A Review of Mind’s Eye Theater – Immersion Secrets

There comes a time in any hobby where, if you spend enough time involved, you reach a point where you have to either accept that you have reached the pinnacle of what you want/are able to achieve, or to continuously strive forward for an elusive perfection (I’m looking at you, Toreador). This struggle for elusive perfection can be maddening, and any help along the way is generally welcome.

 

MES: Immersion Secrets will undoubtedly help those who are beginning their journey towards perfection – its audience is clearly new-ish or uncertain storytellers, or advanced players who are leaning towards storytelling – but if you are a good way down the path towards your ideal, there’s a good chance you’re not going to find anything mind-blowing here. If you’ll indulge me –

You are making a dish you love for dinner. You’ve made it a hundred times, and you know just how to tweak it to your preferences. You’re idly scrolling through Facebook, and one of those recipe hack videos catches your eye. You watch, and you see something that makes you think, “huh, I never would have thought to try that”, and you try it. Either it works (great!) or it doesn’t (oh well, you tried something new).

 

There’s no earthshaking denouement or keys to the magical kingdom of The Perfect LARP here, but there’s a good deal of very solid material. If you don’t find a new pearl of wisdom, perhaps you will be reminded of some forgotten truths, or inspired to think about a situation in a new way.

 

Of the fourteen essays included here, I think my philosophical favorite is actually the first one, “Buy the Ticket, Take the Ride”, by Jason Andrew. It contains what I find to be the truest and most valuable philosophical takeaway of the entire collection, and something that could easily be a meditation on the game theory of Mind’s Eye Theater as a whole, regardless of setting. Without spoiling it, let us say that it encourages storytellers and advanced players alike to reconsider their mental definition of the game itself, and in a very positive way.

I respectfully disagree with some of the points that are raised within this book, but as is pointed out in Andrew’s essay, “The subtle choices are nearly infinite, and they can be made to tailor the experience desired.” My choices are not your choices, and vice versa.

 

The essay that I think has the greatest utility, and in this case, I am using “utility” in the sense that it would be something that would be either seamlessly incorporated or frequently reached for, is the second essay, “Strategies for Improving Communication Between Players and Game Staff”, by Jessica Karels.

 

This one rings most true, because I’ve experienced the situations described therein from both sides of the fence. This is the essay that I would recommend ALL storytellers, of all levels, to read and re-read at least once a year. It has a brilliant subsection within the Creating a Safer Space section that will undoubtedly cause an appropriate amount of consternation and spark much-needed discussion.

The essay included that I found both helpful and distastefully clinical (a strange juxtaposition) is “Ritualizing the LARP Experience” by Dr. Sarah Lynne Bowman. It reads less like an essay and more like a scholarly paper – which is understandable given Dr. Bowman’s extensive research into the art and science of roleplaying games and game theory. This extensive research is made obvious by the bewildering addition of nearly a full page of Dr. Bowman’s bibliography at the end of her essay; a questionable design choice in a 56-page PDF.

 

While Dr. Bowman’s article contains some excellent information, particularly addressing the liminality process, its tone is vastly different from the more conversational style of the other essays. Some might find its scholarly formality frosty or difficult to assimilate, which could easily detract from the value of the information contained therein. In addition, it is far more geared, in my opinion, towards games and storytellers that are seeking a more Nordic-type LARP experience – a trend that I approve wholeheartedly, but is decidedly not for everyone.

 

My absolute favorite essay – and one that I think could be sadly overlooked if a reader is looking for easily actionable items to apply quickly – is “Silently Encouraging Immersion” by Michael Pucci, someone who I would like to buy several drinks for after reading this essay. (Don’t mind the split infinitive there – that should show you how excited I am about this essay.) The line that grabbed me by my perfectionist heartstrings is this: “If a participant needs to use a higher degree of suspension of disbelief in order to be invested in the setting and scenario, then there is a reduced sense of immersion level in the experience.”

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website

I served as a Logistics AST for a local Vampire troupe for a year or so, and I can’t tell you how often I ripped out my hair trying to find a site that would truly encourage immersion by the atmosphere it created (a process that was incredibly hard to achieve in public library meeting rooms). PLEASE, for the love of spice, READ THIS ESSAY.  It is worth the $10 purchase price on its own. There’s no earth-shaking revelations, but different eyes see clearly, and Pucci’s suggestions are solid ones.  

 

Simple does not always mean easy, nor does it always mean cheap. We ALL wish we could rent out a house in a swank neighborhood, require our players to dress to the nines, and have immediate and total immersion from the moment people get on site. That’s not going to happen, and it makes me sad, but this essay will give frustrated storytellers and their staff a glimmer of hope that, just once, the magic will work. Yes, you can get together and play Vampire or Werewolf or Changeling in a library meeting room, but simple site synergy, as Pucci terms it, adds a level of authenticity that most players won’t even realize is there, but they will respond to it in a positive way, deeping their immersion and improving the experience for all.

