SUPPORTING INCLUSIVITY IN GAMING

werewolf-coverLast Thursday I received my advance PDF of Mind’s Eye Theatre Werewolf: The Apocalypse, this post was informed by some preliminary reading of that book which made me happy with some of what the writers addressed. The rest of this post will not exclusively be about By Night Studios, but I want to call them out for moving things in the right direction and striving to be one of the more inclusive gaming companies on the market. I think this comes from the form of gaming in question. In some ways, LARP is an atmosphere where inclusivity, and safety, are much more present. You have larger groups, and often groups engaged in physical storytelling.

I got asked the other day what inclusivity in gaming means to me.

Inclusivity means having a game world that reflects reality in its diversity. Inclusivity means an openness to thought, to writing, to characters that walk a spectrum of identities. Inclusivity means a game culture that welcomes players and encourages them to engage in world building in a self-reflective way, but also in a way that acknowledges a plurality of vision about the purpose of gaming. Inclusivity means trying to find a way to engage, support, and empower any player that walks through the door, if their goal is to support the collaborative process.

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Borrowed from Dreadful Games

Storytelling and gaming are essential elements of our being. When I engage in stories that challenge my perceptions, that encourage me to think, to expand, to reflect, that is what I search for. I want everyone to have that chance, to be included if they want to be included. I want anyone that picks up a book I write, or a plays a game I play, to feel like they could make that their core pastime. Collaboration requires maneuvering with, and for people. Inclusivity embraces that challenge with the goal of trying to open the door so that all people, voices, and thoughts are heard, considered, and added to the collective memory, the shared myth.

Inclusivity in gaming is a process that can start from the ground up, or, from the top down. What, in this case, do I mean by top down? I’m talking about from the game company themselves. From choosing writers, to tapping artists, all the way up to developers, a desire for and a strong commitment to inclusivity impacts their games in ways that ripple throughout their fan communities. That isn’t to say the job of inclusivity is only on the developer side, but they have a role to play. (hah, no pun was intended but I’m going to keep it now I’ve noticed it)

Actions both subtle and obvious help to encourage an atmosphere of inclusion in a game. Let’s run through a few of them.

PRONOUN USAGE: White Wolf was one of the first companies to use the female pronoun in their books. This is one of those subtle decisions that can have a huge impact. Having she sets the tone that women, just as much as men, can be the standard gender for roles in the World of Darkness. That was 1991, and a pretty big deal in that day and age. Today using she is less trendsetting, and is still powerful. At the same time, using gender neutral and gender ambiguous pronouns can indicate an attitude of acceptance of all gender identities, both for players and for characters. If reading through a book and a signature character is a 3-dimensional figure who happens to be gender queer as part of their identity, it represents some of the diversity within our world.

SAFETY AND CONSENT RULES/STANDARDS: Consent is an important part of the social contract of gaming. Players consent to sit around your table, or embody characters in LARP, and they need to continually be provided the option to opt-in or out of story elements that could hurt them as players. By Night Studios is doing well in this department, in the MET Vampire book this concept is treated with respect and given decent coverage. In Werewolf? They’ve done even better, pages 19-20 cover several concepts that are essential to supporting player safety and encouraging behavior that ensures it. They discuss Bleed, Personal Responsibility, Sportsmanship, and techniques of storytelling that support player comfort like Fade to Black and Time Stops. For those of us who have been around the LARP world for a while we’ve seen a lot of discussion on these things, and it is essential to have them front in center in a game book.

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Kadira by Bryan Sime: From Ki Khanga

REPRESENTATIVE IMAGES: Recently Wizards of the Coast received some soft praise for having one of their signature characters be a black woman. This is good, and needs to continue. What is also praise worthy is that the character is wearing, basically, sensible armor. There is also the awesome new game, Ki Khanga which is set in a fantasy world based on Africa. Games like this, and games that incorporate honest representation are part of the process to make games more inclusive. Representation matters, just as with gender, characters with similar looks and ethnic identities to players help to give them role models. They also give players with different identities a chance to see awesome characters that do not look like them, which I believe has an impact on how people are seen in one’s day to day life as well.

SUPPORT FOR PLAYERS WITH DISABILITIES: This I feel, is at times the area that we have the most opportunity for growth and development of new strategies for support. One of the concerns I’ve had with the newer White Wolf books is their size. These books are 500, 600, 700 pages long in one volume. I struggle to hold him in my hands and this is due to a very moderate problem with grip, probably caused from my military service. Thankfully I have pdfs and other electronic versions of these books I can read as well, but it would be amazing to have some other technology to support our gamers with other disability concerns. Some of this is built into our new devices, but that only goes so far. I’d like to hear some feedback on what sort of devices, support, or ideas could help in this area.

Here is my take-away. We are doing better as a community, partly due to the benefit of Kickstarter and other forms of crowd-funding that allow for smaller projects to get off the ground. We can do better, though. That should not be taken as a critique, just a fact, we can always do better, we can always work to be compassionate and supportive and inclusive and we should always strive to be so. What games do you think are the most inclusive? How do you ensure a sense of inclusivity in the games you create or the games you play?

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

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

HOW THE DARKNESS CAN LEAD US TO THE LIGHT

Preface to this article. I started this in the hours after I left The Grand Masquerade, and finished working on it after reading extensive responses in the community discussing our interview with White Wolf and the Keynote and Q&A at The Grand Masquerade.

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What is the value of darkness? Darkness teaches us to value the light.

 What is the value of difficult literature? It teaches us things about ourselves, as human beings.

What is the value of media that addresses dark themes? It can teach us about a side of life we do not witness. It can teach us about lives unlike our own at every level.

These questions and answers are at the core of what the World of Darkness can teach us, if we let it. I want to preface this article with this, we need to be sensitive to everyone involved in discussions surrounding themes in WoD games. Player comfort and safety, and consent to address dark, mature themes are essential. That being said, I might pose more questions than answers here and I want to help encourage a healthy dialogue.

I would hesitantly say the goal of role-playing in the World of Darkness is to generate an understanding of the dark things that occur in our world, and to find ways to address that darkness and ways to change our world. Vampire is essentially a game of immortal parasites that dominate and leech off humanity. By playing one of these monsters we can see the dark aspects of our society reflected back to us. If I play a woman in these games, if those games are run by a sensitive storyteller, I can hopefully begin to understand some of the layers of systemic sexism inherent in the real world. I will never be an expert on that experience, and such a thing should not be played for *shock* factor, but it can have deeper impacts. These games may be one stage in understanding, perhaps a strong first step into embracing feminism and striving to make the world a more gender equal place. By addressing gender inequality, in a place that is safe (with fellow gamers that I trust to respect my consent) I can find tools to identify actions or thoughts I take that tacitly support the sexist world we live in.

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Some players don’t want to play games that address societal faults. They enjoy other aspects of Vampire’s mythology, they like the clan politics, or monster’s hiding in the darkness of society. Whatever it is about Vampire, they like the game, they enjoy spending time in the World of Darkness. This style of play is totally understandable. Not everyone looks to games as literature. Like enjoyable fiction, sometimes you read something because the story is fun, it makes you smile, perhaps it makes you excited. The World of Darkness can be played in both ways.

white_wolf_publishingWhite Wolf’s new leadership says they want to create books that address the first style, they want to write books that address the darkness in the World of Darkness. They also want to support players that choose either style of play. Are these goals incompatible? I, for one, don’t think so. White Wolf wants to create books that can be used to run games that are fun, or self-reflective, or both. They want to engage writers that are looking to explore elements of the world that they know intimately. By doing so, they can hopefully create a true reflection of the power of their experiences. At the same time, for those gamers who wish to play for fun, they will have materials that are truer to life, alive with those experiences and that will reflect in the games played. By providing the best material, all of us gain.

I personally think we, as people, have to challenge ourselves if we wish to grow. We can use a lot of various media to work this growth. We can read works by great authors, we can watch great movies, and we can play great games. Great games allow us to learn skills we can apply to our world. There is academic evidence to suggest that gamers either have more or gain empathy skills from gaming. At the same time, I believe gaming can be used as an effective method to perform inter-cultural dialogue. Gaming, in my humble opinion, can be a force of individual and cultural benefit. Sometimes the method to that growth is through the darkness of the world. Yet, darkness is not the only element of the World of Darkness.

