Bennies/Inspiration Points

Bennies in action

Selection from: ‘An Orange Juice Chaser,’ By Joshua Heath

Bobby screamed to his mooks and I focused on running. I tore through a side alley, but like I said, Lady Luck had it in for me that Tuesday morning. There was the damn garbage truck, pulled back and collecting from the alley at that very moment. I looked up… and well, I wasn’t the least lucky I’ve ever been because one of the fire escapes was hanging low. I jumped, grabbed it, and probably looked like a damn rat scurrying away. Rats seemed to be a thing that day.

The gang was right behind me. I scrabbled to the top of the building and looked around. If I was dumb, I might be able to make it to the next building, I could see their roof door was propped open a little. Well, I ran, I jumped, and somehow, I made it, barely…

Bennies

In Savage World, a Benny is a mechanical benefit that allows players to alter the narrative or save themselves from a terrible roll. Now, this sort of mechanic is hardly new to Savage Worlds. The 3.5 edition Eberron setting introduced Action Points, Adventure! also had Action Points, Paizo’s Pathfinder has Hero Points, and D&D 5th Edition has Inspiration. These points are often used in pulp action games, because they represent the ability of heroes to succeed at tasks that appear to be impossible or highly improbable. The traditional method of representing this effect is to give a numerical increase to a roll, either as an additional die or a straight +X bonus.

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Savage

For the Savage system, Bennies allow players to also choose to edit how a story progresses. This sort of narrative editing is one of the hallmarks collaborative RPGs. So, I might be in a fight and instead of being restricted to the items I wrote down on my sheet, I could spend a benny to pull out a gun that I hid earlier. I didn’t really have the gun planned, I alter the narrative to say I did. Or, we are in a crowded bar looking for clues to solve a mysterious murder. I spend a benny to say, “there is a shifty guy in one of the back booths that has some information on the murder.” The GM takes that benny and adds in this character.

Talking Gentlemen

Style Matters

Bennies, Action Points, Hero Points, whatever we call them, these are little ways we encourage our players to assist us in crafting the narrative. Now, some game masters hate this sort of mechanic, because they view it as impinging upon their ability to effectively structure and design their worlds and narratives. I think that is fair, these sort of tools do not always work in every style of game. I like the idea, but I’m also a lot more flexible in my personal story design. I can often incorporate outside ideas fairly fluidly. Both styles have potential to be great games and it is important for everyone involved to discuss their preferences when choosing a game system.

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.

X-Card and Fade to Black Mechanics

*Trigger Warning: violence, and clowns

Crack… slurp… slarhp… shoooweekk

As I creeped down the hall, I couldn’t close my ears. The sounds surrounded me, like a bag thrown over my head. I had to step around the corner, I had to face this thing. Yet, the longer I waited the longer I felt like I had a chance to escape the horror I knew would be on the other side. I knew what I was stalking, I knew what my chances would be that those sounds were just… chicken bones.

As a player, I reached out and tapped the X card. I knew what the description was going to be, we were hunting down a killer clown and the description of the sounds were bad enough. I couldn’t handle a deep description that I knew the Storyteller was about to provide. The ST saw me, nodded her head and shifted the narrative. The clown ran out from his hiding place, and we fought. When the fight ended, she gave an overview of what we found and excluded the gorier details based on the discussion we had about descriptive preference before we started playing.

X–Card

X-Card

What is the X card? The X Card was created by John Stavropoulos. It’s a mechanic that allows players to opt-out of something in a scene that is uncomfortable. Even the Game Master/Storyteller can perform this edit if a player is adding description that they would prefer not to engage with. This is a great mechanic for convention games, and that is where it sees the most use. In a public game its less likely that you’ve had significant conversations about needs, wants, and gaming interests, so the X card helps to control the game content in an easy to understand way. Now, some folks worry about this mechanic being misused by players hoping to avoid in-character consequences for their actions.

From my experience with similar mechanics, I usually ask a few follow-up questions if I think someone is trying to take advantage of ANY situation or mechanic in an unhealthy way. I don’t ask these questions in an interrogative way, just in a clarifying way. “I’m happy to edit the scene, which elements would you like me to remove or cut out? Is this a player comfort concern or a character comfort problem? How would you run this in a way that you would be comfortable? I think we can work together to make the scene work for everyone.”

Fade To Black

This is one version of what I consider, Fade to Black mechanics. These are mechanics that support player enjoyment and safety. Fade to Black is a movie trope that cuts away from horrific elements. These elements are known, there are enough hints that explain what is happening, but they are never stated explicitly, to ensure that viewers do not have to see something particularly heinous. In some ways, there is more positive emotional impact from keeping certain elements off-screen, and this is true in games as much as movies and TV.

Fade-to-Black

A great article was released today that talks about using consent strategies in LARP, and I think these are wonderful and can also be used in table-top environments. In the end, we want our players to keep player, right? Working with things like the X card will help us to build our community which means more gaming!

What Fade to Black mechanics have you used?

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.

Advantage/Disadvantage in D&D 5th Edition

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Marlaa

I’ve always been a good shot with a bow. Even as an Elven child growing up in Evermeet, I was exceptional. Yesterday was no exception, but I think I’ve taken my archery skill to a new level. We were taking out a hive of Ankheg’s and I was hitting eye shot after eye shot. It was pretty satisfying and though it took us about 3 hours to clear out the entire hive, I didn’t miss a single shot. I wonder if I can talk Marcus and the rest of the crew to head to Waterdeep for the annual Faire. I could use the money and it would be a ton of fun to claim a golden arrow in that kind of event.

Farn

Luck just isn’t with me at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m taking on challenges I’m not ready for, of if I’ve pissed off some cosmic being. Worst was when I was trying to convince that local guard to let us pass through the gate without having permit papers. Most of the time, slip a few gold coins in their paws, and walk on through. Well, it was my bad luck to get the one Towney that felt he was making enough cash on his regular salary. Hopefully I get out of prison tomorrow. I think my employer is willing to pay bail… again.

Advantage and Disadvantage

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Buy Some Dice

Here’s the easiest mechanic in the world. Roll x dice and if you hit this number, you succeed. It’s the basic premise 90% of role-playing games have used since day 1. Now, games adjust this mechanic in a lot of ways. Skill points give you a bonus, because you have a skill. Obviously, right? There are dozens of ways to complicate this to try and be more realistic or nuanced.

Advantage and Disadvantage still blew me away as an idea when I read it. I’d been gaming for like 18 years when 5th Edition D&D came out and I’d played a lot of different systems, so I really never expected I’d be surprised by something like this. I was. It is a simple, obvious mechanic, and yet, it floored me when I first read about it.