Best Selling RPGs - Available Now @ DriveThruRPG.com

 

In conclusion, allow me to reiterate: this is not a book aimed at average players. This is a book aimed at Storytellers and their staff, or advanced players looking to take on the mantle of Storyteller on their own (or those wanting to assist their ST in more concrete ways). Is it a worthy addition to your MET library? Possibly, especially if you are inclined to want insight into what goes into making Mind’s Eye Theater games what they are – but it would be out of place among the collection of someone who generally appreciates the flavor or splat books. At the very least, frustrated and singed-around-the-edges Storytellers and their staff will be reassured that they are not alone in their struggles, and they may find a little something extra within the pages to give their games a special pop.

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as an ordinary office employee who holds vehement opinions about Oxford commas and extraneous hyphens. She is a regular columnist and editor for the High Level Games blog. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

How Not To Be *That* Gamer: Five Easy Tips

Remember back in the mists of time when you were just learning to play a game, hunched over a table at your Friendly Local Game Store? Trying to absorb the reams of information your friend was pouring into your brain? When you didn’t know what a con save was, or a bluff check, or a dump stat? Maybe this is the first time you had ever learned that dice came with more than six sides, or that there was more than one LOTR-type elf.


Remember when the know-it-all world-weary grognard ambled by and told you everything your friend was telling you was wrong and there is Only One True Way/Edition/Faction? Remember the crushing look of defeat on your friend’s face, and how that one person soured your affection towards the game?

Remember when you really, really wished you could jump in the TARDIS, distract yourself with a phone call, take your own place at the table, and tell that person to take a flying leap into the Pit of Despair?

That happened to some people near and dear to me this week – and someone needs to bring this up, so we as a community can stop this travesty from happening. New players are the lifeblood of our culture, and we have GOT to stop inflicting our own pet peeves and biases on new people, so they can enjoy developing their own.


Here’s a brief checklist of how not to be *That* Gamer:

 

Point the First: If you see someone explaining a game to someone else, and the party of the second part looks confused – mind your own damn business. Let the person doing the explaining do the talking, unless you know them. In that case, ASK IF YOU CAN HELP. Do not, repeat, do not, just assume that everyone wants to hear your opinions.


The one caveat to this follows: If it is a game you love, if there is a natural break in the conversation (Point the Second will address this), you can politely say “Oh, you’re talking about Warbling Mongooses! I love that game! It’s really fun. Welcome to the community. I’m *Name*. Let me know if you’d like a game or if you have any questions.” Then walk away unless invited to comment more – but wait for the invitation.

And for the love of spice, remember to introduce yourself. There’s nothing worse than being approached by a random person that you will likely run into again, but you can only remember them as “that guy in the Metroid T-shirt” or “that lady with the purple hair”.

If you mention this game, and I can hear you… I’ll probably say how much I love it. It’s an awesome game.

Point the Second: Do not interrupt someone explaining a game to a new person, particularly if your interruption involves some obscure bit of trivia that is not relevant. This creates a lot of confusion and, frankly, makes you look like an ass.

Example: “Oh, Warbling Mongooses? You know, in the second errata of the third edition, they ruled that female mongooses can only warble in the contralto register on the second Thursday of a month without an R in it.”

 

If there is a natural lull in the conversation, you can politely (that word again, I know) ask if you can contribute something to the explanation. Be prepared to accept “no” as an answer.

 

“Hey, I heard you guys talking about Warbling Mongooses. New player? That’s great. You’re lucky to be starting now, the rules are so much simpler after the second edition – no more twelve hour game sessions! After you’ve learned the basics, let me know if you’d like to play a game or two. Always glad to meet new people.”

Be positive or be silent.

Take Notes Folks

Point the Third: So, the grizzled veteran (GV) and the eager young convert (EYC) are sitting at the FLGS table, playing a hand of Warbling Mongooses – and the new person looks like they are getting the hang of it. DO NOT walk up to the table and start pointing out how the new person (or the veteran, for that matter) are playing it wrong.

 

WRONG:

GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: (as GV is opening their mouth to correct their student) Oh hey, you can’t play that, it’s the wrong phase. Contratenors can only be played during waxing crescent. You shouldn’t be playing contratenors anyway. Mezzosopranos are so much better! I’ve got a wicked Mezzosoprano deck that just beats faces all day long. Oh, by the way, if you play that baritone in the next move and follow it up with a second tenor, you’ll win in the next turn.

RIGHT:
GV: Plays a contralto Warbler during a half-moon phase.

EYC: Plays a contratenor Warbler during the same half-moon phase (illegal move).

You: *silence*

GV: No, wait, you can’t play that during this phase. See the moon phase icon on the card? You have to match that to the indicator on the table.

EYC: Oh, right. Yeah. My bad.

*Game continues*

 

Most people learn best from one source at a time. If you aren’t that source, wait until you are asked for assistance or a natural break in the game to add a comment. No one likes to be told how to win – part of the joy of gaming is figuring out your own win conditions.

