Camp!? Guest Blog by THE Jason Hughes

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

 

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

 

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

Sinister, isn’t he?

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sir Laurence, as Hamlet, Tragedy Embodied

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

 

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

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

Credit GDJ at Pixabay

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Networking

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When you ask people why they LARP, the most common answer is their own varied form of “because it’s fun” or “because my friends do it and I want to spend time with them” and both of those answers are great, but did you know there are actual benefits to LARPing? When you examine LARP there are many benefits to it that are hidden just beneath the surface. In this series of articles five of these hidden benefits will be expanded upon and detailed. For more information check out the other articles on Education, Exercise, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets.

 

What is Networking?

Credit: geralt at PIXABAY

Yes this, but also not this.

 

Merriam Webster defines networking as “the exchange of information or services among individuals” specifically for business or employment. Talking about networking, most people picture people in suits trading business cards. Networking, however, is about more than just getting a job. While it can help you find a job, it can also help you with so much more in your life.

 

How LARP Helps You Network

Credit geralt at PIXABAY

Digital Networking!

Thinking about the games I play, here is a rough estimate of some demographics of the player bases:

  • Parents
  • Graphic Artists
  • Traditional Artists
  • Carpenters
  • College Professors
  • Retail Workers
  • Writers
  • Tech Support
  • Musicians
  • Costume Makers
  • Cosplayers
  • Law Enforcement
  • Health Care Professionals
  • Published Authors
  • …and more!

 

Now initially, this may not seem super impressive on the surface. The thing that makes this impressive is the people who know the players. Knowing the parents helps you meet other parents, babysitters, teachers, etc. Knowing artists helps you connect to other artists, people wanting to buy art, and studios. Networking with the other players can help you find other types of people you may need to contact in the future.

Not only can LARP help you form a commodity network, but also one for support. You may meet other people suffering from the same sicknesses or illnesses as you. You may also meet people who have gone through your hardships previously, and who can offer advice.  LARP is NOT a replacement for seeing a professional or taking medication, at all. However it can help you with a small bit of emotional support and meeting friends going through the same woes. In addition, speaking with a professional can be a bit intimidating, but having one recommended by a friend can help easy that worry.

 

But, What Does Networking Do For Me?

Credit GDJ at Pixabay

Now you’ve got it!

Let’s say you need a babysitter for game night and your normal one is unavailable. The other parents at the game may also be using a babysitter who can watch your kid at the same time. Want to hire music for your event? Your musician player might be a perfect choice to hire, or they may know someone who is. Need something proofread? Your professor friend or writer friends might be able to recommend a good service to use. Require a unique gift made for a special someone? Your artist friends are hopefully available for commission or know an artist who is. Wish you hadn’t ripped your pants? Your costume making or cosplay friends can likely be hired to patch a quick hole or fix a seam.

Networking will also help you find a job or help your friends find one. Say that healthcare professional above says their office is hiring for another CNA (Certified Nurse Assistant). You aren’t a CNA, but you have another friend who is. The two are connected and suddenly your friend has a new job they needed! You might lament at afters that your current job just doesn’t pay enough for the work you do. Another player has a friend who knows of an opening in their company that isn’t posted publicly. You apply and get hired at a new and better job just because of who you know! If you didn’t know the people you did, you’d have never heard about that job.

Networking is Great!

Credit: martinelle at Pixabay

You couldn’t read this article without at least one type of networking!

Networking at LARP will be one of the most useful things you do, and most of the time you won’t even realize you’re doing it! From finding new jobs, to babysitters, to support, and more, it is a seriously helpful benefit of so many different people coming together to enjoy a common hobby.  Be sure to check out the other articles on Education, Exercise, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets for more ways that LARP can benefit you!

 

Anna uses she/her pronouns, is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire or werewolf she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats with three eyes between them. Find her on Twitter and on Facebook.

Pugmire Review – ARE YOU A GOOD DOG?

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Do You Like Dogs?

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

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

Buy It

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

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

 

What is Pugmire?

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

The World

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

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

The Characters

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

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

Breeds

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

The Mechanics

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

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

What Stories Will You Tell?

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

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

Inclusive?

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

May Man watch over you.

Pre-Order It.