If you don’t know, Advantage works like this, you get two d20s for things you are particularly good at. You roll both, use the better roll to see if you succeed. Disadvantage, roll two d20, take the lowest roll to see if you succeed.

I’m still trying to figure out why this was mind-blowing, but it was. This is a super simple mechanic that says, I should succeed or fail, but there is still a chance I might not. I might have help; GM gives me Advantage. I might have a background that makes it obvious I should be good at something, have Advantage. My life sucks, and I’ve been hamstrung (maybe literally), cool, Disadvantage on your rolls, mate. This is a simple system. The mechanic can be used in a 1000 different situations for 1000 different reasons. That’s what makes it awesome to me.

How do you feel about Advantage?

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 Curse in MES Werewolf: The Apocalypse

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Buy The Book Here!

My Boss is Great, Scary, but Great

I love my boss, but he scares the crap out of me at the same time. Our meetings are usually only 10-15 minutes. We’ll be sitting around the table, running through power points, and he’ll drop in. “Mark, you’ve got 2 minutes today, 1 up, 1 down, 1 action,” is a common opening for him. We’ve trained for this, over and over again, generating quick highlights outside of our regular reports. He reads everything, it seems like, and there is no point in covering the minutiae. In fact, if you try, he’ll often scoff and glare. For some reason… his expression is enough to stop any of us mid-sentence.

I make it sound like he’s mean, or an asshole, but none of this is true. He listens with the time he has, he takes action, and he does everything he can to take care of those who work for him. He sent one person’s wife overseas for experimental surgery when she got cancer. She’s fine now. This is the type of man that will literally drop everything to help, but he’s never around physically for long. He’s got too much going on.

What would it take for me to leave this job? I’m not sure I would, even for triple my salary and 20 weeks of vacation. It’s weird working for someone like our boss, but he’s loyal to us, and I feel like he’s the best type of alpha leadership everyone asks for. That makes a lot of the odd behavior worth it.

Buy the Book

From W20

What is The Curse?

In Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, the Curse is a reaction that humanity as to the innate Rage which the Garou emit. Humanity is always uneasy around the Garou, instinctively cowering in fear or trying to leave their presence as soon as possible. The curse has less impact if a Garou had not gained Rage in the last 24 hours.

There are 5 stages to this version of The Curse. Introduction, 5 minutes, 30 minutes, 60 minutes, and 90 minutes. Introduction raises the anxiety of all normal humans in the room. 5 minutes leads to stuttering and stress behaviors, like avoiding eye contact or hair pulling. 30 minutes leads to early panic attack behavior. In 60 minutes, humans and wolves become hostile to the Garou, and 90 minutes causes full Delirium. Bone Gnawers and Glass Walkers double the time before they cause these effects in humans, and the same for Red Talons with wolves.

What does this mean, mechanically and story-wise for Werewolf LARP using these rules? It is hard, almost impossible to be a Garou and interact successfully with human society. This is part of the reason Garou retreat into their Septs and focus so much on their own communities. The easiest way for a Garou to effect the normal world is to use Kinfolk intermediaries. That will require a lot of trust, and trust issues run deep in people with a lot of pent up anger (from personal experience). When crafting a backstory, it is possible for a character to have spent time in either human or wolf society, but they would have to have a lot of control over their Rage. That’s not easy, but it can happen. Garou can be great leaders. Rage and anger can be fantastic motivating forces from a leader in a team. Garou have to be careful how much they interact with people, but they can still be leaders to humans if they do so in a backroom leadership sort of way.

How do you build The Curse into your games?

 

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.

Crash Course in Terminology for LGBTQ People and Characters: 5 Things To Keep In Mind

Article is Reposted from High Level Games and Posted to Keep on the Heathlands with permission from the Author.

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Since HLG is interested in promoting ways in which we can make gaming experiences more inclusive for all players, I’m here to teach you a thing or two about how to do that for LGBTQ folks. Step one is familiarizing yourself with terminology that’s often used to describe gender and sexual orientation. As I’m sure you’re aware, using the “wrong” terminology for a group of people can be quite embarrassing if you’re the one making the faux pas, and cringe-worthy if you’re a witness (think of grandma still referring to Asian people as “Orientals”), and pretty hurtful if you’re a member of a marginalized group.

Intentionally or unintentionally using the wrong terminology for a person in casual conversation is called a “micro-aggression” – it still causes harm, but is less severe than, say, housing discrimination. However, a steady stream of micro-aggressions combined with the threat or lived experience of physical harm is like “very small drops of acid falling on a stone” (Brown, 2008). Each drop may not do much harm on its own, but further weakens the integrity of the stone to the next drop. Micro-aggressions also exacerbate pre-existing mental health problems in marginalized groups; and as many studies (Haas, et al., 2011; Mustanski, et al., 2010; Almeida, et al., 2008; Bostwick, et al., 2014) have shown, LGBTQ folks have higher rates of traumatic experiences (e.g. sexual assault, physical violence, other forms of discrimination) and mental health problems than heterosexual, cisgender people.

So if you care about your LGBTQ players, perpetuating micro-aggressions at your table is probably not the cool thing to do. If you don’t, then perhaps go find another article. If you’re writing LGBTQ characters, you want them to be believable, which means getting into their fictional headspace. But, the situation in the LGBTQ community is pretty much a minefield when it comes to terminology. So here’s a fancy-pants guide from your resident queer lady gamer based off of American Psychological Association guidelines to help you through! Note: even after reading this article, you will probably mess some things up. The best course of action in this scenario is to make a brief apology and move on.

1). Use Whatever Terms and Pronouns Your Player Asks You to Use For Them.
If you’re writing a character, it’s probably best for you to use the “non-controversial” terms to describe them, especially if there’s someone at the table who’s LGBTQ. Read: don’t use queer or other “reclaimed slurs” as labels for your NPCs/PCs if you’re not of that persuasion in real life and LGBTQ players at the table haven’t indicated whether they’re cool with those terms or not. Having storylines around changing someone’s sexual orientation without their consent using magic (I’m looking at you, Fire Emblem), or including tropey “predatory LGBTQ” characters probably isn’t the best idea if your goal is to not perpetuate societal harms against LGBTQ folks in your games.

2). Dat Acronym:
LGBTQ stands for “Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer” but there have been some pushes to change it around quite a bit (either by making it a double “Q” to separately denote queer and questioning, an “I” for intersex, a double “A” for asexual and agender, and a “P” for pansexual). I affectionately refer to it as alphabet soup for this reason. Personally, I think it’s fine as it stands, because transgender and queer are umbrella terms & encompass what people want to add. But, if you see the expanded version(s), now you know what these terms stand for.