Iconoclasm, Punk, and Anarchist mentality are also themes in Vampire the Masquerade. Why? Because they are methods of challenging the status-quo. In the World of Darkness, we see a world run by the patriarchy (in this case immortal or with powerful magic), entrenched in systemic racism, mired in conflict on every side, we have a world beset by severe income inequality, and a devastated ecology. At the same time, many Vampires have tossed mortal concerns around gender roles, Avatars choose Mages regardless of social status, Werewolves exist of every race. These characters have the ability to challenge the systemic problems of the world.the_players_guide_to_the_sabbat

These themes, though changed to some degree, have not left our world since 1991, when Vampire first addressed them. I would argue, as others have, that White Wolf games were essentially subversive at heart. They sought to dismantle the constructs of the world we live in, by making some of the worst aspects of our world stark. I wouldn’t say these elements were eliminated in later editions, but they were tempered, they were certainly more nuanced. Understanding the underlying reality of those themes is important in our modern world, we need to understand how to challenge the status-quo, how to stand up against oppression, and how to advocate for positive change. The World of Darkness can help teach us effective methods of doing so.

At the same time as investigating darkness to understand light, we need to be cognizant of individual player buy-in and acceptance of the topics being addressed. How do we work with darkness, even playing elements of the darkness with respect to real player backgrounds? Consent. Consent is integral to running White Wolf games. If your players want to play a game that only peripherally touches on the darkest themes in the World of Darkness, LISTEN to them. If a woman at your table says stop, stop. If a man in your LARP asks not to run a scene with rape involved, listen to them, fade-to-black, ask for feedback and adjust where appropriate. If you have a player that wants to explore their gender identity, find ways to do so with respect and with their investment.

One way to do this well is to ask for feedback ahead of time before you run plots. For example, I recently asked my players if they wanted to move our Dark Ages game a few years in time in between sessions. I did this to get a feel for what they wanted. They didn’t want a time jump, they still have things they want their characters to learn and do. This helped me to develop the next 5-10 game sessions (give or take). This wasn’t an issue of dealing with dark elements, but it is a good example of how to work with your players to give them an experience you enjoy facilitating and that reflects their gaming interests.

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I will do this with other aspects of the game, as well. If I wanted to run a plot where the characters have to kill an entire family (a possibility in the Medieval era), or a plot where children were killed, I would check with the players to ensure that such a plot would not be a surprise and would not cause any trauma related triggers. I ended up running a side scene with one player where I had initially planned to have his ghoul betray him. Both characters are young, both around 12, one a vampire and the other his childhood friend who he had ghouled. The ghoul felt his friend was putting himself in danger, and though he was betraying him, it was for his best friend’s safety. However, the emotional intensity of the scene between player character and NPC changed my mind. There was too much power in keeping their bond strong, in ensuring that no betrayal occurred. I knew some of the needs of this player, and I know a bit of his personal history and I’m glad we chose the route we did. This scene created a powerful resonance for my player, who thanked me for the scene later. There were still very dark elements of this scene, horror, danger for friends loved and loved deeply, but it didn’t cross over into a territory that would have hurt my friend.

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During Grand Masquerade, fans made it clear that they want more representation in White Wolf game products. They want sensitivity in dealing with dark storylines and themes, and they want players to feel welcome playing games in the World of Darkness. Particularly in LARP, because of concerns for player safety in the LARP community. From my perspective, White Wolf is listening, but I think we are in a sensitive era in the gaming hobby, and this has caused some strong emotion to boil to the surface. This emotion is not a negative thing. This emotion is a call for us all to take these concerns seriously and ensure that darkness is not simply inserted for some misunderstood shock attempt.

wod-gypsiesIn our recent interview with White Wolf, Martin Ericsson, Lead Storyteller of the new White Wolf, stated his interest in re-investigating one of the most controversial of books ever produced by White Wolf, World of Darkness: Gypsies. However, Martin’s comments about wanting writers to write about topics they know should illuminate some of his deeper thinking. He mentions perhaps calling the new book, Opre Roma. This is an alternative name for the Romani anthem Gelem, Gelem and has been used as a rallying call by Roma movements for equality and representation in Europe. Some have expressed concern about rewriting a book that has a lot of negative implications and has been fairly accused of othering a people that have experienced severe and consistent discrimination.
That being said, if White Wolf can investigate the history of the Roma in Europe, using the lens of the World of Darkness to show their common humanity and to help understand how they have been persecuted over the years, isn’t this something that could be beneficial? I think we can see that there is value about writing what one knows, and if White Wolf can engage a writer or writers of Roma descent who are interested in producing a book that encourages understanding of the Roma, I’m all for giving it a try.

The World of Darkness has had 25 years to make an impact on role-playing. I think it has done so. I won’t say that White Wolf is the only reason that we now have deeper themes in gaming, but their emergence into the world of gaming 25 years ago helped to create the gaming landscape we have today. White Wolf is waking up from torpor, there are a lot of great ideas hiding in the darkness still and we have much to learn before we can step into a world that is more light than dark. For now, let’s strive together to learn about ourselves, our world, and each other by looking at the darkest element of our lives. Let us examine the darkness and find it within ourselves, and root it out.

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands

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

INTERVIEW WITH NEALL RAEMON PRICE: SCION 2nd EDITION

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Click the Image to go to the Kickstarter!


Thank you for doing this interview. Those of us here at Keep on The Heathlands are pretty big fans of what Onyx Path Publishing have been putting together and Scion 2nd Edition looks amazing so far.

Neall: Thank you very much for taking the time to write out a few questions and for honoring me with some the interview!

Can you tell us a little bit of your history in the gaming world? What was your first game that you played, and what are you currently playing?

Absolutely. I’ve freelanced for Paizo, Green Ronin, and written fiction for Growling Door Games, but the bulk of my freelance career has been spent with White Wolf and Onyx Path. I worked on Exalted Second Edition, especially the latter half of the game line: I really cut my teeth on Abyssals, Infernals, and Alchemicals. After the second edition ended, I switched over to writing for Mummy: the Curse, Demon: the Descent, Mage: the Awakening Second Edition, and Vampire: the Masquerade.

The first game I ever played was a homebrew game by my long-time friend, after watching games of d6 West End Star Wars and Battletech all summer long at camp. The first actual game I played was Demon: the Fallen. I’d been a fan of White Wolf games ever since picking up Wraith in a second-hand store. That Demon game lasted maybe all of three sessions before the players caused a hurricane to destroy Miami, so we shifted to Exalted and played that for years.

Currently, I’m running a lot of Scion playtests…but I really want to run the Night’s Black AgentsDracula Dossier after my own games come out!

Scion is a game that touches on the mythological cycle, for those that are fans of Campbell we could say it emulates the Hero’s Journey. How does Scion allow for stories that are told using that journey? Would you say that Scion is a universe like our own, but with a closer relationship to illio tempore ( Eliade’s sacred time)? [This second question here is my religion and culture geek side showing]

We acknowledge Campbell as having a hero’s journey, but we avoid The Hero’s Journey totally for a number of reasons. Campbell tended to be a little reductionist, and definitely scanted stories involving women. So our Storyguide sections walk you through the earliest parts of origin myths, in Western, Japanese, and certain African styles (as examples). We tried very hard to detail different variants of a hero’s journey through various cultures and provide heavily detailed insight and guidance for SGs, so players can take their Scions through a story that seems and feels like a true myth (but with more explosions). This also ties into the character’s goals, destinies, and advancement in-game. The basic move is from innocence to experience (Origin to Hero), whether it begins with an error or with the loss of tranquility. Along the way, there are helpers, challenges, conflicts, and returns.

As to your Eliade question, to abuse a quote from my writer Geoffrey McVey, I’d say yes, in that Scion is a universe into which hierophanies irrupt in material form on occasion. (Alternately, “Yes.”) The World is a place where the sacred is immanent and almost tangible.

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Can you talk about how the Pantheons have changed a bit from 1st edition to 2nd edition?

