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

Interview with Nathan and Bob 25 Years of Vampire

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Nathan and Bob of the podcast, 25 Years of Vampire:The Masquerade A Retrospective were willing to do an interview with us about their show. If you are doing a WoD podcast and would like to do a similar interview, please let me know. I think it is interesting to get into the heads of those of us who are podcasting and writing about these games and why. Please click the link below to listen to the interview. You can find their podcast on their website and on iTunes.

Please click this Image or the link below to listen to the interview

Listen Here

Download this episode (right click and save)

 

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

 

LARPers of Color – Malcom Harris

Welcome to our 5th interview in the series: LARPers of Color. You can find the other articles here, here, here, and here.

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?
My friend Sean come over to my house to tell me about its awesome game he just got into.  I head over to his house to see what it’s all about. He introduces me to some people I don’t know and we start swinging boffer swords… and I’m hooked. I like LARPs with a bit of combat. But I’ll give anything a try. I’m currently In Amtgard (The LARP) my friend introduced me to all those years ago.
I’ve been LARPing since 1989 so…29 years.
Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?
Yes. I’m currently Duke of one of the local Amtgard chapters, I created, ran and helped organized the MACHO larps in the nineties and I’ve had numerous roles in Amtgard in the past.
LARP administration is for me is all about customer service, be it with those involved in other parts of LARP administration, players or mundanes.  It’s your job to make sure everything runs smoothly and everyone’s ideas and grievances are fairly evaluated.
In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

Wow, the big one.
Those players need to stop being afraid to reach out to people who do not look like them. People assume people of color and females don’t have interest and Larps and tend to ignore them  when  they are spectators.   I’ve seen it happen.   Engage everyone and you’ll be surprised.
Also write Larps to be more culturally inclusive or culturally neutral as to give everyone a something to connect with in the LARP or give them a chance to brand the LARP in a way they want.
Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?
Sexist and racist art in rules. None of that please. Also biased opinions being taken as gospel because of who said it.
If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?
For MACHO, longevity, I wish I would have stuck with it more.

For Amtgard, Embracing the RP in LARP. Swinging padded sticks has been pushed to the front by vocal members of the organization.  Those who RP have been marginalized in some places. that needs to change.

From LARPing.com

You are a knight in Amtgard, can you tell us a little bit about that experience?

In Amtgard Knighthood is awarded for excellence and the ability to teach and promote one of what I call the for virtues of Amtgard,  Leadership, Service, Artistry and Combat) I’m a service knight (Flame Knight)  and it’s a very interesting situation.  It’s one that grants a certain amount of prestige, but demands at all time service.As a knight it becomes your job to be a positive example, to uphold your virtue (in my case service) and the others as needed.

Thanks to the internet, I’m the most visible African American knight in the game.  African American players and players of colors come to me asking for advice and validation in what they do in game, me , for them I also have to be an example. On the other end of the spectrum and I found it odd when it was first told,i’m , for a lot of people the first African American they feel they have something in common with, alto that’s less of an issue now then it was twenty years ago.

Amtgard Knights

Lore of the Bloodlines – Review

I was a backer of Lore of the Clans, a supplement for V20 and one of the stretch goals was Lore of the Bloodlines. I must admit I was not very excited for this book. Yes, there were various writers I liked that were going to write for it, but I found myself underwhelmed by a rehash of various bloodlines that had lots of information already in various books. How wrong I was.

First, the art done by Mark Kelly, Sam Araya, Felipe Gaona, Michael Gaydos, Key Meyer Jr. and Glen Osterberger, is freaking amazing. Seriously, I think this art compares to if not surpasses the iconic art of Tim Bradstreet. I know… that is a bold statement. See the image below.

By Mark Kelly Instagram @grimventures

Who’s here?

Lore of the Bloodlines looks at 9 bloodlines from Vampire: The Masquerade. Those 9, in the order they are presented: Baali, Daughters of Cacophony, Gargoyles, Harbingers of Skulls, Kiasyd, Nagaraja, Salubri, Samedi, and True Brujah. As noted, most of these bloodlines have had a lot written about them in the past. I wasn’t anticipating much that was new or exciting. From the Baali onward though, there were new plotlines, story hooks, and mechanics that changed my mind. The history of each bloodline is presented by new unreliable narrators. The Kiasyd are presented with a new history that ties them more powerfully to the Abyss (an element that has received significant investment in V20 materials, in particular V20 Dark Ages and Tomb of Secrets), as well as presenting a different story about their Fey connection.