3). Gender Stuff:
Now that we’ve covered what each thing in the acronym stands for, we’ll unpack the gender stuff. Transgender, like I said before, is an umbrella term, and encompasses people who don’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. So brief review; sex and gender are two separate, but related, things. Sex or “biological sex” usually refers to chromosomes, primary and secondary sex characteristics, and gender is the set of societal expectations for behavior that we place on people based on their perceived sex. People whose gender identity matches up with the “biological sex” they were assigned at birth are known as “cisgender,” from the Latin “on this side of”; those whose gender does not match with their biological sex are called “transgender.” These are often abbreviated as “cis” and “trans.”

However, things with sex are not as cut and dry as you think they are! Occasionally, people are born with “ambiguous” sex; that is, they might have chromosomes of one sex, but the primary sex characteristics of the opposite sex. These people are known as “intersex.” Even among non-intersex people, the things that “make” us one sex or the other can vary greatly; women with polycystic ovarian syndrome have elevated androgen or “male” hormone levels but we still consider them “women.” The transgender umbrella encompasses people who want to pursue medical sex reassignment (sometimes these folks are called transsexual, but, this can be a loaded term for some), people who don’t identify with any gender (also known as agender), and people whose gender identity fluctuates (genderqueer or genderfluid). Side note: use of the singular “they” is now back in vogue (shout-out to the OG Bard, Shakespeare for the use of this); if you’re not sure of someone’s preferred pronouns you can always refer to them by the singular “they” to avoid misgendering them.

4). Sexuality Stuff:
The term “lesbian” refers to women (both cis and trans) who are exclusively attracted to women. “Gay” refers to men, (both cis and trans) who are exclusively attracted to men. Gay is also sometimes used by non-heterosexual women to describe themselves, but this use is less common. Homosexual is a bit of a loaded term because the APA used this term to define same-sex attraction as a mental illness. Some folks don’t have a problem with it and others do. Ask your players what they’re comfortable with, particularly if their character shares their real-life sexuality.

“Bisexual” (with bi meaning two) refers to people of any gender who are attracted to both men and women, but not every bisexual person experiences attraction as a 50-50 split; some bisexual folks prefer women 90% of the time and men 10% and anywhere in between. “Pansexual” (with pan meaning all) refers to people who form romantic attraction regardless of gender; and developed as kind of a political response to criticisms of “bisexual” assuming that there are only two genders/being transphobic. Some bi folks just say that for them, bi means “two or more” genders. “Queer” is a loaded term for older folks in particular because it was the slur of choice during the early days of the LGBTQ rights movement. Younger folks are using this former slur as an umbrella term to encompass anyone who is not exclusively heterosexual/straight, people who don’t like labels, and people who are still figuring things out but know that they’re definitely not straight.

5). Ice-Cream Analogy:
“Asexual,” like transgender, it’s an umbrella term (also abbreviated as ace). If you think of sexual orientation as sexual preference, think of asexuality as sexual appetite. Or, in ice-cream analogy terms; I have preferences for mint chocolate chip and cookie dough ice cream, but will actively pursue eating ice cream in general because I have a stupid strong sweet tooth. Other people may not have an appetite to pursue eating ice cream, but if it’s offered to them, they’ll eat it. Some people will eat ice cream under certain conditions (must have rainbow jimmies or all bets are off), and some just don’t like ice cream at all. Some asexual folks do not experience romantic or sexual attraction to anyone, regardless of gender. Other asexual folks may experience romantic attraction to other people, but not sexual attraction. Some asexual folks might only experience sexual attraction once they’re in a committed relationship. Most of these identities are called gray or demi-asexuality (demi meaning partial). There’s heated debate on whether or not to include asexual as part of the LGBTQ acronym but that’s a can of worms I’m not going to open.

So there you have it! Your crash course is complete and now you can go off into the world armed with your SHINY NEW KNOWLEDGE!

FancyDuckie is a 20-something researcher by daylight, and mahou shoujo cosplayer by moonlight! She’s also known to play murder hobo elven clerics with a penchant for shanking twice a week. Also known as “science girlfriend” of The Heavy Metal GM. When she’s not chained to her sewing machine or doing other nerdy stuff, she enjoys watching ballet, musical theatre, pro hockey, and playing with any critter that will tolerate her presence. You can find her on Twitter, Tumblr, ACParadise, Facebook, Instagram, & WordPress.  

Citations:
Almeida, J., Johnson, R.M., Corless, H.L., Molnar, B.E. & Azrael, D. (2008). Emotional

distress among LGBT youth: The influence of perceived discrimination based on sexual orientation. Journal of Youth Adolescence, 38, 1001-1014. 

American Psychological Association (2012). Guidelines for psychological practice with
lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. American Psychologist, 67(1), 10-42. doi:
10.1037/a0024659

American Psychological Association (2015). Guidelines for psychological practice with
transgender and gender non-conforming people. American Psychologist, 70(9),
832-864. doi: 4 http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0039906

Bostwick, W. B., Boyd, C. J., Hughes, T. L., & West, B. (2014). Discrimination and
mental health among lesbian, gay, and bisexual adults in the United States. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 84(1), 35-45.

Brown, L. S. (2008). Cultural competence in trauma therapy: Beyond the flashback.
American Psychological Association: Washington, D. C.

Haas, A. P., Eliason, M., Mays, V. M., Mathy, R. M., Cochran, S. D., D’Augelli, A. R.,
& … Clayton, P. J. (2011). Suicide and suicide risk in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations: Review and recommendations. Journal Of Homosexuality, 58(1), 10-51. doi:10.1080/00918369.2011.534038

Mustanski, B. S., Garofalo, R., & Emerson, E. M. (2010). Mental health disorders,
psychological distress, and suicidality in a diverse sample of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youths. American Journal Of Public Health,100(12), 2426-2432. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2009.178319

LARPers of Color – Michael Underwood

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?

amtgard

 

I started LARPing with Amtgard, and have always been a bit more partial to boffer games than parlor ones. About ten years ago I lived near a park where I saw people practicing one Sunday. I wasn’t very good at the game, and the park only had about 10 regulars, so I got discouraged by the skill gap.

I am really fond of games that include real world skill and rules augment interactions, like when you can declare a skill usage in a tabletop RPG.nwm-logo

The game I was most recently involved with was New World Magischola. It was the biggest parlor style LARP I have ever been involved with. I had to save up to attend and am not sure when I will be able to afford to go back. I was a bit surprised by how much I liked the experience and would love to attend more games.

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

I have never been on staff or helped behind the scenes for a game. It kinda seems like you have to know the right people to get into a position like that.

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

For a long time in my life  I managed to not really notice being treated differently. Maybe it has to do with most of my family being White, which in turn meant that most of the other families I knew and therefore friends I had growing up were White too. I was the only Black person in my family, and I think that meant I was sheltered from a lot of things. As I have gotten older I tend to notice more when I am the only Black person in a room, when tropes or cliches about race are slipped into a game, or when stories use fantasy races as a stand in for real world ones to tell stories or create conflict.