Pantheons were one of the big things we wanted to fiddle a bit with. They’re no longer purely divine bloodlines, but socio-magical constructs within Fate that are bound to cultures across the World (our setting). Gods may belong to one (or more!) pantheons.

If there are cultural magics wielded by the Gods, and/or if the mythologies have distinct powers their gods frequently use, those go into a Pantheon Signature Purview, or PSP. In First Edition, this was a custom Purview, but in Second Edition they’re far more broad, encompassing a lot of the “magics” wielded by the Gods and by others in that pantheon’s mythos. Ideally, this is under a unifying theme that relates to the pantheons. This is why the Greeks are superior shapeshifters, for example, or why the Irish Gods revolve around having a geas.

Lots of pantheons have specifically-named groupings of three with mythical significance, or sub-pantheons and groupings contained within them. The Theoi up there contain two Triads, the (Greek names ahead) Olympioi, the Halioi, the Khthonioi, and associated sub-groupings. That’s not even mentioning the Dodekatheon, the twelve most powerful and important gods of Olympus. So all of these pantheons have groups that relate to Paths, which players and Storyguides can further flesh out.

We definitely tried to broaden out the pantheons from First Edition. Several pantheons were renamed to reflect their broadened scope. The core list of pantheons includes: Aesir (Norse), Devas (Vedic), Kami (Japanese), Manitou (Algonquian), Netjer (Egyptian, formerly Pesedjet), Orisha (Yoruban), Shen (Chinese, formerly the Celestial Bureaucracy), Teotl (Aztec formerly Atzlanti), Theoi (Greco-Roman, formerly Dodekatheon), and the Tuatha de Dannen (Irish).

I wanted to cover every single pantheon that’d been done in First Edition, and we’ve done so and then some. The Nemetondevos and the Manitou (although that was a pan-Indian pantheon rather than a specifically Anishinaabeg pantheon) were both demi-canonical pantheons done by White Wolf’s French translation company, but they’ll both be in the Companion book that’s been funded already by the Kickstarter. And, of course, a revamped Yazata and an Atlantean Pantheon that’s used as an example of how to make your own fictional pantheons for use in home games.

The Kickstarter is funding 2 books, Origin and Hero. Tell us what the different books provide players, why do I need both of them?

Origin details the Storypath System, the narrative-yet-traditional rules that power the game, along with the “base setting”: the World, where the old religions of pantheism never vanished, where people are rumored to be Scions of divinity, where creatures of Legend are hidden from the mortal eye in plain sight. It’s akin to the wuxia concept of the Rivers and Lakes, where the two worlds of kung-fu and the peasants, nobles, and politics coexist in the same space yet remain very separate. We give you some pretty explicit guidance and some rules modifications for dialing your experience of the World up and down.

Hero details the full rules for Scion characters, but now they’re fully-fledged heroes. Here, we fully introduce the pantheons, and all of the powers, divine weapons , and blessings that Scions can wield. We detail the golden, poisonous vitriol that flows through the veins of Scions once they’ve been Visited and their journey to apotheosis begins. Lastly, Hero’s ST section (Director/Mythguide section, what-have-you) is greatly expanded, detailing different variants of a hero’s journey.

We wanted to do expanded pantheons and greatly expanded rules, but we also wanted to cover lots of elements from First Edition (such as Terra Incognita) properly. Altogether, the combined book would be massive, so we decided to split for a number of reasons. This has a lot of benefits – if your players just want to pick up the system and read about the setting, they can buy Origin instead of buying both books (or they can buy Hero instead of Origin if they want lots of Scion character options!). Additionally, I really want to expand the World of Scion in future supplements, and not necessarily focusing on the Scions themselves. Creatures of Legend like satyrs and Valkyries and kitsune are playable right out of Origin.

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I’m excited for Scion, but I’m also excited for the Trinity Universe (Aberrant is still one of my favorite games). Anything you can tell us about that game?

Absolutely. Ian Watson and John Snead have done a fantastic job of making Aeon and Trinity really exciting and vibrant, and making that continuum exciting to play in no matter what the time period. Ian’s unified the disparate elements of all three prior games and created a modern-day setting (it reminds me a lot of Fringe or Person of Interest) to play in that’s equal parts optimistic and dramatic, making you feel like a big hero in an even bigger world. The most ingenious setting element they’ve solved is the constricting idea of predestination – that the Aberrant War is inevitable, for example – and the way they’ve tied that setting solution into mechanics like super-science and dramatic editing is just fabulous.

Like we had to on Scion, Ian had to make some hard decisions on Trinity, like pulling Daredevils out of Adventure! and putting them in as Talents, a hero type in Continuum core book. From everything I’ve seen of what they’re doing, though, it’s going to be a fabulous game.

We did a review of the Storypath System Preview, but obviously that is not the full system. Tell us a bit about the development of the new system. What elements have you particularly excited?

That’d be an essay and an interview in and of itself! It took nearly three years and several iterations. But I’m definitely excited about how the core system allows players to partially choose the outcome of both positive and negative rolls, how failure in dice rolls translates into bonuses later. And I definitely love the Paths – a system topic we use to replace the old set of Merits and Backgrounds and holistically describe your character in a way that ties them into the setting while still allowing you to bring in personal character details reactively and sometimes retroactively.

One of the core concepts of this blog is supporting inclusivity and diversity in gaming. Can you tell me how you see Scion and Onyx Path supporting those two elements? xochipilli

We try to approach this in both our writing team – by hiring writers of color, writers of various faiths and creeds, writers with differing gender and sexual identities – and in our games, as well.  The other way is through the game itself: the art, for one, but absolutely and especially the content. For example: the Teōtl pantheon in Scion 2e, the Aztecs, are going to include Xochipilli, the Flower Prince: God of beauty, dance, flowers, and patron of gay people and male prostitutes.

For the record, there are Gods (in the game and outside it) without gender, gods with multiple genders, gods who change genders according to how they feel. There are figures in myth who beg to be another gender (and who are occasionally granted that wish). Gods who are men who lust for and sleep with men. Goddesses who lust for and sleep with women. Gods who do both. Gods who are asexual. Gods who impregnate via inclement weather. If there are queer people, there are queer gods.

These myths are thousands of years old. They reflect the societies and the peoples from whence they came. That’s what myths are – they express the story of a people. My team and I are proud to feature every one of them in game.

Is there anything else cool that you’d like to leak/share with Keep On The Heathlands?

What we’ve done with Fate is especially cool. In First Edition, Fate was tied to humanity. Humans were bound to Fate and couldn’t contest the ebb and flow of the connections through their lives, save for some divinely-aided heroism, but humanity itself provided the necessary web for connections to form in the cultural consciousness. In Second Edition, Fate isn’t something that “applies” to a Scion or a god, at least not truly. A Scion’s actions ripple throughout the world, causing people to become bound to her destiny. Those ripples of her actions are Fate at work. These ripples are referred to as Fatebindings, and they’re why Gods refrain from overt action, because doing so shakes up the ordered destiny of the cosmos in a way that begets problems bigger than the one the God was trying to solve in the first place. It’s no longer “mind control” on a mortal.

So, when we looked at Purviews to use with this new conception of Fate, we cannibalized a lot of the old Magic Purview into a new General Purview called Fortune, used by Gods of luck and prophecy. I’ll share the innate power and a Boon right here!

Fortune

The Purview of Fortune exerts its power through blessings and curses, manipulating that which mortals call chance and the Gods know as destiny. It exerts the subtle power of coincidence and synchronicity, contriving events and changing the World. It is not prophecy, but it can tug at the threads of fate to arrange improbable scenarios and enable deeds that defy belief.

Innate Power: You can sense the presence of Fatebindings when you interact with someone. If you later meet the other “half” of a binding that you have already sensed, you can tell the two characters are bound together. You can also sense when an Oracle or Sorcerer (p. XX) manipulates Fate with their Knacks or other powers, identifying them as the one responsible even if the effect cannot normally be perceived.

Fateful Connection

Cost: Spend 1 Legend

Duration: Instant

Subject: One character Fatebound to you

Range: Infinite

Action: Simple

You invoke the Fatebinding of a character tied to you to cause them to appear in the narrative and provide a benefit based on their Fatebinding role without it counting against the usual once per Episode limit (p. XX). Synchronicity arranges for that character to be near enough to arrive rapidly with a completely plausible explanation—maybe they’re visiting their family, or stalking you, or their plane crashed.  If the Storyguide agrees, this can even bring characters into Terra Incognitae and other realms of existence (maybe they tripped through a portal).