 

Point the Fourth: So the EYC has become a convert to Warbling Mongooses, and you see them playing with their GV mentor. They are doing okay but still making some mistakes, maybe not playing with an optimal deck. You are at your FLGS and see them playing. You approach the table, and:

 

“Dude, that deck sucks, and contratenors are always weak against basses and contraltos. You should be playing mezzosopranos and second bass against that match up. Have you seen my deck? I’ve put like $1,000 and ten years into my deck! It kicks so much ass! Make this play and this play and this play and you’ll win right now.” *

 

*Change the subject of the sentence (sub a particular faction of minis in a popular war game in for the Mongooses) and this is a faithful transcription of what I heard. I wish I was exaggerating.

 

Shut up. Shut up right now. Do not pass go, do not collect $200, and do not use your love for a hobby as a brandishing weapon about how much disposable income and free time you have. Go home and rethink your life if you think this kind of behavior is even marginally acceptable.

 

Repeat after me: Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once. Everyone was new once.

 

Instead, after the game is over, you can walk up to the table, introduce yourself, and offer to help.

 

“Hey, I’m *Name*. Saw you were playing Mongooses and having a little bit of trouble – that was a tough match. I’ve been playing for forever and I might have some extra cards that could help you out. Interested?”

 

Again, be prepared to accept “no, thank you” as an answer. Sometimes people don’t want help. It’s not your place to ram it down their throats. That being said, I have never seen a sincere offer turned down. Often, the new player will ask the person making the offer for advice or suggestions. Voila, there’s a bit of camaraderie to add to the community. Good for you. You get a gold star and/or a cookie.

 

For new players that tend to be a bit on the defensive side (like me): This is the time where you get to mind your manners as well. If someone is legitimately offering to help you, not trying to wave their more-gamer-than-thou card in your face, the least you can do is give them a polite answer.

Unrelated Clouds

Point the Fifth: Thou shalt not condemn anyone’s choice of faction – or means of choosing a faction – especially when they are just getting started! There’s no faster way to crush a tendril of interest than to be told everything they find intriguing is bad or stupid.

 

We’ve all heard of the, poorly named, “girlfriend method” – where the person picks their faction (or equivalent, say, their Commander for M:tG) based on what they think is pretty.

 

There’s not a damn thing wrong with this. In fact, my gaming mentor specifically mentions this method to all people he introduces to his gaming drug of choice. It’s simple logic: you’re going to have to be looking at them while you are playing them, so you might as well choose something you find aesthetically pleasing.

 

Most people get into a game by choosing a faction they loved (or one that was handed to them), using it to learn the game, and then upgrading to a “stronger” faction when/if they decide to become a more competitive player. For example, I learned to play Commander using a prebuilt 2013 Commander deck that I would never willingly choose to play again. Now I’ve built my own and I love it, despite its flaws.  

 

They may never progress beyond a casual player, but they at least will enjoy looking at the models/cards they have chosen. If they ask for advice, and they might, especially if their mentor/teacher shows that your opinion is worth listening to – then you can provide your opinions in a constructive way. “I really love playing contraltos/sopranos, because I love tricksy combos, but if you want a more aggressive, straightforward deck, you might want to look at…”

 

No one, and I mean no one, decides to walk into a game store and become a world-champion player of anything the first time they play it. Let the neophytes choose their doom in whatever manner they choose. It’s no skin off your nose.

 

Bonus Point the Sixth: Compliment a game well played, or a clever play, or a well-painted miniature, or a cool playmat. Say something nice to a new player; don’t cross the creeper line. When you are meeting a new player for the first time, be friendly, offer a compliment, but nothing you wouldn’t say to a stranger on the street.

Also Unrelated, but a cool picture

For those of you in the socially awkward demographic, an example:

 

“That’s an awesome *insert fandom* T-shirt/hat/lanyard/patch!” “That’s a really pretty playmat!” “I haven’t seen that variant of that model before – that’s cool!”

 

These are okay. Any comments on a gamer’s appearance that you wouldn’t say in front of a judge are NOT okay.  Just keep that simple rule in mind and you’ll likely stay out of trouble.

 

Also, as a side note: remember and respect personal space. You’re at a FLGS, not squeezed on a Tokyo subway. Give people room to breathe and to not feel like you are cornering them or pinning them against a table. Be aware of your presence.  

 

I know this sounds like a lot of “mind your own business”, and that sounds antisocial. It’s not, really. You want new players to feel comfortable in your gaming locale of choice, and it can be intimidating as hell to be in an unfamiliar place surrounded by strangers. If that new player walks into a store to laughter and people having fun, gets greeted by smiles and open acceptance – well, a good first impression works wonders, as they say.

 

Remember, everyone was new once. We should always be open to inviting new people into our hobbies and our gaming dens – and we need to police our own. If an LGS isn’t welcoming to new players, or tolerates behavior that ostracizes players, vote with your feet and your dollars and go somewhere else. We are all responsible for our community and the members within it.