That last one probably bothers me the most, because it turns something that still happens today into  “fun.” I always get a bit unsettled when a player slips and starts smiling in the middle of what should be a tense or scary scene where they are playing up their characters hate or anger at a fantasy race. I have seen that kind of face on people in real life on people who are aggressing on me who know I can’t do anything about it. It ALWAYS breaks immersion for me, it always takes me out of the game head-space. I wish it didn’t come up as much as it does, but there is always that one person who likes to play the simple and lazy “bad guy” who “hates all” members of any specific fantasy race.

From LARPing.com

From LARPing.com

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

I am not sure there is an easy answer about how to be more inclusive. There are a lot of little things that can add up. Always being open to criticism is one. Far too often I see discussions about problematic parts of a game turn into witch hunts. Speaking up is often treated as an attack on the people who play or the game runners. Th backlash makes even starting the conversations hard.

Not using non-humans as an example of how diverse a game is would be another. If you have to point to the people with pointy ears, the ones with fur, or the ones with green skin to show diversity? Something is off.

Finally, less fixation on “realism” for games that aren’t historical reenactments. The moment that we start playing games, we start using mechanics an rules to shortcut reality. We rarely eat unless it is a long game, we treat bathroom spaces as out of bounds, we use numbers and flags to represent health… The idea that races and by extension race-based conflict and violence are needed for “realism” is a common idea, and one that leads to a lot of shortcuts with writing or thinking about how a game’s reality would be shaped.  If we could start imaging worlds where races exist, but maybe racism didn’t or no longer does? Maybe that idea wouldn’t seem so far fetched in the one anymore.

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

Yes. I have been lucky enough to not have seen much personally. The worst was when my race and feelings about a subject out-of-game were used to make a joke in-game that was way bigger and more complicated than it should have been.  I am not sure what was in the head of the person who start the gag, but in the end multiple staff and players were roped into the joke. The worst part was that I didn’t “get it.” My wife got unsettled by what she thought was someone being malicious and poking at us. She start crying, I sat her down away from game and told her she was probably jumping at shadows.

I told her that and then dragged her back into the game. She was still bothered and we ended up leaving the game about an hour later. We only found out about the joke after game was over. Someone reached out to ask about why we had left, and they asked about a part of the joke I had missed. I had been handed an in-game item, and read what it did while missing the name. As upset as the whole thing made my wife, the way that the people involved closed ranks about it afterward was worse. Staff shut us out of the discussion, I don’t think I had ever felt like so much of an outsider among people I thought were friends before.

castle_keep_1

Don’t drive people out

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

More talk out-of-game about the serious topics people play with in-game. I think LARP has the great potential to teach us of let us explore things that would be a lot harder to talk about in our everyday lives. It doesn’t just happen on its own though, we need to actually work to let it do that. If we treat LARP as only a game, instead of the art or medium that it really is? Then that is all it will ever be. I would love to be able to talk about some of the things I struggle with in real life, and be able to use game as a shared experience that helps others relate.

A Red Rose on Marble: Review of Vampire: The Masquerade 1st Edition

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Introduction

My first experience with Vampire was a LARP at the local State University in my hometown. I was 15 or 16 and I’d been talked into making a character by a friend. By that point, the first edition of Laws of the Night was out, and for a long time I didn’t realize that was effectively the 3rd edition of LARP rules for Vampires in the World of Darkness. When the Revised table-top rules came out, I played with friends and dove head first into the various games. At the time, the only 2nd Edition game I can remember reading was Werewolf, and even that I quickly replaced with its Revised version. So, I ‘grew-up’ with the Revised rule-set for the World of Darkness as my standard and even though I occasionally picked up an older Clanbook, or supplement, the game for me was highly polished and well crafted. That was largely my vision of the WoD until recently.

Martin Ericsson has mentioned his desire to recapture the spirit or essence of the first and second editions of Vampire and I had to admit, I didn’t know what he meant. So, I decided I would do my due diligence as a fan and seek out a copy of the game, as written in those early nights. A friend was generous enough to send me a copy of 1st Edition Vampire: The Masquerade a few months ago and I’ve slowly worked through it while reading about a dozen other gaming books.

My first impression was that it reminded me of quite a few books I loved that were written in the late ‘80s and early 90’s. For example, I was a big Robotech fan, and Palladium’s style was distinctive. V:TM, as different, transgressive, and progressive as it was, still has the vibe of a role-playing game of its era. That is not a negative critique. In fact, some of that vibe is part of its charm. It feels like a bit of a relic, but a relic that is still potent and possibly dangerous. 1st Edition Vampire is like its namesake, a being willing to sap your time and energy. It is a lovely monster able to see into your inner darkness. In some ways, I think it does this much more effectively than the Revised or even 20th Anniversary edition does. Why?

There are a few reasons, but they weren’t really easy to put my finger on at first. There is a lot of similar basic content from edition to edition, and though the rules were tweaked a little here and there, the core Storyteller System is the same. What’s different then? I think answering that question is complex, but I’m going to try and lay out a few of the elements I’ve noticed between the two.

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The Center of Conflict

In Revised, we are presented with a centuries long conflict between various clans of vampires. These vampires are split into two larger sects and several smaller, and arguably, equally important groups. The 13 major clans are embroiled in conflict with the Antediluvians, Caine, other Clans, and occasionally other supernatural elements of the World of Darkness. What is missing in this equation? Humanity. The central conflict in Revised is intra-Vampiric. Brujah versus Ventrue, Camarilla vs Sabbat, Inconnu hiding from the Jyhad (the ancient fight between elder and younger Kindred), these conflicts are between other Vampires.

In 1st Edition Vampire, these conflicts are only hinted at. They exist in the background. In 1st edition the central conflicts are, The Beast vs Humanity, Humanity vs Vampires, and Anarchist vs Establishment. These themes are present in Revised, but they are less central to the writing. To be clear, I’m talking only about the core books here, the 1st and 2nd edition adventures frequently focus on Vampire vs Vampire conflict, often conflating Kindred conflicts with mortal ones in a very confusing way. Dark Colony is a great example of this. As a setting, New England is Gothic and during the late 80’s early 90’s had a ton of Punk elements. However, the story lines presented in Dark Colony focused on ‘Armies’ of vampires in conflict with one another. This, in an area of the US where there were at most 100 vampires across New England. I think I’m exaggerating that number too, I am pretty sure it was closer to 40.