Join us in thanking Neall for this great interview by checking out Scion’s Kickstarter 

THE FUTURE OF DARKNESS: AN INTERVIEW WITH WHITE WOLF PUBLISHING

white_wolf_publishingThe staff at White Wolf were willing to do an interview with the staff of columnists here at Keep On The Heathlands. Some of the following questions reference discussions had at The 25th Anniversary Grand Masquerade event in New Orleans over the Labor Day Weekend. Videos to the Keynote and the Q&A are now available to give context for anyone reading this interview. We want to thank White Wolf for taking the time to do this interview. Our staff are huge fans of the World of Darkness and other games created by White Wolf over the years. 

We’ve seen a lot of commentary regarding the White Wolf Keynote at The Grand Masquerade – specifically around the statements made regarding the content presented within the World of Darkness and the call for games and communities to not censor various topics with a broad brush. Would you be willing to share exactly what was said, as well as the follow-up statements that were made during the beginning of the Q&A session at The Grand Masquerade?


dhaunaeDhaunae De Vir (Manager of Availability – Business Development):
Of course. We have just released the full-length video for the keynote and the Q&A at The Grand Masquerade. Additionally, I would like to reiterate once more that no clubs were targeted at the keynote, that we do not intend to meddle in fan clubs management, and that we fully support the idea that game spaces should be safe for everyone.

With the One World of Darkness, it seems like cross genre play will be integrated from the beginning. How do you anticipate having this work?


martinMartin Ericsson (Lead Storyteller and Brand Architect):
 We’re imagining a world where the shadows are shrinking. The awakened monsters have always brushed shoulders, but the vastly different art direction and surface tonality (not to mention the slightly messy rules) of the different game lines have made crossovers run a risk of being a bit campy. This time we try to place them all in our own world, in dangerous and fascinating places where their rising conflicts makes WoD’s mysteries, political themes and menacing horror come to the forefront. For example, we are developing Werewolf in close parallel to Vampire, hoping to make the most of the tension between the cold corporate predation of the Camarilla elite and the just but oh-so uncontrollable just war of the Garou Nation. The games will be perfectly standalone, but still manage to link up in specific ways. We’re not imagining a game made for multi-creature parties, rather set them up as perfect antagonists and philosophical counterpoints, as well as rivals for the fate of humanity in desperate times.

What, if any, less explored books, supplements, or ideas from the original game lines are you planning to bring back or explore deeper in the One World of Darkness?

Martin: There are many early books that deserve to be updated to contemporary times and get hooked into the development of the metaplot, a lot of great but underused ideas that popped up in fiction anthologies have also caught my eye. To name some personal impulses: ”Shoah: Charnel Houses of Europe” and ”Gypsies” (Should be called something like “Opre Roma!”) could use new editions in our age, as the horrors of the fear of the Other is again on the rise in Europe. I read a lot about the Ashirra and Middle Eastern WoD for obvious reasons. I think a lot of greatness is found in books like ”Love Beyond Death” and ”Ghouls – Fatal Addiction” and you’ll probably see us inspired by stories where the supernatural meets the mortal world a lot more. Also, Dark Ages of all kinds! Holy shit, there’s a lot of treasures there. I also love the first and second edition of Mummy…

One World of Darkness

White Wolf has talked about increasing and supporting diversity of thought, and identity, at the same time, you are not shying away from using role-playing to explore the darkness in the One World of Darkness. Can you tell us how you are planning to address both of these?

Dhaunae: We are going to give voice to groups that did not have a voice before. This means some topics might be revisited from a different point of view, and some new topics that were never considered before that are relevant to these new voices will be brought up. I personally think it will be thought-provoking to see what darkness means for these new voices, and what dark topics they consider interesting and appropriate to talk about. It might be something that we never thought about before, it might be an eye-opener, and it might even be helpful to understand other human beings better by walking on someone else’s shoes.

At the same time, when exploring dark topics, everyone should be free to choose what experiences and what level of intensity they want to be exposed to and participate in. If some topics are not interesting or if the subject matter is too harsh, there should always be the possibility to opt-out. I want to clarify when I say “too harsh”, I don’t necessarily mean rape. We are role-players, and our imagination is vast and ever-growing.

Martin: Write about what you know! We will continue to represent all ethnicities and the legends of the whole world as basis for our creatures and we will make sure to do it with less rose-tinted goggles and prejudice than maybe done before and really do our best to have people with relevant experiences writing about it.
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Martin mentioned at Grand Masquerade that he sees the World of Darkness in a similar light to important literature. This may tie into the previous question as well, how do you see the World of Darkness having a literature like impact on players, storytellers, and other consumers of WoD related media?

Martin: WoD has always dealt with the most difficult questions in life, from the unflinching exploration of addiction, loss of self-control, transgressive and inhuman morality in Vampire, the price of violent activism and the lure of heroic fascism in Werewolf, lost vulnerable souls on the brink in Changeling, dealing with our fear of death in Wraith as well as constantly challenging and smartly transgressive expressions of sex, love, death, toxic relationships, depression, class and gender inequalities, monsters as metaphors for personal insecurities, exploration of insanity and all the other worthy themes of great culture. Personally, I think these issues were handled best in early supplements, but the desire to mean something to players and readers, with loaded themes and moods is a core part of the setting. We want WoD to be the thinking person’s fictional universe, where the questions ”what is this is real” and ”what important questions can we ask” constantly guide us. With an eye to social justice issues we shine a light in the darkest places and assume monstrous perspectives on the real world to learn more about it and ourselves. In practice it also means working with excellent writers and be obsessive about artistic quality.

 

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The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America organization recently changed their membership rules to include game writers. As this gap between game writers and speculative fiction writers shrinks (around the world), what value do you see in integrating game writing into the broader writing/publishing industry?


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Tobias (CEO White Wolf): Isn’t it about time that cultures around larps, RPGs and similar forms of entertainment finally get the credit they deserve? Look at the impact World of Darkness had on the modern vampire and werewolf myth today established in numerous film, television and other forms of entertainment. This is serious work by great authors and we do appreciate and applaud the recognition of it.

White Wolf has talked about moving the emphasis of the World of Darkness to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia due to the previous focus being in North America. Has there been any discussion about what process you’ll use to determine who to provide a license to write content for other underrepresented parts of the world, such as Central and South America, or Australia?

Tobias: About moving the emphasis, there is an unfortunate misunderstanding there, so I am very happy to elaborate and clarify that. What we have said is that we will now include stories and perspectives from the rest of the world, which means adding more but definitely does not mean to lessen then number or importance of products or stories taking place in North America. We are not slicing the pie differently, we are making a new much bigger pie. At The Grand Masquerade we announced that our distributor in South Korea have written a Seoul By Night book* which they will publish, and I think that is a great example of how to create content that is relevant to the specific audiences. Have people who knows about the actual place and cultures to write about it.

We are constantly searching for and being approached by talented people from all over the world who want to do amazing things with our IPs including Russia, the Middle East, and Africa to the places you mention in your question. We are working actively to increase our number of content creators all over the world as well as keeping the strong core markets filled with new, relevant and exciting content.

*Random Editor Burst of Excitement: THIS SOUNDS AMAZING!

The World of Darkness setting was brought to video games with mixed results. Do you have any ideas on how to successfully bring the WoD setting to this medium, and what sort of games are you considering developing?

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We’ll wait while you reinstall it.

Tobias: Bloodlines from Activision is still played and patched 12 years after its release, which I think is pretty amazing. Personally, I have spent well over 20 years in the computer games industry so what I bring to the table is the network and profound understanding of that industry. By presenting the IP and our vision for World of Darkness at various game industry trade shows and events around the world, in addition to travelling and visiting game developers and publishers, we have already received  unbelievably positive and enthusiastic responses.

