A War Of Our Own Interview

First, give me a moment to gush on the idea of A War of Our Own. How do we explain war to those who haven’t faced it? How do we understand the challenges, the decisions, the choices service members have to make? How do we understand the challenges that the civilians on the sidelines face? We can’t send everyone to war, and I’d never want to. We can provide them a glimpse into the realities of war through various forms of media. Movies, TV, music, books, all of these help to convey the Hell of War, but they fail to capture the thinking behind the eyes. What does it mean to carry the M16 and pull the trigger? What does it mean to be a civilian in a war zone with foreign troops ‘invading’ your town? What does it mean to see a conflict unfold before you in a way you cannot stop? LARP allows us to get closer than other media forms, and for that it offers something only VR might be able to eventually capture. So, I’m on board with this idea. I had the chance to shoot Matthew Webb from Jackalope Live Action Studios some questions about A War of Our Own, and he graciously has answered them below.

Matthew, thanks for your time. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to do this project? What are your core goals and expectations?

First off, it’s great to hear about your excitement about the project. Ultimately, this game is not about the soldiers because so many games are about the soldiers. But the people who have to live in the worlds that war, politicians and armies create. What happens to the civilians caught in the middle.

I have been a huge fan of This War of Mine since it was first introduced 3 years ago. I have immense respect for it as showing the messages and realities that a game can convey, while still being a game. Earlier this year, my partner Steve Metze and I decided we wanted to start a live action event studio, to explore the art form and hobby with high-value and high-production one shot events. Steve was a veteran of the Bosnian and Iraq conflicts; and I mentioned This War of Mine as a possibility. It went from there; and really took off when 11-Bit Studios agreed to sponsor us; and when Temple Airsoft was so generous in offering their support and partnership.
 
It’s impossible to truly convey the cruelty and hardship of living in a war zone unless you actually have experienced it. But our intent with A War of Our Own is to make a LARP that makes people think about the decisions people are having to make around the world right now in places ravaged by war; the choices you have to make about how you are going to survive; and how senseless the world becomes in the shadow of conflict. We want to build empathy for an experience that as safe and secure Westerners, we are so unlikely to experience. We can’t expect anyone to come out of this feeling like they really experienced what it is like to be in a war zone, but we can expect them to come out of it learning about those who have.

There is growing academic literature around simulation of real events and its value as a teaching tool. With that in mind, what made you choose a fictional setting for this game? Does the fictional setting of Calbia allow for something in particular that you wanted to capture? 

One of our key principles in this project is respect and being constructive about the cultures and people affected by war. We owe that to them, to act in an educated and honest way. But in a live action game, we have to get dozens of players from a wide variety of backgrounds to play in the same world. We don’t feel comfortable taking 50 or 60 people, mostly Americans with little experience with these parts of the world, and expecting to train them in a few days or hours how to be authentic Ukrainians, Syrians, Croatians, Georgians, Serbs or Bosnians; or anyone else. We don’t want to satirize or simplify the cultures of proud and courageous real people.
A fictional setting frees us from that constraint, and allows us to focus on the core message of the game. Calbia is going to be inspired by several nations and their history, but not a copy of any of them. A fictional setting means we can avoid divisive and contentious politics revolving around these real world places, and hone in on our message without distraction. This is a long-standing tradition in art, especially in the context of war and its realities. One of my favorite classic novels is The Moon is Down by John Steinbeck, which is about the local resistance to an occupying power, but the nations involved are never named; and in short stories like The Upturned Face by Stephen Crane or The Prisoners by Nicolas Travers. Even in This War of Mine, while the situation is modeled after the Siege of Sarajevo, it is set in the fictional city of Pogoren, Graznavia. We don’t want to take sides, but present the universal truths of these sorts of situations. So we’re following this tradition by fictionalizing the setting.

Tell us about the physical props you will be using. I’m guessing you’ll be using airsoft weapons, based on the site? And I see some trailers and other set pieces in your website pictures. Are you going to be using military surplus Humvees and other vehicles as well? 

While we are going to be using an airsoft field, the game is not going to use any airsoft weapons. We will be using a collaborative system, so when there is violence, it’s not really a test of skill so much as a dramatic moment playing out. We will be using blank-firing weapons and some prop tools and clubs, but these are props to use when acting out violence you have already agreed upon the outcome of. But very few of the participants will be armed with guns, bullets will be scarce and the situation desperate. A single working loaded gun in this game is a huge deal. And the soldiers on either side will be a force of nature, like a tornado or a flood. There’s no negotiation with the winds of war, only getting out of the path. And sometimes, you just get unlucky and are in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Temple Airsoft has been a great help to us when it comes to props and other effects. They have a collection of military vehicles and converted civilian vehicles which will really help sell the idea of being in a war zone; and they are graciously letting us use them. Along with helping with special effects and pyrotechnics. They do this all the time as a part of their recreational wargaming, and are being wonderful by bringing that skill and experience to creating our immersive experience.

You’ve got a great team; can you tell us a little bit more about them?

We are very lucky to have the expertise we have; and we’re already getting interest from others interested in joining the team.
Steve Metze is one of the sources of creativity and passion behind the project. He’s an officer in the National Guard, and This War of Mine struck a huge chord with him. He’s long wanted to convey the often surreal and heart-breaking realities of countries that are steeped in civil conflict. He’s also an excellent filmmaker, having made a war documentary called Year at Danger about his experiences in Iraq. And a remarkable and imaginative game designer. His latest book is a provocative reversal of the Lovecraft mythos called Unwanted.

Angella Seaman is our wonderful community safety coordinator. She’s had years of experience with managing healthy game communities. And given the subject matter, we want all of our players to be emotionally and physically safe during the event, before and after. She’s a veteran LARPer as well.

 

Myself, I’ve been running and writing LARPs for over a decade now. I have written several free-form LARP games, one of which I published called Shades. I’m also the lead developer at Incognita Limited, a software company that makes software specifically for supporting live action gaming. I am the creator of the world’s first augmented reality LARP Planetfall and am collaborating on software projects with several other companies in the LARP community, including Ford Ivey’s Legacy Game Systems and Participation Design Agency in Sweden. We will be announcing more team members soon.

Why War Child? What about this particular organization led you to choose to donate to them in particular? 

War Child is the charity supported by This War of Mine in their recent DLC, The Little Ones. So it is a great fit for our event. We wanted to run this event, but we weren’t comfortable profiting off the subject matter; and War Child is an incredible charity doing a lot of good in a imperfect world. They provide education and safety to children and families torn apart by war. It is hard to think of a more worthy cause than that. We know that the money we raise will be going to some of the most vulnerable people in this world who really need our help. I’m just hoping we can raise enough to make a difference in their lives.

Are there any final thoughts you’d like to share about the event? 

We are floored here at Jackalope at the reaction A War of Our Own has gotten. People are talking about flying from around the country and as far as Sweden to attend. Academic experts on the Balkans and civil strife have offered their input; experienced writers have asked to be involved in the project; and survivors and their families of the Bosnian conflict have even reached out to us. We are hoping to keep the momentum strong and make this a great event that we can repeat. War and refugees, especially children, are a huge issue right now; and we want to help both by encouraging people to think and debate these issues in an informed way; and by giving help those who desperately need it.
I encourage everyone who wants to help to follow us on Facebook or Twitter; or sign up for our mailing list, so we can get the word out and keep growing what is already turning into a vibrant and great community.