Buy at Own Risk

Buy at Own Risk

That being said, the 1st edition Core Book lays out a human focused world. Yes, you are a vampire, but you need to remember your humanity because you have to live with humanity. Based on demographics, you interact with humans more than you do with vampires. Kindred society is written as a slightly intangible element of the unlife of the Kindred. Considering the population density of vampires to humans was suggested to be around 1 to 100,000, that makes sense. Humanity is incredibly important for feeding, for social life, for a sense of belonging. The fight against the Beast is a constant one, because you are constantly surrounded by those whom you feed upon. In Revised, humanity fades into the background. Are they important? Yes, but not in the visceral way in which they are presented in 1st edition.

Story Goals/Motivations

Players and characters have multiple goals and they are presented with several options in all versions of the game. However, keeping in mind the central conflicts we discussed above, the goals of vampires in 1st edition are different from those in Revised. In 1st edition we are presented with several goals that players may focus on. All of them are based on some element of how vampires deal with humanity.

Humanity

Staring on page 129, Vampire 1st edition examines Humanity, the importance of clinging to a version of human behavior that is, honestly, unrealistic. Why is humanity put on a pedestal by vampires? There are a few reasons that I can see for this. Vampires have to contend with frenzy and the closeness of their Beast. The Beast is a visceral manifestation of the inhuman desire for blood that lives just below the surface of the Kindred mind. That’s one explanation at least.

To me, the Beast is simply the reflection of humanities capacity for inhumanity. Humanity has a beast, all of us have the ability to let slip an anger that cannot be contained, to harm others, to demean others, to lose empathy and murder. The Beast is a mechanic that brings those elements of our character as a species to the forefront. Vampires are monsters because they inherently lose their empathy for other human beings. They have to lose that empathy, if they don’t, they struggle to feed. Feeding from animals will only sustain you for a short time.

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Not Following Humanity

This is why Humanity is so important, it represents holding to a higher ideal than real people are capable or even cognizant of, so that the Vampire can attempt to retain their empathy. What if they don’t care about being empathetic to their cattle? In 1st edition the vampire’s choices are Wassail or Golconda, they either embrace their humanity or they descend into complete and utter depravity. This binary is less pressing in later books because of all the various Paths and Roads of Enlightenment that are offered. By removing the central question of humanity or oblivion, one of the central themes of the game is drastically shifted away.

Golconda

This search for enlightenment is presented directly after the section on Humanity. Golconda is presented as a common story line for players to seek. This changes in later versions of the game. This mystical state of being is relegated more and more to rumor, and even the Iconnu that have supposedly reached the state are represented as having probably fallen victim to falsehood by elder Cainites. In Revised, Golconda is played down significantly as a goal for the Kindred, its not impossible to reach, but it doesn’t feel like something you would have in most story lines.

In 1st Edition though, the search for Golconda, presented as difficult and rare, is still something that is achievable and there are specific, if seemingly limited benefits from this state. The vampire no longer experiences frenzy, as they have recognized the Beast is a part of who they are. If you ask me, they realize that the Beast is simply what makes them human, and by accepting that, they return to a state closer to normal people. The other two benefits of Golconda mentioned are a reduced need to feed and the ability for elder vampires to gain sustenance from humans and animals, even if they have the Methuselah’s thirst.

state-of-grace

Diablerie

Between the sections on Golconda and Diablerie is another section, which I’ll touch on last. It’s peculiar to 1st edition and I think that peculiarity makes it special. That being said, Diablerie is the clearest element of Vampire on Vampire conflict in 1st edition. Young vampires hunger for the power of their elders as it brings them closer to Caine and closer to great power. The Diablerist in Revised has a significant social stigma attached to them, and though this is mentioned in passing in 1st edition, it does not appear as strongly in 1st. Diablerie is a valid path for the players, though it might keep them from attaining the last goal we’ll look at.

amaranth_-_alejandro_colucci

The Rebirth

When I came across the Rebirth I actually sat slack jawed for a few minutes. For me, the condition of vampirism presented by White Wolf had always been one of eternal torment. I had no inkling that in the 1st edition of the book the idea of returning to humanity was presented as a central story idea for player characters. “It is possible for a Vampire to escape the curse and become mortal again. Though it is exceedingly difficult, it is a major theme of the game and something that will direct the ambitions and thoughts of many characters.”

Holy… a major theme??! Not even close for any game I’d ever played in. I had never heard of this being a theme of Vampire: The Masquerade. By the time Revised came around it is basically impossible to turn a Kindred into a mortal once more. Yet, at the start, Rein – Hagen and the other writers had intended for Vampire to have this strong kernel of hope as an element of the game. This again is an element that makes humanity important. Wanting to be human again is a theme in a lot of vampire literature, so it makes sense, but it was removed as an element of Vampire through the years. I can’t even imagine wasting time fighting over who was in charge of undead politics if my characters knew this was possible. I can see most of them spending their nights, at least for their first 50-100 years, trying to be Reborn. Of course, this Rebirth isn’t easy, it requires killing one’s sire, or an antediluvian perhaps, sacrificing oneself, performing an arcane ritual, or even reaching Golconda. As a major theme of the game though, it changes things drastically.

Goals in Revised

Revised provides different goals. Kindred in revised are focused more on Vampiric politics, fighting against or for the Elders, and though Golconda is mentioned as something that some Vampires strive toward, it isn’t as immediate of a goal as it seems in 1st edition. The Rebirth was removed as a plot motivation early in Vampire. Which makes sense if you are focusing on the theme of eternal horror that Revised Vampire seems to express better than its earliest incarnation.

convention-of-thorns

That is one area in which Revised provides something that 1st doesn’t capture well. In Revised, the idea that you have become forced into a society of monsters in which you will never escape is visceral. This is the battle of humanity in Revised. Camarilla society may espouse the values of Humanitas, but most Kindred lose their connection to those whom they feed upon. Killing becomes commonplace, normalized, and this disconnection, this lack of empathy is a central element the Beast can play upon. Manipulating younger vampires becomes natural to Elders, it’s how they survive, and being a childer to one of these elders is a curse. Imagine being forced to work for an abusive boss, now imagine you can never quit, never find another job, and never get promoted. That is one of the core horror elements that Revised develops excellently. It’s simply a different horror than 1st edition Vampire.

Other Elements

Introduction

Both editions start off with a story that explains the world of Vampire. Revised presents a narrative, a sire explaining the world of the Kindred to their childe to be. 1st is written as a note from a vampire to a human associate where they explain the hidden world of Vampires. The story in 1st has shades of Interview with the Vampire, and in some ways so does the story in Revised. Each is quite obvious in its exposition. Revised though, is accompanied by well crafted background images, art, and evocative pages. 1st is accompanied by a bit of Tim Bradstreet art, and pages that evoke a worn well crafted letter or journal. Both are awesome, but different. Revised speaks to a slightly sexy, exciting, powerfully impactful game were you play the Monster in the Dark. 1st speaks to a gritty, personal, slightly unfinished game that has a ton of hidden lore where you play the monster who wishes they were still human.