Actually, It’s About Ethics in Media Consumption


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Anyone who has ever been part of a subculture knows the bright red sting of controversy.  Sometimes the controversy is low stakes like the general fan rejection of Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition. Sometimes controversies go to the core of a community’s values like the ongoing controversy about whitewashing in Hollywood, and more specifically, to the likely interests of this blog’s readers, the continuing whitewashing of Asian characters by Marvel comics.

Boycotts

Over the years I’ve seen a number of calls for boycotts over these types of issues, and I’ve wondered how useful this tactic is.  Recently, I’ve heard similar calls within the role-playing community over a variety of events that have been litigated enough in the public square that I’d rather not discuss them here, but I do think it’s worth talking about the broader concept of “boycotting” work, especially work in a tightly integrated media landscape like the role-playing industry.

While many people find the idea of a dramatic boycott satisfying, how we make day to day media consumption choices within our hobby and why those choices may or may not have an impact on the industry has the potential to be a much more productive conversation.  Think of it like going on a binge diet, or trying to make long term adjustments to the way you promote health through food choices.  Binge diets do more harm than good, but holistically training yourself to eat in a healthy manner one step at a time is a path to healthy consumption habits. The same thing applies to the commercial choices we make.

Does that work for RPGs?

Role-playing games are unusual media beasts in a lot of ways.  With the exception of Dungeons and Dragons, which is in the hands of a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro, RPGs are generally produced by small companies, and in many cases aren’t produced by their IP owners.  The majority of new White Wolf games are produced by Onyx Path Studios, or By Night Studios.  Chill is produced under license by Growling Door Games.  Shadowrun is produced under license by Catalyst Studios.  While there are also plenty of titles being produced that aren’t under license, several of the biggest names in RPGs are developed in this manner.  This complicates any situation where you want to use your economic activity to influence the behavior of a corporation, because it often puts you in a position where you may well be punishing a company you feel behaves in an exemplary manner for the behavior of an only vaguely involved IP owner.

So first let’s address the elephant in the room.  Trying to influence companies through consumption patterns gets a really bad rap because in many cases it’s a lost cause. Ethical consumption is all too often reduced to a marketing opportunity.  Free  Range and/or Pasture Raised chicken, Fair Trade Coffee and Chocolate, and any variety of attempts to patronize kinder, gentler, more labor friendly corporations tend to fall apart upon particularly close inspection.  It takes such massive bad press to impact the bottom line of most big companies that being seen as ethical is at best a matter of appearance and branding for most companies. So the question becomes, why bother?

Ethics?

Setting aside the issues with ethical consumption of non-media products, and even ethical consumption of AAA media, the situation is a little bit different in the world of the RPG. No matter what behavior you want to promote in the industry, it’s fair to say our dollars count for a lot more to a company selling a product like Numenera that had a mere 4,658 backers on its original Kickstarter, or even moreso, a game like Chill that had 793 backers on its original Kickstarter, than Kellog or Dell.  Losing a handful of customers hits most RPG producers in a way it just doesn’t hit the other companies we tend to give our money.

The impact of of our economic choices is amplified for those of us who choose to run games, as opposed to just play in them.  I’m going to be dropping cash on Exalted Charm cards in the near future because a close friend of mine chose to run Exalted and I want to have those cards during game. So, he has effectively made a sale for OPP without spending any money by running that game, and some of my fellow players may follow suit once my cards arrive. The question that has been nagging at the back of my mind is, given the influence we have, what choices will have the most positive impact on our hobby, and how should we interact with those who make different decisions?

Making a Difference

The first question is in many ways easier to answer, though it is far from simple.  The most significant way we can make a difference with the gaming money we spend is by focusing on supporting the creators and narratives we want to see flourish in the world.  Unlike consumption of things like food where we may or may not have the economic affluence to afford the most “ethical” options out there, the money we spend on RPGs is by its very nature disposable and we are not lessened by devoting some of that money to more experimental and inclusive media.  That might mean supporting something entirely new but somewhat traditional, like Ehdrighor because it dramatically expands the potential of big book role playing games, it might be supporting something completely experimental like Bluebeard’s Bride, or it might be supporting a company producing for an established product line telling inclusive stories in a more nuanced way than their lines have been known for in the past. Conscious engagement with these choices help us shape the gaming industry we will enjoy in the future, albeit in small ways.