Vampire: The Masquerade 5th Edition Alpha Release Review

Vampire V5 Alpha Playtest Overview

 

I attended GenCon 2017. This was the first time I’ve ever had the chance to attend and the convention was amazing on so many levels. I was invited to attend by The Wrecking Crew, a gaming demonstration group. They usually demo and playtest White Wolf and Onyx Path Publishing products. At their invitation, I got to run 5 play tests of Vampire 5th Edition’s Alpha release. Over these sessions I got very familiar with my particular take on the adventure, Rusted Veins, and very familiar with certain elements of the rules which I leaned on heavily. Upfront, this set of the rules and the adventure was a significant improvement to the pre-alpha slice which came out at World of Darkness Berlin.

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This Alpha product included a significant slice of rules, particularly focused around Hunger, Compulsions, combat, and some disciplines: particularly Potence, Presence, Fortitude, Celerity, and Obfuscate. These rules will be outlined more fully below. Mechanically, the game has some departures from previous Editions of Vampire. Particularly, as in the pre-alpha, the inclusion of Hunger dice is different. That said, this mechanic is a boon for adhering to the theme of Vampire: The Masquerade and ensured that the concept of The Beast and the need to Feed were incredibly present.

The module adventure, Rusted Veins, was written by Matthew Dawkins, with contributions and assistance from Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl with special thanks given to consultant Monica Valintinelli. The Alpha ruleset was written by Kenneth Hite, Jason Andrew, Matthew Dawkins, with guidance, editing, and contributions from Karim Muammar, Martin Ericsson, and Jason Carl.

Rusted Veins is a continuation of the Forged in Steel chronicle from the original Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition core book. It also continues the stories in Ashes to Ashes (1st Ed) and Dust to Dust (V20). Thematically, the story in Rusted Veins has the feel of Vampire 1st Edition. It’s gritty, street level, and the night to night need to survive felt incredibly present. Vampire at its finest offers a chance to explore dark themes, recognize them, and then work to find ways to conquer the darkness while staring deeply into the abyss. This story succeeds at that, there were a few elements I chose not to include while I was running, but Matthew (and other writers) did such a wonderful job creating multiple hooks that this wasn’t a problem.

Honestly, if this quality of work continues than I anticipate that Vampire 5th Edition will win awards. It’s gritty, honest, and it opens a door into the classic World of Darkness that needs to be opened and enjoyed. A shout-out to my players at GenCon 50! You were all awesome. I sincerely enjoyed running this game for you. To the players of Baggie, in particular, thank you for engaging with some of the adversarial aspects of this character, it was really awesome.

Below I’ll be diving more deeply into certain mechanics, and elements of the story, but above are my core thoughts in my post GenCon fugue.

Rusted Veins (sections in quotes are descriptions I used in my game)

“Gary, Indiana is a shit pit. It’s broken, run down, and industry has fled. This has left Gary a veritable ghost town, filled with crack houses and dilapidated buildings of all forms. It starts to rain; the rain is falling in heavy droplets that soak you to the bone. The rain in Gary is acidic, and you can hear it making slight burning hissing sounds every few drops, it hurts to stand in the rain for long. A whistling wind blows through the streets, and thunder shakes the windows of your haven”

Rusted Veins is a continuation of Forged in Steel, Ashes to Ashes, and Dust to Dust. This pedigree makes the adventure feel deep, nearly by default. There are layers upon layers present that wouldn’t otherwise be obvious to those who haven’t played those adventures. That said, you don’t need to have read them or know their content to enjoy this adventure. I’ve never previously run any of those chronicles, but I did read through them prior to running Rusted Veins. Having done so, I didn’t add any of their elements into the game at all, and that wasn’t a problem. That said, there are hooks that would allow you to do so if you were interested in trying it out.

We were provided character sheets, and detailed two-page backgrounds on each character. I gave my players a chance to read these backgrounds and most groups spent between 10-20 minutes reading through them. Dawkin’s stated goal of ‘a plot-hook in every paragraph’ is clearly present. Each character is really well detailed, and there is a story-hook and role-playing guidance in every paragraph. This creates a lot of depth, and I noticed that players focused on different elements for each run through. There were some key things that stood out for each, but I was surprised in my Sunday game when a player focused on an element of their character no-one had mentioned in any of the other playtests. That’s cool, that shows a lot of depth and a lot of options to explore. Honestly, these characters are deep enough to run a continuing chronicle, and Rusted Veins could easily be run over several gaming sessions if you wanted to run it with your home crew.

The core plot returns you to Gary, Indiana, the home of Modius and Juggler (two elders, one Camarilla, and one Anarch). Modius is the official Prince of Gary, but he’s nearly powerless at this point, flexing his muscles in small ways to try and impact events in the city and further. That said, he is personally capable in a fight (as written) and is heavily involved in the plot of Rusted Veins. Juggler is now the Baron of Gary, having been granted the title in the aftermath of Dust to Dust. Further, the feared vampire hunter, Sulivan Dane is present in this story and his character was the most fun for me to introduce to the players. In each run, I used a variation of this description.

“Lightning flashes, thunder rolls, and for a moment you can see clearly through the rain. Standing a distance away is an ancient Catholic priest. He’s still got strong, broad shoulders, and his face is hard. He’s holding an umbrella, and is wearing a long black trench coat. At his side is a sword, handle barely visible. As the light fades, a palpable feeling of dread crawls through your belly.”

Dane isn’t described as having a sword in the official materials, but I wanted to call back to the tropes of trenchcoat and katanas, and Dane offered a fantastic way to do so. Most of the players found his character particularly intimidating with how I described him. Goal achieved.

Running this 5 times gave me a few chances to approach the introduction of each of the core NPCs in various ways. I used different accents, voice inflection, and presentation for each of them every time. This helped me to differentiate the games in my mind. It also helped me to see various ways an adventure like this can be adjusted to create more tension, or allow the tension to fade, as thematically appropriate.

We started each session with feeding. The new You Are What You Eat mechanics were fun to play around with, and I often used my own judgement on what bonuses to provide the players. These sessions set the tone for the game. They also gave us a chance to investigate the Composure mechanic and use the new Hunger rules. Since you cannot get rid of Hunger without killing your victim, this created some serious tension at the start of the game. Every time, at least one character would fail to control themselves, and their feeding victim would die. Some players tried to hold off on Rousing the Blood as long as they could after making it to Hunger 0, some didn’t care and they were more than willing to try and use their Disciplines or increase their statistics whenever they got the chance.

We then moved into the main plot, which was a fetch-quest with lots of interesting complications and plot developments that adjusted the story as we went through it. Most of these complications were player driven too, and several sessions saw the players handing me and each other various slips of paper to represent text messages they were sending to the main NPCs and to one another. Hopping away from the table and talking in private was also incredibly common, and this created obvious and interesting tension as the players left at the table often speculated on what the others were planning.