Our goal is to find computer game developers and publishers who can do fantastic games for various genres and platforms. Our goal in the next few years is to eventually release games on a yearly basis. I see no limit to what kind of games might be produced, the World of Darkness lends itself too many genres and cross promotional opportunities. For example, at The Grand Masquerade one of our partners EarPlay showcased a voice controlled choose-your-own-adventure game based on the Orpheus property. Isn’t that cool?

How can we, as fans, support and encourage White Wolf moving forward?

Dhaunae: We share a common goal, we can work together, and I think that is beautiful. I am a long-time World of Darkness fan myself, and I know what it feels like not to know what White Wolf’s next move will be. If it will be something that I will applaud, or if it will be something that will hurt me. So I would say trust is crucial here. We would ask you to trust that we at White Wolf really want the best for World of Darkness and its fans. We might make mistakes down the road, because we are human, but we are working like crazy and very enthusiastically to take World of Darkness to the place it very much deserves. In order for trust to happen, good communication is essential, so please feel free to contact us: write us e-mails, talk to us at events… We do want to know what you think.

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Admin Josh Heath as Jean-Pierre at The Grand Masquerade

In some rare occasions, the path forward to get to this fantastic place with

World of Darkness might not seem logical from the outside, and we might not be in a position to disclose all the information just yet. We hope that, by then, we will have gained your trust.

Other than that, keep doing what you are doing. We trust you and think you are also doing your best to make World of Darkness a great hobby.

Martin: Let your black flag fly. With so many exciting things around the corner, this is a good time to talk to people
about why we need a smart and grown-up horror universe as a part of the geek-cultural landscape next to lighter adventure-style fare like Star Wars and Marvel. Come meet us at cons, run that game you’ve been thinking about for years and send us the very best thing you’ve written, drawn, etched, carved or sung about the dark world. Army of the Abandoned; the time has come to rise! Blood and Souls!

Considering the joint statement from US based LARP fan groups, would you like to address how you will be working with those groups on the issue of player safety? 

Tobias: Player safety is naturally absolute key to any business, no one should have to feel unsafe at an events. We don’t organize events ourselves but in our contracts we do our best to set the level for what we consider is required by our partners in terms of quality.  But contracts aside, we always talk with our partners about how they can ensure the best possible experience at their events.

What we did our best to message at The Grand Masquerade was that even though our world is dark and mirrors all kinds of really heavy topics it is important that when larping or participating in any our products, that people do it on the level they think is ok and safe for them. We are also absolutely behind the fan groups playing our games in a way that fits their individual preferences. I mean, how could you possibly have it any other way?

We do our very best to work closely with our event licensees, and we will as originally planned from the start eleven months ago get into the nitty gritty with our fan clubs very soon. We had great initial meetings with the fan clubs at The Grand Masquerade and look forward to working with them in the future as we now have the resources available to focus on that.

But in specific as to what we can do, I think the best use of White Wolf as a licensor (except setting a clear level in our contracts as to what is acceptable and what is not) is as a coordinator between the different LARP licensees and the fan clubs to make sure they share their experiences and best practices regarding safety and consent and all other aspects of participatory entertainment. In the end it is them who deal with the players on a daily basis, and it’s our responsibility is to support them as much as possible and to help make what they do easier. The goal is to have the best possible and enjoyable events set in the World of Darkness.

 

Final Editor Comments
We believe White Wolf takes a positive stance here. They are dedicated to shining a reflective light on our reality to ensure that we recognize the darkness in our own lives and create methods to change or eliminate that darkness. Safety of players is supported, at the same time as encouraging a deep investigation into human behavior, identity, and action that is as beneficial as great literature. Please reach out to us or White Wolf if you have any questions or concerns. 

 

 

 

ONE METHOD TO USE GAMING AS A FORM OF DIALOGUE

One of the goals of Reach-Out Roleplaying Games is to encourage cross-cultural dialogue using gaming as a venue. What exactly do I mean by that though?

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WHAT IS DIALOGUE?

Dialogue is a method of semi-formal to formal discussion surrounding difficult topics. Dialogue is often facilitated by a neutral or semi-neutral party to help the participants in dialogue understand and respect one another. Dialogue is not debate, the goal of the discussion is not for anyone to win or lose, though understanding and perhaps acceptance of another viewpoint is a potential benefit of dialogue. In a lot of ways, dialogue is very similar to table-top gaming already. You have a Game Master who facilitates a world-building discussion and shared story. Dialogue is about understanding each other’s stories, lives, and circumstances.

I was hired to host a dialogue at American University during my first semester of Graduate School, and part of my sales pitch was that I had run so many games over the years. Game Mastering or Storytelling is a really similar skill-set. You have to arbitrate the discussion, you have to give everyone a chance to contribute, and you have to be able to ask follow-up questions to get to the heart of what a person is looking to say. This is part of why I think gaming can be used in a dialogue to deepen that process.

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Dialogue as a process is usually used to deal with heavy issues. For example, dialogue is used to bring Jewish and Muslim families together to discuss the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Most games are not overtly designed to talk about heavy ideas, but they can. Imagine getting a group of people from the same conflict above together in a gaming session. Instead of having them discuss the conflict over land that they are familiar with, you could develop a story that shows two groups of fantasy creatures fighting over shared space. You don’t want to be too ham-fisted about that, but if you mirror some elements of the shared experience participants are familiar with, you may be able to open eyes that didn’t see such parallels before.

HOW TO DESIGN A CHRONICLE FOR DIALOGUE PURPOSES

Normally dialogue happens over a series of discussions. Sometimes these are in chunks over a few short days or a weekend, and sometimes they are split over a series of weeks. For example, the dialogue I ran occurred over 7 weeks. This is a good time frame for a 7 game storyline; imagine sessions running for 4-5 hours each week. During a dialogue session, you would create a theme or series of specific questions to ask during that session. For our gaming method, you are replicating a similar process by outlining what sort of events you’d like to have occur in each episode/session/game.

Create 80% complete pre-generated characters. As the game master this gives you some more control over what sort of skills, powers, abilities, or interests each character will have. That allows you to plan the story more effectively. At the same time, you want the players to invest some of themselves into the characters. Depending on the game you are creating this 80/20 rule will look a bit different, but you want to ensure you give the players just enough customization to matter and you don’t want to overwhelm them with a GURPS level character creation either.

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Set a topic, and recruit players that are interested in addressing the topic you are going to use. You want to design your story to address some of the real-world elements you are working into the dialogue. For example, you want to host a dialogue session on racial tension in the United States? Cool, first thing you want to do is recruit players willing to dialogue over this issue, try and create a diverse group, and then incorporate concepts of race relations into your chronicle design. There are a lot of ways to do this. If you are playing a fantasy game, having two actually different game races in conflict may seem a bit too heavy handed. At the same time, discussing tensions between Dwarves and Elves might work perfectly for the story you want to tell. Balance it; find the right elements that fit your goals. The Eberron setting for D&D has some effective interpretations of Goblins as an underprivileged group. Games like Urban Shadows allow for modern fantasy investigations into concepts that would be good to dialogue with as well. The goal here is to address a topic your players want to investigate and weave it into your story.

At the same time as you are designing your chronicle, you would want to plan for and develop a short ground rules and debrief before and after each gaming session. The ground rules let you as the game master/facilitator establish what the group understands about dialogue, gaming, and lets you set some ground rules for how you will interact with one another. No swearing, no shouting, are good examples, as well as dice should be rolled on the table, and perhaps no chips at the table. (That is a mix of dialogue and gaming rules I’ve instituted over the years at different times) From the rules, you have a framework to hold your players accountable during the game and after during the debrief sessions. You may want to either hold the debrief at a different time, or set-aside an hour or two at the end of every game to work through it. This debrief will help the players internalize the concepts they dealt with in-character, it may help them either notice or eliminate negative bleed, or it might help them identify positive bleed. Bleed is a concept normally discussed in LARP, but also can be experienced at the table. Using role-playing as a dialogue method, you’ll likely see more bleed than usual.

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From a gaming perspective you want the sessions to be interesting, engaging, and fun. From the dialogue perspective you want the sessions to be deep, and dive into topics that might be sensitive. This requires you actively engage your players for feedback and approval throughout the session. Every player should know what they are getting into. Trigger warnings are beneficial prior to sessions, as are methods of leaving a scene. There are some methods that are used in Nordic LARPS that could be useful to adopt. Around a table, with smaller groups, it should be easier to do verbal check-ins to ensure that players are comfortable with the game. If not, stop. Consent and collaboration are important to the process.