The other question I posed above is a more difficult one to tackle.  In the past couple months I’ve seen several people upset at events in our community make personal decisions about who they would and would not give their money to and then openly shame others for making different choices.  Often those different choices were well thought out, and a reflection of different ethical priorities.  These choices were not based on willful ignorance or ethical laziness, and even if they were I have yet to see shaming someone for not sharing one’s values change a mind or even inspire greater thoughtfulness on an issue.  I feel that as our hobby grows there is a vital place for discussing our values and who we want to be as a community. While we will never be a monolith, that discourse is a vital part the growth of any community, and with events like the inclusion of game writers in the SFWA, and White Wolf pushing to produce more mainstream World of Darkness related media there is no question that we are growing. We can expect to face several of the same problems other fandoms have struggled with as they have moved out of obscurity and farther into the mainstream.  

Balancing Act

As that happens, it is important to engage with other fans who are thinking about these dynamics in good faith in the spirit of discourse, and not as though they are an enemy. Many people make an unfortunately meager livelihood producing the games we all love so much, and part of our ethical calculus should be the collateral damage of saying we’re going to pull back from supporting a given IP owner and every company that licenses from them.  Some people will care more about drawing a line in the sand based on corporate actions, others will care much more deeply about that collateral damage, and neither group is necessarily wrong.  If we choose to try to effect change through the media we consume then we should try to be aware of the good and ill caused by all our choices, and recognize that the choice to try to effect change through consumption is imperfect, and opinions on its validity will vary.  We should all go forth and be ready to be the change we want in the world, but know our view on that process is not a monolith, much like our community.

HEXENMEISTER

Five Hidden Benefits of LARP: Education

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Ask people why they LARP, and they usually answer roughly the same. The most common answer is their own form of “because it’s fun” or “because my friends do it” and both of those answers are great. Did you know there are actual benefits to LARPing in addition? Examining LARP shows there are many benefits to it that are hidden just beneath the surface. In this series of articles five of these hidden benefits will be expanded upon and detailed. For more information check out the other articles on Networking, Exercise, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets.

Wait, LARP helps you LEARN!?

Did you know that during the Civil War, if a lady was unmarried and under thirty, she was never to be in the company of a man unchaperoned? Except for a walk to church or a park in the early morning, she was not supposed walk alone; and should have always been accompanied by another lady, a man, or a servant. How about in 1240, Mongols led by Batu Khan sacked Kiev and killed 48,000 people? Do you know the date the first Black Sabbath album came out? Roughly how many nightclubs there are in the United States? The German word for ‘sorcerer’?

 

HEXENMEISTER

It’s this, by the way.

Facts, Trivia, and Practical Knowledge

The questions above are things that I learned for the characters I’m playing now.  I play in Underground Theater, which  I’ve only started playing in the last two years. In such a relatively short time period I have learned so much unrelated to LARP specifically because of LARP. For LARPs based in the real world, you end up learning tons of trivia and other fun facts that you can bring out at parties or trivia night and discuss with friends. For boffer LARPs, you may end up researching different weapon types or clothing styles of a particular era. You may even learn how to write some words in another language. When I played a survivalist who would be up at dawn to explore, I researched on different animal tracks so I could identify trails, so I knew if I might run into a dangerous animal, or just a deer.

 

Credit: Antranias at PIXABAY

Or this “human” creature that I’ve heard about.

Expanding Worldviews

Another facet of the educational aspects of LARP is the challenge to your worldview. You will meet many people who have a worldview different than your own, and it can help to expand yours.

Because of where I live and where I grew up, nearly everyone I knew growing up was white. My schools were primarily white or Hispanic students. Most came from lower-middle class, mostly from families where the parents worked in manufacturing or retail. I had a couple of out LGBTQ* friends but I didn’t really know what that was all about. I didn’t know any of the PoC at my school as close friends or even acquaintances.

Even when I went to college my worldview didn’t expand too much at first, but then I joined a D&D game and the DM was always going LARPing. Eventually I decided to check out this LARPing thing and I was hooked! Now I have so many friends who are LGBTQ*, myself included! Not all of my friends are white, and I consider myself much more receptive and accepting of differing world views.  I realized that ultimately we’re all people and we share a common love of the game.

