. When you bounce them, there should be no question that what you have done was right, and meet, and proper.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

The Hibbitty Dibbitty

(Or, How to how to have cybersex in World of Darkness Chat games without causing yourself and others myriad problems.)

I’m not going to get into a long essay about this. Except to say that anything that 2 or more characters get up to in a locked room, that EVERYONE consents to, is frankly nobody’s business. But there are a few things that people ought to take into consideration. So here are a few guidlines:
1) Take “No” for answer. Take “Stop” for an order.
2) If you’re being creepy or rape-y, Evidence is trivially easy to gather. Sooner or later, you WILL be caught.
3) If you’re crying “Sexual Harrassment” because you want to get someone ousted from a game, See number 2.
4) You should be aware that if you are a magnet for sexual improprieties, that reputation is going to get around and it will follow you from place to place. And just so you know, There is always going to be at least 2 or 3 people in every game who can recognize you from the way you express yourself, so it doesn't even matter if you get a new email address and tack on a new handle.
5) If you are an ST and you are caught ghosting in a locked room during a sexual scene, you should be relieved of your post.
6) If you want to show the GM or admin your boobs, or your cock, that’s one thing. If you do so in order to obtain preferential treatment, that’s quite another. Good luck proving that wasn't your aim in the first place.
7) It’s bullshit to spend the bulk of your time online having cybersex and then use your experience to buy combat abilities. Unless it’s (Weapon Specialty: Very small truncheon)
Social skills, i’m okay with. Also, Athletics. (it was also suggested that it might be okay to purchase Stamina and Dexterity this way.)
8) Do yourself a favor. The tendency when a sexual relationship is new is to go wild. But honestly, there’s only so many ways to write a sex scene...And they take hours and hours. Space them out some. You’ll thank me.
9) If you are involved with a love polygon of some sort, all the participants should know OOC what’s going on, even if they don’t all know IC.
10) Not everyone digs cybering. Some would just as soon say, “And here’s where we draw the curtain”
Respect that
Do not however use that as a license to tease. Be upfront about your tendencies in this regard.
11) By that same token, if you feel a scene is drifting in a sexual direction and you aren’t comfortable with that, SAY SO.
12) Since most players don’t have handles like Vagina-Centric or Sporting-A-Penis, you can of course sometimes run into players that are gender-swapped. I don’t think I have to tell you that it’s not cool to allow them to think you are a gender or an orientation you are not. But hey, just in case, It's NOT COOL to let other people think you are a gender or an orientation that you are not.
13) PDA in public places is probably okay, but may engender IC jealousy. PDA verging on soft-core porn in public places is a little more ticklish. Boning in the foyer is just tacky.
14) If you’re character is of one supernatural race and your paramour is of another. You are going to have to expect that your people are going to be watching to see if your paramour knows things they shouldn’t. If you or your paramour ends up knowing things you shouldn’t because of pillow talk, try not to act surprised when the hammer comes down. Some things are secret for a reason, and this ain’t “Underworld” dufus!
15) Rape is not cool. Rape is never cool. If you’re sitting on the other end of this article, saying something like, “Yeah? Well, what about...”
You might as well just stop.
Your venue is filled to the brim with all sorts of mortals npc’s and a few vampire npc’s of flexible morals. It is perfectly alright for your PC to go about doing anything to them that you can get away with. With fellow players, you might want to keep your kinks to yourself. Seriously, trying to do anything like that with other players is like trying to negotiate a mine-field with clown shoes on.
16) You should probably pay attention to the fact that certain types of depictions of sexual activity can be psychologically triggery. This is unpleasant for everyone. Moreover, in addition to people with real, honest, serious, problems gained from actual traumas, there are over-sensitive, hyper-dramatic loonballs who are more than capable of making everyone miserable based on their imagined “Emotional Distress”. Don’t give those persons a reason.
17) Speaking of things triggery, You might want to be aware of something. Sexual Harrassment is not predicated on a single event. If a person approaches you with sexifull ideas in mind, He or she may not KNOW that you aren’t interested until you tell them. (Which you should do in a polite, but firm manner)
It is only when a person makes a second sexual approach that Sexual Harrassment is constituted.
18) If you are in a committed relationship IRL, Don’t keep your fictional liasons a secret. It’s just a bad idea.
Hopefully these tips will help you steer clear of rough waters