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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

HOW TO MAKE GOBLINS MORE THAN CRAZY BADDIES

goblins

I’ve always liked Goblins. For some reason they were one of the races in Dungeons and Dragons which I always had a soft-spot. Perhaps it’s their small stature, I’m also short. Perhaps it was that they were always perceived as strange, hyper-active, or outside of the majority of societies in the main settings for D&D? I’m not sure, but something about goblinoids always intrigued me. I scrambled at the chance to make a Goblin character whenever I was given the option and I was happy when 3rd edition made it easier to play ‘monster races.’ Even better, for my love of Goblins, was a fully realized identity and depth of character background provided by the Eberron Campaign Setting. In Eberron, goblinoids are presented as once having a great empire that spanned the primary continent Khorvaire. They were no longer an imperial power, but they were present throughout the main story world, and they had carved out their own new nation in the wake of the Great War. Goblins are shown as protagonists and antagonists, they are rulers, servants, warriors, bards, poets, and historians. Basically, Goblins are living breathing character options.

So, why does this matter?

Keith Baker gave us an opportunity to see Goblins as more than villains, to see a world where things were not black and white, even if an alignment system exists in the game. Goblins are usually weaker than the player options usually presented and they often one of the first villains a D&D party has to face. That makes them boring to most players. The players sweep them off the table and forget about them. However, this dehumanizing element is not a great way forward. Goblins and other races can be used by Game Masters in a much more effective way. These groups can be brought into a game in a way that a shows respect to them and does not make them insta-villains or mooks to be killed without thought.

Here are a few ways to help do that, focusing on Goblins.

Give them a name: Instead of just calling them Goblins, call them the Darguul. Instead of calling them Goblin 1 and Goblin 2, they could be Karshuuk and Darmar of51gJBcGwaxL._SX302_BO1,204,203,200_ Clan Harchuuk. Giving them both a name for their people and individual names makes them more real, it makes them have a back story. Why are they the Darguul? Why do these two belong to this particular clan? Are all Goblins in clans? Do they have a history and clan structure that you can use in the future? All of these questions derive from the use of a name and they can help provide depth immediately. Even if you never flesh these characters out more than that, you’ve given them a little bit more life than you might have otherwise.

Describe them: Well… duh, right? This is a game played in the imagination of course I’m going to describe them, right? Sure, any good Game Master is going to describe her characters effectively. However, I’m talking about deep description at key moments. “Their long ears are tingling, tight to their heads. Their eyes are squinted and their mouths upturned with teeth exposed. You’ve made a major faux pas at the banquet, but you have no idea what you’ve done.” Goblins, like humans and other humanoid groups are highly expressive. Unlike humanoids, they have long ears, and those ears, as anyone with a dog or cat knows, tend to be major sources of body language expression. Add onto that a fully intelligent cultural group of beings and you have the opportunity to create all kinds of cultural nuance and meaning around their ears. This is easy to add in, just another brief description, but it can truly sell their reality as a separate, interesting group of beings to play or have within your world.

They aren’t all evil: Have your characters run into an adventuring party of goblinoids, not as enemies, but as fellow good adventurers. This isn’t just about flipping stereotypes, but it is also about showing a more realistic situation. Not everyone in a community is the same, not every group of people are identical and most are trying to do things that make their lives and the lives of their families better. A group of Goblin adventurers would have just as much interest in spelunking the dungeon in the hope of finding treasure as a group of halflings and humans. Have the party meet with the well to-do traveling salesman who happens to be a Hobgoblin. The more you incorporate goblinoids into your world as real thinking living beings the more the party will start to recognize them as such.

This is just a surface level of ideas and methods to bring Goblins into your games. The goal, in the end is to use the aspects of the race in a way that is interesting and engaging for your players. One great way to do that is to let a player, make a Goblin character. Let them help you fill out the background of the goblinoids in your world and give the chance to really bring them in to full vivid color.