In the end, Rusted Veins allows for an interesting exploration into what it means to feel an ever present vampiric Hunger. It offers choices, and the most frequent comment on my survey sheets was, “I felt like I had tons of choices, and this was awesome.” The choices that characters had gave them a sense of ownership over their characters, and to my knowledge not a single player felt uncomfortable investing themselves in roleplay. That said, if any of you folks read this, I’m happy to hear some negative feedback. Or even more positive feedback, I’m always interested in having that.

There is an epilogue in Rusted Veins. I chose not to use the Epilogue, since it took away from the cool sensations and ideas present in most of the core adventure. In the Epilogue the players would play other characters for a very short period of time. To be honest, this is an awesome mini-adventure, and I would encourage those that eventually see it to use it as a separate session at some point. It also has relevance for long-time vampire fans. For GenCon, it really didn’t work well, but the core concept is cool.

Mechanics

In most cases I’m a mechanics light kind of storyteller. I use them when I think they make the most sense and I generally find a way to use them that makes sense to me. This isn’t a great thing for a playtest though, and I tried to retain the new rules as much as possible. That said, there were a few times I went off the rails while I was running. I’m not upset with how I kept most of my games rolling along, but if there was a weakness of mine during the playtest it was my lack of a full grasp of all of the new mechanical elements of the game. Below is a description of the rules from the playtest, and how I ran them during my game.

Dice Pool and Successes

Vampire 5th Edition is going to be a dice pool game using D10s. You create your dice pool in the same way that you have always done for the World of Darkness, Attribute + Skill, in most cases. However, the largest difference is that the target number is now always 6. Then, you count the successes you get to determine if you complete a task. For example, to hit a person, you might need to roll 4 dice. If you roll a 6, 3, 6, and 7, you get three successes. This might be enough for a moderate success, or it might be one short. If you are one short, you may ask to Succeed at a Cost. In this case, the storyteller alters the success to add some elements that cost the player character something. For example, hitting a person, but then falling over after losing their balance at the same time.

It is possible to spend Willpower to reroll a partial dice pool, or the entire dice pool. To be honest, I didn’t catch that mechanic for the first four of my playtests. When it was used, it made a lot of sense. That said, I found that it tended to slow the story down, rather than keep it going. Hunger Dice are also a thing, but I’ll explain those under Hunger below.

Criticals can be achieved in two forms, two 10s on regular dice is considered a critical success. This allows for an increased success or narrative benefit. You can also get a messy critical, if you roll a 10 on a Hunger die (again explained below under Hunger). A messy critical allows for success, but in a way that is over the top, and potentially harmful to the player character’s intentions. This is indicative of the Beast rearing its head, and pushing the character farther than they would do so normally.

Criticals were incredibly fun to use, and messy criticals were awesome to help narrate interesting alterations. The rules include some other elements surrounding Composure, particularly that if a player could not think of a messy result, that they would lose composure. I think my groups and I found a good middle ground between my narrative control of these messes, and their overall control of their characters in most situations.

Virtue and Vice

Instead of a Nature and Demeanor, V5 Alpha playtest used Virtue and Vice. These are mechanics that allow you to regain Willpower when you act in accordance with your Vice. Since acting in accordance with your Virtue is harder, doing so refills all of your Willpower. Most players in my game used these as basic roleplaying hints and we did dip into the Willpower refill mechanic in a few of the games. In most, we didn’t spend a lot of Willpower. That was partly my fault, because I didn’t often suggest it as an option to the players and players unfamiliar with the WoD wouldn’t have thought to do so.

Initiative

Initiative is now determined by Wits+Combat Skill. This is the skill the Vampire uses in their first combat and determines the initiative order. Now, I did not catch this and continued to use the Wits + Dexterity rule from the old version of the rules.

Initiative now flows from lowest to highest, with the person with the highest initiative going last with the ability to react to other characters. Honestly, this is present in several versions of the rules, but I’ve rarely seen people use it, and it’s a shame. This allows for sensible dice pool management if you want to split dice pools, otherwise knowing when to plan to split a pool is nearly impossible to determine. I really enjoyed using this rule and I recommend it to every person playing any version of WoD rules.

Combat

Combat in the V5 Alpha is a contested action. Yes, this can mean a combatant gets hurt when they attack someone. This is why splitting pools can be so effective if used right. You can dodge an attack, and attack in the same round if you are willing to reduce your pools. Damage equals the amount over the contested result a player gets on the dice. Which is much easier than worrying about a mechanic for soaking damage etc. This made combat speed by, in most cases.

There are two types of Health damage, superficial and aggravated. You have Stamina +5 health levels, and superficial damage accumulates and becomes aggravated if enough is taken. Superficial damage is halved for Vampires. We ran these mostly correctly in my playtests, though there are some more in-depth rules that I didn’t use, particularly relating to the Critical Injury table.

Hunger and Hunger Dice

Hunger has a rating of 0-5 and represents a similar in-game concept to what blood points used to represent in earlier editions of Vampire. That said, Hunger feels different. Blood points often didn’t feel like they were important, because they were often fairly numerous (at least in my experience). A vampire with 0 hunger is sated, but the only way to have 0 Hunger is to have killed a feeding victim that night. Waking raises the Hunger of every Vampire to 1.

Hunger is an ever present effect, and every dot of Hunger a character has replaces one of their regular dice. These dice should be a different color to differentiate them, and I recommend red dice… cause, well, blood right? When you replace your die with this Hunger die, you need to look out for two things, if you roll a 1, and if you roll a 10.

A 10 create a messy critical situation, and (in the Alpha) two 1s would cause a Compulsion. This mechanic did not come up often, and there were quite a few discussions around how to adjust it so it would occur more frequently. A good goal for this is probably having it occur around 15-20% of the time, if you ask my completely un-mechanically minded brain.

When you use a Discipline, or do various things that only Vampires do, you have to roll 1 Hunger die. If you roll a 1-3, you raise your Hunger, if you roll a 4-10, you don’t. This encourages players to use their disciplines, but also creates a lot of tension when they do so. This is awesome. This makes using a discipline a dangerous activity, but one that most players feel comfortable using in moderation. In a regular chronicle this is going to decrease Discipline use, and I think this is fantastic.

If a player gets all the way up to Hunger 5, they need to make a Frenzy check. This never happened in my games at GenCon, though it was a constant fear that a character might get to that level.

Feeding

Feeding can reduce Hunger, 1, 2, even 3 points. However, Hunger can only be reduced to 0 if a player accidentally or willingly kills their victim. Most of my players ended up having at least one moment where they seriously considered draining someone. I made my players roll Composure every time they fed. If they failed, they would drain their victim. This doesn’t appear to be in the rules, so this wasn’t really required. That said, it did add tension, and it did make players cautious about feeding and using their disciplines. Every death from feeding resulted in a Humanity point loss.

Compulsions

These were present in the pre-Alpha playtest, but they have been adjusted to remove the elements that made this rule’s element controversial. Now the player can choose, or ask the storyteller to choose a compulsion. This is an interesting back and forth discussion, and usually is pretty quick. Tables for the Brujah no longer included the term ‘Triggered’ and that is refreshing, to say the least. These didn’t come up as much as I would have liked, but they did in a few of my games. When they did occur, it was interesting, and it added a layer of roleplaying and story to the game. So, I think they do exactly what they are intended to do, but they don’t currently happen enough to really be that impactful. I understand that White Wolf is going to be adjusting this mechanic in particular, as they want to get this right.