You shouldn’t take these stories as definitive, nothing in the WoD is a definitive history. This is another view point that you can use to add to your stories. That is the fascinating thing about the V20 books, they look at material fans are familiar with, turn it on its head, and present a view that doesn’t discount anything previously written but it does adjust it in a way that makes you question The Truth.

Mechanics

Each bloodline has new merits and flaws that fit with their storylines. These bloodlines also have a new combination discipline or two, and potentially new versions of Elder powers. Each of these new mechanical elements is directly tied into the story hooks provided in the ‘fluff’ elements of each section. I particularly enjoyed the Salubri chapter because it tied in directly with some of the material from V20 Dark Ages. In fact, the way the Salubri are described in Lore of the Bloodlines is probably one of the best presentations of the modern iteration of the clan I’ve ever seen.

Part of me wants to give you a bloodline by bloodline breakdown, but I honestly feel like I would be taking something away from the book by laying out too many reasons you should purchase it. Lore of the Clans is a great book, and a fantastic complement to V20. Lore of the Bloodlines takes that model and does it one step better. It you’ve read everything on these bloodlines (as I have) you’ll still gain a lot here. Seriously, this is my favorite supplement for V20 so far.

From an author

I asked Matthew Dawkins, known by many as The Gentleman Gamer, for a quote. He is the author of the Harbinger and Kiasyd sections. If you had one element of what you wrote you’d tell readers to look for, what would it be?

I try to seed plot hooks into every paragraph of my RPG content. Whether I mention an interesting character you can add to a chronicle, an event you can reference or take part on, obscure knowledge to cite, fables to make your in-character observations more authentic, or myths and treasures for your characters to pursue. Both my chapters will have plentiful options for you to take up, ignore, or just enjoy the reading of, as you make your way through the book. More than anything, I want people to read about Harbingers of Skulls and Kiasyd and want their next characters to be from those bloodlines, or want to set their next chronicles with a heavy involvement from one, or both odd lineages.

This book is now out in pdf and POD formats from Drivethrurpg.

Credits

Authors: Matthew Dawkins, Eloy Lasanta, Andy Peregrine, Neall Price, Eddy Webb, and Rob Weiland

Developer and V20 Line Developer: Eddy Webb

Editor: Jess Hartley

Art Director: Michael Chaney

Layout and Typesetting: Becky McGarity

Interior Art: Sam Araya, Felipe Gaona, Michael Gaydos, Mark Kelly, Ken Meyer Jr., Glen Osterberger

Cover Art: Mark Kelly

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

Game Mastering Through Stress

Here you are running an amazing series of sessions in your favorite role-playing game… and then work calls. Then you get an email from a project that isn’t going to get funded. Classes start, the laundry needs to be done, your kid decided throwing up is the best bedtime plan. STRESS happens, we all know it. The question becomes, how do we deal with it and keep enjoying our hobby? It’s not easy, particularly as we get older and pick up more responsibilities. I don’t consider myself a grognard in personality, but I’ve certainly been playing RPGs for quite a few years.

In the old days, it was easy to play 2-3 games per week because that was all I had going on. This is a lie, the more I think about it. In truth? I was working 70-80 hour weeks when I was in my early 20’s and gaming was my outlet; it was the thing that kept me going. Stress was present then just as it is now. So, in my experience, stress is something that we’ll deal with while we are running games. Sometimes, this stress is directly related to the games we are running. More often than not though, its external stress that bleeds into our sessions.

1 – Tell Your Players

If you are experiencing stress, tell your players. “Hey everyone, I had a pretty rough day at work today, do you mind if we focus on some cathartic combat tonight?” “I’m sorry its taking so long for me to get my head in the game tonight, my son kept me running around today and getting him to bed before our session just didn’t happen. Give me a bit to really get going.” I’ve heard things like this and said them. Statements like these are helpful to helping me know how to pace things as a GM, and I personally think it helps my players understand where I’m at while running the game. Sometimes they will want a heavy RP session, but if I can’t handle that? It might be a good night to run a side session/mission or even switch up games to something that fits the mood better.