Sample Questions to Ask During Debrief

How is the game going so far? Do you have any questions?
Do you have questions about how your character is acting in relation to others?
Are you comfortable with the items the story is addressing?

Do you want to discuss any actions taken by a player that occurred in-character?

Is anyone concerned with IC or OOC action taken by anyone?

Are there aspects of the game you want to play more of?

This is an early model of this type of gaming as dialogue model. If you have questions, ideas, suggestions, or would like to provide feedback I am more than open to discussing this idea further.

Josh is the Admin@KeepontheHeathlands, he’s got a degree in International Peace and Conflict Resolution from American University. 

THE STORYPATH SYSTEM IS AWESOME: BACK SCION’S KICKSTARTER!

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Image by Onyx Path Publishing

KICKSTARTER LIVE NOW

Scion is a game that puts the players in the role of descendants of Gods. This is a game of cinematic story, fast moving and epic.  From ‘lowly’ heroes, to demi-gods, and eventually reaching godhood, characters in Scion strive for apotheosis while battling the reawakened Titans. In the original game, there were 6 Pantheons, and in the 2nd edition there will be 10. There is potential for further options as well in later books.

thor

Thor

Aesir – The Norse Gods

Deva – The Hindu Gods, Kami – The Japanese Gods

Manitouk – The Algonquian Gods

Netjer – The Egyptian Gods

Orisha – The Yoruban Gods

Shen – The Chinese Gods

Teotl – The Aztec Gods

Theoi – The Greek and Roman Gods

Tuatha de Dannan – The Irish Gods

 

Each of these Pantheons is connected through the power of a shared Story, a Fate that connects them with one another. Their offspring, the Scions, are not all direct descendants in the 2nd Edition, but they will be connected through this supernatural Fate that binds them. Some of you who are familiar with the Proto Indo-European diasporic root nature of some of these pantheons may wonder why they aren’t the same beings? (PIE or GTFO). The game defines them as Incarnations that exist separately from one another, they have a different existence, perhaps your characters might rise to become a different Incarnation of a similar god? So how does is this going to work?

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About a month ago, the Storypath System Preview was released by Onyx Path Publishing and I’ve been perusing the PDF for a few weeks. I then got a copy of the preview in beautiful printed form while I was at Grand Masquerade. This new system is going to be used for both Trinity Aeon and Scion, and though I am way more excited for the return of the Trinity Universe… Scion looks amazing as well.  For anyone that was previously familiar with Scion, the Storypath system makes some adjustments that seem like they seriously enhance and evoke the style and themes of Scion. The first thing to notice in the System Preview is the Core Mechanic.

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Borrowed from the Storypath System Preview

The Core Mechanic should be familiar to anyone that has played a White Wolf game, but it has changed a bit. That bit of change makes for a very cinematic dice mechanic. You roll a dice pool of d10’s, Attribute + Skill (familiar so far), 8’s and higher are successes (7’s for Novas and Demigods). Now, here is the adjustment: you have a target amount of successes for your action. The preview shows 3, if you fail, but don’t botch you receive a consolation which is an action that drives the story even if it wasn’t what you intended. If you succeed by getting the exact amount of successes, then you do what you wanted to, and if you get more you get to add Stunts to what you were trying to do. Very cinematic, very story driven, very modern game design that encourages failing forward and cinematic success.

200px-docsavageThis Core Mechanic has waves throughout the rest of the basic system. If you fail, but don’t botch, you collect Momentum, which you can save up to use Skill Tricks. These are cool cinematic effects that a character can add to their action. The diving two-footed kick while shooting down a row of bad guys? That’s probably a Skill Trick that cost some Momentum to pull off. The Storypath system is designed to be flexible for scale though, if you want to play Superman 4-color style Super’s you can do that, or you can play gritty detective tales that evoke The Shadow, or Doc Savage.

Here is something about the Storypath System that actually I might be more excited about than I should be. Initiative. Initiative is something I’ve struggled with in most games. It feels clunky no matter how you do it, but I think the Storypath System has something fun that will make it stand out. First, your Initiative is based on the Attribute + Skill pool you plan to use in that first round. This stops the dumping of stats into Wits and Dexterity that we’ve seen in earlier systems based on similar rules. Then it gets fun, the player that goes first, chooses the next player in initiative order, that player chooses the next person, and so on down the line. This encourages some collaboration, and talking about what each person will be doing. The last person to go, is the first person to go in the next round, and so on until the combat is over. Pretty cool, I’d have to play this a few times to see if it is better than what I’m used to, but it sounds better on the surface.

There are a few other neat mechanics presented in the Storypath System Preview, and I recommend checking it out, it’s free. Now, what isn’t free, but you should be excited about anyway, is that Scion 2nd Edition is having a Kickstarter that is LIVE NOW. So, you might be asking why that is exciting? You read to this point, so I’m assuming you at least have some interest in role-playing games… if you don’t… welcome to the site?

It is exciting because Scion is a great game, and the Storypath System is going to breathe new life into great games that I don’t think have got their due from the gaming community at large. Scion is well designed and interesting, and Trinity Aeon is one of the greatest worlds I’ve ever had the opportunity to tell stories within. Are you ready to begin an epic journey? Will you make your story last? Will you become a Legend, a new great Myth?

Josh runs this site and would love to talk to you about games. Email him at admin@keepontheheathlands.com

4 WAYS TO EFFECTIVELY USE THE HUMANITY ROAD/PATH/RULES IN VAMPIRE: THE MASQUERADE

Content Originally Appeared at High Level Games

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Vampire: The Masquerade is a horror game; even if every game played isn’t about horror, the fact you are playing an undead parasite on the side of humanity is something that is horrific. That being said, the humanity/road/path rules have not always been cut and dry and that makes things a little difficult to use them effectively. In most of the VtM games I’ve played, most storytellers have ignored the rules or used them sparingly. I don’t think any of them disagreed with the concept, but they did get frustrated with remembering the hierarchy of sins and understanding when and how a roll should be made. Some also understood the horror side of the game, but didn’t want every session to be about the brooding horror and so they would sideline these rules to focus on other awesome aspects of the game world.

Here is a short list of things I think help make the rules easy to use.

1) Make your players learn the rules too.
I know that the Storyteller should know the rules, but this is one of the rules that your players will need to spend some time with. Your players should learn what the hierarchy of sins looks like and why it exists. You should take 10 minutes to talk about what the Path Rating each player has really means. If it is high, why and how will that impact their role-playing are great questions for them to consider. Also, discuss the basic purpose of Conscience/Conviction, Self-Control/Instinct, and Courage. Players need to read this section of the book a few times, and don’t be afraid to start a session with a short-refresher training. Encourage your players to ask for appropriate checks. If they are thinking about draining a human because that person made their character angry, encourage the player to roll a Self-Control check to see if they follow-through, particularly if they have a high Humanity rating. If the players start suggesting such rolls for themselves then you are headed in the right direction.

2) Oh, if I go down in Humanity I can kill everything!
Sure. Let your players do this if that is the direction they think their characters would head. Then make them regret it. Remind them of the power of their Beast. Describe scenes to them differently; focus on the primal hunger inside them by making even basic human interactions a game of fight or flight. If they had an activity their character loved doing, find ways to make them realize that activity no longer holds appeal. Try adding Beast Traits, or other physical markers of their separation from humanity. I’m not talking about doing this every time they lose a dot of Humanity, but it is a good thing to add in every now and then to make the transition down into wassail worse for the character.

3) How about I switch to a path/road then?
Again, sure… then remind the character that such a transition takes time, not only time, but a true role-playing dedication to acting inhuman. Paths are alternative worldviews created by Cainites to help them try and reconcile their base natures with the Beast. The Path of Night does not simply allow for a player to act “evil” at will. Adhering to that path requires a dedication to thinking as that character, making choices that would fit a philosophy in line with that Path. For characters on a path or road (depending on which rule-set you are using) that player must spend the time reading about that path. I recommend that player also create a sub-set of rules alongside the hierarchy of sins. This rule-set are parameters of how their character understands the Path/Road and how that affects their behavior.