All in all, Vampire 5th Edition Pre-Alpha rules are really engaging and interesting. I didn’t get the chance to read them as much as I should have and I didn’t always run them exactly the way they were intended. Rusted Veins is an awesome module, and I really enjoyed running it. If this is indicative of what Mark Rein-Hagen, Kenneth Hite, Karim Muammar, and the rest of the team at White Wolf are creating, then I think Vampire 5th Edition will be a really exciting product.

DAV20 Dark Ages Companion Review

I’ve been struggling to do this review. Not because of the reason you might think either. Dark Ages Companion is probably one of the best books I’ve read from Onyx Path Publishing. I’ve had to stop every paragraph or two to sketch out notes while reading this book. In the 2 weeks that I’ve been actively trying to get through it, I’ve had, at minimum, 10 chronicle concepts come to mind based on elements presented in this book. This book was developed by Matthew Dawkins, and I can tell you he and his writing staff did nearly everything right.

Lords, Lieges, and Lackeys

Dark Ages Companion: for Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Dark Ages is broken into eight chapters. The first six are various domains, most which have never been given a full treatment. The final two chapters are rules for building Domains and Dark Ages warfare. The final two chapters are an excellent resource for a storyteller that wants to dive deeply into these elements in their game. The Domain rules remind me of a more streamlined version of the AD&D supplement Birthright, and are effective if you’d like to include some elements of city/domain management in your games. These rules use Pooled Backgrounds as a baseline, and then go deeper. This is an excellent way of utilizing downtime and maturation rules in a way that doesn’t cause large breaks in the story.

Chapter Eight gives some deeper rules on warfare. If you want to be more accurate in your portrayal of various weapons and armor these are the rules for you. If you’d like to keep things cinematic, the core rules for the game still work fine, and you can pepper these details in as you see fit. I’m getting this stuff out of the way first. Great two chapters, but the first six are more exciting.

Plot Hooks Abound

Rome, Bath, Bjarkarey, Constantinople, Mogadishu, and Mangaluru: these are the domains presented in Dark Ages Companion. There are enough plot hooks to construct at least 100 chronicles here. Each chapter provides details on key Cainites, key elements of the domain, and key plots, disagreements, and ways to get your player characters involved. The domains are also connected in subtle ways, with plot hooks linking them to one another sprinkled throughout. This is masterfully done, very little of these connections seem forced, they are nuanced, smart, and really intriguing.

By Pat McEvoy

 

Each domain offers something different in the way of scope. Bjarkarey is small, intimate, and highly aggressive. As is Rome, which offers an interesting counterpoint to Bjarkarey. Constantinople and Bath, both drastically different in size, offer more expansive exploratory plotlines. I haven’t read enough of Mogadishu and Mangaluru yet to say what their full details will be like, but I can say from a quick look that they present a mix of large and small scale plot to throw your players into. Seriously, you’ll have to work hard not to come up with some great story concepts after reading these chapters, they are excellent.

Problems In the Text

There are very few things not to like in this book. One thing I’m not sure of though are the creatures at presented at the end of three chapters. The Black Dog, the Kallikantzaros, and the Pishacha are presented as supernatural opponents which you can utilize in your game. These are local legends related to Bath, Constantinople, and Mangaluru, respectively, but I’m not sure that makes me want to utilize them. For a Vampire game, I’ve always tried to focus on the internal darkness which plagues the Kindred, and I often shy away from ‘monsters’ which to have the PCs encounter and challenge. That isn’t how these are explicitly presented, but they do have a subtle hint of D&D encounters to them. They are there if you think they make sense for your chronicle, use them if you think it will add to your story.

I know a couple of things about Old Norse culture.

The second thing I was frustrated with is a relative historical quibble, and I’m going to explain what bothers me about it. In the chapter on Bjarkarey, there are a few mentions of blood purity and rugged individualism. Neither of these concepts is historically true to Norse culture, at all, and I find their presence here frustrating. The Norse were intensely communitarian, as you would have to be if you lived in some of the most hostile climates in Europe. The concepts of blood purity were developed by the Spanish during the Reconquista (1400’s) and would have been bizarrely strange to the Norse during the 1200’s. As a student of Norse history and a follower of Germanic religious traditions, these elements bother me. They speak to a narrative that far-right elements in society attempt to latch onto, and though they are fleeting in this text, their presence is annoying.

All in all, this is a good chapter on a culture that was still having some inter-cultural conflicts between Pagan cultural holdovers and Christian religious dominance, and it is not badly written. In fact, it’s really well developed and I immediately find myself excusing the things that bother me.

Final Takeaway on Dark Ages Companion

Buy this book. One of my favorite White Wolf books of all time is House of Tremere. I’d give that a 10/10 rating in a heartbeat. Dark Ages Companion is easily a 9/10 book. If you ever plan to play a Dark Ages game of any edition, you should own this book. The art is amazing, the writing is fantastic, and you’ll have a ton of great ideas come to mind while reading it.

Sidereal Sanctuaries – New Modern Urban Fantasy LARP

We are in the golden age of gaming, and if you ask me, we are on the cusp of a LARP explosion. Blockbuster LARP like New World Magischola, Convention of Thorns, and new moves by Disney to create immersive experiences offer a chance to LARP to almost every person and interest level. And of course, the great LARP systems and game communities that have existed for the last few decades haven’t really gone anywhere either. If you want to LARP, there are more options than ever to do so. Sidereal Sanctuaries is a new modern urban fantasy LARP created by Jessica Karels (founder, Hidden Parlor) and Jason Kobett. Both are LARP veterans and they are bringing a lot of amazing experience with them to their new creation.

 

Before we discuss the game, I want to highlight they are running an Alpha Playtest in Minnesota on August 6th, and they will be running Alpha play-tests throughout the rest of the year in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

 

Here are 5 key points about the setting and rules.

 

Technology is broken – something happened at the end of 2012 that forever broke the Internet / digital data transfer / networking.  The machines that continue to work aren’t always reliable.

Social progress stagnates (and in some cases goes backwards) – Without the Internet, civil rights activists have a harder time organizing and drawing attention to non-local issues. Most mainstream people, already frazzled by their lives changing, put up blinders towards the problems of those who fall outside their immediate social sphere. Corporations gain a tighter hold on media channels and dictate the narrative (the one that makes the most $).

It’s revealed just how much “history” has been altered – In the fictional setting of Sidereal Sanctuaries, it’s revealed that technology and establishing reality are the results of a deal mankind made with various cosmic forces eons ago. Part of that deal included a clause that said cosmic forces would send out enforcers in the event that mankind didn’t fulfill their end of the bargain. These enforcers (called Remnants) have attempted to fix humanity’s mistakes throughout history. Their reward? – The ones who look most human get remembered/elevated in history and the ones who don’t get hunted and their stories are turned into myths and stories about “monsters”.