 

May all your 20’s be natural,

 

Georgia

 

Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a courier and personal cook while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.

Know When To Say When – Is It Burnout or Bleed?

 

The misery of a year that is 2016 is drawing to a close, and as we all search the horizons of infinity for a glimmer of hope that 2017 will not takes its cues from its predecessor, it is a good time to take stock of our individual states of mind regarding our shared hobby.

2016-into-2017

 

This is an exercise in self-assessment and metacognition, a study in ourselves and our reactions. I recommend undertaking this effort in a comfortable and sober state of mind, possibly discussing it with your closest gaming associates or the people who can offer you an outside perspective.

For the purposes of this article, we will be using bleed in the pejorative sense; that is, the state of getting too wrapped up in/involved with in-character (IC) issues or problems, to the point where it is negatively affecting out-of-character (OOC) quality of life. Nordic-style or play-to-bleed is another cooking vessel of aquatic life forms entirely.

bleed

It’s a Thursday night. Your local once a month LARP is Saturday. What are you feeling?

A) Woohoo, game this weekend! I’m SO ready!
B) Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.
C)Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?
D) Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go.
E)Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

prisma-grigori

I’m ready!

If you answered A, please pass GO and collect your $200….unless you are ready to maliciously wreck the game for someone else. We’ll get to that in a moment.

If you answered B, you’re in the same boat as 90% of all the LARPers I have ever met. 5% of the remainder are super-organized and the other 5% will be panicking as they are 30 minutes late leaving for the game site.

If you answered C, you might be getting a little worn down. This might be because life is kicking your ass (and we all feel like we are wearing that Kick Me sign from time to time) or it might be because it is time to do a little self-diagnostic on your enjoyment/investment in the game.

If you answered D, you are definitely getting a little singed around the edges. Is something lacking in the game, the setting, the environment, or your gaming group, or are you/your character just in a neutral phase?

If you answered E, you may actually be burnt out or experiencing an undue amount of bleed.

A – Game is this weekend, yay!

Are you happy to be going, to be portraying your character and spending time doing something you love? If so, fantastic.

Are you happy to be going because you know you are going to be ruining someone else’s plots/plans…and you’re looking forward to enjoying their suffering?

The second answer is not categorically a negative one, believe it or not, as long as it is your character who is going to be enjoying wrecking another character. Part of the inclusivity of the hobby is being able to differentiate between player and character – but you knew that already, or you wouldn’t be here.

This is where you check your investment – does your entire life revolve around the game? Are you okay with that state of affairs if that is the case? Do you need to take a step back and reassess your investment and involvement? Are you living for the game, or is it a fun activity you enjoy with great enthusiasm? Have fun, but keep things in perspective.

B – Game is this weekend. Did I get my downtimes sent in? Better check with the ST. Where are my costumes/makeup/props?/All my stuff is packed and ready.

jp

I’m ready!

As I said earlier, this is the area where 90% of the gamers of my acquaintance fall. The spectrum is basically spread out between “oh gods where is my everything” and “everything is here, in its proper place, repaired/polished/updated, and I’ve communicated with my DM/ST in triplicate.” If you are one of the people towards the neater/more organized end of the spectrum, please write a blog post and share your witchcraft with the rest of us.

You’re looking forward to the game, but you are keeping your other priorities in mind and in balance. This is a good place to be. Do you want to be more involved with the game? Do you see an opportunity for improvement, and want to help? This might be the time to reach out to your ST or DM and ask if they need any help, or let them know you are willing to volunteer.

C – Hell, game is this weekend. What is going on, again? Did I even do my downtimes this month?

This is the beginning of the singed edge. You may be going through a phase where life is interfering with your ability to game as much as you would like – and it happens to all of us. Maybe your work or class schedule changed, maybe you got involved in a new hobby that requires more time, or family/friends issues demanded priority over your gaming hobby. All of these are perfectly normal, perfectly respectable reasons to have slightly detached from the game, and a healthy, supportive gaming crew will work with you to make sure you can come back when circumstances change.

On the other hand, you might be in a low phase with your gaming experience, such as recovering from a loss of a character, or the completion of a huge storyline. This is either a recovery phase or a spot to take stock of your away-from-game commitments and responsibilities, to see if you need to reprioritize your involvement.

Have you reached a point where you are obsessing or brooding over your character’s frustrations and taking them on as your own? This is a potentially toxic level of bleed, but it can be handled if you recognize it early enough to take a step back and reevaluate your level of involvement with the character. It’s way, way too easy to fall into the trap of 24/7 role-play, especially in these days when it’s more work to get truly away from instant communication than most folks realize – and no one wants to snub their friends because they need a break from being in character all the time. Some people end up blurring the lines between player and character, and that can be incredibly awkward, frustrating, embarrassing, and frankly psychologically damaging – the bad kind of bleed.