2- Take A Break

The worst decision I ever made was trying to run a full campaign during Grad School. Off and on I had run some Pathfinder during my undergraduate degree and didn’t have a lot of issues. Keep in mind, I went from the Army, to undergrad and then straight into my graduate degree as an adult in my late 20’s early 30’s. That game was over Skype though, and to be honest, I was not as focused as I wanted to be and it hurt the campaign. I should have taken a break from running and just played in a few games. Then, in Grad School, I tried to run a Changing Breeds game, and play in a D&D campaign. I couldn’t do it. There were too many things going and my brain was overloading. I tried to introduce a few new players, and I think I spoiled their experience with role-playing games. That’s not what you want, and I was clearly not in the head-space to keep going. It won’t hurt to take a break, focus on one-shots, and just chill if you have a ton of stuff going on. No one will blame you.

3- Unwind Through The Game

One of my favorite ways to reduce external stress is to find ways to incorporate what is stressing me out into the games I’m running. For example, I once worked for a person I detested. I create a character that was them in my mind, and gleefully watched my party destroy the stand-in monster. I have no idea if this is psychologically healthy… it might not be. In the end though? It really helped me deal with that person. Every time I saw them, I’d chuckle in my mind as I imagined the player characters hacking and slashing them in game. When I’m having other stress points, I try and devise ways to consider approaches to dealing with them through game play. One character, described in this blog post, really helped me break out of a serious bout of depression. They were confident, capable, and had a solid relationship life. That helped me to imagine what I would need to transform into that type of person. I think it worked.

4 – Play, Don’t Run

This advice is a little different from taking a break, but it has some similar functions. Have one of your players take over for a little while. A night, a campaign, whatever. I think it can be fun to ask a player to take over running for a single session, give them some basic ideas that fit your meta-plot and see what they roll out with. This can be stressful for some GMs, so it can’t hurt to just let someone else run something for a few weeks. This can help you get your brain back in a place that is healthy and ready to help construct the role-playing challenge you like to create.

I’m sure this will seem like basic advice. Nothing I’m saying here is revolutionary, but I’ve found its helpful to remind myself on a regular basis. A lot of this is useful to keep in the back of your mind to address the stress before it destroys your game and your love of the hobby.

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.

The Ferryman: An Introduction to Curse of Strahd

I recently started DMing Curse of Strahd, the 5th edition re-introduction to Ravenloft, based on the classic Castle Ravenloft module by Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis. To say I’m a huge Ravenloft fan is a slight understatement. The AD&D Ravenloft books were some of the few I have ever owned, I purchased nearly every 3.0 and 3.5 Ravenloft book that was produced and I ran 2 fairly long campaigns in the world.

Images used are owned by Wizards of the Coast: Buy Curse of Strahd from your local gaming store, buy WOTC products, and support their artists and writers. The written work in this piece is covered under the Open Gaming License, as I understand it.

5th Edition is cool, and I wrote about Advantage/Disadvantage a few weeks ago. That being said, I haven’t played or run many games yet. I actually purchased Curse of Strahd well before I knew I’d even run it. Heck, when it came out, I was in my last year of Grad School, and there was zero chance I was running or playing any role-playing game. It didn’t matter, I wanted to own a copy of this game. Ravenloft was my jam, man…

Well, last week I finally got the chance to introduce a few friends to Ravenloft and 5th Edition. I wanted to create a short introduction that was deeper than the “Mists Take You” option, but slightly less in-depth than some of the other opening options in the book.

 

What follows is an introduction to Curse of Strahd which I welcome you to incorporate into your own game if you’d like.

 

The Ferryman: An Introduction to Curse of Strahd

For 3-5 1st Level Characters

5th Edition D&D

 

Background

 

You are settled in for the night at the Wizard’s Wand, a tavern on the edges of Lake Galifar in Aundair, near what used to be the city of Arcanix. The mood in the tavern is muted, a few other patrons are sitting drinking their ale speaking rarely to one another. Since Arcanix disappeared, things have been looking more and more like war. No one has proven that the disappearance of Arcanix was performed by Brelish agents, but more and more hawks in the nation are pushing to attack SOMEONE for the event.

Six months ago, a great fog, much like the mists that surround the Mournland of former Cyre flowed off of Lake Galifar and surrounded Arcanix. That night it seemed to choke out the city, and when the sun rose the next day, the city had vanished with the misty fog.

 

The party has known one another for some time, either having done some minor adventuring with one another, or as children growing up in the area. You trust one another, and that trust is important. War is coming, and you need someone to trust when war is on the horizon. It has been a pleasantly warm summer.

 

Scene 1

 

As you drink your ale, the door to the tavern swings open. A man, dressed in thick winter cloak, boots, and hood strides in. As he does so, a thick fog accompanies him. The mists seem to creep toward the other patrons of the tavern, stopping short and then receding as if they were hands scraping the floor. There is not a drop of sweat on the man as he steps up to the bar, in fact, he looks frigid. He takes off a frost coated glove and slides an odd looking silver piece across to the innkeeper.