The “monsters” are protagonists who just want to exist – In Sidereal Sanctuaries, player-characters are Remnants (the supernatural enforcers I mentioned) who are hunted from the moment that their supernatural side manifests. They congregate in places that are supernaturally protected from non-Remnants (called Sanctuaries) where they learn how to work together (mostly) and how to deal with a mix of both supernatural and mundane issues.

Tethers: This is a concept inspired by Infection from DR, which gives you a certain # of lives, and Humanity from VtM which makes a character appear less “human” as their Humanity rating decreases.  In the system being designed, Tether is your lives + merit pool. You can create a plain character and endure more lethal situations, or you can buy up merits and go down in a blaze of glory sooner.

 

Representation matters to the creators of Sideral Sanctuaries, and they’ve written a great blog post on the topic. This design from the beginning will hopefully encourage players to participate and build the shared experience in an inclusive and holistic way. This idea as a core element is encouraging, and we are going to keep close eyes on this project as it gains legs. Let us know what you think about the concepts presented here!

Presentation and Tropes with ‘Monster Races’ in Fantasy Games

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I just read this article, and it is certainly something to consider. This weekend I ran a D&D game set on the frontier of a jungle. At the heart, my goal was to subvert tropes, and this article got me actively thinking how and if I was successful. Subversion of a trope can be hard to manage without forethought and focus. In the end, I think I cut into some tropes, but I could have done better. I can’t tell you too much about the adventure, because I’m using elements of it in a product in development. I can tell you that I’m seriously considering my presentation of ‘monster races.’

 

This is something I’ve written about before. In that article, I focused on Goblins, and I’m going to use them as an example again here. As a cultural group, Goblins are fascinating to me, and I think the way they are often used is very frustrating in general. Eberron does a good job of undercutting the traditional colonial/racist way of depicting Goblins. It’s not perfect, but it is a step in a positive direction and I think we should be trying to do better in our games. Other settings are less effective at showcasing Goblinoids as living, breathing, and dynamic sentient people. We’ll just leave it at that, I’m not going to throw any specific shade anywhere right now.

 

D&D has colonial roots, and racism is a symptom of colonialism. (Or vice-versa, depending on how you suss out the origins of the behavior the terms describe), but that doesn’t mean we cannot use it to examine those things critically. In fact, I think that is a core benefit RPGs can offer us. The entire concept behind Reach-Out Roleplaying Games is to help use games like D&D to explore and understand the impacts othering, racism, sexism, and other systemic prejudices have on people and our interactions with one another.

So, we have two options, as I see it. We can acknowledge the inherent colonialists flaws in D&D and then work to subvert them. Or, we can use them without alteration as a way to start discussion outside of the game setting. The second is harder if you don’t have a group that wants to deconstruct the game and their own feelings and thought processes after a session. I’d make a joke about my surprise at these things, but I’m not. Most people don’t play RPGs for constant self-reflection and internal examination of their own biases and mental constructs…

 

 

Before I digress too far down that rabbit hole, let’s talk about subversion of tropes. This is an excellent idea as it is often in the hands of the GM to create the world which these tropes are expressed through. You’ve got the power to subvert tropes as a player as well, but the GM controls the systematic side. That said, everyone at the table has a role in determining, subverting, or reconstructing tropes.

 

For example. Goblins are murderous creatures that stumble over themselves in a cannibalistic frenzy. This common fantasy RPG trope is based on some elements of Tolkein, and lots of D&D specific history. It references tropes of tribal behavior, particularly from colonial conception of African and Polynesian culture. This isn’t an accurate depiction of those cultures, but we shouldn’t be blind to that influence on the way certain monster races are presented. So, how do we subvert this trope?

 


The first possible way is to make Goblins part of mainstream society within a setting. What role could they fill that halflings and gnomes do not? Any. Halflings may focus on culinary arts (Tolkein level trope, but let’s roll with it) and Goblins work as crafters and artisans. Their smaller frames make them really good at working in small spaces, so plumbers, construction, or mining are roles that are positive to a society. You can of course also make them farmers, or animal herders and subvert several tropes all at once. Consider the motivations your Goblins have. What do they see as the good life? Is there a Goblin Socrates? Why are they part of the society they are a part of? What do most members of society do? What do the outliers do? What is normalized behavior and what is taboo?

 

You can also give the trope style Goblins motivation that makes their behavior understandable. Murderous mob of goblins? They are a splinter group of raiders that were ostracized from several goblin towns. Having the players make an alliance with these towns to mutually take the raiders into custody would be an interesting plotline They may not need to be killed and if they are, doing so may anger more goblin’s who are their relatives. Perhaps a second group of ‘murderous’ goblins are simply avenging the deaths of their kin. Looking at Icelandic Saga Feuds, or the Hatfield and McCoy feud it is easy to see how this cycle of revenge can quickly get out of control. In both cases, greater law is often imposed to limit feuding, and it could be an interesting campaign to show the imposition of higher law between groups that have agreed to stop blood feuding.

This may not be going far enough, depending on the group and the scenario you are creating. When developing a setting or a full game, I think we also have to be really cognizant of what we are saying about a culture through our writing. Eberron presents Khorvaire as once being home to a massive Goblin empire. That empire collapsed, and the majority of goblinoids are now living in poverty, or living in nomadic, or rural village life.

 

Keep in mind too, that rural village life in most D&D worlds is fraught with danger we don’t have in human history. In a lot of cases, Giants, Dragons, and such would have driven most humans to build great cities sooner if they had actually existed. Binding together is sensible in the face of this sort of outside challenge. So, it is understandable that the life of the average goblin in Eberron is one of high mortality, and a fight for survival.

This is edging into trope territory as well, though. This makes Goblins perpetually marginalized in a society where they are generally unwelcome. Again, that can be useful for exploring racism and class issues through an RPG. If that isn’t the purpose for using this trope, we have to again consider what we are hoping to say in setting development? What if Goblins were simply an accepted part of society? In Eberron, we could have them be heirs to Dragonmarks, which would include them in the House system, which could mainstream them.

Acceptable, or trope?

You could also bring Darguun up to a fairly level playing field with the rest of the Nations of Eberron, pushing back the story of its unification, or even having it have sustained unity from the imperial era. This will either make Goblins more, or less antagonistic, depending on how much inherent nationalism you build into your world.

 

If you are building a completely new world, you could also do away with the standard Goblin tropes completely. Make them as accepted a part of society as Gnomes or Halflings. If you want to keep an antagonist group in the world, consider flipping the script and having Humans, or Elves be aggressors. You can either have it be a full swap, or try and subvert other tropes while you are flipping the script. The biggest danger here is shifting things and creating or falling into the same tropes with different faces.

 

What do I want you to take away from this? Try and subvert tropes that emphasize colonial or racist elements in RPGs. When you do so, try and take a holistic view on what your subversion would change in a setting. Be realistic, avoid stereotypes, and recognize you might not get it right. Take criticism, listen, and be prepared to adjust fire at the table too.

 

I’m interested in hearing how you’ve subverted tropes at your table or in your game. Let’s swap war stories.

Running a Facebook Fan Group for White Wolf Related Games


First, thank you to Chris for offering to do this interview many months ago when I first approached him. I wanted to understand more about what got someone to start a group on Facebook, and in particular why these games. I finally cleared my plate and sent him these questions.