Font

Both editions use a different font at times, but the main font in Revised is small, maybe 11 point at the largest. Its readable, but at times almost too small. 1st edition is larger but overall the font styles seem similar between editions. This is a subtle thing though, the font for Revised is very late 90’s and the font in 1st is clearly early 90’s and they obviously fit into the era they are from. Maybe I’m the only font geek that would care, but this is something that set the tone for the book for me.

Art

The art in Revised is polished, beautiful, well drawn. I could go on and on about how awesome it is. Bradstreet is amazing, an artist that everyone should appreciate and admire. Bradstreet’s art in 1st edition, though? Iconic, but not the art I was really drawn to while I was reading through the book.

No, ironically the art that interested me the most was the single image story that was placed throughout the book. This story tells a tale of a woman who becomes embraced, proceeds through torpor, conflict, and power to the modern age. She then follows a similar predatory path to the one in which her existence began. She embraces a man that resembles her sire. Ultimately, she is killed, and the man she embraced is freed from the Curse of Caine and he returns to his mortal life. This story is compelling for the humanity lost by the woman in question as she proceeds through her unlife, and just as compelling for the way in which she steals the life of the man she embraces and the way he fights to regain that life. I’m not sure who the artist for that story is, it doesn’t look like Bradstreet’s art, but I’d love to give whomever they are credit.

My favorite Bradstreet Art - Check out his website

My favorite Bradstreet Art – Check out his website by clicking the Nosferatu

Character Options

1st edition Vampire assumes the 7 Camarilla clans are the only options for characters. This reduces the amount of conflicts possible with this rule set. Revised provides us with the 13 clans from the beginning, including the pillar Sabbat clans and the Independents, whom were only hinted at in 1st edition’s core book. This limited set of options focuses the story more on the nuances between Kindred and humans. Of course the conflict between Brujah anarchs and Ventrue bluebloods is present, as are other elements of conflict between the Camarilla clans. However, it doesn’t feel like powerful creatures fighting against one another is the central theme of the game. In Revised, the camera lens is firmly on the world of the Kindred, in 1st, the story is shot from the shoulder of the vampire, as they gaze upon the herds of humanity on which they prey.

When I read 1st edition I could see why people wanted to play this game so much. I wanted to play Revised when I read it as well. Vampire: The Masquerade has changed a lot over the years, and if you ask me, one is not better than the other. They are simply different. I can respect the desire of the new White Wolf to try and recapture some of the themes in 1st edition. Those themes are important. Humanity should be important to the Vampire. Humanity sustains them, humanity is the essential element which they must draw upon to survive. Finding ways to refocus the camera on humanity, will have an interesting impact upon the games that people craft together. I look forward to 5th edition Vampire, if it finds a way to capture the essence of 1st edition, and the skillful hand of Revised and the 20th anniversary edition, then it will be a wonderful game to add to my collection.

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) the admin of this spectacular website. Consider donating to our Patreon if you would like to support other columnists.

*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 -2 Ron Leota

Our second interview in the LARPers of Color series. Please feel free to share these interviews and contact Keep if you are interested in sharing your experience with everyone. You can email us at admin@keepontheheathlands.com

Keep: 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?

Ron: Hi, I’m Ron Leota and I am a larp creator and huge supporter of the hobby. I’ve been larping for about 8 years, roleplaying for 20. I started larping as a way to lose weight and explore deeper narratives in role-playing. I love all forms of larp but tend to play full weekend immersion boffer games. I prefer games that have some combat but make story the focal point. I am not a huge fan of boffer sports but think they’re great for those who enjoy them.

I am currently playing World of Oz full time and occasionally play Alliance LARP. I am currently running Spite: A Science-fiction LARP, Battle!, and a few other unreleased projects with my company NW RPGs. I also host and produce the NW Nerdcast, a podcast all about role-playing.

nw-nerdcast

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

I have been running larps for 6 years. I love that experience but it’s also caused me a ton of stress and heart ache over the years. Running games is a fantastic creative outlet and has allowed me to tell stories and present certain levels of activism to my community via the themes explored. Most players are fantastic people but we occasionally see problem players that don’t respect the boundaries of staff and that’s probably the hardest thing for me.

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

In the Pacific Northwest it’s been pretty good. There are still microaggressions, culturally appropriative costuming, and things I’d like to see change but there has been a major cultural shift to weed out some of the worst behaviors. The community is strong and becoming much more diverse. I find that being a PoC isn’t as much of an “exclusive club” as it once was. I tend to do much better than some folks because I am what you call, “white passing”, which affords me some luxuries my more obvious PoC friends don’t have.

On a national level it’s been incredibly hard. Some players have disheartened me to the point of never wanting to run games in certain states as I genuinely fear that I could not harbor the safe and diverse environment that I so highly value in the games I currently run. The stories some of my fellow PoCs have shared about being attacked for voicing a concerns make me thankful I have the community that I do.

Many PoCs felt that discussion groups like Larp Haven were so toxic that we’ve splintered off into our own group to find the support we’re looking for. Horrendous vitriol is thrown at PoCs for “daring to question” things in the community. Even posing questions about diversity has been met with outcry of “trying to take our games” and “SJWs are trying to kill fun”. It’s very sad and has a lot to do with the dominant white male culture of larping in the US.

Fortunately, this very vocal outcry come from a loud minority of players. Unfortunately, this behavior is allowed and condoned by the other members of the community, who’d rather sit silent than stand up for marginalized players.  This harbors a feeling of being an “other” rather than a peer and creates the appearance that we’re just not welcome because we aren’t the “right color”.

self-reflection

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

Listen when people with wildly different life experiences speak about something you may disagree with but doesn’t necessarily affect you. White players can be great allies if they’d just listen and understand that PoCs face things (daily) that they will never have to face. Learning about those woes and how they bleed into larp is important. Stop using the excuse that “it’s just a game, it’s supposed to be fun.” That’s neat but when your fun is at the expense of other’s cultures you’re not being a very good person and are putting a sign out there that essentially says, “whites only”. That’s what many of us see.

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

I’d love to see blatant racism removed from games. Too often “races” in games are nothing more than offensive stereotypes. I feel if your IG races mirror offensive stereotypes of real-world ethnicities than you have creatively failed as a game creator. You’ve taken the lazy way out at the expense of real people and that’s a game I won’t play and will vocally denounce.

We also need to eradicate toxic positivity in the community. Some larpers are devout and faithful to their games, to the point that they won’t just condone but fight for blatantly racist behavior to exist in the game. It’s heart breaking to watch good people be sucked into the mentality that anything negative said about their game is an attempt to destroy it and we must get the torches to attack the “invader”.