Alternatively, this may be the spot you are in if you are in the process of returning to an ongoing game or campaign after taking a break, voluntary or otherwise. If that is the case, I recommend speaking to your DM or ST one-on-one and getting a general feel for the game state, to see how you can best reintegrate with the group. You can also look at this spot as a chance to debut a new character and start fresh.

D – Dammit, game is this weekend. Do I have any good reason to go? I want to go see my friends, but I don’t know if I want to actually go play.

work

I lied, I’m not ready.

If this is your feeling one random Thursday, you might just be having a bad week/month and don’t have the social energy to get into character and deal with plots and connivery and such. That’s cool – as a truly devoted introvert, I feel you. Stay home, cuddle your pets/sweetheart/favorite fuzzy blanket, watch TV or murder pixels or read a book. Do whatever makes you feel better.

If this happens two months in a row, it’s time to reassess your involvement in the game. Have you been doing too much role-playing? Especially in an Org game, or any other avenue that can lead to 24/7 play, it can begin to feel like an endless pressure to be in character all the time, and that’s exceptionally draining. Have you had an in-character crisis that has ended badly and you need to take some time to deal with the emotional fallout? That’s okay too. Are you frustrated because your character can’t seem to accomplish anything and you are beginning to feel like you are just going through the motions? This is a time for a calm and rational discussion with your DM or ST, which brings me to my next point.

This is going to be an unpopular statement, but hear me out – this can also be a sign that you are not a good fit for the game. There are times where personalities just do not mesh, or personal issues (and we’ve all got them, anyone who says otherwise is lying) prevent us from fully joining in with the game or group of people. Maybe, especially in a horror setting like Vampire or anything Lovecraftian, there are events in your own life that make the setting uncomfortable for you, despite your ardent desire to play. Maybe you are part of a group where the expectation of involvement/commitment/investment is WAY higher than you can afford, financially or temporally or emotionally.

social-contract

Make Friends, not Vassals

If you have made friends in your gaming hobby (and I sincerely hope you have!) see about hanging out with them away from a gaming setting, to just BS and be friends without character sheets or dice involved. Grab a beer or a coffee or see a movie or try a new restaurant. Be friends, not only friends-who-game-together. Maybe they have some insights that can rekindle your enjoyment in the game. Maybe you’ll discover that they also have a passion for watercolor paintings of bonsai or collecting esoteric cheeses – whatever your non-gaming passions are.

E – Game is this weekend? I’m gonna nope right the hell out of that noise.

You’re as burned as Anakin Skywalker after the duel on Mustafar.

This is where communication – and for the sake of clarity, I am going to reiterate that all of this is meant to be taken and performed out of character – is truly crucial. If literally everyone in your game is having a fantastic time, constantly and consistently, and you always feel like your own experience is lacking, TALK TO YOUR FELLOW PLAYERS AND YOUR DM/ST. Ask them, away from game and in a neutral setting, if there is something that needs to change about your playstyle, or if there is a fundamental misunderstanding about a key part of the game that you have missed, or if you joined the game with X expectations and are seeing Y results.

Part of being a responsible, emotionally mature, and informed player is realizing that sometimes the problems are not external, but internal. Sometimes, players just do not fit, and it’s unfair to the rest of the group to consistently be asking them to bend to your will and preferences. Want to do a fade-to-black (FTB) when a scene is getting too intense? I am 100% right there with you and will speak up for you if I see you getting uncomfortable. Invoke FTB every single time heightened emotions get involved? I will be less sympathetic.

What it comes down to is this – if you have left multiple game sessions with headaches and grumbles, truly having not enjoyed yourself, and you have reached out to try to make things better and not seen any improvement, maybe you need to reconsider if you are a good fit for the game. It is a sign of maturity and good self-awareness to realize when, despite best intentions, something is just not going to work. Like the old commercial said, “Know When To Say When.”

I will leave you all with this final thought –

We’re all part of this hobby, one giant dysfunctional family, and there’s always going to be situations that make us uncomfortable, people we don’t like, and constraints that we have to work around – be they psychological, financial, temporal, or otherwise – but we’re all here to play a game, and those challenges can actually strengthen us as people.

The biggest difference between our giant dysfunctional family and the other type is that you can always choose to walk away from this family if you realize it’s no longer the right one for you. We will miss you, but there’s always a seat at the table if you decide to come back.

2016 has been a bitch of a year. Let’s make 2017 our bitch.

In loving memory of Carrie Fisher, everyone’s favorite Princess,

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x) Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary 54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO's Documentary 'Bright Lights', USA - 10 Oct 2016

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Marion Curtis/StarPix/REX/Shutterstock (6196713x)
Carrie Fisher with Dog Gary
54th New York Film Festival Screening of HBO’s Documentary ‘Bright Lights’, USA – 10 Oct 2016

May the Force be with you!

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands.

IS THIS REAL LIFE? NO, IT’S JUST FANTASY – CHECK YOUR CRUSADES AT THE DOOR

*Note, all opinions are the opinions of their respective Authors and may not represent the opinion of the Editor or any other Author of Keep On the Heathlands. In the future, this note will append all articles. 