Images used are the property of Paizo games and Wizards of the Coast respectively, their use here is in no way an attempt to claim ownership of those images, simply to show homage to their use of Goblins in their games and stories.

3 WAYS TO HELP CREATE AN INCLUSIVE GAMING SPACE AS A GAME MASTER OR STORYTELLER

What do I mean by an inclusive gaming space? An inclusive gaming space is one where your players feel comfortable being there, engaging in the game, and having fun. This doesn’t mean the characters your players are playing always have to be happy. Hell, if we are playing mature higher level deep roleplaying games we know that sometimes our characters misery helps to drive a good story. A good story should not harm or hurt your players though and creating an atmosphere of inclusion at your table means finding ways to embrace diversity and be sensitive to the needs of your players. In the end, it comes down to this: know your players and be respectful to them as human beings. If a joke or a storyline goes too far, stop it, apologize, and debrief as soon as possible. This line will be in different places for different players and we’ll discuss some ways to keep on top of this below.

Set ground rules and follow them: Rules are essential to gaming, right? Every great rules lawyer can fight for hours over obscure rules in the books. Well, setting table rules is no different. These rules should be focused on player actions, words, and feelings, not character actions, words, or feelings. What are some examples of good ground rules? No sex jokes, no out of character comments on race or racism, talk about out of character conflicts as soon as they start, to help work through them, if something occurs in-character that you are uncomfortable with tell everyone (or just the GM) and the scene should end immediately. These rules should be discussed by the players and the storyteller before the game starts. They should be agreed on and added to if needed as well. A good storyteller checks-in with his players constantly to see what their characters are doing and how action is impacting them, a great and inclusive storyteller does the same with the players themselves.

Be Respectful of Everyone’s Background and Identity: Even when you are running a game at a convention or another public forum, you should try and have some understanding of who your players are. Take the time to ask questions, even 2-3 every session about the lives of your players. You aren’t doing this to interrogate them, but to be welcoming and helpful. If you know a player has had a bad week at work, give them a chance to work through some frustrations. If you know a player has experienced something traumatic in their background, be sensitive to stories that might remind them of that trauma and make their experience unpleasant. Again, I’m not saying you need to avoid difficult subjects in your game if that is what works for you and your players. I’m saying know them, be sensitive to them and make sure that the game you are running is the game that they want to play. This can include those that might not be playing, but hanging out around the table as well. You want to make your table a location to encourage the suspension of disbelief and to invigorate the imagination, being disrespectful has the opposite effect to that goal.

Make Your Characters and NPC’s Real: I don’t mean 3D print a model for all of your NPC’s… though if you are inclined in that direction I don’t see anything wrong with it. No, I’m saying make your characters real people; make them multi-dimensional with faults and goals and different identities. If you have an antagonist that is a woman, do not make her a stereotype. If you have an NPC that is trans, make them real, give them hopes and dreams and avoid the obvious jokes you think you might evoke at the table. The more you make your characters real, the more you respect the diversity at your table in every way. If you want to delve into issues of racism, sexism, and prejudice of all kinds in your game and your players are interested in doing so as well, do it, but do it with the goal of humanizing all creatures/people/monsters in the game.

Making your gaming table inclusive should not be a chore; it should be something that comes naturally to us. If we can empathize and imagine being magical beings and science fiction heroes, we should be able to imagine how it might be to be treated poorly for our identity in real life. Taking the time to respect and know your players and run the game that they love to play will drive more and more people into this hobby. If you have other suggestions on how to make your gaming table inclusive, please feel free to share them in the comments.

With 17 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind’s Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. Josh is the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook, is running both a Mage game and a Dark Ages: Vampire game at the moment, and is an advocate for inclusive gaming spaces. He’s also a father and a recent graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C.

Hello world!

This is going to become the front page for Keep on the Heathlands, a site dedicated to several gaming related projects developed by Josh Heath. Not much is going on yet, but there will be more coming soon.