4) Know when to Roll and when to Role-Play
In my experience, most WoD players know when to role-play their Path/Road/Humanity rating, but very few know when they should be rolling their virtues or rolling their path rating. This is in some-ways a recap of number 1 on this list, but it is focused more on the ST. Know when you should let your players role-play out a loss of humanity or regain it without rolls. If you think a roll is justified to make the decision the player is making stick, do it. This applies to path rating as much as it does to Self-Control. If a player on the Path of the Beast needs to roll Instinct to see if they chase after prey, even if that prey is inside Elysium, ask yourself if a role or a roll is the best way to handle that situation. I’ve personally seen Courage rolled the most, because I think most players and storytellers can get their minds around fear and a roll to see if they are affected by supernatural or ‘natural’ derived fear.  Self-Control and Conscience are very similar, find times they are appropriate and story-driven to force rolls, and then encourage effective role-playing of the effects.

It can be awesome to role-play vampires as supernatural heroes, but you are missing something special about Vampire: The Masquerade when you do so. VtM is a horror game for a reason, darkness lurks behind every human action, and the creatures that lurk in that darkness are truly monsters. Don’t make every game depressing, but don’t be afraid to drive home the inhumanity of your characters every now and then.

HOW PLAYING A HERO SAVED MY LIFE or HOW I WENT FROM LIVING IN MY CAR TO GRADUATE SCHOOL

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Miniature of Ruinil Alam

I’m sure some people are going to think the title of this article is hyperbole, and in some way it is, because I have no idea where I would have gone without gaming. There is a strong possibility I’d have slipped into a serious depression and not be here today.

Grigori Piedrich - Tzimisce

Grigori Piedrich – Tzimisce

In my teens I found role-playing games and they became my regular hobby. Partly because I had dreams that I would travel the world and do great things and gaming was my temporary surrogate to those goals. However, High School was a period of toxicity for several reasons. One, I suffered through some anger management and depression problems that I really failed to address effectively. Two, I got stuck in a toxic relationship that I was too unwise to remove myself from. Now, I don’t blame my fellow co-dependent any longer, because I had the agency to remove myself from that situation, but I didn’t and it helped to make things worse for quite some time. Throughout that time, I gamed pretty regularly, eventually playing table-top games twice a week with a group of friends who hung out with the gaming club in town. On top of that, I would travel to LARPs in the region at least once or twice a month. Eventually I’d run several of these as well.

Gaming was my constant outlet for creativity. Though I wrote, and read, gaming was where I realized my dreams and generated plots and solutions to various conundrums. Usually these games were White Wolf games or Dungeons and Dragons (3.0 and 3.5), and we played a few random home rule worlds as well as testing out a bunch of other games here and there.

Eventually I found myself playing villains, people that were cruel, angry, and prone to revenge and actions I deeply found abhorrent. That being said, I didn’t have the mental fortitude to think of playing heroes, all the characters I made were flawed in ways that showed some of my deeper issues. I remember being borderline grumpy, angry, quick to snap at my closest friends at a moment’s notice and the characters I played were equally sullen and interestingly prone to failure.

Between 2002 and 2003 things started to change. A new friend at gaming club introduced me to a D&D setting he wanted to run called Birthright. Birthright is a

Not Osric, but from that era

Not Osric, but from that era

lower fantasy setting where there are extensive rules for running kingdoms and smaller sovereign lands. I initially played Osric Illien, a Mage-Noble who was desperately out of his league. He was intelligent and charismatic, but he was one of the least powerful regents in the area. He made terrible choices, and was slowly on a slide into evil and probably would have eventually sold out the rest of the party. Thankfully, he died.

That character was killed in a pretty freak situation and I was initially pretty devastated. However, my friend Jeremy was a pretty wise friend and he had some suggestions to helping me bring a new character into the game. He also was wise enough to see that playing villains was helping me wallow in my misery. Here I was working up to 2 dead end jobs, not traveling, not adventuring like I had expected to be doing in my life. I’d always dreamed of seeing the world and due to a series of terrible choices, I wasn’t. I was stuck in the area of my home town, where I’d never expected to be much longer than my last day of High School. I was stuck in a dead end relationship, wallowing.

At least until I created Ruinil Alam. Ruinil was a roguish character in the vein of Westly from The Princess Bride. He was the heroic nephew of the cruel ruler of Alame. At first, he was a low-level freedom fighter that worked to usurp the Duchy from his uncle. After a few weeks of play, he succeeded and though he wasn’t at first welcomed by his people, he changed their mind with his dedication to their success. Ruinil was first, happy. He was motivated to do great things, he liked other people, and he was driven to make the world around him a better place. He also, eventually was killed. However, due to his passionate nature, the love of his NPC wife, and his dedication to a goddess, he was given life once more. This is not a common occurrence in Birthright; resurrection was not a spell most clerics could cast. This story helped to motivate me, to give me a spark of the spirit I was missing.

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One of the few photos I have from San Diego, that’s me on the right, my brother on the left

Half-way through that game, I ended up having a massive break-up with my ex and I finally decided I needed to change my life. Ruinil inspired me to strike out and do something crazy, as well as the support of a friend that knew I needed to get out of the situation I was in. So, I moved from New Hampshire, to San Diego California. Sadly, when I arrived, I didn’t have a place to stay as my brother who was supposed to take me in was himself living on someone’s couch. So, I spent the next few months living in my car. Though I didn’t get to play Ruinil at a distance very frequently, I did connect with my GM a few times and it was good to get back in his head during this situation.

Having made this crazy change, I knew I’d have to make a plan for making further changes. I decided that I wanted to travel the world, and get an education. So, though it went against a lot of what I liked doing, I decided to join the Army. I knew that I would eventually get the GI Bill, and be able to use that money to get a degree. I also knew that if I chose my MOS (job) correctly I’d get a chance to travel. It took me another 2 years to get everything taken care of, but I eventually joined the US Army in July of 2006. It’s been almost 10 years now since I joined the Army, (I left in 2011), and I can say looking back that it was the mental shift I had playing Ruinil that really pushed me into make the changes that have brought me where I am today.

My first duty station was South Korea. I met my wife there; she’s an Englishwoman who was teaching children English (learn from the source, right?). From there we chose to go to Germany, and I got to travel a lot through Europe, and eventually drive all the way from Uppsala in Sweden, to Bavaria in Germany. I left the Army, got my Bachelor’s degree in 2 years, then my graduate degree in 2 more. In my last semester of my undergrad we had a wonderful little girl. Now having completed my school work (all using the GI Bill), I’ve decided to pursue the activity that helped drive me toward success, gaming.

Gaming is something I believe can change the world, person to person, in small ways and in big ways. I see the Inclusive Gaming Network, Keep on the Heathlands, and Reach-Out Roleplaying games as steps in tying so much of my life together. I’m tying my education, my passions, and my goals to help make the world a better place through a few integrated projects.

You all can thank Ruinil Alam for helping make all this happen.

House

5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT HORROR IN MAGE: THE ASCENSION

Article Originally appeared here: High Level Games

 

Horror

 

Games set in the World of Darkness were all designed as horror games. Mage though, Mage is a game that doesn’t immediately set off the horror music in your mind. Mage instead reads like a game of hope, of a search for Nirvana. Like the rest of the WoD though, Mage is a game embedded with horror elements. Sure, it’s a different kind of horror than the personal horror of Vampire: The Masquerade or the ecological and rage filled horror of Werewolf: The Apocalypse, but the horror is still a core concept within the game. Horror in Mage is often about the questions left unanswered. In a search for enlightenment, the secrets one cannot find answers to are some of the most horrifying elements.

  • Control – The Technocracy might come to mind at first; the technological organization that believes it has to control ‘sleepers’ so that it can bring the world to ascension. This sort of control boils down in the books to long detailed and scary descriptions of mind wiping and personality manipulation. On top of that, Control is an actual ‘thing’ within the Technocracy helping to lead the world to… somewhere. Control is not only the purview of the Enlightened Citizen though. Concepts of control seep through Mage in subtle ways. The Order of Hermes believes that they control the forces of the universe. They believe that they should be the ones to herd humanity into growth and enlightenment and that they will eventually find the formula to bring the world back to the height of their power, the Dark Ages. Every Mage struggles to control the world around them, to show how their version of reality is true. Control and the lack of control permeate the WoD for Mages, and stories done well around control or a lack of control can be deeply terrifying.