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

I was the head rules writer for the game I actively play and currently run all the others I’m involved in. I kinda already added the things I want. =)

LARPers of Color Interview 1: Morgan Nuncio

This is a series of interviews we’ve done with LARPers of Color to understand the experiences, challenges, and successes people of color have within the LARP community. 


Keep: Thank you for your interest in doing this interview with me. I’ve been a big LARP geek since I was in High School, and I’m always excited to get feedback from others in the hobby.
Keep:-Can you tell us how you got into the hobby?:

Morgan: Soooooo, I was a junior in high school, and my best friend was a senior. She was dating an older guy for a couples by now, and he seemed really cool. One day she was like, “Hey, my boyfriend wants me to go with him to his friend’s house for this Vampire thing.  I don’t want to go alone. Will you come with me?” I said I would, and that Friday night we went with her boyfriend to this guy’s apartment, where her and I played “Ghouls” for this game called “Vampire: The Masquerade”. I really enjoyed the make-believe aspect because I used to do roleplaying for years online through AOL chatrooms and forums. This made it feel so much more real and something I can easily grasp. After that night  I was hooked!

by-night-studios-logo

For the New Vampire LARP rules

 

Do you have a preference for a particular form of LARP (parlor, Boffer, etc.):

After playing various types of games from parlor larps like Vampire: The Masquerade, to weekend long games like Dystopia Rising to even the U.S. blockbuster larp New World Magischola, I really enjoy the one-shot freeform games. Freeform games involve very little barrier-to-entry, meaning that costuming and cost of the game itself is very low or nonexistent, and the game last either 2-4 hours for that night, and that’s it. I don’t get trapped in the mindset of one particular character and I can much more throw myself into drama and chaos because I don’t have an emotional connection to the character like I would with my campaign characters.

dystopia-logo

What LARPs are you currently involved with?:

The only campaign larp I am involved with currently is Planetfall, which is a weekend-long scifi larp just outside of Austin, TX. And I try to participate in New World Magischola as much as I can, but it isn’t your traditional “campaign” game. Other than that, I am apart of a freeform group that gets together about once a month to play a variety of games, and even sometimes do larp jam sessions that we get together and write games and then playtest them.

How long have you been LARPing?:

I’ve been larping for about 11 years now.

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

When I was with Dystopia Rising, I was a Marshal for a few months, meaning that I was someone players could come to talk about rules, and when I was running NPC shifts, I would either hold the fort down at the desk or take NPCs out for various mods.

planetfall-logo

For Planetfall, I’m a Referee, which is pretty much like a Marshal for DR. However, we don’t really have NPC shifts for this game, people just volunteer to go away for a bit to be an NPC creature, since the playstyle of the game is very player vs survival/ environment, and focuses on roleplaying. Also, I’m the lead of the Social Team, meaning that a few days after games we try to get people together for “Pizza and Planetfall” for people just to hang out, and on the months between games we try to host another social event because we want to make it about the community aspect. I am also apart of the Inclusion Advisors, which means that myself and the other Advisors come together and discuss issues with the game itself, if there are any, when it comes to anything possibly appropriative or problematic, regarding people of color’s cultures and identities,  misogyny, or those within the LGBTQIA spectrum.

When it comes to freeform games, I slowly have begun to facilitate games. My first games I facilitated were apart of the #Feminism (an anthology full of nano-games regarding various aspects of the issues women face), and The Great After Party (a fun larp that lasts 3-4s that is a larp about the afterparty of a larp, full of your various larp tropes) by Erlend Eidsem Hansen and Frida Sofie Jansen at Living Games Conference back in May 2016 here in Austin, TX. I then ran Slayer Cake back in the beginning of October, which is written by Kat Jones and Evan Torner.  I am also slowly beginning to write my own larps as well in the past year, with my first game (with the help of Sarah Lynne Bowman) called ColorMatch[.]Com, which tackles the ideas of awkward first dates, finding what you are attracted to, and how to deal with fetishes. It’s a fun and short game that lasts only about an hour (if that). I am also working on various other larp projects, that I hope to debut sometime in 2017!

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

Mostly good, with some bad memories sprinkled through it. I’ve gotten into my fair share of heated discussions about issues in the larp community because the majority of the larp population is cisgendered, white men, who don’t understand the amount of privilege they hold, or care to acknowledge it. There was one fantasy larp down here in Texas that before the game was even open before their first game, I tried to voice my concerns to the game owner about the races he made, and the basis they come from. But what I said fell on deaf ears and a “well, maybe this game isn’t for you”.

 I have left games I have played in for years because of slowly being aware of the problematic issues that are within the world design, despite having tons of friends who run and play in the game.

But for the most part, especially those within the freeform community, have been a lot more aware and accepting, and a lot of them have the same concerns and thoughts. If they put something controversial in their games, it is there for a reason. It is for the reason for players to become aware, gain empathy of the situation, and learn what to do with things like it. That’s why I am SO THANKFUL for the #Feminism anthology, because there are tough and difficult ideas that we tackle in the nano-games, but they help so much more with awareness and understanding those mindsets. The one that really sticks out to me is a game called the “Grey Zone” by Siri Sandquist, where the players embody the emotions of a woman who is stuck in the grey zone between rape and consensual sex in a relationship.

feminism

 

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

Listen and understand those who are marginalized and the issues they are seeing and facing. Ask how they, as game designer or other players, can help to make those who are marginalized more included. Active listening and engaging in a conversation, then acting upon that by changing the game, truly helps, because it makes you seem like you truly do care that people who are different than you enjoy the same nerdy hobby you do. A lot of the time when these issues are brought up, they are torn down by people not listening, disregarding the issues as “a cry for attention”, and being complete asshats.

Also, if there is opportunity for people of color (or anyone who is marginalized), to rise within the game staff, I want to tell who larpers of color to do it! I want to tell the women to do it! I want to tell the LGBTQIA folks to do it! Be the change we want to see in our world! Hell, I would love to see larpers of colors writing their own games, be it through normal North American style boffer campaign games, to blockbuster events, to freeform games! Representation matters, especially in a hobby that is so visual like larping is.

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

Yes, and it was within my first few years of larping too. I was playing Vampire: The Masquerade, and my character was raped by a Baali (a type of demon-worshipping vampires), to be impregnated with a demon baby she couldn’t get rid of. And the out of character I was given after the horrific and detailed event happened? “Sorry Morgan, you were the only female at game. It had to be you.” Like, seriously?! Just because I am a woman, I had to be the one targeted for rape, and not have the topic brought up to me beforehand. This memory has been something that has stewed in me for years, and I have written about it finally on my Facebook within the past year now that I am much more comfortable talking about these issues within larps. I really regret being apart of it, however I am also happy that it has happened because I can talk from experience and I have learned from the experience, and advocate against these things ever happening again, to anyone. I am all for scene negotiations, so that everyone consents to the outcome and what is involved.