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get into role-playing games?

I’m 39 years old, a husband and a father of three. Some of my hobbies other than RPGs are Brazilian Jujitsu, Mixed Martial Arts and reading book. I’m like ¾ knuckle dragger lol.

I actually got into RPGs in 1999 when I was in the US ARMY. I was on this detail where you have to spend 5 days, 15 hours each, walking through the desert picking up trash. A guy who was also on the detail started talking to me and I mentioned I was a fan of Anne Rice. He told me about Dark Ages: Vampire and a few weeks later he started running a game. We ended up getting deployed to Bosnia a few months later and right before we left I was at a bookstore and saw the Vampire: The Masquerade book.

I ended up picking it up and ran a game in Bosnia that was a straight up katana, trench coats, and Uzis for everyone type game. During all that though I was buying books online and having them shipped and I read one book that changed my perspective of Vampire: The Masquerade forever, Ghouls: Fatal Addiction.

After Bosnia I was stationed at another base and decided to run a grown up Vampire game, and ran Twin Cities by Night the first time. I soon though found myself taking on too many players and was starting to feel the dreaded burnout. Then one day I realized my 40 plus collection of books had been stolen. I was relived and never played a RPG again until 15 years later.

Fast forward to the spring of 2016 and I am cutting weight for a Brazilian Jujitsu and I am miserable. For those of you who don’t know, it’s pretty much eating like a rabbit and trying to ride the border between malnourished and lean for maximum weight/strength effect when competing. For some reason Vampire popped into my head and I ordered the horrible Vampire: Clan Novel Anthology there and ended up deciding I wanted to run Twin Cities by Night again and the rest is history. In summary, I am a RPG poser.

You run a few games on YouTube, and they are good. Tell us about why you decided to stream your games. What were you thinking there?

Why, thank you man, that honestly means a lot! At first I was just uploading it to YouTube so that the players and I had somewhere to rewatch our sessions, but eventually I really wanted to see if I could get some feedback, negative or positive, that could help me be a better storyteller. So, for the lack of a better term, I said F-it and started posting them on Reddit, Facebook, and the Onyx Path forums.

To be honest though, now it’s to the point here I want to share my stories, and if someone enjoys them that’s awesome, if someone has some constructive feedback that’s even more awesome, and if someone says no thank you and passes I can dig that. As I said earlier I have a knuckle dragger side to me, and before I was able to balance that out with working at getting my Master’s Degree but once I was done with school in 2016 I realized RPGing and the YouTube channel filled that hole. It is a healthy creative outlet and a blast to do it with some pals.

Ok, we know why you are playing RPGs, we know why you are streaming games, but tell us a little bit about why you decided to create a Facebook fan page.

Man, I love that Facebook page, seriously, it has a special place in my heart. As a content creator myself I have experienced firsthand how damn hard it is to get your stuff noticed. In forums and Facebook pages it is very easy for media to get drowned out by posts asking what Thaumaturgy Lure of Flames 7 and what dual bladed katanas could do against Caine (I jest, I jest…..kind of). So I started a Reddit post in the WhiteWolfRPG forum, but found that was so damn hard to do. I mean I was literally scouring the web and posting stuff I found.

I felt like a dang collector. So one day I shot Slavek, a player in games on our channel and the one poor soul who has to hear all my ideas and give me honest feedback, and tell him my idea for a Facebook group that would be like the Netflix for White Wolf RPGs. He said he was down to try it. At first I was sharing stuff I found on YouTube and other sites, but eventually my thick head thought “Why not invite these people to share themselves”. The rest, good sir, is history, and matter of fact you were one of the people I asked.

My favorite vampire meme

Do you find the group hard to manage? What are the good parts, and the bad parts?

Actually the group is rather easy to manage. It now seems to have a lot of content creators who share stuff and I am still scouring YouTube and inviting creators. The good part is to see how much content there is and seeing people connect with an audience and vice versa. Shit man, I see some big names in the scene are members of our group and are liking stuff posted. That’s rad! Bad parts, there aren’t really any but the one thing is when people don’t read the rules and get angry when I tell them the group is for sharing and viewing media.

Where do you see your group going?

I honestly don’t know, but I would say I am still surprised it is growing constantly. Who knows, but I am sure very awesome places! Positive thoughts!

Thanks again Chris for answering these questions for us. I really appreciate it, and I’m sure our readers appreciated it too.

Monarchies Of Mau –Eddy Webb and Richard Thomas

Meow? Not so long ago we did a review of Pugmire. I’m happy to report that the next setting book is currently in Kickstarter. We are also happy to report, Monarchies of Mau has already met and beat it’s funding goal. To briefly describe it, Monarchies of Mau is the Cat book for the world of Pugmire. Cats, like their Dog counterparts, are uplifted animals in a far-future fantasy setting and The rules are based on 5th Edition D&D. If you’d like to learn more, the best place to do so is the Kickstarter itself.

 

 

Become a backer. Backers are awarded an early access PDF. It’s a 90-page document that provides everything you’d need to jump right into the game. We should expect changes between the early access and final product, as we saw with Pugmire. I don’t want to spoil anything, if you’d like to read it, become a backer. You won’t be disappointed. Also, Pugmire pre-orders are also still open here. Get it. Now, that being said, it doesn’t appear that you will need a copy of Pugmire to play Monarchies of Mau, so if you have no interest in dogs, feel free to enjoy being a cat person.

 

 

In the previous review of Pugmire, I emphasized the  goal of inclusivity that seemed built-in. Pugmire has moral grey for every culture. Neither Cats, nor Dogs, nor even Badgers are all evil, or good. The world has a vague European Medieval Fantasy overlay, but the cultures of the world are more nuanced, and there are  opportunities for the creation of decolonized game settings within Pugmire and the Monarchies of Mau.

 

 

I reached out to ask a question of Eddy Webb, the creator and principal author for Pugmire and Monarchies of Mau. Richard Thomas ( Onyx Path Publishing) also had good input. See below.

 

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Can you tell us about how you have taken inclusion and diversity into consideration in the development process for the world of Pugmire and Mau? 

Eddy Webb – Pugsteady

I knew early on that I wanted to be as inclusive as possible, so all my friends could feel welcome in the world of Pugmire and Mau. My early attempts defaulted a little too much to common fantasy tropes, when I could do better. So, after a lot of discussion and debate with various friends across the diversity spectrum, I made some specific decisions. Some examples include:

  • There is no mechanical penalty for being disabled. It’s only a factor in gameplay if the player explicitly wants it to be.
  • I removed all references to fantasy “races,” replacing that with “species.” Also, no species is explicitly “evil,” to avoid perceiving a particular cultural analog as evil.
  • Starting with Mau, I’m making an active effort to hire more women, people of color, and LGBTQ writers and designers to contribute to the world.
  • Although Pugmire refers to humanity as “Man” (as part of their religious faith), I offer the alternative title of “The Old Ones,” and I emphasize that title more frequently in Mau.

Pugsteady considers diversity to be a core company value, and I personally feel that diversity makes the game better!