 

  • Paradigm and Consensus – The world is what we make it and for a Mage the world can literally be what they imagine. Or, it would be if consensus reality didn’t hate those who try to change the foundations of that reality. The Mage has to have a paradigm, a worldview that their magic is crafted around and through. This worldview can include everything from a hacker’s excitement over the connections we make through the internet, or the ceremonial magician that believes blood, symbols engraved on the floor, and incense can help them make connections with Hell. For the first group, they may think they are making connections with other people, but what if they are simply making an opening for monsters that inhabit the digital web? What happens when a Mage sends himself physically or in astral form into the web? Can a computer virus kill them? Do trolls cause them physical pain with their attacks? What does the Mage believe? Do they think they can be killed via the internet? We’ve all heard stories about people addicted to games that die of heart attacks at their computer… that explains why he died perhaps… and it fits our consensus of reality much better than the fact he caught a virus meant to harvest data and is now harvesting something else.

 

  • Paradox – This ties into the last point. Paradox is consensus reality slapping a Mage for thinking they can remake the universe in their image. Paradox can appear as a shift in luck for the Mage; the things they once did with ease no become more and more difficult. Paradox can appear as a literal hobgoblin to destroy the mage. Paradox is the boogeyman for even the most static of Technomancers. Paradox is the universe pushing back; it is the power of the sleepers en masse. Does that mean the sleepers are truly asleep? Maybe they are tapping into a more universal avatar, a connection to the universal awakened entity? A good storyteller knows how to encourage her players to get their Mages to bend reality, and slowly reminds them that they are not as powerful as they think… maybe they aren’t the ones in control of the universe… oh there is that control thing again…

 

  • The Universe has Secrets – Whether it is the Deep Umbra or deep in the ocean, the universe has secrets that it is trying to hide. Reality hides deeper evils than we might ever know, but the Mage is seeking ascension, so they tend to trip right over the tentacles curling around the world as we know it. Do the Nephandi truly control the Technocracy from the inside? Are the Euthanatoi actually empowering the Abyss with their interest in Entropy? What about Ether, does it exist? What is it, if it does? The Universe has secrets and it is trying to hide them but they slip out into reality and even the most dedicated of Void Engineer crews might not be successful at destroying every deviant that pops up. A good storyteller never reveals all the things hiding in the shadows of the World of Darkness, and in Mage that can be hard. Mages are seekers of truth and may run headfirst into the darkness. That drive offers a perfect opportunity to show them a tiny glimpse of the creatures hiding in the dark.

 

  • Magic is dying – For the traditions; they believe the lifeblood of the universe is being drained away by stasis. Magic no longer powers the world in the way it once did. For the Technocracy, the world isn’t being locked into stasis; it is instead being ordered and brought to a greater state of enlightenment. Who is right? Is the very essence of dynamic reality being funneled into a state of greater good, or is it being destroyed by forces that seek to bring a halt to everything? Or even, is the world being slowly deconstructed from the inside out by forces of entropy and the Abyss? An Akashic performs their katas every day for years, and one day, it fails. Her actions no longer change the world in the way they always have. Do they seek a new way of doing things? Or, do they feel the creep of fear from their lack of ability to do what they have always done? Maybe magic is dying, but what is taking its place? Maybe if magic isn’t dying, it is instead the hope of the mage that is dying or already dead.

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF KEEP ON THE HEATHLANDS?

castle_keep_1

The Keep, it’s blog, the various projects already with pages and other projects forthcoming are about creating a place for gamers to acknowledge gaming’s strengths, weaknesses, and identify opportunities for growth. That sounds pretty damn pretentious, but I’m going to go with it. Basically, I want to do some of what others are doing with the people that contribute to our goals offering their own perspective and spin on gaming in general. At the same time, I want to address issues and ideas in gaming from a perspective that recognizes that we can do better, in general, with being welcoming at our tables.

With that in mind, here is how we plan to focus on these goals. We are going to write a blog, with the goal of encouraging and inviting a diverse group of gamers to participate in our conversations. If you would like to write for us, please reach out to us via Facebook or Twitter. (I’m still getting our email server set-up correctly)

Beyond the blog, we have two projects that are already in motion in one way or another. The first is the Inclusive Gaming Network. The Inclusive Gaming Network can be found on Facebook and Twitter. We are using that network to encourage the discussion around inclusion in gaming. What do we mean by this? We mean we want PLAYERS to be accepting of diversity at their tables. This includes people on the QUILTBAG spectrum and our gamers of color. At the same time, we want people to realize that we are not pushing people to explicitly change how their game characters or stories are run. We want players of all types to be encouraged and supported in this hobby. Some people enjoy ‘adult-themed’ games that address issues of racism, sexism, and violence. We support that, because we support gamers playing games that they enjoy playing. At the same time, we want to provide support to Storytellers and Game Master’s that want to explore those sorts of topics, but want to ensure their players are not made uncomfortable. This also includes providing support to players that DON’T want to play those sort of games, but their GM’s don’t realize they are going too far. There is a careful balance here, and it does boil down to communication, but once the communication has begun, we need effective language to talk about these ideas effectively. We are hoping to be helpful in facilitating those discussions.

So, that last paragraph is a bit long-winded. Excuse me for that. That being said, I have a lot to say about the goals and benefits of the Inclusive Gaming Network. I’ll be talking about that more in the future, but I wanted to give a brief description of my vision now so people know what they might be getting into.

That brings me to Reach-Out Roleplaying Games. This is really something I’m most excited about. RORPG is a project that will have at least one core product and several awesome modules. The goals of this project are to develop a core handbook that will allow gamers and Game Masters to integrate non-violent methods of conflict resolution and stories that tackle conflict from different angles into their games. I’m all for dungeon crawls where enemies are not super 3 dimensional. That’s cool, and it totally has a place for all gaming groups. That being said, game masters and players also want the option of deep, immersive, and thought-provoking games that give them challenges and experiences that might not otherwise have. We are going to develop modules that incorporate elements of the handbook, for a variety of games. Love Pathfinder? Awesome, we’ll write a module for that. Love D&D 5th edition? Cool, we can do that too. Fate? World of Darkness? Savage Worlds? Sure, we are working on options for those and other games too.

RORPG has an element of education and social justice thought process built into it. I’m sure some people will have an issue with both of those elements. I’m ok with that. Let’s discuss it, let’s deconstruct it, and let’s make it better. This is not going to be created from the angle of an Edu-tainment product. It’s going to be a fun, enjoyable gaming experience that might help people play the way they want to act. This has been powerful for me in my life. Playing characters that exemplify how I want to be, is how I changed my life. I’ll save that story for another day, but truly, faking it till you make it, or for me, playing the character I wish I was, really changed my life. Social justice is something I think we as gamers should be able to understand implicitly. We spend hours, months, weeks, years of our lives living in the shoes of other people. I think we can incorporate some realistic challenges into our games that help us deepen that understanding. I do not want this to be preachy though, and will endeavor to avoid doing so. If you catch me making that mistake, please tell me and I’ll listen. I might still disagree, but I’ll listen.

I’ve shifted from We to I in this post. That is slightly unintentional but it is something to address. At the moment, Keep on the Heathlands is currently a 1 person project with support from others. As time goes on, I will look to create more We, more people helping and developing ideas and products for the page.

Here are some things on the horizon:

Web comic: I am currently talking with a friend about hosting, writing, and developing a web comic for the page.

Regular Columnists and Posts: I’ve already asked several folks to write for the Blog and some of them have said yes. I would like to encourage others that are interested in the mission of the Keep to reach out via Facebook or Twitter if they would like to write for us.

Podcasts and Vlogs: I’m going to be doing either one or both of these things to help discuss some of the ideas of the page, gaming in general, and the products we are developing.

Please leave comments at the bottom of the page or on Twitter or Facebook.