When you’re at LARP, you realize that despite all of their other differences, everyone there likes to LARP and you can talk to them about LARP. Being around them when character is broken, at afters, or social events lets you gently become educated on what life is like for them. When you add these friends on social media after the game you get to see what they go through. You learn what they like and what they dislike, which tends to leave you more open to accepting the differences.

 

Credit 3dman_eu at PIXABAY


However LARP will not help you accept using 7 different fonts on the same sign.

What Else Can I Learn?

There are so many more ways that LARP can educate you, but this is an article and not a textbook. Researching for a character can help you learn more about the world in which we live, and inspire you to educate yourself further. LARP can also help you expand your worldview and make you more open to becoming accepting of other races, religions, gender identities, sexual preferences, relationship types, and even simple stuff such as music preference. Be sure to check out the other articles on Networking, Exercise, Social Skills, and Creative Outlets for more ways that LARP can benefit you!

Anna uses she/her pronouns, is an avid LARPer, and on weekend when she isn’t being a vampire or werewolf she treks out to the woods to beat up her friends with assorted plumbing supplies and birdseed. Outside of LARP Anna is a feminist and part of the LGBTQ* community, console gamer, and is the proud owner of two loving cats with three eyes between them. She can be found on Twitter and on Facebook.

Dark, Deep, and Scary: Horror Games

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What’s Wrong With Horror?

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

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

Investment

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

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

My Table

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

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

Some Still Don’t Care

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

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

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

Moving Forward

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

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

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

Urban Shadows
Call of Cthulhu

World of Darkness
Several from Savage Worlds

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

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

Interview with Nathan and Bob 25 Years of Vampire

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

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

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

 

LARPers of Color – Malcom Harris

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

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

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

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

From LARPing.com

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

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

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

Amtgard Knights

An Interview with Chill and Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary Developer Matthew McFarland

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According to the Onyx Path development Blog the Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary edition is nearing completion, and rumors about that the Monsters Sourcebook for Chill 3rd edition is nearing completion.  Given these exciting developments it only made sense for Victor Kinzer and Simon Eichhörnchen to ask Matthew McFarland who is leading development on both of these projects to talk a little bit about these projects and he graciously agreed.

Victor: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us.  For anyone who isn’t familiar, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your history developing games?

Sure! I started writing games professionally in 1997. White Wolf Game Studio had an all-call for writers, and I sent in the first bit of a novella I was working on. That novella is thankfully lost to time, but it did get me a job writing on Giovanni Chronicles IV, and then I slowly infiltrated the rest of the World of Darkness lines and eventually got a full-time job as Dark Ages developer.

I left White Wolf in 2004, and went to grad school to become a speech-language pathologist, because while you can have steady work in the RPG industry, it was a little too unstable for me as a new dad. In 2012, my wife Michelle Lyons-McFarland and I started our own small press games company, Growling Door Games, Inc. We published two single-book story games (curse the darkness and A Tragedy in Five Acts), and then 2014 we obtained the license to publish a new edition of the classic horror RPG Chill.

Simon: What was it that attracted you to the projects you’re working on now?

Right now, I’m working on a couple of freelance projects for Onyx Path Publishing (which licenses the World of Darkness from the new owners at Paradox)[Editor’s Note, The World of Darkness is a property of White Wolf, AB a subsidiary of Paradox Entertainment Inc.], including the Beast Player’s Guide for Beast: The Primordial and the second edition of Hunter: The Vigil. Can’t talk much about Hunter; that’s Monica Valentinelli’s show, and I’m just a writer. Beast is very much my show; the game was mine pretty much from the ground up (though of course I had a really awesome team of people helping to put it all together), and I’m excited about the Player’s Guide. It’s a chance to flesh out the areas of Beast that I don’t think came through as well as we wanted in the core book, and also follow the time-honored tradition of adding new cool powers, new “splats”, and new toys for players to use.

Outside of Onyx Path, I just finished up writing a sourcebook for Chil called Monsters. It’s a bestiary book, in a way, but it’s also a look into the world of Chill and how the organization dedicated to fighting the Unknown, SAVE, approaches creatures that don’t fall into easily understandable categories (vampires, ghosts, werewolves, etc.). Monsters is the first book in a good long while that I’ve written entirely myself, and it was fun flexing those muscles again. (Monsters should be available for sale in August, by the way.)