 

Any party member that looks out the window will see the streets are filled with fog, so thick they can no longer see to the other side of the street. Some of the mist curls around and for a moment, a spectral face will appear and loom toward the player character. A character with the ability to sense undead or see into the ethereal realm will see the streets filled with ghosts and skeletal spectres.

Not Yuri

If the players do not initiate contact with the strange man, he will turn to them and begin to stare. Eventually, he will stride toward them with purpose.

The man is Yuri Iljavanovich. Yuri speaks with a thick accent, clearly not from any of the Kingdoms of Khorvaire. He will ask the characters questions about their lives, what do they do for work, if they are looking for jobs, where they grew up. If a player is a Cyran refugee, he will pay particular attention to them. If the players turn his questions on to him, he will respond with the below.

 

“I am from a place called Barovia, which has been conquered by a demon. We are seeking those who would help us. You all had something, perhaps a look, about you that made me think you would be interested in helping. We are slowly being hobbled by the devil, and need some fresh blood who can fight against him. The devil keeps us from leaving Barovia, only a select few have been able to escape, and even then, not for long.”

 

Yuri will admit to being a Cleric of Ezra. “Ezra is our Guide of the Mists. She allows those of us who worship her to briefly escape the clutches of the Devil Strahd. With this lantern (which he’ll hold up and appears to be a normal gas lamp) we are able to use the Mists to travel to other places. The devil forces our return though, and we can only bring people in, we ourselves cannot escape, though of course, I would be able to return you here if you choose.”

If the players choose to accompany Yuri, have him instruct the players to put warmer clothing on, as Barovia is in the middle of a harsh winter. If the players choose not to follow Yuri, you may of course ensnare them with Mists when they leave the Wizard’s Wand, or not, the choice is yours.

 

Scene 2

 

When the players leave the tavern with Yuri, the mists seem to part only slightly from himself and the party. He turns the lantern on, and the fog recedes a few feet. If asked, Yuri will tell them the journey will take a minimum of three days in the mists. If pressed, Yuri will tell the party very little about Barovia, except that the Devil Strahd is a great beast that feasts and hunts his people. They have tried to fight him themselves, but have always failed.

 

The Mists wrap around the characters and they are quickly far away from Arcanix, Aundair, and even Eberron. The thick fog wraps around them, masking their journey, and they cannot even see if they are on a road, and it appears they are simply walking within dark clouds. Eventually, they will come to a clearing, after almost a day’s walk. Before them will be a few large boulders and a makeshift lean-to. A fire pit has been used recently, and the Mark of Ezra is painted on a boulder facing the party as they arrive.

 

Either before bedding down, or in the morning, run the first encounter.

 

Encounter 1

Though the mists are not quite as close as they were while you were walking, they are still close and it is hard to see far from your resting place. The fire isn’t really warm, but it gives you something to crowd around. Everything around you seems to devour your body heat, and you find yourselves shivering with little provocation. Sleep helps, but standing watch is a thankless job. Yuri ignores any request to join a watch rotation, he goes immediately to sleep.

 

As you gaze into the fog, you smell the thick scent of pine and then you hear an odd sound. Scrape, thump, scraaaapppeeee, thump, scrape, thump. The sound seems to both echo and be muted. It becomes louder, and stronger, and finally, the mists peel back farther. You can seen pines all around you, and 10 – 15 feet away, are 3 Skeletons. These skeletons are wrapped in the remains of Cyran armor, holding rusty swords and tattered shields. One skeleton has on a thick iron boot, which appears to be some form of prison gear.

 

Any magic used against the skeleton with the boot only causes half damage. The boot is immune to all magic, but it incredibly heavy and largely useless to the players. If hit with any spell that is force related, like lighting or eldritch blasts, the boot will glow with runes describing its use to restrain magic using prisoners. The skeletons laugh every other turn in which they are hit for damage. This laughter sounds like dried bones hitting against each other.

 

During the fight, Yuri will be praying in incomprehensible gibberish. He will not attack the skeletons. They will generally avoid him, unless one of the players intentionally pushes him into their path.

 

After this encounter, Yuri will finish praying and will ask if the characters wish to continue along their journey. If asked, he will say that he knows that there are many undead in the area wearing similar clothes to these skeletons, and he believes they are related to the a group of refugees that entered Barovia a few years ago. They call themselves Cyrans, and a few have integrated into the local population.