 

Many of us, I dare say even most of us, indulge in role-playing games as a cheap and effective form of escapism. Whether it is crowding around a dilapidated table with far too much caffeine and crunchy goodness, or getting dressed to the nines on a Saturday night to go hang out at a planetarium or a VFW hall, we make the conscious choice to go be someone else for a few hours out of our busy lives.

 

So, you’ve decided to go be someone else. Groovy. You have your character sheet, your costume, and your desire to go wreak havoc. Did you remember to NOT pack your pet social agenda?

 

Every character should have something they believe in, something they are willing to fight for or about. It makes them more real and believable, more a person and less a collection of dots on a page. True Neutral characters (using the Gygaxian alignment system) are really hard to play and even harder to identify with. The key is choosing the right motivating force to maximize enjoyment for the player group, not just to get your own personal rocks off.

motivation

What is your motivation?

Around a gaming table or at a LARP venue is not the place for your day-to-day crusades.

No matter what your personal vendetta-against-the-world is, it doesn’t need to impinge on anyone else’s enjoyment of the game unless it is in character and contributes something to the shared story as a whole.character-sheet

A character that is nothing more than dots on a sheet with an axe to grind and an agenda to forward is not fun to play with. Beliefs, crusades, convictions, or interests squished together with XP dots should not, and more to the point, do not, a character make. That’s a basis of a character that is waiting to be fleshed out.

Immersion is also known as “suspension of disbelief” and is crucial to the role-playing experience. Intentionally interjecting out of character concerns into a scene or genre where they are not applicable is a very good way to break that suspension, and this is an issue that is becoming more and more prevalent in these contentious and socially-charged modern nights.

 

Let me explain that a little bit. If I am sitting down and playing a half-elf rogue with chaotic evil alignment, in a high fantasy setting, that half-elf rogue is not going to give a flying goblin’s damn about third-wave feminism.

 

A three-thousand year old vampire is going to be either incredibly confused by, amused by, or completely blasé towards the entire concept of gender fluidity. (Especially if they know any Tzimisce.) Worthy of consideration is the fact that various cultures and societies have wildly varying definitions of gender and societal norms than the Western/Western European cultures that many RPGs are based upon, particularly if you are looking backwards in history and taking a static view from the time of the vampire’s creation.

 

annie_kenney_and_christabel_pankhurst

Allow me to present a positive example of bringing a modern crusade into game in an appropriate and entertaining fashion.

There is a young lady in Underground Theater who played a relatively young vampire (under 100 years old, I believe) whose character, in life, was a passionate suffragette and enthusiastic patriot. It was entirely in character for her to bring up feminist perspective and interpretations of events. That was an AMAZING character who spawned a TON of interesting IC interactions, because seeing her talk about women’s rights to a two-thousand-year-old Roman Centurion was really something else. She also enthusiastically called out the Elders who advocated for monarchy over democracy. It was fantastic!

 

I have also seen an entire game grind to a halt because of what I have termed the “weather report” phenomenon.  Presented for your edification:

 

Character A: Hey, B, have you seen the weather for tomorrow? I need to know what kind of gear to bring.

 

Character B: Well, as a *insert adjective indicating some aspect of identity* person, I think it’s going to rain.

 

Now, unless that adjective indicating some aspect of their identity is something that is actually germane to the conversation, i.e., a meteorologist or a druid, that adds nothing to the conversation and just slaps the other participant in the face.

 

Scene: Three Werewolves outside of a pack meeting, casually discussing plans for taking down a Black Spiral Dancer hive.

black-furies

Character A: Hey, B, what do you think the weather is going to do tomorrow? I need to know what kind of gear to bring.

Character B: Well, as a gender-fluid Black Fury Metis, I think it is going to rain. We should be ready to get muddy.

Character C: He just asked you for the weather report, dude.

Character B: And as a gender-fluid Black Fury Metis, I gave him the weather report.

 

Players A and C walk away from Player B, who congratulates themselves on raising consciousness or some such thing, completely ignorant of the fact that they may have alienated Players A and C by waving that banner constantly. End Scene.

 

This is a slightly altered version of a real conversation that I have seen happen more than once.

 

A key point to consider: You can alienate characters all day, every day. The key thing will be to not alienate players, since players are the lifeblood of a game. This may be a good time to step aside, out of character, and do a temperature check to make sure that context isn’t becoming blurred. A quick aside, less than thirty seconds, can smooth a lot of ruffled feathers.

 

As shown in the first example, there are ways to wave your banners effectively and without breaking immersion – you just have to build your character’s backstory in such a way that that particular issue becomes prevalent without beating people over the head with it. It requires a lot of thought and consideration, which should deepen the player’s insight into their character and make them even more believable and real.