 

Richard Thomas – Onyx Path Publishing

  • Visually, the World of Pugmire presents us with a great opportunity to design characters that don’t rely on the old standards of fantasy character design, but which can be more about each individual’s attitude and style. Princess Yosha is a princess because that’s where she is in her life, not because she looks like a stereotypical Sleeping Beauty princess.
  • One of the many advantages of working together on both Pugmire and Monarchies of Mau is that Onyx Path can make available to Pugsteady our connections to a wide and diverse group of creators; everybody wins!

 

Let us know what you think of Monarchies of Mau and Pugmire.

 

Let’s Level Up!

 

Josh

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*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. Opinions may also turn out to be wrong in the future, and we are more than willing to discuss based on future information.

 

 

 

Camp!? Guest Blog by THE Jason Hughes

I play in, and am a Storyteller for, the Underground Theater Vampire: the Masquerade LARP. For two years, I served as the Organizational Storyteller for the Camarilla, Anarch, Independent Alliance venue. During that time I ran a game that was heavy, dark, and brooding. Players were forced to make difficult choices at every turn and were in constant danger. Winning was surviving. The story was dark, but was it good? I had players burning out constantly.

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I stepped down from the position and spent some time thinking about how to run games that embraced the themes of Vampire and the World of Darkness, but didn’t drive players to burn out or Out of Character conflict. After a time, I realized that the great villains (which is essentially what we are all playing in Vampire) were a bit campy and weird. They all had character traits that drove them to make poor, but interesting and entertaining choices. The best of them had a touch of ridiculous about them. Victory was never enough, it had to be gained in a certain way or through certain actions. Ultimately, great villains were campy.

 

Camp can be zany or subtle. A primary complaint about injecting camp into serious games is that too many Storytellers are already doing it badly. Vampires are battling anthropomorphic snowmen with little story beyond, “Wouldn’t it be cool if?” I am not a fan of genre-breaking silliness. Stories must have depth and connection to the world that we choose to mutually inhabit. Always ask yourself, “Will the story my Players tell sound ridiculous?”

Sinister, isn’t he?

Subtle camp is the difference between executing the prisoners and creating a death trap. When I defeat someone, if I want the best outcome for my character, that defeat should be resounding and complete. However, we shouldn’t want the best outcome for our characters, we should want the best outcome for ourselves as players. Instead of a resounding defeat or complete victory, we want story – a death trap that the rival can possibly escape creates that. A Roll Squad is no fun, a Death Trap could be.

 

Camp is a difficult word. Words have meaning and power, especially in roleplaying games, especially in LARP. I choose camp because it describes the absurd, slightly tongue-in-cheek way that good LARP interaction begins with. We encourage players to be be larger than life and play fearlessly. That requires them to act in ways that are theatrical, not realistic. Subtlety does not need to be lost.

 

“Theatrically” is not a bad word for the style of play that I advocate. However, I want to draw a line between Hamlet, in which a character does some patently ridiculous things in pursuit of revenge, and Titus Andronicus, a play so violent that it makes modern slashers look tame. Both are very theatrical. The characters make big choices and extreme actions, however Hamlet has a subtlety to it that makes it more interesting. Hamlet is also a touch campy (the right kind of campy). He suffers and monologues and wallows. Hamlet acts, but indirectly and in ways that would be less than advantageous for his “player.” That’s what I seek.

 

Sir Laurence, as Hamlet, Tragedy Embodied

The unrelenting gloom and horror of the World of Darkness (and other such games) needs a tinge of the ridiculous to be great. Batman’s greatest villain should be Salvatore Maroni, the Boss of Gotham. He is deadly, smart, and has managed to keep operating, more or less, in a city protected by Batman. There are plenty of fans of Boss Maroni, but he is not the Joker. The Joker is terrifying, homicidal, and campy. In Vampire, do you want to be “Black Suit Person #27” or do you want to be “The Rabid Mongoose of the South?”

 

The purpose of camp in serious games is to increase the potential story and to not leave behind fun in the unrelenting darkness. A small amount of mustache twirling creates a rivalry instead of a enemy. A small amount of the absurd gives players that moment of relief that stands in stark contrast to the serious drama around them. Both create more, and better, story and that is the ultimate goal.

THE Jason Hughes thinks about Larp constantly. He probably has a problem. His wife is very understanding.

Pugmire Review – ARE YOU A GOOD DOG?

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Do You Like Dogs?

No? (I’m not sure we can be friends) Even if you don’t like dogs, buy this book. Seriously. This will be the #1 RPG of 2017, hands down. I’m calling it now. You can go home other games.

Now that is out of the way, let’s get into the review.

Buy It

Pugmire will be out this year, likely in a few short months. The final PDF is already in the hands of backers. If you would like to pre-order a physical copy, you can do that here. Buy it. If you buy no other book of any kind this year, buy this one. If you don’t think you’ll ever play it, I don’t care, buy it. That being said, this is the only RPG book that has ever made me cry. I love my dog. I love all the animals I’ve had as companions over the years and this book is filled with elements both cute, and touching.

At the same time, it is a deep fantasy RPG that includes intrigue, horror, action-adventure, and practically any genre you could imagine. This could be Game of Thrones with Dogs if you wanted it to be. The animals in this book will remind you of Redwall, NIMH, CS Lewis’ work, and other deep works. Or, you could play a light-hearted game just as easily.

 

What is Pugmire?

Pugmire is a fantasy RPG from Onyx Path Publishing, largely written by Eddy Webb. Full credits will be at the end of the review. Now, for those of you familiar with OPP you might be expecting the game to be a Storypath/Storyteller/d10 game. You’d be wrong in this case. Pugmire is a gloss for D&D 5th edition. So, you’ll need a d20, and the rest of the standard array of dice you’d need for any D&D game. I’ll talk more about the system later.

The World

Pugmire is a medieval fantasy world, much like the Shannara series is a medieval fantasy world. That is, the game is a far-future post-apocalyptic world where Humanity as we know it no longer exists. Dogs, and other animals, were uplifted at some point in the distant past, and have struggled to survive and build a civilization in the wake of the disappearance of Man, also called The Old Ones. Mankind left behind troves of artifacts, which act as a source of ancient magic for Dogs.

The core setting is Pugmire, a small castle city built atop a reclaimed swamp. The city has several tributary villages, and large towns, and is a decade out from a conflict with the Monarchies of Mau. Yes, Cats are here too, as are Badgers, Rats, and Lizards. Each of these societies is only briefly touched on in the Pugmire core-book, but Monarchies of Mau is already in production. Hopefully we will see the Rats and Lizards further examined, because I find their brief synopses compelling.

The Characters

You have two major choices in character creation. What breed of dog will you be, and what place do you have in society? The latter are called Callings and the former Breeds. The callings are Artisans (Wizards), Guardians (Fighters), Hunters (Rangers), Ratters (Rogues), Shepherds (Clerics), and Strays (Barbarians). These loosely correlate to the D&D classes noted in parentheses.

Of particular interest, at least to me, are Shepherds and Artisans. Shepherds are part of the religious tradition that worships Man, and promulgate the Code of Man. The Code of Man is derived from recovered texts and artifacts. It exhorts Dogs to Be Good, Loyal, and to fight the Unseen, and more. Artisans collect the artifacts of Man, and use them to create magical effects. Both Callings are incredibly deep and offer nuanced options for players.