Scene 3

On the second day, have the party reach a river. Yuri seems shocked and concerned when you reach the river. You can see a rope has been cut that used to cross the raging river. There are no mists around the river area, which is odd, as the mists hang thick not 500 feet or so on either side of the river.

 

“There used to be a ferry here, it looks like someone cut the rope.” If pushed, he will suggest heading north, as there is the possibility of another way to ford the river in that direction. He will refuse to try and wade or ford the river without a rope and boat. If the party constructs a way across at this point, hold the next encounter until they reach the other side. If the party heads north, or south, run the following encounter there.

 

Encounter 2

Please take your time….

Whichever way the party chooses to go, they will hear the same horrid skeletal laughing from their last fight. This warning will allow them to attempt to sneak up on the enemies. They will crest a small hill, and then be able to see through the trees, that there are 3 figures crowded around one another, swaying, making an eerie creaking laugh. When the players get within sight of them, they will notice 3 zombies, wearing the same outfits as the skeletons, with similar weapons. If the players have not crossed the river, the zombies will be guarding a boat which is attached to another ferry line across the river.

 

Once the players have defeated the zombies, they will be able to commandeer their boat, or, if they found another way to cross the river, they will find a small pouch of silver coins. There are 7 pieces of silver in the pouch. This pouch will be in the boat, and can be found by attentive characters or by Yuri at the least opportune time. If Yuri finds the pouch, he will inadvertently scare the characters who will have to make a strength check to keep hold of the ferry rope.

 

Scene 4

My favorite vampire meme

Night will fall, and players will be able to rest again at another similar way station to before. In the morning, Yuri will wake the party and push them to continue on. As they crest a high hill, they will see the valley of Barovia spread out before them. A dark shape takes flight from Castle Ravenloft in the distance, and a thunderstorm can be heard from far away.

 

“Welcome to Barovia, my friends. The Devil Strahd awaits you, I hope you do not make the same mistake I did, all those years ago. Go to the village below the mountain, it is a good place to begin your journey to hell”

 

The characters turn, and see Yuri become a spectral form before them, he smiles horrifically and lets out the same laugh which the zombies and skeletons made. Then, he vanishes.
From there, have your players follow the road into the village of Barovia.

LARPers of Color -Tevin Williams

 

Thank you for your interest in doing this interview with us.

Can you tell us how you got into the hobby? Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.) What LARPs are you currently involved with? How long have you been LARPing?

 

Well I had always been interested LARPing since I found out it was a thing. I just couldn’t find anyone who was interested in it. That all changed when I got to college and found out there were people who larped. So I walked up to Racheal Cofeild and Frank Ortiz and asked them to take me with them to go LARPing. Right now I’m only really involved in After the End and a werewolf game run by the Underground Theatre. I have been LARPing for five years.

  

Have you ever been the LARP administrator of any sort (storyteller, Game master, etc.)? If so, can you speak to that experience some?

Well not currently on March 4th it will be my first time running a LARP as I start running Garden of Destinies.

What is your overall experience as a person of color in the LARP community?

It’s been an overall good experience with the main problem being that while people are pleasant to me directly. It’s when I have to express outside of game that things in the black community are bad or that I go protest regularly. That just makes everything rough in general as I have to explain the real black condition. It’s always like pulling teeth.

In your opinion, what can LARPers do as a community to be more inclusive?

It would be to be more understanding of different peoples backgrounds. Like I understand that most people I meet in the community didn’t grow up in a predominantly black and poor neighborhood and just don’t have the frame of reference to understand it. That the bad streets and dealing with that lifestyle was a real thing that I had to deal with and it isn’t as easy as just not getting involved. I was lucky to have the opportunity to get out of there most people just aren’t so blessed.

 

Is there anything you’ve seen in LARP that you wish you would never see happen again?

Pandering to black people by having an African culture that is dominant. I’m a black american not an African american. I know the words get mixed,but I have to associate myself more with being an american than being from Africa since it’s a continent of many cultures. I’m not getting my culture back because of slavery and that’s just how it is. So waving around African culture in my face would be like walking up to an Asian person and just waving a katana in their face and expecting them to like it.

If you could add one thing to the LARPs you were involved in, what would it be?


Honestly experimenting with black culture. Like you can have a character who is a jazz singer and be white as long as you don’t rip our culture away from our race. It takes a bit more work but in the end the finished product could be way more interesting because it was done.