 

The second example is almost belligerent in its emphasis on the snowflake aspect, which does tend to be alienating if that is the only aspect of the character that really comes into play. No one is going to remember that Black Fury as the one who took down a BSD on their own; the player has forced that one aspect of their character to be the primary one.

 

As a whole, I have never met a more inclusive, welcoming group  of people than the LARPing community – hell, increasing inclusivity is the entire purpose of this blog – but every single one of us is a human with a stressful life, political and sociopolitical opinions, differing experiences, differing preferences, and our own demons in the dark places of our minds. Our games are our escapes from the pressures of the modern world, not an additional platform for our personal agendas.

 

I despise using the term “safe space”, because I don’t like what it has been corrupted into, but the role-playing world should be a relatively safe space for BOTH ends of the spectrum. If you are a plain vanilla person, go to church every Sunday, drink cheap mass-produced beer and think that Disturbed is Satanic metal because of their album covers, you go right ahead and do and think those things. If you are an alphabet-identifying peacock of a screaming nihilist Norwegian death-metal fan who only drinks the blood of unborn ponies during your Zarathustrian rituals, that’s your gig.

 

(INB4 angry emails/comments: obviously these examples are two wildly different ends of a spectrum that doesn’t encompass every single person. It’s called hyperbole. Carry on.)

 

The vanilla person doesn’t need to have to constantly hear about how delicious the pony blood is, and the peacock doesn’t need to hear about how to make America great again. The likelihood of changing anyone’s opinion, in ANY context, not only gaming, is incredibly diminished when one’s main tactic is a full frontal assault.

 

cell-phoneNow, if a young Gangrel is trying to convince a very old Ventrue that cellphones really aren’t tiny magic boxes that show pictures and have people’s voices coming out of them, that’s fantastic (and an interesting commentary on the Luddite-ism of the generational gap). If a male Toreador is regaling the Court with stories of how he was really Louis XVI’s secret lover, and all the effort and rigamarole they had to go through just to get five minutes alone together without being under suspicion, that’s even better (and can draw attention to the fact that gay famous people did, in fact, exist in history and had to take great pains to hide their sexuality, so the modern reality of open acceptance is really awesome).

 

If you are playing a character who is from a culture that is markedly different from mainstream modern nights, do a little research (or a lot of research) into that culture so you can deepen their character and your presentation of them and their culture. This will likely involve finding out some rather nasty things by modern standards, like objectification of women, slave trading, oppressive social structures, and the like. Don’t flinch from this, but use it to inform your characters. Did they enthusiastically participate in these societal norms, or did they overtly or covertly resist them? Especially in horror-based genres, like Vampire or Werewolf, it is not rational or believable to have all the characters be white hats/good guys. Sometimes, you have to accept that you were likely a bastard/bitch who profited from or enjoyed the subjugation of others. This is a mature and healthy understanding of the difference between our actual selves and our characters.

 

“But I really want to raise awareness of X issue! It is a Thing! It is what I believe!”

 

That’s fantastic. Game is not the place for it. Don’t inflict that on the other characters, especially if it is not relevant to the genre or storyline. If you want to convince people to look at an issue differently, talk to them as player-to-player, ideally in a relaxed social setting. Don’t force a character to be a mouthpiece for your pet project.

 

Make friends with the other players (scary prospect, I know, but you’ll be okay, I promise) and spread your message that way. I guarantee you’ll get better results.

 

In closing, make an effort to truly differentiate yourself as a player from yourself as a character, remember Wheaton’s Law, and learn to check your banners at the door – but it’s perfectly fine to pick up a few more. 

 

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

PLAYING PAST THE NUMBERS II: OBSERVATION

How many of us have gotten in trouble wNew Haircutith a friend, family member, or significant other for not noticing something? Whether it is dishes in the sink, a full trash can, or a new haircut – may the gods have mercy on you if you didn’t notice.

LARPing is a game of make-believe, and the best players go out of their way to preserve immersion and make things feel real. So if your honey will get irritated because you didn’t notice a change they made, it only makes sense that players may get irritated if they put a lot of time and effort into doing something that was designed to be noticed.

I’m not saying you have to memorize every detail of every player you come into contact with, but make note of obvious things. Every item and piece of clothing we bring into a LARP situation should carry significance, because we chose to bring it into that world of make believe. 

A change in primary color worn might signify that the character has undergone a change of their own. More jewelry, less jewelry? Maybe they came into money, or were robbed. Someone who usually dresses like they rolled around in a Goodwill reject dumpster suddenly shows up in a suit? Definitely a thing to notice. 

Caitiff Clan Pin

Yep, Caitiff Clan Pin… Buy from By Night Studios!

There are more subtle things too. In Vampire: The Masquerade, each Clan has a symbol, and players frequently wear pins or something similar that show their clan symbol. If you see someone /not/ wearing their pin, and they always have before, it may show that there is a possible rift, or they wish to temporarily dissociate themselves from their fellows. 