Victor: The Changeling the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is the first new edition of the game since 1997.  Can you talk about what your approach was to updating Changeling to the world of the 20teens?

The 20th Anniversary Edition games were meant to keep the feel of the old games, but to update the world around them and (in the case of Changeling) become the revised edition they never got. As such, our approach was to look at what made Changeling awesome. We tried to keep the whimsy, but also the tragedy. One of the greatest explanations of Changeling I ever heard (from a friend and player in Atlanta many years ago) was that it’s like someone pointing a gun at your head and saying “be happy.” We tried to keep that notion, that dreams are hard to maintain in the face of the crushing pressure of the “real world,” but they’re all the more important because of that.

The other thing we wanted to do give changelings a little more magical “oomph.” I’m not a believer in “game balance” as it’s usually defined (that is, given a featureless white room, could two characters stand an equal chance of killing each other), but I do think that changelings in previous editions were a bit too fragile. We changed magical mechanics a bit, and brought in the notion of Unleashing (originally from Dark Ages: Fae) so that changelings have the chance to court disaster with the power of Glamour.  

Victor: One of the major focuses of Keep is inclusivity in gaming, so we have a few questions about the Gallain.  In a blog post about your early playtests for Changeling, you said the theme for the edition is  “powerful nobles hiding in freeholds and staying young while the changelings outside freeze”.  In previous editions the various groups of Gallain were presented with either less oppressive nobles or no specifically noble kith.  Since C20 includes all the Fae how are you including the non European kiths in the theme of this edition?

That’s one theme of the edition, and it definitely resonates more with the European Kithain than the Gallain. The Gallain are in the book, but they’re not the focus of the game (they’re in the Appendix and while there’s enough to play them, it’s severely truncated due to space constraints). I know that’s a roundabout way to answer the question, but the answer is that Gallain don’t get included in the same way, except perhaps insofar as to note that even the “commoner” Kithain, who are the bottom class of that particular system, still get to participate in that system. Gallain don’t, necessarily (which might not matter, depending on where they are).

Simon: Part of any good story is compelling antagonists. Changeling’s ultimate enemies, the autumn people, the people who disbelieve the fae out of existence, are a powerful metaphor for the destruction of culture. With that in mind, how do you go about creating autumn people that speak to that kind of horror while at the same time being sensitive to real world colonization experienced by the cultures reflected by the Gallain?

What’s scary about the autumn people, to me, is that they don’t have to confront the fae to destroy them. They’re not aggressive (necessarily), they’re confirmation bias made manifest. They’re a form of privilege, if you will, because they don’t see what they don’t need to see. I think that’s pretty relevant for the Gallain and their cultures, too (though of course, not all Gallain use dreams and Glamour the same way as Kithain).

Simon: Given that the Inanimae can reflect how different cultures perceive their environments how do you see the Inanimae fitting into the 20th Anniversary of Changeling?

One of the notions that the book brings up is that during the Mythic Age, everything dreamed, including the world. Bearing in mind that, like the other Gallain, the Inanimae don’t get a lot of space in Changeling 20th, I think the takeaway is that part of ignoring dreams and Glamour is ignoring the natural world. That’s something that people (both in the World of Darkness and in the real world) do at their peril, but it’s hard, and again, what makes autumn people scary and frustrating isn’t that they go out of their way to ruin the world (a la Pentex) but that they can blithely ignore the problems.

It’s easy to imagine an Inanimae looking at a changeling and saying, “well, sure, whine all you want, but people still write books, using paper that they make from the mulched-up bodies of my family.”

Womb of the Earth by Lydia Burris


Victor: When I first started playing the World of Darkness I was in a community of gamers where Changeling was incredibly popular, but in more recent years I’ve discovered that a lot of White Wolf fans feel Changeling doesn’t fit into the broader World of Darkness.  Where do you think this sentiment comes from, and did you make any changes in C20 you can tell us about that help the fae interact literally and thematically with the broader World of Darkness?