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

To Vampire: The Masquerade, I hope that it does start adding in the ideas of scene negotiation,  and how for people to opt out of the scene. I know various types of V:TM games, like End of the Line and Convention of Thorns, really focus on the ideas of consent based play which I positively adore. I hope the run-of-the-mill World of Darkness games do follow the same light.

convention-of-thorns

For the larp I left, it is getting better with using safety mechanics and check- ins, however the world design is still heavily flawed. It has appropriated so much from other cultures, and the interpretation that player take on the game design is quite disheartening as well. It’s an inclusive community, meaning that it includes pretty much everyone, even those who are toxic or a missing/broken staircase.

For Planetfall, I wish we had more people of color playing. We have a good handful, but I wish there was a way for us to reach out to more people of color to play. I hope that in time we can get more people to join and help us diverse the game more, because I want the game world to really reflect 200 years into the future, where the world itself is one big, beautiful mixing pot.

One thing I would like to add to New World Magischola is games by me, instead of across the country! One can hope, right? Lol

And to the freeform community, I would love to see more larpers of colors become game designers and write games in this field. I am hoping that with freeform growing, that it attracts more game designers to it. The one thing  I would change is the availability of the games, because it seems like a lot of larpers do not know about the freeform larp community.

Power and Identity: Mage: The Ascension

What does belonging look like when you have the power to change yourself and the world around you? What happens if you think you have the power to change the world, but instead are bound by the rules of those around you? As a mage, how do you define your identity in relation to your power?

Power and identity

Mage is an amazing game for the way it weaves mysticism and philosophy into a coherent universe. However, at the heart of that universe the very concept of what reality is, is in question. What are Mages? We know that they are human beings by their birth, but what is the Avatar? Is this a symbol of immanent godhood or an individual separation from the forces of the universe? Is the Avatar really a separate force or is it something all human beings possess but few harness the ability to connect with? What if Mages are the broken ones? Perhaps sleepers are connected to one universal avatar and it is through this force that they sustain and contain the consensus?

Delving into Mage is a journey into answering some of these questions. Your players may not directly choose to address them, but these questions (and others) are woven into the fabric of the game. Mage is a game about power, what one does with power and how one interacts with oneself and others when they have gained such power. As such, Mage is a game about power and identity.

What is power?

Power is the possession of control, authority, or influence over others. Mage is about power because it is about control. When you have the ability to control the forces of the universe to your advantage you clearly have power. However, this power is hardly omnipotent. Mages are constrained. First they are constrained by their Paradigm, the way they understand magic and the way they understand how they can work magic within the constraints of the world. To me, these are slightly separate things. The magus that believes the world is a sequence of controllable effects may believe she has to work differently with those effects than another.

For example, the Hermetic Mage believes that there are fundamental principles to the universe. Unlocking those principles requires using the correct rituals, the carefully crafted sigils, pacts with otherworldly beings, and perfect and repeatable procedures that have worked for centuries. That Mage has to be tutored. An apprentice has to learn from his superiors, it is a part of the way they see the world. To gain proficiency requires experience, repeated attempts to enact effects, and tutelage in proper procedures. Their paradigm requires they use these systems, because that is how they believe the world works.

A technocrat may have a similar view of the underlying principles of the world. It is knowable, repeatable, and quantifiable. If I mix these chemicals together, in the right way, then this specific effect will undoubtedly occur. However, the way mages are taught to interact with the world is different. Instead of using sigils and markings upon goatskin, they follow procedures based on bio-chemical theory. They use heat, and chemicals, and fine needles and lasers with the intent of bringing new creations into existence.

Power and Identity

 

What does this have to do with identity?

These two mages would refuse to see a common identity with one another. The technocrat is working with methods proven by both enlightened and non-enlightened science. However, in the world of Mage we know that the only reason non-enlightened science has been taken as fact is because the majority of people in the world have accepted it as such. In this way, the Technocracy has the upper hand regarding both identity and power. The majority of the population accepts their paradigm (at least on some level) and this ensures they are more apt to be considered a member of a given society.

The Mage that uses virgin made beeswax candles to summon demons is an outsider to the world around them. These activities may be TRUE to the Mage in question, but they are untrue to others. This separates the Tradition/Disparate Mage. This separation will drive a wedge between the Mage and the other people from their culture. A Chorister may be an exemplar of the Faith, but they do so by joining a Divine Song that is untouchable by the lay-person. This can breed hubris and jealousy. The challenge for the Mage is to balance their drive and ability to use their power and to avoid separating themselves deeply from the world around them. Yet, we see in most games that Mages are a step apart from their surroundings. They separate themselves into Cabals, and hide in Chantries, Churches, Laboratories, and other places detached from their fellow man.

How then do we create Mage characters that want to be a part of humanity? How do we construct worlds that encourage the Mage not to think of themselves as better or separate, but simply a different type of person than those around them? We have to give them attachments, connections, interlocking relationships that bind them to their friends, families, and communities.  Of course, as we know, this will bind the Mage. This will prevent them from rising to highest orders of power. By connecting themselves they limit themselves.

Identity

Do Mages Belong?

This is part of the drive to create the Traditions and the Technocratic Union and even the Disparate Alliance. These Mages want to belong with others that can support and empower the activities that they know they are capable of. However, as a group then they become distanced from the rest of humanity. They fail to see how they are just as intimately tied to the Earth and the cycle of life. By creating these communities Mages can reach for the stars. But, as they do they can also be scorched by the sun. This gives a young Mage the chance to challenge their elders. To drift skyward is to achieve greatness, but to build up the whole is to give everyone a chance to reach the sky.

Mages each have an element of their identity that separates them from those around them. This is a common issue for those with divergent interests, needs, or elements of their internal identity. In Mage, this identity separation has the consequence of power though. So it behooves the player and the storyteller to balance the hubris of power with the connections a person has to endure to be a member of society. At the same time, it is important to show that Mages feel different, not special, but divergent, radical, perhaps perverse.

Mages are liminal beings, living on the outskirts of society. They are the local wise witch that people would seek, but never welcome into the village. Even as these Mages live among humanity they are divergent, they are different, they are separate. How then does a Mage make themselves feel included? How do others remove them from the in-group and push them away from those more ‘normal’? These are design elements that are important to consider for the storyteller looking to tell deeper stories in the Mage universe.

 

This article was written by Josh (he/him/his) and should not be construed to be anything but his random musings.