(There is, of course, the caveat that someone may have not been able to find all of their bits and pieces, or had something happen to their wardrobe. A quick out-of-character explanation should solve that mystery fairly quickly – and if they say that their character would appear as normal, roll with it.)

There is a sweet satisfaction that comes from being the first to catch something subtle, to see another player’s eyes light up that /someone/ noticed their extra effort. There’s also the mental high that comes from pulling a Sherlock and putting together the clues to unlock another character before anyone else does. Disclaimer: you may put together the wrong pieces and get something entirely wrong, but it’s still fun.

If you decide to hone your observation skills, I have a few tips for you:

Notice one characteristic about a character, and mentally label that their primary characteristic. I recommend something semi-prominent, such as a clan pin, gang badge, or a piece of jewelry that looks really obvious.

Take note of the whole package, and how that primary ties in. If that primary doesn’t really seem to jive with the picture as a whole, choose a One of these thingssecond primary, but make note of the first. We’ve all watched Sesame Street. “One of these things just doesn’t belong here…”

Don’t be afraid to ask questions, in or out of character. “I love your new hat, my dear; was there a special occasion?” “That’s an epic jacket, where did you find it?” This can double as a fantastic way to break the ice with a new player or a new character.

Look at yourself before you walk into the game. See if anything stands out, positively or negatively. Are *you* conveying the message you want to convey? 

This is a skill that is definitely more useful in an in-person role-playing scenario, because we lose a LOT of context in online interaction, but subtle changes can be visible there with a touch of extra effort.

Challenge yourself each game session to try to notice something that others don’t, or test your fellow players by changing something and seeing how many take note. You can thank me later.

Stay shiny! 

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.

PLAYING PAST THE NUMBERS: HOW TO IMPROVE YOUR ROLEPLAY WITHOUT MATH

Good news, everybody! You can, in fact, improve your role-play without having to spend precious XP.

In most gaming systems, there’s an oft-ignored facet of our characters: Archetype. Sometimes it is a “prestige class”, UT Headeror a caste, like Exalted, but there is always a bit of something that we usually just choose for mechanical benefit. In my current LARP, the Underground Theater Vampire: the Masquerade, it allows for a willpower retest when you are in a challenge where you are pursuing your Archetype.

What exactly is an Archetype? Carl Jung identified them as universally understood symbols that are common to all cultures. All cultures understand the concept of a mother, or a hunter, or rain. It is basically a short way to describe your character in her most basic form. To paraphrase the late Sir Terry Pratchett, if you cut your character in half, what word would be written in the middle?

Jung

Carl Jung

Archetypes span the entire length and breadth of the human experience. Some of them are good and noble and pure, and some of them are most definitely not.  Some of them are more relevant, especially if you have a Gamemaster/Dungeon Master/Storyteller that is paying attention. “Trouble Magnet” or “Curious” are simple, and pure catnip for sadistic GMs. Others, like “Architect” or “Royalty” are a bit more nebulous, but can be great fun, especially if your other primary characteristics, like clan or caste, clash slightly with the Archetype.

Instead of just choosing whatever Archetype seems to be the most mechanically beneficial, I urge everyone to start with an Archetype and build a character around it, rather than the other way round. Despite the fact that this is actually an instruction during character creation in many games, I have found that it is frequently overlooked in the mad dash of making a character.

CrownWith your Archetype in mind, you can look at each situation you encounter and approach it through the lens of that perspective. For example, my Vampire character has the archetype “Royalty”. She looks at things through a lens of noblesse oblige, and this has opened so many avenues of role-play for me, because she truly thinks she knows what is best for the greater good in most situations. She doesn’t have the most impressive social score, and she isn’t a clan that is known for their sociopolitical skills, but through diligent and immersive role-play I have gotten her to have a powerful position that, on paper, she is not really qualified for. It adds a whole level of dimension and verisimilitude – I have to dance harder and faster to keep her from being found out. It takes a challenging play and turns it up to hard mode.

This results in my very favorite kind of roleplay: the kind where mechanics are secondary to the story and the interaction between characters. In my entirely biased opinion, I think this is the best kind of roleplay, the kind that feels most real and the kind that will leave echoes throughout a campaign or chronicle. If you can learn to embrace your archetype and let it flavor your roleplay experience, it will add that extra dimension, that je ne sais quoi that can make a character truly memorable.

Watch this space for the next in my occasional series of ways to improve your RP experience without having to move dots on the sheet.

 

Georgia is a fervent convert to being a gamer, having come to the gaming world later than most. She is a diehard World of Warcraft player, an enthusiastic Vampire: the Masquerade LARPer, and a neophyte player of Exalted, 3rd Edition. The game that solidified her love of tabletop games was a legendary Star Wars: Saga Edition game that consumed most of her life for three years and provided an introduction to her husband. When she is not throwing dice or murdering pixels, she is often found working on her urban fantasy novel, cooking anything that does not resist being thrown into the pot, and attempting to make a living as a freelance editor. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and feline overlords. She can be contacted through Facebook via her page, In Exquisite Detail.