So, personally, I never had any trouble making Changeling fit into the greater World of Darkness. I used to do a lot of crossover (still do, for my Chronicles of Darkness games, where it’s much easier), and what it boils down to is that themes unique to one game might not work for all the others, but there are themes that are intrinsic to the World of Darkness as a whole. The death of creativity and passion is strongest for Changeling, of course, but tell me you couldn’t make that work for Vampire, too. Hell, “our way of life is dying” is perfect for Werewolf as well as Changeling. “Discovery and passion are intoxicating but dangerous:” Changeling and Mage.

Mechanically, of course there are some things you have to work around (not everyone has the same Traits, for instance), and if you’re doing crossover, you can’t just throw any old characters together and think they’ll work. I happen to think that’s true no matter what game you’re playing, though.

Simon: Throughout the CtD line the three major Gallain groups, the Nunnehi, the Menehune and the Hsien, are either excluded from or not a part of the Dreaming. Has this dynamic changed at all in C20?

We don’t get into the cosmology of it very much, due to space. Nunnehi and Menehune still deal more with spiritual expressions of Glamour than Dreaming-based expressions, though.

Victor: I’d like to talk briefly about another one of your upcoming projects, the Monsters sourcebook for the Chill Role Playing game published by your company Growling Door Games.  Can you tell us a little bit about Chill, and the Monster book specifically for anyone who isn’t familiar with the game?

Chill is an investigate horror RPG in which players take on the roles of members of SAVE (the Eternal Society of the Silver Way). SAVE is an organization dedicated to protecting people from the Unknown (the supernatural in general), which feeds on humanity’s fear, misery, pain, and sometimes just flesh and blood. Our first sourcebook, called SAVE: The Eternal Society, delved into the history and current state of the organization.

Monsters, like I mentioned earlier, is a bestiary book, but it’s also mostly written in-character, from the perspective of a SAVE researcher working on a classification system for monsters. It was a lot of fun to delve into how SAVE saw these creatures when she was writing it (in the 1980s) and then add commentary from a more contemporary agent. There are a lot of fun “Easter eggs” in the book that refer back to the Chill core book and to SAVE, and I think it will be fun for readers to see these characters’ stories as they read about these monsters.

The second edition of Chill presented adversary books in this format (Lycanthropes, Vampires, Apparitions), and I was always impressed with how skillfully the in-character information evoked the horror of the setting. I’m trying for something like that: Fun to read, evocative for players and Chill Masters.


Victor: I saw you comment online a few months ago about tweaks you were making to the Monsters in the book to remove some of the invisible bias that was present in previous editions of the game.  Can you talk a little bit about how you approached this and in general how you approach making those kinds of revisions to RPGs with established fan bases who may be resistant to any changes in their favorite games?

As far as making changes to games with loyal fanbases, I’ve always found that if you try to please everyone, you please no one. I love the 2nd Edition of Chill, and our edition draws very heavily on that one. I’ve always been very clear about that, and while I do get fans of the first edition sometimes who complain that our version isn’t enough like that one (the first edition drew more inspiration from pulp-horror and Hammer films), for the most part folks grasp what we’re doing and are with us.


I think the comment you’re referring to was in noting that there were quite a few creatures in previous editions that presented as female, and were said to “tempt” or “deceive” men. If you look at how female-presenting creatures appear in horror generally, you see a lot of that, so it’s by no means unique to
Chill or to RPGs, but since one of the big themes of Chill is that fear becomes manifest in the Unknown, I wanted to address that. I play a lot with the notion of unreliable narrators in Monsters, talking about SAVE making assumptions that it really has no business making, and members letting their own biases creep in. The kind of meta effect of that is that we wind up hanging a lantern on some of the sexist implications of previous work; Dr. Garrett, the narrator of Monsters, notes that female-presenting creatures are consistently described in certain ways that male-presenting or genderless creatures are not.

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

Lore of the Bloodlines – Review

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

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

By Mark Kelly Instagram @grimventures

Who’s here?

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

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

Mechanics

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

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

From an author

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

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

At the moment the book is only available to  Kickstarter backers. It should be out for purchase in pdf and print on demand in the near future via Drivethrurpg.

Credits

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

Developer and V20 Line Developer: Eddy Webb

Editor: Jess Hartley

Art Director: Michael Chaney

Layout and Typesetting: Becky McGarity

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

Cover Art: Mark Kelly

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

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