Breeds

There are 7 overarching Breeds. These are Companions (Pugs), Fettles (Bulldog), Herders (Corgi), Pointers (Labrador), Runners (Greyhound), Workers (Husky), and Mutts (Mutts). Each has an example of a modern dog breed associated with each in parentheses. These breeds are divided into family groups that match their breed to some degree, but the world of Pugmire offers a lot of freedom in these elements of character creation.

The Mechanics

Pugmire uses a system based on the OGL license for 5th Edition Dungeons and Dragons. These mechanics are expertly explained in Pugmire. Character creation is straightforward, and it is easy to make a character in a very short amount of time. Mechanical discussions are well presented, thoroughly and expertly explained in the main text and asides are presented from a semi-in-character view.

This is the most effectively explained RPG book I have ever read. This makes Pugmire an excellent starting point for new gamers of all ages. On top of that, there is enough crunch inherent to the system to make the most mechanic focused player happy. The mechanics and the story merge with each other in a way I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. I’m sure it isn’t perfect, but I personally don’t see any real flaws here. In fact, reading through this has made me understand some 5th edition mechanics in a way I wasn’t before.

What Stories Will You Tell?

We, the players of this fine game, are provided a starting adventure at the end of the book, starting at page 200. This is a great module. Play it. Now, what other stories will you tell? This book is filled to the brim with story hooks, chronicle concepts, and threads that can keep you coming back for years. If Onyx Path collapsed the day we all get this book (I hope they don’t), we would still have decades of story to fall back on.

If you would like a standard adventuring hook, we are provided with the Royal Pioneers of Pugmire, who are explorers and adventurers looking to recover the artifacts of Man. If you are interested in war, you can pit Dogs against Cats, or any of the other uplifted beings. As I’ve said before, there is enough here to run almost any genre of game. Also, there are the demonic Unseen stalking the world, seeking to destroy Dogs. In case you want some horror gaming to go along with your cute Pugs and Corgis wearing armor.

Inclusive?

Without a doubt, Pugmire is an inclusive game. It is easy to learn for young players, and deep enough for any grognard. Gender and sexuality are explicitly non-issues in the world of Pugmire. The world of Pugmire isn’t Utopia, there are inter-species conflicts and elements of discrimination and classism. These issues are presented to allow for deep introspection, if your group wants to explore them. Pugmire is an impressive game.

May Man watch over you.

Pre-Order It.

Dark, Deep, and Scary: Horror Games

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What’s Wrong With Horror?

Dark horror games often have tropes, concepts, and downright terrible elements that make them rife for abuse by the wrong people. At the same time, games that are willing to address and be open about addressing injustices in our world, through the horror lens, often have created the most inclusive communities in our hobby. These two elements coexist uncomfortably in the same space.

Horror makes us uncomfortable, and that can be an amazing tool to help wake us to systemic problems in society. The recent movie Get Out is a great example of this. This movie is about the visceral fear that many Black members of American society experience in all-white spaces. Some may wish to dismiss that fear, but that will not eliminate it. This method of entertainment allows us to to understand experiences in a way that simply telling may not effectively communicate. Horror games allow us a similar window. For the time in-game, you are living the experience of your character and this can be eye-opening. It can teach through immersive simulation.

Investment

Years ago, Piers Anthony wrote a book called Killobyte, which has a segment that occurs in a digital recreation of Beirut. At the time of writing, Beirut was in the middle of a 15 year civil war which ripped apart society. The characters in the book are stuck in various VR simulations of different worlds. One of them is this digital recreation of Beirut. The players of this game have become invested in their various roles in their simulation. They empathize strongly with the real struggles of the people they are portraying, and even some that empathy bleeds over into the real world.

RPGs may not be Virtual Reality worlds, but they are shared imaginative experiences that allow us to empathize and experience the lives of others. We can experience bleed, having actual emotional and intellectual reactions from our experiences in-character impact us out-of-character. The danger inherent are those players and game masters who use this capacity to abuse, harass, or ignore the real experiences of those they are gaming with. Or, to perpetuate behavior that negatively impacts members of various communities in and out of game spaces.

My Table

We often hear, “it’s my table, don’t tell me what is ok or not ok at my table.” Which, on the surface, is a fair argument. However, if you have 5-6 players and a GM who play to stereotypes, your behavior around that table becomes normalized. If you allow for players to portray stereotypes, they will begin to reinforce those stereotypes in their mind. If you encourage your players to dig deeper and understand the people they are representing, they will either begin to recognize their common connection, or choose not to portray that character’s background because they recognize they are missing some shared experience to connect over. Both appear to be valid learning experiences. Stereotypes and prejudice can be elements of game worlds, but we must endeavor to recognize when we are using them. We must also be able to recognize when they are harming people at or outside of our tables.

Horror games often include violence, abuse, harassment, stereotypes, racism, sexism, body dysmorphia, and many other elements. These elements are present because they are things that scare us as humans. Some people are more impacted by these things than others. Some of these players will enjoy other elements of these games, but will ask not to focus on things that remind them of experiences that were traumatic for them in real life. We need to listen to our players, talk to them, and encourage an open dialogue about what game elements are appropriate for the entire table to investigate.

Some Still Don’t Care

There are some people that will refuse to care about moderating these concerns. They will run scenes with sexual assault without care. They will ignore the triggers of their players and will act abusively if called out on their behavior. If you are reading this article then I’m hoping you are not this type of person, but if you are, let’s talk real quick. By acting like this, you are not being cool, edgy, or artistic. You are making it harder to convince people that horror games are a powerful, beneficial, and fun experience.

There is a fine line between pushing boundaries and negatively impacting people. Talking to your players will help you to modulate that. If you don’t care, then don’t be surprised when people stop playing your games. Don’t be surprised when people that care about player investment and consent disagree with you online and work to limit your involvement in our communities.

It is possible to play horror games and care about consent, investment, and player care. Really. It is possible to ‘tell the story you want to tell’ and do these things. It is possible to scare your players, to make them question what it means to be a monster or human, and to care about your players. It is possible to have your player’s characters breakdown, cry, experience loss, it is possible to have bleed during these events, and it is possible to care about your player’s needs at the same time. I would argue, that is is possible to invest even more of oneself, if you know that your thoughts, expectations, and triggers were taken into account during the creation process of the game.

Moving Forward

It is also possible to fail at doing so, and not lose your players in the future by acknowledging your missteps. During play, elements may come up that you couldn’t account for. Nothing will hurt your game if you stop, talk through what happened, and move forward. If there were a single underlying piece of advice to offer any gaming group? Talk, talk a lot, if something seems off, wrong, or even perfectly right, talk about it. You should talk about the good, the bad, the ugly, and then work together to get more of the good.

Don’t be afraid to write horror games, run horror games, or play in horror games. The issue isn’t horror.

Here are is a short list of horror type games I’d recommend checking out. There are dozens more, some that are better than others.

Urban Shadows
Call of Cthulhu

World of Darkness
Several from Savage Worlds

Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network, and the owner of this site. 

*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